The latest buzz making waves about Greek yogurt isn’t about innovative flavors or fresh products. Unfortunately, as of the last few weeks, internet chatter about the trendiest of foods has been focused on how companies are disposing of acid whey, a natural bi-product of the Greek yogurt production process.
Halloween isn’t one of those “mandatory” holidays like Christmas or Chanukah, so the prediction from IBISWorld research firm that Halloween spending is expected to grow 10.7% from 2011 seems telling of economic optimism. Consumer spending on things like costumes, candy and decorations are expected to reach a record-setting $8 billion this year!
Candy – Halloween’s bread and butter – is estimated to account for $2.4 billion of the sales and this year it isn’t just kids who want to scare up some festive fall treats. Big brands, like Mars, are turning their marketing attention to adults and not just as the purchasers but as the consumers of Halloween candy. So keep an eye out for Halloween-themed Snickers commercials to join the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign.
Not to be outdone, Hershey’s is rolling out ten new candy products for the October holiday – four more than they did in 2011! Further evidence of how they remain the chocolate candy market leader with a 43.3% share of the market. Another new trick up Hershey’s Halloween sleeve this year is to focus less on Halloween-specific packaging and capitalize more on the further-reaching fall-theme which will work to extend the seasonal selling season beyond November 1st, when most Halloween-packaged candy products lose relevance and move to the clearance shelf for a slow, painful death.
With so much new activity on the Halloween candy scene this year, what will you be handing out on October 31st? Here are some of our picks:
The Hershey Company Cadbury Screme Egg: White and green caramel center inside a milk chocolate shell
Mars Caramel Apple Milky Way Minis: Apple-infused caramel over chocolate-malt nougat in a soft milk chocolate shell.
Herr’s Chocolate Flavor-Drizzled Pumpkin Shaped Pretzels: Mini pumpkin shaped pretzels covered in chocolate.
Seattle Chocolates Bloody Orange Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar: Candied orange peel in a deep dark chocolate bar.
Last week, a Stanford University study came to the conclusion that there is little evidence of increased health benefits from organic foods versus their standard issue, non-organic counterparts. “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior associate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy who helped lead the study comparing organic and conventional foods.
The study was fueled by the growing popularity of organic products – which by definition are produced without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents or chemical food additives. All that organic foods lack that differentiate them from conventional options they certainly reflect in price as they are, in all cases, more expensive than non-organic options, sometimes even costing twice as much.
While this study does indicate that there are no immediate health benefits from organic versus conventional foods, it also concludes that organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than its conventional counterparts. Just because we don’t know the long-term health benefits or detriments of this difference, does not mean the point should be dismissed. Does the 30 percent pesticide difference add up over the course of years or over the course of a lifetime? Maybe it does. And maybe it doesn’t. But for the consumers in the “maybe it does” camp, paying higher prices for peace of mind is a reasonable trade-off.
Let’s not forget that for many organic-seeking consumers the value isn’t placed on their health alone – but also on the health of animals and the environment. There are undeniable differences between the affects of organic versus conventional farming on the health of the world around us. So, although eating an organic apple versus a conventional apple may not be more nutritious for us, there are other health implications that hang in the balance.
I had the pleasure of heading to restaurants twice last week for lunch (typically I’m a brown-bagger) and was surprised to spot full nutritional information under each menu item. Last spring, legislation was passed stating that chain restaurants operating more than 20 locations, were required to list nutritional information for each menu item.
I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve been out to eat…at a chain restaurant, anyway. Or maybe I just hadn’t noticed.
But my response echoed my companions – “Wow, what a downer.”
When you go out to eat, especially when it is not that often, it’s nice to treat yourself. I went out prepared to indulge in some French fries and other less than healthy goodness, but I was blown away by the calorie and sodium counts for some of those menu items. And really, that’s kind of the point.
On the first trip, I felt guilty over my original choice, and opted for a salad instead. After all, there is a bathing-suit wearing vacation in my near future. But by the second trip, I decided to ignore the numbers, and just order what I want.
Now, do not get me wrong, I appreciate the information (especially as that vacation gets nearer), but there are times when I would just rather ignore it and enjoy myself. The other problem I had with this change (at the risk of sounding rather cranky) is that it made the menu REALLY hard to read. There was just too much text, too small, and too crowded.
A solution we discussed at one lunch was a nutritional insert. The menu would look as it did before with more white space and larger text, and an insert, similar to what is used for promotions, would simply list the menu item and nutritional data. That way, the diner has the option to review at their leisure – without the information being so “in your face.” Of course, whether or not that fits into current legislation, I just don’t know. But it’s an option I would rather see.
This past weekend, I took my niece to New York for her 13th birthday. It was a day of firsts for her – first time in New York, first Broadway show, first cab ride, and first Pop-Tarts Café. OK, well that last one was a first for me too.
Being the food nerd that I am, I made sure that a stop at the new Pop Tarts World in Times Square was included on our itinerary. I’ve been reading about the shop for a few weeks now, and couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.
