Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Men more responsive to caffeine

A strong cup of coffee has a greater effect on men than women, research shows.

In a study on 668 healthy volunteers, an espresso pepped up men after just 10 minutes. Women also became more alert after the beverage, but less so.

The University of Barcelona researchers say some of this effect might be psychological because decaffeinated coffee also worked to some extent.

Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry reports the work.

The volunteers were asked to drink either a classic espresso containing 100mg of caffeine or a decaffeinated espresso containing 5mg of caffeine.

Then the researchers looked for changes in alertness over the following minutes and hours.

Both men and women saw an improvement in their activity levels after drinking the classic espresso and these effects began after as little as 10 minutes.


According to the investigators, 45 minutes is the time needed for maximum caffeine concentration to be reached in the blood, but levels reach half this concentration after just a few minutes.

And the effect appeared to be greater in the men.

The decaf coffee had a similar, but weaker effect and tended to be more potent in the women rather than in the men.

Lead researcher Ana Adan said: "Numerous studies have demonstrated the stimulant effects of caffeine, but none of these have looked at their effects in terms of the consumer's gender."

Anna Denny of the British Nutrition Foundation said: "This study provides an interesting insight into how the effects of specific foods and nutrients may differ between men and women.

"Research into 'gene-nutrient' interactions is moving forward quickly and we are finding out more about how our genetic make-up affects our requirements for certain foods and nutrients, and how our bodies react to these. In the future this could allow scientists to formulate dietary recommendations based on our genetic make up, as well as our age and body size."

Dr Euan Paul of the British Coffee Association said: "This new scientific study demonstrates interesting differences in the positive effects that caffeine may have on alertness between men and women, an area that has not been heavily researched in previous scientific investigations. We welcome further research to investigate with greater certainty any differences in the stimulant effects of caffeine that may be experienced between gender groups."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Specialty Food News

Demand for organic food will decrease as consumers become less willing to pay a premium for the foods, according to market analysts. Consumer demand for organic meat declined while organic dairy produce and vegetables are faring better, reported Food Navigator Europe. Full Story

Economic weakness together with rising costs facing consumers and businesses will be difficult for the restaurant industry, according to Moody's Investors Service's report, U.S. Restaurant Industry Outlook 2008. An increasingly competitive environment will add pressure to the restaurant business as will food safety concerns. Against this backdrop, restaurant companies will face liquidity and refinancing risks, reported Meat & Poultry. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Food inflation should retreat in 2009, according to USDA economist Ephraim Leibtag. Mr. Leibtag estimates that next year the consumer price index's food inflation rate will fall to about 4%, reported The Chicago Tribune. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Alternative soft drink company Cricket is in final negotiations to be acquired by Meridian Beverage Co. for an undisclosed amount of Meridian stock, according to The Washington Post, which profiles the history of Cricket. Founded in 2002, Cricket started selling two products, a cola and a diet cola made with the equivalent of two cups of antioxidant-rich green tea. The line expanded to include more flavors and its annual sales are projected to top $1 million this year. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Specialty's bakery cafe chain plans to add between 10 and 14 locations in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, extending into Southern California and an Oakland location, reported the San Francisco Business Times. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Greece's largest dairy company, Fage, committed $85 million to build a plant in Johnstown, NY as it expects its Greek-style yogurt to become popular in the U.S. Fage's distribution network has grown over the past decade from specialty stores in the New York City area to supermarket chains nationwide, including Costco, Kroger and Publix, reported RNN. Full Story

UK Organic farmers asked the government for temporary exemption from organic standards in an attempt to survive the recession. The request by organizations including the Soil Association follows a 10% dip in sales of organic produce from Sept. to Nov., according to TNS. While farmers would give up the right to label their food "organic," the plan would still oblige farmers to follow other organic tenets, reported The Times UK. Full Story

The Sebastiani and Cuneo families entered into a transaction to sell Sebastiani Vineyards, Inc. to the Foley Wine Group. Full Story

Walt Disney World replaced a medium-high-priced, full-service steakhouse in its Contemporary Resort Hotel with a new counter-service restaurant called the Contempo Cafe, featuring touch-screen menus for placing orders. The cafe allows visitors to peruse the menu on electronic boards with color photos, then place orders at touch screens in English or Spanish before proceeding to a cashier, according to Orlando Sentinel. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The San Francisco Chronicle unveiled its list of the year's 10 best cheeses. Two examples include Brunet, a young goat cheese from Northern Italy's Piedmont region, and Oregon's Crater Lake Blue from the Rogue Creamery. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled the region's top food trends of 2008. "This was the year of the mega-restaurant, the return of the French bistro and the go-go days of the gastropub. The bacon was house-cured. The craft-beer lists became big. And women chefs, more than ever, made their mark on the city's kitchens." Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Napa, CA-based COPIA wine and food institute closed its doors after a bankruptcy filing on Dec. 1 and subsequent revelations that the nonprofit corporation could no longer meet operating expenses or service its debt, reported The New York Times on the Web. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

New York-based bread and sweet-goods supplier Tom Cat Bakery, Inc. was acquired by Ancor Capital Partners and Merit Capital Partners. Full Story

Duluth, MN-based European Bakery will close after 95 years in business due to rising prices for ingredients such as flour and eggs and high fuel and healthcare costs, reported Full Story (Free Registration Required)

New Product News: Function Drinks' "New Year's Detox Kit" will be offered exclusively in Whole Foods Markets nationwide starting Dec. 30. The seasonal four-pack includes two flavors of its drink Function: Urban Detox. Full Story ... Ocean Spray launched Sugar-Free Drink Mixes in six flavors: Cranberry Grape, White Cranberry Peach, Cranberry Lemonade, Cranberry Pomegranate, Cranberry and Ruby Red. Full Story

Monday, December 29, 2008

The emerging make-and-take meal business morphs into a dinner boutique

The convergence of aspirations for good, healthy meals with a documented need for family table time and a quest to know exactly what’s in the food and where it came from could turn consumers on to the kitchen stove again.

But maybe not like as in the past.

To the rescue is the young-and-growing quick-meal-prep industry. Consumers—usually busy moms—go into one of the nearly 1,200 meal-prep outlets nationwide once a month, assemble chopped and prepared ingredients for several featured recipes, snap on the lids or zip the bags, and rush home to the freezer with multiple servings of a month’s worth of meals. Thaw, cook, and serve. Done.

