Monthly Archives: May 2014

5 Snacks to Watch – Sweets and Snacks Expo, Part 1

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Last week was a double-dip of intense investigative pseudo-journalism. First the National Restaurant Association show, then the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

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Following summarizes The Armchair MBAs discoveries from 5 hours of walking the Sweets & Snacks Expo floor at McCormick Place in Chicago, 5 miles of shoe leather, and way too many samples.

The short story – while the overall sweets and snacks landscape is relatively stable (popcorn, nuts, chips, chocolate, etc), around the edges you could see green shoots of innovation.  And that was about the only green I saw at this show.

Snacks are covered today; Sweets to follow soon.

Snacks – mega trends

Popcorn dominated the floor, with dozens of options in every flavor, claim, and form imaginable. Many were jumping on the SkinnyPop ’35 calories per cup’ bandwagon – – when of course no one has EVER had less than 5 cups of ‘CrackPop’ at a sitting.  It is impossible to describe all the popcorn products that were shown.

Popcorn

–  Flavored nuts, veggie, fruit and grain based chips, and other things that started life simple and healthy and then got transformed beyond recognition.

–  Jerky. Around for centuries, jerky’s high protein/low carb profile has moved it beyond trucker feed to be now ready for its close-up.  At least 20 companies were showing off their jerky.

Here’s a little Brand Extension 101 for you:
–  Expanded category definition: from beef to elk, bison, turkey, chicken, salmon (the salmon jerky is extra high protein, and tasted great  — if sometimes a little chewy)

OB-Jerky-Orig-232x300

RB-teriyaki-jerky

Flavor proliferation: pepper, acaí berry, ginger & wasabi, jalapeño, honey spice, chile ‘n lime, roasted cayenne, etc.

Price stratification: companies like Duke’s are now selling ‘small batch’ jerky at higher prices.

Form differentiation – a company called Kratos is trying to avoid the impending jerky shakeout by positioning (and shaping) their beef product like a healthy protein bar, complete with “Unleash your Warrior” tagline and impossibly fit people on their website.  Nice work, actually.

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5 snack products worth keeping an eye on:

1.  SuperSeedz gourmet pumpkin seeds – high protein, claims galore, 8 flavors and a clever name; delicious

SuperSeedz

2.  EatKeenwa Krunch – the only quinoa-based cluster snack that I noticed, and quite tasty, even if the ‘clusters’ crumbled a bit in the bag

quinoa-cluster-snack-eatkeenwa-krunch-vanilla-almond-raisin_large

3.  Ocean’s Halo seaweed chips – if I got the backstory right, 2 dads from Korea who grew up eating seaweed, and 2 dads from the U.S. who grew up eating tortilla chips got together on this – the not-surprising result being a hearty chip that is somewhat reminiscent of sushi. Surprisingly good, particularly with a salmon jerky chaser.  The only seaweed chips at the show.

Oceans Halo big_seasalt3

4. Snikiddy Eat Your Vegetables veggie chips –a strong claim of ‘1 full serving of vegetables in every ounce’, offset somewhat by fat count (7g/oz) which is a bit on the high side for a vegetable

snikiddy_EYV_jalapeno-470x5375. Simple Squares organic snack bars. Reflective of trends toward raw/paleo (minimally processed), simple label products. 5 ingredients, non-GMO, etc.

SimpleSquare

 

That’s it for this installment.  Coming up:  Sweets!

Top 5 Observations! – National Restaurant Show (Part 2)

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This is part 2 of coverage of the 2014 National Restaurant Association show – too much great stuff to fit into one post.

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I’ve ranked my top 10 observations; this post features my Top 5.

(If you missed my previous post, you can see #6-10 here).

Again, all links are live so please click through with abandon.

OBSERVATION #5.  School Lunch is a Battleground.

Remember when school lunch was a PBJ, apple and Twinkie in a paper bag or Superman lunchbox? How many ways would that not work now?

Two trends are making school lunch planning fiendishly difficult.

A) FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 sets limits for sodium, fat, sugar and calories, among other things.
– What’s happened is that compliant healthy meals are often too skimpy (or not tasty), kids are not eating them, and some schools are dropping out because they are losing money (even with subsidies).

