Whole Foods Has Seen its Future and it Looks Like Every Other Supermarket

 

Whole Foods Store Then...

An early Whole Foods Market

Store front 1

Whole Foods today

Back in July, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey waxed nostalgic in an interview with a Washington Post reporter. Published under the title When We Were Small, Mackey shared memories of the early days of his first market:

It was this old, three-story Victorian house, very charming. On the first floor, we had some cash registers in the front, two of them, and we had a little bulk food area. In another room, we had produce, and in the next room, we had a little dairy cooler and a little frozen food section.

Mackey was 25 years old and living in a little apartment above the shop. He had a girlfriend, a bicycle, and a handful of employees. His biggest worries were the $10,000 he owed his parents and avoiding the embarrassment of failing in front of his friends and family.

Forgive him his sentimentality. These days he heads a natural food empire of nearly 400 locations with more than 80,000 employees. The whole world was watching as his publicly traded company was named this year’s worst performer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

For a while Whole Foods could do no wrong.
Natural and organic foods were just taking off and there seemed to be no end to the urban and affluent neighborhoods that could use a high-end grocer. Whole Foods was the only game in town—supermarkets didn’t even stock organic milk back then—and when they weren’t, they would buy up the competition, opening new stores and acquiring smaller natural food grocers by the dozen. Venture capital replaced the friends and family funding, and then Wall Street took them public in 1992, and the stock reached one high after another.

It was the era of Whole Paycheck.
The nickname was well-deserved. Whole Foods could practically mint money through premium pricing because there was no one else selling the same foods. A typical grocery chain has a net profit of about 1%; for years Whole Foods was banking close to 5%. Those days are over.

The competition has caught up. Whole Foods’ success spawned imitators in the premium sector and every mainstream supermarket chain now carries organic produce and natural foods. Trader Joe’s is giving them a good run, and Wal-Mart is killing them on price. Whole Foods is squeezed in every direction, slowing sales growth and narrowing profit margins. Their financial statements are starting to look a lot like those of every other supermarket. Absent a unique niche in the marketplace, many are wondering if Whole Foods’ woes are (dare we say it?) organic.

Now that their business model is indistinguishable, Whole Foods is tackling its recent challenges in the same manner as the traditional supermarkets.
Whole Foods is gearing up for its first-ever national ad campaign which will tout its programs like GMO product labeling and animal welfare ratings in hopes of steering the conversation away from pricing and toward quality and value. They’re adding online ordering and home delivery services to more markets. And they’re launching a customer loyalty program with a mobile app and rewards card, a concept that the company has resisted for decades. One thing that Whole Foods won’t engage in is a price war.

The new message is what Whole Foods staffers are calling ‘value and values.’
While they’re looking more and more like a conventional supermarket operation, the company is hoping that socially responsible business practices combined with value-added programs will distinguish them from the Safeways and Krogers of the world—at least enough to justify premium pricing.

 

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Is It PawPaw Time Already?

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                            This is a pawpaw →

 

It’s a delicious fruit with a flavor best described as mango-meets-banana.
It’s native to North America, a tropical fruit that grows in a temperate zone, and is found in 26 of the United States.

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The pawpaw is the official state fruit of Ohio.

 

 

09-pawpaw1←It’s celebrated in festivals

It has its own song→Paw Paw Patch

and a lovable mascot ↓

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So why have you never had one?

It’s because farmers can’t figure out pawpaw harvesting9-2152710-bun171213paw1_t460
They ripen unpredictably and at varying rates even on a single tree. And when the fruit is ready it just drops to the ground.

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and they don’t travel well
Pawpaws bruise easily and rot within the first 72 hours after picking.

Pawpaw Flowers - 4

 

and because pawpaw blossoms smell like wet carpet
Backyard gardeners aren’t too keen on growing them either.

 

Pawpaw is an autumn delicacy that is both fleeting and elusive. And you know you really want to try one. Here’s some help with tracking it down:

NealWppsNeal Peterson is the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of the pawpaw. He has cultivated and patented numerous pawpaw varietals and on his website he shares a list of sapling nurseries and fruit retailers the sell them.

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Ohio food artisans are selling a taste of the pawpaw with products like pawpaw jam, mead, and beer. Or visit Logan, Ohio for a pawpaw facial at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls.

Explore the pawpaw resources available through Kentucky State University, home to the world’s one and only full-time pawpaw research program. It also hosts a very active Facebook community of pawpaw lovers.

Of course you can always strap on the Bean boots and go pawpaw foraging in one of the woodland pawpaw ranges in the U.S

Asimina_triloba

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Slow Money: It’s Like Slow Food for your Wallet

currency cover art from 'Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money'

currency cover art from ‘Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money’

 

The Wall Street Journal says of Slow Money: ‘Forget conventional 401(k)s; think goat cheese and fennel.’
Bloomberg Businessweek calls it one of the ‘big ideas that will change small business and entrepreneurship,’ and Time Magazine says it has the potential to ‘remake America’s food industry.’.’

Investments you can sink your teeth into. 
Slow Money is a movement that organizes investors and donors to steer capital to small food enterprises, organic farms, and local food systems. It’s guided by the same principles as the Slow Food movement. Slow Food promotes traditional cooking with local ingredients as a response to the unhealthy and unsustainable fast food lifestyle and the globalized, industrialized state of our food supply. Slow Money offers a similar alternative to the fast money of our global financial markets. It asserts that our current paths, both agricultural and fiduciary, are irresponsible, unhealthy, and ultimately unsustainable.

You don’t need a big bank account to join the Slow Money movement.

