Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cruising IFT 2013 – my Top 10 Trends (Special Double Issue!)

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Don’t let the unsexy ‘Institute of Food Technologists’ name throw you; IFT’s members are basically the source of the Nile for foods and beverages.  IFT’s national Expo was just held in Chicago, where I walked the many miles of the McCormick Place floor so you didn’t have to.  It was where you could see ingredient innovations that will show up without warning in tomorrow’s new foods and beverages.

IFT2013 Main Hall

IFT 2013 – McCormick Place Floor

So for your edification, I hereby present my Top 10 Observations.

1) Chia.  No, not Chia Pets (although it’s the same plant) or even Chia LaBoeuf. An ancient grain, chia seeds promise high levels of Omega-3, ALA, fiber, calcium and minerals.  One marketer, Salba, targets their ‘super chia seeds’ at ‘smarty-pants’ consumers.  And you will need to think about it a little: like wheat germ, chia seeds aren’t generally eaten alone; they are typically sprinkled on or mixed in with other foods.

Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

2) Matcha. This finely ground, premium green tea powder has been used ceremonially for millennia in Japan, and is offered in top restaurants worldwide.  For culinary purposes, matcha’s high amino acid content delivers a umami taste profile that can enable lower salt content.  Matcha can also be used as a colorant, due to its distinct green hue. The matcha makers were pushing all manner of green foods made with matcha, not all of which were ready for prime time.  High in antioxidants, you will likely have your first matcha moment at some point soon.  Arigatou gozaimasu.

Matcha 1

Ceremonial Matcha Tea

Matcha 3

Matcha Green Tea Jelly

Matcha scones

Matcha Scones

3) Saskatoon Berries.  So I’m at the Canada pavilion (they’re so nice there) and there’s a display showing Saskatoon berries (aka Prairie Berries) positioned as the next super fruit, with higher antioxidants than all your previous favorites (acaí, goji, etc.).  I try them — and they’re good!  Blueberry-sized but more fleshy, with just a hint of tartness.  Already well-liked for the obligatory preserves, pies and such, you may well be seeing Saskatoon berries showing up in more foods and beverages.  Trivia:  the province Saskatoon was named for the berry, not the other way around.  Who knew, indeed.

Saskatoon berries

Saskatoon Berries

SaskatoonFestival2Saskatoon pie

4) The word ‘pulse’. OK, I don’t live in Legume World, so maybe you’re familiar with the word; it’s always been just beans, peas and lentils to me.  But a lot more grain processors have started using the word pulse; my guess is you’ll be hearing it a lot more in the future.  Probably because it sounds a lot more sophisticated than talking about lima beans. (‘I’m in the pulse business, yeah baby!’)

Pulse grains

Pulse Grains

5) Bamboo Fiber.  This ingredient has long been used for textiles; I just hadn’t seen it in food.  Providing fiber’s benefits of texture, as well as bulking properties that accelerate one’s, ahem, transit time, it is used in juices, baked goods, pasta, sauces, among other applications, and is non-caloric.  And it’s label-friendly, too, being able to be called ‘vegetable fiber’.  I just don’t know the cost for all these benefits – – maybe we’ll sort that out next time around.


you know what this is

6) Natural food dyes.  Not surprisingly, the EU clean label trend has finally waded ashore from the Atlantic and is starting to make greater inroads in US food formulation.  Consumers increasingly want to see natural colors on the label (and of course, we know that everyone who claims to read labels always does).  So instead of CSPI whipping boys Yellow 5 or Red 40, get ready for more paprika, lycopene, annatto, turmeric and of course, cochineal extract.  But if you find out that the color comes from crushed insects, or algae, or your Velveeta doesn’t have its characteristic hi-glo orange-yellow hue anymore, don’t come crying to me.

Natural food coloring - Tribune

Natural food colorings (from Sensient Technologies)

7) Safety testing.  Ever since Roman praegustators, there has been a need for food testing.  And as the stakes have risen recently (see: melamine), based on my observation, so has the number of companies offering testing services to meet SQF and BRC standards (some great tech-speak that can score you some major points in the IFT cocktail hour – – but perhaps not in too many other places).
Tests for pathogens, listeria, salmonella, E. Coli, as well as fraudulent ingredients, can be done using HPLC, genetic molecular testing, straightforward micro testing, mass spectrometry, colony counting and zone sizing, and numerous other approaches that I don’t understand, using chemicals, software, and machinery.  As a consumer, it’s good to know that there is such a focus on safety.  As an IFT show-goer, it was disappointing – the food safety guys don’t tend to give out free food or tchotchkes.

IFT2013 testing

This software helps detect ingredients that shouldn’t be there, in this case tartaric acid. It can also see if that gluten-free claim is really true, or if there actually was any Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.

8) Sodium reduction.  The holy trinity of ingredients to avoid are fat, calories and sodium.  The consequences of over-consuming the first two are visible.  Sodium reduction helps with non-visible dangers like hypertension (dangers that Americans typically are excellent at ignoring), and as a result there has been less urgency.  But it seems that this is changing.  There were quite a few sodium reduction products offered promising great taste, using approaches as disparate as different crystal shape, blended granules, microspheres, starch and baking solutions, and more.  You heard it here first, the age of real sodium reduction has arrived.

