food business

Your Fork, Your Conscience, and Your Pocketbook

 

image via Watershed Media

image via Watershed Media


Do you know where your food dollars are going?

From Tom Monaghan, founder of both Domino’s Pizza and the ultra-Orthodox Catholic Ave Maria List PAC, to the Koch Brothers and their Dixie Cups brand, conservatives have plenty of friends in the food world. A few, like Chick-fil-A, are controlled by far right-wingers who openly and unapologetically use their brands to promote conservative agendas. Most just quietly pour profits into campaigns and super PACs that oppose gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, universal healthcare, and other affronts to conservatism.

Business owners are free to exercise their Constitutional rights of speech and assembly, just as we are free to decide that we’d rather not help them to finance bigotry and intolerance.
Here at Gigabiting, these are the food-related businesses with politics that leave a bad taste in our mouths:

Johnsonville Sausage has a long history of support for right-wing causes and candidates, most recently to fight the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Carl’s Jr.’s founder’s support of a nasty little proposition to fire gay teachers earned his hamburgers the nickname ‘bigot burgers.’

The Waffle House, a southern roadside fixture with 1,600 mostly franchised restaurants, used centralized corporate funds to become a major supporter of Karl Rove’s group American Crossroads.

White Castle likes to support the seriously conservative Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC.

The ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries is also a fan of the Boehner-linked Congressional Leadership Fund.

Cracker Barrel has stopped firing employees who don’t exhibit ‘normal heterosexual values,’ but its political contributions list reads like a Who’s Who of the Tea Party.

Outback Steakhouse has been criticized for strong-arming employees to sign over paycheck deductions to a massive in-house PAC. Ironically, that fund directs its contributions to organizations that fight labor-friendly causes like a higher minimum wage and a national health care system.

When you mop up kitchen spills with Brawny, Sparkle, or Mardi Gras paper towels, you’re lining the pockets of Charles and David Koch, the pair who is funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to groups like the National Rifle Association, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the National Right to Life Committee, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, the 60 Plus Association and the American Future Fund. Like Dixie Cups and Vanity Fair napkins, they are all produced by subsidiaries of Koch Industries. It’s not food but it’s in your kitchen.

Vote with your pocketbook, your fork, and your conscience.
Better World Shopper rates the social responsibility of over 1,000 companies in a range of industries. It’s a reliable and comprehensive database that examines corporate records on human rights, environmental issues, animal protection, issues of social justice, and community involvement.

Posted in food business, food knowledge | 3 Comments

How Wall Street Is Messing With the Price of Beer

beerfund

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 proposed monopoly that threatens the American way of life.  
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 half of the U.S. beer business. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger. It has a pretty good case against the proposal, 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 pressure to keep prices down disappears along with it.

There’s also pricing pressure coming from everyone’s favorite Wall Street shakedown artists.
Last week the New York Times reported on an aluminum hoarding scheme perpetrated by Goldman Sachs that is bidding up the price of beverage cans. Apparently some Goldman analysts stumbled across a loophole in the arcane system of aluminum pricing. When they learned that storage times are factored into metal market prices, they realized that a killing could be made by buying up aluminum and lengthening the storage time. But since it’s not entirely legal to just sit on a stockpile of metal, Goldman Sachs designed a massive shell game.

Three years ago Goldman bought up a major storage system of 27 aluminum warehouses. Every day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. They load up in one warehouse and unload in another, sometimes making multiple circuits with the same bars in a single day, and each time they get to add a little rent charge to the price of the metal. The daily dance of the aluminum has stretched out average storage times from six weeks to more than 16 month. The scheme has earned $5 billion for Goldman Sachs over its three years, and the inflated rent charge ends up added to the cost of every can of beer.

At least we can shop wisely.    
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.

 

 

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

This is Why FroYo is Trouncing Ice Cream

 

image via LiveStrong

image via LiveStrong

 

Have you seen the new breed of frozen yogurt shop?
Of course you have; they’re like retail kudzu, sprouting everywhere with their happy-hued decor, self-serve flavor lineups, and myriad toppings. We started this summer with around 6,000 frozen yogurt shops, a big jump from the 3,624 at the end of 2010.

