Friday, July 31, 2009

Restaurants are incorporating in-house butchers

Nathan Anda turns the 250-pound pig on its back, grabs hold of its sides and forces the carcass open with his hands. Over the next hour, Anda, an in-house butcher for several restaurants in Washington, D.C., will use a variety of knives, a cleaver and a hacksaw to break down the pig into what will become bacon, pork chops, baby back ribs, ham, prosciutto and even headcheese.

In an age of prepackaged and pre-portioned meat, it's a primeval process. But a new generation — many of them former chefs — is reviving the craft of butchery and putting a modern spin on the traditional butcher shop.

"As a chef, you're trying to get a better product at a better price," says Anda, 32. "Using the whole animal lets you do that. I get both the expensive and inexpensive cuts for less money from a farmer I know and trust."

Anda, who has gone from chef to butcher/chef, plans to open Red Apron butcher shop in the capital this year. Besides slicing and portioning meat, Red Apron also will sell cured meats, hot dogs and bacon made in-house, and he will have a small dining room for customers.

The addition of a gourmet market, dining room or class space is the biggest change to these new butcher shops. In New York, the restaurateurs behind Marlow & Sons and several other Brooklyn restaurants opened up Marlow & Daughter. The butcher shop provides the meat for their restaurants and is a small retail store that also sells cheese, risotto and other sundries often used in their own kitchens.


In Alexandria, Va., Robert Wiedmaier opened The Butcher Block next to his bistro, Brabo. The shop offers wine, international beers, cheese, desserts and prepared food, as well as charcuterie and prime cuts of meats. Wiedmaier also offers regular cooking demonstrations from deboning a chicken to stuffing a pheasant.

"It's not purely butchering animals all day long," Wiedmaier says. "I'm getting better-quality meat at a better price, and we pass those savings on to the customer."

Though customers may find less expensive meat at the local grocery store, butcher shops tend to offer the same high-quality cuts you would find at gourmet and high-end stores like Balducci's or Whole Foods for less.

And for a generation of home cooks who devour food magazines and the Food Network and have a real thirst for information about different types of food and cooking, the new butcher shops helps develop their skills.

Shops such as Avedano in San Francisco don't just offer classes (one allows customers to break down suckling pigs or a full-sized lamb and take home the meat); they have professional chefs to offer assistance.

"It's great for customers to be able to come in and get real suggestions on how to prepare things," says Tia Harrison, one of the chef/owners of Avedano.

"We can expand their cooking. A lot of times you go to a supermarket and have a younger kid who doesn't know much about what he or she is selling. Having an old-school butcher shop where you can get real people helping you sets us apart."

Avedano is truly an old-school butcher shop. Harrison and her partners took over a space that had been a butcher shop since the early 1900s, and they rent it from the family who owned the shop in the 1950s.

Harrison sees the current crop of butcher shops as a full-circle return to an older era with a modern twist to make it worth an extra stop.

"Today, people want to know more about their food," Harrison says. "They'll make that special trip to a butcher shop, but only if you offer them something extra, whether it's a greater knowledge about their meat, cooking advice or a unique product."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some 72% of restaurant operators claim that emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant,

Opportunities abound when it comes to using fresh produce on restaurant menus, according to new research presented at Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2009 Foodservice Conference & Exposition July 24 in Monterey, Calif. Conducted by National Restaurant Association and PMA as part of a joint project that also included International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), the research highlighted that foodservice operators focus on produce’s expanded options, sourcing and food safety.

“Our new research lays the foundation to move forward with our collaborative efforts to indentify new opportunities to serve our guests more fresh produce options on restaurant menus nationwide,” said National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney. “Nutrition and food safety are key issues to our industry, and working with the produce and distributor industries will enhance both.”

The research on fresh produce in foodservice shows that restaurant operators see fresh produce as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Nearly three out of four restaurant operators (72 percent) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant. In addition, 46 percent of restaurant operators said they look for fresh produce items that their customers can not buy at their supermarket, including 78 percent of fine dining operators.

In addition, 67 percent of restaurant operators said they wish they had more options regarding fresh produce selections, while 60 percent of operators said they wish there was more information on how to incorporate fresh produce on their menu. Forty-one percent said they expect to serve more fresh produce in the next two years, while 56 percent said they expect to serve about the same amount.

Restaurant operators also look at sourcing of fresh produce, with 77 percent saying they prefer to purchase domestically grown fresh produce, and 56 percent of survey respondents serve locally-sourced produce in their restaurants.

Food safety remains a top priority for restaurant operators. Eighty-nine percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for their fresh produce if its safety is guaranteed, and 76 percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for fresh produce if it is traceable all the way up the supply chain.

“This research gives us tremendous insight into where we should focus our efforts to increase use of fresh produce in foodservice, which benefits everyone that touches the plate, with the ultimate beneficiary being the end consumer,” said PMA President and CEO Bryan Silbermann.

The research set the stage for the “Executive Think Tank: Summary and Discussion” at the PMA conference on July 25 featuring top executives from across the supply chain representing the restaurant, distributor and produce industries. Conference speakers summarized a closed-door “Executive Think Tank” July 24, at which senior foodservice and produce industry leaders reviewed the operator research, prioritized forces that could make the greatest difference on use of produce in foodservice and identified strategies to help the supply chain address those priorities.

These efforts are all part of a landmark multi-phase project by PMA, National Restaurant Association and IFDA. The project is sponsored by Markon Cooperative, a foodservice buying organization based in Salinas, Calif.

The three associations announced a new collaboration earlier this year to identify opportunities to increase fresh produce use in foodservice to promote healthy lifestyles. The research, as well as outcomes of the executive think tank session, will be available this fall.

Founded in 1949, the Produce Marketing Association is the leading trade association representing nearly 3,000 companies from every segment of the global produce and floral supply chain. Members rely on PMA year round for the business solutions they need to increase sales and consumption, build strong professional relationships, and expand their business opportunities. For more information, visit

IFDA is a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization representing foodservice distributors throughout the United States, Canada and internationally. IFDA’s 160+ members include broadline, systems and specialty foodservice distributors that supply food and related products to restaurants, institutions and other food away from home foodservice operations. IFDA members operate more than 700 facilities, and sell more than $100 billion in food and related products to the fastest growing sector in the food industry. For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hershey's Push Into High-End Chocolate Is Bittersweet

Hershey Co. (HSY) is dropping some newer lines of premium chocolate, but the company may have to find new ways to compete in the high-end candy business when the economy rebounds.

Hershey said Thursday that it will no longer be marketing the Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) brand of premium chocolate and is also winding down its high-end Cacao Reserve line. Sales of pricier chocolate have slowed as consumers have tightened their belts and retailers have been reluctant to give up shelf space to lower- performing products.

Before the recession began, Hershey's sales suffered because consumers had been turning toward pricier chocolates, an area that Hershey had been slow to get into. Privately held Mars Inc. and specialty chocolate brands gained share. That pushed Hershey to begin marketing more expensive chocolates. In mid-2007 it announced a pact with Starbucks to develop and market a premium line.

But that new line was badly timed because the economy started slowing soon after. Consumers slashed spending last year and early this year, turning away from most extravagances, including pricey chocolate. "The timing of the launch of the Starbucks proposition, frankly, we just missed the window," said Hershey Chief Executive David West during a Thursday conference call. "Our partner obviously had some other business challenges and the consumer at that price point wasn't sustainable."

A Starbucks spokesman, Alan Hilowitz, said the two companies made the decision mutually and it was part of Starbucks' effort to focus on its core businesses in supermarkets: packaged coffee, ready-to-drink coffee and ice cream.

