Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Understanding Sweet Carbohydrates

It’s easy to be confused by all the news about carbohydrates in food: good carbohydrates versus bad carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates versus simple carbohydrates, and—of course—fad diets that promote drastically cutting or eliminating carbohydrates altogether. In reality, carbohydrates come in many different forms and can be both healthy and unhealthy.

However, an arsenal of evidence shows consumers’ intake of sweet carbohydrates has drastically increased over the past several decades. Research has shown repeatedly that if we consume any one nutrient or total calories in excess of what the body needs, it can lead to poor weight management and chronic diseases. Today, 75% of total sugar consumed is in our commercial food supply. A 1998 USDA Economic Research Service report showed 45% of added sweeteners consumed go into beverages, 18% into cereal and baked goods, and 11% into confectionery goods (Agricultural Economic Report No. 772).

By definition, a carbohydrate is any group of organic compounds that includes sugars, starches, celluloses and gums, and also serves as a major energy source in the diet of animals. However, carbohydrates vary tremendously in sweetness, texture and rate of digestion.

Saccharide science

Not only does the sweetness differ greatly among these saccharides, but they are further differentiated by their chemical structure and divided into four categories: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. The sweetest carbohydrates include fructose, sucrose, glucose and lactose (galactose and glucose).

Glucose, or dextrose, (4 kcal per gram) is the most-abundant sugar found in nature, but it is seldom found in its monosaccharide form. It has approximately 75% the sweetness of sucrose. Glucose is typically found in nature as starch or cellulose, but also links with fructose to form sucrose. Fructose is the sweetest of all monosaccharides, about 1.4 times the sweetness of sucrose, providing 4 kcal per gram. It is known as natural fruit sugar; most fruits contain 1% to 7% fructose. The increase in sweetness as a fruit ripens is due to the separation of sucrose into fructose and glucose.

Sucrose, a dissacharide known more commonly as table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar or even grape sugar―as well as being the main component in “natural” sugars, like turbinado—provides 4 kcal per gram. Sucrose occurs naturally in many foods, but is used abundantly in commercially processed foods.

Invert sugar, also used in many commercial foods, typically in liquid form, is sucrose is inverted by hydrolysis to half glucose and half fructose, although some forms are not completely inverted. Honey is considered a type of invert sugar; it has approximately 38% fructose, 31% glucose, 7% maltose, and a small amount of sucrose and other sugars.

Out of the sweet carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) seems to receive the greatest amount of bad publicity. HFCS, created by changing some of the glucose in corn starch to fructose, is intensely sweet, yet inexpensive. The predominant forms of HFCS are HFCS-55 (55% fructose, 41% glucose, and 4% glucose polymers) and HFCS-42 (42% fructose, 53% glucose, and 5% glucose polymers), the type typically used in beverages.

Metabolism of carbohydrates

Much of the current controversy in carbohydrates pertains to how they are metabolized in the body and, subsequently, affect health and weight management. Carbohydrates are ultimately digested into glucose, fructose and galactose by their enzymatic counterparts. Glucose and galactose are actively absorbed in the gut via the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) sodium-potassium pump, whereas fructose can be absorbed via active transport or facilitated diffusion, leaving unabsorbed fructose free to travel down the intestine. Fructose is an intermediary in the digestion of glucose and, when ingested alone, is poorly absorbed by the GI tract and almost completely eliminated by the liver. This metabolism of fructose favors lipogenesis. Several studies have found significant changes in circulating lipids among those consuming diets high in fructose. Once glucose is digested, it is transferred to the blood for transport to the liver for oxidation and glycogen storage.

That said, existing evidence does not support the claim that diets high in any particular nutritive sweeteners have caused an increase in obesity rates or other chronic conditions. Science has determined that human metabolism does not differentiate between sugars found naturally in food versus those added to food. For example, fructose found naturally in fruit is not metabolized differently than fructose in a fruit drink. Fructose is absorbed and metabolized in a similar manner despite the manner of ingestion (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2004; 104:255-275). Several other factors affect metabolism, such as: the carbohydrates’ availability or resistance to their enzymatic counterpart; the availability of the enzyme itself; or other dietary factors, such as fat content, which slows stomach emptying, or viscous fiber, which dilutes enzyme concentration.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Ronald McDonald a bad role model?

Say it's not activist coalition wants Ronald McDonald to hang up his big red shoes.

Corporate Accountability International, which was behind the effort to retire Joe Camel and also has campaigned against bottled water companies, says that a survey it conducted shows that most Americans agree that McDonald's should stop gearing its advertising toward children in light of what they called a "fast-food-industry childhood obesity crisis."

And so, the organization is is planning a "retirement party" for Ronald McDonald outside the McDonald's at State Street and Chicago Avenue at lunchtime Wednesday. The group will also present results of a survey it conducted showing that most Americans agree McDonald's should stop gearing advertising efforts toward children, in light of what they call a "fast-food industry childhood obesity crisis," according to Media Post News.

“For nearly 50 years, Ronald McDonald has hooked kids on unhealthy foods spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related diseases,” said Deborah Lapidus, the senior organizer at Corporate Accountability International, to “Ultimately the report makes the case that it’s time that McDonald’s stop directing fast food to kids. Really, Ronald deserves a break and so do we.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald's says Ronald's role is to bring out the fun side of having meals with family and to promote an active lifestyle.

"He is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities," McDonald's told the Chicago Tribune in a written statement, and he also "helps deliver messages to families on many important subjects such as safety, literacy, and the importance of physical activity and making balanced food choices."

More restaurant chains are rolling out tapas-like small plates

Some of the nation's most familiar casual-dining chains are suddenly thinking smaller.

They're rolling out tapas-like small plates of shareable items that typically are cheaper than appetizers by a buck or two — or even three.

With business still in the tank — and customers hard to lure out of the I-can-eat-cheaper-at-home mentality — a cadre of casual-dining icons, including Houlihan's, Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen and BJ's Restaurants, are trying to boost business with value-priced items to be passed around the table.

To draw attention to these trendy plates, most of the chains market them on separate menus. It seems to be working.

The move comes at a time when the $75 billion casual-dining business — and the restaurant industry overall — continues to suffer.

For the most recent month available, 57% of restaurants reported a same-store sales decline in January from a year ago — worse than the 49% in December, says the National Restaurant Association.

Casual-dining chains are trying just about anything. They're particularly eager to attract socially minded Millennials who are just as comfortable sharing a plate of food as they are sharing social media.

"This is how the next generation is eating," says Bob Hartnett, CEO at Houlihan's, which just rolled out 23 small-plate items. "And we're in the business of giving people what they want. If we don't give it to them, they'll find someone else who will."

Small plates at Houlihan's fetch from $3 for Truckstop Fries covered in chipotle cheese sauce to $10 for a grilled 4-ounce filet mignon with Parmesan garlic sauce. The best-selling small plate: $3.50 mini-burgers.

The items are boosting sales. In the key test market of Kansas City, small plates accounted for 28% of items sold, Hartnett says. Others in the mix:

•California Pizza Kitchen. Its "small cravings" menu rolled out last month, and it's driving business and boosting check averages, says Larry Flax, co-founder of the 216-unit chain. Flax says that he watched the success that Cheesecake Factory had with small plates.

While appetizers at the chain go for up to $10, the small cravings items top out at $4.99.

•Cheesecake Factory. The chain introduced "small plates and snacks" one year ago, and they have added incremental sales, says Mark Mears, marketing chief. The items, $3.95 to $6.95, are a "low-risk way for guests to try new tastes," Mears says.

•BJ's. The chain introduced six "snacks and small bites" this month, priced at $2.95 to $3.95. The items, including Gourmet Mac & Cheese and Hawaiian Shrimp Skewers, "are big on flavor and small on price," boasts Matt Hood, BJ's marketing chief.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Soft-drink volume fell 2.1% in 2009

A drop in U.S. soft-drink sales slowed last year as consumers migrated from pricier juices and teas back to less-expensive soda in the down economy, reported The Wall Street Journal. Soft-drink volume fell 2.1% in 2009, compared with a 3% decline in 2008 and a 2.3% drop in 2007, according to the report, citing Beverage Digest.

And fortified waters and sports drinks saw steep volume declines last year, said a separate report by Ad Age. Overall, the beverage category declined 3.1% in volume in 2009.

Soda sales have fallen for five years in a row, and the cumulative decline has erased gains made by the industry between 1996 and 2004, the peak year for U.S. sales, said the Journal.

The moderation of decline was a spot of good news for the industry, said the report. But John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, told the newspaper that he expects soft-drink volume to continue to decline by about 1.5% to 3% annually over the next five to 10 years.

Sicher said he expects some consumers to move back to more expensive bottled beverages as the economy improves. Others are likely to shy away from soft drinks because of worries about sugar and other nutrition issues.

"The carbonated category faces continued headwinds from the health, wellness and obesity concerns, and also the potential negative impact of soda taxes," he added.

Volume slid to about 9.4 billion cases last year from 10.24 billion cases in 2004, said the report. Coca-Cola remained the No. 1 soft drink in 2009, but its market share fell 0.3 percentage point to 17%. After years as the third most-popular soda, Diet Coke reached a near tie with Pepsi-Cola for the No. 2 spot, with 936.3 million and 936.4 million cases, respectively. Diet Coke and Pepsi-Cola both scored a 9.9% market share last year.

Among the top 10 soda brands, only Diet Mountain Dew, marketed by PepsiCo Inc., and Diet Dr Pepper, marketed by Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., posted volume growth.