The concept started its “make-and-take” ascent in 2002. Caterer Stephanie Allen and a friend had already been meeting together regularly and assembling ingredients for multiple meals and told their friends about it. After 9/11, people wanted to get back to the dinner table, they wanted home-cooked meals, and they wanted to save money, Allen says. “People came out of the woodwork asking for my help.”

In March 2002, she gathered 44 women in a rented commercial kitchen, and by June she opened her first store Dream Dinners. The concept now has 209 franchised units in 37 states with headquarters in Snohomish, Washington.

Quickly, similar concepts popped up across the county, and today the meal-prep industry is a $370-million business, expected to increase to $410 million by the end of 2009, according to The Easy Meal Prep Co., a Cheyenne, Wyoming–based consulting company.

Though meal-assembly concepts account for less than two-tenths of a percent of dinners, innovation abounds and could be contagious to consumers when more of them catch wind of it.

Lack of consumer awareness is the meal-prep industry’s biggest challenge, says Bert Vermeulen, owner/president of The Easy Meal Prep Co. “It allows traditional dinner at home, which is healthy for the body and mentally healthy for the family. A lot of people know they need that, but they don’t look for this concept as a solution. A large portion of the population doesn’t know it exists or how it works,” he says.
Old habits are the biggest competition to the meal-prep industry, says Judie Byrd, founder of Super Suppers, a Fort Worth, Texas-based chain of 150 franchised stores in 41 states. “Busy working moms don’t want to gather up the kids after working long hours, put them in the car, and sit at a restaurant and eat, but they do. It’s an old habit,” she says.

Consumer Votes

Consumers who are aware of the quick meal-prep concept have pushed the industry in new directions, both operationally and in terms of flavors, ingredients, and meals.
The same crave for convenience that led to the drive-thru has caused much of the meal-prep industry to transition from consumers assembling the ingredients to the store custom-assembling them for the consumer. The customer usually goes online, orders the meals with instructions on ingredients to leave out or include more of, then swings by to pick up the containers ready for the freezer. In 2004, 90 percent of the meals were assembled by the customer. The Easy Meal Prep Co. estimates that by the end of this year, only 33 percent of the customers will assemble the meals themselves.

At Super Suppers, Byrd estimates that only 5 percent of her customers still come in and assemble their own meals, and she likes it that way—calling it “take and bake.” Staff assembly of the ingredients guarantees quality control. “The cooking instructions are tested on that recipe. If someone constructs their own, there are variables, like how much a cup is. Some say it’s a level cup; some say it’s a heaping cup,” she says.

Yet Allen with Dream Dinners still banks on the business model of customers coming in for the “girls’ night out” meal-assembly social time. “We don’t compete with the office take-out or the curbside to-go,” she says.

Yet others freely experiment with different business models.

When Jeff Stevens and his wife started their single-unit San Francisco Bay area Deeelish! Meals Made Easy business a few years ago, Stevens went at it with a desire to match the area’s lofty culinary standards with consumers’ high expectations. “It meant hiring a chef with a phenomenal background and skills and an understanding of the limitations this process imposes from a cooking standpoint,” he says, referring to menu items that are freezable, easy to assemble, and simple to prepare at home. He hired veteran Bay area restaurant chef Lev Dagan, who also is an instructor at the California Culinary Academy.

Beyond the chef’s ability to create great recipes, it was important to Stevens to offer multiple meal-purchase options and delivery methods.

While most of the meal-prep companies have pricing options to prepare a set number of meals, Deeelish started a Supper Club program last summer. Customers could buy 10 or 15 meal credits up front, allowing them to come in and prepare one or two meals at a time within a certain period of time. “It’s another way to give more flexibility,” Stevens says.

More than 90 percent of the Deeelish meals are prepared by store staff, and the company ships many of the orders by Federal Express throughout the Bay area and into Oregon, Southern California, and even Texas and Hawaii.

The company also added a corporate delivery program. “We go out and strike up relationships with a company, put a refrigerator onsite, and we deliver food to the company and put it in the refrigerators,” he says. Employees simply order the meals online, pick them up from the company refrigerator, and take them home to the freezer.

In a further effort to get the meals to consumers conveniently, the company has programs with some elementary and secondary schools to deliver the preordered meals to parents in a 30-minute window in the afternoon as they swing by the school to pick up their kids.

Standout Food

Each meal-assembly company aims to stand out with consumers by presenting recipes that represent their tastes and values.

Boulder, Colorado–based The Organic Dish began in early 2007 as a place to come prepare recipes using organic ingredients. Now the staff prepares nearly all orders, and customers come in and pick up their meals, says co-owner Beckie Hemmerling.
In addition to organic and natural ingredients (antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range, and local), Hemmerling’s operation also caters to vegetarians, vegans, and those with food allergies and other dietary needs. She substitutes quinoa for couscous, offers wheat-free soy sauce, and modifies recipes to meet low-fat, low sodium requests. “Most people just want to know the food is not processed. They look at the ingredient list, and they know everything that’s on it,” Hemmerling says.

Since the price is determined by the number of servings assembled and not per item or dish, food costs are the starting point in determining the monthly recipe selections, says Natalie Lasch, corporate executive chef for Atlanta-based The Dinner A’Fare, with 42 locations in upscale lifestyle centers. She looks for diversity in food costs after examining commodity prices.

Her second consideration is the diversity of customers. “Every customer isn’t a mother with 2.2 kids,” she says. Some are singles looking for trendy foods, and there are a growing number of customers looking at phytochemicals, organics, and gluten-free.

Lasch considers it imperative that she keep up with culinary trends. “What are chefs bringing in? I can’t do something as escalated as that, but I try to make a home version of it,” she says. Among her contacts are members of the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team who report back on what they see around the world.
“A big thing over the past year has been gourmet pizza. I’ve done a few of those, including a Thai flatbread pizza,” Lasch says. Noodle bowls also have become trendy, so she’s incorporated some of those into her recipe bank.

Though customers’ tastes vary widely geographically, Lasch notices that there’s greater acceptance of unusual spices, like Chinese Five Spice. “People are starting to be more aware of these culinary trends,” she says. She also has had great success with gastro pub food—taking bar food up to the next level, citing rustic chicken and potato gratin as an example. That particular recipe mixes chicken flavored with chili powder and paprika to give it smokiness with red skin potato wedges, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and green onions. “Bake it all off together and it browns on top. Serve it with a unique sour cream sauce, and it’s a feel-good meal,” Lasch says.

