Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Self-service kiosks boom, saving time for shoppers and costs for stores

Bryon Wiebold does self-checkout at the supermarket, self-check-in at the airport and self-banking at ATMs.

And last year, when the 43-year-old McKinney resident discovered self-service DVD rentals for $1 at Redbox kiosks, he was all over that, too.

"Anything I can automate, I do for the sake of time," Wiebold said. "It's not that I want people totally eliminated, but I appreciate the option if I'm in a hurry or in a bad mood."

Do-it-yourself customer service continues to creep into everyday life via kiosks, smart-phone applications and the Internet. Consumers are using touch-screens everywhere from supermarket delis to hospital check-in stations. There are even machines that give vision exams and scan feet to produce custom insoles.

Kiosk transactions are expected to surpass $775 billion this year, up from $607 billion in 2008, according to IHL Group, which tracks the self-service industry. The total could hit $1.6 trillion by 2013.

It's not surprising that kiosks are rapidly taking hold in the movie rental business. Six years after the first Redbox test in Denver in 2004, kiosks could account for nearly 30 percent of the U.S. market in 2010, according to NPD Group. Dallas-based Blockbuster Inc. said this month that it would close as many as 960 unprofitable stores by the end of next year and install 10,000 kiosks in their place.

The tipping point for kiosks came in 2001, when Kroger and Home Depot installed self-checkouts, said Lee Holman, lead retail analyst for IHL Group. "After some hand-holding, consumers have embraced it. Now there's a perception ... that 'I can do this quicker.' "

In a 2008 IHL survey, almost 90 percent of consumers said they used self-checkout "even if they don't like it," Holman said.

But it took a long time for Americans to make the leap, starting with ATMs and paying at the pump in the 1980s.

Airports were next. Today, 77 percent of Southwest Airlines passengers obtain their boarding passes online – 13 percent via airport kiosks and 64 percent from southwest.com as they turn their own computers into kiosks.

Hertz first put a kiosk, fluent in several languages, at Orlando International Airport in 2007, and now about 80 percent of the car rental firm's transactions there take place at kiosks. More and more, consumers are coming to prefer self-service, say retail anthropologists.

"People want control, and self-service gives it to them," said Marcia Crossland, who uses her doctorate in engineering psychology to tell kiosk maker NCR Corp. whether people will use a technology.

Kroger has installed 10 kiosks at Dallas-area deli counters. Consumers use a touch-screen to select the product, thickness and quantity, then keep shopping until they're ready to pick up their items. On average, about 400 people per store use the service each week, said Gary Huddleston, a Kroger spokesman.

"It's awesome," said Mary Skyrde, 40, of Irving, a busy mother of three.

For stores, the self-checkouts cut costs, with one associate able to monitor up to six scanning counters, Huddleston said.

To be sure, self-service options are adding to the millions of jobs already lost to automation. The average Blockbuster store has 10 employees, so the mass closures will have an impact, even if the company shifts some workers to other locations.

More broadly, U.S. statisticians forecast that ticket agent employment will rise only 1 percent from 2006 to 2016, even as a growing population travels more. And they expect the number of cashiers to decline 3 percent over the same period as online shopping and self-checkouts increase.

'Human judgment'

United Food and Commercial Workers spokeswoman Jill Cashen said the effect on cashier jobs is gradual.

"As cashiers retire, their positions aren't being filled," she said.

"We believe human judgment can't always be replaced," she said, citing scrutiny over whether minors are using self-checkouts to buy alcohol.

Before companies can benefit from self-service, consumers must accept it. Women tend to lead the way, said Paco Underhill, shopping behavior expert and chief executive of the research firm Envirosell Inc.

"The ATM was embraced by the pink-collar woman as a way to save time over the lunch hour," he said. "Putting a kiosk holding basically the new-release wall of a Blockbuster in the front of the supermarket saves time and money."

Dining next?

Dining self-service counters and tables could be the next frontier.

It's a rare family whose members all want to order from the same vendor at a food court, so NCR is pushing touch-screen tables that let each person order from a different eatery. The family then picks up all the food and pays in one transaction at one place in the food court.

Efficiency aside, some will always prefer people to kiosks, Underhill said. "That face-to-face interaction is a way that many deal with loneliness. Getting a newspaper from a vending machine may not be as satisfying as buying it somewhere that you can say hello."

Some of the new restaurant technology will reduce, but not eliminate, human contact.

Dallas-based TableTop Media is testing a "Ziosk," an on-table device that allows casual-dining patrons to read the news, order dessert and pay with a credit or debit card.

"We're trying to support the server," said Jack Baum, chief executive. "One of the most frustrating things to people is when they want to pay" and the server isn't around.

Almost 900 self-service kiosks selling everything from iPods to skin care products to language instruction software have popped up in airports and malls since 2005.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has 15 ZoomSystems Inc. kiosks, with more coming as the San Francisco company adds categories and brands.

ZoomSystems founder and chief executive Gower Smith said kiosk sales have grown even as airport and mall foot traffic have fallen by up to 25 percent.

Mini-electronics stores

Macy's Inc. uses ZoomSystems' kiosks in about 400 stores to sell electronics, including PlayStation Portable gaming consoles and Sony eBooks. Branded as eSpots, the kiosks put the chain in the electronics business in 28 square feet per store, said Roger Zuberbier, corporate merchant over the kiosk business. Kiosk transactions have risen as overall sales have declined.

But Smith admits that not all merchandise is right for kiosks.

And Underhill, the shopping behavior expert, agrees."It can't just be technology in search of a customer," he said. "Saying, 'We can do this, and isn't it cool?' alone won't work. It's not ready if it doesn't result in money or timesaving."

Staff writer Karen Robinson-Jacobs contributed to this report.


•Check in for a mammogram at Centennial Medical Center in Frisco or Lake Pointe Medical Center in Rowlett.

•Weigh a letter or package and buy postage at the post office.

•Call home or play a video game after a day of soldiering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

•Turn a piggy bank's contents into a gift card at a Coinstar machine.

•Get a free vision exam and eye-care referral at one of SoloHealth's EyeSites.

•Buy movie, ski lift, museum, train and bus tickets.

•Apply for a job at Walmart or Target.

•Print documents at Staples.

•Browse additional, off-premises inventory at some J.C. Penney stores.

•Research and buy a camera at a Macy's eSpot.

•Pay utility bills at 7-Eleven.

•Rent a car from Hertz.

•Reload prepaid phone cards.

•Flash a prescreened passport after entering the country at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

•Buy and load a game card at Dave & Buster's.

•Get directions and a directory at a mall or office building.

•Check out at a grocery store.

•Rent DVDs.

•Get cash or deposit a check at an ATM.

•Pay at the pump for gas.


•Best Buy and Walmart are testing kiosks that will buy used video games.

•Blockbuster plans kiosks that will rent video games and DVDs.

•Sam's Club is testing a kiosk that scans feet and either produces or orders custom insoles.

•Google and OnDemandBooks are teaming up on paperback printing/vending machines.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cupcakes are trendy in the Middle East

As a young student at the multinational Aramco school in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Fadi Jaber, a son of Palestinian refugees, always preferred his American classmates’ cupcakes, brownies and chocolate chip cookies to his mother’s pastries: knafah, qatayef and baklawah.

But when he tasted a vanilla-frosted vanilla cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village in 2004, it changed his life. He quit his marketing job at Unilever and used his savings to enroll in a baking and culinary management program at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

And after an internship at Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea, he was ready for his next move: In July 2007, in Amman, Jordan, he opened Sugar Daddy’s, the shop that brought the cupcake craze to the Middle East.

Cupcake shops have become as ubiquitous as hot dog stands in some American cities, and have spread to Rome; Istanbul; Berlin; Seoul, South Korea; and Sydney, Australia. Now Mr. Jaber has proved that even the Arab world is not immune to such a Western frivolity.

Members of Jordan’s royal family stop by the shop in jeans and sweatshirts, ordering boxes of cupcakes while their bodyguards wait outside. It is rumored that Queen Rania is a fan.

Since December 2008, the shop, which also sells cheesecakes and brownies, has been in the well-to-do neighborhood of Abdoun, which is thick with embassies and upscale restaurants. Mr. Jaber has also opened a Sugar Daddy’s in Beirut and in Dubai.
Most of his clientele (95 percent are women, he estimates) were familiar with cupcakes from living or studying abroad. Others knew them from the TV show “Sex and the City,” which has been shown on regional satellite stations for a few years. One customer asked him to draw lips on every cupcake. When he asked her why, she replied, “Because that’s soooo ‘Sex and the City.’ ”

Nabil al-Rabaa, Mr. Jaber’s partner in Beirut, where the shop opened late last year, said that while most customers had encountered cupcakes before, there was initial confusion. “There were a lot that would say, ‘I’ll take that muffin, and one of those muffins,’ ” Mr. al-Rabaa said. “Please, these are cupcakes!”

Kamal Mouzawak, a food writer and founder of Lebanon’s first farmers’ market, said that the chain appeals to the region’s historic sweet tooth.

