food business

Crowdsourcing: You Pick the Flavors


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


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.


Posted in appliances + gadgets, Entertainment, food business | Leave a comment

Whole Foods: They Have You at the Front Door.



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.


Posted in coffee, cyberculture, food business, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

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

Should Restaurants Charge More on Saturday Night?

utensil clock via the Smithsonian Store


You can walk right in on a Tuesday night. You won’t have to wait if you want to eat at 5:30 any day of the week. But when Saturday night rolls around, there are more takers than tables.

It seems obvious that a table during prime dining hours is more valuable than the others. A popular restaurant could sell those tables to the highest bidder and economists would tell us that it is the fairest, most rational system. Instead the tables are doled out at the regular rates, awarded to diners for a well-timed phone call to the reservationist or a lucky session with an online booking tool, or the tried-and-true method of slipping a fifty to the maître d’.
Restaurants are starting to realize that they’re leaving money on the table, and some, like a group of always-booked-up New York restaurants, are banding together to change the system.

Flexible pricing is already with us.
Airlines charge more on busy travel days, hotels jack up their prices at holiday time, and just try to find a babysitter who won’t charge extra on New Years Eve. It’s simple supply and demand and we’re always happy when it works in our favor. But mention variable pricing and food in the same breath and it rings of profiteering.

The Coca Cola Company tried variable pricing last year and it resulted in one of the company’s most notable missteps. In a move that ranks up there with the New Coke fiasco, the company outfitted some of its vending machines with a temperature sensor and computer chip that allowed the machines to raise the beverage price on hot days. The strategy, expressly designed to exploit the thirst of its neediest, faithful customers, came off as especially mean-spirited, even unscrupulous. After a little roughing-up from the press (“Soda Jerks,” Miami Herald; “Coke’s Chilling Concept,” The Irish Times), the program was withdrawn.

A Saturday night reservation for a trendy restaurant is hardly about hunger and thirst. If the restaurant chooses to charge whatever the market will bear it can hardly be called price gouging—it’s not like they’re selling water in a heatwave or flashlight batteries in a power outage. We understand the logic behind lower prices at slow times.
Isn’t a Saturday night surcharge just the flipside to the early bird special?

New York, the first U.S. city to try the surcharge, has 24,000 restaurants including 66 with one or more Michelin stars. Despite the competition, enough of the city’s top tables believe that they can command a weekend and holiday premium. If the plan succeeds in New York, you can bet that restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Dallas, and probably a few other cities will follow.

For the elite, the spendthrift, and the special occasion celebrant, weekends will get a little easier. For the rest of us, we’ll learn that the food tastes just as good on a Monday or a Tuesday.

Posted in food business, restaurants | 1 Comment

Who Needs a Prettier Apple?

image via


It sure does bug us when our apples turn brown.
You know, the discoloration that occurs when you cut or bite into an apple and its flesh is exposed to air.
One apple grower is convinced that it bugs us so much that we’ll choose a non-browning variety, even if it’s a genetically-modified organism. The USDA is currently sitting on the application for the Arctic®Apple, which its inventor hopes will be the first approved food that’s been genetically modified solely for cosmetic reasons.

It’s an awfully big deal when a crop is genetically modified.
Bio-engineered crops can impact health, the environment, and market dynamics, and we don’t even fully understand all the risks. Although many in the scientific community would like to see it banned altogether, an argument can be made for agricultural biotech that addresses issues like world hunger or devastating pathogens. That’s why most GMO crops are designed to resist pests or disease, to grow faster, or to produce extra nutrients.
But not the Arctic®Apple; it’s been sliced and diced at the molecular level to spare us the need to add a sprinkle of lemon juice to prevent slices from browning.

The food industry already has plenty of techniques for maintaining the appearance and extending the shelf life of apples so that a ‘fresh’ apple in the supermarket can actually be from last year’s harvest.
They’re sprayed with wax or shellac to make them shiny and seal in moisture. They’re flushed with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, 1-methylcyclopropene, and other inert gases, and stored for months in sealed, controlled atmosphere storage facilities. They’re irradiated using high-energy electrons or X-rays from accelerators, or by gamma rays emitted from radioactive sources. The Dorian Gray-like Arctic®Apple won’t even bruise to alert you to damage or decomposition.

How do you like them apples?
The agricultural biotechnology company Okanagan Specialty Fruits has petitioned the USDA and FDA for approval to sell the Arctic®Apple in the U.S. The USDA has paused in the middle of the approval process, and over the next week the agency is asking for consumer input. The U.S. Apple Association, the Northwest Horticultural Council (representing growers of more than 60% of the U.S. apple crop), and other grower groups have already voiced their disapproval of the Arctic®Apple.

