Category Archives: New Products

We Tested it On You, So It’s Probably OK for Your Pet

I had the pleasure of attending a brand new trade show – Petfood 2.0 – in Chicago recently.

Petfood2.0logo

Not surprisingly, this show is still getting its furry legs under it – – a very manageable group of 35 disparate exhibitors made for a quick and interesting, if not yet cohesive, experience.

Overall, though, a larger theme presented itself:
Following thousands of years of dogs serving man, the tables have turned.
Man now serves dog.

Exhibit 1:  Hemp for Pets.

Now available from our friends at HempMeds, is a line of products made from hemp to benefit your pets.  aNew™ Pet Nutrition‘s products provide essential fatty acids (EFA – – Omega-3 and -6) and are made from a blend of hemp seed oil and raw hemp stalk oil (which is rich in cannabidiol – CBD).  EFAs, as we know, are highly beneficial – – just don’t ask the industry to agree on what the top benefits are.

pet_oil250

This innovation in pet health could not have been possible without the committed testing of hemp products by millions of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.  So while the outcome of all that testing is up for discussion, your cat or dog is possibly benefiting now from what you did in college then.

OK, that’s not accurate.

While hemp is illegal to grow in the US, it is perfectly legal to import any part of the hemp plant in all 50 states.
And while the prospect of Fifi or Rover lying on his or her back contemplating the ceiling tiles for hours on end and giggling is intriguing, these products contain virtually no THC – the active ingredient that makes marijuana psychoactive.

Although it would be interesting to see if Nigel would behave any differently with the munchies.  Doubtful.

Hempmeds

Exhibit 2:   Functional ingredients for pets – – it worked on Man, so it’s probably safe for Rover.

We long ago realized that we could do better than feeding our pets Ol’ Roy (WalMart).  Thus emerged added value feed (e.g. Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, etc), offering different formulas for large breeds, older pets, etc. as well as some medical needs.

Meanwhile, human foods and beverages have increasingly been stuffed with a dizzying array of functional ingredients, many of which have no empirical basis in efficacy.  But we humans have shown that we’re willing to buy them anyway.  What did Charles Revson say about hope?

Based on this massively-scaled test market on mankind, it apparently has been deemed that animal-kind is now ready to safely ingest all sorts of functional ingredients that may or may not actually ever benefit them.

Petfood2.0

Incorporating things like ancient grains, fiber, medium-chain triglycerides, probiotics and ionic trace minerals, your pet can now get benefits heretofore only considered for the human species (notwithstanding hairballs and a healthy coat).

One company, PetNaturals of Vermont, offers products to address the following areas:
– Agility, Antioxidant, Bladder Support, Breath, Calming, Daily Multivitamin, Digestion, Hip & Joint, Immunity, Slim-down, Urine pH balance (really – to avoid yellow spots on the lawn), Periodontal health, Fecal function, and Skin/Coat health.

You dog and cat owners will probably recognize some of the benefit areas in the products below.

photo 1

We live in a world where the things we eat promise magical powers to fix whatever marketers insist needs fixing.  And regardless of the effectiveness, manufacturers have made a tidy business catering to hope.

Now, due to the significant sacrifice, expense and effort expended in testing on humans, our pets will soon be able to have their diets enhanced, and your wallet may end up just a little lighter.  So when your pet looks up as if to say ‘Thanks, Man’, now you know what’s going through that little brain.

I have no doubt that many of these ingredients can provide real benefits to some of the 150 million dogs and cats out there.

Except I’m not believing anything that promises intelligence to an Irish Setter.

Captex

Shoes, Elephants and Michelangelo

A famous and probably apocryphal story relates how in the late 1800s, shoe companies sent scouts to Africa to assess opportunity. All came back and said: “no one in Africa wears shoes – – there is no opportunity” – except for the rep for Bata, who said: “everyone in Africa is barefoot – – there’s a huge opportunity”. Bata shoes are now ubiquitous in Africa.

