How I Love to Try Something New!
April 8th, 2010

Just this past Friday, I read a great article in Nation’s Restaurant News on innovative flavors in foodservice soft-serve. Among the flavors mentioned, olive oil intrigued me most, especially since it had proven as the best selling for one restauranteur.

So, on Saturday night, when our waiter mentioned olive oil as one of the home-made gelatos available at Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Stella, I was sold.

While the other ladies in our group opted for chocolate or hazelnut (which were amazing themselves), myself and one other brave friend ordered the olive oil. We each received one perfect scoop swimming in a small sea of yellow-green oil. The taste was creamy, sweet, fatty and fruity, and reminded me of (solid) spreadable olive oil I have sampled in the past.

olive oil gelato

What struck me most, though, was that it seemed the perfect base for more…. like an alternative to vanilla, but a bit less complex.

Almost the entire table sampled our olive oil gelato, and I saw some mixed faces and reactions. From the “well, it tastes just like olive oil,” to “no, I don’t like that at all,” and the “wow, that’s not as bad as I thought.” (I’m pretty sure that last one was a compliment.)

Despite the reaction from our friends, although most of them liked it or were ambivalent, myself and my adventurous ordering buddy were pleased.

What Ever Happened to Moderation?
April 2nd, 2010

Recently, a study was released by Princeton University showing that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) causes more weight gain than table sugar. There has been A LOT of backlash from the food industry questioning their methods. Frankly, I am not here to take a side – I am not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV.

But, in all the aftermath, there was at least one voice I agreed with. Elizabeth Abbott, author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History” stated, “The debate about which one is better for you is a false debate, because neither of them is good for you.” And followed with, “By having cane sugar, you’re not doing yourself a great big favor. Not so much sugar is what we should be striving for.”

Huzzah! It was as if someone finally addressed the elephant in the room. I’m not saying let’s outlaw sugar. Pu-leeze…the chocolate drawer in my desk gives evidence of the contrary. But, instead of all the debate over which sweetener is better or worse for you, let’s address the fact that too much of a good thing – any good thing – is just too much, whether is be sugar, salt, lettuce, or even water.

We are all free to indulge once in a while. Even Jamie Oliver, host of ABC’s Food Revolution, promotes moderation, with a bit of indulgence thrown in. In other words, bake your cake and eat it too – but stick with one slice. And maybe start with some grilled chicken and veggies first.

Sure, it’s easy to get carried away when there are so many choices available. But we’ve got an entire lifetime to sample all those choices – we need not do it at once. And besides – the healthier you are, the longer you live, the more sugary treats you eventually get to try!

End of the Brand?
March 3rd, 2010

National vs Private Label Food Brands

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.

The Case of the King’s Fries
February 17th, 2010

To say it’s been snowy around here lately would be, well, an understatement. Hit by two blizzards in five days, the Philadelphia area has been immobile.

Snowy Branches in Philadelphia

Before cabin fever sets in, most of us deal with this imprisonment with food. After all, we have to get all that shoveling energy from somewhere, right? And eat we did – hearty meals like turkey chili, turkey meatloaf, sausage & peppers, and from-scratch pancakes.

But the morsels that we were most looking forward to were two little impulse items I grabbed while stocking up for the Snowpocalypse – Burger King’s frozen fries in King Krinks™ and King Wedgez™, from ConAgra (launched Fall 2009).

Burger King King Krinks and King Wedgez

Housed in this oversized wedge-shaped cardboard container is a single serving of microwaveable French fries. The instructions are easy – Shake, Vent, Zap, Tap, Rip. First, shake the container to equally distribute the fries, then vent by opening on each side of the package where indicated.

Burger King Microwavable French Fries

Microwave for three minutes, then rip off the top. Presto – they’re ready to eat! Burger King branded fries fresh from the microwave, in a handy dandy FRYPOD®.

Burger King King Krinks Microwavable Fries

Burger King King Krinks Fries

Burger King King Krinks Closeup

The verdict? Pretty tasty! Both versions were well seasoned, if not a bit overly so (but frankly, on French fries, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!). The Wedgez were definitely the spicier of the two. Both tasted great on their own, and with ketchup. They had a nice texture – crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside, similar to an oven fry.

