food business

The Trader Joe’s Magic

 

 

 

It doesn’t work for everyone.
Trader Joe’s store locations are second-rate and their parking lots are impossibly small. The aisles are cramped, there are so many missing product categories you’ll never knock off a whole shopping list, and the lines at the register rival July 4th at Disneyland. It should all add up to the retail equivalent of waterboarding, but instead, the population of admirers continues to swell.

Trader Joe’s has figured out how to take its many shortcomings and weave them into its mystique.
There’s just one brand of olives and one box size of polenta, but customers will bet that if Trader Joe’s picked them, those olives must be fabulous and it’s the best damn polenta out there. Employees are scruffy, laid-back, and Hawaiian-shirted, but also customer-friendly, always out on the floor to answer questions, and quick to open a package to give you a sample. Beloved products spontaneously disappear from store shelves, but they’re replaced with new and offbeat culinary discoveries that are often a half-step ahead of our palates (anyone for adzuki bean chips and dried green mango?). Instead of a chore, shopping at Trader Joe’s is a cultural experience.

Trader Joe’s carries around 4,000 products, compared to the typical grocery store’s 50,000. It’s a mix of foodie-friendly staples, like cage-free eggs and extra virgin olive oil, plus affordable luxury and exotic items, like frozen truffled ricotta pizza and Moroccan tagine sauce. This is not inexpensive food, but the offerings are unique and the prices are often the lowest in town. If this is not how you shop, cook, and eat, you just won’t get it.

To make sure its customers get it, the company looks at demographics like education levels and cooking magazine subscriptions to divine its next store locations. And they sure do get it: Trader Joe’s has average store sales of  $1,750 per square foot—that’s double the sales per square foot of Whole Foods and triple the amount of a typical conventional supermarket. For Trader Joe’s, it adds up to $8 billion in annual sales.

The genius of Trader Joe’s is its marriage of cult appeal and scale. It doesn’t just masquerade as a neighborhood store with its bad clip art and folksy hand-lettered signs; it is a neighborhood store, with a tight customer focus and an ability to curate each store’s offerings to suit local tastes.

With 471 stores and counting, individual store oversight is less manageable, and a buying error can cost the company millions. Let’s hope as Trader Joe’s grows, it can hang on to the quirks and surprises that make it a special place to shop. Although no one will complain if they expand their parking lots.

If you do nothing else today, be sure to watch this video. If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe’s is one man’s unauthorized tribute. It’s a complete, warts-and-all portrait; a love song celebrating the customers, employees, and eclectic merchandise of his favorite store. And it’s charming and very funny.

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America Has Spoken: These Are Our Most Patriotic Foods

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

 

The Fourth is Number One.
Memorial Day and Labor get their own weekends, but we still manage to squeeze in more classic American eating on the 4th of July.

According to data from the top online ordering service Seamless, hamburgers are America’s most-ordered Independence Day restaurant dish. They hold down the number one spot on all three summer holidays, but spike dramatically on July 4th, nearly doubling the orders placed on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Fourth also leads restaurant orders for corn on the cob, hot dogs, and apple pie.

When it comes to backyard barbecues, hot dogs still rule. 
According to the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs over the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The 4th of July is the single biggest hot dog day of the season with 150 million served. Add to it the 750 million pounds of barbecued chickens  we’ll go through and there’s a 1 in 4 chance that you’ll be eating one of those two grilled foods.

Beer is in a class all its own. 
The 4th of July is the biggest beer drinking day of the year accounting for 5% of the nation’s annual beer consumption. It’s a billion dollar sales day that the Beer Institute ranks ahead of Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and even Super Bowl Sunday. Last year beer was the largest selling category of all food and beverage categories for the two weeks leading up to the July 4th holiday.

Some food and beverage marketers will drape themselves in stars and stripes to capture a piece of the holiday action.
That’s how we end up with Benjamin Franklin selling discount mattresses for a TV commercial and Oreos stuffed with limited edition blue filling.

The market researchers at Brand Keys looked at the business of marketing patriotism.
They surveyed thousands of consumers from every region of the country, gathering opinions on 197 brands in 35 categories. The brands that are broadly recognized as most patriotic are not necessarily the ones that engage in the flag-waving call-to-emotion. Some, like Budweiser beer, aren’t even American-owned. But they are all American icons. Their values represent a notion or aspect of America, and those values are deeply ingrained in the brand’s equity. We need to see that a brand’s engagement is genuine and credible if we’re going to engage emotionally with it ourselves.

Three iconic food brands were among the top 10 drawn from all categories: Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, and Wrigley’s. Other food and beverage brands that made the top 50 include McDonalds, Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, and Budweiser.

 

 

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Quirky, Creative, Cool: The Latest Food Projects from Kickstarter

 

handout

Some say that Kickstarter’s gone downhill.
There’s controversy (should celebs be trading on fame to fund pet projects?). There’s scandal (a would-be dating guide author who advocates for sexual violence). There’s scam (a Kobe beef jerky ripoff funded 50 times over).

You could call it a victim of its own success.
The crowdfunding site for creative projects has only been with us since 2009 but has already funneled $600 million into 44,000 projects. It took nearly three years for a Kickstarter funding campaign to hit the $1 million mark; today you might see multiple projects reach it in a single day. And as a real sign of success Kickstarter parodies are popping everywhere: on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, in the pages of the Onion, on the sketch comedy show Portlandia, and all over the internet.

For all its growing pains it’s still the same old Kickstarter.
The competition is stiffer, the pitches have gotten slicker, but it’s still the funding platform that brought us the world’s largest jockstrap, hand-knitted beards, and grilled cheese Jesus. It continues to be the go-to funding channel for artists and dreamers, and you can find plenty of creativity, ambition, eccentricity, and just plain awesomeness among the food projects that are current vying for your patronage.

