World of Flavor
April 20th, 2009

Last week I received an email from Lonely Planet, listing their top travel picks, and it got me thinking about my own travelin’ ways. Like many families, the hubby and I are cutting back this year, and traveling is, sadly, on the back burner.

What I’m really going to miss, though, is being able to sample new foods, or even foods that I’ve tried here at home, in their authentic environment. Call me crazy, but the best cup of tea I ever had was in London, the best gyro was in Athens, and the best salpicon in Mexico City.

Enjoying afternoon tea in London...

Enjoying afternoon tea in London…November 2006.

For years, we’ve been saying that consumers are looking for more authentic ethnic flavors, and this year it couldn’t be truer. With more people making the best of the “staycation,” consumers are looking for ways to create exotic experiences in their own homes. Using food to recreate those experiences is not only cheaper than, say redecorating the living room in a Moroccan motif, but it is also attainable for everyone.

Personally, when I feel like reminiscing about Greece, I grab some Wegmans Greek Marinade and tzatziki from their Mediterranean Bar, grill up some chicken, pour the Ouzo, and make a cucumber salad. Those little supermarket helpers certainly make the experience more authentic to me. Having the ability to control the ingredients, adjust them from memory, but still purchase the products that make them unique – it’s a win-win.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece…..August 2008

For new product developers, especially those interested in ethnic flavor, it’s a good idea to keep up on the latest travel trends. They can really clue you in to future destinations, and possibly future flavor trends. How do you do that? Well, I can’t give away all of my secrets, but I do have one helpful clue. Check out Lonely Planet’s Top 20 Bestsellers for their top selling travel books by destination. And, keep in mind, Lonely Planet serves the global community, not just the North American traveling crowd.

Then, go home, make a Piña Colada, sit in the back yard, and try to imagine that it’s the Caribbean.


Do Regional Favorites Translate?
April 8th, 2009

Philadelphia Flyers

A wise man once said (or, maybe it was a travel show host), that the best way to get to know a foreign city is to attend a sporting event. This week, Nathalie Pauleau-Larrey, our Color Engineer from David Michael Europe, is visiting the Philadelphia office. And last night, Danielle and I took her to a Flyers game.

Danielle (left) and Nathalie at the Phuladelphia Flyers game

Danielle (left) and Nathalie at the game

Since Nathalie is from the French countryside, an American-style sports arena was a first for her. She was amazed by everything – from the crowds, to the merchandise, but especially the food. Well, we wouldn’t be proud ambassadors if we didn’t introduce her to a few local favorites. So we enjoyed a carb-laden feast of crab fries and soft pretzels (with yellow mustard, of course). (Not cheesesteaks? You ask. This isn’t her first trip to Philly).

Nathalie and I enjoying our pretzels at the Philadelphia Flyers game!

Nathalie and I enjoying our pretzels!

My non-Philly readers are probably wondering, “what in the heck are crab fries?” They’re a concoction developed by local sports bar Chickie’s & Pete’s, and they’re delicious. You’d be surprised to find out that there’s no actual crab in said fries. Just crispy French fries, seasoning (Old Bay?) and American cheese dip….mmmmm…

The whole meal got me thinking about favorite regional foods. There’s been a few shows on the Food Network devoted to roadside bars and diners in the U.S., and the wacky things people eat there. And on the travel channel, food specific programs, as well as the traditional travel fare, take on more foreign regional specialties.

But, do these always translate? Well, it depends. In this country, for example, we’ve come to know many regional favorites nationwide. Philly Cheesesteak is available as a Domino’s pizza topping. And Kansas City BBQ can be found in Vermont.

Other favorites, however, don’t catch on. I read about Kool-Aid marinated pickles, a Southern tradition, a few years back. And, that was about it… Now, deep-fried pickles? That’s another story.

Similarly, the occasional regional favorite makes it beyond the country of origin. Take cheesesteaks again. We’ve found Philly Cheesesteak flavored potato chips in such far away places as Japan!

With a focus on regional authenticity on restaurant menus, both in domestic and international foods, it will be interesting to see what has legs, and what doesn’t.

After all, not everything can become a worldwide phenomenon – sometimes favorites are more special when they stay local.

[P.S. - The Flyers won 2-1, and made the playoffs.]