Bata1

With its vast population, diversity and resources, why aren’t more companies committed to growth from Africa? Why do EMEA business strategies have no patience for the ‘A’? Certainly with that many people, shouldn’t African commerce, like life in Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park quote, “find a way?”

The challenge is daunting, and figuring this one out is above my pay grade, but thinking about solving for Africa can make just about any other challenge seem pretty straightforward.

africa

There are of course very real reasons that Africa is challenging. A Sept 16 scan of Google News stories across 54 African nations (below), reveals overwhelming existential crises such as Ebola, terrorism, sectarian violence, mixed in with a standard dose of President-for-life type scandal (see: Mugabe, Robert), but not many commercial or consumer focused stories. Where much of the developed world has surplus calories, Africa has a basic food (and water) deficit. A quick look at per-capita incomes shows that African citizens are among the poorest in the world. Barriers, indeed.

Yet we are all still more alike than we are different. We all have needs: food, shelter, entertainment, and yes, shoes.  And so within a mass of challenges, there are opportunities.  Bata figured this out long ago – – it saw millions of bare feet, rather than cultural or economic barriers, and methodically penetrated the continent.

The key, as in eating an elephant, is to take it one bite at a time.  In fact, it’s really just another execution of basic marketing – identifying segments, understanding their needs and barriers, and creatively and selectively applying solutions.  Pricing? Access? Promotion? Distribution? Positioning? Unique benefits?  A solution is almost always available – it’s just not always obvious.EatingAnElephant Unlocking this potential may be gaining traction: PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Africa Business Agenda 2014 report was released last week.  The report, comprising surveys and interviews with 260 chief executives in 14 African countries, indicates that CEOs are optimistic about growth despite volatility and uncertainty on the continent.  From Business Report/Africa: “The Chief Executives acknowledge that a lot more needs to be done in terms of transforming the continent’s potential for exponential growth into tangible business opportunities”. There are examples where creative and focused approaches helped realize growth from similarly unlikely places.

  • In India, Colgate has carved out over 55% of the oral care market (~$600 million+) despite toothpaste penetration of only 55% (and only 15% of them brush twice daily), and a per-capita income ranked 120 of 164 countries in 2013 (World Bank).
    • This was done by offering more affordable sizes, and innovating a multi-layer distribution system to penetrate the largely rural population
  • In Mexico, concrete giant Cemex, through its Patrimonio Hoy (‘Private Property Today’) program, has enabled many low-income families to build onto their homes on an installment plan at affordable levels.
    • For example, in this innovative program, one family pays $18 per month for $960 in construction materials, allowing them to add stepwise onto their home.

Whether it is Africa, India or a mass of consumers (or customers) at home, the same principles apply.  Where there is need, solutions are always possible.