“We’re also very keen on imported successes, and following food fashions,” said Mr. Mouzawak, who has a weakness for the carrot cake.

Dalila Mahdawi, 23, a journalist based in Beirut, said that cupcakes were a symbol of prestige. “Arabs who have money like to spend it on luxury items, and these are very creative and carefully presented,” she said.

At about $2 each, the cupcakes are indeed a luxury in Lebanon and Jordan, where per capita gross domestic product is $11,100 and $5,000 respectively, according to The World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Karim Mikati, 20, was one of the few men at the Beirut branch on a recent night. He bought a carrot cake cupcake for himself and a red velvet one to surprise his girlfriend. He said that when he gave cupcakes to his male friends, they were enamored of them. He also comes in for the colored cupcakes.

“They’re amazing,” he added.

Along with such all-American favorites, Mr. Jaber, 31, also caters to regional tastes, offering specialty items like Blind Date, a sticky date cupcake with cream cheese frosting, and Ramadan cupcakes in flavors like pistachio with orange-blossom frosting.

Cupcakes have also bridged the most contentious divide of the Middle East. In the last year, three online cupcake stores opened in Israel, all in Tel Aviv.
Danielle Levy, who emigrated from England, founded I Love Cupcakes
(ilovecupcakes.co.il) with her South African business partner, Hayley Rabie.
“We had both enjoyed cupcakes throughout our lives,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “In the past few years we have seen tasted and enjoyed them more and more with the rise of their fashion — in our own lives, film, fashion and TV.” Chocolate and vanilla are Ms. Levy’s most popular flavors.

Debbie Stein, a founder of TLV Cupcake Company (tlvcupcakes.co.il), also saw a niche in Israel.

“Many of the people living in Tel Aviv know about cupcakes either because they are immigrants from countries where the cupcake is popular or they have spent time abroad and were introduced to the cupcake then,” Ms. Stein, who is originally from Minnesota, wrote by e-mail. “Second, we saw Tel Aviv as the perfect place to introduce such a product because cupcakes are gourmet and fashionable.”

Along with chocolate and vanilla, Ms. Stein offers local flavors such as halva, chocolate citrus, and Pink Velvet, which is red velvet with pomegranate juice instead of food coloring.

Ofer Yeger’s Cupcakes (cupcakes.co.il) also opened in Tel Aviv.

Mr. Jaber, who hopes to expand further, insists his product is immune from anti-Americanism in the region.

“These desserts have such a universal appeal,” he said.
“Not to mention,” he added, “walking into a party with a box of cupcakes in hand is trendy.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

News of the Week

Some 72% of consumers are more concerned with quality than price at the grocery store, while nine out of 10 claim that value and nutrition will be of equal or greater importance when the recession ends, according to an IBM survey. Almost 50% of respondents are shopping at more stores to get the best deal, 35% changed grocery stores to save money, 52% are reducing the volume of food they purchase from the grocery store and 45% of those making less than $20,000 want foods that keep them full longer. Meat, poultry, and coffee top the list of the one item shoppers do not want to give up, but they are willing to cut spending on prepared food and individual-sized beverages. Full Story

The Top 100 pizza chains had U.S. sales of $18.8 billion in 2008, up 2% over 2007, according to Technomic's 2009 Technomic Top 100 Limited-Service Pizza Chains Restaurant Report. The total limited-service pizza industry grossed $29 billion, with growth comparable to the total restaurant industry at 0.4%. Pizza Hut led the Top 100 chains with $5.3 billion in U.S. sales in 2008, up 3.9% over 2007; it also registered unit growth of 1.3%. Domino's Pizza and Papa John's followed with $3 billion and $2 billion in sales respectively. Despite flat sales in 2008 and into 2009 throughout most of the limited-service pizza industry, some pizza chain operators are finding success through a strategy of focused positioning. Full Story

A glatt kosher Subway restaurant opened in North Miami Beach, FL, one of only nine in the entire country. The only other national fast-food company with kosher stores in the U.S. is reportedly Dunkin' Donuts, which has more than 30 Kosher stores. "It's a niche opportunity,'' stated Ron Paul, president of Technomic. "It's a good idea because it gets the brand the good will of the kosher community. I'm surprised that others haven't tried it.'' While the kosher Subway stores are open fewer hours than a typical fast-food restaurant, they typically do sales as much as 25% higher, reported Miami Herald. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

About 48% of consumers claim that it is "very important" or "extremely important" that quickservice restaurants (QSR) participate in green initiatives, according to a a survey from M/A/R/C Research. About 34% of total respondents ranked green initiatives somewhat important, 10% not very important and 8% not at all important. Over half (51%) stated they "prefer" fast-food restaurants that care about green issues but will not go out of their way to patronize them, and 39% stated that green issues have no impact on their QSR choices, reported MediaPost's Marketing Daily. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The U.S. market for children's food and drink will grow in value by 50% from $16.4 billion in 2007 to $26.8 billion within two years, according to a report from New Nutrition Business. The report, Marketing Kids' Healthy Beverages, identifies health drinks as making the biggest gains. Fruit juice, fruit-flavored water and dairy drinks are still areas that provide growth, reported Food Navigator USA. Full Story

West Bloomfield, MI-based brothers Tyler and Chris McVety launched Beyond the Shaker LLC, a line of 27 all-natural salts and salt blends, including Windy City Celery and Hot Habanero, reported The Detroit News. The line, which launched in July, is available in three retail locations. Full Story

Food chemist-turned-chocolatier Hanna Frederick developed a meat flavored chocolate. Ms. Frederick's venison chocolate truffles are made from dark chocolate and ground salty dried meat. The taste is reportedly a smokey opening followed by a strong chocolate taste, then a salami flavor to finish, reported Food Navigator. Full Story

New Product News: McKee Foods launched Little Debbie Chocolate Cupcakes. Full Story ... Windsor Foods Inc. and Jim Beam Bourbon are offering foodservice operators Jim Beam Chopped Barbecue Brisket, which is designed for menu applications from sandwiches to center-of-the-plate, reported Meat & Poultry. Full Story (Free Registration Required) ... Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. N.A. Inc. launched a vending line, featuring specially packaged bananas and fresh-cut fruit and vegetables, reported The Produce News. Full Story

Manufacturer News: German scientists identified two strains to produce amaranth-based sourdoughs, potentially opening the way towards new gluten-free formulations, according to a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, reported Food Navigator. Full Story ... Stevia could soon be adopted by ice cream manufacturers, according to Firmenich and Danisco. The companies stated that their collaboration introduced stevia as a sucrose replacement in vanilla and lemon sorbet ice cream, furthering opportunities for the product, reported Food Navigator. Full Story

About 72% of retailers expect the 2009 holiday season to be the same or worse compared with 2008, according to a survey by consulting firm Hay Group. Over half of retailers (57%) reported plans to reduce their holiday workforce level, reported Bloomberg.com. Full Story

Younger white women with vitamin D deficiencies are about three times more likely to have high blood pressure in middle age than those with normal vitamin levels, according to a study presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, reported Reuters. Full Story

New Store News: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market opened a LEED Gold Certified Store in Cathedral City, CA. Full Story ... Little Caesar Enterprises, Inc. opened a location in Evansville, IN. Full Story ... Smashburger will open a location in Dayton, OH on Oct. 15, while a second University of Dayton location will open later this year. Smashburger will also offer a Buckeye Smashburger designed especially for the Ohio market. Full Story

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cocoa as a dietary supplement may repress inflammatory responses

For several years, researchers have been interested in the value of Theobroma cacao in treating a variety of disorders. A new study presented at the International Headache Society's 14th International Headache Congress hosted by the American Headache Society (AHS) in Philadelphia, has provided the first evidence for the value of cocoa as a dietary supplement in repressing inflammatory responses within the trigeminal ganglia which are thought to play a role in migraine.

"It appears that a cocoa-enriched diet in rats can repress the proteins that are associated with the promotion and maintenance of inflammatory responses such as migraine," said Paul L. Durham, PhD of Missouri State University's Center for Biomedical & Life Sciences, an author of the study.

"Although this is an early animal study, it shows promise in helping researchers understand more about how migraine can be prevented and treated," said Michael Moskowitz, MD, President of the International Headache Society. "So much more research is needed in understanding this devastating disease that robs millions of Americans of a productive quality of life." Some 36 million Americans suffer with migraine, more than either diabetes or asthma.

More than 400 scientific papers and posters are to be presented during the IHC/AHS meeting which is expected to draw some 1,200 migraine specialists and scientists from around the globe. The meeting is the world's largest professional conference on migraine and headache-related diseases.

International Headache Society

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The total number of in-home snack occasions are projected to increase 19% by 2018

The NPD Group, a leading market research company, has been continuously tracking eating habits in the U.S. since 1980, and now in a new study, the company forecasts what Americans will be eating in the future, and it looks like they’ll be eating a whole lot of snacks. In its new report, A Look into The Future of Eating, NPD finds that in-home snacking ─ morning, noon, and night, but especially morning ─ will outpace population growth over the next decade.