  • Kickstarter and Indiegogo have both had great success applying a crowdsourced funding platform to food-related projects. They pool money in increments as small as a few dollars and patronage is usually rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks— a $10 pledge might entitle you to a snack bag from an organic nut roaster, or $200 to a pickle maker could get you a weekend brining workshop.
  • Kiva Zip is a crowd-sourced platform for 0% interest peer-to-peer lending. Lenders can browse individual loan profiles to choose a borrower—both food producers and sellers—approve the payback schedule, and even have direct conversations with borrowers. Loans are pooled from amounts as small as $5 PayPal transactions, and while there is risk involved, borrowers and business plans are vetted for credit-worthiness and are overseen and endorsed by trustees.
  • Credibles crosses crowdfunding with the CSA model of prepayment for the next harvest.
    If an individual were to make a direct investment in an egg farm or a jam maker, payment in-kind would bring them more eggs and marmalade than they would know what to do with. Credibles creates a single fund from the contributions of multiple investors, with buy-ins starting at $50. The loans it makes to small and artisanal producers are repaid in-kind—a farm returns crops, a restaurant returns meals, a small-batch ice cream maker returns pints of rocky road—but since an investor is buying into the shared pool, repayment comes from the collective pool of businesses in the form of edible credits, ‘credibles,’ that can be redeemed for a wide assortment of products.
  • Gatheroundis like TED Talks for the Slow Money crowd. Each live online event features a conversation with a thought leader from the food world plus presentations from several early stage food entrepreneurs who are seeking funding. A $25 donation logs you in, and at the end of the session you direct Gatheround to send those dollars in the form of a three-year, interest-free loan to the entrepreneur of your choice. When the loan is paid back, your tax-deductible $25 will continue to cycle through future Slow Money projects.

SlowMoney.org mobilizes investors at a grassroots level through its network of regional chapters and local investment clubs. 
Since 2010, Slow Money affiliates have funneled more than $38 million to over 350 small food enterprises around the United States. Visit the Slow Money website to learn about local gatherings, and join the emerging network of investors who are working to improve the health of local food systems and the economy.
Put your money where your mouth is. Literally.

Posted in community, food business, sustainability | Leave a comment

Cafés Go From Free WiFi to WiFi-free

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Coffee and conversation. What a concept.
Cafés were among the first to flip the switch on free wifi. Now some pioneering coffeehouses are pulling the plug.

Blame the coffee shop squatters.
For the price of a small coffee they monopolize a café table for hours on end. They commandeer electrical outlets with multiple chargers and tangled trails of power cords, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean, the downloads are fast, and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of a single cup of coffee for the better part of a day.

What once lured customers has become a drain on the bottom line.
The squatters monopolize precious seating space, too often crowding out paying customers. With fewer free tables, turnover rates and food tabs are lower as customers who might linger over a sandwich or a pastry choose to just grab a quick cup of coffee.

The impact is cultural as well as economic.
Customers are put off by the office-like atmosphere with its silent sea of laptop screens and the occasional one-sided cell phone business call. The squatters will look up from their keyboards to glare with open hostility at small children, and have been known to shush energetic conversationalists.

Cafés have struggled to strike a balance.
Some change their network passwords every few hours giving access only with a fresh purchase. Others cover electrical outlets, shut down routers during peak business hours, or shrink the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals. Extreme measures were taken at one Vancouver pop-up that created its own electromagnetic dead zone by wrapping the café in a giant metal cage that channeled a signal-blocking static electrical field. Most coffee shop owners are just wondering when Sony will start selling its newly-developed electrical outlets that can limit access with time-sensitive user authentication.

What’s fair and reasonable? According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free wifi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

Proving it’s not just for Luddites, Eater has a list of 17 wifi-free cafes in tech-loving San Francisco.

 

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There’s a Whole Lot of Ranch Dressing Out There

 

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

Eating Patterns of US States via Fast Co Design

 

If you’re looking for a Philly cheesesteak you’re more likely to find one at the Jersey Shore than in Philadelphia.
Try New York for a Maine lobster. Or Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or New Jersey—it appears on more menus in more restaurants in each of those states than in its native Maine.

Co. Design, the design blog from Fast Company Magazine, teamed up with the food industry data collectors at Food Genius to create a map of each state’s most distinctive foods. Populations are mobile, supermarkets are national, and the same chain restaurants dot the landscape wherever you go. Their map looks at the ways in which new and traditional local cultures, economies, availability, trends, and convenience leave distinctive food fingerprints all around the nation.

The foods that made the cut might not be the most prevalent in each state, but they are the most uniquely loved.
Co. Design wanted to measure the relative popularity of each state’s food choices, to find what is distinctive and unique about those choices when compared with the rest of the country. That meant that they had to level the influence of ubiquitous and cookie-cutter fast food and chain restaurants. So no matter how popular and dominant the chains are, the multitude of Waffle Houses, McDonald’s, and Olive Gardens were just counted once for each state.

Here are some of their findings:

As a nation, we love our peppers, which seven states own as their most distinctive ingredient. New Mexico is alone in claiming the green chile, found on the menus of 51% of all the restaurants in the state but only in 2% of restaurant dishes in the rest of the country. The jalapeño is king pepper in Colorado and Texas, Ohio likes its banana peppers, and Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia favor the milder green bell variety.

While lobster is shipped far from its native waters, most coastal states are showing love for their local catches. Haddock stays in Maine and New Hampshire, crab cakes still rule in Maryland, crawfish in Louisiana, grouper in Florida, Walleye in Minnesota, and prawns top the western states on the mainland while Hawaii has its ahi.

America is awash in ranch dressing. It’s the most beloved regional treat in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Vermont, and West Virginia, and Nebraskans included it in their generic preference for what they simply call ‘dip’.

On the Co. Design website you’ll find an interactive version of the map that lets you explore the top 5 dishes and menu terms for each state.

