Friday, February 27, 2009

Popular Soft Drinks Removing High Fructose Syrup

Snapple, Pepsi, Mountain Dew Among Heavy Hitters That Will Say Goodbye To Controversial Ingredient

In a competitive marketplace drink makers are trying to keep customers happy and are now ditching high fructose corn syrup.

Snapple is doing it and so is Pepsi and Mountain Dew, too.

High fructose corn syrup is getting tossed by beverage makers, who instead are opting for plain sugar. It's a reversal of a trend that goes back to the 1980s and not a moment too soon for some customers.

"I just avoid it, I try to avoid it at all costs," said Jason Brown of Chelsea.

"It's just adding empty calories to everything you eat," another resident said.

High fructose corn syrup, which is found in everything from bread, cereal, and soda to processed and packaged foods, is being removed after years of taking a beating for links to obesity and disease.

"We find it almost everywhere. It's omnipresent in the food supply," Dr. Carla Wolper said.

Wolper, an obesity expert, said the real problem is that food manufacturers across the board have been tucking high fructose corn syrup into their products for decades because it is a cheaper sweetener than sugar, making it harder for Americans to consume it in moderation.

"It's also in breads and sauces and other products that would have had a small amount of sugar added," Wolper said.

Snapple, which has long touted itself as "made from the best stuff on earth," is going to plain sugar for sweetness. It'll cut about 40 calories from some drinks and give it what they call a "fuller bodied taste."

And Pepsi and Mountain Dew sodas are going 1970s style with sugar as well for a limited time starting in April. PepsiCo said it wants consumers to have a taste of the original formula.

Health experts agree: to keep tabs on the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup you consume, read the labels.

The price of these new products will remain the same

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sales at the nation's grocery stores in a big decrease

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for December, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $343.2 billion, a decrease of 2.7 percent (±0.5%) from the previous month and 9.8 percent (±0.7%) below December 2007. Total sales for the 12 months of 2008 were down 0.1 percent (±0.4%)* from 2007. Total sales for the October through December 2008 period were down 7.7 percent (±0.5%) from the same period a year ago. The October to November 2008 percent change was revised from -1.8 percent (±0.5%) to -2.1 percent (±0.3%).

Retail trade sales were down 2.7 percent (±0.5%) from November 2008 and were 10.8 percent (±0.7%) below last year. Gasoline stations sales were down 35.5 percent (±1.5%) from December 2007 and motor vehicle and parts dealers sales were down 22.4 percent (±2.3%) from last year.

The advance estimates are based on a subsample of the Census Bureau's full retail and food services sample. A stratified random sampling method is used to select approximately 5,000 retail and food services firms whose sales are then weighted and benchmarked to represent the complete universe of over three million retail and food services firms. Responding firms account for approximately 65% of the MARTS dollar volume estimate. For an explanation of the measures of sampling variability included in this report, please see the Reliability of Estimates section on the last page of this publication.

Coupons Are Hot. Clipping Is Not

Before heading to the grocery store, Miranda Wilcox jumps online, where she scours for coupons on half a dozen Web sites bookmarked on her computer.

Ms. Wilcox, a 32-year-old mother of two from Greenville, N.C., prints out some of the coupons. Others she uploads directly onto her supermarket rewards card. Recently, Ms. Wilcox shaved nearly $50 off a $120 shopping bill with the help of coupons she found on the Internet.

"If you can spend about 15 to 20 minutes online, you can save a lot of money," says Ms. Wilcox, who so far says she has persuaded her friends and aunts -- but not her mother-in-law -- to look for online discounts. "They load it right onto your card, so I don't have to hassle with all the clipping," adds Ms. Wilcox, who started clipping coupons when her first child was born in 2004.

Conditions what they are, more shoppers are using coupons to stretch their grocery budgets. In the past four months, coupon usage has surged about 10%, according to Inmar Inc., a coupon-processing agent. And increasingly, shoppers are skipping the scissors and getting coupons online or having discounts sent to their smart phones and rewards cards.

Currently, online coupons account for 1% of all coupons offered nationwide -- but their use is growing quickly, with redemptions jumping 140% last year, according to Inmar. Manufacturers are attracted to digital-coupon delivery in part because of its 13% redemption rate -- far above the 1% redemption rate for coupons found mostly in newspaper inserts, on the back of sales receipts and on product packaging.

The recent uptick in coupon usage does little to reverse an overall decline that began years ago. In 1992, 7.9 billion coupons were redeemed, according to Inmar estimates. (The company processes about half of the country's coupons but compiles data for coupon usage overall.) In 2008, 2.6 billion coupons were used. Part of that decline can be attributed to a robust economy in the mid- to late-1990s. But coupons also lost some appeal after the emergence of supermarket loyalty programs, whereby shoppers sign up for a card to get discounts at the cash register.