2009 Philadelphia Flyers Winning Game


No Foolin’
April 1st, 2009

My sister and I are preparing for a little weekend getaway. I’m going through my usual pre-vacation ritual – washing laundry, restocking toiletries, and…printing coupons? That last one’s pretty new, but I’m stocking up. Two-for-one entrees…20% in-store discounts…free dessert. Heck, we even got the hotel room as part of a special promotion! The thing is, I’m not the only one shopping deals.

After the Super Bowl, Denny’s Restaurants gave away free Grand Slam breakfasts to diners. Today, the restaurant chain announced a buy-one-get-one-free Grand “Slamwich” giveaway for April 8th. Nope, this isn’t an elaborate April Fool’s joke – they’re at it again!

According to the Wall Street Journal, the last promotion brought in two million customers between the hours of 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. Normal traffic for those hours is typically only 200,000.

Other restaurants are increasing value for their customers too. Rumor has it that U.S. locations of Tim Horton’s gave out free sandwiches at lunch-time today. IHOP is running an all-you-can-eat pancake promotion. And those brown-bagging their lunches daily may be easily tempted by the $5 lunch deals a number of fast-casuals are promoting.

The Wall Street Journal article brings up a good point, though. Will consumers get too accustomed to these low-price deals? While they may eventually lose that full-price phobia, their expectations of value will certainly increase.


I will gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today…
March 24th, 2009

Vegetarian Soy Burger

Hamburgers are a darling of the culinary world lately. Why? Well, why not? They’re delicious, cheap, and well, delicious! Besides, who doesn’t like a good burger?

Everyone has a favorite – whether you like yours like Jimmy Buffet, with lettuce and tomato, or a bit more on the wild side. Personally, I like to judge an establishment on their turkey burgers. On average, turkey burgers are sadly tasteless and drab, served merely as a low-fat substitute, rather than a featured dish. But with just a little love, they can be transformed into an amazing menu option.

Recently, our culinary lab put to the test the burger that Oprah has dubbed the “best turkey burger in the world!” The Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burger, served at Donald Trump’s private Palm Beach club, combines fruit and spice into a mouthful of flavor you’d never expect from plain ol’ turkey. Oprah definitely knows what she’s talking about!

And sure, we’ll admit this recipe calls for a bit more love than your typical beef patty, but it is well worth the effort. Plus, with a growing trend in fruitful additions to the burger menu, this is one you’ll want to try sooner than later.


Plan it, and they will come!
March 10th, 2009

2009 Innovation Roadshow - Hyatt Regency, Penns Landing, Philadelphia, PA

I had the wonderful opportunity on Monday to spend the day with my fellow Roadshow Committee members at the Hyatt Regency in Philadelphia, where this year’s Innovation Roadshow will be held.

It’s amazing, with all of the hard work and late nights (and pizza!) involved in planning this show, I still get excited during the process.

We’re changing things up a bit this year. The most obvious for past attendees will be the location. Also, we’ve moved the show a little later in the month to Wednesday, October 21st.

There could be some changes to the show itself, but it’s still just a little too early to give away all of our secrets! (Check back between now and then for updates!)

We know that travel budgets are tighter than ever this year, so we want to make sure that you’ve got this important date on your calendar.

 

David Michael 2009 Innovation Roadshow

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pre-Show Dinner on Tuesday, October 20th

Hyatt Regency Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia

 

Want to know more about the Innovation Roadshow? Click here.

I hope to see you there!


How many books would a cookbook cook, if a cookbook could cook books.
March 6th, 2009

I’m a gal that loves my cookbooks. And I have more than a few, covering subjects from chicken to gelato, and chefs from Rachel Ray to Jamie Oliver.

And I’m not alone. Over the past 10 years, cookbook sales have doubled, driven by Food Network faves Paula Deen and Rachel Ray. And these days, those books that focus on comfort foods are topping shoppers’ lists.

So when I spotted this article from Restaurants & Institutions this week that announced some of spring’s newest releases, I was interested to see which were hitting trends in consumer behavior.

 

‘wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal-and a Meal into a Sandwich (Clarkson Potter, March), by Tom Colicchio

I don’t know about you guys, but sandwiches have become a weekly cost-savings dinner in our household. Chicken salad and grilled cheese are getting a little old though – time for some new ideas!