Check out these funny-yet-sad tweets from kids complaining about their lunch offering:

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B) Separately, allergens (like nuts) are becoming more of a center of the plate issue.

The result of all this is that there were numerous products specifically positioned as not only allergen-free, but also satisfying the school lunch nutritional requirements.

Home Free, Skeeter and Funley’s are on the market touting such mouth-watering claims as ‘Nut Free’, ‘School Compliant’ and ‘Gluten Free’ and other ‘free-from’ things.   Which is a shame, because beneath those claims they all tasted really good – a message that seemed somehow forced into 2nd place.

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Separately, organizations like Wholesome Tummies are offering alternative programs providing ‘fresh, nutritious and exciting foods’.

There were a lot of school nutritionists asking lots of questions.  And ultimately the market will decide.

 

OBSERVATION #4.  Liquor-flavored meat.

With these two manly ingredients, how could you lose? There were quite a few examples of meat flavored with some sort of macho alcohol. We’ve seen things like Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce for years, but these examples had the flavor infused into the meat.

A few examples:
Family Brands has just introduced meat products infused with Ole Smoky White Lightnin’ Tennessee Moonshine. You can get pulled pork, sausage and other products flavored with with regular, apple pie or other moonshines. They taste great, but don’t overdo it – – you may get Dukes of Hazzard flashbacks.

OleSmoky

– Over at Zoe’s Meats, they’re offering Ghost Pepper Salami with tequila

– And my friends at Kronos Foods were sampling their brand-new Beer Can Chicken, which I can testify is better than anything I get from my smoker.  Perhaps one reason is that they use PBA (Premium Brown Ale), while I use PBR.

OBSERVATION #3.  Food Trucks Mainstreamed.

Food trucks have long been thought by some of as being on the funky fringe of foodservice, operating from recycled ice cream trucks. Well, this year served notice that food trucks are now driving right down the middle of the road.

FoodTruck

FoodTruckInt

Several companies offered custom foodservice trucks, built to spec and coming in at around $150,000. These are impressive, well-equipped, heavy duty vehicles specially built to bring the finest cuisines right to your doorstep.

At that point, whether you go for kimchi, po’ boy, pupusas or paletas is entirely up to you.

 

OBSERVATION #2 – RUNNER-UP:  Kallpod.  ‘What’, you say?

How many times have you had an otherwise great meal spoiled by:
– waiting for a refill on your drink
– waiting for your check
– otherwise having your server disappear into the ether never to be seen again

Well, this tech innovation gets super-high marks because it focuses on diner satisfaction.   What a concept.

The best analogy for Kallpod is the ‘Call Attendant’ button in an airplane – – only in this case it’s on your restaurant table and it’s wirelessly connected to a special Dick Tracy-like device that your server wears.

Kallpod

The concept is simple: you hit a button (refill, check please, etc) and your server gets a small vibration/shock and message like ‘check, table #8’. How great is that?  Awesome, although possibly less so if you’re a server, I suppose.

Reminds me a little of the Burger King Subservient Chicken that was compelled to respond to commands from strangers (shown in redemption video here):

http://adage.com/article/news/burger-king-s-subservient-chicken-video/292953/

So Kallpod offers something for everyone:

– Diners get quicker, better service and for a select few, the opportunity to indulge hidden sadistic tendencies
– Operators convert more drink requests, and can turn tables more quickly
– Servers get the opportunity to see their guests more, and for a select few, the opportunity to indulge hidden masochistic tendencies.

Kidding aside, this is a palm-to-forehead great idea, well executed.

 

And the winning #1 observation at this year’s NRA is:  SCHMACON!  

Yes, Schmacon. It’s not a trend or even a fad, it’s the sort of cosmic occurrence that we unfortunately see all too infrequently in our short time here on this mortal coil.

Schmacon2

My first minutes at NRA, at 9am, took me directly into the olfactory territory that the modest Schmacon booth was invisibly marking.