Submit your comments through the website.



Posted in food business, food policy, Science/Technology | 3 Comments

Food Truck Names: some funny, some not so much



Food truck names: they make you you laugh, they make you cringe, but most important, they make you look.
Food trucks can tweet their arrivals to loyal followers, but they have only their wits to draw in the make-or-break traffic of passersby. Truck operators lean heavily on humor, sexual innuendo, food puns, and double entendres as they aim for a memorable, or at least eye-catching, name.
Here are some that accomplish it best–

  • The Grillenium Falcon: a Star Wars-themed grilled cheese truck out of Fayetteville, Arkansas serving a sandwich called the Cheebacca
  • Two dictator/food truck mashups: the San Francisco-based Chairman Bao, with steamed or baked bao and other Chinese street foods and Portland, Oregon’s Kim Jong Grillin’ serving Korean barbecue
  • Coolhaus, with trucks in four states, makes ice cream sandwiches. It’s a good name made even better when you learn that the owner is a former architect partial to the designs of Rem Koolhaas
  • Nashville’s I Dream of Weenie keeps it clean and clever, an all too rare combination in the world of hot dog trucks
  • Austin, Texas gets its sweet and savory empanadas from MMMpanadas
  • There’s rolling meat at Seattle’s burger-centric Buns on Wheels and Los Angeles’ meatball-focused Great Balls on Tires.
  • A bit misleading, it’s burgers, not miso soup at LA’s MeSoHungry, but the name is still killer

And then there are the questionable choices–

  • LA’s Egg Slut, where I hear the breakfasts are so much better than the name
  • At Greasy Wiener, the signature deep-fried hot dog sounds as unappetizing as the name of this Tucson, Arizona truck
  • If you’re not versed in Mexican slang you’ll have to trust me; Pinches Tacos, another LA food truck, does not have a very nice name
  • I get it, they serve dumplings; but still, the Dump Truck? (Portland, OR)

For the food truck operator who could use a little naming help, Mobile Cuisine Magazine has a Food Truck Random Name Generator.

Posted in diversions, food business | Leave a comment

The List: Food Companies that Mix Business with Conservative Agendas

image via


Did you think Chick-fil-A was the only one?
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, restaurants | 93 Comments

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

image via SF Girl by Bay


Not this year, Billy Boy, Billy Boy.

Three-fourths of the nation’s tart cherries—the kind baked into pies and cooked into jam—come from Michigan, and the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that virtually all of Michigan’s crop will be lost to freakish weather events. If they’re lucky, cherry growers will eke out 5 million or so lbs., compared with a typical year’s production that hovers around 180 million lbs.

Yes, folks, global warming is here.
2010 was the world’s hottest year on record; that is, until 2011. Now we’re six months into 2012, and it’s clearly another one for the record books.
A bizarre mid-winter heatwave with two weeks of near-90° temperatures brought early buds to Michigan’s cherry trees. When temperatures dropped back into the seasonal range of frosts and freezes, the cherry blossoms dropped too.

Michigan’s disaster is a taste of things to come, a kind of cherry on top of the global warming sundae.
Barring a swift and sudden reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, here’s what else will happen to our food:

  • Dairy cows will produce less milk and chickens will lay fewer eggs.
  • Grapes will wither into raisins before they can be pressed for wine.
  • We’ll drink  summer ales year-round—the only palatable brew that can be made with the milder, low-acid, warm-weather hops.
  • Fish will flee the southern hemisphere, vegetables will wither in the fields, and maple syrup will be just a memory.

Popsicles and iced drinks can only take you so far. What will you be eating as the planet heats up?


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Why Twitter’s Founders are Going into the Fake Meat Business

image via 365 Days of Appreciation


Mock, faux, vegan, fake
That hunk of seitan isn’t getting you to pass on a ribeye anytime soon. Let’s face it, meat substitutes are no substitute for meat.
So why are Twitter cofounders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, guys who know a thing or two about trends, calling vegan meat substitutes the next big thing?

Stone and Williams are funding and also participating in the marketing of a vegan meat maker called Beyond Meat. The company website touts its product as “the first plant protein that looks, feels, tastes, and acts like meat;” and Stone calls it “A little bit freaky… just too real,” claiming that the experience might even be disturbing to long-time vegetarians. Their target market is not just vegetarians; they see it as anyone with religious or health-related dietary restrictions, or anyone who is concerned about the environmental impact of raising livestock. They have their work cut out for them.