Customers who buy into the meal-assembly concept look to try new options, says Michele Bellso, president and CEO of Syracuse, New York–based Make & Take Gourmet. Some of the more daring and successful Make & Take’s recipes of late include Thai pineapple curry chicken; Thai burgers with creamy cucumber relish; and Bow-Thai pasta.

Creativity also abounds with all-American dinner favorites. Bellso serves a pork tenderloin, for example, flavored with dried fruit. “People are used to the tenderloin, but we use dried apricots and wine sauce. It steams together as it cooks, and the flavor is incredible,” she says. Brown sugar meatloaf (with a brown sugar glaze over the top) is another customer favorite.

To make sure outlets are “hitting the spot” with the recipes they offer, Deeelish sends out a survey at the end of each month to get food feedback, while Dream Dinners uses tasting panels that include kids to determine what dishes make the menu. Of the 17 monthly dishes Deeelish features, about one-third are new recipes. The rest are classics that have sold well in the past; the best of the best; and a few “fast lane” items designed for grab and go
All the dishes developed for Super Suppers are tested by chefs at the Culinary School of Fort Worth, which was also founded by Judie Byrd.

While other quick meal-prep franchises might require franchisees to offer the same revolving monthly recipes, experience has taught Byrd to allow more flexibility. “We have about 400 entrĂ©es in the library. Every month, franchisees choose which they want,” she says. Byrd, however, recommends Super Supper operators include four national best-sellers as well as four to six new recipes. “After that, they can fill in with what sells best in their areas.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Restaurant growth may suffer as GE slows new lending

GE Capital Solutions, Franchise Finance, the largest restaurant lender by assets and clients, confirmed Friday it would be “much more selective” and defer rate quotes on new deals as the credit chill that began last year becomes a freeze in the face of Wall Street uncertainty.

GE Capital spokesman Stephen White said that while the Franchise Finance division was still active in the restaurant industry, it would continue to quote deals only “where competitive and appropriate.” GE also said it would honor any existing arrangements.

“We are being much more selective and have raised our hurdle rates, which has slowed deal approvals,” White said. “We’re still active -- less so in the last two weeks -- and are simply taking more time as the environment settles.”

He added that GE Capital would cease providing rate quotes “until things settle down,” but it would continue to accept credit packages.

According to lenders, operators and industry analysts, almost all financial institutions are re-evaluating their lending positions in the face of the credit crunch and the uncertainty surrounding a bailout plan for embattled banks on Wall Street. The situation, while changing daily, does guarantee a higher cost of capital, less available leverage and tighter lending structures for operators that need funding. It also could have a dramatic effect on the restaurant industry’s growth plans, which rely heavily on franchise activity.

GE’s decision to re-evaluate new restaurant lending comes on the heels of Bank of America’s alleged pullback on new lending to McDonald’s franchisees for upgrades surrounding the chain's espresso-based beverage initiative. McDonald’s Corp. spokeswoman Heidi Barker said Friday that Bank of America is “currently making new loans and continuing to lend to McDonald’s franchisees,” despite previous reports that had suggested the contrary.

With the banking system so unstable, industry sources have indicated that it is likely some restaurant companies may be unaware of changes to lending relationships because of the day-to-day unrest with the credit markets. Bank of America is in the midst of a merger with Merrill Lynch, another restaurant lender, and restaurant securities analysts proffered this week that any pullback in lending at McDonald’s or elsewhere could be based on the two banking institutions evaluating their portfolios. No one has suggested there is a credit issue at McDonald’s, and corporate spokeswoman Barker added that the company and its franchisees have access to more than 50 lenders.

Still, the reports of recent pullbacks at two main restaurant lenders are "disconcerting to say the least," said restaurant securities analyst Sharon Zackfia at William Blair & Co.

Both the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association, which says 70 percent of the restaurant industry is comprised of independent franchised operators, have called on Congress to enact the proposed $700 billion rescue package that is expected to provide liquidity to the nation’s financial institutions and kick start lending and economic growth.

GE Capital, which holds more than $100 billion in assets, is feeling pressure from parent company General Electric Co., which said this week that it would shrink its entire GE Capital unit and curtail borrowing at the division for the rest of the year. The Franchise Finance arm boasts more than $13 billion in served assets.
The lending freeze could curtail not only new unit development, but the refranchising plans of major franchisors who have counted on the sale of corporate locations to franchisees, deals that typically require outside lending, to shore up near-term corporate revenues and earnings.

Companies undertaking refranchising initiatives include Sonic Corp., Yum! Brands Inc., CKE Restaurants Inc., Jack in the Box Inc. and DineEquity Inc. Companies that have said future growth will come more from franchised development than from new corporate units include Panera Bread Co. and Buffalo Wild Wings Inc.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beverage and food manufacturers will likely feel the most pressure from a price war

Beverage and food manufacturers are likely to have to bare the brunt of a price war that is driving leading global retailers to increasingly turn to suppliers of discounted brands, according to one industry expert.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of independent group, the Centre for Retail Research, said that a universal shift towards price deflation in the retail sector was likely well into the next decade. Such a move could see a change in direction by retailers from targeting more environmentally focused manufacturers to reduced cost food and drink groups.

Over the last month, retailers such as UK-based Tesco have stepped up their focus on discounted product ranges, a move it claims is the biggest shake up of its ranges in fifteen years, in order to offset consumer concerns over costs.

Bamfield told that a worldwide pattern has already developed for retailers to chase cost cuts, except for some premium retailers such as Waitrose.

“In the coming years, pressure will fall on processors to supply better quality products with lower retail prices to ensure middle range retailers can better compete with discounters,” he stated.

Bamfield suggested that known value products in particular, from juices to dairy and other staple products, could be particularly affected by the drive.

Cost wars

The Centre for Retail Research suggested that initial price cutting drives were likely to resemble the early stages of a war, with retailers throwing every cost drive available in their arsenal at rivals. The centre suggested that the focus should calm slightly by next year though, although the impacts were likely to be felt for some time.

Bamfiled took Germany as a market that could serve as a model throughout Europe of the likelihood of a retailer switch in a low profit environment.

“Over the last ten years there has been much price deflation in the German retail market that has been passed onto suppliers,” Bamfiled stated.

This market shift will be seen across Western Europe and the US, he claimed.

He added that certain retailers, which worked to play up both their commitment to quality and price cuts will be particularly focused on sourcing high-quality low-cost finished products, claimed Bamfield.