For Hershey, the moves on the Starbucks line and the Cacao Reserve line probably made business sense since the company likely found the brands not profitable enough, said Chris Growe, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. The company didn't disclose sales on these brands.

Hershey said that for now it will focus on its existing Scharffen Berger and Dagoba lines to grow in the premium chocolate space. The company is also hoping to get consumers to trade up to its Bliss line of chocolates.

Still, these brands alone aren't likely to give Hershey a major role in the premium chocolate segment, which is likely to pick up steam again as consumer spending rebounds.

Growe thinks the super premium chocolate category will pick up with the economy, but is unlikely to reach the growth rates of two years ago. Still, he says, if the high-end category grows faster, Hershey "may not be able to fully participate in that given their current portfolio."

CEO West said Thursday that the company had "strategic work" underway to study the premium segment and its brands there. "While premium has slowed, we do believe it will have a role in the category in the years to come," he said. A Hershey spokesman declined further comment.

Meanwhile, the recession has been kind to the maker of the namesake Kisses and Twizzlers. Many of its brands are at the lower end of the price spectrum, helping earnings and sales, and even allowing the company to gain market share.

On Thursday, the company reported a 72% jump in second-quarter earnings from a year ago, beating Wall Street's view on rising sales. Earnings were $71.3 million, or 31 cents a share, up from $41.5 million, or 18 cents a share, a year ago.

Growing Consumer Interest in Entertaining at Home

In a recently-completed study, Technomic found that over a third of consumers (36 percent) report that they are entertaining at home more often than a year ago. Only 13 percent said they are doing so less often.

"Consumers tell us that they are enjoying reconnecting with friends in their homes," says Melissa Wilson, Technomic Principal. "The appeal is tied to socializing in a very casual atmosphere where everyone brings a dish to share, often sourced from local restaurants or food retailers."

The findings come from Technomic's POP: Parties Off Premise study, a detailed evaluation of consumer catering opportunities for restaurants and food retailers. From box lunches and party platters to parties complete with off-site food preparation, catering is one of the strongest segments of the foodservice industry and appears somewhat immune from recessionary spending cut-backs.

Related findings include:

  • Over the next year 40 percent of consumers expect to entertain at home more often, in order to socialize with friends and family.
  • In terms of sourcing food for these occasions, restaurant usage is comparable to the use of retailers (68 versus 69 percent, respectively).
  • More than half of consumers (53 percent) reported buying platters and other prepared foods for the recent Fourth of July holiday, the largest holiday usage for these type of purchases after Christmas (66 percent) and Thanksgiving (61 percent).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chefs and restaurateurs are reimagining and rethinking hamburger possibilities

Think the hamburger can't be improved? Top chefs around the world now see the burger as the latest test of their culinary ingenuity

Innovating on the familiar hamburger is no easy task. But a combination of recessionary times and perhaps fatigue with vertically stacked food, or that which is formed in metal rings before serving, has prompted chefs and restaurateurs to rethink, if not re-imagine, what a hamburger could be or should be.

Take Richard Blais, chef-owner of Flip in Atlanta, who has burgers on his menu ranging from $6.50 for a basic patty with onions, tomato, pickles, and lettuce to $35 for Japanese Kobe beef with seared foie gras and truffle oil. In between, he is offering burgers made with shrimp, lobster, smoked salmon, or even mushrooms (vegetarians like burgers, too—if they aren't made from anything that had a mother). But with a nod to the times, perhaps, he says his average ticket is around $12. And he has funding to open several more Flips around the Southeast.

Blais takes innovation seriously. A finalist on Bravo's Top Chef last season, Blais is a student of molecular gastronomy, cooking with nitrogen and the like. One of his beef burgers is cooked sous-vide, which is French for "under vacuum," and describes food that is cooked inside an airtight plastic bag over a long period at low temperatures. What Blaise brokers in is not so much hamburgers as proteins of any ilk stuck between two buns.

Indeed, the existence of a bun, rather than the existence of meat, is what seems to define a dish as a burger these days. The rest is up to the chef to decide. And the bun is at the core of how the burger was innovated in the first place. The story has been proffered that the true innovator of what we know as the burger today was Charlie Nagreen. The Horton (Wisc.) native claimed that in 1885, while a vendor at the Seymour Fair in Seymour, Wisc., he was selling meatballs in sauce, requiring a fork and plate. But they didn't move so well, the patrons not wild about having to eat with two hands while taking in the exhibits. So, Nagreen, the story goes, started offering the meatballs flattened in a roll. He stuck by his story until his death in 1951.
A "Hamburg-Style" Sandwich

The word "hamburger" comes to us, though, from the late 18th century when harbor cities such as New York, Boston, and London began selling a minced steak that had been spiced and stretched with breadcrumbs as a binder, a recipe said to have started at food stands at the Hamburg, Germany, docks. So, signs went up at stands elsewhere offering meat or steak cooked in the "Hamburg style."

They may have European roots, but hamburgers have become a quintessentially American food. But that hasn't stopped overseas innovation. MOS Burger in Japan serves up a tempura burger made of scallops, shrimp, and squid. And in Australia, some restaurants offer burgers made from kangaroos. Because their methane emissions are much lower than those of cattle, kangaroos are the more environmentally friendly burger meat, some say.

Some places are sticking to the basics, though. Nagreen may have claimed he served the first hamburger, but Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Conn., begs to differ. The restaurant's hamburger is the same as it was in 1900: a patty topped with cheese, tomato, and onion served between two slices of white bread. Ketchup and mustard are still off-limits.

As hamburger has become the rage, from a resurgent McDonald's (MCD) business in the past twelve months to fine dining rooms in New York and Las Vegas, and a new string of burger restaurants from celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the conversation with chefs and eatery owners on the burger can get as messy as a Big Mac in the hands of a five-year-old. "The thing you have to realize is that chefs are usually burger fanatics," says Flay, whose four Bobby's Burger Palaces opened this year in New York and New Jersey, with more on the way. "When we go out after a tough shift, we go for burgers, and so we have a lot of opinions about how to do it right."

Keeping It Simple

Flay, who just published Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes in April, says he has had the idea of a string of burger joints for 10 years. He believes the griddle is the right approach, so the hamburger cooks in its own juices. A dimple in the burger with your thumb also makes for a more evenly cooked burger. It gets flipped once and only once, and gets Kosher salt and pepper before cooking. No special cuts of meat either, says Flay: 100% certified Angus sirloin and chuck, with 20% fat content. At Blais' Flip, in contrast, the 5.5 oz. beef burgers are a blend of brisket, hangar steak, and short rib. The same blend is used at Laurent Tourondel's BLT Burger restaurants, where patrons build their own burgers with the toppings they want.

Five hundred miles to the west in Ann Arbor, Mich., though, chef Alex Young at Zingerman's Roadhouse cooks his burgers on a grill fueled with oak. And the wood comes through in the taste. He salts and peppers his meat the night before it goes into the grinder, which it does fresh every morning. And he uses a 3/16 inch grind, coarser than most. Young is persnickety about his meat and uses only beef from California's Niman Ranch. It is grass fed, finished for a short time on corn, and the steers are allowed to get older—15 to 24 months—than most big beef suppliers. But he is looking to use local Michigan grass fed beef in the next couple of years if he can nail down adequate supply.