Stores are jumping further into the high-tech end of couponing. Last month, Kroger Co. said it would go national with its free text-messaging coupon program, a service provided by Cellfire Inc.

Dan Keefe, who works for a technology firm in Cincinnati, signed up for Cellfire last fall. Now every Sunday, Mr. Keefe, 46 years old, checks his BlackBerry for deals, such as the 50-cent discount on a package of Kroger-brand cheddar cheese he recently received. Clicking on a link in the text message tells Kroger's computer system to add the discount when Mr. Keefe's loyalty card is scanned at check-out.

"It's a lot better than going through all the mountains of coupons in the Sunday paper," Mr. Keefe says.

In the Northeast, grocers Stop & Shop and Giant Food, both units of Netherlands-based Royal Ahold NV, have begun offering shoppers at 180 stores handheld scanning devices that subtotal the bill and make a "ka-ching" noise when shoppers get offered a discount for an item similar to things they've bought in the past. For example, a customer buying tortilla chips could get an alert about a sale on salsa, or a cereal lover might receive a "buy one, get one free" discount.

The scanner, called Scan It!, clocks more than half a million shopping visits each month and will nearly double its usage at the two grocery-store chains after a 100-store expansion is completed this spring. Developed by Modiv Media Inc. of Quincy, Mass., the Scan It! records the purchasing habits -- though not the name -- of an individual customer from the past 65 weeks. More than 70 consumer-goods manufacturers have signed up to have discounts appear on the handheld device, which shortens shopping trips by 12 to 15 minutes because customers bag items as they go, the company says. Despite the faster check-out time, customers spend 10% more, the company says.

Grocers and packaged-food companies view this pinpoint digital advertising as a way to improve customer loyalty, draw more foot traffic and fuel overall sales. Customers see the marketing as a way to find bargains they might otherwise miss.

Online coupons are also being scoured for untapped discounts., a site that offers coupons from large food manufacturers and national grocers, says its users printed out online coupons valued at $300 million last year, an increase of 140% from 2007. Based in Mountain View, Calif., the company predicts the total will triple this year, partly because of the recession.

Brian Weisfeld, chief operating officer of, said the company recently closed a deal in which its discounts will run on KMart's Web site.

General Mills Inc. last year accelerated its spending on digital couponing, according to Karl Schmidt, director of promotion marketing. He says the company, which runs its deals on, pays only after a customer prints out a deal. Also, General Mills can have a coupon online in a week, compared to the two months it takes with print media.

For now, the future of grocery coupons -- regardless of how they're delivered -- remains unclear. One factor that may be holding coupons back is that the promotions are weaker than they used to be. In 1990, the average expiration date was 4.9 months. Now the average is 2.5 months, according to Charles Brown, vice president of marketing at NCH Marketing Services Inc., a coupon clearinghouse. Also in 1995, about 13% of coupons required shoppers to buy two or more items; now, it is 27%.

Nonetheless, shoppers are still looking for deals. Loren Sampson, a 31-year-old freelance creative director for food manufacturers, cuts out coupons the old-fashioned way, even though high-tech methods may be more convenient. "I really like clipping coupons," Ms. Sampson says. "It feels like something I'm doing extra that other people aren't doing."

In the end, the work has helped shoppers claim a piece of the $317 billion in coupon savings that were distributed last year, according to Inmar.

"People are looking for every opportunity to save money," says Jim Hertel, managing partner of Willard Bishop LLC, a supermarket consultant. "There are a lot of potential savings that people have not taken advantage of."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grocery-Sector Radio Ad Spending Falls Slightly in 2008

Grocery and convenience stores, radio's sixth-largest local and national spending category in 2008, decreased their radio advertising by 3 percent compared with 2007, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau's Annual Radio Revenue Trend Report.

Overall sales dropped to $992.5 million in 2008, but an increase in the last quarter of the year helped boost the numbers. The figures accounted for the local, national, network and off-air radio sectors. The West region accounted for 43 percent of the spending in this category.

Safeway remains grocery's largest radio ad buyer, boosting ad sales in the last quarter of 2008 by 25 percent to end the year up 8 percent over the previous year. Supervalu's trend of regional acquisitions contributed to the company's five-fold increase over 2007.