I’ve personally never played a food-themed game. They lack the literateness of Scrabble and the gameplay seems far from the addictive pace of Angry Birds, but they’re awfully big on Kickstarter so maybe I’m the exception.
There’s VivaJava: The Coffee Game. Players try to stay one step ahead of the competition as they hunt down the best coffee beans in the world. Each pulse-pounding roll of the dice brings a crucial decision: roast or research? In BEEF: The Game, you’re a cow trying to puzzle your way out of a slaughterhouse without bumping into Meatjoy the butcher. Extra points for rescuing cow companions. Wok Star is a race against the clock in a bustling Chinese restaurant. You have to get past pushy investors, fussy reviewers, and demanding customers while you rush to prep ingredients and stir fry the menu items. The player with the lowest calorie count is the winner for each round of Mealtime Sabotage. But look out because while you’re busy assembling a healthy meal from the recipe cards, your fellow diners are scheming against you, wielding sabotage cards of butter and bacon.
It makes perfect sense that another Kickstarter hopeful seeks funding to open GameHaus Board Game Cafe.

The cookbook category is currently a gloomy little corner of Kickstarter.
If a zombie virus ever contaminates our food supply, and said virus is spread to humans who consume meat and dairy products, we’ll be really glad that the vegan-zombie cookbook Cook & Survive! received its Kickstarter funding. Less of a longshot, but still a title we hope to never need is The Unemployment Cookbook: Abundant Eating on a Frugal Income.

There are sweets to cheer you up.
There’s the cinnamon roll and cookie hybrid known as the Cinnarookie, and The S’mores Campfire Kit which comes packed in a pyramid shaped kindling box that can be upended and lit on fire. Playa Paleteria hopes to bring its popsicle cart to Burning Man this summer, so while they only need $800 for fruit pops, if they can pull in an extra $1,400 they’ll add lights and a kickin’ sound system. And since someone is always going for a record on Kickstarter, there’s a group looking for backers as they attempt the World’s Largest Cup of Boba Tea with a straw that tops out at a height of 12 feet.

A couple of project pitches come from the urban agriculture movement.
The Duluth Grill Parking Lot Orchard has ambitions to shoehorn an orchard in among parked cars without giving up any parking spaces. Farmstead Meatsmith plans to cruise around in a rolling slaughterhouse and butcher shop, Potential backers should know that in the founders’ opinion, “there can be nothing more threatening to the billion dollar industry of meat fabrication than the ten dollar bill freely given in love.”

After popsicles, ‘smores, and zombie cuisine, we could probably benefit from The Skinny Mirror. Clever curving produces a funhouse-like effect that subtly slims your reflection. The maker claims that a peek at The Skinny Mirror (with the affirmation You are beautiful locked inside each frame) when you’re on your way out the door will boost your confidence and improve your self-image. All this and pledges start at just one dollar.

There are currently 194 food-related funding looking for funding on Kickstarter.
You can learn crowdfunding basics at Kicking Around Any Ideas? from Gigabiting’s archives.

 

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Junk Food Jargon

collage via images from The Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge

collage via images from The Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge

 

Great literature is like a great meal.
In the hands of a talented writer, simple words are carefully chosen and combined into something transcendent. A master chef can do the same with basic ingredients, mixing and transforming them into a sublime dish.

Junk food has its own literary equivalent.
The language of junk food isn’t lyrical or poetic. It’s not crafted by a master of the literary arts but by the folks who brought us Funyuns® and Uncrustables®. It’s processed and assembled just like the food it describes: it’s conceived in a boardroom, designed in a laboratory, fabricated in a factory, and given a spin by marketers. It’s manufactured language for manufactured food.

Junk food isn’t trafficking in proteins and carbohydrates, and certainly not fruits and vegetables. Its building blocks are sugar, salt, and fat, known in the business as the three pillar ingredients.

Food manufacturers are on a continual quest for products with a perfect sweet-salty-fatty balance of the three pillars. That optimal mix is called the bliss point. If they hit it just right, a product is irresistible. It tastes so good that it lulls consumers into passive overeating, which happens when they keep eating after they’re full, or auto-eating, which takes place when they weren’t even hungry in the first place.

Sometimes a manufacturer tips the flavor balance too far and runs into the dreaded sensory-specific satiety. That happens when the flavors are just too big and bold. They overwhelm the taste receptors and trigger a mechanism in the brain that tells you to stop eating.

Food technologists also manipulate other features like shape, size, texture, and consistency. An appealing mouthfeel—the way an item feels pleasingly crunchy or creamy or fluffy or juicy in the mouth—is key. Flavor bursts can take mouthfeel a step further with salt and sugar crystals that are strategically positioned for targeted mouth contact.

Vanishing caloric density is like the holy grail of junk food science. A snack food with vanishing calorie density would go down so quickly and sit so lightly in the stomach that the brain would vastly underestimate the amount consumed and the snacker would just keep on snacking. When the food technologists achieve it, you can bet that they’ll push the new product up-and-down-the-street, which means you’ll find it in every supermarket, drug store, and corner market, from the chains to the mom-and-pops.

Ultimately it’s all about the junk food industry’s battle for something they call stomach share.
The World Health Organization coined their own word for it: they call it globesity.

 

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How Green is Your Supermarket?

 

tote bag from Hayden-Harnett Handbags

tote bag from Hayden-Harnett Handbags

 

It’s a carefully compiled shopping list.
You pay attention to food miles so there’ll be no out of season raspberries. Chilean sea bass is on the Seafood Watch List so you’ll choose local cod instead. You want your eggs cage free, you want milk without rBST, and beef that’s free of antibiotics. And of course you’ll look for lots of organics.
You steer the Prius into a parking space and grab the reusable grocery bags you brought with you. 
You’re ready to shop.

Are supermarkets merely talking the talk?
Supermarkets have done a good job of helping consumers integrate sustainable choices in their daily lives. They’ve been far less successful when it comes to their own environmental impact. There are 36,000 supermarkets across the United States. Some recycle, some are energy efficient, some limit their food waste, and some mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions; very few have managed to piece all the bits of the sustainability puzzle together.

With their blazing lights, doorless freezers, and open refrigerator aisles, supermarkets are almost always the biggest energy guzzlers around, using twice as much as energy as the average commercial building per square foot. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) only hospitals and restaurants are more energy-intensive. The electricity and natural gas used by the average supermarket  annually dumps 1,900 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s as if they filled the space with 372 cars and ran the engines all year.