Coca-Cola Co. chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent has said that restoring U.S. soft-drink growth in is a key priority of the company's "2020 Vision" growth plan, reported the Journal, and Eric Foss, CEO of PepsiCo's North American beverage operations, told investors earlier this week that he expects the company's broad beverage portfolio to grow, but the soft-drink segment to continue to decline.

Overall, the U.S. market for nonalcoholic beverages—including soda, bottled water, sports drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks and other drinks—fell 3.1% last year, according to the report, citing Beverage Marketing. It was the second year of decline in a row, and more drastic than the 2.1% drop in 2008.

Michael Bellas, Beverage Marketing's chairman and CEO, said "the worst may be over" for the beverage industry after a dismal 2009 marked by high unemployment and broad consumer malaise. But Bellas added that he sees a bright spot in recent months as declines in sales of energy drinks and sports drinks have leveled out. "This is a recovery led by the younger consumer that still has a job," rather than baby boomers who have lost savings and fundamentally changed their buying habits, he told the paper.

Bottled-water sales declined for the second year in a row, after a decade of growth. Nestle Pure Life, a line of water traditionally sold in mass retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., logged a 14.6% increase in volume, an indication of popularity of comparatively inexpensive multipack water.

"The challenged economy is undoubtedly the single greatest factor that's impacted the performance of refreshment beverages in each of the last two years," Gary Hemphill, managing director and chief operating officer at Beverage Marketing, told Ad Age. "It's possible this could continue into 2010. It's a little bit premature to say, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility."

Hemphill said that while his company does not specifically measure tap water, it is safe to say that consumers have been turning to the cheap alternative. Prior to the recession, tap-water consumption had been trending downward for decades, said the report.

According to Beverage Marketing, value-added water and sports drinks were the two hardest hit categories, with volume declines of 12.5% and 12.3%, respectively.

Value-added water was dragged down by Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater brand, which saw a 13% decline. PepsiCo's SoBe Lifewater brand, however, jumped 63% on the strength of the SoBe Lifewater Zero launch, which uses the company's stevia-based PureVia sweetener. Though the SoBe launch is still a small player in the overall category, it does indicate that consumers are willing to pay for products they view as healthier, which bodes well for both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, said Ad Age, as the beverage giants race to introduce products with natural sweeteners.

PepsiCo's Gatorade, which was repositioned as G with a splashy campaign last year, was a major factor in the decline of the sports-drink category, said the report. Volume decline was 15.5% at Gatorade, which is the largest player in the category, compared to a 1% drop at the smaller Powerade label. Gatorade's share of volume fell 0.5% among the leading beverage brands, though it maintained its position as the fifth-largest overall beverage brand.

Carbonated soft drinks, the largest beverage category, declined 2.3% in volume, showing a rebound from last year's 3% decline; 2009 marked the fifth consecutive year of declines in the category. Flavored diet soft drinks, such as Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Dr Pepper, proved most popular with consumers and were the only two brands to see growth in 2009, according to a separate report from Beverage Digest. Dr Pepper and Fanta were the only other brands that did not show declines, with flat volume share, the report said.

Consumers are more likely to trade down to private-label colas from Pepsi and Coke than they are from difficult-to-duplicate flavored soft drinks like Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper. But, Hemphill added, soft drinks in general could be viewed by consumers as an affordable alternative to pricier categories like value-added water.

Coke and Pepsi both saw volume and share declines, according to Beverage Digest. Coke lost 0.3 share points paired with a 4% decline in volume, while Pepsi lost 0.4 share points and volume declined 5.5%. Diet Coke also closed the gap with Pepsi in volume share, with both brands now claiming a 9.9 share of the market. A year ago, the two brands were 0.3 share points apart.

Ready-to-drink tea and energy drinks were the two strongest-performing categories, growing volume by 1.2% and 0.2%, respectively. And, surprisingly, bottled water saw a relatively modest 2.7% volume decline. High penetration of private-label brands and value pricing from Nestle Pure Life helped boost the category, said the report. Nestle Pure Life saw a 14.6% jump in volume, compared to double-digit declines for the pricier Aquafina and Dasani brands.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction

Scientists have finally confirmed what the rest of us have suspected for years: Bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive.

A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.

Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers "crash," and achieving the same pleasure--or even just feeling normal--requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.

"People know intuitively that there's more to [overeating] than just willpower," he says. "There's a system in the brain that's been turned on or over-activated, and that's driving [overeating] at some subconscious level."

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods--but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day. How the pros curb food cravings

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high. Eat this and burn more fat

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats' feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. "Their attention was solely focused on consuming food," says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note. 25 diet-busting foods you should never eat

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn't entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

"We make our food very similar to cocaine now," he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. "We purify our food," he says. "Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we're eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup." 10 'Last Supper' paintings: Bigger portions over time?

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to "eat unconsciously and unnecessarily," and will also prompt an animal to "eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs]," says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain's pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. "It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened," says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says. The real reasons we eat too much

However, that doesn't mean that everyone born with lower dopamine receptor levels is destined to become an addict or to overeat. As Wang points out, environmental factors, and not just genes, are involved in both behaviors.

Wang also cautions that applying the results of animal studies to humans can be tricky. For instance, he says, in studies of weight-loss drugs, rats have lost as much as 30 percent of their weight, but humans on the same drug have lost less than 5 percent of their weight. "You can't mimic completely human behavior, but [animal studies] can give you a clue about what can happen in humans," Wang says.

Although he acknowledges that his research may not directly translate to humans, Kenny says the findings shed light on the brain mechanisms that drive overeating and could even lead to new treatments for obesity.

"If we could develop therapeutics for drug addiction, those same drugs may be good for obesity as well," he says.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Subway restaurants to join the breakfast scramble

Subway is joining the increasingly crowded breakfast scramble in a move that the sandwich chain hopes will help add customers and sales.

After years of testing, almost all of Subway's 23,000 U.S. restaurants will begin selling the meal April 5. When they do, the nation's largest restaurant chain by number of outlets will be a big player in the breakfast game, which can be handsomely profitable if done right.

"There are a number of other competitors of ours that are trying to suss out the breakfast opportunity, and I'd rather be in the market before they get there," said Tony Pace, chief marketing officer at the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, the chain's consumer marketing division. "Is there going to be competition now? Of course. And it's going to be fierce."

The new menu, already being served in some U.S. cities and throughout Canada, sticks with Subway's sandwich specialty. Featuring customizable "omelet sandwiches," the options include a combination of eggs or egg whites, cheese, ham, bacon, steak, sausage, peppers and onions in addition to Subway's other toppings.

Sandwiches will be served on English muffins, flatbread or the restaurant company's traditional sub rolls.

While franchise owners — who operate all of the company's 25,000 North American locations — determine the prices of the breakfast items, suggested prices will range from $1.75 to $6. A combo meal featuring an English muffin sandwich and coffee would be $2.50.

Advertising for the new menu will begin next week.

Breakfast has become a popular addition to fast-food chains in recent years as companies clamor for diners. Since coffee, eggs and other breakfast ingredients often come cheap, the meals typically can rake in big profits for restaurants. While heavyweight McDonald's promotes its new dollar breakfast menu, other competitors are getting into the mix. Among them: Taco Bell and Wendy's, which are both testing out breakfast menus.

It's not a sure thing. As the economy soured, so did breakfast sales as customers cut back on spending and unemployed workers stopped visiting restaurants on their way to work.

According to research firm NPD Group, the number of customers buying breakfast at fast-food restaurants slipped 2 percent in 2009. Even so, that's better than the 5 percent decline recorded at dinner.

But that's not keeping restaurant chains from trying. Restaurants added more than 460 new breakfast items to menus in 2009, according to market researcher Mintel. That's more than in 2008 and 2007.

"It is a very competitive landscape," said Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy. "They're going in at a time when everyone's done a renovation on their breakfast menu in the past year or so. But I think if they do it right, they're probably positioned to profit from it."

Some franchisees began serving the meal years ago and by last year, nearly 40 percent of the company's locations had some sort of breakfast item on the menu, Pace said. As the popularity of the meal grew, the company inked a deal with Starbucks Corp. in November to sell its Seattle's Best Coffee in stores and began completing its nationwide breakfast push.

The chain recommends locations begin serving the meal at 7 a.m., although some will offer the menu earlier. Pace said breakfast items will remain available to order after the traditional morning meal period.

Subway is owned by privately held Doctor's Associates Inc., based in Milford, Conn.

Moderate Drinking May Slow Arthritis Progression

In a study that followed 2,900 adults with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Swiss researchers found that light-to-moderate drinkers showed slower progression in their joint damage compared with non-drinkers. Heavy drinkers, on the other hand, showed the greatest progression.

The findings, reported in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, are based on X-ray evidence of patients' joint damage and its progression over an average of four years.

The difference seen in moderate drinkers' and non-drinkers' progression was not substantial enough to be apparent in daily life -- that is, worse symptoms or more disability in the non-drinkers, according to Dr. Axel Finckh, of University Hospital of Geneva, one of the researchers on the study.

However, he told Reuters Health in an email, if the slower progression were maintained over decades, it could become important.

The findings are in line with past research linking moderate drinking to a lower risk of developing RA, according to Finckh and his colleagues.

There is also animal research suggesting that alcohol may inhibit arthritis, possibly by reducing inflammation. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, seems to promote inflammation.

However, whether moderate drinking itself slows RA progression is not certain. More studies are needed to confirm the current findings, Finckh said, and even then, RA patients would not be advised to take up drinking.