Michelangelo

As Michelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

A Day In The Life of Africa – September 16, 2014

Country                                              Story 1                                        Story 2
Algeria                                                al Qaeda                                        Soccer
Angola                                                Sub-Saharan investment             Oil Exploration
Benin                                                  Ebola                                             Trade
Botswana                                           Crackdown on press                     Ebola
Burkina Faso                                      Soccer                                          Trade
Burundi                                              3 nuns murdered                             —
Cameroon                                          Soccer                                            —
Cape Verde                                        Soccer                                         Tropical storm
Central African Republic                 Muslim-Christian violence              —
Chad                                                  Guys named Chad                         —
Comoros                                            Islamic oil deal                   Indian Ocean Comm.
Dem. Rep. of the Congo                    Ebola                                          Mineral dev.
Djibouti                                               al Qaeda                                     Violence
Egypt                                                Fighting Islam                          Muslim B’hood exiles
Equatorial Guinea                           UN Ambass. accused          Call for national unity
Eritrea                                             Leather export trade                   US travel warning
Ethiopia                                           Relations with Egypt                   Egypt opposition
Gabon                                                Soccer                                            —
Gambia                                              Anti-gay legislation                       Ebola
Ghana                                                Ebola                                           Soccer
Guinea                                               Corruption                                    Ebola
Guinea-Bissau                                   Ebola                                           Political instability
Ivory Coast                                        Soccer                                             —
Kenya                                                Cost of living                          Investment/trade
Lesotho                                             Coup attempt                                   —
Liberia                                               Ebola                                                —
Libya                                                 Migrant boat capsizes                    Islamic terrorists
Madagascar                                      Lemurs                                            Locust infestation
Malawi                                               Political scandal                              Soccer
Mali                                                    al Qaeda                                          Sectarian violence
Mauritania                                          Moving weekend to Fri/Sat              Business/trade
Mauritius                                            Foreign investment                          Murder invest.
Morocco                                            Anti-racism demonstrations                —
Mozambique                                      Elephant poaching                           Political rivals
Namibia                                              Foreign trade                                    —
Niger                                                  US drone base                                 Baby trafficking
Nigeria                                               Building collapse                              Ebola
Rep. of the Congo                           Ebola                                              Political corruption
Rwanda                                             Genocide 20th anniv.                Rebuilding efforts
São Tomé and Príncipe                     Infrastructure dev.              New: cellular roaming
Senegal                                             Ebola                                               Soccer
Seychelles                                         Tourism                                            Protected species
Sierra Leone                                      Ebola                                                —
Somalia                                              anti-al Qaeda/ISIS                           anti-Shebab
South Africa                                       Pistorius trial                                    Rugby
South Sudan                                      Foreign aid worker ban            Internal peace
Sudan                                                Condemned Christ. woman         Peace with S. Sudan
Swaziland                                          UK power investment           Royal family antics
Tanzania                                            Foreign investment                       Infrastructure
Togo                                                  Qatar investment                          Soccer
Tunisia                                               Economic pressure                         Security
Uganda                                              Foiled terrorist attack               US warns Americans
Zambia                                              Political leader dies                          Soccer
Zimbabwe                                         $3B mining deal w/Russia                  —

Top 5 SWEET Treats from the Sweets and Snacks Expo (Part 2)

Posted on

Last in a series:  Here are the Top 5 Cool Sweets products I observed at the 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo. (previously I reported on the Top 5 Snacks, available here.)   As always, all links and photos are active. SweetsShow

Chocolate is the centerpiece of the sweets part of the show.  And certainly by now we’ve seen every possible permutation of chocolate, no?

Shoes

No. Among a few evolving trends:  (thin ‘bark’-like chocolate products and ‘minis’, smaller versions of mainstream products) there were some exciting new products.

Top 5 Sweets Products

1.  Energy chocolate – Awake, Scho-ko-lade, energems

As you may know, chocolate already has some caffeine – about 12mg/oz typically.  These caffeinated chocolates think you need more. Awake has about 66/oz; 101 for a 1.55oz bar.  Scho-ko-lade is a 100 year old German formula that combines the caffeine from chocolate, coffee and the kola nut to deliver 95 grams for 6 sections (about as much as what’s in 8 oz of coffee).  And it comes in a nifty round tin as well.  Energems takes a different approach, calling itself a nutritional supplement and puts 15mg of caffeine in each stylish round candy.

– They all taste great and are an excellent excuse to work chocolate into your breakfast routine.

Awakezutaten_tin
energems

 

2.  Vitamin candy – Supercandy, Vitamingum, Vitamincandy

One thing the world didn’t think it needed is candy that is good for you.  All the company officials I spoke with were quick to mention that these are not supposed to replace sensible eating, but “as long as you’re having candy, why not have some vitamins as well” seems to be the prevailing rationale.  We are one very messed up species. – at any rate, there were some tasty examples.

Supercandy comes in hard, gummy and gum forms and promises B-vitamins, antioxidants and electrolytes.    Vitamincandy comes in 6 flavors and most offer a small dose of Vitamin C.  Vitamingum Fresh offers ‘Fresh Breath and 12 Essential Vitamins’.