IFT Salt

9 in 10 Americans over age 2 eat too much sodium

9) Alternatives to traditional ingredients.  What do you do for news when the main building blocks of food (like wheat flour) are not only mature, but facing new challenges (like GMO-free, gluten-free, etc.)?  You introduce new ways to get there.  Hence flours from sweet potatoes, soy, sesame, flax, coconut, rice, spelt, almond, buckwheat, spirulina and more.  Each has its own taste profile, nutritional benefits, and processing limitations.  You won’t see this stuff in your Twinkies, but it’s coming elsewhere, and it will be great to have more taste, texture and nutritional options.

IFT Sesame Flour

Sesame Flour

10) Maple Water.  Still trying to wrap your head around coconut water?  Well, clear out some mindspace for maple water.  It’s so new, it wasn’t even in the show – – I heard about it from a friendly Canadian.  It seems the Quebec maple producers have launched this product as a thirst quencher, ingredient, and in any case, an all-around transparent strategy to extend revenues from the maple crop.  It is supposed to have a distinctive flavor, slightly sweet.  Coconut water from the south, now maple water from the north, it seems the US has its flavored water NAFTA obligations covered.


(actually, it’s not yet clear exactly what they want us to do with this stuff)


Bonus points for using this ingredient in YOUR product.

IFT2013 pop-rocks

Open to suggestion.

That’s it – see you at next year’s show!


Relaunching Twinkies – – Attempting Marketing Alchemy?*

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*Alchemy: “A process by which paradoxical results are achieved or incompatible elements combined with no obvious rational explanation.”  Source:  The Internet

You may have heard that Twinkies are now available again.


New Twinkies Collector’s Edition Package

In the spirit of ‘don’t waste a good crisis’, post-bankruptcy, union-free Twinkies management is aggressively marketing the product at relaunch, including PR, a billboard in Times Square, social media, retail presence, and an increased shelf life to 45 days, from 26 previously. (yikes!)

However, they are attempting an extremely difficult balancing act: adjusting enough to develop a new franchise, while simultaneously not alienating the current customer base.  This is a tightrope walk at best; there may be actually no way to serve these two masters with one product.  Twinkies may be trapped in a box.

Pulling this off, based on what’s already been tried in the past, would be a huge success.

As everyone knows, with one ‘Twinky’ containing 150 junk calories and 2.5g of saturated fat (13% of the recommended daily intake), this iconic brand had become out of step with current food trends.  And that’s not to mention 30+ ingredients.

Twinkies ingredients

What’s a Twinkie really made of?

Twinkies had actually achieved some level of cult status for its indestructibility, celebrated in (among other things) a 2012 Super Bowl Chevy Silverado ad.


Surviving the Apocalypse – 2012 Chevy Super Bowl Ad

So with much fanfare Twinkies is now relaunching, but long-term growth will still depend on either getting current older consumers to buy more, or getting new younger consumers to buy.  Or some combination.  There’s no other way.  And therein lies the rub.

Is it possible to keep the core elements consistent enough to satisfy the loyalists, while at the same time changing enough to appeal to a new crop of consumers?  Difficult.  New Coke of course comes to mind, as does JC Penney.

Further, this was a product that was off the shelves for a year or so while competitive ersatz Twinkies (now there’s a concept) chased some of the unmet demand.  So it would appear that they have their work cut out for them.

Can they pull it off?  Some clues may come from the new owners (Metropolous brothers) from an interview in March 2013 (my interpretation):
– statement that the brand is bullet-proof (“cannot be killed“)
– confidence that core consumers have high loyalty and can be kept while new ones added (through viral and other guerrilla marketing)
– goal to leverage “younger hipster consumers”…who are “on the pulse of what’s trend-setting
– focus on merchandising and retail execution – with separate grocery and convenience strategies
– willingness to play with the core formula (e.g. the shelf-life extension)
– expectation that product innovation will help grow the business going forward
– statement about cost savings, not being “slowed down with analytics or bureaucracy


Twinkies Historical Line Extensions

I respect the ambition and energy of the new owners.  However, I will hold to my comment about 6 months ago:  despite the incredible publicity, it may be difficult to achieve much upside.).  There is nothing obvious in what we’ve seen so far to support a turnaround, and in fact there may be a few areas of concern:
– focusing on retail blocking and tackling is an excellent move and should yield good results – for the current product
brand awareness is not the same as brand elasticity.  And affection doesn’t necessarily translate to purchase.  Many of us fondly remember the Good Humor bars of our youth.  Do you have any in your freezer right now?
innovating an iconic product may not be that easy – – this is a product with just one proven form. Former management unsuccessfully introduced 100-calorie packs, low-fat, banana and chocolate creme versions.  So extending the Twinkies brand is not exactly an original idea.
willingness to change the original product – – they’re already smaller.  What’s next? Take away a man’s Polysorbate 60 and there could be hell to pay.

Net, we wish new management luck – – it would be great to have Twinkies always within arm’s reach.  But attempting to deliver on two strategies with a single product is a tall order.