Finckh pointed to the example of heart disease, where many studies have suggested a protective effect of moderate drinking, but -- owing to the potential risks of drinking -- experts do not advise people to start drinking for the sake of their hearts.

The current findings are based on 2,908 Swiss adults who were part of a national database on RA patients. All had had at least two sets of X-rays of their hands and feet over time, and had been followed for four years, on average.

Overall, 37 percent said they were non-drinkers at the outset, while the rest drank at least occasionally. The researchers found that both occasional drinkers and those who drank once per day generally had less joint damage progression over time than non-drinkers.

Study patients' drinking habits remained linked to RA progression when the researchers accounted for a number of other factors, including age, RA medication use, smoking and the length of time each patient had had the disease.

The relationship between drinking and joint damage progression was stronger among men than women, however.

That sex difference was unexpected, according to Finckh and his colleagues, and the reasons for it are not clear. One possibility, they note, is the overall difference in alcohol "dose" between men and women; 27 percent of men said they drank once per day, versus only 14 percent of women.

The findings, according to the researchers, suggest that if people with RA already drink moderately, they should not be encouraged to stop.

"Further research is however required to better understand the impact of alcohol consumption on RA," they add.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, online March 8, 2010.

The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a 0.8% decline in sales

The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains registered a decline in sales, posting 0.8 percent annual sales decline in 2009. According to data released today by Technomic Inc., in its annual reporting on the top U.S. restaurant chains, the leading foodservice consultancy found that U.S. systemwide sales for the Top 500 declined to an estimated $230.0 billion in 2009, down almost $2 billion over 2008.

"As the U.S. economy remained in a recession, restaurant operators continued to face a host of challenges, including cost pressures followed by declines in consumer dining demand. The data in this report clearly supports what we've been hearing in our consumer research surveys over the past year. Sales among the Top 500 restaurant chains contracted 0.8 percent in 2009, versus 3.4 percent growth in 2008," said Ron Paul, President of Technomic. "Many chains scaled back their U.S. unit expansion efforts and shuttered underperforming stores, growing units by just 0.3 percent compared with 1.8 percent a year ago."

Growth came from the limited-service Mexican, Bakery Café and Donut categories with Chipotle, Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts posting 2009 sales growth of 13.9 percent and an estimated 7.1 and 3.7 percent, respectively. McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain, grew 2.9 percent with sales estimated at $30.9 billion. Subway continued to dominate the growing Other Sandwich segment with 4.2 percent sales growth and total sales of $10 billion, which is considerably better than the 0.8 percent growth posted by the Other Sandwich chains collectively. Subway continues as the second-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., followed by Burger King, Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and Starbucks.

Limited-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for 85 percent of all U.S. "fast food" restaurant sales. As a whole, this group grew at a rate of 0.1 percent. Asian, which grew at 5.9 percent, was another limited-service subsegment with sales growth well above their segment average. Within this group, Panda Express, a California-based chain, grew 8.8 percent with sales of $1.2 billion.

Growth continued to be driven by fast-casual chains. The Mexican category was led once again by Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill, posting U.S. systemwide sales growth of 13.9 and an estimated 6.5 percent, respectively. Standouts in the hamburger segment included Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The Counter with estimated sales growth of 50.2 and 67.3 percent, respectively.

Full-service chains within the Technomic Top 500 accounted for roughly 40% percent of all U.S. restaurant sales within this segment. As a whole, this group decreased sales 2.9 percent. Asian, which grew at 2.9 percent, was the only full-service subsegment with positive sales growth. Within this group, several mid-sized brands, including RA Sushi Bar Restaurant, Stir Crazy Asian Grill and MuHot Mongolian Grill, drove its growth with double-digit sales increases.

Within Top 500 full-service restaurants, the real story was in the Steak category, which experienced a decline in sales of 6.4 percent, a deeper decrease than the 0.7 percent decline seen in the prior year. This group continued to be affected by declining customer traffic and check averages, slowing unit expansion and closures. Seafood and Mexican categories also posted below-average results with sales declines of 4.2 and 4.0 percent, respectively.

The Ten Fastest-Growing Chains with Sales Over $200 Million

Ranked by Percentage Increase in Sales in 2009 vs. 2008

1 Five Guys Burgers and Fries
2 Tim Hortons
3 Buffalo Wild Wings Bar
4 Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop
5 Wingstop
6 Noodles & Company
7 BJ Brewhouse
8 Chipotle Mexican Grill
9 Firehouse
10 Potbelly Sandwich Works

*Technomic estimate

In total, the top 10 fastest-growing chains’ sales accounted for $5.9 billion, a 19 percent increase over 2008. Unit counts grew 16 percent.

While the Top 500 chains posted a decline in sales in the aggregate, individual results varied dramatically with sales ranging from Yogurtland’s 157.7 percent growth to Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern’s 71.8 percent estimated sales decline. Only 40 percent of the Top 500 restaurant chains posted at least nominal sales increases; 283 of these chains suffered sales declines in 2009 compared to only 213 in 2008. Both winners and losers appeared in each segment and menu category. These widely-mixed results demonstrate the overall competitiveness of the industry and the need for suppliers and operators to carefully identify and focus on the winners.

International performance by the Top 500 restaurant chains significantly outperformed their domestic counterpart growth in 2009. International sales (up 3.3 percent) outpaced U.S. sales (down 0.8 percent); international unit growth was also up 5.2 percent versus 0.3 percent for U.S. units.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Foods labeled as "rich in antioxidants" are much more likely to be consumed "very frequently

Foods labeled as "rich in antioxidants" are much more likely to be consumed "very frequently" or "somewhat frequently" (40%) by American consumers compared to foods labeled as "antioxidants added" (25%).

Decision Analyst's Food Ingredients: What's Hot? report, based on a survey of 16,392 U.S. grocery shoppers, clearly indicates that consumers prefer the label copy "rich in" as opposed to "added," as shown in the table below for the ingredients omega-3 and iron.

Percent of American Consumers Who
Frequently Consume Products Described As...
Label Percent
Rich in antioxidants 40%
Antioxidants Added 25%

Rich in Omega-3 27%
Omega-3 Added 19%

Rich in Iron 25%
Iron Added 15%

Base: 16,392 American Consumers
Question: How often do you consume foods and beverages described as
follows...? "Very/Somewhat Frequently"

"Our findings suggest that more Americans frequently consume products labeled 'rich in' these ingredients, compared to products that have the same ingredients 'added.' This is likely due to the perception that foods rich in an ingredient are more natural and less processed, compared to foods that have these ingredients added to them during the manufacturing process," said Diane Brewton, Senior Vice President of the Market Intelligence Group at Decision Analyst.

"Consumer perceptions and beliefs about ingredients contained in their foods, as well as nutritional information on food packaging, are important factors driving their purchase behavior. Understanding consumer knowledge and beliefs is crucial for food marketers, as this helps them effectively highlight healthful, or even 'magic,' product ingredients in messaging and packaging claims," continued Diane Brewton.


The Food Ingredients: What's Hot? report is based on information from a comprehensive food and beverage consumption, restaurant behavior, health attitudes, and lifestyle management study sponsored by Decision Analyst. This comprehensive food industry study has been conducted monthly since January 2006 using Decision Analyst's American Consumer Opinion® Online panel. These data are based on a representative sample of 16,392 U.S. adult respondents. The survey results are accurate to one percentage point, plus or minus, at a 99% level of confidence.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some 76% of consumers claim their snacking habits changed in some way

Most consumers (76 percent) say their snacking habits have changed in some way during the past two years, reports a new study by foodservice industry consultant Technomic. More than one-half of consumers snack at least once a day. About one-fifth of consumers (21 percent) say they are snacking more frequently now, and more than one-third (35 percent) say they are choosing healthier options than they were two years ago.

The findings are detailed in Technomic’s new Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, which examines snacking behavior, purchase decisions, attitudes and preferences away and at home; at retail establishments and at restaurants; and by consumer demographic.

Select findings include:

* More than two out of five consumers (42 percent) say they usually skip one meal a day or replace a meal a day with snacks.
* Roughly three-quarters (74 percent) of snacking takes place at home. However, consumers aged 18-24 are more likely to snack outside the home than other groups (32 percent versus 26 percent).
* Consumers purchase the majority of their snacks from retail locations as opposed to restaurants (83 and 17 percent, respectively).
* About one in five consumers (19 percent) have broadened their definition of snacks to include more types of food.

“Growing snack consumption and the consumer’s broadening perception of what constitutes a snack are changing how operators and manufacturers should position this category,” says Darren Tristano, EVP at Technomic. “The greatest opportunities likely exist for packaged snacks and prepared offerings at retail locations and limited-service restaurants, although many full-service concepts seem to have room to market snacks as well.”

Some trends and venues examined in this report include:

* Bar snacks and happy-hour menus: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse’s 5 for $6 ‘Til 7 Bar Menu
* Ethnic-inspired upscale food trucks: Mmmpanadas, Kogi’s
* Healthy and fresh: Jamba Juice’s 3g Energizer, McDonald’s Parfait
* Bundling snacks into combo meals: Long John Silver’s Popcorn Shrimp Snack
* Afternoon menus: Einstein Bros.’ Snack Out Menu
* Beverages as snacks: Caribou Coffee’s chocolate-based specialty drinks.

The Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report was designed to help foodservice executives understand menu trends, consumer preferences, needstates and attitudes associated with snacking occasions. The Consumer Insights section is based on results of a January 2010 online survey conducted with 1,500 American consumers, and provides data analysis by Snacking User group (super heavy, heavy, moderate and light) and age group. Menu Insights utilizes Technomic’s exclusive MenuMonitor database to look at how leading, emerging and independent chain operators are menuing and positioning snacks.