– Ultimately, though, if you really feel you need to supplement your diet with vitamins, a pill is probably a more practical delivery system.

store-supercandy-gummy_1 vitamincandy vitamingum

 

3.  High-tech breath mints – EatWhatever

Perhaps inspired by 2-part epoxy resins, the folks at EatWhatever believe in “Two Steps to kissable breath”.  In this case, there are two pills – a gelcap that you swallow after a meal (“especially with smelly garlic or onion”), and while it’s de-funking you from the inside there’s also a mint to suck on for instant hit of date-saving fresh breath.

The mint tasted good (like most mints) but I only tried it once and can’t testify to the effectiveness of the 2-part system.  But they claim it works great – – you will just need to be clever to discreetly deploy this system in a date situation.

eatwhatever

4.  New chocolate shapes – Chocolate Moonshine hand painted artisan fudge bars

Just when you thought there’s nothing new, you run across the booth of the Chocolate Moonshine Company of Pittsburgh.  33 flavors, gorgeous presentation, and absolutely terrific fudge.  A bit pricey at $2/bar, but these are an innovative approach to an old product and are a great indulgence (especially if one of the 33 available flavors matches your team colors), and an even better gift.

ChocMoonshine

5.  MEGA candies – more of what you already get too much of

Finally, the good old American approach of “if I can’t give you something new, I’ll give you more of the old stuff”.

MEGA products are basically pumped up versions of old favorites, with absolutely no nod to nutritional benefits, GMO-free, added vitamins or any of that stuff.  If many of today’s new candy products are sensible like a Camry, these Mega products are 1960s V-8 powered muscle cars.

NY-based Megaload Chocolates sells all sorts of weird combinations that you might dream up on a sugar high:  Oreos sitting on peanut butter cups like the Space Shuttle on a 747, or topped with a chocolate chip cookie.  They may need to create one topped with a little insulin packet.

M&Ms MEGAs are comparatively tame, but prove that size matters in the chocolate world.  Same concept, just 3x the size you’re used to.  And the large size is surprisingly satisfying in your mouth.

MegaloadPic

Megaload Chocolates!

MegaM&Ms

 

 

Honorable mentions

–      Tabasco Chocolate – after chocolate with chiles and bacon, this was inevitable

Tabasco

Sugarpova candies – yes, this is Maria’s vanity candy.  And she’s got game here too.  Sometimes you just need a good angle.

sugarpova

Customization (TicTacs) – the only line at the show was for making your very own custom TicTac blend.  Surprised there wasn’t more of this sort of personalization.  There will be.

TicTacPersonalized

 

Milk Flavoring Pods from JohnnyMoo.  It’s a version of a flavored milk straw that has taken two giant steps forward technologically and now looks a little like your very own Space Needle.  But much better tasting. Fun!

JohnnyMoo

–       Tongue tattoos from Tungtoos – Definitely an innovation I didn’t see coming.  Why, you ask?  Because, as the old punchline goes, we can.

Tungtoos

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

Posted on

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

header-logo

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.

Untitled

 

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)

Posted on

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

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 3.32.59 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 3.22.14 PM

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.

Cookies

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.

———–

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)

Posted on

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).

NRA

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.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.56.30 PM

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..

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.15.48 PM

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!

Outrage at New Corporate Average Calorie Count Mandate: What took so long?

Posted on

After over a year, the food industry has finally begun to voice frustration with the upcoming Corporate Average Calorie Count (CACC) requirements that were a little-noticed insertion in the recently implemented Affordable Care Act.

Like it or not, this law has been on the books for over a year – – why the sudden passive-aggressive reaction?