According to NPD’s A Look into The Future of Eating, by 2018, the total number of in-home snack occasions are projected to increase 19 percent over 2008 annual eatings. Morning snacking is forecasted to increase by 23 percent, and in-home afternoon snacking is expected to increase by 20 percent over eating occasions in 2008. Evening snacking is forecasted to increase by 15 percent over the next ten years compared to 2008.

“The strong projected growth in snacking is both a reflection of the growth in new types of snack foods as well as an evolution of how consumers eat,” says Ann Hanson, author of A Look into The Future of Eating and director of product development at NPD. “Many consumers are eating ‘on the go’ and there are more and more foods available to meet this need.”

A Look into The Future of Eating evaluates and forecasts 160 different food and beverage-related behaviors, attitudes, personal characteristics, and food groups based on the eating and drinking habits of individuals as they age, as one generation replaces another, and expected population changes in the U.S. The report also provides a preview of macro-consumption patterns and behaviors in the year 2018.

Other insights from the report include:

• Convenience, which could mean reducing or eliminating the amount of food preparation, eating more restaurant meals or versatile and ready-to-eat foods, will be a key motivator in what, how, and where Americans eat over the next decade.
• The forms of foods that are expected to under-pace population growth are frozen breakfast foods, canned ingredients, and completely homemade dinner foods.
• While the overall incidence of individuals being overweight or obese is expected to be flat over the next ten years, the likelihood of being overweight/obese increases with age among adults.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

U.S. discount, grocery and restaurant chains are hiring a larger percentage of job applicants

U.S. discount, grocery and restaurant chains are hiring a larger percentage of job applicants than seven months ago, signaling confidence the economy may be improving, software maker Kronos Inc. said.

Kronos analyzed the 8.9 million job applications received by 68 retailers in the first seven months of the year. In July, 2.99 of every 100 applications resulted in a hire, compared with 2.75 in January, a three-year low, the Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based company said today in a statement.

“We are seeing a turnaround that reflects an increase in confidence by individual managers,” Robert Yerex, Kronos’s chief economist, said Sept. 4 by telephone from Beaverton, Oregon. “It may take quite a bit longer to come back than it did to drop off.” This is the first time Kronos has publicly issued a monthly retail labor index.

The pace of hiring of cashiers, merchandise stockers and other frontline workers in July was less than half that of October 2006, Kronos said. U.S. unemployment rose to a 26-year high of 9.7 percent in August, according to the Labor Department.

Retailers fired 10,000 people last month while all U.S. employers trimmed payrolls by 216,000 after slashing 276,000 jobs in July.

Closely held Kronos makes software that businesses use to process hiring, payroll and scheduling and manage employees. It had 2008 revenue of about $715 million, said Steve Earl, 43, the director of product marketing.

Discount chains, department stores, grocery stores, restaurants and home-improvement stores use the company’s products, said Earl, who is also based in Beaverton. He wouldn’t identify individual customers.

3-Year High

Retail hiring reached a three-year high in October 2006, when U.S. unemployment was at a three-year low, according to Kronos. By early 2008, employee retention as tracked by Kronos began to rise as workers had less opportunity to change jobs in the tightening labor market, the company said.

The July hiring data suggest “the economy will stabilize and gradually begin to pick up,” Yerex, 50, said. “Considering this is a leading indicator of the economy, the same holds true for the economy itself.”

The Kronos index “provides insight into a very specific piece of the labor pool: frontline retail labor,” Adam York, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a Sept. 4 phone interview. “The question is how applicable is their data to the broader economy.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fiber obtained from the waste of olive mills may mimic the effects of fat

Fibre obtained from the waste of olive mills may mimic the effects of fat, and improve the product’s cooking properties, says a new study with low-fat potential.

Greek and Swedish researchers found that the olive mill waste fibre, in combination with carrot fibre and potato starch led to fat reductions of between two and five grams compared to a lean meatball, report researchers from Lund University and the Technical University of Crete.

With obesity levels rising across the globe, consumers are increasingly seeking out low-fat and low-calorie versions of their favourite foods. As a result reduction of fat in products is a growing area of interest to food manufacturers.

“A potential additive should not only improve the water-holding properties of the meatballs, but it should also provide palatability to the final product as fat, being replaced, often contribute to the taste of the product,” explained the researchers in the journal LWT – Food Science and Technology.

“To the best of our knowledge, there are no reports on the use of fibres recovered from olive mill waste as a fat replacement in meat products and therefore this is the objective of this study,” they added.

Mediterranean meatballs

The researchers, led by Charis Galanakis, prepared a number of meatballs containing lean meats, with and without potato starch, and in the presence of different types of fibre, including dietary fibre from an alcohol insoluble residue (AIR), of olive mill wastewater, and a water soluble, alcohol insoluble residue (WSAIR). A fatty meat recipe was also prepared for comparison.

According to their findings, despite good fat reduction of the AIR, the water-holding capacity, a measure of the succulence of the product, was poor. “Thereby, AIR material could not in the present form be considered as a potential fat replacement in meat products,” said the researchers.

On the other hand, the WSAIR exhibited good water-holding capacity as well as a reduction in the uptake of oil during frying, they said. Addition of the carrot fibre improved both measures further.

“WSAIR could be utilized together with carrot fibers as additive in low fat meatballs, since it was able to improve the cooking properties of the product, by restricting the oil uptake and thereby giving rise to meatballs with sustained reduced fat content,” wrote Galanakis and his co-workers.

“Further investigations are needed in order to purify WSAIR material with a purpose of improving its water-holding properties,” they concluded.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In an effort to boost sales, dozens of independent and chain eateries are turning to Twitter and Facebook to generate brand buzz

Restaurants tease diners with deals, contests using Twitter.

When Mona Shah started her public relations career more than a decade ago, she spent half her time stuffing press releases into envelopes.

"We had a special folding machine," laughs Shah, publicist and founder of Moxxe PR in Laguna Beach. "We were moving at a much slower pace then."

Today, Shah is online nearly round-the-clock using Twitter and Facebook to promote restaurant clients such as Daddy Cakes of Newport Beach and Lucca Café in Irvine.
She's not alone.

With the restaurant industry facing its worst downturn in decades, dozens of independent and chain eateries are turning to Twitter to generate cheap brand buzz. Short messages, aka Tweets, tease diners with instant freebies, discounted dining events and menu makeovers.

"The Internet is a crowd of people where everyone is yelling, and to be heard is a matter of who has got the biggest megaphone," said Shah, who recently spoke to the Orange County Restaurant Association about the power of Twitter.

In June, Twitter had 21 million unique visitors, a 1,928 percent jump from the same month last year, according to Nielsen Ratings. Restaurants are also taking advantage of Facebook, which allows businesses to create "fan" pages.

Both social media sites are revolutionizing the way diners consume information — and chains are scurrying to make themselves heard.

"Twitter allows El Pollo Loco to build relationships with consumers through direct two-way conversations, with contests, idea sharing and deal opportunities," said Julie Weeks, spokeswoman for Costa Mesa-based El Pollo Loco.

Since joining Twitter in late March, El Pollo Loco (@elpollolocoinc) has gained 2,000 followers. Weeks uses Twitter to highlight El Pollo Loco trivia, as well as host contests, where winners get the ultimate reward: free food.

The result: fans closely watch El Pollo Loco's updates — creating instant brand buzz.

Other local restaurants and chains using Twitter include Taco Bell, Bogart's in Seal Beach, BJ's Restaurants, Wienerschnitzel, Kean Coffee, Baja Fresh, Johnny Rockets and Sprinkles Cupcakes in Corona del Mar. (LIST: Rating Restaurants on Twitter)
Like El Pollo Loco, Sprinkles uses Twitter to promote new menu items and freebies. The cupcake chain's "whisper" Tweets have become especially viral. About twice a week, Sprinkles will post a code word on Twitter such as "raspberry" or "peanut butter." Customers (typically the first 25 in the door) are instructed to whisper the secret word to get a free cupcake.

Twitter is "very efficient because it provides immediate results. Within a minute of posting, we get people in our store redeeming our promotions," Sprinkles Cupcakes said in a statement.

Elise Wallace of Orange said she looks out for the Sprinkles giveaways even though she's "never in the area to take advantage."

"I wonder if the same people get them," said Wallace, who pens the Cupcake Activist blog.

Like other Twitter foodies, Wallace follows the SprinklesMobile. The van, which launched in the spring, travels the streets of Los Angeles hawking the chain's famous $3 gourmet cupcakes.

Sprinkles uses Twitter to blast its locations. Stops in Orange County are coming soon.

Irvine-based Taco Bell also joined Twitter this summer to promote its Taco Bell Truck.

"We drive around the country, handing out free Taco Bell tacos to people. What's not to like?" boasts Taco Bell's Twitter site.

Taco Bell has logged nearly 6,000 fan followers since signing up for Twitter in June. Company spokesman Will Bortz said Twitter is an efficient, speedy way to build hype about the brand.

Still, social media networks can be demanding, and potentially risky ventures if not used wisely, marketing experts say.