Schmacon is ‘smoked and cured glazed beef slices’ , but think of it as beef bacon, which by one account tastes like ‘crispy glazed pastrami’ (thanks Kevin Pang). By all accounts it is delicious, as demonstrated by the growing line for samples (of which I had two, for research purposes).

In addition, it is lower in calories, fat and sodium than traditional bacon.  A bit ironically, it is not pork but neither is it kosher.  But who are we to quibble about a technicality?

Schmacon is from Schmaltz Products in the Chicago area – a company with a funny name, but serious deli DNA.

Schmacon was a Food & Beverage 2014 award-winner.  I took home Schmacon literature and a scratch ‘n sniff button to remind me of my experience.  It’s mostly just for foodservice now, but you can taste it for yourself when it hits retail shelves later in the year.

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So that’s it for the Top 10.  I do have some Honorable Mentions directly below:

Ice Beer.  Basically a beer slurpee, complete with alcohol.

IceBeer

 

Nutella Poppers.  Like little chocolate beignets – awesome (and proof that carbs are alive and well)

Carbs!

 

Neat meat replacements.  Mixes made from nuts, beans, grains and other ingredients.  Really tasty with great texture.

Neat

Poppies Dough.  Terrific products (but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a little Seinfeld moment…)

Poppies

 

Top 10 NRA Show Observations (Part 1)

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Once again, I’ve taken one for the team and walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association show (yes, that NRA; sorry Mr. Nugent).

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Show Floor – 2014 NRA – McCormick Place

In addition to things I reported on last year, there are some exciting new offerings.

Because there’s so much cool stuff, I’ve separated my Top 10 list into #6-10 (today’s post) and Top 5 (coming soon).  So here we go.

[NOTE:  as always, all links and photos are live: click on them to learn more]

Observation 10.  Tea!  Tea!  More Tea!  – as you may recall, tea was originally introduced at the 3000 B.C. NRA show (held outdoors in Wrigley Field).

The news this year is that every time you turned around you bumped into another tea purveyor trying to look old and mystical and yet hip at the same time. (sort of like Cher? Keith Richards?)  Dozens of them. Perhaps it’s an echo effect from Starbucks’s Teavana venture.  Or maybe they’ve been there all along and I’m just noticing.  At any rate, hot or cold, flavored or straight, Oprah’s Chai Latte or not, prepare to be offered tea more and more often.

DavidsonTea

 

 

Observation 9.  Greater Sales through Big Data.    Have you heard this term before:  ‘big data’?  Of course you have.  Not to be confused with ‘Satisfying Customers through Big Data‘ (more on that later).  The restaurant business is increasingly swimming in POS data, and LOTS of companies are trying to use it to help restaurants pry every last dollar from your wallet.

Essentially it comes down to driving traffic, increasing loyalty, up-selling, and above all, getting you to buy more high-margin beverages.  You out there, experimenting with different restaurants and learning about different food cultures?  Well, STOP IT!  Do you want to be just average, or do you want to be LOYAL?  Yes, a restaurant-centric, not consumer-centric way of looking at things.

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One loyalty company called Paytronix allows operators to send geofenced messages (it is what it sounds like), lets them pay for food with their phones, and more.  Just when we thought our ability to actually communicate with each other couldn’t get any worse, there are now even more distractions available.

Paytronix also models guest behavior to project potential high-value customers and nurture them. Which of course sounds familiar, since the casinos have been doing it for years.  Except you will never be comped drinks and a hotel room in a restaurant.

Observation 8.  Responsible/Local Sourcing – Whether it’s produce, protein or grains, where food comes from is increasingly getting attention.  However, it’s one thing to say it, quite another to do it on a meaningful scale.  As Chipotle found out recently when they faced a shortage of ‘responsibly raised beef’, reducing your supply options means the margin for error shrinks as well.

HydroponicsScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.10.14 PM

 

Observation 7.  Mobile to help back office.  Could there be a less sexy title?  Doubtful.  The point here is rather than ‘mobile’ being a buzzword but not really ready for primetime, Mobile is starting to be leveraged in a way totally relevant to the frenetic nature of hospitality.