Worst of all are the walk-in coolers, refrigerators, and freezer cases. These are the nation’s single biggest source of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), emissions that are 4,000 times more powerful in causing climate warming than carbon dioxide. While shoppers have been educated to bring reusable bags or to choose paper over plastic—even banning disposable plastic bags in many cities and towns—the EIA reports that HFC greenhouse gases from super­market refrigerators and freezers pose just as great a threat to the environment, yet few stores have been fitted with greener equipment.

What’s good for the goose..
More and more consumers are doing their part. It’s time for supermarkets to step up their own sustainability efforts.

 

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Extreme Restaurant Promotions

 

Senior discounts, student discounts, kids eat free—we’ve seen it all before.
It takes something special for a restaurant to cut through the clutter of a crowded marketplace. Here are some of the more inspired, buzzworthy, and just plain wacky restaurant promotions.

Casa Sanchez’s Jimmy the Cornman

Melt grilled cheese logo

Melt grilled cheese logo

Earn your discount with a restaurant logo tattoo. It seems awfully extreme, to say nothing of permanent, especially considering that the average lifespan of a restaurant is just five years. But there are plenty of takers, even when it’s just a measly 25% off. Somehow that was enough to convince a few hundred customers to get inked for Melt Bar and Grilledan Ohio grilled cheese emporium. San Francisco’s Casa Sanchez ups the offer to free lunch every day for the rest of your life; no guarantees, but it’s been in business since 1924. Of course for the duration you’ll have Jimmy the Cornman flying across your skin on a corn cob rocket.

Shirley Temple, c. 1933

Shirley Temple, c. 1933

Let’s just say that kids aren’t always the greatest dining companions (Of course we’re not talking about your darlings). They’re even banned from certain restaurants and during certain hours. Not at Washington State’s Sogno Di Vino which offers a ‘well-behaved kids’ discount. Alas, there is no penalty for noisy tantrums.

Phone_Zone

Then there’s the ‘well-behaved adults’ discount. Plenty of restaurants discourage or even ban cell phone use in their dining rooms. LA’s Eva Restaurant goes a step further offering a discount to customers who check their cell phones at the door. About half of Eva’s customers take them up on it.

mississippi-welcome-sign-close-up

They do things a little differently down south. On the 20th of each month Jackson, Mississippi restaurants welcome diversity. They call it Two & Two Restaurant Days, and a 20%
discount is given to any diner who eats with someone of another race. No word yet on the other days.3027-virginia-welcomes-you-sign_1

Virginians love the Second Amendment and they celebrate their right to bear arms in restaurants with special discounts for gun-toting diners. Events like Concealed Carry Wednesday and Fire Power Happy Hour have been a real shot in the arm for restaurateurs throughout the state.

 

 

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The Italian Bank that Lends Cash for Cheese

cheesevault

cheese vault via Credito Emiliano

 

It must be one of those ‘only in Italy’ things.

Here in the U.S. when you take out a car loan the bank keeps the pink slip as collateral; get a mortgage, and it holds on to the deed to your house. Italy’s Credito Emiliano accepts cheese as collateral for loans and to cover interest payments, and locks it away in bank vaults until the loan is repaid.

Of course it’s not just any cheese. The bank only takes Parmigiano Reggiano.
Parmigiano Reggiano is king in a country where cheese is revered, and where the cheese making arts are refined with unique varieties that represent every region, city, town, nook, and cranny of the country. It’s one of Italy’s biggest exports, but the industry remains resolutely artisinal. The cheese is made with infinite care by hundreds of small producers who adhere to labor intensive, centuries-old techniques. It’s also a time-consuming process, and that’s where the bank comes in.

Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for two years. A lot of money is tied up in each wheel which contains 550 liters of milk, and this can create cash flow problems for small cheese makers who need to keep buying milk and paying their employees. Credito Emiliano takes the unaged cheese as collateral and provides financing to keep production going. Producers can get 80% of the value of their cheese, and if they default on the loan the bank can sell the cheese and still make a profit.

Credito Emiliano is one of Italy’s largest banks with hundreds of branches and thousands of employees. It’s pretty much like any other bank—except for the cheese vaults and some unusual job descriptions. Bank employees oversee the aging process, turning the 80-pound wheels a few times a week, and a former branch manager wields a little metal hammer and periodically taps each cheese listening for hollow sounds indicating that the wheel has cracks or voids or is a dud that’s gone soft.

Credito Emiliano treats cheese like other banks do gold.
For good reason: the bank holds about 400,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano each with a street value of nearly $1,000. High-tech electronic door locks, motion sensors, security cameras, and armed guards stand watch over the vaults, but that hasn’t deterred bank robbers who’ve targeted them three times over the years. The most recent theft took place in 2009 when the robbers dug a tunnel beneath one of the vaults and made off with 570 cheese wheels.

Like gold, with serial numbers that identify each metal bar, every wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano carries an ID code that indicates the dairy source and production date, and when they reach the one year mark, the outer rinds of the partially-aged cheeses are indelibly branded with the EU classification, each with its own registration number. Of course every Italian knows the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and ordinary Parmesan, and even on the black market the thieves had to prove the authenticity of the stolen cheese. Ultimately, the registration numbers were traced back to the bank and the robbers were apprehended.

Once the cheese was safely back in the vault, no one was more relieved than Mr. Bizarri, the former Credito Emilian branch manager who now brandishes a cheese hammer. He spoke for all of us when he said:  “Thank heavens we caught the robbers before they grated it.”

 

 

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Stick a Fork in Them: America’s disappearing chain restaurants

Friends don't let friends eat at Chain restaurants Tee Shirts

t shirt available at zazzle.com

 

It’s been a decade-long slide for chain restaurants.
In the past 10 years, some of America’s biggest chains lost more than half of their sales as they closed hundreds of locations nationwide. Former American staples like Bennigan’s, Big Boy, and Ponderosa Steakhouse are teetering on the brink of extinction as they fight their way back from bankruptcy, and some, like Howard Johnson’s, Steak and Ale, and Chi-Chi’s lost that battle and disappeared from the landscape.

According to sales data provided By Technomic, these are the biggest losers; each restaurant started 2001 with more than $225 million in sales, and each experienced 50% or greater declines since then. Together they have shuttered a combined total of more than 4,000 outlets.