The frozen dessert shop segment as a whole has been holding steady at $6 billion per year, which means that virtually all of the froyo growth represents a cone for cone, cup for cup swap of ice cream for yogurt. Ice cream sales are at their lowest point in decades, and chains like Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins, and Friendly’s have been shuttering stores by the hundreds.

The name says it all.
The 1980’s saw the first wave of frozen yogurt shops with the popular franchises I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! and TCBY (originally the acronym stood for This Can’t be Yogurt until a lawsuit from I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! forced a name change to The Country’s Best Yogurt). Like selling margarine as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter stand-in, frozen yogurt was seen as ice cream’s poor relation, and the more closely it mimicked the real thing, the better. After a decade of froyo madness, the market collapsed in the ’90s with the rise of coffeehouses and competition from niche frozen treat alternatives like gelato, Italian ice, and smoothies.

This time around, it’s all about the yogurt.
The new wave of frozen yogurt is defiantly, unapologetically not ice cream. It’s tart and comes in a slew of trendy and nontraditional flavors like green tea, guava, and salted caramel swirl. Plus it’s kinda, sorta, maybe healthy.

In its basic form frozen yogurt is a healthier choice than ice cream.
It contains less fat and sugar than ice cream. Frozen Greek-style yogurt has an especially dense concentration of healthy protein, and the tart flavors can slow down the release of sugar in the body, which stabilizes appetite and energy levels. Frozen yogurt also contains the strains of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics; the National Yogurt Association demands it of any product labeled as yogurt. You’d be fine if you just stopped there, but that’s not going to happen.

The ironic indulgence of the yogurt shop
Neuroscientists study something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment.’ It happens when a person feels that a goal has been met even if they’ve only taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it: you feel healthier just joining a gym, even before you’ve ever worked out there; and smarter for subscribing to the New Yorker, even when the issues pile up unread. And in the froyo world, you can feel virtuous about your diet simply because you chose frozen yogurt over ice cream.

There you are celebrating your dietary restraint in a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. You pat yourself on the back with one hand while the other fills the oversized yogurt cup and ladles on honey toasted almonds and- what the hell, it’s only yogurt- Oreo crumbles. And here’s the ironic part—the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the what-the-hell effect. So says the University of Chicago’s Journal of Consumer Research in the study Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: When the Mere Presence of a Healthy Option Leads to an Ironically Indulgent Decision. Maybe this is news to you, but you can bet it’s not to the frozen yogurt industry. They know that the health food halo that sits atop yogurt brings customers in the door, but it’s the guiltless indulgence of the toppings bar that satisfies them.

Ice cream is struggling to regain its cool factor.
Frozen yogurt shops are successfully selling the health angle, the buzz of their hip decor, and the hands-on foodie vibe of customization. They make traditional ice cream parlors and scoop shops feel downright stodgy. Ice cream isn’t going anywhere; it will always be the luxuriant nosh of choice. But if it wants a marketing edge over frozen yogurt, it needs to enrich its offerings and update the customer experience.

Miscellany from the froyo world:

Naming Force will pay you $100 to name their client’s frozen yogurt shop. 
Don’t they all just pick a fruit, pick a color, and add  a ‘Yo!’?

The yogurt shop aesthetic has been described as ‘cool,’ ‘sugary,’ and ‘Tokyo preschool lounge.’ Mindful Design Consulting has assembled a best of gallery of shop interiors.

I wouldn’t say it was bound to happen, but it has: Cups is touted as the Hooters of froyo.

 

Posted in food business, health + diet, snack foods, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Farmed Shrimp: A Cocktail of Nastiness

 

image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Raised in sewage, bathed in toxins, harvested by child laborers…
and we’re just getting started.

Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, and most of it is filthy, nasty stuff.
90% of the shrimp we eat has been imported, and 90% of that comes from shrimp farming ponds in developing nations with unsanitary conditions and lax regulations. When it’s inspected by U.S. regulatory agencies, shrimp is consistently found to contain more banned additives, pesticides, antibiotics, and even more cockroaches, than any other seafood, but less than 2% is inspected. Here’s what’s wrong with the shrimp that’s getting through the system.

Shrimp ponds are like over-crowded sewers
As shrimp grew in popularity, production has become more intensive to meet the demand. A few years ago, the typical one acre pond produced 445 pounds of shrimp; a concentrated operation will now produce as much as 89,000 pounds, packing 170,000 shrimp into a single acre. Most shrimp farms don’t purify, filter, or recycle the water  as it becomes a stagnant cesspool of mouldering feed and decomposing shrimp bodies. Most ponds have seven year runs before the water itself kills off all the shrimp.

Drugging the sick shrimp
With all the bacteria flourishing in the pond water, shrimp farmers battle disease outbreaks with antibiotics, pesticides, and fungicides added to feed pellets or dumped directly in the water, or both. And while a mere 2% of the imports are inspected, only 0.1% are tested for chemical residues, according to the Government Accountability Office. Among the substances that the FDA fails to catch in the untested 99.9 % are the banned carcinogen PCB; chloramphenical, a highly toxic drug of last resort to treat typhoid fever and meningitis that’s been detected in shrimp at levels 150 times the legal limit; and penicillin, the antibiotic that is also the most commonly reported allergen in the U.S.

Ghastly conditions in shrimp processing plants
A reporter’s visit last fall to an Asian seafood exporter resulted in the Bloomberg News article Asian Seafood Raised on Pig Feces Approved for U.S. Consumerswhich describes a filthy hellhole of buzzing flies, murky water, and unrefrigerated shrimp sitting on the trash-strewn floor waiting to be sorted. Human Rights Watch has documented physical abuse, debt servitude, and child labor, and Food and Water Watch reports on processed shrimp shipments that arrive in the U.S. containing filth like rodent hair and cockroaches.

More shrimp could leave us with nothing but shrimp
Shrimp farms dismantle critical elements of the marine ecosystem. Inland shrimp farming is located in ecologically important salt flats and marshes, giving farmers easy access to saltwater, the natural environment for shrimp, and intensive production almost always requires large-scale removal of mangroves. Coastal mangrove forests provide vital habitats for countless seafood species including snapper, wild tilapia, sea bass, oysters, and crabs. Food and Water Watch estimates that for each acre of mangroves destroyed, 675 pounds of commercial fish are lost. As much as 80% of mangrove forest land has already disappeared from the leading fish-farming nations of Thailand, Ecuador, Indonesia, China, Mexico, and Vietnam.

Go wild, go domestic
Rule out farmed imports and you’re left with the still imperfect options of wild-caught and domestically farmed shrimp.
Wild-caught shrimp isn’t raised in a chemical cocktail, but most is caught by trawling, a highly destructive fishing method that drags nets the size of football fields along the ocean floor. For every pound of shrimp that’s caught, many more pounds of marine life, including endangered species like giant sea turtles, are scooped up, most to be killed and discarded. The nets also inflict damage all along the ocean floor, razing coral reefs and stirring up plumes of sediment that are large enough to be seen from outer space. Domestically farmed shrimp is free of antibiotics and added toxins but there are still lingering concerns from the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill.

What’s a shrimp lover to do?
There are safe and environmentally-responsible farmed shrimp sources in the Pacific Northwest and sustainably and humanely harvested wild varieties like spot prawns and pink shrimp. Choose from the list of ‘best choices’ and ‘good alternatives’ provided by Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Their free downloadable guides will tell you what to buy and where you can find it for every region of the U.S.

Bubba tells us what we can do with all of our good, clean shrimp:

 

 

Posted in fish, food business, food safety | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in food business, shopping, shopping | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Posted in food business, holidays, trends | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food business | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in food business, snack foods | 1 Comment

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.

 

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

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.

 

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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.

 

wholefoodsrainbow

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.

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