Crimes committed in the name of the frankfurter
The conventional hot dog is the poster child for all of our food system’s woes: highly processed, factory farmed mystery meat loaded with fat, sodium, and preservatives. That’s why, for many meat eaters, the veggie dog is the first foray into meat substitutes. This is an unfortunate place to start. The true frankfurter’s snappy casing with its barely contained salty-smoky-spicy-juicy interior defies replication by soy, gluten, and textured vegetable protein. Instead, you get rubbery skins and spongy, off-putting textures; and a taste that no amount of mustard can salvage. It can be a Smart Dog, Tofu Pup, or Tofurkey frank; it doesn’t matter because they all get it wrong.
It’s worth noting that Beyond Meat doesn’t list a hot dog in its product line.

To faux or not to faux
This is the vegetarian’s dilemma. Most people don’t stop eating meat because of the taste, but more often for health or ethical reasons. Meat substitutes offer them a meatless way to recreate favorite recipes and replace the protein in their diets, and might even move confirmed meat eaters to make more sustainable choices. But many vegetarians say that cooking with faux meat is no different than the questionable morality of wearing faux fur. Just like some anti-fur advocates wonder if wearing faux fur promotes real fur as fashionable, there are vegetarians who feel that meat substitutes send a message that meat is desirable and that the vegetarian lifestyle demands sacrifice and deprivation.

The Twitter team is banking on Beyond Meat as the gateway meat substitute, the one that will wear down faux meat resistance from vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. They believe it can have a real impact on meat consumption–and in turn, our health and the environment. And you know, they’ve been right before.



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YOU Try Living on $2.13 an Hour


If you thought that the federal minimum wage was rock bottom on the pay scale, think again.
There’s something called the subminimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, and it’s a staggeringly stingy $2.13. It’s no big surprise that poverty rates  among tipped workers are three times that of the workforce as a whole.

The federal subminimum wage has not been raised since 1991.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton pressured Congress to raise the minimum wage for the first time in years. He ultimately won a 90-cent per hour increase, but the restaurant industry, led by the National Restaurant Association and its board chairman Herman Cain, who would later become the group’s president, successfully lobbied to have the minimum wage for tipped employees separated from the increase and kept at $2.13.

Until then, the subminimum wage had been pegged at 50% of the standard minimum wage: $2.13 to the standard $4.25. Since the two were decoupled, the minimum wage has been increased four more times to its current $7.25 an hour, while the subminimum has remained unchanged at $2.13, reducing it to less than one-third of the minimum. Meanwhile, the cost of living has continued to climb, effectively reducing the buying power of that amount to $1.28.

What about tips?
There’s nothing gratuitous about tips. They constitute the vast majority of a server’s earnings; rather than rewarding servers for good service, tips are essentially subsidizing the pittance paid by their employers. And the tips themselves are shrinking. Average ticket prices in restaurants have been sluggish for years as the prolonged recession takes its toll on individual spending habits and corporate travel budgets.

Restaurant business practices can further erode tips.
Employers love to keep payrolls down by naming more of their workers to the subminimum wage category. And when those workers aren’t in typically tipped positions, restaurants can institute mandatory tip-sharing pools and take a cut from the servers to subsidize the paychecks of non-serving employees. Restaurant owners can also deduct the tip-related portion of their credit card processing fees from the tips given to servers, cutting further into meager earnings.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Servers
We have a seafood watch list, fair trade labeled imports, and we know when the eggs are cage-free. How about looking at the sustainability of restaurant workers.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center United has released its 2012 National Diners Guide rating the working conditions in national and regional restaurants. It covers everything from higher-end dining rooms like Morton’s Steakhouses and Legal Seafoods to the Applebee’s, Cracker Barrels, and Cheesecake Factories that dot the nation.


Posted in food business | 2 Comments

Food Tastes Different in Noisy Restaurants

image via Synergy Consultants


A widely circulated study reported in the journal Food Quality and Preference concluded that background noise affects the taste of food.
We didn’t need a study to tell us.

Drink a glass of wine in a crowded, noisy bar.
Now sit down in a quiet dining room and have another glass.
These are two entirely different experiences. In fact, you’ll swear you’re drinking two different wines.

The study found that loud ambient noise makes flavors lose their intensity. Sweet foods taste less sweet and salty foods taste less salty. The researchers attribute this to the distraction—the noise seems to overwhelm the senses, drowning out the taste of food in the same way as it drowns out conversation.