Tesco push

While Tesco earlier this month said it has posted an 11 per cent jump in sales in its latest third quarter results, figures from research group TNS have suggested that the company has lost ground to discount retailers.

In the 12 weeks leading to 30 November, the group’s market share had fallen by 0.6 percentage points to 30.9 per cent over the same period last year, stated TNS.

However, speaking to shareholders last week, Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy moved to actively play-up the retailer’s focus on more private label goods, by suggesting its new ‘Discounter’ range already represented five per cent of the group’s sales.

“We are adjusting the business to meet the new challenges - focusing on becoming even cheaper for customers, keeping our costs low to help us to do this and managing our balance sheet and cash carefully,” he stated.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Scientia Forecasts Bright Future for Functional Foods

A Scientia Advisors study forecasts global sales of functional foods will hit nearly $200 billion by 2012, a 52-percent gain over 2006 sales of $128 billion.

The study was based on extensive interviews with scientists, clinicians, manufacturers and product developers, as well as on traditional market research. The predicted 7-percent rate essentially continues the 8-percent annual compound growth rate seen in the functional foods market between 2003-2006. It is nearly twice the 4-percent growth rate Scientia predicts for conventional foods and pharmaceuticals through 2012.

The expected growth in the functional foods marketplace will come as a result of a constellation of factors, according to Bob Jones, a principal consultant at Scientia, who led the study. Factors include increasing scientific evidence of functional foods’ effectiveness; increased media publicity encouraging consumer adoption; an aging population with growing chronic health needs, and food companies’ ability to work in a regulatory environment that increasingly requires scientific substantiation of claims being made.

Scientia predicts especially dramatic growth of functional foods in China, where a doubling of dairy production in the past four years has greatly increased the availability of milk and yogurt.

Not all functional food products enjoy equal success, the study found. For example, yogurts fortified with probiotics have enjoyed great success, where margarines fortified with a cholesterol-lowering sterol have largely failed in the United States. The study identifies several factors responsible for the commercial success of some functional food products and the disappointing sales of others.

Click here to download the study.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays and Peace to All!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah
and a Very Prosperous New Year

From the staff at Capico International

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More than 80% of consumers claim sticker shock at the grocery store caused them to change their habits

News about food came in large helpings this year, and from skyrocketing prices to salmonella scares, much of it was hard to swallow. In a new PARADE poll, Americans weighed in on how they’re coping.

More than 80% of those surveyed say sticker shock at the grocery store has meant changing their habits. Some 35% are preparing more meals from scratch, and 28% are buying more products in bulk. The rising costs may have a positive result, since fully a third say the one thing they won’t give up is eating a balanced diet.

Kitchens around America are getting extra use as 48% of poll respondents say they eat out less than they used to. Publicist Diana Ennen, 50, of Margate, Fla., and her computer-technician husband Greg, 48, are spending more time at home around the dinner table with their three children. “At first the kids were angry that we weren’t eating out as much,” says Diana. “My 10-year-old wanted to know why we just couldn’t get more money from the bank.” Thanks to fewer trips to the food court, the family is cooking together, making individual pizzas with fresh dough. They’re saving money and eating healthier.

But the cost of healthy foods like vegetables also has gone through the roof. As a result, 21% of those surveyed have joined a national trend and are planting their own vegetable gardens. According to the National Gardening Association, vegetable gardens are now a $1.4 billion-a-year industry. Art gallery owner Justin McInteer and his girlfriend, Tanya Quinn, pulled out their front lawn in Long Beach, Calif., last year to plant squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and even avocado and plum trees. They reaped a bountiful harvest and had fun doing it. “If you’re interested in reducing global warming,” says McInteer, 36, “you couldn’t get your food more locally.”

Still, not even Pollyanna would claim that all of the cutbacks have been easy. Where’s the beef? Not on the plates of a whopping 59% of those surveyed, who are turning their backs on expensive cuts of meats. “I buy so much chicken, my daughter won’t even eat it,” says Mount Vernon, N.Y., teacher Nilaja Womack, 38. In addition, like 61% of respondents, Nilaja relies on sales and coupons to cut costs. “I buy the yogurt I have a coupon for,” she says. “I’ll find deals to buy six gallons of milk and get the seventh one free.”

Our survey showed that shoppers have devised many strategies to save. For example, 42% have switched to less-expensive brands. Wendy Rose, 41, a nonprofit manager from Venice, Fla., has given up her favorite cereal in favor of a store brand. Another tactic: 47% are resisting the urge to splurge on nonessentials by staying out of the store. “If I go back to the market after I’ve bought my weekly staples,” explains quality-assurance manager Sherrod Bott, 33, of Littleton, Colo., “I’m more likely to pick up something like an expensive pasta sauce that I want but don’t really need.”

Our poll also revealed the truth about what Americans do behind closed doors—of their kitchens. More than 70% say they always wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating, but many admit they consider expiration dates only a suggestion. Some 40% will eat bread, and 30% canned goods, past the stamped date. In fact, a third are willing to eat anything that looks and smells OK, even if the expiration date is past. That’s a bad idea, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), which recommends tossing milk a week after opening, regardless of the expiration date; getting rid of yogurt seven to 10 days after purchase; and keeping eggs in the fridge for no longer than three weeks.

Poll respondents also take risks when it comes to food that falls on the floor. At least 53% would pick up and eat either hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, ice-cream cones, pretzels, or “anything, as long as I picked it up within five seconds.” Registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Elisa Zied cites new research that food actually can stay bacteria-free for up to 30 seconds. “Still, depending on whether it fell in my kitchen, in a restaurant, or on the ground outside,” says Zied, “ the ‘ick’ factor would probably prevent me from letting my kids eat it.”

Americans also have their own idea of what constitutes adventurous eating: 21% say the most exotic food they’ve tried is sushi, followed by 19% who cite Chinese takeout or other ethnic food.