One startup, Partender, has developed a mobile app to get real-time inventory updates for the bar area.  In the bar business, making money is a lot about tightly controlling inventory to keep service levels high, while making as much cash available for the important stuff: hiring trick bartenders like Tom Cruise.

Seriously, I saw this app at work and it is slick, intuitive, and totally appropriate for the use.  When inventory is sitting on the shelves, it’s hard to input with a fixed desktop or laptop.  Mobile is increasingly adding real value where it makes sense..

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Observation 6.  Plant-Based Dinnerware – compostable products have been around a while; this year there were more products that were plant-based.  Specifically, companies like World Centric and Vegware offer tableware, utensils, napkins, hot/cold cups, to-go packages and more made from things like sugar cane, wheat straw, and corn.  As volume increases, costs will come down and you’ll see more of this approach.

energy-savings

…But wait – – Now you can also get utensils that you can not only eat with, but that you can EAT.  Foodie Spoon offers a selection of different serving shapes (spoons, cones, shapes) that you can put stuff on, and then eat the whole thing.  Think of a mini-me taco.

FoodieSpoon
So next time you’re at a party and a waiter offers you an elegant canapé on a spoon, amaze your friends and chomp the whole thing down.  (But maybe check first.)

THAT’S IT FOR OBSERVATIONS 6-10.   COMING SOON:  THE TOP 5, which promises to be even more exciting.

In the meantime, a few bonus experiences from the show:

Silpat Girl

Silpat Girl

Espresso Cheese!

Espresso Cheese!

Stay tuned!

The Final Mile is The Toughest

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One of the great things about online shopping has been the free shipping, often via retailer promotions (‘free shipping over $50’) or programs like Amazon Prime.

Isn’t it terrific?  You can be prancing around doing whatever one does when one prances, and should a random thought pop into your head like “man, I really need a Teflon fly-swatter”, you can just go online, order it, and before you know it, like Bugs Bunny waiting at the mailbox for his order from Acme, a Teflon fly-swatter arrives at your doorstep, typically in a box big enough to hold a microwave oven.

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Long Haired Hare (1949)

Well, you may want to get your impulse shopping Jones satisfied now, because the sad news is that free shipping as we know it is likely to be changing.  Reality bites.

This past week FedEx announced it was changing its freight policy to include not only weight, but also the dimensions of the shipped product.  This will result in increased shipping costs on about 1/3 of items, particularly large but lightweight products (e.g. toilet paper) that fill up trucks or planes but don’t represent as much revenue (or profit).

Similarly, Groupon, which also sells a few things from time to time, has increased its free shipping threshold from $20 to $25.

Why the changes?  Well, the short answer is that you can’t download stuff you order online.

Amazon might have the most amazing distribution centers, but stuff still has to be shipped with pre-internet technology like TRUCKS and AIRPLANES and HUMANS.  And the cost of fuel of all of these mechanisms is going up, as are fees, taxes and everything else.  Like a bridge that goes 99% across a river, that final 1% really makes or breaks the whole program.
– there are related impacts as well:  retailers will likely now need to stock more box sizes (to reduce over-sizing), which carries inventory costs.

overpackaging

SO – someone has to pay for these increased costs.  And ultimately you know who that is:  you and me.

It’s well known that there’s a high rate of cart abandonment – by one measure about 65% – -and that 44% of these are due to high shipping costs. (cool infographic here).  So retailers are loathe to add or increase shipping charges.

Shopping Cart

What is likely to happen is that costs will be increased throughout the system, for example:
– Shippers like FedEx incorporating package dimensions to increase fees (and UPS likely to follow)
– Retailers raising thresholds for free shipping (like Groupon)
– Retailers increasing prices in other ways (Amazon Prime going from $79 to $99)
– And plain old increased costs of merchandise to cover shipping

There will very likely be increased use of shipping as a promotional tool, but over time costs will inevitably need to increase.  There’s just not enough profit in the system right now.

Until some equilibrium is reached, however, you may still notice overt signs of covering costs – – like $50 for a $2.50 order of screws (actual cart total – – and yes, it was abandoned).  So keep your eye on the ‘shipping cost’ line for the time being.

Screwed!