A Gallup-Well-Being poll from earlier this year ranked all 50 states based on their residents’ emotional and physical health and healthy behaviors. Do you care to guess how the ranch dressing states fared?

 

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Seeking Perfection: One-Dish Restaurants

Some restaurants try to have a little something for everyone.
They aim for a wide audience by giving the people what they want. It’s the Cheesecake Factory with its exhaustive, globe-trotting, genre-straddling menu, or the new small plates dining that gives a nod to every passing trend. All that variety can please a crowd while stretching a kitchen thin. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the tyranny of tasting menus. The inviolable procession of courses doesn’t presume to appeal widely, and even the most receptive diners will find misses among the hits.

The growing ranks of one-dish restaurants  go their own way, expanding on the greatness of a single, much-loved dish.
The most successful single-subject restaurants focus on a dish with mass appeal, often a classic comfort food like macaroni and cheese or meatballs. There might be multiple variations and a few side dishes and embellishments to spice things up, but the main attraction is where it’s at, and it’s probably safe to say that most customers of Potatopia aren’t there for the side salad.

All those eggs are in just one basket.
A one-dish restaurant needs to achieve excellence through its specialization. That single dish better be flawlessly prepared because there’s nothing else for the kitchen to hide behind.
Here are some of the restaurants that are 
singing just one note, and some of them are even making beautiful music:

There’s luscious coconut pudding, butterscotch pudding, chocolate pudding, and tapioca at New York’s Puddin’. They probably make a pretty good rice pudding too, but wouldn’t you rather go a few blocks further downtown to the rice pudding specialists at the single-dish Rice to Riches?

Meatballs are universally and perennially loved; the kind of homey humble dish that is rarely stylish but always in style. They’re at home in soup, on a sandwich, atop pasta, or stuffed in rice paper, grape leaves, or dumpling wrappers. They’re practically tailor-made for the one-dish concept. That must be why we need a national ranking of the best all-meatball restaurants.

Macaroni and cheese is another dish that never seems to fall out of favor or fashion. Some restaurants try to reinvent it with luxe and modern ingredients, but the best are those that barely tweak the classic recipe. Maybe that’s why so many of the mac and cheese specialists aim for distinction through an establishment’s name, resulting in places like S’Mac, Mac AttackElbowsMac & Cheese 101, Mac Daddy’s, and the nostalgic HomeroomClose cousin grilled cheese has inspired more than its share of punnily-named one-dish cafés. There’s Ms. Cheezious, C’est Cheese, Meltdown, and the Star Wars-themed grilled cheese truck The Grillenium Falcon.

Southerners and Midwesterners are always shocked to learn that casseroles are much maligned in coastal culinary circles. They’re a mainstay in much of the country where they even have their own nickname of ‘hot dish,’ a generic term that includes everything from tuna-noodle to tamale pie. Wherever the casserole is held in high regard you’re likely to find the all-hot dish establishments like Illinois’ mini chain Johnny Casserole and Georgia’s Casseroles. Minnesotans can choose between the traditional (Hot Dish) and the contemporary (Haute Dish).

There’s a hummusiya or all-hummus restaurant in Philadelphia and a risotteria or all-risotta restaurant in New York. It’s cold cereal only at Cereality, hot cereal straight through to dinner time at Oatmeals, and San Francisco’s The Mill serves nothing but toast, where its rarefied all-toast format became an instant parable and parody of the city’s latest crop of shallow, callow tech millionaires with their overheated consumerism.

One-hit wonders? One-trick ponies?
Some of the one-dish restaurants will certainly die off, but a strong concept that’s well executed can live on. And the next wave is already on the horizon: look for two-dish restaurants like Tom + Chee (tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches), BubbleDogs (hot dogs and champagne), and Burger & Lobster, whose name needs no explanation but it could use a rationale.

 

Posted in food business, restaurants | 1 Comment

Food Rules to Get You Through the Winter

rules

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan crammed a world of food choices into those seven words. During the summer months of stone fruits and heritage tomatoes we’re all believers. But Labor Day has come and gone, the farmers markets will soon pack up their tents, and Pollanesque choices will start to dwindle. What will we eat then?

Pollan compiled a list of rules to back up his simple edict.
A mention of the project on his blog resulted in literally thousands of reader-submitted suggestions. He culled and compiled to create the easy-to-digest principles and instructions of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

It’s no easy feat to navigate the landscape of modern food.
We want our food to be nutritionally sound with no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or growth hormone. The sodium should be low and the carbs complex. We want our food growers and manufacturers to trade fairly with their vendors and pay a living wage to their employees. They should conserve energy, limit emissions, and recycle. And somewhere in there we also want our food to taste good.

Ultimately, Michael Pollan settled on 64 food rules.
It’s mostly common sense guidance: Avoid foods you see advertised on television (#11); Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (#36).
So go aheadEat your colors (#25); treat treats as treats (#60); and best of all, break the rules once in a while (#64).

Posted in blogging, diet, sustainability | 2 Comments

Is There Really Always Room for Jell-O?

 

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Maybe not so much.
With five straight years of sharply declining sales, the media are having a field day with punny headlines:
Jello-O Sales Just Can’t Seem to Solidify (San Jose Mercury News); Jell-O Can’t Stop Slippery Sales Slide (ABC News); Jell-O Losing Its Jiggle? (WCVB Boston); and J-E-L-L-O needing H-E-L-P (Illinois Herald-Review).

By all rights we should be living in a golden age of Jell-O.
It’s a most modest indulgence, inexpensive and fat-free. It has a nostalgic earnestness, evoking memories of tonsillectomies and Mom’s bridge club, but it can also play the irony card as an amusingly kitschy party dish, all retro-cool atop a Mid Century Modern chrome and glass table. It has a versatility that’s well-suited to our unstructured, small plates style of dining—it can be a cocktail, a salad, or a dessert.