Healthcare Bill Mandates Calorie Counts

Tucked into the sweeping healthcare reform bill signed by President Obama today was a provision that will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts on menus, menu boards, drive-thru menus and vending machines. The new regulation will negate regulations already proposed or enacted in a number of state and municipalities.

The bill exempts small businesses and does not apply to daily or temporary specials and customized orders. It requires the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to propose specific regulations not later than one year from now. Those regulations will be finalized through a formal rulemaking process, and the FDA must make quarterly reports on its progress to Congress.

* Center for Science in the Public Interest: Health Reform to Deliver Calorie Counts to Chain Restaurant Menus Nationwide

Coconut Water for Health

New Nutrition Business released its “Coconut water: innovation and natural health benefits drive a new category” report, which analyzes the $450 million retail market for coconut water that is seeing huge growth thanks to its strong isotonic, hypoallergenic and all-natural health benefits.

The report provides detailed, independent and opinionated analysis, using supermarket sales data and interviews with executives at all of the companies concerned, as well as independent beverage industry experts. It analyzes packaging, ingredients and nutrition profiles, supply strategies, marketing communications strategy, pricing strategies, target consumers and flavors.

Click here for the full report.

* New Nutrition Business: Coconut water: innovation and natural health benefits drive a new category

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seaweed Reduces Fat Absorption by 75%

Researchers at Newcastle University found dietary fiber in one of the world’s largest commercially used seaweed may reduce the amount of fat absorbed by the body by 75 percent, and may be the key to tackling the worldwide obesity epidemic.

The research team found Alginate, a natural fiber found in sea kelp, stops the body from absorbing fat better than most anti-obesity treatments currently available over-the-counter. Using an artificial gut, they tested the effectiveness of more than 60 different natural fibers by measuring the amount of fat that was digested and absorbed with each treatment. The findings were presented at the American Chemical Society Spring meeting in San Francisco.

“This suggests that if we can add the natural fiber to products commonly eaten daily, such as bread, biscuits and yogurts, up to three-quarters of the fat contained in that meal could simply pass through the body,” wrote the lead researcher. “We have already added the alginate to bread and initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging. The next step is to carry out clinical trials to find out how effective they are when eaten as part of a normal diet.”

* Newcastle University: Seaweed to tackle rising tide of obesity

About 40% of American adults would not accept payment to forgo their favorite foods

People apparently can't be pulled away from their beloved pizza, tacos and mac n' cheese, according to a new survey released by the American Heart Association. The survey found that 40 percent of American adults would not accept payment to forgo their favorite foods – with another half of respondents taking no less than $100,000. The purpose of the survey was to assess how people feel about their comfort foods and treats, and the questions about money were hypothetical.

"Because we know people are motivated to eat healthier, the American Heart Association is committed to providing realistic and meaningful tools that are needed to make better choices," said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "And, we know that many people are on their way to better health. Our recent survey revealed three-quarters of adults are already altering their favorite foods to make them healthier – whether substituting one ingredient for another, adding more healthy ingredients, or removing certain ingredients altogether."

The American Heart Association can help people enjoy a healthier lifestyle without giving up desired foods. Its Online Nutrition Center ( provides helpful tips for healthy shopping, dining out and cooking, along with delicious recipes and resources for kids.

Tasty Surprises Twitter Giveaway

From adding shredded carrots to meatloaf to using zucchini strips instead of lasagna noodles, everyone has their own go-to tip. The American Heart Association wants to reward those home chefs with creative substitutions and additions in its Tasty Surprises Twitter Giveaway where followers will have a chance to win prizes like a top-of-the-line mixer ($300 value) and other kitchen supplies.

The four-week Twitter giveaway, hosted by @AHA_Nutweetion (, calls on followers to share tips and photos of the substitutions they make to improve the nutritional quality of their favorite dishes. The Twitter follower with the most votes on their picture and tip will win. Each week will focus on a different tenet of the American Heart Association's nutrition guidelines, including:

* Lowering saturated and trans fats
* Reducing sodium
* Eating more fruits and vegetables
* Increasing consumption of fiber-rich whole grains

Visit the American Heart Association's Facebook and Twitter pages to get more tips and engage with other people dedicated to healthy eating.

The American Heart Association's 2020 Goals and Nutrition

The American Heart Association continues its commitment to America and has set goals for 2020 to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

The goal focuses on the prevention of heart disease, and includes dietary goals for all Americans: to eat at least 4.5 cups of fruit and vegetables and three or more one ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily; to eat two 3.5 ounce servings of fish a week; to limit sodium to less than 1,500 mg daily; and to drink less than or equal to 450 calories (or 36 ounces) from sugar-sweetened beverages a week. A heart-healthy diet is key to reducing heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension.

Visit to learn more about the free tools and resources available from the American Heart Association. To view the multimedia assets associated with this release visit

About the American Heart Association

Founded in 1924, we're the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases -- America's No. 1 and No. 3 killers -- we fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health. To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit

About the Survey

The survey, Tasty Surprises Nutrition Omnibus, was conducted in March 2010 with 1,000 adults (18 and older) selected from the online segment of Synovate's Consumer Opinion Panel.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The grocery channel has 96% household penetration for prepared foods

The food industry is in a state of transition as consumers continue to look for convenient and healthy food choices -- often a difficult combination to find. Where they purchase (and are willing to purchase) these foods continues to evolve, and the grocery, quick-service restaurant (QSR) and convenience channel are all responding by providing more fresh and healthy meal solutions and snacks.

This trend represents a great opportunity for the convenience channel to brand itself as a convenient food destination for health-conscious consumers. And while there isn't a crystal ball to outline future success, a good roadmap for the convenience channel would be to watch the trends in the grocery channel, currently representing roughly 96 percent household penetration for prepared foods. In contrast, the convenience channel represents just under 10 percent, according to Nielsen Homescan Panel research.

Two key trends in the grocery channel that provide insight and opportunity for the convenience channel are on-the-go meal solutions and healthy snacking.

On-the-Go Meal Solutions: Deli-prepared foods represent roughly 60 percent of deli sales in the traditional grocery channel and continue to grow year over year. During the last 52 weeks, growth has concentrated on deli-prepared chicken (mostly driven by rotisserie chicken growth); deli sandwiches; deli dips, spreads and toppings (driven by hummus sales growth); sushi; and pizza (both pizza slice sales growth, as well as whole pizzas as part of a take-and-bake program).

Convenience channel operators can capitalize on the fact that consumers are looking for both individual and family meal options. They're interested in unique foods, often ethnic, and they want to purchase meal components they can combine easily at home.

Healthy Snacking: Many fresh food suppliers are making the transition to providing more healthy snacking options for perishables departments, offering products and programs specifically targeted to meet the needs of convenience store shoppers looking for snacks and meals on the go, as well as unique needs of the convenience store distribution network.

Chiquita, an industry leader in the grocery channel, successfully transitioned to the convenience channel. Understanding c-store operators may have limited weekly deliveries but must have fresh product on the shelves, Chiquita developed natural packaging technology, an exclusive Stay Fresh Pack, to extend shelf life -- keeping bananas ripe up to seven days longer and resulting in higher margins for the convenience channel. Another key element of the Chiquita To Go platform includes merchandising and handling training programs for c-store personnel.

Crunch Pak, a Washington state supplier of fresh sliced apples, created packaging specifically targeted to in-the-car snacking. Its mini bags of sliced apples and "Grab 'n Go" fruit cups are designed to fit into car cup holders and be eaten without a spoon, providing healthy snacking options for kids and parents alike.

Ready Pac Foods Inc. created a three-pronged platform for the convenience channel focused on fill-in/quick-trip solutions, on-the-go meals and healthy snacking. Ready Pac creates convenience store and distributor partnerships to bring consumer-centric products to the convenience channel. Whether it's a full meal solution program, developed and delivered with a focus on product and culinary innovation, as well as shelf-life extension expertise, or its healthy snacking line, which brings consumers both sweet and savory unique snacking options, Ready Pac provides partners with a wide array of products ready to meet consumer demands for meals, health and convenience.

While selling fresh-food options is a great opportunity for the convenience channel, the reality of perishable products requires operators to have their eyes wide open when it comes to understanding the challenges and nuances. A few key insights from perishables suppliers that have made the transition to working with the convenience channel are:

Expect Product Shrink: Due to the seven- to 12-day shelf life of perishable foods, there will be product shrink at the store level. In general, 2 percent to 6 percent is good, while 8 percent to 13 percent is average.

Price for Sales: Be aware of the price points for similar products in the grocery channel. It's OK to be a bit higher, but be reasonable. Expect lower gross margins to start -- margins will increase the more active role the store manager/ personnel put into their fresh foods case. Promotions, sampling and even meal bundling can increase sales.

Keep it Cool: Convenience store distributors are not typically used to handling perishable products. Maintaining 34 to 40 degrees refrigeration is optimum, and it's important there are "chill" capabilities along the distribution channel, from warehouses to trucks and to the stores.

Increase Delivery Frequency: Due to the vast geographies, some distributors only deliver to stores weekly, often causing stores to run out of product. Ideal minimum delivery frequency is twice weekly for fresh code dates and to minimize shrink.

Engage Staff With Fresh: Work with partners willing to provide education/training to staff and reward staff for growing fresh sales.