Young says he toured dozens of so-called famous burger places before opening the Roadhouse a few years ago. To him, the innovation in the burger, if there is any, is in the core ingredients, and taking stuff away rather than piling it on. "I have an idea of serving a burger on a plate with nothing else, no bun and no condiments, but that may be a little extreme," he says.

Zingerman's has an advantage over many burger purveyors in that it is has total control over its own bun, as the Zingerman's group of businesses includes one of the most highly acclaimed bakeries in the country. After experimenting, Young settled on an onion roll. The texture, about halfway between a soft potato roll and a Kaiser roll, started out as a "New York" roll served at Zingerman's Deli with minced onion in the dough and a pocket of minced onion inside. He took out the pocket of onion and it has proved to be the perfect carrier for the $9.95 Roadhouse burger.

A Turn to Slower Food

The push for better burgers with better ingredients no doubt stems from a backlash in recent years against fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King (BKC) and their use of antibiotic-infused factory-farmed beef. McDonald's, which fries burgers, has always been at odds with Burger King, which flame-broils. And as most college kids know, White Castle, home of the steamed "slider" burger, is the ultimate downscale burger rush and the place you want at 4 a.m.

It could be that the embrace of the pricier burger these days is a reaction to the dumbing down of the burger at fast-fooderies to an almost tasteless jumble of fat, salt, and sweeteners, which, while seducing our baser taste buds going down, leaves an aftertaste that's indistinguishable from that of the milkshake we drank alongside it. Add to that the desire for comfort food in difficult times, and the $100 dinner check going out of fashion in favor of the $20 check for two, and a trend is born.

It's worth remembering that McDonald's founder Ray Kroc was an innovator more of distribution and mass production than the food itself. The magic of McDonald's dating back to it beginning was its low-cost, mass production, so that the experience was the same coast to coast, and of course the ubiquity of the restaurants. Kroc was the Henry Ford of food.

While the hamburger might seem to some to be as American as gun racks and apple pie, it's good to remember the name is European derived. And European and Euro-influenced chefs have been tinkering with burgers of late.

Of course, it was when French-born Daniel Boulud stuffed truffles and foie gras into a ground sirloin burger at his DB Bistro Moderne a few years ago that the upper crust restaurants began tinkering with burgers in the first place. Recently, Boulud, like a French aristocrat who falls in love with an old Ford pickup truck, opened DBGB Kitchen & Bar on the Bowery in Manhattan with more burger offerings and a lower-priced menu than his Michelin-rated restaurant.

Eating with a Fork

Boulud's infatuation with the burger caused bistros in Paris, no less, to start adding burgers to their menus in the past two years. Even the most recalcitrant French bureaucrats today can be seen using knives and forks on hamburgers, dipping forkfuls (yikes, use your hands, man!) into dainty porcelain crocks of ketchup.

Can the French really be influencing the U.S. hamburger? Could it be retribution for some Americans campaigning to rename deep-fried potato strips "Freedom Fries" when the French government wouldn't support the war in Iraq? The very American fast-food chain Hardee's is now launching the French Dip Thickburger , what it calls in its promotional material "a perfect 'pas de deux' of beef: a 100% Black Angus Beef Thickburger patty topped with thinly sliced roast beef and melting Swiss cheese served with a cup of au jus for dipping." To market the new burger, four "gorgeous Hardee's French Maids," (Sophie, Antoinette, Gabrielle, and Isabelle) will cruise the country on Segways, hitting 11 markets in the South and Midwest.

That's a bit too much for Michael Psilakis, an American of Greek descent, who now operates four restaurants in Manhattan, including the new Gus & Gabriel, which has six burgers on the menu. Psilakis, who has received top honors from both Gourmet and Esquire, focused more on the ingredients of a burger that would be familiar and comforting, rather than reinventing the experience. Starting at $11.50 and going up to $14, the craziest G&G gets with a burger is adding garlic confit or Gruyere cheese. Psilakis, who has an elaborate lamb burger cut with chuck and fatback on the menu at his fine dining restaurant Anthos in Midtown Manhattan, said he experimented a lot with new burger ideas before going back to basics.

"When we were working out the menu, I felt some personal challenge to really make a new statement in burgers," says Psilakis. His team experimented with aged beef, adding pork fat, duck fat, and all sorts of other haute innovations, such as braising rib meat before it went into the burger. In the end, he decided a burger made from chuck, brisket, and short rib meat and grilled over a wood fire was unbeatable. The fact that every ingredient is fresh—nothing from a can in the restaurant—was a good starting point for him. Then he focused on treating the bun with great care to provide some of the point of difference from other restaurants. Some of his burger buns, for example, are buttered with his own compound butter recipe made with pecorino cheese, caramelized onion, and a few other carefully chosen ingredients and heated up so the mixture penetrates the bread.

Psilakis majored in business in college and never attended culinary school. And he has opened two new restaurants since the recession set in, both focusing on menus where a diner can easily walk out with a dinner check under $20. Being innovative with something as basic and familiar to the U.S. and to the palate is defined, he says, "by making sure you exceed all expectations on what it tastes like no matter what you choose to put in or on the burger or on the plate."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some 27% of the 1,800 food product introductions this year thus far are private label offerings

It’s not your grandma’s generic peanut butter. Mintel GNPD reports that amid rampant private label food product development, manufacturers stay current with the latest food trends. Providing more than just cheap alternatives to national brands, the newest private label foods woo shoppers with premium ingredients, portability and health benefits.

So far in 2009, Mintel GNPD has seen nearly 1,800 new US private label foods appear on retail store shelves: 27% of all food products introduced this year. In 2005, private label foods comprised only 13% of new food product launches.

“Not only have private label introductions increased, but product innovation is reaching unprecedented highs,” states Krista Faron, senior analyst at Mintel. “Retailers no longer only launch ‘me-too’ products to compete against major national brands. Instead, private label lines are hotbeds of creativity, driving markets and establishing themselves as trend leaders.”

As over half of Americans try to spend less at restaurants, Mintel sees private label retailers creating premium in-home meals that boast restaurant quality and fresh ingredients. Supervalu’s Culinary Circle, for example, features an upscale Pork Carnitas Enchilada Casserole, while Wal-Mart claims fresh-baked taste in minutes with Sam's Choice Thin Crust Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon Pizza.

Portable, high-quality lunches are another hot area of private label development, reports Mintel’s Krista Faron. People want to save money by lunching at the office, and new private label foods like Safeway’s Rice Noodle Soup Bowl (retailing for just $1.55) make desk-dining easy and enjoyable.

Convenience remains a driver for private label prepared foods, but Mintel GNPD sees health and nutrition increasingly influencing product development. Lucerne Foods gives shoppers convenience, nutrition and private label pricing with its Eating Right brand. Products span the store, including kids’ Whole Wheat Mini Ravioli with fiber and protein, plant sterol-fortified Apple Cinnamon Granola, and Light Ice Cream Cups containing probiotics.

“Private label manufacturers realize ‘value’ means more than ‘low price’ to consumers, so they’re wisely creating new products that deliver on some of today’s most exciting food trends,” comments Krista Faron.

As the recession causes more Americans to cut down on food spending, both at home and by dining out less, private label has benefited: the US market grew 9.3% in 2008 (compared to 4.5% for branded food sales). Mintel forecasts it will grow another 8.1% by the end of 2009.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Foodservice establishments are projected to add 381,800 jobs during the 2009

The National Restaurant Association today released its employment projections for the summer of 2009. Nationally, eating and drinking places are projected to add 381,800 jobs during the 2009 summer season, a 4.1 percent increase over their March 2009 employment level. The positive growth in summer employment is one indicator of the likely beginning of economic recovery for the restaurant industry. America's nearly one million restaurants remain one of the largest employers in the nation with its 13 million employees—a number projected to grow by 2 million positions in the next decade.