Brand perception plays a key role in the decision to introduce value menus and combo deals,

Dairy Queen’s Sweet Deals value menu may be rolling out nationally just in time to fight the recession, but it’s hardly a knee-jerk reaction to economic pressure, according to officials. The chain began testing the offer in 2007, before the downturn hit, said Michael Keller, chief brand officer, who was worried even then about DQ’s value

“I didn’t get it,” Keller said. “Guests liked our food, but why didn’t they visit us as often as they did some of our competitors? It was about barriers to repeat purchase, and one of those was value.”

As officials at Dairy Queen and other chains have realized, protecting margins and cutting prices aren’t the only considerations when executing value menus or combo deals. In this economy, brand perception also plays a key role in the decision to unveil one or the other—and can prove a hurdle in the race to appeal to consumers’ sense of value.

DQ’s response to the value question is Sweet Deals, which will become a permanent menu beginning March 1 at 2,323 restaurants in the United States and 400 in Canada. The tiered offering lets customers buy two items for $3, three for $4 and four for $5. The nine menu items include a cheeseburger, hot dog, chicken wrap, fries, onion rings, side salad and a medium beverage, as well as a small soft-serve sundae or cone.

“The tiered pricing structure put us in a situation where margins per transaction were favorable to that of a dollar menu,” Keller said.

So far value deals have produced mixed results for companies in terms of enhancing their value perceptions, according to recent research from New York-based BrandIndex, a firm that tracks consumer perceptions. BrandIndex scores are calculated by subtracting the percentage of consumers rating a brand negatively from the percentage of consumers rating a brand positively. Dairy Queen and Sonic, which rolled out its Everyday Value Menu late last year, have fared best in terms of value scores among chains touting a new money-saving focus.

DQ has a 34.4 BrandIndex rating for value for 2009 year-to-date, up 1.7 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2008. Keller said Sweet Deals already accounts for an average of 7 percent of sales in test markets, and the menu could add between 2 percent and 3 percent to same-store sales this year. Companywide sales were up 3 percent in 2008, he said, and are up another 3 percent year-to-date in 2009.

Sonic has a 22.7 BrandIndex rating, up 3.6 percentage points from last year’s fourth quarter.

By contrast, KFC’s 2009 year-to-date rating is 10.6, down 3.1 points from 2008’s fourth quarter, though the data do not reflect the chain’s most recent value initiatives: the just-begun “Unbeatable Feast” combo deal and Ultimate Value Menu. The same is probably true for Starbucks, which will begin its $3.95 “breakfast pairings” March 3 and has the highest hurdle to clear in terms of brand perception. Starbucks’ year-to-date BrandIndex rating fell to -30.8, from -25.3 in 2008’s fourth quarter.

For its part, KFC launched the $14.99 “Unbeatable Feast” combo and a tiered value menu—10 items priced at 99 cents, $1.49 or $1.99—to cater to price-conscious individuals and families.

“There are a couple kinds of value,” said Rick Maynard, KFC’s public relations manager. “There’s a value menu for lunch customers and snackers, and then there’s family value, which is a big part of our business.”

The value menu was tested for about a year in the Los Angeles market, Maynard said.

Qdoba Mexican Grill, which BrandIndex does not track, opted to test a combo deal, which bundles any of Qdoba’s 18 chicken entrées with chips and salsa and a drink for $6.99, a savings of about 20 percent. The combo, currently in test in 22 states, was meant to maintain operational flexibility and the brand’s image, said David Craven, director of marketing.

“Once you introduce a value menu, it’s difficult to repeal that,” Craven said. “We are doing this for a limited time. We felt that the program we put in place lends itself easily to withdrawing, [more] than the introduction of a full value menu.

“We in no way wanted…to give the perception that customers weren’t getting the quality and portion sizes that they’re used to getting from Qdoba.”

Alisa Martinez, spokeswoman for Starbucks, also said a bundled deal was more brand-appropriate than a value menu. The chain’s breakfast pairings will sell a tall latte with either oatmeal or cinnamon-swirl coffee cake, and a tall brewed coffee with one of three breakfast sandwiches.

The breakfast pairings bolster Starbucks’ reputation as an “affordable luxury” because it shows the brand listens to its customers, offering popular items for a savings of as much as $1.70 per pairing, Martinez said.

“It wasn’t a matter of trying to upsize somebody or sell them something they don’t necessarily want,” she said. “The pairings are our top sellers, so we’re extending to our regular customers the price break.”

Dairy Queen’s Keller said value menus work better for his brand and quick-service competitors because they typically are not associated with higher price points found at fast-casual chains or coffeehouses. Sweet Deals’ hybrid approach, offering several items from a value menu but in thousands of possible combinations, reflects consumers’ need for control over how much they spend and subsequently save, he added.