Merchandise for Sales: Set up a schematic outlining all the "fresh food" offerings available by time of day. Example: breakfast = fresh cut fruit/parfaits/ whole fruit. Lunch = fresh cut fruit/salads/snacking. This gears products specifically to the consumer who will consume them within one to three hours of purchase and improves food safety. Also, ensure staff monitors fresh product appearance, culling out-of-date and poor-looking product.

Consumers want fresh foods, and they're open to getting their foods from outlets other than the grocery channel if it means they will save time. This makes the convenience channel a logical solution for many consumers, but only if convenience store managers know how to stock, merchandise and price fresh-food options.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Coming Soon: A Low-Heartburn Coffee?

Darker roasts have fewer irritants than lighter brews, researchers find

For millions of coffee-lovers with delicate stomachs, scientists may have found a way to enjoy an eye-opening cup of java without gastrointestinal discomfort.

European researchers studying stomach-irritating chemicals in coffee have unexpectedly found one that actually inhibits acid production in the stomach.

"The major import of our work is that it provides scientific evidence that you can produce a more stomach-friendly coffee by varying the processing technology," said study author Veronika Somoza, professor and chair of the Research Platform of Molecular Food Science at the University of Vienna, Austria.

The finding offers the promise that coffee makers can produce a blend that will be easier on the tummy, Somoza said.

The results were to be presented Sunday at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in San Francisco.

The scientists looked at coffee's effect on human stomach cells using a variety of preparations, including dark-roast, regular roast, decaffeinated and stomach-friendly. Instead of one single element, they identified a mixture of compounds -- caffeine, catechols and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytriptamides -- as the chemicals in coffee that promote the production of stomach acid.

But a fourth chemical, N-methylpyridinium, which is more common in dark roasts, such as espresso and French roast blends, was found to inhibit acid.

N-methylpyridinium is a product of the roasting process itself, resulting in dark roasts that are less likely than lighter ones to cause stomach irritation, according to the research.

Whether the findings will translate to human coffee drinkers remains unclear. The authors hope to conduct tests with human coffee drinkers this year.

Dr. Joseph Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who has studied the antioxidant properties of coffee, said the study suggests the possibility of a less troublesome brew.

"Cell studies can be legitimate. They can lead to human studies that will say the same thing," said Vinson. "She [Somoza] has figured out a research approach that is one way to do it, and it's a question of whether it is relevant to the human realm."

Vinson predicted it will be.

"There's more than enough data [in the study] to make it interesting," said Vinson. "There can be this special coffee that doesn't bother you."

The potential market for a kinder, gentler coffee is huge. About 40 million people in the United States alone avoid java, often because of acid reflux disease, a common stomach problem for coffee drinkers, according to background information from the American Chemical Society. Stomach-friendly coffees are already on the market, but some doctors don't recommend them for people with acid reflux, which pushes stomach contents back up the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Among them is Dr. Anthony A. Starpoli, director of gastroesophageal research at St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers in New York City, who doesn't advise drinking decaffeinated coffee either.

"When you say you can have a little, it becomes a license to do whatever you want," said Starpoli about the advice he gives his patients. "I'm very strict about coffee," he added, because it causes serious stomach trouble for some.

The study suggests some balance of "good guys" and "bad guys" in coffee, and the process used to make it more stomach-friendly eliminates both, he noted. The study's identification of components causing problems for coffee drinkers is a valuable finding and supports his medical advice that some people should avoid drinking coffee entirely, he said.

"It shows a reason, and you always need to have a reason. At the end of the day, if you have significant acid reflux disease, you should not drink coffee," said Starpoli.

Many medications prevent acid reflux, and Starpoli believes they help. But he cautions against their overuse by folks who take them so they can have coffee, wine or other heartburn-inducing foods. The medicines can inhibit the acid that kills helpful bacteria, sometimes causing diarrhea and other serious problems, and can also become addictive, Starpoli said.

Production of a less-irritating coffee would be welcome news, because so many patients resist giving up their daily java, he said.

"It's almost a completely non-negotiable item for some of them," he said.

More information

There's more on acid reflux at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Organic foods and beverages are pulling back from the increasing growth levels

The wave of organic packaged foods may have crested at mainstream retailers.

Organic foods and beverages are pulling back from startling growth levels in recent years and settling into a small niche space at mainstream retailers, food industry executives and analysts said this week.

The recession put a halt to the double-digit sales growth organic foods saw earlier last decade. But even when the economy improves, organics are not likely to rebound to such lofty heights as consumers and retailers now have other priorities for spending and shelf space.

"It's hard if you are a big company to do things that move the needle in that space," said Greg Pearlman, managing director and head of the U.S. food and consumer group for BMO Capital Markets (BMO.TO). While Pearlman expects 2010 to be an active year for deals in the food industry, he did not see a big play for manufacturers in the organic space.

Health and wellness is still expected to be a big trend in the food industry, analysts and executives said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago. But that interest will be spread across items like those with lower sodium, reduced calories and even a focus on removing allergens from food.

"Retailers are looking for the best assets for the limited amounts of space" they have, said Ken Harris, CEO of consulting firm Kantar Retail US, part of Britain's WPP (WPP.L).

Some organics and their less-regulated cousins, natural foods, may be losing out in that battle for shelf space.

Organic sales are still growing, but the pace has slowed sharply.

During the 52 weeks ending February 20, supermarket sales of packaged foods and nonalcoholic beverages with "organic" claims rose 1.9 percent to $4.4 billion, according to Nielsen data. That compares with an 11.7 percent increase the prior year, and increases of 24.5 percent in the period ending in 2008 and 29.1 percent in the period ending in 2007.

Organic food was a hot topic in the grocery industry in the middle of the last decade, with even Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) saying in 2006 that it would double its organic offerings. Mainstream manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, coming out with organic versions of products like pasta sauce and ketchup.

To qualify as "organic" in the United States, food must be farmed without the use of pesticides, antibiotics or genetically altered organisms, while "natural" foods refer to those that are minimally processed.


Mainstream consumers are finding benefits similar to those they seek in foods that fall short of U.S. government standards for the "organic" label.

"We're seeing a lot of conventional companies fighting back with 'organic light,'" said Michael Swanson, analyst at Wells Fargo.

He noted milk that is free of artificial hormones is one product that consumers will buy that is less expensive than organic milk, but which still gives a benefit sought by consumers.

"They don't need to go up to true organic to get most of the perceived benefit in their food dollar," Swanson said.

For some mainstream food producers, the economics of organic foods, naturally raised chickens and other such products have not made sense.

"The problem with that is every grocery store sells such a very small amount of it," said Joe Sanderson, CEO of poultry producer Sanderson Farms (SAFM.O), referring to "naturally raised" chicken, which he called a "niche" market.

"They get a premium price for it, but ... most of the people that buy that product want boneless breast. And what do you do with the rest of the chicken?" he said.

Bob Goldin, executive vice president of food and restaurant consulting firm Technomic, said that manufacturers and retailers may have put more organic products on store shelves when the marketing buzz was highest. Now they are pulling some of it back as consumer demand did not meet those expectations.

"I suspect there has been some rationalization," he said. "I don't think it was wholesale rationalization."

The Organic Trade Association expects that more growth will be seen in 2010 as the economy recovers.

"This is not a passing fad," said Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the trade group.

Still, the natural/organic segment is "always going to be a niche," said Forrest Roberts, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, an industry trade group. He said organic and natural beef sales make up less than 2 percent of the market.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Consumers are looking for fresh and authentic meal experiences

According to a recent consumer survey and an accompanying Culinary Visions Panel discussion among culinary professionals conducted by Chicago-based food marketing firm Olson Communications, people in these challenging economic times seem to be yearning for simple, fresh, and authentic meal experiences and are displaying an innovative frugality in their food choices.

This "New Simplicity" revealed by a recent consumer survey shows that people are turning inward—dining out less often—and going back to tradition. In fact, 90 percent of people polled said they are cooking at home at least once a week, with approximately half of those respondents reporting they cook at home every day. Moreover, nearly half (46 percent) of consumers said they cook from scratch at least once a week.

Of those who enjoy cooking at home, the majority in all age groups—65 percent—said they were the cook. Seventeen percent of respondents said that another family member or friend did the cooking, 12 percent indicated that the whole family pitched in to cook, while 4 percent reported that they had a restaurant meal brought in. In an ideal world—and in their notion of an ideal home kitchen—2 percent acknowledged they would love to have an in-house chef make their meals for them.

While three-fourths or more of respondents said they cook from scratch or reheat leftovers for another meal at least once a week, prepared foods still play a key role in eating habits: 57 percent indicated that they buy prepared deli food and 49 percent purchase meal kits at least once a month.

Although people find the simple pleasures of eating home cooking appealing, it doesn't mean that they want their food to taste dull. Half of the respondents, for example, cited unique spices as important or very important in creating an ideal home dining experience.

When asked what items are important in an "ideal" home cooking experience, the majority of survey respondents cited fresh ingredients, followed by healthy ingredients, local fruits/vegetables, prepared items from the deli, organic fruits and vegetables, and chef-branded items.

Meanwhile, during a recent roundtable discussion among members of Olson Communications' Culinary Visions Panel—a multidisciplinary group that includes acclaimed executive chefs, a culinary historian, pastry school owner, cooking school instructor, and gourmet caterer—food professionals agreed that consumers appreciate good food with quality ingredients, prepared in an uncomplicated, authentic way whether at home or when they decide to go out to eat.