“Restaurant operator optimism has increased steadily this year and combined with these advances in restaurant summer employment, the end of the current downturn for the restaurant industry is likely in sight,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group for the Association. “While overall U.S. employment growth remains negative, the industry is bucking that trend as it added jobs in May for the first time in 10 months. Building on that gain, the growth in summer employment is a clear sign that the restaurant industry remains a powerhouse in the U.S. economy.”

Restaurant industry summer employment growth is on par with 2008 growth at 4.1 percent, but is slightly slower than in 2007 before the economic downturn, when it was at 4.8 percent. The industry is still a strong creator of career and employment opportunities and a driver of the nation's economy. As the summer months are typically the peak season for travel and tourism, restaurants tend to increase staffing to accommodate additional customer traffic.

The restaurant industry is typically the nation’s second largest creator of seasonal jobs during the summer months – ranking only behind the construction industry. The construction industry generally adds more than 600,000 jobs during the summer season, though in 2008 the construction sector only added 445,000 jobs.

The states projected to add the most eating and drinking place jobs during the 2009 summer season are New York (32,900), California (30,900), Texas (26,400), Massachusetts (23,600), New Jersey (19,600), Illinois (19,300) and Ohio (19,000).
The states projected to register the largest proportional employment increase during the 2009 summer season are Maine (29.2 percent increase) and Alaska (25.1 percent increase).

Due to the fact that their busiest seasons for travel and tourism are not in the summer months, two states are projected to register declines in eating and drinking place employment during the 2009 summer season: Florida (-18,200) and Arizona (-7,200).

Summer employment is defined as the average number of eating and drinking place jobs in June, July and August. The number of summer jobs is the difference between the projected total 2009 summer employment and the March 2009 employment level. Generally, the U.S. restaurant industry begins to ramp up its summer seasonal hiring in April, and it peaks in June, July and August.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Companies including PepsiCo are rolling out larger chip packages but not increasing prices

Your eyes are not deceiving you in the grocery store. Yes, your bag of Doritos just got bigger. No, the price didn't change.

Last year, food packages shrank as food makers, dealing with record high ingredient costs, struggled to maintain their profits. But the weakened economy has caused a slump in demand for ingredients like corn and oil, pushing those prices back down. With lower ingredient costs - and higher consumer demand for more value - some brands like Frito-Lay are shifting back to bigger packages, without raising prices.

Think of your food packages like an economic barometer: Times are tough, so costs are low and packages are bigger. When times are good, costs are high and packages, to compensate, get smaller.

Tough times also mean consumers have less money to spend, so they want those bigger packages. Experts say this is a promotional tool that helps branded food companies steer shoppers back to their products and away from less expensive, store-brand alternatives.

Here are some questions and answers about the changing size of food packages.

Q: What's getting bigger?

A: So far, the most evident size boosting is in the chip aisle, where Frito-Lay dominates. The company has boosted some package sizes for brands like Doritos, Cheetos and Fritos by 20 percent, reversing cuts made to bag sizes last year. Bags on shelves feature a thick white stripe announcing this - the one on Doritos says: "Woa there's 20 percent more free bold bites in here."

Certain Doritos flavors have gone from 12 ounces back to 14.5 ounces, while Fritos bags are now 17.5 ounces, up from 14.5 ounces, and Cheetos are 10.25 ounces, up from 8.5 ounces. Tostitos are now 15.625 ounces, from 13 ounces. The pricing was unchanged, ranging from $2.89 to $3.99.

The company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., wants to return value to consumers, spokesman Chris Kuechenmeister said. He said Frito-Lay was unsure if these changes, originally taken about six months ago, would be permanent.

Elsewhere in the chip aisle, The Snack Factory increased the size of some of its pretzel crisps line by 25 percent, to 7.5 ounces from 6 ounces, earlier this summer. The promotion should last through the summer, said marketing director Milt Weinstock.

The company raised prices but did not shrink packages when ingredient costs got high, he said. Now that costs have moderated, the company wanted to give customers more for their money and entice new sales.

Offering more for the same price is one way to boost sales since consumers are so focused on saving money right now, said Christopher Shanahan, a research analyst with Frost & Sullivan. Food companies can play up their value to consumers by offering larger-sized packages, which cost less on a per-ounce basis, he said.

Experts say offering larger sizes - along with other methods, like coupons or buy-one-get-one-free promotions - can convince shoppers who are trying to save money to stick with name brands.

Q: What's been happening with food packages and pricing in recent years?

A: Packages had been shrinking and prices had been rising - all in response to soaring ingredient costs. Food companies had higher expenses for key commodities used in production - like corn that goes into chips and fuel used to transport goods from place to place. So they raised prices and shrunk products - everything from cereal to ice cream to canned tuna.

Q: Why are companies making products bigger again?

A: Two reasons: Because they can, and because consumers want it.

Prices for ingredients have moderated from record highs last year. So it costs these companies less to make your food, and they can afford to give you more product for the same price.

It doesn't cost too much extra for them since these products are produced in mass quantities. And it's considered a good investment, since it boosts the amount they're selling and can increase their market share - two things investors like.

Consumers are also asking for it as they look to save money.

Offering more for the same price is one way brands can promote themselves as they compete with store-brand alternatives, which cost less and are gaining sales in some categories at the expense of branded products.

Increasing package sizes also keeps pricing and sales volume steady so revenue doesn't suffer, as can happen from other promotions - like coupons.

Q: Why not just cut the prices? I'd rather save money than get more chips.

A: It's not that simple, pricing experts say. Once prices are lowered, it becomes very difficult to raise them, since consumers may react negatively to that.

Instead, companies can give people more for the same amount of money, making for a per-ounce price cut, but leaving prices unchanged. That means food makers protect their pricing for the future, so they can react when commodity prices go back up - something experts agree will happen as the economy recovers.

In other words: When good times return, don't be surprised if that bag of chips gets smaller again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Baby boomers in their 60s generally shop more frequently and more often at smaller format stores

Representing half of total U.S. spending power, baby boomers are one the largest demographics in the United States. The oldest among this group are now 63 years old, and their purchase patterns are shifting as they approach retirement age. The latest IRI research, “Baby Boomers II: Preparing for the Upcoming Wave of Aging Shopper Growth,” examines the broad range of baby boomer lifestyle changes and identifies top-indexing food and non-food categories, recession-driven shopping patterns and key opportunities for private label and health and wellness products.

“Each baby boomer segment will experience a broad range of lifestyle changes in the coming years that will dramatically change where they shop and what they buy,” says IRI Consulting & Innovation President Thom Blischok. “Many retailer strategies today assume that boomers are a homogeneous group, and, as a result, their strategies are too general to be effective. The IRI report will help retailers understand current and future spending shifts of the different boomer segments across categories and channels. This approach will also help retailers develop strategies that effectively segment the boomer population in specific markets and meet their changing needs.”