  • Blimpie Subs & Salads
  • Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouse
  • Big Boy
  • Don Pablo’s
  • Tony Roma’s
  • TCBY
  • Damon’s Grill
  • Country Kitchen
  • Ground Round
  • Bennigan’s

The restaurant business is a kind of economic indicator for the middle class.
The average American adult eats out or orders takeout more than 200 times a year. The casual dining segment fares well in a strong economy—that’s the Applebees, Cheesecake Factories, and Ruby Tuesdays of the world with their full bars and laminated dessert menus. When times are tough customers used to trade down to fast food, but the 1990’s saw the rise of a new dining segment favored by a new generation of customers that pushed some of the old-line chains toward decline.

The fast casual segment was created by chains like Chipotle, Five Guys, and Panera.
It’s defined by limited menus of made-to-order items that are a step up from fast food, but without the hostess stations and wine lists of casual dining. Prices fall between those of the other two segments, and counter service cuts out the need for a 15% tip. Nobody seems to miss the Sutter Home wine by the glass.

Many of the casual dining chains saw their heyday come and go several decades ago.
Ethnic and local foods rule for young diners who seek variety and authenticity, while chain restaurants promote just the opposite: a sense of dislocation with a hodgepodge of nominal ethnic touches, and decor and dishes that promise you the same meal every time, wherever you are. Data from consumer market researchers at NPD Group show that 18-47 year-olds are abandoning the chains in droves. Older Americans have actually increased their spending on chain restaurant dining, but not enough to stop the slide.

The food is dull, the ingredients mediocre, but refills are free, the bathrooms are clean, and the meal unfolds predictably and reliably. Chain restaurants don’t strive to inspire; merely to not disappoint. But for a new generation of diners, that might not be enough.

Just for fun
Top Cultured created the flowchart Where Should I Eat? (Chain Restaurant Edition).

 

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Inside the Staff Meal

 

mg_taste1_3525

 

 

The staff meal is coming out of the kitchen.
We’re curious about the restaurant staff meal, the standard pre-service sustenance that’s commonly referred to as family meal within the industry. It’s a time-honored tradition in restaurants where the staff spends its shift surrounded by food but is too slammed to manage more than a few half-cold, intermittent bites while standing up in the kitchen.

Family meal is a rare occasion when the hierarchy of the kitchen brigade is broken down, and the front and the back of the house mingle—dishwashers sit with beverage directors, hostesses with sous chefs, and line cooks rub elbows with bartenders. The food that’s served is also a break with the restaurant’s traditions and culture.

Chefs use staff meals to experiment with future menu items and as a training ground for young cooks. Pantry and prep cooks might try their hand, and the wait staff might turn it into a potluck one night. It can mean Brazilian home cooking served by the Latino line cooks at a French restaurant or potpies from a pastry chef looking to branch out into savory dishes.

The odds, ends, and nasty bits.
Cost is paramount. Staff meal costs are tax-deductible for the restaurant, but the IRS forbids owners from dinging wages. The well-run restaurant makes use of leftovers, less-than-prime produce, and cuts that can’t find a place on the regular menu. Inspiration is found in the far reaches of the walk-in where wilted kale, lamb necks, and days-old cuttlefish will find their way into casseroles, croquettes, and curries. Meals end up looking like a cross between recessionary home cooking and a reality TV cooking challenge. And as with any home cook responsible for turning out a regular family dinner, there are hits, misses, and nights when you can’t do better than hot dogs on buns.

There are the staff meal legends.
At most restaurants, the kitchen staff is stuck behind the stove and the servers are likely to grab a plate and cop a squat in the alley out back. Then there are the family meals responsible for the low turnover among staff at Chanterelle in New York’s SoHo, where the whole restaurant gathers nightly around a white linen-draped round table in the dining room for rich, French bourgeois feasts. Thomas Keller, the chef-owner of the hallowed French Laundry who began his own career cooking staff meals, puts on a lavish weekly sit-down celebration for his staff; and in the culinary stratosphere of places like Copenhagen’s Noma and Spain’s (now closed) El Bulli, the kitchens are literally filled with dozens of unpaid crew members willing to work merely for the offer of free staff meals.

Eat staff meals and still keep your day job.
Two recent cookbooks, Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants, and Come In, We’re Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants take you inside the staff meal time of some very good kitchens. 
After each night’s dinner rush, D.C.’s District Commons restaurant rings an old farm bell signaling the start of the family meal, offering customers a classic staff meal menu at a bargain price.
The restaurant industry blog StarChefs features occasional profiles of extraordinary and unusual staff meals.

 

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Where’s the Line Between Free Samples and Shoplifting?

image via Colors Magazine

image via Colors Magazine

 

Spear one cheese cube with a toothpick and you’re sampling. Are you pilfering if you snare a dozen? Is it shoplifting if you dump the plateful in a produce bag for later?
How much is too much? Exactly what constitutes a free sample?
These are the questions at the heart of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiff, 68 year-old Erwin Lingitz, went into the Cub Goods supermarket in White Bear Township, Minnesota to pick up a prescription. He helped himself at two un-hosted displays offering free samples of lunch meat, and then packed some up for his wife who was waiting outside in the car. He was arrested by store security as he exited the store.

An attorney for the supermarket chain itemized his haul: “Plaintiff had approximately 14-16 packets of soy sauce along with one plastic produce bag containing 0.61 pounds for [sic] summer sausage and another plastic produce bag containing 0.85 pounds of beef stick in his pockets,” She also claims that the store’s manager had spotted Mr. Lingitz on previous occasions filling plastic produce bags “with 10-20 cookies from the kids’ cookie club tray, which specifically limits the offer to one free cookie per child.”

The supermarket calls it theft, arguing that “The plaintiff violated societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices.” In an interview with the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press, Lingitz’s wife, Frankie defends her husband with the statement: “Something is either free or it isn’t. You can’t arrest somebody for thievery if it is free.”

Mr. Lingitz is hardly standing alone on that slippery slope between sampling and stealing.
There’s the Definitive Guide for Food Grazing (for free) at Costco, and another site that shows you how to save $2,000 a year in grocery bills and grow your net worth by eating free samples. And of course who among us has never popped a grape in their mouth in the produce aisle?