Panelist Mary McMahon, culinary director of the Evanston, Illinois–based cooking class and demonstration business Now We're Cookin', reported to the panel that her clientele shifted in the past year, as people seek to balance budgets by balancing food preparation.

"Family classes have become more popular. People want to learn how to cook and they don't have time. Our mission is to get families back to the table," McMahon says.

Consumers also clamor for the good things in life when dining out. "I don't put anything on the menu I cannot explain to my mother," says panelist Jimmy Sneed, executive chef of the acclaimed SugarToad restaurant in Naperville, Illinois.

"Less of something better is often more satisfying and simpler ingredients don't need flavor-masking ingredients," says Chef Sebastien Canonne, master pastry chef instructor and owner of The French Pastry School in Chicago.

According to Sharon Olson, president of Olson Communications, the findings from both the consumer survey and the Culinary Visions Panel underscore the importance of culinary basics: high quality, simple ingredients, authentic and fresh preparation methods, and time spent with family and friends around the table.

"Our research shows that home and hearth matter to consumers, in ways we haven't seen or talked about in a while," Olson says. "Certainly, things like convenience, a memorable dining experience, and price remain influential, but for most people, it really does come down to good food and good times."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kraft to trim sodium levels in food products

Kraft Foods (KFT.N), the maker of Oreo cookies and Velveeta cheese, plans to cut sodium levels in its North American products by about 10 percent over the next two years, making it the latest food maker trying to address health concerns as pressure mounts from government.

The largest North American food maker said on Wednesday that its plans would eliminate more than 10 million pounds -- or more than 750 million teaspoons -- of salt from some of North America's most popular foods.

The news came a day after the world's No. 2 soft-drink maker, PepsiCo (PEP.N), said it would to stop sales of full-sugar soft drinks to primary and secondary schools on a global scale by 2012.

Lawmakers in more than a dozen U.S. states are campaigning to tax sugary beverages to cover obesity-related health costs. [ID:nN15206232]

Earlier this week, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama -- who is leading a major administration initiative on child obesity -- urged food makers to work faster to re-formulate or re-package food to make it healthier for kids. [ID:nN16109102]

"We need you not just to tweak around the edges but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children," she said.

Last month, President Barack Obama asked Cabinet officers to come up with an interagency plan and asked his wife to head a national public awareness effort.

Two industry groups, the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association have pledged their help.

The administration also said it would provide $400 million for its Healthy Food Financing Initiative to eliminate "food deserts" where the only food sources are typically convenience stores or gas stations.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chocolate for Better Health

For people with high levels of anxiety, dark chocolate might be the ticket to a less-stressed life. According to research from the Nestlé Research Center, a daily serving of 40 grams of dark chocolate might help people with anxiety improve their metabolism and improve gut microflora while reducing stress. The results of this study were published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

The results of the study showed that metabolic improvements largely came from a reduction in stress. Subjects consumed 40 grams of chocolate daily for two weeks. Subsequently, they showed “decreased levels of stress hormones and metabolites from pathogenic bacteria,” noted Serge Rezzi, Ph.D., head of the Metabonomics and Biomarkers Group, Nestlé Research Center.

This led the researchers to suggest that dietary changes can help alter people’s metabolic status and improve health over the long term.

* Confectionery News: Nestlé: Chocolate may benefit gut health and metabolism

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More food companies will be bought out this year

More food companies will be bought out this year and the latter half of 2010 could mark the beginning of consolidation in the grocery industry, Kantar Retail Americas Chief Executive Ken Harris said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago on Monday.

"It's not about making a big acquisition, but you'll see some smart acquisitions starting to happen over the next six to 12 months," said Harris, who advises food manufacturers and retailers on their business models and acquisition strategies.

"There is a lot of deal flow going on right now ... there are a lot of high-quality companies in the $3 (billion) to $5 billion range," Harris said.

Kraft Foods Inc's (KFT.N) recent $18.4 billion acquisition of chocolatier Cadbury Plc should be a catalyst for more deals in the industry, Harris said, particularly as financing conditions have improved considerably since Kraft first made its offer public last September.

Those improved conditions could also bring out more buyers for food brands that were gobbled up over the past several years by private equity players who are now ready to sell those assets, he said.

Kantar, which works with potential buyers to find out how retailers feel about a company or brand that might be bought, has seen such activity increase 30 to 45 percent in some areas, Harris said.

Even in terms of larger deals, the fact that Kraft was able to acquire Cadbury, despite the Cadbury board's initial resistance, could be a harbinger of other deals, he said.

"Market dynamics are much more favorable now than when Kraft started this last year," Harris said.

The U.S. grocery market has too many supermarkets and this is likely the year that healthy players, particularly privately held operators like Wegmans and Publix, could begin to swallow smaller or struggling operators.

"The dynamics are right for retailers to consolidate and you're going to see acquisitions in the back half of 2010," he said.

This may also be the year that consumers start buying more expensive food and nationally branded products after sticking to strict budgets for nearly two years, Harris said.

"If it were to happen, it would be in the fourth quarter," Harris said.


The retail industry as a whole may have benefited from consumers eating more at home in order to save money during the recession, but within the industry, individual retailers are battling more to attract consumers looking for value.

At the same time, manufacturers are working more with retailers to develop product offerings that will attract consumers who otherwise might shop just for the lowest price.

"There have been very few times in history that I can think of when the retailers and manufacturers need each other more than they do now," Harris said.

Those collaborations include using different technologies to decide how people react to different items in the store and more deeply mining frequent shopper card data for information on consumer behavior.

But some manufacturers may not be able to come up with retail partners to share such data and will find themselves at a disadvantage, Harris said.

For retailers, the model for the store of the future could be something smaller than shoppers are used to now.

"There are already many pilots on smaller-footprint stores," Harris said, adding that retailers are trying to figure out how to get the most sales volume and profit out of those stores. That could lead to changes in the supply chain to accommodate those stores, he said.

"Manufacturers do not have the exclusivity on innovations, retailers are pushing themselves to come up with different ways of doing things, different experiences," Harris said.

First a Soda Tax, Now a Pizza Tax: The Food Police March On

A study published earlier this week by the American Medical Association's Archives of Internal Medicine argues that if pizza and soda were more expensive, people would consume them less frequently in favor of healthier fare. Tacking an 18% tax onto pizza and soda would reduce Americans' intake of calories, which would in turn help slash health care costs by an astounding $147 billion a year, according to the study's authors. Pizza was singled out by the researchers because, like soda, its real price (versus inflation, through 2006) fell over time, while costs for seemingly healthier foods such as whole milk rose over the 20-year period reviewed in the study.

For one thing, pizza isn't especially bad for you, and whole milk is not especially nutritious. Pizza clocks in at about 300 calories for single plain slice, according to CalorieKing: That's not a salad -- which can become an orgy of calories depending on the type of dressing you choose -- but it's not as bad as a McDonald's (MCD) Quarter Pounder, which has 510 calories. Of course, pizza gets more fattening when you add meat-based toppings to it such as peperoni.

As for milk, some experts have questioned whether drinking it is especially good for people. Whole milk is the most fattening variant, with 147 calories in a single serving.

Good Foods Versus Bad Foods: Too Simplistic a View?

For their part, the authors argue that they are not trying to demonize any particular food.

Findings suggest that national, state or local policies to alter the price of less healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more healthful diet," the authors write. "While such policies will not solve the obesity epidemic in its entirety and may face considerable opposition from food manufacturers and sellers, they could prove an important strategy to address overconsumption, help reduce energy intake and potentially aid in weight loss and reduced rates of diabetes among U.S. adults."

Theoretically, the authors are probably right. Making something prohibitively expensive discourages people from doing it. Subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup is not a good idea either, and healthy foods should be more accessible and affordable. But other experts say reducing the fight over obesity to a struggle between good foods and bad foods is overly simplistic.

You cannot single out one food or two foods as a cause of obesity." says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian based in New York and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "People love their high-calorie coffee drinks that cost a fortune," though plain coffee is much cheaper.

"It's No One's Business What Anybody Puts in Their Mouths"

The idea of taxing people to better health is gaining popularity. Anti-obesity soda taxes are being discussed in New York and Philadelphia. There is even talk of a levy at the federal level. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association support soda taxes. But these taxes are unfair to the poor, who already spend a far greater fraction of their salaries on food than the wealthy. And attempts to change behavior through taxation or legislation don't always produce the desired effects.

For years, smoking rates declined as cigarette taxes skyrocketed. Then the declines stalled, in part because states did not spend enough on smoking cessation efforts The CDC estimates that about 46 million American adults are smokers. Studies of New York City's law mandating that restaurants provide calorie information disagree about whether it is having a positive impact.

Americans are quite ingenious at avoiding laws they don't like. Think about the throngs of people who take special road trips to buy Fourth of July fireworks which are illegal where they live. Delaware advertises itself at the home of "tax-free shopping" because it lacks a sales tax: In theory, out-of-state residents are supposed to declare their Delaware purchases to their home states, but most never bother. At least these items are easily identifiable: Can you imagine the fights that will occur over obesity-prevention taxes if experts can't agree on what is nutritious?

Sallie James, a policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, denounces these types of proposals as paternalistic. "It's no one's business what anybody puts in their mouths," she says in an interview. "I suspect some lawmakers are attracted to it for a revenue source."

Pizza Sellers Ask: Why Pick on Us?