Finally, Americans' honesty at dinner is impressive—66% would never try to pass off prepared foods as their own. The others should dribble a mustard stain on their aprons and pray nobody asks for the recipe.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Specialty Food News

Some 48% of consumers are spending money saved on gas on groceries, according to a survey by analytics firm Precima. When asked about the factors that drive their choice of grocery stores, 76% stated fresh produce, 72% reported meat and seafood and 71% noted dairy. Full Story
Time named the top ten food trends of 2008, including recession dining, the Clover coffee maker, caffeinated foods, goat and the local food backlash. Full Story
For Immediate Release: News from the Specialty Food Trade
The Denver Post profiled Udi's Granola, an NASFT member in its fourth year of business offering all-natural granola, which is now available in WalMart and on Frontier Airlines. Full Story

The Daily Breeze makes "a seasonal toast to the nation's food industry," touting the effectiveness of the U.S. food industry from farm to fork. Full Story
Some 85% to 90% of CT-based Bridgewater Chocolate's sales come from corporate and global mail orders, with only 5% to 10% coming from local sales, noted the News-Times. The business garnered increased attention when it was featured on the Food Network a little over six years ago. Full Story
The New York Times on the Web profiles the food options at seven U.S. airports. The Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, for example, has three Texas-style barbeque joints and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson boasts restaurants serving Southern cuisine. Full Story (Free Registration Required)
For Immediate Release: News from the Specialty Food Trade
Norseland, Inc. announces the passing of Dorthe J. Schechter, marketing manager for Norseland partner brands, who died in November ending a two-year battle with breast cancer. Full Release

Dom Perignon and sparkling wine preservation company Perlage Systems partnered to create a Champagne preservation system to keep opened bottles fresher for a longer duration of time. Full Story
Wichita, KS-based Nifty Nut House began selling its 1,000-plus products online at Owner Steve Jahn claims 90% of website visitors made a purchase since its debut Dec. 2, reported The Witchita Eagle. Full Story (Free Registration Required)
The Star-Ledger released its 2008 Top Ten Restaurants of the Year list. One example is Blueplate in Mullica Hill, NJ, which is known for both its breakfast and dinner menus. Full Story (Free Registration Required)
For Immediate Release: News from the Specialty Food Trade
Bay Beyond Inc., Melfa, Va., introduces a new line of Inner Ocean Seaweed Soaps. Full Release

Zare at Fly Trap is profiled by The San Francisco Chronicle. The menu uses strong flavors with a Middle Eastern twist with dishes like lamb shank, celery Victor and spiced ground meat for famed Meatball Mondays. Full Story (Free Registration Required)
Trian Fund Management reported a 7.18% stake in Dr Pepper Snapple Group, claiming the beverage company's shares were undervalued and represented an attractive investment opportunity. Trian, controlled by activist investor Nelson Pellet, stated in an SEC filing that it met with the board and management of Dr Pepper Snapple and relayed to them that investors see it as more of a beverage batter than a branded beverage company, according to Reuters. Full Story
Kraft launched the iFood Assistant App for iPhone and iPod touch users. It allows users to search recipes, compile shopping lists and locate nearby grocery stores. Full Story

Nigeria's foodservice sector, consisting of hotels, restaurants and institutional contracts, was valued at $3 billion in 2007, according to FAS. The largest and fastest growing segment is quick service restaurants. U.S. products with best market prospects include potato chips, sauces, seasonings, pastry mixes, seafood, canned food, wine and ice cream. FAS Report
Health named the top 10 health and weight-loss stories of 2008, including low-carb vs. low-fat and food diaries. Full Story
New Store News: Chipotle Mexican Grill opened a new facility in Santa Ana, CA, reported The Orange County Register. Full Story ... Smart & Final Inc. will open two Smart & Final Extra stores in the Sacramento region in the first half of next year, reported The Sacramento Business Journal. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

People who eat lower-calorie foods for breakfast tend to have a higher-quality diet overall

Breakfast may indeed be the most important meal of the day -- as long as that meal is not a doughnut -- a study suggests.

Using data from a national health survey of U.S. adults, researchers found that people who ate lower-calorie foods for breakfast tended to have a higher-quality diet overall.

Furthermore, men who ate a healthy breakfast generally weighed less. Among women, breakfast eaters -- regardless of the food involved -- tended to weigh less than those who skipped the morning meal.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, give some support to past studies finding that breakfast eaters are less likely to be overweight -- and that eating a high-quality breakfast, rather than grabbing a pastry, is the key.

Research has shown, for example, that people who eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast have a lower average weight than either those who skip breakfast or those who sit down to a plate of steak and eggs.

What's "unique" about the current study is that it suggests that breakfast foods low in "energy density" -- low in calories for a given amount of food -- "appear to predict better food choices for the rest of the day and may help with better management of body weight," Dr. James Rippe, one of the researchers on the work, said in a written statement.

Fruits, vegetables and high-fiber whole grains, for example, are low in energy density, while confections like Danish pastries and doughnuts have a high energy density.

The current findings underscore the importance of choosing low-energy- density options for breakfast, according to Rippe, a cardiologist with the Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

The Rippe organization manages the Breakfast Research Institute, an industry-sponsored group that funds health and nutrition research. The BRI financed the current study.
The findings are based on responses from more than 12,000 U.S. adults who took part in three federal health surveys between 1999 and 2004.

Overall, people who reported eating a low-energy-density breakfast in the past day were more likely than their counterparts to choose lower-calorie foods for the rest of the day as well. As a group, they also had a higher-quality diet -- eating a wider variety of foods and more vitamins and minerals.

Among men, those who ate a breakfast low in energy density tended to weigh less, even with factors like exercise and income considered. For women, any type of breakfast was related to a lower likelihood of obesity -- though the calorie density of other meals did seem to be important.
More research is needed to confirm those particular findings, Rippe's team notes. For now, they suggest that men should be encouraged to eat a breakfast low in energy density, whereas women should eat breakfast but also focus on choosing low-energy-density foods throughout the day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Polish Babka Recipe for the Holidays Revisited

A Great Polish Babka Recipe

This is Robert Strydel’s (Warsaw correspondent for the Polish News) recipe for an easy yeast-raised Babka. We have tried it, and like the solid, yet airy, bread-like texture and lemony taste. It is a simple "single dough" Babka, unlike the ones made in a bakery, which are made up out of 5 (fruit-filled) rolls of dough, combined in one pan. Let’s get started. From start to finish, this may take up to 3-1/2 hours.