Mr. Lingitz is suing for $375,000 in damages claiming that the arrest was a violation of his civil liberties and that he sustained injuries during it. His case hinges on whether it was a lawful arrest, which will depend on whether or not the judge considers it a crime to take too many free samples. It’s potentially a landmark case for retailers since there is currently no legal definition for free samples.

The store’s defense is that free samples are governed by “a common-sense rule.”
A few try-before-you-buy grapes is on one side of it, while stuffing a T-bone inside your raincoat is clearly on the other side. The question is, where does 1.46 pounds of ‘free’ lunch meat fall on the side of common sense?

 

 

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Restaurants Gear Up for the No-Show Season

Dear Harvard grads who cancel your large party CONFIRMED reservations at the last minute ‘something  just came up’, have fun ruling the world.

–tweet sent last May from the Twitter account of Cambridge, MA restaurant Rendezvous (@RendezvousCS)

It’s almost May, the month that brings warm weather, spring blooms, Mothers Day, and restaurant no-shows.
Fickle diners are a restaurateur’s worst nightmare at any time of the year, but the problem peaks in May with college graduation dinners.

Restaurants in cities with large student populations are thrilled at graduation time when families and friends descend on local venues for commencement celebrations. In cities like Boston and Philadelphia, the ceremonies at nearby colleges and universities can give restaurants their biggest nights of the whole year. The problem is, as J. Erin Reilley, general manager of Boston’s Bondir puts it: “Graduates and their families are notorious for flakiness regarding celebratory dinner reservations.”

There’s a penchant for multiple reservations. It can happen innocently when different family members don’t communicate about different bookings and they only learn of overlaps at the last minute. More often it’s intentional with someone trying to hedge their bets with the family’s taste buds. According to Bill Curry of Philadephia’s Cafe Nola: “[Students] will call five or six places and make reservations. Then when their parents get to town, they decide where they’ll go.”

The impact of even a single empty table can be significant in an industry where average profit margins run as low as 3% to 5%. Restaurateurs know that things can happen: a flight is delayed, someone gets sick, the babysitter cancels. But when research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business tells of an average no-show rate of 20% for restaurants in large cities, they also know that the real problem is rudeness.

And no one is immune. On a recent evening, two groups of diners didn’t claim their reservations at Noma, the celebrated Copenhagen restaurant considered by many as the best in the world. With just 12 tables and a tab that hovers around $500 per person it took a real bite out of the night’s business. The next morning, chef and co-owner René Redzepi tweeted: ‘And now a message from the Noma staff: to the people of two different no-show tables last night,’ accompanied by a picture of staff members showing their middle fingers. It was quickly deleted by cooler heads, but of course the retweets carried the message for days.

After a similarly rough night, another fed up restaurateur, this one from Los Angeles’ Red Medicine, turned to Twitter to publicly call out the customers who failed to show up for their booked tables:

redmedicine

Restaurants are experimenting with cancellation fees, reservation deposits, mandatory telephone confirmations, and the Twitter ‘name and shame.’ Of course the only real solution is for diners to realize that a little courtesy goes a long way.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food business, restaurants | 3 Comments

How Much Will That Beer Cost You?

price_of_beer_button_red-p145996141209409970q37f_400

It’s been a rough run for the U.S. economy in recent years.
One of the few bright spots is the price of beer. The U.S. has the most affordable beer on the planet.

Americans can point with pride to a study published in The Economist Online.
Based on median hourly wages and average beer prices, it takes just five minutes of an American worker’s time to earn a cold one. Prices are lower in plenty of countries, but their wages are even more so. The average across 150 countries is 20 minutes of work to pay for a beer, and in some parts of Asia it can be close to an hour.

But there’s a threat to the American way of life.  
Last week the Obama administration filed a lawsuit in Washington’s district court to block a proposed beer industry merger. Anheuser-Busch InBev wants to take over Grupo Modelo of Mexico (Corona beer), which would leave the country with just two companies (the second being MillerCoors) controlling more than 70% of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department has made a pretty compelling case against it, arguing that the marriage of Budweiser and Corona’s parent companies would eliminate competition between the rivals and lead to higher beer prices for Americans.

The brewing industry has already been consolidating like crazy for years. The number of major brewers in the U.S. fell from 48 in 1980 to just two after a mega-merger in 2008.  Global Beer: The Road to Monopoly, a study from the American Antitrust Institute, shows how beer price increases started to accelerate immediately after 2008, with Anheuser-Busch leading the charge. Anheuser-Busch has kept prices high for decades by threatening a price war against any American brewer that breaks ranks and lowers prices, and the memory of retail bloodbaths in the 1980’s has kept them all in line. Grupo Modelo has been able to grab a lot of U.S. market share for its flagship Corona brand by keeping its prices stable. If Busch goes through with the purchase of Modelo that competition disappears, and the Justice Department predicts higher prices for everyone.

Never overpay again. 
SaveOnBrew 
calls itself the world’s only reliable beer price search engine. Instead of erratic and unreliable crowdsourced data supplied by drinkers, SaveOnBrew gathers its pricing data directly from brewers and retailers and publishes up-to-date, reliable beer pricing data sets for every single zip code in America.

 

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Crowdsourcing: You Pick the Flavors

you-decide

Crowdsourcing is bigger than ever.
Pepsi, Lincoln, and Dannon all used it for their Super Bowl ads. We recently saw an indie music star crowdsource his tattooYahoo’s CEO crowdsourced her baby’s name, and an online mob of Monopoly fans convinced Hasbro to dump the iron, a game piece since the beginning, and replace it with a cat.

The food world is especially cozy with crowdsourcing .
Everyone eats, and everyone has an opinion about what they eat—witness the ever-expanding online universe of food discussion boards, reviewing sites, dining guides, and food blogs. The target market is already doing the work; crowdsourcing campaigns are just a way for food marketers to tap into all that passion, creativity, and collective intelligence.