With government budgets being squeezed, she has a point. Of course, obesity is a serious problem. Medical expenses for the overweight accounted for 9.1% of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998 and may have reached as high as $78.5 billion, according to the CDC. Approximately half of these costs were paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

From big chains to mom-and-pop operations, pizza is about a $50 billion business in the U.S. Many pizza restaurants have suffered in recent years from wildly fluctuating commodities prices; meanwhile, cash-strapped have customers increasingly chosen to dine out in cheaper fast-food restaurants. An 18% tax increase on pizza and soda would be devastating to the industry, which counts on soda sales to boost its profits, says Jennifer Litz, editor of Pizza Marketplace, an industry Web site.

Some pizza chains seem puzzled as to why their product specifically is under fire from anti-obesity activists.

"Pizza is completely customizable -- you can make it as healthy or as indulgent as you want," says Tim McIntyre, vice president for communications at Domino's Pizza Inc. (DPZ), in an email statement. "It's the consumer's choice. Blaming certain foods [for] obesity is a stretch, to say the least."

At the very least, we should not make the cure for obesity worse than the disease.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pulse-based, gluten-free crackers have untapped potential

Pulse-based, gluten-free crackers have untapped potential both in terms of consumer appeal and health benefits, claim researchers based at a Canadian food processing development centre.

Nearly two million North Americans suffering gluten intolerance and the scientists said that, as a result, the objective of the project was to develop gluten-free, pulse-based cracker snacks that exploit the anti-allergenic and health-enhancing nature of pulses ingredients.

The outcome of their research is published in Food Research International.

According to Datamonitor, the global savoury snacks market grew by 4.6 per cent in 2008 to reach a value of $61.4bn, and is forecast to reach a value of $76.3bn in 2013, which represents an increase of 24.3 per cent since 2008.

Niche category

This market is relatively saturated, they stated, but argue that room remains for niche products high in nutrients such as fibre, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, or gluten-free.

The researchers note that pulses are now recognized as having significant potential health benefits: “Pulses contain complex carbohydrates (dietary fibres, resistant starch, and oligosaccharides), high protein with a good amino acid profile (high lysine), important vitamins and minerals (B-vitamins, folates, and iron), as well as antioxidants and polyphenols.”

Pulses are also gluten-free, they said, and have a low glycemic index, characteristics with benefits for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and celiac disease.


The authors said that they evaluated nine commercially available pulse fractions (chickpea, green and red lentil, yellow pea, pinto and navy bean flours and pea protein, starch and fibre isolates) and integrated them into a model cracker formulation.

Baking additives such as gelatinized rice starch, modified starch, xanthan gum, carboxy methyl and maltodextrin was also evaluated during preliminary formulation trials, but the researchers determined that the effect of these ingredients was minimal and that gluten-free pulse crackers formulated without the baking additives were of reasonable quality.

They said the physical and nutritional characteristics of the pulse crackers produced were similar to existing products on the market, but their sodium content, which was 345mg, was much higher:

“The sodium contents of existing products ranged from 80 to 220 mg per serving. The high sodium content of the pulse crackers can be easily adjusted without significantly affecting the quality of the cracker product,” argued the researchers.

Iron content

They stressed though that the daily values per serving of iron was three to six times higher in the chickpea crackers than existing products on a per serving basis.

“The higher iron content demonstrated the health benefit of the pulse ingredients in food system,” said the researchers.

And the authors added that the products scoring highly during consumer acceptance testing in relation to sensory attributes: “Based on its acceptability data, processing characteristics and consultation with an industry partner, the chickpea cracker formulation was advanced to a commercial-scale processing trial,” they said.

Sales of soup are declining

Soup, which sustained a nation through the Great Depression, has itself fallen on hard times in the "Great Recession."

Winter is supposed to be prime soup season. And one might expect that to be even more the case with U.S. unemployment at 10% during one of the snowiest East Coast winters on record.

Soup is a hot meal that's both cheap and quick. But trade data highlight the balancing act name-brand food companies face in this new era of American thriftiness. If it's not on sale, shoppers tend to look elsewhere.

"Value is king these days," said food-retailing consultant Jim Hertel of Willard Bishop in Barrington, Ill.

Exhibit A is Campbell Soup Co., which learned a hard lesson in the timing of promotions.

Campbell's U.S. soup sales dropped 8% from November through January compared with the year-earlier period, punctuated by an 18% decline in ready-to-serve soups such as the Chunky brand. Condensed-soup sales were unchanged, and broth sales rose 1%.

"Campbell has not been that aggressive on promotions," said food-industry consultant Rick Shea, who runs Shea Marketing in Minneapolis.

In a recent conference call with analysts, Campbell Chief Executive Doug Conant downplayed the notion that consumer tastes are changing.

"We have had a hiccup in ready-to-serve soup, with a promotional timing shift," he said on the call. "We see it being very relevant. It's still the No. 2 item at lunch. It is still in the top 10 at dinner."

Campbell's ready-to-serve soups sold via promotional discounts fell 4.2% over the last three months and dropped 16.8% in January alone, Citigroup said, citing figures from Nielsen Co., which collects data from most food retailers.

As a retail category, soup has been a laggard. For the 12 weeks that ended Jan. 23, soup sales fell 6.7% and slid 3.3% for the 52-week period, Citigroup said, again citing Nielsen data.

This isn't just hurting Campbell. General Mills Inc., which makes Progresso, and ConAgra Foods Inc., home to Healthy Choice, is also under pressure.

General Mills' soup sales fell 12.6% in the three-month period that ended Jan. 23. ConAgra's soup sales fell 14.1% in that period, according to Nielsen data. Unlike Campbell, however, General Mills and ConAgra are far less reliant on soup sales to drive overall profits.

Fortunately for these big-name companies, private-label soup isn't stealing much market share.

Camden, N.J.-based Campbell, which claims 48% of the U.S. soup market, has vowed to ramp up promotions in response to intense price cutting in so-called simple meals. This should help draw price-conscious consumers, who analysts believe are shifting to other cheap and easy meals such as macaroni and cheese and frozen pizza.

Deutsche Bank analyst Eric Katzman said in a Feb. 22 research note that the ready-to-serve soup category was being "pitted more directly against simple meals" than ever before. This could require more spending to win back consumers, he added.

In addition, Campbell, which on Feb. 17 cut its fiscal 2010 sales forecast, is launching a new marketing campaign to highlight the affordability of condensed soups.

Ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co., for one, is taking note.

Through its "consumer value program," the Pittsburgh company is running more promotions and offering more coupons to support key brands. The program was recently used for its ketchup. Now it will include other U.S. brands such as Smart Ones, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and frozen T.G.I. Friday's meals.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Positioned as a relatively inexpensive luxury, upscale coffee sales continue to thrive

Positioned as a relatively inexpensive luxury, upscale coffee sales continue to thrive even as many other industries suffer from consumer cutbacks on nonessential purchases, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts in "Coffee and Ready-to-Drink Coffee in the U.S.: The Market and Opportunities in Retail and Foodservice, 6th Edition."

Packaged Facts estimates that total coffee market sales, including foodservice and retail, rose to $48 billion in 2009, with annual growth of 4% in 2008 and 2009. Sales in foodservice -- everything from Dunkin' Donuts' select blends to McDonald's medley of McCafé mochas, lattes, and cappuccinos -- reached $42 billion, accounting for 87% of the coffee market.

"With the advent of the so-called 'Great Recession' in 2008, the central question facing the coffee market was whether a product that saw sales growth through upscaling could continue to progress in the face of a severe economic downturn," says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. "By and large, the answer is yes. Even if marketers must now scuffle for every percentage point of sales growth they get."

As opposed as the economic downturn is to the upscaling thrust (i.e., shifts toward specialty coffee drinks, specialty coffee varietals, single pod coffee, and fair trade and triple certification coffee), the former doesn't negate the latter but rather interacts with it. Instead of settling for cheap ground coffee, consumers and their growing "coffee connoisseurship" have been willing to make difficult tradeoffs to stay within their means while indulging in premium beverages that provide many with a source of comfort during stressful times.

Accordingly, marketers who have found success discovered ways to respond to the downturn -- not by ignoring it or reversing strategy, but by incorporating its impact on consumer behavior as a factor among others that help them drive the daily value choices consumers make. Common claims for new coffee drinks since 2009 play up the "premium" angle and relatively downscale coffee venues continue to introduce luxurious coffee beverages at comparatively thrifty prices.

"Coffee and Ready-to-Drink Coffee in the U.S.: The Market and Opportunities in Retail and Foodservice, 6th Edition" examines both the retail and foodservice sides of the U.S. coffee market, as well as the growing overlap of the two. On the retail side, the report analyzes coffee sold for future brewing -- beans and ground, and instant -- and ready-to-drink coffee drinks (à la Frappuccinos), as well as coffee enthusiasts' new brewing method of choice: single-serve (pod) coffee. Examination of the vast foodservice market for coffee includes the expansion of specialty drinks at such mass-market venues as McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Burger King with its planned 2010 roll-out of Starbucks' Seattle's Best.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

About 33% of consumers will celebrate St. Patrick's Day by cooking

Retailers and restaurants might have a little more luck o’ the Irish this St. Patrick’s Day as consumers gear up for private parties and special outings to celebrate the Irish holiday. According to NRF’s 2010 St. Patrick’s Day, conducted by BIGresearch, celebrants will spend an average of $33.05 on decorations, party favors and green attire, up slightly from $32.80 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $3.44 billion.*

“With many people still worried about the economy, St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity for consumers to have a little fun,” said Tracy Mullin, President and CEO, NRF. “Retailers as well as restaurants should see an increase in traffic this year as people begin to shake off their winter blues and celebrate this traditionally festive holiday with friends and family.”