Laguna Beach Farmer's Market
Creative Commons License photo credit: Island Life

Eating Well in Season: The Farmers’ Market Cookbook (Countryman Press, April), by Jessie Price and the editors of Eating Well

If you have not yet heard the term “locavore,” listen up. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact their choices are making on the environment. Not to mention the fact that locally grown produce can often be cheaper, and help support a farmer in your area. As a volunteer at my local farmers’ market, I can tell you that this movement is growing.

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects (Ten Speed Press, June), by Karen Solomon

Sales of basic ingredients are on the rise, as consumers cuts costs by spending a little extra time cooking from scratch.

 

Well, that’s just a few of the new offerings. Other topics include timely ethnic – Asian barbecue and Indian cuisine – which help consumers recreate that restaurant experience at home; recreating classic recipes; and molecular gastronomy.

Are you a fellow cookbook collector? Do you use them regularly? What’s your favorite or most used? I’d love to hear from you! (My personal favorite is the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook - best chocolate buttercream ever!)


Let me Finish my Meal with a Donut…
February 24th, 2009

Pancake Cake

A few months ago, Danielle (our Marketing Coordinator) and I went to Dave & Buster’s for some delicious fried appetizers. When time for dessert came, the “oh no, I couldn’t eat another bite” quickly turned to “we’ll have those!” when we caught site of the donut holes on the dessert menu. Sugar and chocolatey goodness, with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces.

It’s Fat Tuesday today, and I’ve got donuts on the brain (and in the stomach). Did you know, that Canadian chain Tim Horton’s compliments their sandwich value meals with donuts? So, instead of, “would you like fries with that,” yummy breakfast time sweetness rounds out your lunch.

Bear with me and my indulgences, I swear there’s a trend here.

Last week, the New York Times noted a growing trend in offering sweet breakfast items for dessert. Donuts are a casual chain restaurant staple right now, but that’s just the beginning.

The New York Times article notes Panna Cotta from Momofuku restaurants, flavored with milk from the bottom of the cereal bowl. (A concept we’ve tried ourselves in RTD flavored milk.) Then there’s toast flavored ice cream at Tailor. And at Chicago’s Moto restaurant, guests can sample hot doughnut soup with coffee-flavored whipped cream.

Restaurants & Institutions senior editor Allison Perlik also commented on last week’s article, noting the French toast and maple-bacon flavored ice cream with carmelized apple at Lola in Cleveland.

Speaking of bacon ice cream, you may have noticed a bit of bacon love in this blog. The funny thing is, that I wouldn’t consider myself over-obsessed with the stuff, but I’m just loving all of the ingenious ways that restaurants, chocolatiers and bakers are reinventing it. And while the New York Times article notes that bacon flavored sweets are “trendy to a fault,” you have to admit there is something there. Yes, I’m sure the bacon craze will reveal itself as fad, but how could a staple completely fade away? I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of sweet bacon!

But I digress, breakfast for dessert is such a logical move…why have we not thought of this sooner? I know I’m not alone here when I say that pancakes, French toast and beignets, while completely delightful, are a little too sugary for the morning hours. Why not save them for that “I just need something sweet” feeling after a savory meal. Years ago, a friend of a friend would bring his homemade coffee and donuts ice cream to every party he was invited to – in fact, it was so good that I don’t believe he was allowed to attend without it!

With consumers increasingly looking for something just a little bit different, but still approachable, and restaurants and manufacturers looking to set themselves apart in a very competitive market, breakfast for dessert sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Now bring on the blueberry pancake parfait (with maple syrup flavored ice cream, of course)!


Baco-licious!!
February 23rd, 2009

putting bacon sprinkles on bacon mocha cupcakes

Creative Commons License photo credit: D.L.

For everyone that loves bacon, I have another yummy treat for you. You may remember last month we discussed Bacon Salt and the Bacon Explosion. (And I cannot tell you enough, how fabulous the Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar is!). Now, prepare yourself for the (drumroll, please) Bacon Cupcake!!!

Brainchild of Boulder’s Tee and Cakes, this buttery maple cake is topped with decadent chocolate ganache, and bacon pieces. They’re all the rage, and I imagine fellow trendy cupcake bakeries may be quick to catch on.