It’s kitchen magic that can be a liquid, a solid or somewhere in between, which should appeal to fans of the modernist style of molecular gastronomy. It’s tailor-made for the DIY homesteader—you can use it as finger paint or hair dye; as a powder it will deodorize the cat’s litter box, and as a paste it’s a household cleanser. It even has off-label uses like Jell-O shots and Jell-O wrestling, and provides timeless entertainment to office pranksters who never fail to be amused by gelatin-encased staplers and cell phones. Plus, it wiggles.
So why is Greek yogurt kicking its flubbery butt?

Consumers are unwilling to forgive the nutritional transgressions of Jell-O.
We give a pass to bacon with its salt and fat and shady nitrates and nitrites; we are charmed by the sugar and white flour-dipped nostalgia of cupcakes; yet we judge Jell-O so harshly. It’s a wiggly, jiggly, gaudy mass of refined sugars, artificial colors, and flavor additives and we just don’t trust it.
The next punny headline you read just might be R.I.P. to J-E-L-L-O.

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It’s Official—PBR is Over. Here’s Proof.

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

 

If you were born much before 1980, Pabst Blue Ribbon is–
an unremarkable, 170-year old beer; a blue collar favorite that all but disappeared in the 1980’s flood of status imports like Heineken, Molson, and Beck’s. 
If you were born any later–
you know it affectionately as PBR; a no-frills heritage brand that’s become the unbearably hip quaff of choice for young urbanites. Once embraced for its anti-establishment, downscale chic, PBR has achieved mainstream success.

All signs point to peak PBR.
In a scholarly study titled What Makes Things Cool? published by The University of Chicago Press, co-author Dr. Margaret Campbell of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business (who coined the phrase ‘peak PBR’) traces Pabst Blue Ribbon’s popularity to a calculated association with the nonconformist counterculturalism of hipsters. She asserts that mainstream acceptance robs the brand of its appeal, first driving out the hipsters, and eventually the second wave of adapters will follow. Evidence of a first wave retreat comes from the merchant number-crunchers at Locu who mapped hipster migration patterns and correlated those to frequency of PBR’s appearance on area menus. The PBR strongholds are no longer the hipster hoods; instead the maps light up around college campuses where the drinkers are younger and less edgy—more frat boys than bicycle messengers.

Of course anyone who pays attention to these things already knows that there’s very little left of the brand’s early, scruffy authenticity.
Four years ago, food industry magnate Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst Brewing and granted control to his two sons, then best known for buying Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s former Los Angeles mansion (Daren) and appearing as the self-designated ‘youngest tycoon in the world’ on an MTV reality series (Evan). The brothers promptly moved the headquarters from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, jacked up prices, and shed most of the company’s management team.

The most stunning change was firing the advertising and marketing agency that had engineered the PBR comeback. 
The brand’s resurrection is now the stuff of legend. The agency orchestrated a stealthy campaign that the New York Times dubbed The Marketing of No Marketing with none of the traditional trappings of beer promotions—no Super Bowl spots, NASCAR banners, busty barmaids, or celebrities. In their place were small-scale sponsored events aimed at an alternative crowd—bike polo tournaments, art gallery openings, film screenings, and indie book releases; the sponsorship always seemed like an afterthought with no signs or trinket giveaways or glad-handing executives in from Pabst’s corporate offices.

Since 2010, promotions have moved beyond the shaggy dive bar crowd.
There are splashy new sponsorship deals with car races and music festivals, and the company is none too shy about self-promotional signage and banners, and there are always plenty of key ring and beer cozy giveaways. Logo-emblazoned tee shirts can now be found everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Sears, and the merchandising group has
 licensed some very unhipsterish new items like polyester cowboy hats, golf bags, and surfer gear, some of which made it into the celebrity swag bags at this year’s Country Music Association Awards.

Trouble seems to be brewing for PBR as hipsters flee.
Growth has stalled, despite a robust PBR infrastructure built by pioneering urban dwellers. Never a good sign, PBR hater sites have sprung up, while the parody industry has fired off video clips and spoofs coming from The Simpsons, filmmaker David Lynch, and a whole channel of unknowns who mock the PBR mystique on Funny or Die.

Is there hope for PBR now that its coolness quotient has plummeted?
Not according to Refinery 29, the arbiter of all things hip, with a recently titled post PBR is Officially Over.
And if you still need further proof of its demise, look to the Metropoulos boys who are already planning the second coming of Ballantine.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food business, food trends | Leave a comment

From Food Blogger to Cookbook Author

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

It’s the brass ring, the golden ticket, and the winning lottery numbers all rolled into one.    
Not every food blogger wants a cookbook deal, but it’s always a win when a publisher comes calling.

It’s been a long and lonely slog.
Sometimes blogging can seem so pointless. Even when readership is significant and loyal, it’s just one more blog among the thousands. At some point every blogger wonders if anyone would notice if they just packed it in. There are plenty of bloggers out there that are ready to take your place in readers’ mailboxes and news feeds. Would you even be missed?

A book deal screams, Don’t stop!    
It validates all the bathrobe-clad hours at the keyboard. Readers don’t just like you—they want more. And a cookbook deal—that means that your recipes are coming to life in readers’ kitchens. Somehow, your blog has convinced a publisher that the public is even willing to shell out good money for your culinary musings. Go ahead and pinch yourself.

Here are the latest winners of the blog-to-cookbook sweepstakes.
They all come from longtime bloggers with 2014 release dates.

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Thug Kitchen explodes the myth of the mild-mannered vegan with a kick to your narrow dietary minded ass. The cookbook irreverently blends a penchant for profanity (motto: eat like you give a f**k) with recipes like lime-cauliflower tacos and pumpkin chili. 