Channel and Category Insights

Baby boomers—Americans born between 1946 and 1964—are a very large consumer segment with an age range that spans nearly 20 years. IRI breaks the group down into LBJ (aged 34-43), Kennedy (aged 44-52) and Truman Boomer (aged 53-62) segments to capture their distinct cultural experiences, current lifestyles and attitudes. The following is a glimpse of channel and category insights found in the IRI report:

  • When consumers age into their 60s, they shop more frequently and a greater share of their total CPG spending is done at smaller format stores, including drug stores and dollar stores, at the expense of grocery, mass and supercenters. For instance, Truman Boomers make 15 trips to drug stores annually versus 11 trips by LBJs.
  • Food preferences also change with age. Truman Boomers lead the way in categories, such as snack nuts/seeds/corn nuts, ice cream/sherbet and chocolate candy. However, consumption is lower than other boomers for cold cereal, salty snacks and frozen pizza.
  • Across major beverage categories, it’s clear that shoppers in their 60s prefer non-carbonated drinks, which causes them to make trade-offs, such as consuming less beer but more wine and spirits and drinking more coffee than soft drinks.
  • Aging shoppers rely heavily on many over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as vitamins and gastrointestinal tablets but purchase less personal items, including deodorant and shampoo, than their younger counterparts.

"Boomers are being impacted by a number of current trends,” says IRI Consulting & Innovation Senior Vice President Sean Seitzinger. “The various boomer micro-segments are being impacted in different ways and are making their own distinct choices. Today’s retail and CPG community must work hard to understand the unique opportunities being created by this large and diverse consumer segment. Different micro-segments will define the market growth opportunities in health and wellness and the next generation of products and brands.”

Shopper Attitudes: The Economy

The current recession is also having an enormous financial and emotional impact on baby boomers. Many have seen their personal wealth and disposable income drop precipitously, forcing many baby boomers to postpone retirement and some previously retired boomers to re-enter the workforce. Additional economic insights include:

  • Aging shoppers are most concerned with “immediate personal impact” areas of the economy, including price of gasoline (72 percent), home utilities (70 percent) and food costs (77 percent) versus home value (41 percent) and access to personal credit (16 percent).
  • Across all boomer segments, fewer than 25 percent have cut back spending on essentials, such as food, beverages and household cleaning supplies. In contrast, they have pulled back spending significantly on discretionary. purchases, such as auto care (52 percent) and entertainment (51 percent).
  • More than 85 percent of all boomers still make unplanned purchases.

Private Label Performance

Even after the economy begins to recover, private label growth is expected to continue well into the next decade for boomers entering their 50s and 60s. A few highlights from IRI research include:

  • 83 percent of Truman Boomers vs. 70 percent of Kennedy Boomers say store brands are of excellent quality. At the same time, 79 percent of the younger LBJs like store brands.
  • 66 percent of Truman Boomers buy store brands instead of name brands.
  • Truman Boomers purchase more private label bottled water, ice cream and snack nuts than younger boomers.
  • The propensity to buy private label in food and beverages does not carry over to nonfood categories, including OTC medications.

Health and Wellness

As boomers age into their 60s and 70s, a growing number of shoppers are adjusting their diets to manage a range of ailments, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and there is a growing concern about their weight. Attitudes about health and wellness include:

  • 84 percent of Truman Boomers eat for nutrition versus 79 percent of Kennedy Boomers; 61 percent of Truman Boomers eat to manage a specific health condition versus 46 percent of LBJs.
  • When compared with meals and snacks, aging shoppers place less emphasis on finding healthier options in beverages.
  • Older shoppers consider organic to be a less important attribute in maintaining good health.

“The IRI report offers fact-based support for impactful boomer shopper segmentation and other initiatives that retailers can implement across both traditional and non-traditional retail channels,” adds Seitzinger. “Retailers who leverage these new insights about baby boomer segments will reap the benefits with new center store growth.”

IRI Baby Boomer Webinar

IRI is offering a free webinar, entitled “Preparing for the Upcoming Wave of Shopper Growth” on July 22 at 1 p.m. CT. To register for the webinar, hosted by consumer trends and private label expert Sean Seitzinger, please visit:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yogurt held the top spot in the Top 10 list of the most popular online coupon categories

Snacks dominated the Top 10 list of the most popular online coupon categories printed in June, according to, the leading network for digital coupons. Sweet Snacks, Cookies, and Salty Snacks took the No. 4, 5, and 8 spots, respectively.

“As Americans seek out cost effective ways to entertain at home, especially during the summer months when kids are out of school, snacks are a popular food choice,” said Kim Danger, family savings expert for “To stretch your dollar, follow store specials and match coupons to get the most out of your budget. Another savings tip: shop without the kids whenever possible. You can probably shop faster and will be sure to avoid the, ‘Mom, can I have this, pretty please?’ temptation that leads to unnecessary spending.”

Yogurt advanced into the Top 10, taking the No. 1 spot, while Ready-to-Eat Cereal took the No. 2 position. Powdered Beverage Mix advanced four places to the No. 3 position, and Coffee moved up to No. 6. Cheese declined from No. 4 to the No. 7 position, and Dessert Items took the No. 9 position. Condiments rounded out the Top 10. The ranking is based on the number of coupon prints by category on and sites across the publisher network in June 2009.

Digital Coupons Continue Astounding Growth

Digital coupons continue to grow in popularity. Shoppers printed over $57 million in savings in June on and the publisher network. This represents a 130 percent increase over the same month in 2008. In addition, between January 1 and June 13 of this year, $313 million in savings was printed, which is equivalent to the amount of savings printed in all of 2008.

“More consumers are using digital coupons, and more companies are turning to us to promote their brands,” said Steven Boal, CEO of “Since January, has jumped from the 155th largest Web property in the U.S. to number 43, and we continue to target approximately $1 billion in savings printed by the end of the year.”

According to Nielsen NetRatings, is the No. 43 largest U.S. Web property with 18.2 million unique monthly visitors and is the No. 1 site on the Internet for the Coupons/Rewards category. The publisher network reaches more than 75 million consumers through thousands of Web destinations, including and shoppers’ favorite name brand, grocery and drug store sites.

† Nielsen NetRatings, June 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Down-home" food such as pies and cobblers are increasingly being featured at weddings

AS the wedding season gets into full swing, many brides and bridegrooms are taking a decidedly down-home approach. Bring on the grilled steak, sweet potato fries and Rice Krispie treats (not to mention the checkered tablecloths). It’s enough to have the most sophisticated bride scrambling for her grandmother’s Betty Crocker cookbook.

The trend is most striking in Los Angeles, where the combination of money and show business has traditionally led to weddings as lavishly produced as any period-costume epic. This year, fewer guests will dine under crystal chandeliers or balls made of roses hanging from a gossamer-covered ceiling. Indeed, some Angelenos are taking the homespun ethos a step further, holding their wedding festivities in their own homes, or renting someone else’s.

But authenticity, it seems, comes at a price.

While it stands to reason that a backyard supper or a catered affair at home might be cheaper than a hotel soiree, for many it actually costs just as much or more. Casual food is not necessarily a bargain, as restaurant diners from coast to coast can attest.

“It’s not any cheaper to make a cobbler or a homemade pie than to bake a cake,” said Peggy Dark, a caterer and a co-founder of the Kitchen in Pasadena, Calif.

The difference, it turns out, is mainly appearance, as newlyweds (and their parents) are wary of flaunting their fortunes. “No one wants to be vulgar,” said Susan Holland, a party planner who has arranged weddings in Los Angeles. “No one wants the perception of abundance. A lot of people, their friends don’t have what they used to and they don’t want it thrown in their faces.”

For Shannon Jones of Los Angeles, the new thinking is indeed a sign of these times. She is having her reception — an outdoor supper for 200 — at a 1920s estate in Montecito on July 25. Ms. Jones, 26, and her fiancé, Michael Malik, 31, wanted to have what she called “a big summer backyard dinner,” much like the weekend parties that have become common among her peers.