All purpose flour 4 cups
Compressed yeast 1 cake
Granulated white sugar 1 cup
Unsalted butter 3/4 cup
Milk (very hot) 1 cup
Raisins 1/2 cup
Grated lemon peel 2 tablespoons
Eggs (whole) 3
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon

Ingredients for the icing

Lemon juice 2 tablespoons
Confectioner's sugar 2/3 cup
Water (boiling) 1 tablespoon

Preparations/ Baking

In a large bowl, mash the yeast cake with the sugar (note: the compressed yeast cake can be substituted with a package of active dry yeast; to activate, follow the directions on the package). Beat the 3 eggs and add to the yeast mixture. Heat the milk to very warm and dissolve the butter in it. Add to the mixture and add the flour, grated lemon rind, vanilla extract and the raisins. Mix well to blend all ingredients, but do not knead.Grease a 9-1/2 inch Babka pan, brioche mold, Bundt pan, or other tube pan and fill with the dough to about 1/3 full. Cover with cloth and let stand in warm place for about 2 hours (until the Babka dough has doubled in size).Towards the end of the rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) place the Babka inside and bake it for about 45 minutes. Note, if you use bakeware that is dark or colored on the outside, set the oven at 325 deg Fahrenheit (162 deg Calsius). It is fully baked when a wooden pick comes out clean.After baking, remove the Babka from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Carefully remove from pan and dust it with confectioner’s sugar or glaze with icing.For the icing, combine the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and boiling water in a small bowl and mix together.If you glaze to Babka with the icing, sprinkle it with chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, raisins or finely chopped candied orange rind, before the icing sets.Let it cool completely before serving. Wrap leftovers tightly with plastic wrap for storage at room temperature. For longer storage, you can freeze the Babka, tightly sealed in a plastic bag.
Enjoy your homemade Babka!

Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $566 billion in 2009

Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $566 billion in 2009, with the industry employing 13 million individuals in 945,000 restaurant-and-foodservice outlets nationwide, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2009 Restaurant Industry Forecast released today. The Forecast projects that while overall restaurant industry sales will increase in current dollars by 2.5 percent over 2008 figures, the numbers translate to an inflation-adjusted decline of 1.0 percent. Despite the economic downturn, the industry will remain a cornerstone of the economy, representing 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employing 9 percent of the U.S. workforce, and restaurants will continue to adapt to the latest menu trends and consumer preferences.

“The restaurant industry is both innovative and resilient,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the Association. “In the year ahead, the industry’s sales are projected to continue to increase, with a total economic impact that exceeds $1.5 trillion, yet at the same time, the industry is experiencing unprecedented challenges due to the economic recession and elevated food prices. Americans will continue to rely on restaurants as a key part of their lifestyle as the industry provides the food, value and service customers seek. Nearly half of consumers’ food budget will be spent in restaurants, rewarding the continued responsiveness and innovation that our industry provides to budget-conscious Americans.”

Industry Segment Growth
Sales at fullservice restaurants are projected to reach $182.9 billion in 2009, an increase of 1.0 percent over 2008. Quickservice restaurants are projected to post sales of $163.8 billion in 2009, a gain of 4.0 percent over 2008. Eating-and-drinking places will see an increase in sales from 2008 of 2.2 percent, totaling $395 billion.

Workforce Trends
Even in today’s economy, restaurants remain a generator of jobs and careers. Employment in the restaurant industry outpaced the overall economy in 2008 for the ninth consecutive year, despite several months of modest industry job losses, and is expected to continue to outpace the economy in 2009.

The Association projects that the industry will employ 13 million people in 2009 as the nation’s second largest private sector employer, representing more than 9 percent of the nation’s total jobs. The long-term outlook is for continued growth—the industry is expected to add an additional 1.8 million positions over the next 10 years, boosting the industry’s workforce by 14 percent to 14.8 million people in 2019. Restaurant industry job growth will actually grow faster than the U.S. population, particularly in the key demographics of teens and young adults. Occupations that will grow considerably in the next decade include management positions, chefs and head cooks, and waitstaff.

State Outlook
Texas will post the fastest sales growth at 4.0 percent in 2009 ($35.0 billion), followed by Nevada at 3.5 percent ($5.2 billion); Colorado at 3.4 percent ($8.4 billion); New Mexico at 3.3 percent ($2.7 billion); and Arizona at 3.2 percent ($8.7 billion). The top states by restaurant sales volume in 2009 will be California at $56.2 billion; Texas at $35.0 billion; New York at $27.8 billion; Florida at $27 billion; and Illinois at $18.8 billion.

Texas, Nevada and Florida are expected to experience the fastest growth in restaurant-industry jobs between 2009 and 2019, expanding their restaurant workforces by roughly 23 percent—far faster than the 14 percent growth rate expected for restaurant jobs nationally in this period.

Consumer and Menu Trends
Association research shows that Americans today are looking for restaurants that deliver value, convenience and healthier options. Surveys of restaurant operators, customers and chefs indicate that restaurateurs will sharpen their appeal in the coming year by reaching out to health-conscious guests as well as to the growing number of diners who are interested in how and where their food was produced. Among top trends restaurateurs see for 2009 are an expanded focus on value, healthy options in kids’ meals, locally sourced items and green initiatives.

According to new Association research, healthy kids’ meals will be among the hottest trends in 2009. Out of nearly 210 culinary items listed on the Association’s “What’s Hot” survey of more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs, nutritionally balanced children’s dishes came in as the No. 4 trend, and fruit/vegetable side items for kids ranked sixth. In a separate survey, quickservice operators named healthy options in kids meals as the No. 1 food trend in the segment in 2009.

Overall, chefs ranked nutrition/health as the No. 11 trend on restaurant menus for 2009. Underscoring the importance of healthful foods, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish, and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals were all among the top-20 items on the third-annual chef survey. According to Association consumer research, three in four adults say they are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago. Nearly three in 10 adults – 27 percent – have gone online to search for nutrition information about restaurant food, up from 24 percent a year ago.

The No. 1 trend for 2009 is local produce, according to the “What’s Hot” chef survey. The local-foods trend has become particularly popular at fine-dining establishments. According to the Association’s research, 89 percent of fine-dining operators serve locally sourced items, and nine in 10 believe demand for locally sourced items will grow in their segment in the future. Close to three in 10 quickservice operators serve locally sourced items now and nearly half believe these items will grow more popular in their segment in the future. Seventy percent of adults say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items.

Restaurateurs will also continue to show increasing leadership in becoming “greener” in 2009— by taking action such as reducing energy and water use—in step with patrons’ interest in environmental issues. About four in 10 fullservice-restaurant operators and nearly three in 10 quickservice operators say they plan to devote more of their 2009 budgets to green initiatives. Restaurant patrons like the idea: 44 percent surveyed recently said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on an operation’s practices in the areas of energy and water conservation.