Offal, or Awful?
February 12th, 2009

offal
Creative Commons License photo credit: PinkMoose

It’s wintertime, and the Philly area is seeing its fair share of sick time, hence the reason I had the opportunity to watch a lot of daytime TV this week.

I spent my Tuesday with re-runs on the Travel Channel, specifically with Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) and Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods).

Both spent their episodes visiting the UK, with stops in London, Edinburgh, The Cotswolds, and various other places in between. Among the haggis and blood pudding, there was a common message from both hosts – nose-to-tail eating.

The ever-grumpy Bourdain’s presentation was a bit more glass half empty. Visiting a meat market in London, he spoke with a butcher who dealt in offal, or the animal innards (kidneys, hearts, intestines and other lovely unmentionables). They spoke of the lack of appreciation of offal in a modern society where convenience and premium cuts are more valued. The butcher could not predict the future of his business.

However, Bourdain did focus in on one chef, Fergus Henderson, who specializes in offal, and shares it with his up-scale, top-dollar paying clientele. The funny thing about offal, is that in years past, it was the food of the poor – the cheapest pieces in the butcher case. Offal is high in protein and iron, and makes for a smart value.

The ever amusing Zimmern was a little less about saving offal, and more for promoting the fact that it has made a huge comeback on the British menu over the past 10 years or so, a sentiment resonated by the butchers he spoke with.

Offal has had a surge in the U.S. too. A recent Chicago Sun-Times article highlighted some Windy City chefs that are offering dishes like goat brain ravioli. The question is, though, beyond the foodie audience, can offal make a return to mainstream cooking? Certainly, it was a staple long, long ago.

Now, as a girl I hated when my mom made liver and onions. The idea repulsed me, and the smell drove me from the house. I still have yet to try it to this day, as I’m sure few other Gen-Xers have. But, I must admit I am now intrigued. Not only is offal an affordable choice, but chefs argue that these unpopular bits are the most delicious of any animal. And, as the Sun-Times article points out, “farmers can’t raise just a rack of lamb.” Eating all of the animal certainly makes for less waste.

So, now I’m curious what you have to say…have you sampled offal, do you eat it regularly, are you still thinking “no way!”? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!


Blame it on the economy…
February 9th, 2009

This weekend, a friend told me that for anything that goes wrong, she and her husband now blame the economy.

Car broke down – “It’s the economy.” Out of cereal – “It’s the economy.” Jeans don’t fit – “It’s the economy.”

You can’t look at the daily headlines without a story on how the economy is affecting our lives – not to mention the food industry. (Although, as we sat in the Cheesecake Factory on Saturday afternoon, the crowds may have indicated otherwise!)

But the truth is, that recessions can be times of great innovation. The iPod, Trader Joe’s, Crest White Strips – all of these brands were built during a recession. When manufacturers are competing for fewer consumer dollars, their products must stand out from the competition, offering value, both monetary and life-oriented.

One great way to determine consumer value, is from the consumers themselves! There’s tons of consumer feedback out there. From blogs, to Facebook fan pages and status updates (“Erin is excited that Shamrock Shakes are back!”). Another great, and sometimes untapped area, is your own website. If you have a consumer feedback section of your website, embrace it. It’s the perfect place to find your consumers’ wishes. If you post recipes, check out comments posted by users to see how they’re customizing and using your product in a way you never thought of. I read an article recently that online feedback can go unchecked, and couldn’t believe it. The best part about using this type of consumer feedback? It’s pretty darn cheap.

In a recent issue of Fast Track Fast Trends, we profiled a new product from Nissan Food Products Cup Noodle in Japan. Their new Milk Curry Cup Noodle is based on their original Curry Cup Noodle variety, and internet word of mouth that the product tasted better when prepared with hot milk, rather than hot water. Nissin responded with a milk based curry soup mix. The same is true of the company’s Milk Seafood Cup Noodle also launched last year, which was again based on consumer feedback, and an extremely large number of hits on Google when the keywords ”milk” and “seafood noodle” were used.

 Nissan Food Products Cup Milk Seafood Noodle

Another great idea, check out My Starbucks Idea - a website for Starbucks customers to vent-i (haha, couldn’t resist), share and suggest. One suggestion from the site that Starbucks recently implemented was free coffee on election day.

So go ahead and check out what your consumers are saying about you online. After all, if you’re not happy with the results, you can always blame it on the economy! :)


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