As a micro-blogging tool, Twitter's most loyal users have an endless appetite for updates that range from the mundane ("I'm going to work") to insider-only teases ("free tacos today for Jack in the Box fans")

"It's time-consuming to manage pages, and stay on top of it all," said Shah, who acts as ghost writer for her restaurant clients.

Some chains also question if jumping on Twitter is worth the time. Nielsen data shows that more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month.

That's one reason Lake Forest-based Del Taco is gun-shy about getting on the Twitter bandwagon.

Del Taco spokeswoman Barbara Caruso said the Mexican-fast-food chain "communicates directly with customers" via its website, where customers can sign up to receive emails about special promotions, discounts and other Del Taco news.

Once the fast-food chain can determine "ways to best leverage Twitter" for long-term gain, Del Taco could change its mind, she said.

Restaurant marketing expert Randy Lopez said it's smart to have a game plan.
"People sign up (to follow restaurants) because they want to be part of a restaurant's inner circle," said Lopez, chief marketing officer at Manhattan Beach-based G&M Plumbing.

If restaurants join Twitter, and remain inactive — meaning, no Tweets for days or weeks — then fans lose interest, he said.

"You have to stick around, and have a conversation," said Lopez. "There has to be a plan."

Baja Fresh is a good example.

In late July, the Cypress-based chain posted a Facebook message promoting a one-day only burrito giveaway. The promotion eventually landed on Twitter and various food blogs dedicated to deals and freebies.

Demand wound up surging beyond the chain's expectations, causing many diners to be turned away. At 2 p.m., on the day of the giveaway, Baja Fresh posted this message on its Facebook site: "We would like to apologize to those who were unable to participate in this promotion. We realize that we underestimated the kind of response we would receive for the Free Burrito Coupon."

Before the day started, the chain planned to giveaway 1,800 free burritos. But the final tally was 50,000. The event was a valuable learning lesson, Baja Fresh President Chuck Rink said.

"We have learned about the power of a relatively new social media," Rink said.
On the upside, the chain gained hundreds of new followers to its social media sites. Now the trick is to keep them engaged.

"We now have a strong foundation of followers on both Twitter and Facebook and look forward to the continuous growth of our online community," Rink said.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Between Q2 2008 and Q2 2009, Hispanics made about 9% fewer trips on a total U.S. all-outlet basis

How badly has the U.S. economy battered Hispanic families? The answer is not so simple. Two opposing schools of thought contend that, on one hand, Hispanics are less affected since this recession is largely the result of a credit crisis and substantial losses on Wall Street, and Hispanics were under-leveraged in terms of debt and, on average, had less money in equity securities.

Another set of observers believe Hispanic households have been particularly hard hit by shrinking housing starts and an ailing contracting service industry. Their high level of unemployment hovers several percentage points above the national average and did not decline in July along with that of other ethnic groups.

As is often the case, however, the truth resides somewhere in between. Sundry metrics, including unemployment rates, credit scores, GDP and confidence levels, are regularly used to gauge the overall state of the economy. Markets too, can be effective yardsticks. Yet how Hispanic consumers personally perceive their circumstances, and how they respond, may well provide the most compelling insights.

The new reality

If, as the old adage suggests, perception is indeed reality, economic recovery for Hispanic families is still on shaky ground. Earlier this year, Nielsen conducted a survey among both English- and Spanish-speaking members of its Homescan Hispanic Panel to better understand how they were dealing with hard times. When asked about their current financial conditions, more than half replied they were somewhat or much worse off than before—almost identical to the population as a whole.

Surprisingly, unemployment did not seem to be a major source of concern. Despite steadily climbing rates through most of the first half of the year, not quite two-thirds of Hispanic respondents (63%) were very or somewhat secure about keeping their jobs. Though lower than the 72% of non-Hispanics who shared the same sentiment, it revealed an unexpected display of confidence.

On the other hand, Hispanic workers were not as nearly as sanguine about their ability to retire. In fact, 76% of respondents were apprehensive about their current levels of retirement savings. That squares with a recent study from Ariel

Investments LLC and Hewitt Associates LLC, which showed that Hispanics are less likely than others to invest in their company 401(k) plans. Those who do, invest only 6.3% of their salaries, as opposed to Asian and White employees who put in 9.4% and 7.6%, respectively. It’s important to note that the lower saving and retirement fund levels for Hispanics may be a function of age since Hispanics, on average, are younger in than non-Hispanics.

Additionally, Hispanics were far more likely to borrow mortgages in the sub-prime market as compared to non-Hispanics. At the peak of the sub-prime market, the number of loans sold to Hispanics increased about 170% compared to 110% for Whites and 120% for African Americans, according to research by the Pew Hispanic Center. Interest rates on home loans to many Hispanics were also nearly 2.5 points higher than a conventional mortgage. By the end of 2008, one in ten Hispanic households had fallen behind on their payments, and roughly 3% reported receiving foreclosure notices. While foreclosures are not tracked by ethnicity, insights can be gained by looking at the geographies most affected. Places like California, Florida and Arizona were hit very hard in terms of foreclosures—each represent top Hispanic markets.
If you can eat it, you need it

Whether Hispanics are truly faring better or worse than the rest of the population, they are plainly concerned about their situations—just like everyone else. For example, 94% of Hispanic consumers and 93% of non-Hispanic consumers said they worry about the rising cost of food. Moreover, they are reluctant to make major purchases of cars, houses, appliances or vacations. Their homes have become the focus of many of their activities, which means eating out less often. Most important, they are going back to basics and becoming increasingly more discerning about what they need versus what they want.

Nowhere is this more evident than in tracking trips to the store. Between Q2 2008 and Q2 2009, Hispanics made about 9% fewer trips on a total U.S. all-outlet basis. On the upside, they spent around 2% more per visit. But the cutbacks were principally directed at non-food purchases. This reflects a clear distinction between what is considered “nice to have” versus “must have”; the latter consisting primarily of edible products. The largest declines are occurring in non-edible categories like general merchandise, non-food, and health & beauty aids. Departments such as dry grocery, produce and meat are all fairing much better.

This shift in behavior has largely favored Bodegas, the neighborhood grocery markets where the number of trips increased 4%, and spending-per-trip rose 17% over the course of a year. These small convenience stores have also benefited significantly from an upsurge in purchases of perceived deals—an increase of 109%. Overall, Hispanics have increased purchasing on deal by 16%, outpacing deal growth among non-Hispanics shoppers (11%).

Cutting back

Another beneficiary of the current downturn has been private label or store brands. Here too, food products have had the most pronounced growth, though some categories—such as carbonated soft drinks—have experienced declines. But the prevailing trend, among Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike, underscores an ongoing return to basics.

What is more, this momentum is likely to continue, especially if the economy worsens. When presented with that possibility and asked how they would respond, the Hispanic Homescan panel members clearly preferred to stick with the essentials, choosing to sacrifice least on childcare, education, housing and healthcare. The same priorities were shared by Non-Hispanics, albeit the latter were even less inclined to cut back in these categories.

Assuming, however, the worst is over, how long before Hispanic families are convinced the economy is actually improving? Probably not before they see at least an uptick in closely watched benchmarks such as employment and home prices. But with fewer adjustments to make than other groups once recovery takes hold, chances are better that Hispanic spending levels will return to where they once were and continue their previous growth patterns. Time will tell.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Beauty foods’ growing in popularity

Are people starting to eat and drink their way to a better-looking self? Mintel Beauty Innovation thinks so as the crossover between food and beauty is increasingly apparent. Global food and drink product launches with a ‘beauty enhancing’ claim increased by a staggering 306% from 2005 to 2008.

“One in five US women between the ages of 18 and 25 are interested in trying beauty functional beverages,” notes Taya Tomasello, senior beauty analyst at Mintel. “These numbers really point to an opportunity within this new segment in the beauty industry.”

While beauty food and drink products have seen significant growth, overall global food and drink product launches have only seen a 35% increase during the same timeframe. This data speaks to the impact ‘beauty foods’ are having on the market. In addition, already in 2009, nearly 300 food and drink product launches with a ‘beauty enhancing’ claim have been launched, surpassing the total number launched in all of 2008.