Crowdsourcing pioneer Ben & Jerry’s has always relied on customer input. Even before the world had taken to the internet the company was selling ice cream flavors born from customer suggestions. In 2009 Ben & Jerry’s made it official with a crowdsourcing contest called Do the World a Flavor. They were looking for the next Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, or Chubby Hubby, bestselling flavors that were all suggested by customers, and highlighting the company’s use of fair trade ingredients in its ice cream. The winner was Almond Delight, a caramel ice cream with praline almonds and a caramel swirl (later renamed Dulce Almond due to trademark issues), chosen from 100,000 entries.

Beer is social by its very nature, but brewers haven’t quite figured out the fit with social media. The Boston Beer Company used virtual sampling to develop a new beer through its Sam Adams Crowd Craft Project. Budweiser, though, wanted true sensory feedback for its crowdsourced Black Crown brews and combined local tasting events with online feedback through Budweiser Project 12.  Heineken clearly wants to engage online but doesn’t seem to want its customers anywhere near the beer. So far the company has turned to the crowd to create a pop-up nightclub and to design a commemorative anniversary bottle, but it hasn’t relinquished control over what’s in the bottle.

By contrast, Dunkin’ Donuts seems happy to hand over the keys to the donut shop. Their website and Facebook page periodically feature interactive donut-building tools that invite customers to get creative. Dunkin’ even paid $12,000 apiece to the online originators of Toffee For Your Coffee (glazed sour cream with Heath Bar chunks) and Monkey See Monkey Do-nut (banana filling, chocolate icing, and Reese’s Cup shavings).

Glaceau VitaminWater boasted of the first Facebook-created flavor. While not a purely virtual creation, the ‘Flavor Creator Lab’ monitored social media chatter on sites like Google, Twitter, Flickr, and Foodgawker. The application tabulated  tweets, blog posts, images, and searches to create a list of the 10 most buzzed-about flavors, and then let its Facebook followers vote for their favorite. The winner was a caffeinated black cherry-lime blend that was aptly named Connect.

Facebook has spoken. It said Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles. What? No Cajun Squirrel?
It’s the final phase of the mother of all crowdsourcing campaigns.
Snack food giant Frito-Lay put out the call for a new potato chip flavor on its Lay’s Facebook page, offering a million dollar bounty for the winner. Within a matter of weeks there were nearly four million submissions; they were whittled down to the three finalists. This week bags of Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles chips began shipping to stores nationwide.

From now until May 4th you can vote for your favorite flavor to become a permanent addition to the Lay’s product line. The two runners-up will each get $50,000, and the inventor of the top vote-getter will win the $1,000,000  prize or 1% of this year’s sales of the flavor. So far, Sriracha is looking like the odds-on favorite. You can vote via Facebook, Twitter (with hashtags #SaveGarlicBread#SaveSriracha, and #SaveChickenWaffles), or by texting VOTE to 24477.

The Lay’s campaign is new to the U.S., but in 2008 Frito-Lay held the first of it chip flavor competitions in the United Kingdom for its Walkers brand. Finalists Chilli & Chocolate and the aforementioned Cajun Squirrel were bested by the winning Builder’s Breakfast, tasting of bacon, sausage, and eggs. A 2009 Australian campaign produced the winning Caesar Salad-flavored potato chips, India went for Mango-flavored chips in 2010, and in 2011 Serbians chose Pickled Cucumber.

You can see all the global chip flavor winners at Ad Age.

 

 

 

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Home Soda Maker Goes After the Big Boys

soda

You drink too much soda.
Last year Americans consumed 50 billion liters of soda. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child. Not you? Well, someone is drinking all that soda.

This is not like pineapples from Hawaii or lobsters from Maine—it’s water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation—the stuff could come from anywhere. And sparkling water? We haul San Pellegrino from Italy like it’s Prosciutto di Parma. Oceans of corn syrup; mountains of glass, metal, and plastic waste; money; fossil fuels; canned and bottled soda is wrong on so many levels.

Who wouldn’t want to cut the waste? That’s why home soda makers are so appealing. And that’s why the giant soft drink manufacturers just might be looking over their shoulders.

One home soda maker, SodaStream, is itching for a showdown.
It was supposed to happen during the Super Bowl. SodaStream had saved up its pennies and purchased one of those big-money ad slots during the game. They prepared an ad touting their reusable bottles that showed rival Coke and Pepsi trucks racing to make a delivery. As the delivery men push their carts loaded with soda bottles toward the supermarket’s entrance, the bottles spontaneously explode into a sticky mess. It cuts to a home SodaStream user while a voice over intones ‘With SodaStream, we could have saved 500 million bottles on game day alone.’

We had the duration of the Pepsi-sponsored halftime to ponder this one.
The ad wasn’t aired. CBS, which owns the broadcast rights to this year’s Super Bowl, rejected the spot. Too ‘controversial’ for the network, it crossed a line that apparently wasn’t approached by the soft core content of the Mercedes-Benz wet t-shirt car wash or the explicit GoDaddy make out session.

You can see the banned commercial and its milder replacement at Fast Company’s Co.Create blog.

 

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Whole Foods: They Have You at the Front Door.

 

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They’ve got you the minute you cross the Whole Foods threshold.
That whooshing sound you hear is not the gentle glide of the automatic doors. It’s the sound of reason and willpower flying out of your head.

You’re immediately sucked into a sensory-rich shopping experience. It’s a high-quality, all-natural supermarket Shangri-La, and every element is designed to influence your subconscious mind. The first impressions prime you for the kind of shopping that earned the stores their Whole Paycheck reputation.

Go get your shopping cart.
It’s not your imagination; it really is bigger than last time. Whole Foods has repeatedly enlarged its carts and baskets, nearly doubling their size since 2010.

whole-foods-market-cafeThere are the café tables.
It would probably be more comfortable for in-store diners if the tables were in a quieter, less-exposed location toward the back, but of course this way you get to see them. And doesn’t it all look tasty?

Freshness comes first.
Conventional grocers stack promotional goods just inside the front door— 12-packs of soda and pyramids of half-priced canned pineapple rings. Produce is always the first merchandise you see at Whole Foods.

Yellow-bananasThe colors pop.
Vegetables are artfully arranged by hue. Fixtures are faced in black for even greater contrast.