Bring in ‘da noise
Nothing says fun like clattering dishes, chattering diners, and a pounding bass line. Some restaurateurs will cultivate the noise level to signify that the place has a buzz; it’s busy and lively and happening. Sedate and quiet feels empty. Raucous draws in customers who will want to be there because so many other people feel the same way.

The up-sell of sound
Louder and faster music makes us eat and drink faster. One study found that when music is played at 72 decibels (equivalent to the background noise of a vacuum cleaner), people drink at a rate of one glass of beer or wine per 14.5 minutes. Crank the music up to 88 decibels (equivalent to the noise of busy street traffic) and 4 minutes is shaved off the time it takes to finish a drink. And they’re not just drinking faster to flee the ruckus; consumption increases from 2.6 to 3.4 drinks in the same period of time.

We also chew faster when the music is fast and loud, accelerating from 3.83 bites a minute to 4.4 bites a minute. Of course it’s difficult to talk over the volume, so there tends to be less conversation to slow us down, but it seems that the ambient energy works to energize us. Some restaurants, like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, have pre-programmed their sound systems to raise the tempo and volume of music at peak times, when people are waiting and they want to turn tables quicker.

Sound check
Loud background noise is stressful. It changes your heart rate, elevates blood pressure and increases breathing rates. The fallout can linger long after you’ve left a restaurant, intensifying the effects of alcohol and interfering with sleep. And audiologists agree that regular exposure to sound levels above 90 decibels—typical of a bustling bar/restaurant, which can hit brief peaks as high as 140 db—leads to permanent hearing loss.

When Zagat asked its survey respondents “What irritates you most about dining out?” restaurant noise ranked second, just after poor service—that’s more dissatisfaction than reported for food, prices, or any other aspect of ambiance. Restaurant reviewers from publications like the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle now routinely carry sound meters into restaurants, and report decibels along with the stars.

Next time, I’ll have the steak frites and a side of earplugs, please.



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Sriracha-holics Anonymous












[images: The Oatmeal, Corvossalus, Food Beast, Cafe Press, The Sriracha Cookbook Blog, Jessica Hische]

It started out innocently enough: a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades.
You marveled at how a tiny hit of heat, sweet, and garlic perked up those dishes. You branched out: a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into  scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. Was there nothing that couldn’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?

Your second squeeze bottle was a lot bigger but disappeared just as quickly. It started keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal. You bought another bottle for the office fridge. A smidgen turned into a dollop, a smear became a slather.
Sound familiar? You just might be addicted to Sriracha.

Most of us saw our first red rooster bottle of Sriracha in an ethnic restaurant. Probably Thai or Vietnamese, but it could have just as easily been Chinese or Mexican. The sauce’s garlicky punch of sweet with heat puts it clearly in the Asian camp, but of indeterminate provenance, and its manufacturer Huy Fong Foods likes it that way. David Tran, the company’s founder and Sriracha’s creator, was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents; he named the sauce for a town in Thailand and prints the ingredient list on the back of the bottle in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish.

The All-American polyglot purée
Sriracha is a blend of red jalapenos, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt that would be unrecognizable in Mr. Tran’s native country but has found a home here. In its 25 years of existence, Sriracha has gone from ethnic exotic to pantry staple. We go through more than 10 million bottles of the stuff a year, finding it on Wal-Mart’s shelves and Applebee’s menu. Online, jokey pictures circulate of extreme consumption like hot sauce IV bags and aerated Spray-racha.

Hot sauce for everyone; a hot sauce for every taste.
Hot sauce is the rare food that crosses geography, cultures, and demographics. So much so that it’s flourishing even in the down economy, and was recently named one of America’s 10 fastest growing industries. Tabasco is still the indisputable leader. Sriracha’s yearly output of 10 million bottles is banged out every couple of weeks by the McIlhenny Company. But the dedicated legions of Sriracha addicts continue to grow. You can spot them by the trail of red sauce and the whiff of breath mints that don’t quite mask the telltale scent of garlic.

For the record, the other 9 industries on the list are: generic pharmaceuticals, solar panels, for-profit universities, pilates and yoga studios, self-tanning products, 3D printers, social networking games, green and sustainable construction, and online eyeglasses and contact lens retailers. You can download the full report on America’s top 10 fastest growing industries from IBISWorld.