Quick-service brands also are more likely to have a broader food offering, Keller said, making value menus a natural way to put a value proposition in front of a customer looking for price relief and possibly trading down from fast casual or casual dining.

“The tricky thing now is that the lines are blurring,” he said. “Consumers are choosing across categories now.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brazil coffee crop to fall up to 20 pct. in '09

Coffee output in Brazil is expected to drop by as much as 20 percent this year because of adverse weather and weak investment amid a tough world financial climate.

Agriculture Ministry spokesman Jonas Cavalcanti says the No. 1 coffee growing nation anticipates production of 37 million to 39 million 60-kilogram (132-pound) bags, compared with 46 million in 2008.

Cavalcanti said Thursday that production drops are normal and occur every other year because of the "cyclical stress on trees."

But he said this year's drop is aggravated due to "irregular rainfall and high temperatures in some growing regions and to lower investments caused by the global financial crisis."

Cavalcanti did not know how revenue could be affected.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beef Study Results Indicate Recent Demand Slowdown Linked to Economy

After a several-year resurgence that started in 1999, beef demand has slowed, thanks in part to a struggling economy both in the U.S. and abroad.

“A lot of what’s happened with the recent slowdown in demand is due to macroeconomics,” said James Mintert, agricultural economist at Kansas State University Research and Extension and one of the authors of a new study on beef demand. “Much of this is out of the (beef) industry’s control, but there are things the industry can work on to reinforce demand.”

Other agricultural economists involved with the study were Ted Schroeder of K-State and Glynn Tonsor of Michigan State University. The study, designed to provide a comprehensive and updated assessment of factors influencing U.S. consumer demand for beef, was funded by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and several state beef councils.

The research revealed that beef demand is responsive to changes in consumer expenditures on goods and services, Mintert said. On average, a 1 percent increase in U.S. consumer total expenditures results in a 0.9 percent increase in the quantity of beef demanded. The study indicated that, from 1982 through 2007, beef demand benefitted from increases in consumer incomes and from consumer willingness to increase consumption expenditures even more rapidly than income was increasing.

The weakness in the U.S. macroeconomic outlook for 2009 and the ensuing expected decline in per capita consumer income does not bode well for beef demand this year, he said.

“Moreover, the impact of weaker consumer income is expected to be compounded by consumers’ desire to increase savings in response to uncertainty and risk present in the financial and real estate markets,” Mintert said. “An increase in consumer savings means consumption expenditures will decline even more rapidly than income and, given the importance of consumer expenditures, a decline in U.S. retail beef demand is likely during 2009.” Mintert noted that, based upon the beef domestic retail demand index, U.S. consumer demand for beef declined about 4 percent during 2008.

The study indicated that it is unlikely that domestic beef demand will rebound until the U.S. economy strengthens and consumers regain enough confidence to spend more of their income.

“Since the beef industry can do little to change the industry-wide effect of the economy on beef demand, it is important to focus resources in areas where noticeable impacts are possible, such as focusing efforts on beef’s nutritional strengths, food safety and introduction of new products that are convenient to prepare,” Mintert said.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meatloaf is making a resurgence in recent years,

During a rowdy game of Guess many years ago, I got a question asking for the main cause of a well-known, violent prison riot. The answer? Too much meat loaf served in the college cafeteria.

We all howled with laughter. Our hosts had served meat loaf for dinner earlier that evening - and, to be honest, it was only marginally better than what you'd get behind bars. The recipe, our friend said, had been passed down from her grandmother. And though it didn't turn out quite as well as she had planned, the dish was as comforting to her as her shredded baby blanket and the scent of her mother's perfume.

That's just the thing about meat loaf - it has both staunch supporters and fervent detractors. But no matter whether it's considered jail food or the stuff of happy childhood memories, it has made a definite resurgence in recent years, especially in local restaurants.

Affordable ingredients and less labor allows for a lower price point on menus - not insignificant in this economy. And diners are looking for food that reminds them of a better, easier time. In response, Bay Area chefs have not only embraced the dish but are having fun with it, using it as a canvas for experimentation with different flavors and high-quality ingredients.

And, they say, nobody's comparing it to something you'd eat at San Quentin.

"In general, our meat loaf usually flies out the door," says Eric Markoff, executive chef at Town Hall in San Francisco. "We end up selling out of it most days."

The restaurant focuses on regional American cuisine, and a recent fascination with barbecue prompted the chefs to create a meat loaf laced with smoky flavors. The dish is made from a blend of ground veal, pork, beef and tasso ham, bound together by the house barbecue sauce. Markoff says that it goes on and off the menu depending on the season, but that in this economy, it's a surefire hit.