Like Big Auto’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, CACC requires all US-based food and beverage manufacturers making over 20 products to average at or below 100 calories-per-serving for all processed products by 2019.   While CAFE uses a sales-weighted mean, CACC counts all products equally.  “We decided to use a simpler approach that everyone – consumers, manufacturers, retailers – – and Congress – – could understand”, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who knows a thing or two about the importance of simplicity). Sebelius-calories

Companies need to submit CACC plans by the end of 2014, with final compliance targeted by 2019.  Excluded are imported products, unprocessed foods, dairy, ‘ingredient’ foods like peanut butter or oil, alcoholic beverages and products sold through foodservice, vending and convenience channels (although vending machines are impacted by the same provision in ACA and have to post calorie counts by the end of 2014) .  Companies not meeting standards will face penalties of $1,000 per calorie above the target level, multiplied by each $1 million of revenue of that company. ACA-Vending

Food manufacturers are just now starting to realize the size of the challenge.  “CACC creates significant costs for manufacturers, a huge compliance burden, and most importantly, is likely to remove choice and impact taste for consumers,” said Lloyd Braun, CEO of Peterman Bakeries of Omaha, NE.  “If it’s difficult for a smaller producer like us, it could be almost impossible for the Krafts and Pepsis of the world”.

Indeed, meeting the standard will be tough.  We took a look at PepsiCo to see what they are facing.

According to its websites, PepsiCo sells 1327 products across its Pepsi, Frito-Lay and Quaker businesses (not counting Tropicana).  Its Corporate Average Calorie Count now stands at 118.2, with beverages actually close to the standard at 102.6, brought up by Frito-Lay at 137.9 and Quaker at 150.7 (click on chart).

PepsiCo-Calories

To meet the 100 calorie corporate goal, PepsiCo will likely need a combination of reformulation, elimination of higher-calorie offerings, and addition of lower-calorie offerings.  This could mean fewer products like Grandma’s Cookies (210 calories), Quaker Breakfast Cookies (175) and Starbucks Frappuccino (290) and more like Rice Cakes (35), Matador Jerky (75) and lots more AMP Sugar-free Energy Drinks (15).  Happily, Quaker’s Quisp cereal checks in at an even 100 calories and thus seems safe.

As difficult as this current Pepsi Challenge is, they at least have the benefit of a large number of products (and frankly, a couple of large subsidiaries) to work with.  The CACC mandate could be terminal for those companies specializing in more indulgent fare, such as frozen pizza (285), fettucine alfredo (415) and Garrett’s Gingerbread CaramelCrisp Popcorn (300).

Still, the angst is real: A source inside PepsiCo explained: “We thought we had done our part by helping reduce Americans’ calorie intake by 6.4 trillion calories as part of the 2010 Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation initiative – – we are now quite frustrated that the current Administration is piling on with these new requirements. So frankly, not much work has been done yet”.

Well, it’s time to stop whining and get to work.   ACA is not going away, and your country is depending on you.

Whither Apple? Can a brand be too strong?

Is there such a thing as too much brand strength?

This past week, Apple celebrated its 30th year in business and announced 1Q revenue and earnings above analysts’ estimates.  The reward?  Apple’s stock went down -8% in a single day.   The story was that iPhone unit sales were below expectations.
I suspect there’s more to it than that.

mac30

What’s going on?  Apparently Apple has so completely trained us to expect huge news, that merely growing a huge profitable business is seen as a negative, the ‘Microsofting’ of Apple, if you will.

Apple, of course, has brought this upon itself, introducing us to the Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and changing an entire industry.  As Apple’s legend continued to grow, this sort of pattern became expected, much like a sub-30 point game for Michael Jordan was greeted with a shrug.  The next cool thing?  It’ll come from Cupertino, of course.

More recently, Apple’s track record has been less spectacular (perhaps not coincidentally following the passing of Steve Jobs).  Solid growth, but innovation more of the incremental sort, compounded by previously unimaginable screwups in product (Apple Maps) and marketing (being ‘out-cooled’ by Samsung!).  Competitors have started to catch up – Apple actually is following by increasing iPhone screen size.  In a recent Forrester Research study, Apple dropped from second to fourth in a consumer electronics brand customer satisfaction survey, behind Samsung, Microsoft and Sony.  What the what?!?!

Apple Comp

Finally, as one measure of expected future profitability, Apple’s P/E stands at around 12.7, down from 22 or so a few years ago.

What should we make of this?  Has Apple set the bar for itself too high and is now entering a death spiral (#Sony)?