Posted in food business, food trends | 1 Comment

Shameless Act of Product Placement: James Bond Will Drink Heineken

Everyone’s got their price. Apparently James Bond’s is $45 million.
That’s the rumored value of the marketing deal with Heineken that turns Daniel Craig’s James Bond into a beer guy.

Vodka martinis have always been James Bond’s signature drink. Ian Fleming assigned very specific traits and idiosyncrasies to Bond that are emblematic of the style and sophistication of the character he created. Along with 007′s choice of martinis, famously served “shaken, but not stirred,” there’s his gambling (baccarat), guns (Beretta 418 or Walther PPK), attire (dinner jackets and Saville Row suits), and car (Aston Martin). In Skyfall, the next big-screen installment, the suave, lady-killing British spy will swap his cocktail shaker for a can opener.

There’s nothing new about food and beverage product placement in movies and television shows. The origins of the practice go back to 1935′s Curly Top; that’s right, Shirley Temple was shilling for Nabisco when she sang ‘Animal Crackers in my Soup.’

Product placement is inescapable in contemporary entertainment. Every scene is a potential merchandising opportunity. A sitcom family’s got to eat, so why not have them eat a sponsored product? A marketer will pay a fee for its cereal box or soda to show up on the kitchen counter; more if it’s in the foreground; less if it’s only seen in profile. If you see “products provided by…” or “promotional consideration given to…” in the closing credits, you can bet that money changed hands.

Technology has even given rise to the virtual product placement. A different sponsor can be tapped when a movie hits the rental market or a television show is seen in syndication. The Friends gang never ate Oreos in its broadcast seasons, but you’ll find them on Monica’s kitchen table in reruns, and a 2006 episode of  How I Met Your Mother now shows the lead characters walking past a movie poster for the 2011 film Bad Teacher.

At its best, product placement feels like a natural extension of the character and plot line. At its worst, you get Agent 007 chugging a brewski.

Product placement is everywhere. Educate yourself at Product Placement News.


Posted in Entertainment, food business | Leave a comment

1 in 10 Americans is Employed by a Restaurant


Forget about manufacturing, healthcare, and technology; the real jobs are in food.
According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants have added more than 560,000 jobs in the past year, with 200,000 of those positions created in the last six months. Restaurant employment now stands at 180,000 jobs above the pre-recession peak.

This year we’ll spend $1.7 billion per day on restaurant meals.
That’s 48% of all our food spending. Consumer spending and employment growth in the restaurant industry have outpaced the rest of the economy for 13 straight years, and they’re expected to keep growing with 1.4 million new positions added in the next decade.

Jobs for everyone
Half of all adults—60 million Americans—have worked in restaurants at some point in their lives. One in three workers got their first job experience in a restaurant, and for one in five of us, it was a McDonald’s.

Restaurants are a vital part of our lifestyle and our economy. Do your part for America—eat out more often.


Posted in food business, restaurants | 1 Comment

Behold the Round Saltine

Round Saltines have been showing up on supermarket shelves throughout New England.
After a century of quadrilaterality, Nabisco is test-marketing the new geometry. If it’s well received in the region, there could be a national roll out by the end of the year. This is no mere addition to the Saltine product line—the round crackers will replace the original squares.

Nabisco company spokesman Basil T. Maglaris calls the round crackers “relevant and contemporary.”
He seems to be missing the point.

Saltines are innocuous, familiar, and bland, which is precisely why we eat them. They’re the stuff of home remedies and kindergarten snacks. At restaurants we’ll crumble a cellophane two-pack into soups and stews, and at home we’ll eat them with peanut butter while we stand over the sink. Saltines are prescribed by doctors to ease nausea and settle an upset stomach, and they’re often the only food tolerated by pregnant women and anyone who wakes up with a hangover.

Cutting corners, both literal and figurative
On a pragmatic note, there’s the matter of the missing corners. The round crackers have a lot less area than the square ones, but there are no more of them in the box. The old 16 ounce package has been replaced by one that weighs a mere 10.5 ounces, but the retail price has stayed the same.

Nabisco has been strangely silent on the subject of the re-engineered crackers. There’s no advertising campaign or marketing promotion and the company didn’t issue the typical press releases. Not a twitter has been sent, and there is no round Saltine Facebook page for you to ‘like.’ Even the company website shows no trace of round Saltines.

By this time next year, the iconic, four-sided, salt-dimpled cracker might be history.

Nabisco’s Mr. Maglaris did say that concerned customers could contact the company’s hotline at 1-800-NABISCO.

Posted in food business | 13 Comments
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