 

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The Kitchn began life as the food blog from Apartment Therapy, a home decorating and lifestyle blog, but has gone on to attract its own audience of 14 million visitors a month. Appropriately, The Kitchn Cookbook is equally devoted to recipes and to something the authors re calling a handbook to a happy kitchen.

 

100DaysRealFoodLogoThere’s a popular notion that you can achieve just about anything if you give it 100 days of effort. Sites like 100 Day Challenge and Give It 100 share tales of people learning a musical instrument, climbing Everest, hitting home runs, and becoming debt-free, all from three months of practice, discipline, and accountability. Now we have the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook , which tells the story (with recipes) of one family that took a three-month pledge that transformed their relationship with food by giving up white flour, white sugar, and anything packaged and processed with more than five ingredients.

The Skinnytaste Cookbook- Light on Calories, Big on Flavor

 

When The Skinny Taste began in 2006, the blog’s creator was experimenting with dishes that would help her lose a few pre-wedding pounds. Fans of the site rave about its appealing, low-fat riffs on typically high-fat dishes like pizza and cheesy baked pastas, and rigorous recipe testing that guarantees success in home kitchens. This fall’s cookbook is mostly new recipes plus a few favorites from the blog.

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Not everyone waits for a publisher. The creator of The Yellow Table blog went the self-publishing route, funding her dinner party cookbook through an over-subscribed Kickstarter campaign—$16,000 beyond her $50,000 goal. She documented the entire process of creating the Yellow Table Cookbook through a five-month blog series called The Cookbook Diaries.

And vice versa 
Check out Delicious Days’ list of food writers and cookbook authors who followed up a publishing career by starting a food blog.

Posted in bloggers, diversions, recipes | Leave a comment

Top 10 Food Scenes: not just the usual suspects.

2010 07 31_0006foodcitysign

What defines a great food scene?
Is it a cluster of big name chefs and world-class restaurateurs? A distinct regional cuisine? The diverse offerings of authentic ethnic enclaves?

The definition is changing.
We still have our celebrated food meccas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco with countless options and Michelin stars, but America’s towns and small cities are proving that you don’t need vast offerings and high-end restaurants. Instead, what they have is communities of concerned farmers and talented food artisans, passionate and discerning food lovers, and a deep-rooted, indigenous food culture that adds authenticity and meaning to the experience.

These communities give rise to clusters of second tier restaurants. The cooking can be just as refined and inventive as anything you’ll find in their better-known, big-city counterparts, but they’re the kind of restaurants that are opened by independent chef-owners rather than investor consortiums. There’s no publicist garnering national press and pushing these restaurants onto top 10 lists. You don’t go there to add a notch to your foodie belt; you go there to eat well.

Sperling’s BestPlaces, a research firm that produces city rankings, crunched the numbers to come up with a list of America’s Top Cities for Foodies
The list ignores the ratings and emphasizes the food culture by counting up specialty food markets, cookware shops, wine bars, craft breweries, and farm markets, and the ratio of local ownership to chain franchised food outletsIt leveled the playing field for small cities by leaning heavily on density data rather than sheer volume. By Sperling’s measure the ten best ‘foodie’ cultures are found in:

1.Santa Rosa/Napa, California
2.Portland, Oregon
3.Burlington, Vermont
4.Portland, Maine
5.San Francisco, California
6.Providence, Rhode Island
7.Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts
8.Seattle, Washington
9.Santa Fe, New Mexico
10.Santa Barbara, California

 

 

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Plenty of Giga-Bites at Supper Clubs for Tech Luminaries

 

secret handshake (members only)  via Pragmatic Obots Unite

secret handshake (members only) via Pragmatic Obots Unite

 

The tech elite meet to eat at power supper clubs.
Last week’s inaugural gathering of the Silicon Alley Supper Club drew tech influencers from the New York offices of Google, CNN, Studio Industries, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Kottke.org, It’s On Me, Krux, Food + Tech Connect, Tech Cocktail, ThriveMenu, and Blue Apron. It joins the ecommerce-oriented CEO Supper Club and the ultra-exclusive outings held by the west coast’s Silicon Valley Supper Club.

They’re the latest in a long line of exclusive and often secret societies favored by each era’s masters of the universe.
From Freemasons and Opus Dei to college fraternities and the TED conferences, like-minded individuals of similar calibre have always gathered for social discourse, mentorship, philanthropy, or to conduct their business in darkened back rooms and exert a mysterious influence on our culture. In the case of the tech leaders’ supper clubs, they also gather to eat.

Think Skull and Bones without the ivy, or Bilderberg without the conspiracy theories.
These are tech events without an online presence. There are no Facebook pages for these clubs. You can’t make your reservations through Open Table and you won’t find mentions in the attendees’ Twitter feeds. Most hush-hush of the new-school supper clubs is the Silicon Valley group. It’s a who’s who of Palo Alto’s power elite where Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Apple SVP Jony Ive, PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, and SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg have all been seated around a single table. These should be headline-making assemblages, and they’ve been holding them about once a month for years, yet there’s no social media trail.

The new supper clubs are unique among secret societies in their singular devotion to good eating.
There’s synergy and symmetry between food and technology. They’re the twin cultural pillars of the New York and Bay Area communities where so many startups are incubate. They’re the twin preoccupations of today’s diverse and well-educated workforce, and the signature perk of employment in the tech sector.
Even Alice Waters tweets.

The supper clubs have convened in venues both posh and homey.
Food met technology at The Silicon Alley kickoff where Los Angeles and New York chefs collaborated on a dumpling and crudo event held in the offices of
  The Daily Meal, and the Silicon Valley group has gathered in a parking lot filled with food trucks, had drinks in the dugout and dinner in the locker room of AT&T Park, and trekked up to Wine Country for a blowout dinner at The French Laundry. 