"If we can figure out ways of using quality ingredients and offer it to our guests at an affordable price, that's the best thing." At just $14, he says, "It's the cheapest entree on the menu right now."

At the restaurant, the meat loaf is insulated during cooking with bacon skin, the thin outer layer that covers the whole slab. But Markoff says that home cooks can use a few strips of regular bacon to seal in the moisture.

Smoky bacon also punches up the flavor of the popular meat loaf created by chef Cory Obenour at Blue Plate in San Francisco, where it's been a mainstay on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1999.

General manager Jeff Trenam says meat loaf fits nicely with the image of the restaurant - an unfussy, comfortable place. He notes that since meat loaf's popularity can be attributed to hard times, it makes sense these days. It's "a means of stretching proteins and conserving leftovers," he writes in an e-mail.

Blue Plate's recipe is fairly traditional, but gets a kick of heat from cayenne pepper. It's served with a rich sauce made with bacon, garlic, white wine and broth.

It couldn't be more different than a version created by Dennis Leary, chef-owner of Canteen and the Sentinel, both in San Francisco. Opened last year, the Sentinel is a lunch spot with a daily changing menu.

"All the health-conscious people in this neighborhood go for the turkey meat loaf like crazy," says Leary. "It's a bit healthier and a slightly leaner preparation than regular meat loaf."

Most cooks will argue that the lower fat content makes turkey meat loaf prone to drying out. But Leary adds "moisturizers" such as lemon juice, tahini, chile paste and a touch of cream. As a sandwich, it's an interesting departure.

To further keep it from drying out, he pays close attention to cooking time. Though he knows that the government's recommended internal temperature for turkey is 165 degrees, he pulls the loaf out at about 150 degrees. It's completely cooked, he says, but doesn't have that cardboard texture.

A benefit of meat loaf, explains Leary, is that it allows him to be efficient.

"A big batch of chicken salad can take hours," he says, "but we can prepare 30 pounds of meat loaf in five minutes."

That quick preparation time translates to the home kitchen as well. Most recipes require little more than mixing together a pile of ingredients with your hands. Plus, meat loaf can be prepared ahead of time and baked later.

That's something Cindy Pawlcyn does often. Not only does the Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen chef-owner cook meat loaf at home (best eaten cold on toast the next morning, she swears), she serves a variation of a Panamanian meat loaf with dried pasilla chiles and cocktail sauce in her St. Helena restaurant.

"We like to make our meat loaf in the morning and then roast it off just before we need it," she says. "That way, you get the best texture, and it allows all the flavors to permeate the meat."

As good as meat loaf can be, it's fairly easy to screw up (hence the jailbreak), so chefs recommend practicing a few easy techniques to get the best result.

"Don't overmix it," says Pawlcyn, "and keep it at a lower temperature to stay moist."

The Blue Plate recipe calls for soaking the breadcrumbs in the wet ingredients for at least five minutes before adding the meat, which prevents the loaf from cracking as it bakes.

Follow these easy steps, the chefs say, and the meat loaf is practically foolproof - unique, doable for the home cook, and quick and easy for a family.

And, of course, better than anything you'd get in prison.

Taster's Choice

The Food & Wine section's Taster's Choice panel sampled meat loaf mixes from seven butcher counters around the Bay Area - each a blend of raw, seasoned ground meat that requires nothing more than a turn in the oven.

The panelists couldn't recommend buying any of them. In the end, we decided it not to rank them in our regular Taster's Choice column. Those from Mollie Stone's, Andronico's and Golden Gate Meat edged out the others by a hair, but for a dish that requires very little effort in the first place, we concluded it's best to make your own.

Blue Plate Meat Loaf with Bacon Gravy

Serves 6-8

From chef Cory Obenour.

  • The meat loaf
  • 2 teaspoons bacon fat, or butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • -- Pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • -- Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • -- A few drops Tabasco sauce
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 5 ounces ground pork
  • The gravy
  • 4 strips thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock

For the meat loaf: Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray. In a saute pan, add bacon fat, onion and garlic, and cook over medium heat, until onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Take care to not caramelize the onions. Remove from the heat and reserve.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the meat. Let sit for 5 minutes, which allows the crumbs to absorb the wet mix and soften, preventing the loaf from cracking.

Add the meat and the onion mixture to the bowl and mix by hand until well combined. Transfer the mixture to the greased loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. Let cool before unmolding.

For the gravy:

In a large, shallow saute pan over medium-low heat, cook bacon with 1 tablespoon butter, the olive oil, shallot, garlic and thyme. Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce for about 4-5 minutes to cook off the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and reduce liquid by half . Stir in the remaining tablespoon butter and serve over the meat loaf.