But, there were a few drawbacks in the process. The recommended three minute cooking time appeared to be way too long. For the Wedgez, this meant fries stuck to the interior packaging. And for both, the desirable texture quickly turned chewy and hard.

Burger King - King Wedgez

And how about the price? I found them on sale for $0.77 each, a bargain compared to the drive-thru (I believe non-sale price varies from $1.20 – $1.77, depending on the store). Maybe not comparable to the cost savings on a family-sized bag of oven fries, but worth it for the novelty, or for kids who are not allowed to use the oven.

So, would hubby and I buy them again? Certainly! (Of course, we’d reduce the cooking time a bit.) Maybe next time we’ll try the unseasoned Kolossalz™ too!

A Delicious Blast from the Past…
December 22nd, 2009

When I was a little girl, my grandfather would take me to visit his older sister – Aunt Lillian. I was very young when my aunt died, and I don’t remember a lot about her. What I do remember, is that I always felt very close to her. I also remember that she was short, she liked to wear house-dresses, and she was always in the kitchen. But what I remember most, were the Chocolate No-Bake Cookies that she would always make for me. I still remember the red tin that she would place in front of me – and I would get so excited!

Eventually, she gave me the recipe, and my grandfather and I made them once – successfully. Shortly after, my Aunt Lillian passed away, and the recipe, somehow, was lost forever.

For years, I would ask my grandfather if he had the recipe, but he’d insist that he gave it to my mom. And Mom would insist that my grandfather still had it. Friends and family members would make recipe suggestions – but they weren’t quite right.

A few weeks ago, I brought the cookies up at dinner – yet again, in what seemed like a futile attempt. But this time, a light seemed to flash on in my grandfather’s head – and he directed my grandmother to a small box in the corner of a kitchen cabinet (where, by the way, he apparently hides his secret recipes for pitzels and wedding soup!). And there it was – on a thin piece of yellowed notepaper, transcribed from memory, in my Aunt Lillian’s handwriting.

Now, I am told that my aunt was a tremendous cook and baker – and by no means were these cookies the greatest thing in her repertoire. But, to me they were. And when I smelled the combination of cocoa, peanut butter, oats and coconut on the stove, it didn’t matter. That first bite brought me back 25 years – to my favorite flavor in the entire world.

I always find it amazing how smells and flavors can unlock memories from long ago. This year, for Christmas, I’m sharing these “cookies” with my friends and family. And as a little holiday gift to our blog readers, I’ve included it below – exactly as Aunt Lillian wrote it.

Enjoy – and Happy Holidays!

Aunt Lillian’s No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

Put into a pan…

¼ lb butter

½ cup milk

½ cup cocoa

2 cups sugar

Stir over low heat until butter is melted and comes to a boil. (Note from Erin: This may seem like it takes forever, but they will not thicken otherwise!) Remove from heat and add…

2 tablespoons peanut butter

3 cups oatmeal (Old fashion)

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup coconut flakes

Stir until everything is mixed well and oatmeal is all coated – drop heaping teaspoon on reynolds wrap or waxed paper. Let stand until dry.

T.G.I.Friday’s Test Markets Pizzas
December 17th, 2009

T.G.I. Fridays PizzasWhen we drove to the local T.G.I.Friday’s yesterday for lunch, the last thing we were expecting was to try an exclusive new menu item – but that’s exactly what happened.

If you’re not in the food industry, this may not be very exciting. But for me, a self-proclaimed food nerd, it was the highlight of my day!

Our local Bensalem, PA location is the only one testing the new pizzas thus far. Offered in four varieties – Margherita, Pepperoni, Rustic Italian Sausage, and Tuscan Veggie – the restaurant started serving them on Monday.

The ingredients are fresh – fresh cheese, fresh veggies – and the sauce and dough are both made in-house. They’re smaller than a traditional pie, and oval, with a gourmet pizza look. We ordered the sausage, and shared it as an appetizer between the four of us.