You can grumble about the elitism of the supper clubs, or envy their privileged access to prized tables and chefs, but these are our leaders, visionaries, and innovators. They should be eating well. 

 

 

 

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Am I Getting Old or is Supermarket Music Getting Better?

image via Northrup Cener at Iniversity of Minnesota

image via Northrup Center at the University of Minnesota

 

The standard easy listening mix of Kenny Rogers and vintage Doobie Brothers always felt like I was being held hostage in a dentist’s waiting room. But not lately. While no one’s going to mistake the deli counter for a DJ booth, the music has gotten decidedly hipper. A recent shopping trip yielded a little Major Lazer, a Warpaint track, and a David Bowie remix tucked between the Whitney Houston and post-Aja Steely Dan.
Who do they think is shopping in my neighborhood supermarket?

Background music can define the experience and influence purchases.
A slow tempo will slow down your trek through the aisles, and if it’s classical you’ll end up spending more. French music gives a boost to the wine department and loud music brings shoppers to the checkout lanes. When a store plays the wrong mix of tunes, customers will over-estimate the amount of time they’ve spent on shopping. But of course right or wrong depends on who’s listening.

There are four generations all pushing shopping carts through the same aisles.
The Millennials, born between 1982 and the early 2000′s, are now reaching the age of paychecks and shopping lists. 
They follow the solidly adult Gen Xers, born between 1961 and 1981, the middle-aged Baby Boomers, and the retired seniors known as the Silent Generation.

As an added twist, life stages are not as linear as they used to be.
Life stage and generation used to be pretty much the same thing. Milestones like marriage and buying a first home were fairly constant events that marketers could count on. Today you’ll find new parents in their 40′s and young adults still living at home long after the traditional age of household formation. Juice boxes and jars of prune juice, diapers and denture cream—they’re all commingling in shopping carts. There are spending differences between age groups, but they matter less than they used to.

Supermarkets brand themselves with their playlists. 
They know that store atmospherics matter, especially when it comes to differentiating themselves from the competition. Music is a fast, cheap, and flexible way for a store to distinguish its environment. But it’s a delicate balance: with so many generations in the shopping mix, the stores are challenged to find the right music mix. The trick is to appeal to one age group without alienating the other three.

My neighborhood supermarket has clearly put the Millennial Generation in its crosshairs.
I live in the big college town of Boston, with BU dorms just down the block from the market, so that comes as no surprise. How about you? Listen up. You’ll learn who’s shopping in your supermarket.

 

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Dining on Mars: The Reviews are In

Marstripadvisor

A NASA crew of simulated Mars-dwellers returned to Earth last week and they were pretty sick of the food.

This was the second of four planned HI-SEAS missions, an acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. The space agency sent six volunteers to live for four months inside a mock Mars base camp atop the Mauna Loa volcano. It’s an isolated location at an elevation of approximately 8,200 feet above sea level with a Mars-like terrain, less the 3.711 m/s² gravity. The crew spent 120 days inside the 1,000 square foot geodesic dome exiting once each week in simulated spacesuits.

The missions are designed by NASA’s Human Research Program seeking insight into the quality of life issues that will keep astronauts happy and healthy on extended missions in space. Not surprisingly, food is a primary focus of the simulations.

Some surprising ingredients fill the HI-SEAS pantry.
To make the cut, foods need to be compact, shelf-stable, and require minimal water in preparation. Of course there was Tang and the expected space-food pouches of freeze-dried processed meals, but the crew also brought along things like pepperoni, crystallized ginger, dried shitake mushrooms, miso paste, polenta, truffle oil, and anchovies, all in the same form you’d find in an earth-bound kitchen.

Textured vegetable protein loaf again?
The HI-SEAS crews have learned a lot about menu fatigue. Eggs and cheese come in crystal or powdered form, and fruits and vegetables are sliced, diced, and freeze-dried. Most of their protein comes from meat analogs created out of soy, gluten, and multi-purpose textured vegetable protein, with names like chickenish and baconish.

The crews of both missions had a nearly universally complaint: textural monotony.
There are no chips to dip or carrot sticks to munch on, no juicy burgers or spare ribs to gnaw. Frying is forbidden and crumbs are discouraged in the dome where equipment and instruments can become filmed with grease or clogged with debris. Combined with all the preserved and processed ingredients, it adds up to 4 months with no crispy, crunchy, crackly, crustiness.

Food bloggers in space
The crew members of HI-SEAS2 share recipes, food pics, kitchen tours, and more on the HI-SEAS.org website.
The next simulated mission, HI-SEAS3, takes off in October and will run for eight months.

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Show Me the Labels!

Quotation-Plato-food-knowledge-soul-Meetville-Quotes-48653

 

It’s been four years since the passage of the national menu labeling law. Where are the labels?

The law calls for the FDA to mandate calorie labels at “restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
It seems straightforward enough. At the time of its passage the 
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg even hailed its simplicity and ease of implementation. But four years later the agency is still tinkering with the rules and dithering about the date by which restaurants must comply.