Per serving: 340 calories, 19 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 24 g fat (10 g saturated), 120 mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 0 fiber.

Town Hall Barbecue Meat Loaf with Mushroom Gravy

Serves 6

Town Hall's meat loaf is topped with bacon skin to keep it moist, but chef Eric Markoff says it's an optional technique (at home it's OK to use a few regular strips of bacon). We didn't put anything on top when we tested it at The Chronicle, and it was still moist and delicious.

  • The gravy
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • -- Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup of veal demi-glace (see Note)
  • The meat loaf
  • 4 slices of levain or white bread, crusts removed and soaked in about 1 1/2 to 2 cups milk
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 4 ounces ground pork
  • 4 ounces ground beef
  • 4 ounces tasso or other ham, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce (preferably smoky and spicy)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

For the gravy:

Heat oil in a large, shallow saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until golden brown. Stir in the onion, garlic and thyme and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until onions are translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour in white wine, bring to a boil and reduce by half. Pour in chicken stock and veal demi-glace. Bring to a simmer and reduce sauce by three-quarters or until the sauce has a rich and thick consistency.

While the gravy is reducing, make the meat loaf.

For the meat loaf:

Preheat oven to 350°. Squeeze out any excess milk from bread and discard the milk. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to a 5-by-9-inch ungreased loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until loaf reaches an internal temperature of 150°. Let rest for 10 minutes before removing from pan and serve with the mushroom gravy.

Note: Demi-glace can be found in the freezer or grocery section of most upscale grocery stores, including Whole Foods.

Per serving: 453 calories, 31 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 21 g fat (5 g saturated), 121 mg cholesterol, 1,967 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

- - -

If you use tasso ham, which has a spice mixture rub punched up with cayenne, this loaf stays true to the restaurant's Cajun roots. If there's discernable heat from the tasso, you can also try a medium-bodied, fruity, off-dry rosé, or even a white Zinfandel rosé.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen Mighty Meat Loaf

Serves 4 to 6

  • The meat loaf
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeds removed, minced
  • 1/2 dried pasilla chile, seeds removed, minced
  • 3/4 cup minced celery
  • 3/4 cup minced carrot
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon each minced fresh thyme and minced fresh sage
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 ounces Heinz ketchup, preferably organic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • The sauce
  • 1 cup Heinz ketchup, preferably organic
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon chile flakes (depending on your taste)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 drops Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chicken or beef stock

For the meat loaf:

Preheat oven to 325°.

Melt the butter. Add the chiles, celery, carrot and garlic in butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the minced herbs, then remove from the heat to cool. When cooled, mix with the ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, 2 ounces ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper until well combined. Transfer to an ungreased 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. Using the back of a knife, make attractive crosshatch marks across the top.

For the sauce:

Mix together the 1 cup ketchup, chile flakes, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce. Smear 1/2 cup of this mixture over the meat loaf.

Bake at 325° for about 1 hour, or until the meat loaf reaches an internal temperature of 140°.

While the meat loaf is baking, add the chicken or beef stock to the remaining sauce. Bring to a low simmer and reduce by a third. Serve the meat loaf topped with a generous spoonful of sauce.

Per serving: 415 calories, 34 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 23 g fat (10 g saturated), 139 mg cholesterol, 1,026 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

The Sentinel Spicy Turkey Meat Loaf with Lemon & Sesame

Serves 4-6

Dennis Leary serves this as a sandwich, but it can be eaten plain as well. On its own, it packs a lot of heat, so you can cut down on the chile paste if so desired.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • -- Zest of 3 lemons
  • -- Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons each minced parsley and minced cilantro 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons za'atar (see Note)
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey, mix of light and dark meat
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek, or similar chile paste
  • -- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350°.

In a saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix cream, lemon zest and juice, tahini, tomato paste, parsley, cilantro and panko breadcrumbs until well combined.

Add cooked onion, za'atar, turkey, eggs, chile paste and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your hands until just combined.

Put meat loaf mixture into an ungreased 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, until firm to the touch, slightly browned and a thermometer reads at least 150°. Let cool slightly and cut into slices to serve.

Note: Look for za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, in the spice section of well-stocked supermarkets.

Per serving: 378 calories, 26 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 25 g fat (9 g saturated), 184 mg cholesterol, 263 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blueberries May Shrink Tumors in Babies

Blood Vessel Tumors Respond to Blueberry Extract, Study Shows

Substances found in blueberries may inhibit the growth of blood vessel tumors in infants and children, a new study suggests.

Ohio State University researchers say they found that feeding a blueberry extract to mice with blood vessel tumors safely decreased the size of the tumors and improved survival.