Kracie Foods, based out of Japan, recently launched fruit snacks consisting of dried mangoes, pineapples, papaya and cranberries coated with collagen. It targets women in their 20s to 40s who are conscious of their skin health. Another new beauty product launched in Australia is Tea Tonic’s Complexon Tea that claims to help “revitalize each cell of the body within, and is a positive step towards achieving beautiful luminous skin and a fabulous complexion.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

News of the week

Foodservice sales in 2010 will drop 3.8% on a nominal basis, which includes the assumption of 2.5% in menu-price inflation, according to Technomic's 2009-2010 U.S. Forecast and Outlook. The outlook for 2010 includes the continuation of numerous challenges for restaurant operators, including a still depressed consumer and a more costly regulatory environment, and sales are expected to fall again, although at a lower rate than in 2009, reported Nation's Restaurant News. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The trust that holds voting control of Hershey Co. hired former Goldman Sachs & Co. banker Byron Trott as well as banking firm Watch Hill Partners to advise on a possible bid for Cadbury, according to Reuters. Full Story

Coca-Cola remained the No. 1 brand for the ninth year in a row in BusinessWeek and Interbrand's annual ranking of the Best Global Brands. McDonald's (No. 6), Pepsi (No. 23) and Nescafe (No. 25) rounded out the top 25. Full Story

Some 280 Albertsons stores in California and Nevada will carry Lifeway Foods, Inc.'s Kefir beverage. Full Story

NXT Nutritionals Holdings, Inc. is shipping SUSTA Natural Sweetener to Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. Full Story

Parry Sound, Ontario-based organic jam producer Crofter's Organic made a complete conversion to organic cane sugar. Full Story

No longer solely a mainstay of Indian restaurants and ethnic grocery stores, naan, the clay oven bread, is now sold at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other grocery chains, reported Chicago Tribune. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Urban and rural schools throughout the country are planting gardens and serving what is grown in the cafeteria. One example is Great Barrington, MA-based Monument Mountain Regional High School's Project Sprout. In two years, the school's student-run garden grew from 3,500 to 11,000-sq. ft.; there are 24 fruit trees and 75 raspberry plants and all crops are served on the school's menu, reported The Boston Globe. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The San Francisco Chronicle's Taster's Choice panel rated and reviewed various brands of almond butter. The winners include Living Tree Community Foods and Riverview Orchard, both available at Rainbow. Justin's Natural, 365 Organic and Non-Organic and MaraNatha Organic, also named to the list, are available at Whole Foods. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate is now sourcing its cocoa from two UTZ certified sustainable cocoa cooperatives located in the Ivory Coast. Full Story

Croatia imports a significant portion of the food it consumes. Slow but continued economic reforms as a result of the EU accession process and growing tourism make Croatia a significant, long-term importer of certain U.S. food products, including seafood, snack foods, pork, pet food, wine, tree nuts, rice and beef. Croatian consumers are strongly anti-biotech, noted FAS. FAS Report

Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Life Savor Series and Bon Appetit will present a second at-sea experience focusing on cooking and dining. Full Story

Restaurant Roundup: Marble Slab Creamery introduced shakes under the Club Marble moniker. Flavors include Irish Cream, Espresso and Island Coffee. Full Story ...

Golden Corral is testing four pork barbecue items at its restaurants in North Carolina and South Carolina. Products include North Carolina pulled pork, San Francisco Tangy BBQ Riblets, Vermont Sweet Split Ribs, and Kansas City Full-Rack BBQ Ribs, reported Pork Magazine. Full Story

Eating more whole-grain foods may help reduce body fat in older adults, according to a study published in Journal of Nutrition. People who consumed the highest amounts of whole grains had about 2.4% less total body fat and 3.6% less abdominal fat than those who ate the least, reported HealthDay. Full Story

Cereal retained the No. 1 spot on the Top Ten list of the most popular online coupon categories

Cereal retained the No. 1 spot on the Top Ten list of the most popular online coupon categories printed in August, according to Coupons.com, the leading network for digital coupons. Cereal has held the top position for six of the first eight months of 2009.

Sweet Snacks took the No. 2 position from Yogurt, which slipped to No. 3. Refrigerated Dough leaped into the Top Ten to the No. 4 position. This category includes refrigerated products such as biscuits and rolls, as well as cookie dough.

Salty Snacks, Dessert Items, and Nutritional Snacks ranked No. 5, 6, and 7, respectively. Dinners/Entrees slipped one position to No. 8, while Cookies slipped two positions to No. 9. The Spreads category, which includes products like jelly and cream cheese, entered the Top Ten for the first time in 2009, taking the No. 10 position.

“Cereal remains a top category for coupon users and has been the most popular category for six of the first eight months of this year. In fact, consumers have saved literally millions of dollars on cereal during August alone with coupons from Coupons.com,” said Kim Danger, Family Savings Expert for Coupons.com. “Savvy shoppers should maximize savings by stocking up on cereal — and other items that have a long shelf life — when they have coupons and room in their pantries. Cereal is a great all-day snack item and fits in a lunch box too.”

Value of Savings Printed in August More Than Doubles

Digital coupons continue to grow in popularity. The value of savings printed by consumers in August on Coupons.com and the Coupons.com publisher network more than doubled compared to the same month in 2008.

“Consumers continued to thirst for savings during the summer months as the value of coupons printed off of our network more than doubled in August compared to last year,” said Steven Boal, CEO of Coupons.com.

According to Nielsen NetRatings, Coupons.com is the 53rd largest U.S. Web property with 16.4 million unique monthly visitors †. The Coupons.com publisher network reaches more than 75 million consumers through thousands of Web destinations, including Coupons.com and shoppers’ favorite name brand, grocery and drug store sites.

Studies and excerpts from Nielson ratings

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fat from Food Tricks Brain Signals

Fat molecules cause the brain to send messages to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore the appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin, hormones involved in weight regulation, according to a new study from UT Southwestern Medical Center. Researchers also found that one particular type of fat—palmitic acid that is found in butter, cheese, milk and beef—is particularly effective at triggering this mechanism.

“Normally, our body is primed to say when we’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always happen when we’re eating something good,” said Dr. Deborah Clegg, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of the rodent study appearing in the September issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“What we’ve shown in this study is that someone’s entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin,” Clegg said. “Since you’re not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”

Clegg said that in the animals, the effect lasts about three days, potentially explaining why many people who splurge on Friday or Saturday say they’re hungrier than normal on Monday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

High-Fiber Pasta Solutions

Adding fiber to pasta seems a natural fit, but it can be challenging. There's an art to achieving the right moisture balance and pliability, and the dough must survive extrusion through the die for an entire production run. Consistency is key.

It’s important to remember two things when preparing high-fiber pasta, notes Jit Ang, executive vice president, International Fiber Corporation, North Tonawanda, NY. “When fiber is added at a significant level to the raw pasta formulation, the protein content of the formulation will be reduced,” he says. “The product developer may have to use additional protein, normally wheat gluten, to supplement this formulation. Secondly, high-fiber pastas tend to cook slightly different from regular pasta. Cooking time may be shorter for the same al dente texture with high-fiber pastas. In addition, the amounts of water absorbed by high-fiber pastas tend to be significantly more than regular pasta.”

Pasta basics

Semolina flour from durum wheat makes the benchmark by which we judge most pasta. It has 3.9 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams. Cooked semolina pasta has 1.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

A key attribute of durum wheat is its high protein content, a minimum of 10.5%. The ideal range of protein in pasta flour is 12% to 16%. Durum wheat is also preferred for pasta making because it has strong gluten qualities.

Lower moisture is desirable in pasta making. Durum wheat has a maximum of 14.5% moisture.

Substituting whole-grain flours is an obvious way to boost fiber content. The key seems to lie in choosing milder flavor profiles and finely milled flours. Added gluten helps maintain dough strength for extrusion. The water in the formula will also require adjustment.

Typical whole-grain flours darken pasta color and coarsen texture. This may not win over those who grew up on typical enriched macaroni or spaghetti products.

Dean Lustig, general manager of business development, Philadelphia Macaroni, Philadelphia, has noticed less stratification when using finely milled whole-grain white wheat flour (13.7% protein, 12.2% fiber, 10.3% moisture) to increase fiber content. Absorption becomes less an issue. Extrusion difficulties are reduced. The finished product is more similar to typical semolina-based pasta.

For those willing to accept whole-grain flavor and color in the finished product, the addition of ground flaxseed can boost fiber while adding healthful omega-3s. Chad Boeckman, director of sales, Enreco, Inc., Sheboygan Falls, WI, notes that it’s easy to achieve a fiber claim when adding ground flaxseed. “Flax is 28% fiber by weight,” he says. Of this, “10 grams is soluble fiber and 18 grams is insoluble.”

Wheat fiber additions

“Most insoluble fibers are suitable for use as a fiber supplement in pasta,” says Ang. “However, the most-popular and common fiber used for pasta fortification is wheat fiber, since pasta is normally made from 100% wheat. Soluble fibers are not as common or suitable, since the traditional pasta cooking process will lead to soluble fiber loss.”

Minimal flavor contribution is an advantage of using fibers in high-fiber pasta. “Commercial wheat fibers normally used for this application will not have any effect on flavor,” Ang says. “Texture may be affected, but if proper developmental and cooking procedures are used, then the effect is again minimal. The color of the final product may be affected, depending on the choice of fiber ingredient. In addition, the choice of the wheat flour used—whole grain vs. processed wheat flours—may also be important. If a darker whole-grain wheat flour is used, the addition of lighter-colored fiber additives may shift the hue of the final pasta from a darker to a lighter shade.”

Besides adding fiber, wheat fiber adds bulk to create reduced-calorie pasta. Wheat fiber can aid in extrusion by reducing dough and cooked-pasta stickiness. A typical formulation contains 52.6% durum wheat flour, 14.5% short-fiber-length wheat fiber, 0.5% long-fiber-length wheat fiber, 2.0% gluten and 20.0% water. Whole eggs, guar gum and egg flavor complete the mix.