Lobbyists for the food service industry dedicated themselves to obstructing the law by nitpicking the language of a single phrase restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
The bowling alley lobby (who knew?) successfully argued for an exclusion by focusing on the phrase “retail food establishment.” They can serve a full menu but they claim to be in the entertainment business. Ditto for the movie theater operators’ lobby, and places like Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Busters. The pizza chains concede that they’re in the retail food business, but establishments? Their lobbyists argue for an exclusion from onsite menu labeling because so much of the business is takeout and delivery. The true establishment, they claim, is the customer’s home. Retailers like Target, Costco, and BJ’s want to wriggle out of compliance because of the verbiage “20 or more locations.” The retailers themselves have the requisite number of locations, but the in-store restaurants are often independent, and operated by small business owners.
Convenience stores, supermarkets, vending machine operators, and airlines have all found their own loopholes in the language.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the nation’s chain restaurants.
Earlier this week, the nutrition watchdogs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest announced the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards—its annual survey of chain restaurants’ latest permutations of fat, calories, salt, and sugar. A few years ago, a 1,500 calorie entrée would elicit gasps from the judges; this year every single nominee topped 2,000 calories and a handful weighed in at more than 3,000. The ultimate ‘winner’ came from the perennial overachiever The Cheesecake Factory whose Bruléed French Toast is a gut-busting plate of sugar, butter, syrup, and custard-soaked bread clocking in with a full day’s worth of sodium, 3 days’ worth of sugar, and enough saturated fat to carry its eater through an entire workweek. It’s the rare dish where the side of bacon is the healthiest item on the plate.

It’s not like it’s named The Lo-Fat Cottage Cheese Factory.
Caveat emptor, right? No one goes there expecting health food. You could argue that chains like The Cheesecake Factory are just giving us what we want, and we’re a willing public with a taste for fats.

But is this really what we want?
Restaurants aren’t just delivering amped-up comfort food; they’re pushing ever harder at the boundaries of our taste and serving the results in eye-popping portions. Look at the dish that appears on The Cheescake Factory menu as Bow-Tie Pasta, Chicken, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pancetta, Peas and Caramelized Onions in a Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce. It sounds hearty, soothing, even indulgent with a bit of creamy garlic sauce, but you’d never guess that you’d have to eat five entrée-sized boxes of Stouffer’s frozen Classics Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo- each topped with a pat of butter!-to achieve the calorie and saturated fat equivalent. We shouldn’t have to guess.

This is a broken social contract. 
The Cheesecake Factory has every right to pile on the salt, fat, and sugar, and nobody is twisting our arms to eat there. But the abysmal nutritional standards and gargantuan portions are served up in the midst of America’s ever-worsening obesity crisis, and the food service industry is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the stalled federal menu-labeling mandate. You can say that it’s beyond the scope of corporate responsibility to provide a solution to society’s ills, but corporate citizenship be damned; this is unconscionable.

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Celebrity Chefs Storm the Pet Food Aisle

 

fancy-feast-broths

 

Those new Fancy Feast Broths don’t look half bad.
Then again, they come from a chef who’s cooked in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, French Laundry, and El Bulli.
If you prefer you can feed your dog Pup Casserole from a five-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee or take a course in kibble from a Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinary instructor. Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais is behind the stove at Purina, Rachael Ray has her Delish line of dog and cat food, and Thomas Keller sells Bouchon Bakery dog biscuits enriched with foie gras and chicken stock.
It’s the era of the pet food celebrity chef.

doggyicecreamWe’ve projected our foodie-isms onto our pets.
Pet food now comes in locally-sourced, seasonal, kosher, halal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties. Specialty bakeries peddle treats like bacon macaroons and peanut butter pupcakes, while food trucks with punny names like Poochi Sushi and Mobile Muttballs roll through neighborhoods and downtown streets drawing four-legged foodies with cat meows and cow moos played over PA systems. Celebrity chefs for dogs—why not?

Chef-owned pets: a rarified breed.
What self-respecting cook can bring themselves to serve any old canned slop to a beloved pet when there’s a nice osso buco bubbling away on the stove? The Culinary Canine: Great Chefs Cook for Their Dogs – And So Can You! asked 30 top chefs to share recipes of their dogs’ favorite dishes. New York restaurateur/Iron Chef Anita Lo has a pair of Shih Tzus that sup on bluefish filet with roasted yams, peas, and bacon. The Today Show’s ‘Chef Harry’ Schwartz soothes his dog’s irritable bowel syndrome with oatmeal-‘truffled’ pan-browned pork medallions. Bay Area Zagat favorite Alan Carlson serves his mixed-breed brined and smoked chickens and 72-hour braised short ribs; and a delicate small plate of poached chicken with blueberries is just right for the tiny Chihuahua owned by San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn .

Let’s not forget that this is not really about our pets.
Chef-branded pet foods play into our own culinary sensibilities and fascination with celebrities. The fact is that dogs and cats have a mere fraction of our taste buds and very different sensory receptors. They’ll eat pretty much anything, from a pizza crust discarded on a filthy sidewalk to the used Tidy Cat in a litter box.  

 

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How to Survive the Imminent Global Kale Shortage

Got Kale? t-shirt available on Amazon

Got Kale? t-shirt available via Amazon

 

This time the threat of a kale famine is real.
Back in April we heard about a kale-specific, spray-resistant superbug. The devastating pest was rumored to have piggybacked on a Whole Foods delivery where it spread from Berkeley backyards to the rooftop farms of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We only relaxed when we noticed that the news broke on April 1st—it proved to be merely a clever April Fools Day prank from the editors over at BonAppétit.com.

Now we have top agricultural suppliers reporting that they’re running out of kale seeds, and it’s no joke. Seed breeders are tapped out and need about ninety days to replenish their stocks. The shortage will be felt first by farmers who will go three months with no new kale seedlings, and then this fall it will start to ripple through the food supply.

We have only ourselves to blame. 
A few short years ago, Pizza Hut was the single largest consumer of kale in the U.S., and they weren’t even serving it; it was treated as an inedible garnish used to decorate their salad bars. Today kale is on the menu of any restaurant worth its hand-harvested fleur de sel, and food manufacturers are tossing it into soups, chips, soft drinks, and even popsicles. In 2013, kale became so ubiquitous in the trendy quarters of Brooklyn that the New York Times proposed it as the borough’s official vegetable, and 257 sets of parents brought a bouncing baby boy named Kale home from the hospital. 