Entering 2009, the Forecast projects that consumers feel tugged in two directions. On one hand, consumers express serious concern about finances, with nearly all surveyed reporting that they are more worried about the economy than they were the year before. On the other hand, consumers remain strongly desirous of continued—and even increased—use of restaurants.

Forty-five percent of adults say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle, one of three say they are not eating out as often as they wish, and 35 percent of adults say that on a weekly basis, they are not purchasing take-out foods to go or having it delivered as often as they would like.

To be successful during the present economic downturn and prepare for an eventual recovery with its pent-up demand for restaurant services, restaurant operators are offering the value patrons desire in conjunction with operational improvements that cut costs without detracting from the dining experience. Indeed, the top trend restaurateurs see for 2009 is an expanded focus on value, with 36 percent of quickservice operators and 16 percent of casual-dining operators seeing the demand for value as the year’s top trend in their segment.

The restaurant industry’s resilience amidst the weak economy and relative strength compared to other industries is driven by restaurants responsiveness to consumers’ desire for convenience, value and socialization. The increasingly essential nature of restaurant services buoys the industry even during times of economic uncertainty: Nearly seven in 10 adults agreed in a recent National Restaurant Association survey that purchasing meals from restaurants, take-out and delivery places makes it easier for families with children to manage their day-to-day lives, and nearly eight in 10 agreed that going out to a restaurant with family and/or friends gives them an opportunity to socialize and is a better way for them to make use of their leisure time rather than cooking at home.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Catering and other specialty food services are among the several private-sector areas expected to see comparable sales end higher in 2008

Look at the headlines and it's mostly doom and gloom for companies as the economy limps along in recession. Look a little closer, though, and you'll see pockets of resistance - small businesses that are riding out the downturn with profits in tow. Catering entrepreneurs Tiffanie Campbell and fiancé Mike Robinson are among those bucking the trend, In fact, they're having a banner year.

The twenty-something Chattanooga, Tennessee couple has carved out a niche serving natural and organic foods and expects 2008 profits to exceed $100,000 at a time when many established small businesses are throwing in the towel due to slower sales and rising costs.

"The business is definitely growing," says Campbell, who oversees the company's marketing and administrative tasks. "We've done really well our first year."

Catering and other specialty food services are among the several private-sector areas expected to see comparable sales end higher in 2008, according to Sageworks Inc., a Raleigh, North Carolina market research firm specializing in small companies. On average, year-to-date specialty food service companies it polled are showing healthy growth of 9.75 percent.

Among some of the other somewhat recession-proof areas operated by small companies are direct selling; tax, accounting and business management services; software publishers; waste collectors; home health-care services; computer systems designers and cattle ranchers, all with sales running at 10 percent or above year-ago levels, according to Sageworks, which analyzed proprietary data of closely held businesses with less than $10 million in yearly sales.

Business owners in these areas admit that staying in the black in the difficult economy is no cakewalk. Campbell's Festa Catering, for instance, is working to keep costs low so that its pricing remains attractive for the local corporations and non-profit groups it is targeting.

"Catering doesn't need to be an outrageous amount of money," says Campbell, who is determined to keep her business's profit margins around 20 percent or less, below those of some local competitors.

It certainly helps if your business meets consumers' desire to reward themselves in small ways when they can't afford pricier luxuries or helps them ease the burden of hectic daily life.

New York City's Christopher Norman Chocolates, which produces hand-painted artisan chocolates for wholesale customers such as Dean & DeLuca and Williams-Sonoma, and runs a small retail store in lower Manhattan, expects 2008 sales to break even or be slightly higher than last year's.

"I think we're having a pretty good season," says President and Co-founder Joe Guiliano. The company's annual revenue hovers in the million-dollar range. "(Customers) can't afford to go France or Belgium and buy chocolates but they can come here."


Pam's Pantry, a home-based business in Grand Ledge, Michigan that makes a line of gourmet dips, dressings and spreads, is also experiencing strong growth. Owner Pam Redman expects sales of up to $400,000 this year, nearly double 2007. She does little traditional marketing but spends the bulk of her promotional time building up direct sales at trade shows, where she has picked up most of her retail customers.

"We have a very good consumable," says Redman. "Our mixes are very versatile. They help people get back to putting a hot meal on the table in a matter of minutes."

Other top performers have tapped directly into customers' quest for bargains in the weak economy. Boston-based, an online business that facilitates Web-based trades for second-hand books, CDs, DVDs and video games, has seen growth average 20 to 25 percent per month since it launched in July 2007.

"It's really just booming," says President and Co-founder Greg Boesel. "With the downturn in the economy, it's a great way to save money."

The business, which currently charges no fee to customers who agree to swap their goods using the site, plans to make its profit from selling advertising space. It recently raised its second round of venture capital financing., a website that aggregates discount offers from thousands of retailers, is experiencing more than 200 percent growth in traffic this year. On Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, more than 32,000 visitors trolled eCoupons for deals, nearly triple last year's number.

"As consumers pull back, stores have offered more aggressive coupons to move merchandise and clear inventory," says founder Matthew Cheng, who operates the home-based business along with his wife in West New York, New Jersey. eCoupons gets a commission whenever merchandise is purchased through a promotion found at the site. Cheng expects sales to exceed $500,000 in 2008.

Financial services and accounting professionals are meeting their customers' desire to run their small businesses on a tight budget throughout the downturn. According to Sageworks, on average their sales are up about 12 percent this year.

"This year everyone's so money conscious," says Kristi Huntington, an accountant in Mesa, Arizona who serves a variety of small businesses. She says her customers have been less apt to delay accounting and book-keeping services this year.

Those who help small companies manage their finances are also benefiting, with revenues running about 10 percent higher.

Says Carol L. Coughlin, principal of a Towson, Maryland company that places temporary CFOs at small companies: "We offer professional CFOs with significant experience for a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO. This has been a successful model in this economy."

Friday, December 19, 2008

An increasing segment of consumers known as "foodies" are influencing American cuisine

For food aficionados, food offers much more than nourishment. It offers a framework through which they can build relationships, make new friends, explore the world and even examine which behaviors are ethical. They use food to define who they are in greater society. The term foodie, which first appeared in the early 1980s, has entered the English language to describe this new type of food lover and a surrounding new culture of food. Foodies are distinct from gourmets in that their interests tend to be more wide ranging. Foodies enjoy high-end gourmet food, to be sure, but they also seek out hole-in-the-wall BBQ shacks, taco trucks and Chinatown markets. Foodies enjoy the thrill of the hunt and being the first to catch on to new food trends, and food outlets considered “authentic” carry the most prestige in the foodie world. As authenticity frequently equates to a degree of separation from big food conglomerates and corporate marketing campaigns, foodies can be an elusive target for marketers. At the same time, foodies are a desirable demographic, as they are avid, tech-savvy consumers who embrace all sorts of trends, not just those that are food-related, and who introduce these trends to their communities and peers.