Inside, is a Pop-Tarts lover’s dream – tote bags and coffee mugs emblazoned with the brand logo, both new and retro. A “Varietizer” at the center of the store allowing customers to create their own variety packs – this area proved to have the longest lines.
But the area I was most focused on for this trip was the café. Having read countless “ewwws” and “ahhhs” for Pop-Tarts Sushi (minced Pop Tarts wrapped in a Fruit Roll-Up) and Fluffer Butters (marshmallow spread between two fudge tarts), I couldn’t wait to try for myself.
I chose the S’mores Stick – dark chocolate covered marshmallows on a stick, dotted with small cubes of s’mores flavored Pop-Tarts. Indulgent, delicious and decidedly adult. My niece was enamored by the Pop-Tarts Sushi, but in that crucial moment of ordering, caved in to her fears of weirdness, and ordered a toasted frosted strawberry Pop Tart – that she ate cold on the train ride home.
To me, the store appeared to be more for grown-ups than the kiddies. It was us, the adults, acting like kids in a candy store, while the kids were mildly impressed. It was the adults ordering the Pop-Tarts sundaes, sushi and sandwiches, while the kids stuck with the traditional tarts, and clung to the Varietizer.
What I also noticed, was that the café really focused on extending the Pop-Tarts brand, beyond the toaster. All summer, we’ve spotted the ad campaign in which a mom helps her kids set up a Pop-Tart stand where they sell various frozen treats, including Pop-Tarts ice cream sandwiches (an awesome idea, by the way). The café brings those ideas to life along with so many more – supported by a generous recipe section on the Pop-Tarts website. Like Rice Krispies before it, the Pop-Tarts brand is leaping into snacks and desserts – and the results are pretty awesome.
And lest you think that only sugar-laden treats can come of this, take a moment to enjoy Pop-Tarts Ants on a Log – celery sticks filled with peanut butter and dotted with squares of wild grape flavored Pop-Tarts!
I was a picky kid, skilled in the art of avoidance. When Mom tried to make me stay at the table and eat my peas, or try just one bite of the sweet potatoes, I didn’t exactly make it easy on her.
Try as she might, my stubbornness persevered and I entered adulthood with a meager diet. Throughout college I found myself tempted to try new things – after all, my metabolism was slowing down, and avoiding veggies wasn’t doing me any favors. For the most part, I enjoyed what I tried. And then I met the cucumber. I tried it, it failed, and I set it to the side of my salad plate for a few more years.
Eventually, I came across an article on how a child must be exposed to a new food 15 times before accepting it. Realizing I was as picky as a nine year-old, I conducted an experiment. I chose to revisit the friendly cucumber. I had inexplicably disliked it, even though it seemed perfectly harmless (those peas are another story).
Fifteen times I hesitantly ate those cucumbers, through the gags and the wrinkled faces. Amazingly, as I approached number 12, it didn’t seem so bad. But I still thought, eck, this won’t keep. Wrong I was…
Today, cucumbers are one of my favorite foods. I like cucumber slices in my water. I pile my salads high with them. Heck, one of my favorite snacks is cucumber slices dipped in tzatziki, a sauce made from yogurt, garlic, and, get this, more cucumbers!
So, why this stroll down memory lane? A colleague sent me a blog post from The Guardian (UK), in which the writer overcomes a similar aversion to horseradish. (She also notes a popular hatred for cilantro – something I never could understand as I tend to eat it by the bucketful.)
It made me think that my own child-inspired method wasn’t far off the mark – aren’t we all cranky nine year–olds when we really don’t like something?
I’m proud to say that over the years, I’ve developed an “I’ll try anything once” philosophy when it comes to food. (I mean, I’m not the next Andrew Zimmern or anything, but I am a bit more adventurous than your av-e-rage bear.) But, this article has me thinking I should give some things a second shot. First stop – those putrid peas.
Ah, the Fancy Foods Show – 331,000 square feet of chocolate, cheese and sauce. A playground of flavor for food industry peeps and bloggers alike. A global adventure that takes you around the world in eight hours. In short – practice your competitive eating skills beforehand, wear your comfiest of comfy shoes, and be ready to take a lot o’ notes.
Lollibons® – ice cream filled truffles on a stick – caught my eye first. I was reminded that everything tastes better on a stick, as was the thinking behind our own Pie Pops (pies on a stick) showcased at the 2009 Innovation Roadshow®.
Of all the trends lining the aisles of the Javits Center, “real” ginger – whether it was ginger soda/ale or ginger beer – seemed to be the strongest. With too many to count, one that really made an impression was Belvoir Fruit Farms’ Organic Ginger Beer. Strong does not begin to describe the kick of this carbonated soda – but it had me wanting more. Their elderflower juice was pretty darn tasty too – and both ginger and elderflower are hot on cocktail menus right now.
Our flavor chemists recently developed a line of honey flavors from Australia and New Zealand, so I was pretty excited to spot the Manuka honey line from Honey New Zealand. The twist? The number of active enzymes in each jar are called out on the package – from 5+ to 25+. According to the manufacturer, enzymes in honey have natural healing properties and do not dissipate when heated. Each batch is independently tested for its activity level, and marked as such.