At a price point of $8.99 for the margherita, $10.49 for pepperoni and sausage, and $11.99 for the veggie – it’s a little steep. Certainly more expensive than a pizzeria pie, and smaller to boot. But cheaper than a sampler platter. Great as an appetizer – although each one is suggested as an entrée.

TGI Fridays Pizza Taste Testing

A new oven was brought in to accommodate the pies (which required a little kitchen revamp) – our server (who was fabulous, by the way) compared it to a conveyer oven you would find at a Quiznos.

Our thoughts – the dough was fabulous, as was the cheese, but the sauce could use a little something. (Each pie is served with red pepper and oregano shakers.) Call it spice or flavor – it was a tad too sweet.

If it works though, the pizzas would be a great addition to the Friday’s menu. (They’ve even got little pizza boxes to accommodate to-go orders).

2010: A Look Ahead
December 15th, 2009

With minds on the recession last year, consumers returned to simpler fare – homecooked meals, comfort foods, cheap cuts of meat, and more. We even saw a spike in home canning supplies. Of course, a number of other trends were at play here – both concern over food safety, and environmental preservation.

For 2010, we see a bit of the same on the horizon, only with an updated twist. Consumers will still want to save money – they will still shop thrifty, they will continue to purchase private label goods. But this year, we see the addition of exciting ingredients back into the diet, as we all move forward.

Some of those flavors include florals, like elderflower (making a splash in bar drinks), rose water and lavender. But possibly one of the biggest flavor trends this year, will be hibiscus. Grown worldwide, hibiscus is a tropical flower, with a fruity disposition. It adds flavor to beverages, confections and other sweet applications.

Health is again a top priority, and one concern in particular is sodium reduction. Look for less salt from manufacturers this year – even ConAgra Foods recently announced that they will cut salt by 20% across their entire brand line-up.

Looking abroad, Peruvian foods will make a splash this year. We’ve already seen the Pisco Sour invade the drink menu, but look for more Incan inspired dishes, like ceviche, on the menu. One flavor to watch is the lucuma fruit. Lucuma ice cream is more popular in Peru than vanilla or chocolate!

Look for more fruity inspiration from Asia, as well. While you may not hear the term “superfruit” as much this year as last, antioxidant-rich foods are still a high priority. Jackfruit, red sweet dates, yuzu and sea buckthorn are just a few of the exotic, yet powerful, fruits to watch for.

And finally – black garlic. It’s a foodie fave and a health trend all in one. With a complex flavor that’s unexpectedly sweet, fermented, and almost smoky. It provides twice the antioxidants of regular raw garlic—without the sharp bite or bad breath issues.

These are just a few of our 2010 trend picks. For more – check out our forthcoming 2010 calendar. Don’t receive our annual calendar? Contact your account manager for more details!

“Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.”
December 1st, 2009

I love that scene from A Christmas Story, when the little brother, Randy, won’t eat his dinner, and Mother and The Old Man have to rely on a combination of threats and games to get him to take a bite.

I love it because I was that kid. In fact, Mom and I once held a two-hour staring match over a forkful of peas. I still hate peas.

Sure, I was a picky eater. There’s no question about that. But sometimes, I think I was just bored with the options. Never again will I eat chicken baked in cream of mushroom soup – it was delicious, but I’ve had my fill for a lifetime.

Recently, I read an article from Reuters that stated the average mom in the UK relies on a rotation of nine meals to feed her family. Just nine! While the study was performed in the UK, I’m sure results in the USA wouldn’t be that far off.

Explanations were all pretty similar – time constraints, picky eaters, and expense. Most moms stick with what their families know and love, rather than waste time or money on something that may not go over well. Others also admitted to cooking two meals – something for the kids early in the evening, and a different meal for mom and dad, later at night. Most common are true comfort foods – spaghetti Bolognese, roasts, casseroles, stews and pizza.