Beyond traditional fiber

The developer willing to look beyond ordinary wheat-based ingredients has several options in the fiber toolkit. Charles Werstack, food applications manager, ADM Specialty Food Ingredients, Decatur, IL, recommends adding digestion-resistant maltodextrin to pasta to achieve a “good source of fiber” claim. “A typical serving size of pasta is 56 grams,” he says. Adding just over 5% of the ingredient “will provide 2.5 grams to 3 grams of fiber per serving. Some pastas may need gluten added back to the formula.” The ingredient can be labeled as “digestion-resistant maltodextrin” or “maltodextrin.”

Resistant starch “is easy to use as a drop-in replacement for flour or other cereal-based ingredients in pasta,” says Pashen Black, marketing communications manager—Americas, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL. “It can be added in the same manner as flour, or it can be blended with other dry ingredients.” Unlike soluble fiber, it “produces a cohesive and non-sticky pasta dough suitable for typical processing.” Levels of 5% to 10% of the dry-pasta blend can achieve a ‘good source’ claim, and 10% to 15% an ‘excellent source' claim, she says.

Because this resistant starch “is, by design, more process-stable, it can be used in products that may undergo high-heat or high-shear processes with less loss of fiber during processing than other resistant starches,” says Black. Therefore, this ingredient is suited for pasta to be used in canned or retorted products.

After retorting, pasta containing the resistant starch retains about 60% of the fiber, notes Black. “At the same time, the same textural firmness, or ‘bite,’ of the cooked pasta is achieved as traditional pasta,” she says. “Low water holding capacity allows the al dente texture of pasta to be maintained after cooking.” No fiber is lost when pasta is cooked via traditional, stovetop means.

This starch contains 1.7 kcal per gram dry solids, yielding fewer calories. Unlike traditional starches, this product resists digestion and acts as a dietary fiber. Digestive health is improved, because it acts as a prebiotic fiber and stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.

Polydextrose adds soluble fiber to pasta without contributing sweetness. A neutral-tasting polydextrose contributes 1 calorie per gram, notes Donna Brooks, Danisco, regional director, sweeteners NAFTA, Danisco, Tarrytown, NY, and “in pasta, it can be added up to 6% of flour by weight and won’t impact the texture of the finished product.” Fiber loss during cooking is minimal. Testing has confirmed 95% remaining in the finished pasta.

One study compared extruded spaghetti made with durum flour and wheat noodles containing various levels of this polydextrose. All test products processed very similar to the control doughs. Depending on the level of polydextrose in the formula, only minor water adjustments were required. Gluten development was not affected.

Inulin and oligofructose all-natural chicory fiber extracts are used for both their nutritional benefits and technological advantages in pasta, noodles, instant cup noodles and filled pasta. The functionality is dependent on chain length and chain length distribution.

Health-promoting benefits “extend from fiber enrichment and good digestive health to improved calcium absorption and healthy body-weight management,” says Joseph O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing, BENEO-Orafti, Inc., Morris Plains, NJ.

Chicory inulin has 1.5 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for starch and flour. In addition, inulin is low glycemic. “The fiber content of inulin and oligofructose products range from 90% to 99% fiber and can be used to satisfy nutrient-content claims in pasta products ranging from a ‘good source of fiber’ to an ‘excellent source of fiber,’” says O’Neill. During the cooking process, some inulin fibers may solubilize and leach out of the pasta. The company recommends the long-chain-length products as the most suitable for pasta production,” he says, including a new form of long-chain inulin designed for high-heat processing and suitable for extrusion.

It’s also important when using inulin-enriched pasta to reduce the cooking time about 10% compared to traditional durum pasta. “There is little or no influence on water uptake during cooking,” O’Neill points out. An additional benefit is the reduction of extrusion power during pasta processing. The finished pasta maintains excellent shape and formed stability.

For tortellini, ravioli and other similar filled pastas, the addition of chicory inulin and oligofructose can “influence the consistency of the filling,” says O’Neill. Native inulin can improve the mouthfeel and texture of these fillings and may partially replace more-expensive cheese powders. The long-chain-length inulin is less suitable for fillings because the mouthfeel becomes drier.

Some 81% of the units purchased using manufacturer coupons came from 19% of U.S. households

Coupon enthusiasts are the driving force behind exploding redemption rates, according to new findings from Nielsen’s Homescan.

Eighty-one percent of the units purchased using manufacturer coupons came from just 19 percent of U.S. households during the twenty-six week period ended June 27, 2009.

The most avid users, called “coupon enthusiasts,” are households that purchased 104 or more items using manufacturers’ coupons. The 10 percent of shoppers that fall into this category accounted for 62 percent of manufacturers’ coupon units. They also accounted for 16 percent of total unit sales making them a very attractive and important consumer target.

Still, the recession is driving heavier coupon usage among all types of consumers as many lighter users have become heavier users. After three quarters of declines in 2008, coupon redemptions spiked 10 percent in Q4 2008, per Inmar. This was followed by a 17 percent increase in Q1 2009 and a 33 percent surge in Q2. This tally includes FSI’s, on-pack offers and Internet coupons but excludes retailer coupons.

Inmar also reported that more and more consumers are using coupons for both food and non-food items. In Q4 2008 non-food redemptions were -3 percent. However, in the second quarter of this year redemptions for non-food items were up 46 percent. Food coupon redemptions were +21 percent in Q4 2008 and increased 27 percent in the second quarter of 2009.

“Without question, coupon usage is undergoing a renaissance,” said Todd Hale, Senior Vice President, Consumer and Shopping Insights for Nielsen. “More consumers are looking for value and lower prices as retailers and manufacturers are distributing more coupons and making it easier for consumers to leverage technology to access coupons they want with less effort.” Overall, 1.6 billion coupons were redeemed in the first half of 2009.

“These findings from Nielsen suggest that the increased coupon usage we’ve seen this year not only helped consumers stretch their budgets but also provided meaningful sales impact to manufacturers and retailers,” said Inmar’s Matthew Tilley, Director of Marketing. “Coupons have always been an effective way to encourage trial and repeat purchase and are proving to be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary economic environment.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some 90% of consumers are expected to make private label food an important part of their holiday meals, up from 87%

American consumers plan to enter this year's holiday season more hopeful, resulting in consumer confidence to selectively open their wallets wider than the 2008 holiday season, according to new research from Information Resources, Inc. However, consumers are taking a more strategic approach to shopping this year and are heading into stores with shopping lists in hand and a budget in mind.

IRI surveyed approximately 1,000 households about their 2009 holiday shopping rituals and discovered other shifts in consumer behavior, such as the consumption of meals and beverages at home, purchasing private label, and bargain hunting, will also continue this holiday season.

"While consumers are beginning to awaken from the economic sea change just in time for the beginning of the holidays, they are taking very thoughtful and strategic approaches to their purchasing and are sifting hard through such questions as 'What do I really need?', 'What does my family need?', and 'What can we still live without?'" said IRI Consulting & Innovation President Thom Blischok. "Despite what appears to be a permanence of 'strategic selection,' last year's dismal holiday retail results are being left behind as consumers are slightly more optimistic about the economy and are much more savvy about how they attack their holiday gift and meal list."

Brightening Attitudes Bring More Joy Around the Fireplace
Consumer attitudes and concerns surrounding gas prices, cost of utilities, job stability, the rise in food prices, and the recession are all seeing a decline in how these factors will affect this year's holiday shopping rituals. Consumers' holiday shopping rituals will be less affected by economic factors than last year, especially regarding the price of food. Principal survey findings include:

• Consumers concern about the price of food has dropped more than 20 percent this year (98 percent in 2008 versus 77 percent in 2009).
• Expressed concern for the effect of gasoline prices on holiday shopping has dropped by 10 percent compared to 2008.
• Utilities saw a similar decline, down more than 9 percent from 2008.
• The overall effect of the recession on shopping decisions decreased nearly 5 percent.

However, consumer concern regarding job stability still remains top of mind and saw only a 1 percent decline, showing that while consumers may be more in the holiday spirit they still hold concerns about the downturn. Consumers are not expected to give up their focus on conservative spending by creating tremendous credit card balances. Instead, they have learned about how to more effectively spend their dollars.

Faith, Family, and Friends Remain Priorities
One consistency from last year's holiday season is the values American consumers continue to hold dear during the recession. Religion, spending time with family, and communal holiday meals remain important to the shopper, notably:

• More than 81 percent of consumers note religion as a major factor in their holiday celebrations.
• More than 98 percent of shoppers make spending time with family a priority in the holiday season.
• 93 percent of consumers' holiday plans include getting together with family and friends over the dinner table and at parties.
• More than 90 percent of shoppers are making gift-giving a priority, up nearly 3 percentage points from last year.