1) To be sure, Apple’s experience demonstrates that ‘what have you done for me lately’ is alive and well for investors.

2) However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Apple’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
– What is less visible is that Apple has built an enormously deep reservoir of confidence and mystique over the years.  Apple still commands our attention, and has retained its exceptional image as an innovator and cultural driver, the result of its exceptional record of success, and absolutely consistent, disciplined branding work over the years.

Ever notice how sportscasters lead with how Tiger Woods is doing, even when he misses the cut (as happened this last weekend)?  We are all still looking to Apple for the next surprise.  This is what branding can do.  And you don’t need a high-profile marital flame-out for it to work, either.

I would venture that Apple is still the one technology company that all others measure themselves against.

Apple absolutely needs to continue to drive category innovation.   But when this happens (and it will happen), its deep-seated brand equity will help to re-energize its consumer base, driving greater sales and loyalty than might be possible with the same product from a different company.   Personally, I’m waiting for the Apple TV…

Why Dogs Aren’t Great Marketers

I’m back after a short blog sabbatical.  This post is in honor of Nigel’s 10th birthday.

Nigel

Sorry, Nigel, I love you but you suck as a marketer.  Sure, you have an unreal sense of smell – – you can smell me silently unpeeling a banana from another floor of the house so you might get a little piece of the action.  And you’ve told me many times that this or that ad campaign really stinks.  So far so good.

But, and I hate to break this to you, buddy, you’re color-blind.  You couldn’t tell a green biscuit from a red one from a brown one.  (That’s why I never present you with more than one at a time – – with no way to tell them apart, you’d starve before you made a choice).

Anyway, by being color-blind  you miss a key differentiator that can make or break a product – – COLOR.

Humans, on the other hand, are attentive to differences in color, and that makes a huge difference.
– color not only calls attention to a single product in a crowded field, it is a strong mnemonic reminder to aid in brand recall, and can even convey desirable qualities about a brand.  In short, color can mean a LOT, even if in itself it has no bearing on product performance.

This is before you were born, but there was a time where products in a category all looked alike.

OwensCorning2
– before 1956, all fiberglass insulation was yellow – but then Owens-Corning dyed theirs pink to differentiate from the competition, in 1964 hired the Pink Panther, and the rest, as they say, is history.  They redefined what this category looks like and BECAME DIFFERENT (sorry for yelling.  I’m not mad).  More than 50 years later, they’re still leveraging the color Pink.   Along the way they got trademark protection for pink in this category.  On the other hand, Pepto-Bismol, another pink icon, was unsuccessful in protecting pink for the antacid category.

– If you did have full color sensitivity, Nigel, stopped ‘grooming’ yourself and picked your head up and looked around, you’d see lots of examples of where color has helped differentiate products.
– green in tractors (John Deere), teal in luxury jewelry (Tiffany), brown in package delivery (Brown, er, UPS, – – even if they’ve now moved on)

john-deere-tractor-1UPS Tiffany1

 

 

 

 

I’ve noticed a few myself.

MegaRed Krill Oil – -in a sea of sameness in fish oils (all honey-colored capsules), maker Schiff came out with a variation (krill) and underscored that difference by not only coloring their product and package red, but extending it to the name itself.  I’m not sure if it’s any different from a functional standpoint, but it definitely has made a mark in this crowded field by being different.

MegaRedFish oil pills

Christian Louboutin Shoes – – ok, you may be a little closer to this (literally) than me, but designer Christian Louboutin has staked a position in the market by coloring the soles of his namesake high heels bright red.  Apparently this made enough of a difference that he was in court with Yves St Laurent regarding whether this design can be protected.  Regardless of the outcome, red soles in this category have been permanently associated with Louboutin, and have drawn significant attention to his brand in a crowded field.

Louboutin shoes

And differentiation, my friend, is what it’s all about.  Don’t ever forget to think about color next time you’re taking potshots at this or that product when we’re shopping at PetSmart.

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

Posted on

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.

Bamboo

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.

IFT_maple-water

(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!