Through an analysis of selected lifestyle statements in Simmons Market Research Bureau’s national consumer survey, Packaged Facts has determined that 14% of U.S. adults—or 31 million—are foodies. Drawing on cross-tabulated Simmons data, this report examines foodies’ demographic characteristics in depth while also discussing foodies’ values and consumer habits. Following a thorough trend overview chapter, the report additionally profiles in separate chapters five distinct foodie cohorts—foreign/spicy foodies, restaurant foodies, foodie cooks, gourmet foodies and organic/natural foodies—pinpointing the unique characteristics of each across areas including demographics and attitudes, media responsiveness, shopping habits and restaurant behavior.

Report Methodology

The information in Foodies is based on primary and secondary research. Primary research entails in-depth interviews with consultants and industry insiders to obtain information on food trends and the people that drive them. Secondary research entailed data gathering from relevant sources, including consumer and industry publications, newspapers, government reports and company literature. Dozens of charts and tables from diverse sources are included. Consumer demographics are derived from Simmons Market Research Bureau data.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association predicts that sustainability will become standard

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has highlighted its predictions for 2009, pronouncing it a year when sustainability will become standard.

Rebecca Pollack, lead editor of a special year-end report for GMA SmartBrief, which is information that targets executives in the food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry, said:

“Sustainability will not only continue to gain prominence in the mainstream, but this year, some think it could even become a standard.”

She added that consumers will most likely continue to cut back on spending in 2009. This will prompt private labels and creative promotions to roll into the new year.

And with the Barack Obama administration and a Democratic-led Congress taking the reins in January, Pollack said that the Food and Drug Administration is likely to get more oversight of imports, and food safety legislation can be expected.

The GMA also released results of a poll of its members and supporters.

It asked what issues are expected to become even more important in 2009 and top of the list was food safety, which got 40 percent of the vote. This was followed by environmental sustainability (24 percent), health and wellness (14 percent), food labeling (12 percent) and food marketing (eight percent).

The GMA also asked which issue had the greatest impact on the respondents’ company in 2008.

Forty five percent said private-label brands, 21 percent said energy policy/biofuels,18 percent said food safety, ten percent environmental sustainability and three percent food-labeling legislation.

Meanwhile, the marketing trends that respondents said they expected to accelerate next year are shopper marketing (44 percent), web-based advertising/marketing (21 percent), localization (12 percent), ethnic marketing (11 percent) and guerrilla marketing/viral ads (ten percent).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Diesel, Made Simply From Coffee Grounds (Ah, the Exhaust Aroma)

In research that touches on two of Americans’ great obsessions — coffee and cars — scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno, have made diesel fuel from used coffee grounds.

The technique is not difficult, they report in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and there is so much coffee around that several hundred million gallons of biodiesel could potentially be made annually.

Mano Misra, a professor of engineering who conducted the research with Narasimharao Kondamudi and Susanta K. Mohapatra, said it was by accident that he realized coffee beans contained a significant amount of oil. “I made a coffee one night but forgot to drink it,” he said. “The next morning I saw a layer of oil floating on it.” He and his team thought there might be a useful amount of oil in used grounds, so they went to several Starbucks stores and picked up about 50 pounds of them.

Analysis showed that even the grounds contained about 10 to 15 percent oil by weight. The researchers then used standard chemistry techniques to extract the oil and convert it to biodiesel. The processes are not particularly energy intensive, Dr. Misra said, and the researchers estimated that biodiesel could be produced for about a dollar a gallon.

One hurdle, Dr. Misra said, is in collecting grounds efficiently — there are few centralized sources of coffee grounds. But the researchers plan to set up a small pilot operation next year using waste from a local bulk roaster.

Even if all the coffee grounds in the world were used to make fuel, the amount produced would be less than 1 percent of the diesel used in the United States annually. “It won’t solve the world’s energy problem,” Dr. Misra said of his work. “But our objective is to take waste material and convert it to fuel.” And biodiesel made from grounds has one other advantage, he said: the exhaust smells like coffee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Average Person Has Completed Far Less Holiday Shopping Than in Previous Years

With five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, the holidays are sneaking up on shoppers more than usual. According to NRF’s 2008 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average person had completed 47.1 percent of their holiday shopping by the second week of December, about ten percent less than the 52.6 percent average completed by this time last year.

The survey also found that over 41 million people have not started holiday shopping, with the biggest procrastinators being men (20.7% haven’t started) and 35-44 year-olds (20.9%). Only eight percent of shoppers say they have completely finished their shopping.

“Procrastinators are in good company this year because a shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year means that the holidays have snuck up on many of us,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Retailers will try to manage the rush of last-minute shoppers with expanded hours, extra employees to stock shelves, and a lot of sales and promotions.”

While shoppers will be visiting a variety of retailers over the next 10 days, some categories will be busier than others. According to the survey, discount stores (43.0%) and department stores (42.5%) will be the top spots for shopping, with about one-third (31.8%) planning to visit specialty stores. Additionally, a large majority of last-minute shoppers are planning to skip the crowds and visit the web, with 40.2 percent of people planning to shop online, up substantially from 34.9 percent a year ago.

In order to stick to a budget this holiday season, consumers continue to set aside plastic. According to the survey, two-thirds of shoppers (66.2%) have primarily used cash, debit cards, or checks to pay for holiday purchases, up from 64.5 percent last year.

“Most Americans have put themselves on a budget this holiday season and are sticking to it,” said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “Retailers are finding that consumers who pay with cash or a debit card may be less likely to make impulse purchases, but recognize that these shoppers are also trying to put themselves in a better financial situation to spend in the future.”

Practical gifts continue to reign this holiday season, with clothing being the most popular gift purchased (44.8%). Additionally, shoppers have been buying books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games (40.8%); toys (33.1%); and electronics (24.5%). As expected, fewer people have purchased gift cards this year compared to a year ago.

Though gift cards are the most requested gift for the holidays, 24.3 percent of shoppers have purchased gift cards this holiday season, compared with 30.2 percent who had done so by this time last year.