The tumors in question are among the most common tumors in infants, according to the report in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. In infants, the tumors can be disfiguring and in some cases threaten the health of a child.

Mice with blood vessel tumors that were fed the blueberry extract lived twice as long as mice that did not get the substance and had tumors 60% smaller than mice that did not receive blueberry extract treatment, the authors say.

Tumors made from the types of cells in question are found in blood vessels and affect 3% of children, the researchers say. The tumors, they add, usually occur within four weeks of birth and often affect premature infants.

"This work provides the first evidence demonstrating that blueberry extract can limit tumor formation by inhibiting the formation of blood vessels and inhibiting certain signaling pathways," Gayle Gordillo, MD, principal investigator of the Ohio State team, says in a news release. "Oral administration of blueberry extract represents a potential therapeutic strategy for treating endothelial cell tumors in children."

Gordillo says the tumors are similar to a large, blood-filled sponge. Current treatments can suppress the immune system, she says, and cause developmental delays.

Removing the tumors surgically is generally avoided because that process could cause patients to bleed to death, she says. Thus, many families opt to accept deformities caused by the tumors.

"Our hope is that if we feed blueberry juice to a child with this type of tumor, we can intervene and shrink the tumor before it becomes a big problem," she says.

"Our next step is a pilot study with humans to see if we can measure response to the treatment using imaging techniques and the monitoring of chemical changes in the urine."

The findings could have implications in other cancers, including breast, melanoma, ovarian, and head and neck, Gordillo says.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Healthy drinks dominate dairy sector

Dairy drinks promoted with a health benefit in tow now account for more than 70 per cent of global launches, according to food market analyst, Innova Food.

Most of the innovation iss occurring in Western Europe (28 per cent) and Asia (24 per cent), followed by Latin America (18 per cent).

Inneov divided health claims into either active or passive – active claims comprising calcium, fibre, iron and gut health claims; passive claims included reduced fat/sugar and organic categories.

Dairy fibre

Referencing the research, the world’s leading inulin and oligofructose supplier, Beneo-Orafti, noted that North America lead the world in developing inulin and oligofructose-fortified dairy drinks. Eleven per cent of US dairy drinks contained inulin or oligofructose, compared with nine per cent in Asia and seven per cent in Western Europe.

“We have seen a growing emphasis on health in society as obesity becomes a global problem and although ‘convenience’ is still a major driver in the promotion of dairy drinks (17 per cent of new products use it to sell the product),” said Beneo-Orafti marketing and communication manager, Tim Van der Schraelen.

“This has been overtaken in popularity by ‘health’ (both active and passive) as the primary claim used to encourage sales, with 53 per cent of the new products launched. With this in mind, we have seen over a 90 per cent increase in the number of dairy drink products brought to market that contain inulin and oligofructose over the last seven years. From small beginnings back in 2002 when only 15 dairy drinks contained this active food ingredient, 2008 saw 181 products brought to market globally that contained inulin and oligofructose.”

Beneo-Orafti said out of those 181 dairy drinks, 17 per cent made gut health claims, compared to only three per cent five years ago, revealing a “considerable increase in understanding by consumers of the benefits of digestive health”.

Increased understanding

Beneo-Orafti noted low-fat and low-sugar were growing more slowly with 10 per cent and two per cent of products carrying such claims, compared to 12 and two per cent five years ago.

“Increased consumer understanding of specific claims and what they can do for the promotion of health, combined with the tightening of EU legislation on health claim labelling, will continue to prove a challenge for food producers in 2009 and beyond,” Van der Schraelen added.

Beneo-Orafti research conducted in December revealed health promtoting ingredients increased “the appeal of established brands and generates added value.”

Despite this, the Beneo-Orafti research revealed there was often a gap between ingredient and health benefit knowledge, but if communication was effective, “manufacturers can add significant value to already premium brands.”

“Healthy dairy drinks make up the majority of new product development launches over recent years. Therefore it stands to reason that manufacturers who can tap into this sector with tailored health benefit messages that can be substantiated with scientific proof, will continue to see increased market development and penetration this year and beyond,” Tim Van der Schraelen said.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Many small cafes, coffee shops in particular, are registering double-digit profits and are opening new shops

Steam releases in a long psssssssssss. Coffee drips and glasses clink. Coffee lovers in the hotel lobby closely watch baristas prepare their crafts: espressos and cappuccinos that can win them the title of best coffee maker on the East Coast.

While business owners large and small lay off workers, cut costs and freeze expansions in a bid to survive the worst recession in decades, many small cafes are enjoying double-digit profits, opening new shops and spending time and money to boost their images in competitions like this one recently held outside of Pittsburgh.