Setting the Holiday Table - Making a List, Checking it Twice

The dining room lights will shine bright this holiday season as American consumers, in keeping with their focus on spending time with friends and family, will consume most of their meals and beverage consumption at home or at a friend's house. Nearly two-thirds of consumers plan to eat their holiday meals at home, half plan to dine at their friends' homes and holiday parties, and almost all plan to consume alcoholic beverages in their friends' homes or holiday parties.

While this holiday ritual of communal eating and drinking will continue to be a form of comfort and celebration this holiday season, it is also a cost-cutting strategy and a major contributing factor to why consumers note that they plan to spend the same or less this year than in 2008 on holiday meals. More than 94 percent plan on spending no more than $500 on food and 90 percent plan on spending no more than $200 on holiday beer, wine, and spirits purchases.

To help prepare for the holiday gatherings, dollar-stretching techniques, such as list-making and private label, continue to be top of mind for shoppers. Only 11 percent of consumers mention they will shop without a grocery list.

Critical growing points resulting from the downturn, private label is expected to again take a seat at the head of the holiday table as 90 percent of consumers make private label food an important part of the holiday meal, up from 87 percent in 2008.

Grocery stores are expected to remain busy with shoppers piling in their private label selections in their grocery carts. Survey findings include:

• Budgeting (79 percent) and matched quality to name brands (60 percent) remain leading reasons for the switch to private label.
• 92 percent of consumers will be doing their holiday food shopping at the grocery store based on sales and discounts, product selection, and variety of items in stock.

Smarter Gift-Giving

Shoppers are showing their gift-giving joy this year and are using the budgeting expertise they've learned in the past year. While consumers may be spending less, they are finding inexpensive splurges. Insights from the survey show that:

• 77 percent of consumers will be treating themselves, and others, this holiday season even if times are tough.
• 23 percent of shoppers have a gift-giving budget over $799, down 13 percent from 2008.
• 11 percent more plan on budgeting up to $499 this year for gifts than in 2008.
• 71 percent of consumers will not be giving food as gifts this year, removing fruitcakes from the gift list.

These consumers will be buying their gifts at mass merchandisers like Target (more than 77 percent) and department stores (65 percent), seeking the best deals on electronics, such as iPods, $100 Blu-ray disc players and other assorted electronic gadgets expected to be a "gift of choice" in many families this holiday season. Notably, only 18 percent will be making their gift purchases without a shopping list.

A Green, E-Holiday Shopping Season

More Americans will be shopping online during this holiday season. Flexibility of time to shop, saving time, and avoiding crowds are all major draws that get consumers' dollars online, but only for gift-giving. Survey highlights show:

• 18 percent increase in online shopping from 2008, when only 41 percent of consumers shopped online.
• 90 percent of shoppers will not be making their food purchases online, choosing to buy in-store.

"In addition to a renewed sense of consciousness about their budgets, we can expect shoppers to be eco-conscious this holiday season as they look to reduce waste in their households by using low-power lighting, recyclable packaging, smaller outdoor displays and pre-lit recyclable Christmas trees," added Blischock.

Seasonal Shopper Strategies

Retailers and CPG manufacturers can still position themselves to take advantage of this cheerier, savvier consumer during the holiday. Nearly half of consumers don't plan on starting their holiday shopping until after summer draws to a close, allowing CPG and retail to plan their holiday sales strategies that are in tune with consumers' desire to save money, spend time with friends and family, and treat the ones they love.

Important considerations include that consumers are making their purchase decisions in-home, requiring a savvy marketing and redesigned shopper value strategy. CPG and retail must act now in order to ensure that they win over the holiday and budget-minded shopper, avoiding delay in order to stay competitive and attuned to the shifting consumer market.

"The consumer has shifted dramatically in the past year with how they find and purchase their deals—CPG and retail need to take advantage of this newly savvy shopper by appealing to shopper values and budgets," said Blischok. "The holidays are a prime opportunity to draw the newly optimistic shopper into the store and to new products, but these actions and strategies must be swift and efficient, especially as shoppers continue making purchase decisions in their homes."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Over the next 90 days, 16% consumers plan to spend more on dining out, up from 13%

Despite another jump in the national unemployment rate and conflicting economic indicators released last month, a new survey shows that consumers' plans to spend at restaurants are only improving as confidence in the economy grows.

According to Atlanta-based RBC Capital Markets' September restaurant spending survey, restaurant spending plans rose 3 percentage points from the prior survey in May, and 14 percentage points from the same September survey a year ago. The survey, which is completed by the investment bank quarterly with ChangeWave Research, taps more than 2,000 consumers.

Looking out over the next 90 days, 16 percent of respondents said they planned to spend more on dining out, up from the 13 percent in May and just 8 percent in February who responded similarly. A reduced 33 percent of respondents said they planned to spend less on dining out during the next 90 days, down from 39 percent in May and 50 percent in February who answered that way.

"Confidence in the economy is improving, as those planning to spend more at restaurants cited better job security and less need to save money," said the report from RBC restaurant securities analyst Larry Miller. "Value is driving consumers to eat out more, as are having less time to cook and an uptick in workers per household."

Brands that stand to benefit, according to survey respondents, include Red Lobster, Chipotle, Olive Garden, Maggiano's Little Italy and Panera Bread. Concepts that respondents said they would not frequent more often included Denny's, Golden Corral and Morton's, The Steakhouse.

The recession is pushing more people back into the workforce, Miller noted, meaning certain families have less time to cook at home, a typical driver of eating out at restaurants. In addition, research showed that respondents pointed to better job security and less need to save money as reasons behind increased tendencies to eat out.

Still, the primary reason for increased plans to dine out rests on value. The surge in dollar menu items, bundled three-course meals or fixed price menus have helped spur restaurant traffic.

"The increased value restaurants have been offering has not gone unnoticed; it's the No. 1 incremental reason for eating out more," Miller noted.

In the September survey, consumers said they were using coupons more since the May survey, had reduced instances of skipping beverages or ordering less-expensive items, and had reduced their tendencies to eat at less expensive restaurants — all because of the various value deals being offered.

As consumers begin to dip their toes back into the spending pool, a focus on value is perhaps the lasting takeaway from this "great recession," sources say.

"The consumer's focus on value will remain and signifies a shift in consumer behavior that must be addressed," the latest industry newsletter from mid-market investment bank The Cypress Group highlighted. "Concepts must effectively communicate their value proposition and become ‘top of mind' when consumers evaluate choices."

The Englewood, Colo.-based firm noted that while price value is important, successful restaurant brands also will look to service, menu quality and experience as part of the value equation.

For example, while Red Lobster currently is promoting its Endless Shrimp deal for $19.99 in most markets, Chipotle, which raised prices last year in the midst of the recession's depths, focuses on its quality of food, convenient online or text ordering, and in-store service
Addressing whether additional price increases might be forthcoming, even as consumers continue to focus on value, Chipotle's chief financial officer said during its latest call that the chain could boost prices even more.

"We still think we offer, and our research says [that] we offer, a compelling value to our customers," John Hartung said.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A global break-down for resveratrol

In the first part of a special series on resveratrol, NutraIngredients looks at the state of the market for the heart-health ingredient. What has driven growth so far, and what are the opportunities and challenges ahead?

Resveratrol is an antioxidant naturally found in grapes and red wine, mulberries, peanuts and 'knotweed' (polygonum cuspidatum). It has been shown to have positive anti-aging benefits, and has also demonstrated benefits in diabetes, heart health, obesity and some cancers.

These documented health benefits have generated significant interest in the ingredient from the supplements industry in particular.

However, there are signs that the market remains underdeveloped, with consumer awareness still low. Even a scan of market reports from the major market analysts revealed very little published data on the ingredient.

Nevertheless, statistics on new resveratrol-containing product launches provide some insight into were the market is, and where it is going.

Low awareness?

Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics database tracked 93 new products launched globally between January 1, 2002, and September 2, 2009. The peak year for launches was 2007, which recorded 24 new products, compared to nine in 2006 and eight in 2005. In 2008 launches dipped to 18; in 2009 to date there have been 16 new product introductions.

“Looking at these numbers, it appears that resveratrol became more common mid-decade, though products containing the substance still tend to be uncommon. This would suggest that consumer awareness of resveratrol is still quite low,” said Tom Vierhile, director of Product Launch Analytics at Datamonitor.

Product break-down

A break-down of these data by category reveals that only 16 percent of all products noting or containing resveratrol since 2002 have been food or beverage products. Some 84 percent are non-food products, including supplements and cosmetics.

Dietary supplements are by far the most popular category for resveratrol, with 35 new product launches in the seven-year period. This compares to 29 cosmetics products and only 11 foods and beverages.

Out of the food and beverage product launches, four were in the ‘functional drinks’ category, three in ‘still wine’, two in ‘beverage concentrates’ and two in ‘chocolate’.

“The beverage industry is clearly more receptive to this ingredient than the food industry. In particular, functional beverages are far more popular than most other categories for resveratrol,” Vierhile told NutraIngredients.

“The only food categories that have used the ingredient (outside of beverages) were chocolate as well as nuts & seeds. Since the substance is not common in food, it is going to take time and money to educate consumers on the health benefits of resveratrol.”