Kale is a true ‘superfood.’
It’s a low calorie, nutrient dense, brain-boosting, heart healthy, do-no-wrong vegetable. But it’s not the only one; it just seems to be the one with the best PR. The coming scarcity has food media and agri-prognosticators prowling farmers markets and produce aisles for another long-neglected root or tuber or leafy green that can be plucked from obscurity and readied for its close-up.

Grist is pulling for kelp.
Kelp is an extraordinary source of a iodine, an essential nutrient that’s missing from most every other food, and seaweed farms don’t use up resources like land or fresh  water.

NBC’s Today Show recently plugged amaranth. 
The health food crowd already knows that the seeds make for a potent grain; less well known are amaranth greens which are rich in iron, protein, and calcium.

Modern Farmer thinks we can learn to love prickly pear cactus.
It already grows like a weed in arid regions of the west and southwest and is loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Early studies also suggest that it can cure hangovers and may be an effective treatment for diabetes.

Zagat asks “Are Carrots the New Kale?”
Its many aggregated reviews point to a growing fan base among chefs and diners alike.

Prevention Magazine has high hopes for kalettes.
It’s a new hybrid vegetable that’s a cross between brussels sprouts and kale, and you’ll be seeing it everywhere by this winter. The combination takes kale’s potency down a notch, but there’s still plenty of powerful nutrition in the kalettes, and the little frilly little sprouts are more cook-friendly than big, unruly heads of kale.

There’s plenty of room at the table for another kale-like superfood.
The kale apocalypse is coming, but America’s next vegetable sweetheart is out there somewhere.

 

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Pizza-nomics

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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

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When Food is the Vacation

shop-food-festival

 

Let’s cut to the chase.
Sure, you can sit on a beach or breathe in the clean mountain air. You can tromp through museums and national parks, or get your thrills at a theme park. But you know that what you really look forward to on your vacation is the food.

What if the food is the vacation? 
Food and wine festivals are in season. Late summer and fall are prime time for culinary tourism. You can partake of local delicacies, attend a demonstration or masterclass, or rub shoulders with a celebrity chef. There are farm dinners, winemakers’ dinners, and festivals of food trucks. And it all takes place in the company of like-minded food lovers.

Delicious destinations:
There’s a celebration of Maine lobsterpersimmons in Indiana, Sheboygan bratwurst, and chiles in Santa Fe. Any region, any tastes: the toughest part is choosing. To help you decide:

Food Reference is a comprehensive list of events, expos, agricultural fairs, and food and beverage festivals, searchable by date, nation, or U.S. state. It currently lists 8,400 events in 128 countries.

The Big, World-Wide List of Festivals focuses on beer, wine, and spirits.

Eventbrite.com curates a listing of smaller food-related events like classes, workshops, lectures, tasting, and films, many geared toward food industry professionals.

For stay-cationersLocal Wine Events can find something closer to home.

 

 

 

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Great Moments in Bottled Water History

Some of us are old enough to think of bottled water as a recent phenomenon. We remember a time when water was something drunk straight from the tap, and we marvel at the $12 billion that’s now spent annually on this country’s bottled water habit. Here are some special moments from the decades-long journey, courtesy of the bottled water industry.

Perrier_bottle tall CROP

 

It’s the little green bottle that conquered America. So chic, so French, Perrier was introduced to this country in 1976, ushering in the modern era of bottled water.

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Evian, another French spring water, comes to the U.S. in 1978, marketed as a luxury brand with a premium price tag. The ah ha moment with the name comes soon after.

Aquafina

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Truly a Great Moment in Bottled Water History, PepsiCo begins a national rollout of Aquafina in 1994. Labeled with snow-capped mountains and the tagline Pure Water, Perfect Taste,” the bottles are filled with regular tap water that’s been filtered and purified. Aquafina goes on to become America’s top-selling brand of bottled water.

More of that American exceptionalism is on display as The Coca-Cola Company offers up Dasani, its own brand of processed tap water to compete with rival PepsiCo.

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Coca-Cola campaigns to reduce what it calls “tap water incidence.” In 2000, the company launches the H20No website (since removed) instructing restaurants workers in the art of upselling bottled beverages, and tried again in 2010 with a program called Cap the Tap.

In 2001, PepsiCo names a new division president of U.S. Beverages. She promises Wall Street that “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes.”

 

brighthouse-concorse-mapAn undeniably Great Moment in Bottled Water History took place on September 15, 2007. It was also a big day for the 45,000 fans of University of Central Florida football who were attending the first home game in the school’s long-awaited and just completed stadium. Under the clear skies and 90°+ temperatures of a central Florida autumn, 78 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, 18 requiring hospitalization, as over-heated fans learned that their new $54 million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain.

 

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After 4 billion or so years on Earth, water is finally declared ‘organic’ in 2011. Never mind that water is an inherently inorganic substance—it’s not alive and never was—Welsh bottler Llanllyr even claims extra purity because not only are their fields certified organic, but nuns have lived above the source for centuries. 

 

bolt-980x462PepsiCo tags water as the enemy in 2012’s brand-integrated mobile game, Bolt!. Treacherous water droplets hinder the progress of Olympic star Usain Bolt as he maneuvers through the popular game. Only Gatorade can help him win the race.

 

Conan-OBrien-Water-Tasting-Rays-Stark

 

In June, 2014, Los Angeles restaurant worker Mark Riese becomes the first ‘water sommelier’ on national television when he’s a guest on Conan O’Brian’s late night talk show.

 

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer market for bottled water. We buy 31 gallons for every person in America; that means we drink more bottled water than beer, milk, or fruit drinks—more than every other beverage except soda. We continue to make history.

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