And it’s not just about aesthetics. Produce departments use Pantone color matching—just like the color selector cards in a paint store—so that fruit can be displayed at the exact shade that suggests the ideal ripening,  freshness, and wholesomeness. Bananas, for example, should be Pantone color 12-0752; a somewhat muted shade known as Buttercup.

wholefoods display

Like it just fell off the turnip truck.
The supermarket’s farm stand aesthetic tells its own tale of freshness. Produce signs appear to be hand-written on chalkboards as if the prices change with the weather. The tomatoes are still in wooden boxes suggesting that a local farmer pulled out back with his flatbed truck and hauled the crates straight to the selling floor. Look closely and you’ll see that signage lettering is painted on with a chalk look-alike and and the faux fruit crates and other displays are factory-made. After all, those tomatoes were shipped in days ago and prices are mostly set at Whole Foods’ corporate offices.

It’s all about messaging.
Plenty of stores stores try, but few succeed like Whole Foods. The gleaming fruits and fish, the grainy breads and artisan cheeses project freshness, quality, and wholesome abundance; the organic pedigrees and rustic fixtures contain environmental and nutritional pieties. The totality of the shopping experience envelops you the moment you step inside, and by the time you reach the register, you’re gladly handing over your whole paycheck.

 

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How’d They Get So Little? The true story of baby carrots.

image via Bent Objects

image via Bent Objects

 

Did you ever wonder where those perfect little carrots come from?
Those marvels of the produce aisle, so uniform in shape, size, and color, like no carrot found in nature. You’ve had your suspicions; you’ve heard the rumors.
It’s all true. Carrots- yes; Babies- no.

True baby carrots are a specialty crop that’s grown to be harvested before maturity. The supermarket version is a manufactured product, more properly known as ‘baby-cuts’ instead of baby carrots.

The baby-cuts began as full-sized, fully-grown carrots that are snipped into 2-inch sections, pumped through water-filled pipes into giant whirling peelers, whittled down to lovable niblets, and bathed in a mold retardant before they’re packed in plastic bags for shipping. Organic carrot growers use a citrus-based product called Citrix, but the conventional baby-cuts in your supermarket were treated with chlorine to prolong shelf life.

Pass the bunny balls
The baby carrots we’ve come to know were invented in the late 1980′s. Supermarkets have always demanded carrots of uniform size and shape, with no lumps, bumps, spots, or twists. One California carrot farmer had grown tired of culling the imperfect and irregular carrots from his crop. Up to 70% of his harvest would end up discarded or sold at a discounted price for juice and animal feed. He started experimenting with green bean trimmers and potato peelers, dabbling first with 1-inch rounds that he marketed as ‘bunny balls’ before settling on 2-inch thumbs, and an industry was transformed. Ironically, we now pay a premium price for the former cast-offs.

The baby-cut boom has changed the way carrots are grown. The ideal carrot used to be bulky-topped and steeply tapered, grown to a standard 6½ inches for the best fit in 0ne- and two-pound plastic bags. Now growers shoot for long, narrow cylinders. The length gets them more cuts—it’s gone from the original two cuts per carrot to three and even four cuts from 8+ inch behemoths. Straight and narrow means they can be planted closer together for more yield per acre, and less is wasted when they’re carved into the baby carrot shape.

Before the advent of the baby-cut, annual carrot consumption in the U.S. was a steady 6 pounds a year per person. It started climbing in 1986 and topped 11 pounds per person by 2007. We snack on them, throw them into soups and stews, entertain with baby-cuts and dip, put them in lunch boxes, and order them at fast food restaurants. The carrot industry’s Eat’em Like Junk Food campaign has even pushed ‘scarrots’ as a dubious alternative to Halloween candy.

I know what you’re going to say.
Yes, it’s cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment to buy whole carrots from a local grower. But baby-cuts did get us to eat twice as many fresh carrots as we used to.
It’s hard to argue with that kind of success.

Posted in food business, food knowledge, snack foods | Leave a comment

Another Epic Twitter Fail – This Time It’s Starbucks’ Turn

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

 

When good tweets go bad
Twitter is a powerful tool for brands to interact with their fans. It’s an inexpensive and immediate way for restaurants to build relationships and create a buzz. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. But when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry.

The followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
We’ve seen blunders and over-sharing, humor that backfires, restaurants that tweet their own gaffes, and Twitter campaigns hijacked by disgruntled customers. When it happens, the company’s own narrative is in the hands of the masses. Starbucks is the latest in a string of restaurants to lose control and see their Twitter campaign blow up.

They spread it, all right.
Starbucks created the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out some holiday cheer. The feed was displayed  on a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum where the company sponsors the ice rink. But cheerful quickly turned to sneerful.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has a reputation as a bit of a Scrooge in Britain where the company has been in the news for its plans to cut paid lunch breaks, sick leave, and maternity benefits for thousands of employees. It had also recently emerged that the coffee chain, with 700 locations across the U.K., had circumvented the British tax system with some financial-sleight-of-hand involving its division in Switzerland, and had paid less than 1% in corporate taxes over 14 years. The tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup. And all was displayed on a giant screen at a central London landmark.

For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #HurricaneSandy or #JustinBieberHaircut, or for about $120,000 a hashtag can be purchased and promoted as a trending topic, as Starbucks did with #SpreadTheCheer.

This is not the first restaurant twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock.

There have been some obvious missteps: Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?  And Denny’s printed its menus with an invitation to Join the conversation! that directed its customers to the Twitter account of a Taiwanese gentlemen named Denny Hsieh whose Twitter handle is @Dennys. The menus were used for four months in 1,500 locations before they were corrected.

For Starbucks, this was a rare stumble in cyberspace. The company has topped virtually every list of social media winners since such things were tracked: industry, media, and marketing firms have all singled out Starbucks as the most socially engaged company, the best loved online brand, and the top restaurant presence online. That’s what makes this bush league Twitter fail all the more surprising. A publicly displayed, unmoderated, real-time feed? They should have known better.

 

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Walmart Sells the Groceries While U.S.Taxpayers Feed its Employees

 

image via Eat Drink Politics

 

We all know that Walmart sits at the top of many lists.
It’s the world’s largest private employer, the world’s biggest retailer, and one of the most valuable companies in history.
Here in the U.S. it’s the largest seller of food, collecting one of every four dollars spent on groceries. It also rakes in more from food stamp recipients than any other retailer, hauling in nearly 40% of all food stamp spending.