“More people are giving up dinner at Spago for a casual dinner at home with friends,” she said.

So she skipped the once-popular pots of caviar and lobster tails, and decided to serve childhood favorites instead: grilled hanger steak marinated in herbs and home-baked peach cobbler. (There will be no wedding cake — another traditional must-have many brides are skipping.)

Food will be dished up on platters and passed from person to person; bottles of wine will be put out on the tables so guests can serve themselves. The seating, too, will be picnic style — long tables covered in burlap.

Despite the simple menu and surroundings, though, her wedding will cost more than if she had chosen a hotel. (She declined to say how much, although she described the amount as “sizable.”) What she is hoping for, she said, is an experience that, despite months of preparation, seems unfussy and authentic.

“It doesn’t seem right to have something so elaborate,” Ms. Jones said. “I really want people eating and drinking as much as they want. I don’t want a big show, just the best backyard party ever.”

Ms. Dark, the caterer, said clients are requesting cheaper cuts of meat that can be simply seasoned and grilled — flank and skirt steak, particularly — or fish stews, like bouillabaisse, for beach weddings. And instead of serving mounds of grapes with hunks of Cheddar or Brie, one couple is devoting a whole cheese course to different types of mozzarella. (One creative caterer in Austin, Tex., is serving snow cones.)

This summer, it’s all about the French fry. Ms. Dark fries them twice in a deep fryer, then serves individual portions in paper cones. Wolfgang Puck’s catering team serves them with jalapeño poppers.

Mindy Weiss, a Los Angeles party specialist, asks caterers to fill dishes with fries — including sweet potato strings — which are placed on the tables during dinner. Even in carb-conscious Los Angeles, Ms. Weiss said, “There is nobody who won’t grab a French fry.”

Downgrades have hit décor, too, from crystal chandeliers to material-draped walls. Still, the final tab is often head-slappingly high: The cost of a wedding planned this summer by Ms. Weiss or Jo Gartin, two of Los Angeles’s most sought-after wedding specialists, is as high or higher than last year, or about $150,000 to $200,000, according to the two planners.

Three weeks ago, a client of Ms. Weiss decided to spray-paint his backyard lawn dark green before his daughter’s wedding, to cover up spots where the family’s dogs had urinated. “It looked like brown polka dots,” Ms. Weiss said. That was on top of the $100,000 he spent fixing fountains in the yard.

“I have clients who have a lot of money, but they are more about not looking like they have a lot of money,” said Ms. Weiss, whose celebrity wedding clients have included Gwen Stefani and Heidi Klum. “They think doing something at home or at an estate is going to seem less flashy, less over the top. They don’t want people leaving their party and saying, ‘They spent how much on that wedding?’ ”

Despite the cost, people like being at home — or at least in a homey environment. Last September, Scott Sanders, a producer of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” decided to have his rehearsal dinner for 40 at a friend’s house near Beverly Hills. Both he and his partner, Brad Lamm, were meeting some of each other’s family members for the first time, so they wanted to put people at ease.

“We wanted to do something that felt like a party, something casual,” he said.

Casual indeed. “We did tequila shots,” Mr. Sanders said with a giggle. “Basically we took the idea of doing a Southwest meal and we did it with fresh ingredients. The price was about the same, but the quality was better than at a restaurant. And everyone got along great.”

Was it the free-flowing tequila? Or perhaps the barbecued chicken, grilled vegetables, pizza and brightly colored cupcakes the couple served? Mr. Sanders surmised that the comfort food made everyone, well, more comfortable.

Caterers agree. “I’m all for people dieting,” Ms. Dark said. “But people are not going to want a salad with olive oil on it.”

The same holds true for the afterparty, a staple of the Los Angeles wedding. Once it was a casual get-together at which the bride and bridegroom could kick off their shoes after a long day, but this year it has taken on the importance of the reception itself. Now many have the studied air of a meticulously fashioned spur-of-the-moment affair.

In April, Brittany Messmer was married in Palm Desert, Calif., at a golf club where she had met her husband seven years ago. “My dad gave me and my mom a hard time, saying we decided to have the wedding of the century during a depression,” said Ms. Messmer, 24. She said she sought “simple beauty” in keeping with the recessionary mood.

Of course, “simple” is subjective. The day started with tea sandwiches and cookies before cocktails. Her parents hired a dozen members of the University of Southern California marching band to play a few songs. The evening ended with sparklers and fireworks. Ms. Messmer said the festivities, arranged by Ms. Weiss, cost more than the planner’s average wedding.

Of the 250 people who attended, about 60 stayed for the afterparty. There, as a disc jockey played hip-hop and R & B tunes for three hours, waiters brought out overflowing plates of bite-size burgers, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries (of course) and warm chocolate chip cookies with iced milk shooters.

“They absorb the alcohol,” Ms. Weiss said of the late-night snacks. “I always say to the photographer, ‘Don’t go home.’ ” That’s because it is then that the camera can capture what is perhaps the most authentic moment of the night.

At many weddings, the bride “has dieted for months, and there she is on the floor,” Ms. Weiss said with a husky laugh, “pigging out, a Krispy Kreme doughnut shoved in her mouth.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Even among America's affluent, personal financial trajectories are reshaping consumer spending on groceries and foodservice

Even among America's affluent, personal financial trajectories are reshaping consumer spending on groceries and foodservice, according to "Premium Consumers in the New Economy: Food and Foodservice," an all-new report by leading market research publisher Packaged Facts.

A keener taste for food adventure, elevated health and nutrition consciousness, stronger preferences for organic and natural foods, a heightened sense of ethical consumerism, and a greater propensity for Internet and coupon use are the new normal for a growing number of upscale U.S. consumers. Such psychographic responses to financial change have reshaped-and will continue to transform-consumer spending on food, according to Packaged Facts.

"The economic turmoil that reached crisis level in fall 2008 has been a bull in the china shop of American consumer behavior, even for a market as fundamental as food," says David Sprinkle, author of the report. "Consumers who have been set back or thrust forward financially are more likely to be rethinking what they need, what they want, and how and where best to find it."

Notably, Packaged Facts found that the direction of financial change matters less than the fact of financial change in shaping consumer mindsets. Therefore, premium consumers who have taken a financial hit often align in attitudes and behavior with those on the financial upswing, in contrast to their counterparts whose finances have remained stable.

Packaged Facts defines premium consumers as either single-person households with an income of at least $75,000, or multiple person households with an income of $100,000 or more. The premium cohort accounts for the top 28% of adults, or approximately 61 million out of 222 million adults. As of first quarter 2009, more than twice as many adults in the premium cohort considered themselves worse off (compared with the year before) than considered themselves better off.

Economic turmoil is leveling out the shopping landscape. Premium consumers, though remaining less likely than other consumers to shop at Walmart supercenters, are nevertheless shifting to Walmart at above-average rates. Specific segments of premium consumers (such as Gen Xers) are discovering that fast food, especially in its healthier incarnations, fits well with their current lifestyles. And premium consumers use coupons more, rather than less, than the rest of the population.

"Premium Consumers in the New Economy: Food and Foodservice" analyzes how responses to changing financial circumstances are affecting premium consumer demand for food products and chain restaurant services in the U.S. The report is the latest installment in Packaged Facts' ongoing examination of consumer responses to the shifting economy. Other reports in this series include "American Value Shopper in a Down Economy" (June 2008), "The Couponing Consumer in a Down Economy" (December 2008), and "Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Consumers in the U.S.: DIY Markets in a Down Economy" (June 2009). For further information, visit:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Increased intake of fish may reduce the risk of dementia by about 20%

Increased intake of fish may reduce the risk of dementia by about 20 per cent, according to a new study spanning three continents.