Last year, the Peruvian pavilion was the place to be. Even though Peruvian cuisine is still on the rise, Korean cuisine is beginning to steal the spotlight as the next big thing. At the Korean pavilion, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) joined forces with the Korean Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation for a demonstration of fusion foods, like Bibimbap Mini Tacos and Kimchi Pancakes.
This weekend, while browsing through a department store home sale with a friend, we came upon a rack of on-sale specialty electrics – or what we quickly dubbed, “dust-collectors.”
You know what I’m talking about – the circus animal waffle iron, the mini donut maker, the cupcake maker! (Seriously…why wouldn’t you just use mini-cupcake tins??)
It got me thinking about some of the lesser used items in my own kitchen – the crème brulee torch, the deep fryer, and the Belgian waffle iron. I spent the evening trying to imagine ways to make use of these things beyond the obvious – ok, well, a few minutes at least – and I wasn’t coming up with much.
Then, I spotted a post from last week’s Tasting Table on the very subject (seriously, if you are not signed up for this newsletter, you should be!). My waffle iron being the most perplexing of the bunch, I was thrilled to find their recommendation for waffleizer.com, a blog dedicated to finding 30 new uses for a waffle iron, other than waffles.
Are there 30 uses, you ask? Try it as a panini press or a pizza oven, bake up cookies, muffins and pretzels, or even “fry” up some yummy hash browns. Waffleizer ventures into the sweet and savory – some closer than others to the waffle comfort zone.
Yet another reminder of how a little creativity in the kitchen, or the product development lab, can garner a whole new world of food and flavors!
This past weekend I was in a wedding…in fact, I was the Best Maid (aka, a female Best Man). Since the groom and I had known each other since birth, it made perfect sense to me, him, and his wife. But others were unsure – it didn’t fit the mold.
The wedding was in “the city” – across the river from the safe New Jersey suburb everyone knew. Guests were nervous.
The reception was held not in a cookie cutter hall, but in a dance studio along a cobblestone street. And, in lieu of assigned seats, we mingled the entire evening throughout a variety of rooms (with ample seating, of course). Free to roam, guests were skeptical. “It will never work,” they said, “it’s going to be a disaster!”
But, it was beautiful. Just as the bride and groom knew it would. Their sense of adventure was just what their wedding needed. Everyone had a fabulous time. Cynicism gave way to acceptance. And acceptance quickly grew into enjoyment, as friends and relatives met each other for the first time, and danced the night away.
Just like life experiences, trying new foods can be a tricky endeavor, and may often require a bit of a push. A vegetable you’ve never heard of, a combination that sounds ridiculous, a preparation that seems foreign. Too often, we decide to play it safe, and just order the chicken fingers. (Nothing against chicken fingers – they tend to be one of my own personal favorites.)
On the menu, language helps. A dish that sounds so amazing, you just can’t resist. And in the grocery store, special promotions and sales are what get customers to say, “oh, what the heck, for a dollar I’ll give it a go.”
But as product developers, we cannot assume that words and discounts are enough. We also have to ease consumers into flavors they never heard of. While launching an exotic flavor for a niche product – something targeted to a specific ethnic group, or even healthy foods niche – can work out well, doing the same on a mainstream launch can prove less profitable. When flavors are still unknown, it is best to blend them with familiar flavors to help introduce the audience to the concept. While the wedding was different than the norm, there were still many elements that were traditional, which kept guests at ease.
There are excellent examples of products, past and present, that have pushed the envelope, while keeping it familiar. A few that come to mind are: the classic Kiwi-Strawberry Snapple, the new Eclipse Breeze gum with cardamom, and the still-catching-on Vosges Mo’s Bacon Chocolate Bar. All delicious. All fun. All adventurous.
We’ve been reading a lot lately about stores cutting back on national brands to make room for more private label goods. And perhaps the greatest impact will be that made by Wal-Mart. When one manufacturer generates a significant portion of your annual sales, it becomes a bit worrisome, to say the least.
But is this a long-term trend, or a short-term reaction to our current economic situation? The current private label boom can be directly attributed to the economy. Food prices went up…personal finances went down. We all looked at our own carts and said, “Well, maybe we’ll try the store brand this week.” I know I did.
There are stores dedicated to private label brands – Loblaw’s No Frills, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. But the idea of entire sections in traditional markets, converting to private label, may be a bit much for consumers to handle.
There are just some loyalties that consumers are not willing to give up. You know what brands you cannot live without. Personally, I make no exceptions when it comes to my favorite peanut butter. If a store is out of stock, I’ll go to another. And at our Innovation Roadshow®, keynote presenter Doug Palmer of A&P noted a store brand laundry detergent that beat the brand-name leader in blind tests, but couldn’t keep up in sales.
Our favorite brands aren’t going away. They’re in for the long haul. But it will take some time and recovery to win back customers that have strayed in favor of lower prices. In the meantime, some U.S. manufacturers are looking to fuel growth with emerging overseas markets.
But that doesn’t mean an end to private label either – far from it. Private label brands have won over unbelieving consumers with quality and price. Moving forward, competition between the two will be intense, as national brands fight for space on the shelf.