When hubby and I first got married, I was on a mission to increase my repertoire. Pre-wedding, our weekly menu consisted of take-out, chicken and stuffing casserole, chicken tacos, and the occasional pasta night. To fight it, I forced myself to try one new recipe a week. Some were complicated, some were not. Some made it onto our regular menu, and some more, did not. The effort may have tapered off, but today we have seasonal favorites, quick options and more drawn-out weekend fare, and more importantly, vegetables! We may average more than nine, but there are definitely items we eat every 10 to 14 days.Meatloaf Cupcakes - mini meatloaf topped with whipped potato "frosting"

It’s important to add a little variety, but I certainly understand how hard it can be most nights. That’s what makes kit meals so important. Allowing minimal effort, but still a sense of self-preparation, kit meals allow many home cooks the advantage of trying out new foods, hopefully at a low cost. Comfort foods are great most nights, but exotic options can help to freshen things up. Take a look at ethnic cuisine, like Thai curry, tamales, and chicken tangine, to create more variety for your consumers.

There are also ways to deliver variety in prepared foods, while tapping into those conventional recipes that everyone loves. At the 2009 Innovation Roadshow, we featured Meatloaf Cupcakes – mini-meatloafs with whipped potato “frosting.” We varied the meatloaf itself, with Italian herb and carmelized onion flavors, and further extended options with the potatoes, in butter parmesan and brown sugar cinnamon sweet potato.

Just a little creativity and flavor can help consumers get out of a food rut!

Famous Flops
November 25th, 2009

Change is good…isn’t it? As food product developers, we’ve learned to tread carefully, with cautionary tales of New Coke and Crystal Pepsi. But sometimes, change just takes time, and a few cautious toe dips in the pool.

Over the weekend, hubby ran across this article outlining 10 famous food flops. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I saw most of these products as ahead of their time.

Take the coffee flavored Jell-O for example. Coffee, cappuccino and espresso flavors are extremely dominant now – in fact, according to Mintel, cappuccino is one of the fastest-growing sauce flavors on entrée menus. Maybe it would have been more successful in pudding…

Reddi-Bacon, while a fire hazard, looks like a predecessor to now beloved ready-to-serve bacon. Pepsi A.M. paved the way for any number of energy drinks. Gerber Singles may have been an early inspiration for adult nutritional beverages. And, “I Hate Peas?” Hello, TGI Friday’s String Bean Fries!

Sometimes great ideas are shelved simply because they are ahead of their time. Sometimes it’s the product that needs more development. (Ever hear of McDonald’s Hula Burger? In the 1960’s, this pineapple on a bun topped with cheese was Ray Kroc’s answer to consumers who couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. A year later, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich was born.)

But other times, consumers just need more time to warm up. It’s risky to be innovative. No one wants to come to market second. Then again, it’s even scarier to be first.

By the way…I hear Crystal Pepsi is making a comeback…

Where For Art Thou Roadshow?
November 18th, 2009

You know, it’s funny how the Innovation Roadshow is so much like the holidays. We spend all year thinking about it, and planning for it. The month beforehand is a crunch of last minute changes, shopping, cooking, baking, planning and wrapping (well, packing).

And then, in a day, it’s all over.

Well, not totally. There’s the follow-up. The sample requests, the information requests, the surveys, the unpacking and the webinars.

But as I finish that up this week, I have to admit that I am a little sad.

David Michael Flavors 2009 Innovations Roadshow

David Michael Flavors 2009 Innovations Roadshow - Food SamplesEven with all of the extra work that goes into it, the Roadshow is really fun. (Which, I hope, means that it’s even more fun for those who attend!) I really had a great time this year, catching up with old clients, and meeting new ones. I love the chance to interact with everyone that I typically only “see” through email and phone calls.

And then there’s the food – Pie Pops, Mini-Meatloaf Cupcakes, Peanut Butter Plantain Poppers and Lucuma Ice Cream Novelties. And that’s only a few of the almost 30 items we featured this year! (Read about a few more in this article from Philadelphia City Paper.)

It will be odd next week, when we don’t speak about the Roadshow much – but then in just a month’s time, we’ll start the process all over again for 2010!

If you have any questions about the Roadshow and the products that we showed, be sure to contact your account manager, or drop me an email! To see photos, or learn more, click here.

David Michael & Co. • 10801 Decatur Road • Philadelphia, PA 19154 • 1-800-DM-FLAVORS

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