Data from 14,960 people in seven countries indicated that the more fish consumed, the more beneficial the effects, researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“We showed for the first time that a statistically significant trend toward a lower prevalence of dementia among those with higher dietary fish intake in large population-based samples of older people living in 5 countries in Latin America, China, and India,” wrote the researchers led by Emiliano Albanese from King’s College London.

“Our results extend findings on the associations of fish and meat consumption with dementia risk to populations in low- and middle-income countries and are consistent with mechanistic data on the neuroprotective actions of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly found in fish,” they added.

Two earlier studies published in April 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that regular consumption of omega-3-rich food could prevent age-related cognitive decline.

The studies, from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, and the University of North Carolina, stated that only a limited number of studies have looked at the decline in cognitive function that precedes these diseases.

The majority of science for the health benefits of fish and omega-3 consumption has focused on cardiovascular health, but the science for cognitive benefits is growing and almost as compelling as the heart health data.

Transcontinental support

Albanese and his co-workers examined the links between dementia and fish and meat intake in low- and middle-income countries, including China, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest population-based study on this topic to date from either developing or developed country samples,” they said.

Almost 15,000 people aged 65 or over were surveyed. After adjusting for various confounders and pooling the data from all the sites, the researchers report that they observed a dose-dependent inverse association between dementia and fish consumption.

On the other hand, meat consumption was found to increase dementia risk.

“More substantive evidence will come from the incidence phase of our project, in which we will be able to compare the incidence of dementia according to dietary exposure at baseline, and from randomized controlled trials of the effectiveness of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation for the prevention of cognitive decline,” said the researchers.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 bn (€81 bn) in the US alone. The direct cost of Alzheimer care in the UK was estimated at £15 bn (€22 bn).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Deep discounts offered by restaurant chains may prove more detrimental

The deep discounts that restaurant chains have been offering to lure cash-strapped customers out of their kitchens are coming back to bite them.

Restaurant chains ranging from Denny's to Applebee's this year have been giving away food or offering deals to boost traffic slowed by the recession.

But as several chains prepare to report second quarter earnings in coming weeks, Wall Street is bracing for news that price cuts not only ate into profits but failed to bring in as many customers as hoped.

Yum Brands Inc., whose Taco Bell and Pizza Hut brands have been emphasizing low-priced fare, reported Tuesday that earnings in its fiscal second-quarter ended June 13 rose 10%, excluding an acquisition-related gain. But same-store sales in the U.S. declined 1% due to an 8% decline at Pizza Hut, which has been offering discounts for online pizza orders and other deals.

"We've been hearing from a lot of restaurant management teams that discounting wasn't driving the traffic they hoped for," said Jeffrey Bernstein, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

Despite heavy discounts across the retail industry -- prices have been slashed on everything from food to clothing -- consumers have been stubbornly reluctant to open their wallets.

Some bigger chains including McDonald's Corp. and Starbucks Corp. have avoided offering deep price cuts. But even they are boosting promotions. Starbucks has lowered prices on some drinks and McDonald's on Monday began a promotion called "Mocha Mondays," in which customers can get a free sample of iced or hot mocha from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday until Aug. 3.

When Darden Restaurants Inc. reported earnings last month, the owner of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille said it avoided the kinds of discounts and giveaways that many of its peers were engaging in.

We don't know that a lot of folks who did discounting got much for it from a traffic perspective," Darden Chief Executive Clarence Otis then said.

Some chains have tried to turn up the heat in the price wars but have failed to win over franchisees, who see the discounts hurting their profit margins.

Burger King Holdings Inc. wanted to sell its double cheeseburger nationally for $1 for a four-month period, but franchisees last Wednesday voted down the proposal. Prices vary by city, but at a Chicago Burger King, the double cheeseburger sells for $2.69. The chain instead proposed offering the $1 offer for just six weeks, but franchisees on Friday rejected that idea, too.

On Tuesday, the chain said it would mail coupons to 80 million households allowing them to buy the sandwich for $1.

Quiznos has taken a different approach. Rather than just cutting prices of existing menu items, the Denver-based sandwich chain has designed new, lower-priced menu items.

In March, Quiznos introduced the Toasty Torpedo, a 13-inch sandwich on ciabatta bread, for $4. After hearing from consumers who liked it but didn't want so much sandwich, Quiznos on Monday introduced an 8-inch version called the Toasty Bullet, for $3.

In the second week of the Torpedo's launch, sales increased 26%. It will remain on the menu.

"It was a product designed to be sold at $4, which is different than taking an existing menu item and discounting it down," Quiznos Chief Executive Rick Schaden said in an interview. "Discounting items that weren't designed to be sold at lower prices isn't sustainable and will hurt earnings."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some 27% of Americans claim chocolate is their favorite ice cream flavor

Chocolate is the favorite flavor, followed by vanilla and cookie dough/cookies and cream

As summer heats up and Americans turn to ice cream as a way to cool off when the temperatures rise, over one-quarter (27%) say chocolate is their favorite flavor while 22% each say vanilla and cookie dough/cookies and cream. One in five (20%) say butter pecan/Swiss almond and 17% of Americans say their favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip. Lesser numbers say rocky road (14%), strawberry (13%), cherry vanilla (9%), coffee (9%), pistachio (8%) and peanut butter (8%), while 3% of Americans do not eat ice cream.

These are some of the results from The Harris Poll®, a new study of 2,177 U.S. adults surveyed online between June 8 and 15, 2009 by Harris Interactive®.

Different Tastes for Different Generations

When it comes to favorite flavors, there are generational differences. Two in five (41%) Echo Boomers (aged 18-32) say cookie dough/cookies and cream is their favorite flavor followed by 23% who say it is mint chocolate chip. Chocolate is the favorite for the other three generations, but for 24% of Baby Boomers (aged 45-63) and 28% of Matures (aged 64 and older) butter pecan/Swiss almond is the favorite, putting it as second for those two generations. After chocolate (29%), one-quarter (25%) of Generation Xers (aged 33-44) say cookie dough/cookies and cream is their favorite.

But How Do They Eat It?

When it comes to actually eating ice cream, under half (45%) say their favorite way to eat ice cream is in a cup while three in ten (29%) say it is in a cone. Two in five (18%) Americans who eat ice cream say their favorite way is as part of a sundae while just 2% prefer an ice cream sandwich. There is a slight gender difference here. Half of men (50%) say a cup is their favorite compared to 41% of women. But over one-third of women (34%) say they prefer a cone compared to 24% of men who say that.

What’s On Top?

When it comes to favorite toppings, 57% of those who eat ice cream say it is hot fudge while 43% say nuts and 40% say whipped cream. Over one-third of Americans who eat ice cream (35%) say their favorite is caramel, while 31% say it is fruit, such as strawberries or bananas. Just under one in five say sprinkles (18%) are their favorite, 13% say candy bits and 12% say marshmallow while 16% don’t use any toppings on their ice cream.

Again, some generational differences emerge as three in ten Echo Boomers (31%) say sprinkles compared to just 7% of Matures. Half of Matures (50%) say nuts are their favorites while just one-third (34%) of Gen Xers say the same.


This Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States June 8 and 15, 2009, among 2,177 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. Full data tables and methodology are available at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements did not slow memory declines in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements did nothing to slow memory declines in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, but a study in healthy people with slight memory complaints did show promise, U.S. researchers said on Sunday.