Economists are baffled by the phenomenon. They say it could be part of a backlash against large corporations — such as Starbucks — and a move by consumers to carefully choose where to spend each dollar and opt for what they perceive to be a high-quality cup of coffee made by a well-trained barista.

Starbucks turned a luxury into a necessity and everybody needs their coffee, said Constantine Stavropoulos, owner of Tryst coffee shop in Washington, D.C.

"Now they're saying if I still need it why would I go to Starbucks when I have this alternative," he added. "People are really beginning to re-recognize the neighborhood coffee shop," he added.

Small coffee shop owners are doing everything to maintain their loyal clientele and attract new customers, especially those disillusioned by Starbucks and other chain coffee shops.

Cafe owners are pulling out the stops: They're blogging; diligently selecting roasters; upgrading and changing menus frequently; chatting with customers in an effort to foster relationships; training baristas for months; and ultimately trying to provide a unique atmosphere.

Tryst has a message board on its Web site where people who exchanged smiles or sly glances over a latte can try to reconnect in a 21st-century forum. Stavropoulos calls Tryst calls the sought after "third place," not home and not work, and says it stands "in stark contrast to the suburban culture and coffee chains that proliferate the country."

Starbucks, meanwhile, has reported a 10-percent drop in same-store sales, is closing nearly 1,000 shops and cutting at least 7,000 jobs. The chain's profits in its most recent quarter were down 69 percent.

On the other hand, Stavropoulos said his coffee shop enjoyed a 4 percent increase in sales in 2008, although he did see it slowdown a bit in the last three months of the year. Still, he said, he is plowing ahead with plans to open another cafe later this year.

Ken Zeff, owner of Crazy Mocha, a 9-year-old chain of coffee shops in Pittsburgh, says his comparative sales were up 12 percent year-over-year in 2008 and he is planning to open his 21st shop in the first quarter of this year. He is also looking at three or four other potential sites to launch later in the year.

Kiva Han Coffee, a gourmet roaster that supplies coffee to retailers in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and parts of West Virginia, grew 40 percent in 2008, and about 90 percent of its business comes from small coffee shops, president and owner Ed Wethli said.

All told, Wethli said he helped 30 new cafes open their doors in 2008, supplying them with everything from cups and equipment to the syrup used in the drinks.

"There's a real local initiative with people to buy from people in their community and ... coffee bars represent one area where you can definitely walk with your feet and support somebody local," Wethli said. "All of us feel a little betrayed by the big corporations that have really put us in a tailspin here."

Economists say the trend contradicts expectations in a slow economy. Typically the weakest competitors — often the smallest business owners — are weeded out, failing first and fast.

But Esther Gal-Or, a professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, said it may be small cafes are succeeding because they have the flexibility to adapt to a failing economy.

Jeffrey Inman, a marketing professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said part of the shift away from Starbucks could be "a backlash against some of the corporate greed we've seen."

"If I have a relationship with the baristas and they know who I am and they know what I usually get that drives it too," Inman said. "And the small guys tend to be better at doing that then the big guys. I would call that the 'Cheers' effect, where everybody knows your name."

At the recent Northeast, Mid-Atlantic Region Barista Competition, Luke Shaffer was moved to tears to see some of his regulars at the 21st Street Coffee and Tea drove 30 minutes from Pittsburgh to see him perform.

For cafe owners like Shaffer, the competition was an opportunity to learn as well as a chance to market themselves — key to businesses that do little to no advertising.

"Customers are kind of callous toward advertising," Shaffer said, noting that even without it he enjoyed monthly sales growth in 2008 of 20 percent to 50 percent. "I would rather focus my resources and my time on just improving our product and word of mouth has brought us a lot of wonderful press."

On his lunch break at the Crazy Mocha in downtown Pittsburgh, Nathan Eber, a 32-year-old ombudsman with Allegheny Health Choices, is reading a book and listening to his iPod while sipping coffee. The earth-tone orange walls, the comfy chair and the relaxing music all play into his decision to buy his coffee every day at this local coffee shop rather than at the Starbucks down the block.

Even when he goes home, he chooses to frequent the local coffee shops in his neighborhood, and has been doing this for quite some time.

"I do work hard for my money," Eber said, "and I choose to put money in businesses where I know it's going to come right back into the community."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peanut Corp. of America Files Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia, saying the negative economic effects of the recent Salmonella recalls have been "extremely devastating" to its financial condition, FLEXNEWS reported.

Under Chapter 7, companies liquidate their assets to repay creditors rather than reorganize. Court documents reveal PCA listed assets in the range of $1 million to $10 million, and liabilities in the same range.