Of those planning on celebrating, eight out of 10 (80.8%) will simply put on their brightest green tie or sweater, but others want to have a bit more fun - nearly three out of 10 (29.6%) will attend a party at a bar or restaurant. Another third will stay at home and cook a traditional meal (33.3%). However, it seems the real interest this year is in heading to a private party (18.9% vs. 16.7% in 2009) or decorating a home or office (23.3% vs. 21.8% last year.)

“With limited budgets for their discretionary expenditures, partygoers will look for inexpensive ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year,” said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “Private parties are a great way to save money as friends and family can share all the costs.”

Irish or not, the holiday usually draws the interest of all ages. Having cut back on holiday festivities last year due to a weak economy, young adults seem to be back in the swing of things this year with the average 18-24 expected to spend $40.18, up from $36.05 last year. Additionally, 39.2 percent of young adults are planning on attending a private party, compared to 35.4 percent last year.

FDA Cracks Down on Food Labeling Violations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified 18 food manufacturers regarding the labeling of food products that violate the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The violations cited include unauthorized health claims, unauthorized nutrient content claims, and the unauthorized use of terms such as “healthy,” and others that have strict, regulatory definitions.

Companies that received warning letters have 15 business days to inform the FDA of the steps they will take to correct their labeling or be subject to legal proceedings that would remove misbranded products from the marketplace.

The action follows an October 2009 statement by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, encouraging companies to review their labeling to ensure that they were in compliance with FDA regulations, and were truthful and not misleading.

In an open letter to industry dated March 3, Hamburg underscored the importance of providing nutrition information that consumers could rely on. She also expressed her hope that the warning letters would clarify the FDA’s expectations for food manufacturers as they review their current labeling.

"Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States," she said.

Hamburg has made nutrition labeling a priority for the FDA. The warning letters are the agency’s most recent action to help improve consumers’ ability to make nutritious choices. The FDA soon will propose guidance regarding calorie and nutrient labeling on the front of food packages and plans to work collaboratively with the food industry to design and implement innovative approaches to front-of-package labeling that can help consumers choose healthy diets.

The 17 food manufacturers and the products with "misleading" labels are (click on the hyperlink to see the individual warning letters):

Dreyers Grand Ice Cream,Inc.: Nestle Drumstick Classic Vanilla Fudge and Dreyer's Dibs Bite Sized Ice Cream Snacks Vanilla Ice Cream (unsupported nutrient claim; trans-fat-free claim on high saturated-fat product);

Gorton's, Inc.: Gorton's Fish Fillets (trans-fat free claim on high-saturated-fat product);

Schwan's Consumer Brands: Mrs. Smith's Classic Coconut Custard Pie (trans-fat-free claim on product high in saturated fat);

Spectrum Organic Products, Inc.: Organic All Vegetable Shortening (cholesterol-free claim on product high in fats);

Beech-nut: DHA Plus line of products and Beechnut Whole Grain Oatmeal with mixed fruit (nutrient claims on products for small children);

PBM Products: Parent's Choice Little Puffs Plus Calcium Blueberry Naturally Flavored Parent's Choice Little Puffs Made with Whole Grains Peach-Mango Naturally Flavored (nutrient claims on products for small children);

Nestlé USA: Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Orange Tangerine and Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Grape (misleading claims of juice content; nutrient claims on products for small children);

Nestlé Nutrition: Gerber's 2nd Foods Carrots and Gerber Graduates Puffs (nutrient claims on products for small children);

Redco Foods: Salada Naturally Decaffeinated Green Tea (promoted for conditions that cause the product to be a drug; unapproved nutrient claim; unapproved health claim);

Sunsweet Growers: Sunsweet Antioxidant Blend dried fruit mix (unapproved nutrient claim);

Fleminger, Inc.: TeaForHealth green tea products and Dr. Lee's TeaForHealth RTE green tea product (promoted for conditions that cause the products to be drugs; unapproved nutrient claim; unauthorized health claims);

POM Wonderful: POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice (promoted for conditions that cause the products to be drugs; unauthorized health claims);

Ken's Foods, Inc.: Healthy Options Salad Dressings (unauthorized health claims; low-fat claims on product high in fats);

Pompeian: Pompeian Imported Extra Light Olive Oil ("light" claim for product high in fat; unsupported nutrient claim; unauthorized health claims);

Diamond Food, Inc.: Diamond Shelled Walnuts (unauthorized health claims);

First Juice, Inc.: Organic Fruit and Veggie Juice Beverage products and Purple carrot products (unauthorized nutrient and health claims);

Want Want Foods: Baby Mum-Mum Original Selected Superior Rice Rusks (nutrient claim on product for small children);

Nature's Path Foods, Inc.: Organic Flax Plus Multigrain Cereal (unapproved nutrient claim).


* FDA: [FDA Calls on Food Companies to Correct Labeling Violations; FDA Commissioner Issues an Open Letter to the Industry

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Some 40% of shoppers changed the way they purchase meat and poultry

The fifth edition of The Power of Meat, a joint study by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute, finds that the recession is continuing to impact food purchasing and consumption behavior, including the meat department.

While meat consumption measured in tonnage was up significantly in 2009, the dollars are lagging behind as shoppers opt for cheaper cuts and prices dropped in 2009. Forty percent of shoppers say they have changed the way they purchase meat and poultry compared with before the recession, down from 51 percent in 2009. This is also significantly less than the 50 percent who are spending less on groceries overall, signifying the strength of meat and poultry in the total food consumption.

Yet, the impact of income cannot be underestimated as 62 percent of shoppers who saw a significant drop in household income have altered their meat shopping. More customers are also cooking at home versus eating out, leading to an increase in meat purchases at supermarkets and other retail outlets.

The report, which details the findings of a national online poll of 1,174 consumers conducted in November 2009, was released today at the 2010 Annual Meat Conference. The American Meat Institute (AMI) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) published this consumer research, which was sponsored by Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division.

How Shoppers Save Money in the Meat Case

Consumers take a wide variety of money-saving measures including bulk purchasing, buying on deal, trading down, substituting and eliminating groceries in general, and meat and poultry specifically. Pre-store research has become routine for many shoppers: 78 percent read grocery flyers to find the best price per pound, 73 percent buy cheaper cuts of meat and poultry and 74 percent take advantage of sales promotions. Others are finding ways to stretch their meat dollar by cooking casseroles and pasta dishes as well as meatless meals.

In-Store Signage Top Marketing Measure

When customers were asked to rate six factors that influence their purchases, price ranked first with a score of 4.5 on a 6-point scale, well ahead of appearance. Using circulars and newspaper advertisements, 66 percent of shoppers compare meat and poultry prices at different stores and 86 percent compare prices of different brands and cuts once in the store.

As a result, in-store signage and in-store promotions are enormously important sales drivers of meat and poultry. While nutrition information and recipes play a role in the purchasing decision, it is price that for many shoppers ultimately decides where they shop, what they buy, how much they buy and if the meat is natural/organic or conventional.

The share of shoppers to whom brand is unimportant is up to 74 percent for fresh meat and 62 percent for processed meat.

Meat Consumption and Meal Preparation

In an average week, shoppers prepare four evening meals that include a meat item. These meals may range from frozen entrees to meals cooked from scratch. Chicken and beef continue to dominate the American dinner plate, with pork and fish a distant third and fourth. The vast majority of shoppers (78 percent) prepare fresh meat at least once a week and most even three times a week (53 percent).

Meat Case Versus the Service Counter

With 73 percent of all shoppers aware of case-ready meat, many believe the quality of pre-packaged meat and poultry is equal to or better than that cut and packaged in the store. This high level of trust in case-ready meat translates into a median of 90 percent of meat and poultry purchases originating from the self-service case. More than one-quarter of shoppers buy case-ready meat exclusively.

Reasons prompting shoppers to use the full-service counter include specialty cuts, special occasions and quantities not available in the meat case. Shoppers refer to family gatherings, holidays, barbeques and other special occasions for using the full-service counter.

Econo-Sizing Meets Rightsizing?

Despite the economic factors, health and well-being are still highly valued in today’s society, and food plays a major role. Almost two-thirds of shoppers put some (45 percent) or a lot (25 percent) of effort into eating healthfully, but the rate of success is much lower. Despite best intentions to eat better, 42 percent say they succeed in doing so less than half of the time.

As part of shoppers’ healthy-eating strategies, they are the most likely to cut back on meat/poultry portion sizes or second helpings, followed by selecting low-sodium processed meats and eating fish or seafood more regularly. Some shoppers are cutting back on their meat intake both from a savings point of view and as a strategy to improve their diets. In terms of ingredients, shoppers’ focus is back to fat, sodium and calories.

Improving the Meat Department

While some shoppers state that quality and variety would prompt them to increase their meat purchases at their primary store, the most frequently mentioned suggestions in this year’s survey revolve around price. Shoppers are asking for sales promotions, meal deals, price cuts and once again underlined the importance of price in the meat department.

Organic and Natural Meat

A steady 18 percent of shoppers have purchased organic or natural meats in the past three months, with younger shoppers most likely to purchase organic meat and poultry. Natural and organic store formats continue to lose market share to supermarkets and farmer’s markets, and the conventional supermarket remains the main outlet for organic and natural meat at 50 percent.

The positive long-term health effects and nutritional value are the top two reasons cited by shoppers for purchasing organic meat and poultry. As shoppers associate either immediate or long-term health benefits with organic products, they may be more willing to give up goods they perceive as luxury, rather than foods they see as essential to their health.