Here’s another lists it tops:
Walmart workers lead the nation in government subsidies to the working poor.

Because of low wages and lack of covered benefits, each Walmart store costs taxpayers an average of $420,000 in annual government assistance, or about $943 per Walmart employee. With as many as 80% of store workers falling into the safety net, Walmart employees top the list of food stamp and Medicaid recipients in dozens of states, collecting a total of $2.66 billion in taxpayer assistance last year.

All that food, all that profit, all those food stamps. You might call it ironic; some call it the conservative circle of life; I call it reprehensible.

See your city, county, state, and federal tax dollars at work (for Walmart) with the interactive map found at Walmart Subsidy Watch.

Posted in food business, food policy, workplace | 1 Comment

We Can Pickle That!

image via IFC

 

Spoofed on TV: It’s a sure sign that pickles have crossed from alternative to mainstream.
The oft-brilliant sketch comedians of Portlandia love to give a ribbing to studiously trendy foods. They skewered the pretensions of mixology with a cocktail of ginger-based bourbon infused with ingredients like charred ice, egg shells, bitters, and rotten banana; ‘green’ carnivores brought us Colin, a restaurant chicken dish served with his local, free-range, heritage breed, woodland-raised pedigree; and the Allergy-Pride Parade celebrated a lactose- and wheat-free world. Now we have the overzealous briners of We Can Pickle That! who enthusiastically pickle and eat all manner of brined matter. “Too many eggs? We can pickle that! Dropped your ice cream cone? We can pickle that! Broke a heel on your shoe? We can pickle that!” Before the opening credits had rolled for the latest Portlandia season, they had pickled an old CD jewel box case, Band-Aids, a parking ticket, and a dead bird.

Can you call a process that’s been with us for thousands of years a trend?
Pickling began as a food preservation technique in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s now practiced globally in a multitude of forms: Indian chutneys, Irish corned beef, herring in Scandinavia, Germany’s sauerkraut, Chinese duck eggs, and Korean kimchi are all regional adaptations of the culinary art. Here in the U.S. the cucumber is king, and the average American eats 8½ pickled pounds of them a year: sweet pickles in the South, where you can get them brined in Kool-Aid; bread-and-butter slices in the Midwest; refrigerated for Northeasterners; and kosher dills for everyone.

What’s new is the way pickles are being reinvented in every color, shape, size, and texture. Chefs are experimenting with everything from apples to sea beans in brines both sweet and savory. They’re adding them to salads, soufflés, seafood, and desserts, and even giving them center stage with entire pickle plates.

The new pickle renaissance was disconcerting to top pickle-maker Vlasic. 
As supermarket pickles go, they hold their own with a nice vinegar zip, a touch of peppery heat, and their famous crunch, but with an ingredient list that’s as much laboratory as grandma’s kitchen and an alarmingly fluorescent yellow hue (thank you, Artificial Yellow #5), they were turning off the new breed of pickle buyer. Vlasic recently introduced its new ‘artisanal’ pickle line to compete with jarred upstarts like McClure’s and Brooklyn Brine. Farmer’s Garden™ by Vlasic® eschews Mexican imports for most of the year using Michigan cucumbers in season, and adds whole garlic cloves, pepper strips, whole peppercorns, and carrot slices. With no artificial coloring, they look less like Mountain Dew than Vlasic’s traditional varieties, and you can buy them at Walmart for about half the price of their trendy competitors’ pickles. Indeed, the pickle renaissance has gone mainstream.

 

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Big Food Swallows Up Small Organic

There’s nothing ‘alternative’ about organic foods anymore.
The category is a $30 billion industry that accounts for 4.2 percent of all U.S. food sales, Whole Foods Market is in the Fortune 500, and most of your favorite brands like Bear Naked, Kashi, Health Valley, and Spectrum Organics are owned by global brands like Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, and Kraft.

Organic goes global: a victim of its own success
It’s been years since organic food was the back-to-the-land ideal of blue skies over happy cows. We can lament our disillusionment, but growth is the result of a cycle of success.  And it’s not all bad news when corporate America comes knocking.

No love for multinational agri-business conglomerates
Make no mistake about it; organic food is a fast-growing, wildly lucrative business, and that’s why Big Food wants in. If a company doesn’t want to make the investment in improving the eco-friendliness of its heritage brands, it can acquire an organic business and ‘green’ its image by claiming improved environmentalism throughout its overall product line. It’s misleading, hypocritical greenwashing, but here’s why we’ll take it:

Organics for everyone
Big food brings economies of scale that allow organic brands to produce and deliver more products to more people at lower prices. Three-quarters of America’s grocers now carry organic products, and the growth necessary to achieve that kind of  mainstream success would have been impossible without corporate investment. We might view the developments warily and cry ‘sell-out,’ but it is possible that at least some of the conglomerates will continue to produce first-rate organic products and continue the commitment to the socially responsible values of the companies they now own.

The weight of marketing, the power of persuasion
Pepsi sells the heck out of bubbly, brown sugar water, and Kraft taught America that cheese is spelled K-R-A-F-T. Imagine what that muscle and expertise could do for organics. Imagine if just a small fraction of the half a trillion dollars spent on worldwide consumer advertising last year was used to persuade people to buy hormone-free milk, or to feed their kids organic breakfast cereals, or to buy compostable ketchup bottles. Big Food has the power to change consumer behavior in a way that Small Organic never could.

Heighten public awareness and you have a catalyst for further change.
As consumer interest turns toward organic foods, agri-businesses will no doubt seize the opportunity to capture market share by expanding their investments in the organic sector and perhaps over-hauling their heritage brands. Grow the market large enough and it won’t even matter if they share a commitment to environmentalism; the profit motive will propel Big Food into a greener future.

See who really owns the organics: Dr. Philip H. Howard at Michigan State University created the Organic Processing Industry Structure  charting the organic food chain of acquisitions by U.S. food processors.

 

Posted in food business, sustainability | Leave a comment
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