The findings from an 18-month, government-backed study suggest taking supplements of docosahexenoic acid, or DHA -- an omega-3 fatty acid -- does not arrest Alzheimer's in people who have already developed the mind-robbing disease.

"These trial results do not support the routine use of DHA for patients with Alzheimer's," Dr Joseph Quinn of Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, who led the study, said in a statement.

But a six-month company study that looked at people whose memory was slipping just a bit found Martek Biosciences Corp's DHA supplements helped restore some of the mental acuity they had lost.

"The benefit is roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger," Martek researcher Karin Yurko-Mauro said in a telephone interview.

Both studies, which are being presented at an international Alzheimer's Association meeting in Vienna, Austria, show the difficulty of treating Alzheimer's disease, which causes memory loss, confusion, the inability to care for oneself and eventually death. It affects 26 million people globally.

Taken together, the findings along with other studies suggest treating Alzheimer's must begin early in the disease process, before sticky amyloid plaques begin forming toxic clumps in the brain.

"It may be that ... by the time you have Alzheimer's disease, it is too late," Dr Ronald Petersen, director of Alzheimer's research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a telephone interview.


Plenty of studies in both mice and people had suggested that a diet rich in DHA -- an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty cold-water fish -- could dramatically slow Alzheimer's disease, and hopes were high for DHA as a possible new treatment.

DHA is naturally found in the body in small amounts, and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain.

In the Alzheimer's study supported by the National Institute on Aging, Quinn and colleagues compared Martek's DHA supplements to a placebo in 402 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Although blood levels of DHA increased, the team saw no change in two widely accepted Alzheimer's tests.

But the study did suggest some benefit in people with Alzheimer's who do not have the ApoE4 gene, which raises their Alzheimer's disease risk. Quinn called the finding "intriguing" because other trials have shown different response rates based on this gene, and said future studies should look at this.

In the six-month Martek study, researchers looked at the effects of a 900 mg daily dose of DHA on 485 healthy people with an average age of 70 who had a mild memory complaint. People in this study were tested using a computer memory test.

At the end of six months, those who took DHA made far fewer mistakes than those in the placebo group. The effect was "almost double," Yurko-Mauro said.

Petersen, a former vice chairman of the Alzheimer's Association, said the study was promising, but needs to be confirmed before healthy people start taking DHA supplements.

"The association is not recommending normal elderly people take DHA based on this study," he said.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ovens increase efficiency

From sanitation and environmental footprint to control and cost savings, bakers look for ovens that maximize efficiency.

Bakers have a wide range of options to choose from when buying a new oven. Across the board, efficiency is the key word in oven advancements, from sanitation to environmental impact to the level of control available
As a result, ovens today are made of stainless steel, which provides increased sanitation and allows for easy wash down. Clean-in-place systems make pressure washing the oven interior easier than ever.

In addition, oven manufacturers are building ovens to be more energy efficient. Bakers increasingly are interested in reducing emissions, using recirculated air and reducing fuel usage to manage operating costs.

Control and automation continue to advance, allowing bakers to track everything from formulation adjustments to the reason behind a breakdown on a line. A sampling of ovens offering efficiency and advancements follows.


Auto-Bake offers the Serpentine® oven, a patented process that provides enormous advantages over preceding technologies. The Serpentine oven provides a consistent bake and a reduced footprint that is one-tenth that of an equivalent tunnel oven, due to the signature S-shaped transport path that traverses multiple levels. Other features include energy efficiency, radiant or thermal heat, flexibility, zone control and humidity control. The oven is modular for future expansion and can be custom built to meet specific product parameters and space requirements.


C.H. Babb offers the air impingement oven, featuring full seam-welded, stainless-steel oven chambers with integrated drains, allowing all interior surfaces to be cleaned with pressure washers or fully-automated clean-in-place systems. Highly efficient, it uses a re-circulated air heating system that significantly reduces operating costs. It provides superior baking control and a quality bake with no flash heat regardless of loading pattern, independent top and bottom heat control, even bake across the full width and precise humidity control throughout the oven. The oven reduces bake times by 25 percent to 35 percent. It is built in pre-assembled modular sections for quick installation and oven expansion.
C.H. Babb Co. Inc.

508 977 0600


Revent offers a complete line of rack and convection ovens for any size bakery. The Revent 724 double rack oven holds one double rack or two single racks. It features a mechanical rack lift, digital computer controls, unique airflow design and high-volume steam system. With optional computer controls for 500 bakery product formulas, Revent's rack ovens are available with single-, double- and four-rack capacities.

800 822 9642


AMF Bakery Systems offers its new Vesta A-70 tray oven for bread and rolls. The Vesta A-70 is a direct-fired gas oven with triple zone burners, far side sensing and an automated DSI system. The Vesta A-70 features include stainless-steel paneling, VFD-controlled exhaust and dual-drive options. High density insulation and precise burner control increases energy efficiency. A new Parallel Link chain monitoring system ensures longer chain life and less downtime. The Product Trac system tracks product versus burner location to eliminate flash heat, resulting in extremely even baking.

AMF Bakery Systems
800 225 3771


The Henry Group's indirect gas-fired Turbo Therm tunnel oven is extremely versatile and energy efficient. The design of the air turbulence system in the bake chamber allows the oven to operate at lower temperatures and provide faster bake times. An integrated catalytic oxidizer uses the latent heat energy of the ethanol oxidation process to improve baking efficiency for a typical reduction of 13 percent to 20 percent of fuel consumption.

The Henry Group
800 356 7591


WernerPfliederer Matador Stone Hearth Deck ovens are constructed with stringent quality standards: strong, robust, even-heating system (no rotations necessary) with quick recovery for 24-hour per day production. NAVIGO controls ensure precise baking and steaming, allowing each baker to achieve the same quality. Multiple loading options are available. WP Matador offers energy saving technology-up to a 30 percent savings compared to similar oven types. More than 60,000 ovens have been installed worldwide. WP Matador is the most trusted name in deck ovens for the professional baker.

Kemper Baking Systems, North American Subsidiary for WP Bakery Group
203 929 6530

Oven trends

With so many oven options, bakers should test the many varieties before making a selection. Suppliers offer test facilities where bakers can compare and contrast the ovens to find the perfect fit for their bakeries.

Control has always been an important factor in choosing an oven. PLCs are doing more than just offering additional control of the oven. Technological advances allow PLCs to manage the entire system and track information, so operators can look back as far as a year and gather information on who changed a formula, or what caused a line to break down and who was responsible.

Management systems also are becoming PC-based, so bakers can dial in and check the oven from a home office, notes Charlie Foran, president, C.H. Babb Co., Raynham, Mass. Management systems can perform formula trending, downtime analysis, preventative maintenance prompting and show critical faults.

AMF offers a Product Trac system to track product in relation to burner location to eliminate flash heat for a more even bake. Using high density insulation and precise burner control through independent flame adjustments increase operating efficiency in ovens, says Larry Gore, AMF Automation Technologies, Richmond, Va.

Environmental efficiency is another trend affecting ovens. “We're doing a lot of work with major corporations doing efficiency tests. We were able to reduce our emissions to 30 percent of the calculated California emissions standard for an oven without a scrubber,” Foran says.

When it comes to gas usage, the amount that can be saved depends on the oven in question. Installing gas meters on ovens allows bakers to monitor the energy used.
Exhaust is another area that can be managed. “With the exhaust systems we're using, we're cutting way down on energy usage by optimizing recirculation and controlling output on the oven exhaust and what goes out of the building,” Foran notes.