“Though usage of it is on the rise, it does not look like resveratrol is on the sales fast track right now and I don’t see packaged food and beverage makers flocking to it right now.”

‘Condition-specific’ potential

In contrast, the potential for resveratrol in supplements remains strong, according to market analyst predictions, with particular potential for condition-specific positioning.

“There remains significant scope for penetration in the supplements category,” said Sangeetha Srinivasan, program manager, Food & Beverage Ingredients Practice at Frost & Sullivan.

“Resveratrol is expected to benefit from the growth of the condition-specific products. In addition, consumer preference for natural products is likely to drive the use of resveratrol in supplements.”

In addition, a report on condition-specific products published at the end of last year by Packaged Facts highlighted resveratrol – from moderate consumption of red wine – as being top of mind for consumers wishing to address heart disease via nutrition.

Geography and tons

Figures from Datamonitor reveal the vast majority of new products containing resveratrol come from the US, which accounted for 76.3 percent of all resveratrol-containing products since 2002. Europe accounted for 15.1 percent of all launches.
Frost & Sullivan said the European market for resveratrol was forecast to be around 2.0 tonnes in 2008, while the US market was forecast at 7.5 tonnes.
The latest sales figures available were for 2006, when the European market was worth €0.73m ($1.05m), and the US market was worth $2.4m (€1.7m).

More on resveratrol

In the coming days, NutraIngredients will publish articles examining the science behind resveratrol, as well as the regulatory framework and the supply for the ingredient.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New York City's Tavern on the Green filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

WOW!! Never thought this would happen!!!!!!

Tavern on the Green LLC, operator of the storied restaurant in New York City's Central Park, has filed for bankruptcy protection, a few months before the restaurant is due to change hands and maybe its name.

Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Oz LeRoy said in a statement on Thursday that the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing had resulted from the recession and the city's decision not to renew the lease.

Chapter 11 will allow the company to shed some debt while reorganizing.

Tavern on the Green, which opened on October 20, 1934, is expected to operate through December. Dean Poll, who won the license for the location in August, is then due to take over. He has proposed a $25 million renovation.

Poll operates the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park.

The LeRoy family owns the name "Tavern on the Green" and can sell it or keep it, according to Shelley Clark, the restaurant's spokeswoman. She said it was not known what they would do.

Tucked just inside the park off Central Park West, the restaurant is in a Victorian Gothic building erected in 1870 to be a sheepfold. It housed 200 South Down sheep that grazed across the road in Central Park's Sheep Meadow.

Tavern on the Green, one of the few Manhattan restaurants with a parking lot, can seat 1,500 people in six dining rooms, which made it ideal for parties and receptions.

Restaurateur Warner LeRoy owned Tavern on the Green from the 1970s until his death in 2001, when his family took over. He also owned the famed Russian Tea Room near Carnegie Hall.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which awarded Poll the Tavern on the Green license, said he had submitted the best proposal on the basis of "solid financial backing" and a substantial capital investment.


"To thousands of visitors, Tavern on the Green is New York," a 2005 New York Times restaurant review stated. It was also considered one of the most romantic spots in town to become engaged, have a wedding reception or spend an anniversary.

It was fated to be a restaurant by New York City's Parks Commissioner who thought it should compete with the Central Park Casino, known as "Jimmy Walker's Versailles" for the flamboyant mayor.

The sheep were banished to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, according to Tavern on the Green's website, and their shepherd was sent to work at the lion house at the Central Park Zoo.

Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers converted the building.

When Tavern on the Green opened in 1934, a coachman greeted patrons. In the late 1930s, under the shadow of World War II, it became headquarters for the Civilian Patrol Corps, which used it until 1943.

In 1962, after a few owners, Restaurant Associates took over. They closed it 1974.

LeRoy, who created Maxwell's Plum, a popular New York night spot, renovated Tavern on the Green and reopened it in 1976. It became wildly successful.

For years, Tavern on the Green was the highest grossing restaurant in the United States, its publicist Shelley Clark said.

Clark said that in 2008, Tavern on the Green was the second-highest grossing independent free-standing restaurant in the country. She said Tao in Las Vegas, Nevada, was No. 1.

The bankruptcy petition listed assets and debt in the range of $10 million to $50 million. The largest unsecured creditors include the New York Hotel Trades Council, with a claim of $1.78 million, and CCS Architecture Inc, with a claim of $235,000.

"Our whole way of looking at food and going out has evolved," said Clark Wolf, president of food and restaurant adviser Clark Wolf Consulting.

"We are less inclined to visit the old warhorse, just for the sake of nostalgia. We've gone from wanting a kitschy comfort food to wanting truly comforting foods and the latter is better and harder to do."

The case is In re: Tavern On The Green Limited Partnership, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan) Bankruptcy Petition, No 09-15450.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Consumer demand for organically produced goods showed double-digit growth for over a decade

Consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown double-digit growth for well over a decade, providing market incentives for U.S. farmers across a broad range of products. Organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 3 of 4 conventional grocery stores. Organic sales account for over 3 percent of total U.S. food sales, according to recent industry statistics.

* Organic food is sold to consumers through three main venues in the United States—natural food stores, conventional grocery stores, and direct-to-consumer markets.

* A typical organic consumer is difficult to pinpoint, but new research continues to shed light on consumer attitudes and purchasing behavior.

* Organic price premiums continue to remain high in many markets as the demand for organic products expands.

Organic Sales Widen in All Food Categories

USDA does not have official statistics on U.S. organic retail sales, but information is available from industry sources. U.S. sales of organic products were $21.1 billion in 2008—over 3 percent of total food sales—and will reach $23.0 billion in 2009, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
Fruits and vegetables accounted for 37 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2008 d

Fresh fruits and vegetables have been the top selling category of organically grown food since the organic food industry started retailing products over three decades ago, and they are still outselling other food categories, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Produce accounted for 37 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2008, followed by dairy (16 percent), beverages (13 percent), packaged and prepared foods (13 percent), bread and grains (10 percent), snack foods (5 percent), meat, fish, and poultry (3 percent), and condiments (3 percent).

Most organic sales (93 percent) take place through conventional and natural food supermarkets and chains, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). OTA estimates the remaining 7 percent of U.S. organic food sales occur through farmers' markets, foodservice, and marketing channels other than retail stores. One of the most striking differences between conventional and organic food marketing is the use of direct markets—Cornell University estimates that only about 1.6 percent of U.S. fresh produce sales are through direct sales. The number of farmers' markets in the United States has grown steadily from 1,755 markets in 1994, when USDA began to track them, to over 4,685 in 2008. Participating farmers are responding to heightened demand for locally grown organic product. A USDA survey of market managers found that demand for organic products was strong or moderate in most of the farmers' markets surveyed around the country, and that managers felt more organic farmers were needed to meet consumer demand in many States.
Demand for organic products in 210 U.S. farmers' markets
Price Premiums Remain High

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has reported wholesale prices for a few organic fruits and vegetables for about a decade, and recently added price premiums for poultry and sales volume for milk.

* AMS Market News publishes organic prices for fruit and vegetable crops in a number of the 15 terminal markets where prices are collected, including Boston and San Francisco. See an ERS analysis of organic farmgate and wholesale prices for a comparison of organic and conventional prices from 1999 to mid-2005.

* Market News began reporting organic poultry prices in the weekly Organic Poultry and Egg report in January 2004. The report tracks prices paid to poultry or egg companies by the first receiver (such as a retailer, distributor, or manufacturer).

* In January 2006, AMS began reporting sales (in volume) of organic fluid milk products in monthly milk marketing order reports.

* Iin January 2007, Market News began biweekly reporting on organic grains in the Upper Midwest and Eastern Corn Belt (use the main AMS page to access the latest biweekly reports).

At the retail level, organic produce and milk, the two top organic food sales categories, receive significant price premiums over conventionally grown products.

ERS analyzed organic prices for 18 fruits and 19 vegetables using 2005 data on produce purchases, and found that the organic premium as a share of the corresponding conventional price was less than 30 percent for over two-thirds of the items. The premium for only one item—blueberries—exceeded 100 percent. In contrast, organic price premiums for a half-gallon container of milk ranged from 60 percent for private-label organic milk above branded conventional milk in 2006 to 109 percent for branded organic milk above private-label conventional milk.
Organic Consumers Increasingly Mainstream

Numerous studies have been conducted by researchers in the public and private sectors on the buying habits and demographics of consumers of organic foods. Results have varied depending on the type of survey, sample size, and geographic coverage. However, a few general themes have emerged. Consumers prefer organically produced food because of their concerns regarding health, the environment, and animal welfare, and are willing to pay the price premiums established in the marketplace.

Organic products have shifted from being a lifestyle choice for a small share of consumers to being consumed at least occasionally by a majority of Americans. National surveys conducted by the Hartman Group and Food Marketing Institute during the early 2000s found that two-thirds of surveyed shoppers bought organically grown foods (see Recent Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Foods Market for a literature review of organic consumer studies).