Friday, April 30, 2010

More than 40% of restaurant operators plan to hire

Restaurant operators expect to do more hiring in the second quarter of this year, another sign that the industry may be climbing its way out of the economic slump, according to data in the latest People Report Workforce Index.

More than 40 percent of companies surveyed by People Report plan to add both hourly and management staff in current second quarter, while just 4 percent plan to cut hourly workers and 6 percent plan to reduce management staff, the Workforce Index reported.

“Things are starting to move in the direction we want to see them moving,” said Michael Harms, senior business analyst for People Report, a Dallas-based firm that tracks human resource trends for more than 100 restaurant companies.

Operators and human resources executives are encouraging more candidates to apply for jobs.

“We anticipate hiring in the second quarter for various positions at multiple levels systemwide,” said Marianne Dowdy, vice president of human resources for Whataburger Restaurants, the more than 700-unit chain based in San Antonio, Texas.

The People Report Workforce Index is a quarterly barometer of market pressures on employment, including recruiting, vacancies, headcounts and turnover. The index totaled 53.2 for the second quarter, up from 48.3 in the first quarter of the year. Index ratings lower than 50 indicate less difficulty in managing workforce issues and scores hitting more than 50 indicate greater difficulty. More than 70 foodservice concepts participated in the second quarter study.

The index’s Employment Expectations component — which represents the expected increase or decrease in the number of hourly and management employees — registered a value of 67.8, the highest it’s been in two years.

After losing jobs in 2009, the restaurant industry has started to reverse course, adding 43,000 jobs within the first three months of 2010, according to People Report. Thirty-four percent of companies reported adding hourly workers in the first quarter; 44 percent maintained their hourly staffing levels. The index reported that 25 percent added managers, while 54 percent kept their management levels the same.

Turnover is the only component of the Workforce Index that has continued to score low. Operator expectations on the metric fell to 21.1 in the second quarter survey from the first quarter’s ranking of 23.1, indicating operators expect little difficulty in retaining workers.

Cheyenne, Wyo., based Taco John’s International, for example, has been able to maintain its employment levels for the past 24 months, said Dave Schuh, executive president and chief operating officer for the chain which has more than 400 units in 25 states with most located in the Midwest.

Little turnover has allowed Taco Johns to concentrate on customer service and employee development, Schuh said.

“Our brand has benefited from lower staff turnover at all organizational levels including the individual restaurants,” he said. “Our focus has been to capitalize (on low turnover) by developing restaurant bench-strength and talent.”

Turnover is a lagging economic indicator and is expected to remain low as the national unemployment rate remains high, said Harms from People Report. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in March.

“It’s supply and demand,” Harms said. “There is a larger supply of people in the labor pool and still a limited number of job openings. Until we see job growth in the economy as a whole, we’re not going to see turnover rise.”

The Workforce Index also indicated an increase in expectations for difficulty in managing employment issues for the four industry segments — quick service, fast casual, causal dining and fine dining or high-volume restaurants. The index reported a marked increase in recruiting difficulty for all segments as well as a rise in vacancies across the board. The shift could mean that as economic activity increases and restaurant same-store sales begin to rise, staffing pressure will increase, according to the index.

People Report also noted that 45 percent of companies froze salaries at the unit level in 2009, but only 10 percent did so in 2010.

“We’ve seen conflicting economic indicators throughout the past year,” Harms said. “Now it looks like all of them are starting to move in the right direction. Let’s hope this time it’s for real.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some 65% of consumers are concerned about the quality of the food they eat

According to Deloitte's 2010 Consumer Food Safety Survey, while nine out of ten (90 percent) consumers believe food-related recalls are on the rise, or on par, compared with findings from Deloitte's 2008 Consumer Food Safety Survey, fewer people seem to be anxious about them. The results show 65 percent of consumers surveyed are concerned about the quality of the food they eat, a 17 percent decrease from 2008.

"The decline in consumers' concern for quality from our 2008 survey is due, in part, by their need to become more aware and engaged in choosing the products they buy," said Pat Conroy, Deloitte's vice chairman and U.S. consumer products practice leader. "Consumers view food safety and quality as important issues, and are looking to manufacturers, food companies and government regulatory bodies to drive communication, as well as tackle food quality and safety issues."

In fact, three out of four (75 percent) Americans surveyed feel that the manufacturers/food companies are responsible for communicating product recall information, followed closely by government organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (73 percent), with less expectations from retailers (53 percent) and the media (51 percent).

Country-of-Origin Label Helping Selection Process

When making food purchases, Americans are doing more hands-on research and reviewing labels carefully, another indication that they are becoming more engaged in the process behind the foods they buy. Half (51 percent) of Americans say the new country-of-origin labels help in determining which fresh meat, fish, fruit or vegetables to purchase, and 45 percent say they would like to find out the country-of-origin on a Web site for all ingredients in a packaged/bottled food product. This may become of increasing importance to consumers, since the survey found that more than half (53 percent) of consumers frequently or always read the list of ingredients on an unfamiliar packaged or bottled food item; up from 50 percent in 2008.

However, although more Americans are reading ingredients, only four out of 10 (45 percent) surveyed say they understand at least 75 percent of the ingredients on a packaged food item, up slightly from 2008 (33 percent). Furthermore, 55 percent surveyed understand half or less of the ingredients, which is in line with responses from Deloitte's 2008 survey (59 percent).

Nutritional Facts Matter

A strong interest in nutrition has caused consumers to reference the "Nutritional Facts" box on packaged/bottled foods when making a purchase. More than half (54 percent) of Americans surveyed frequently or always read the "Nutritional Facts" box on an unfamiliar packaged or bottled food item and 26 percent occasionally, as compared to 15 percent rarely and five percent who never read it.

The top five nutritional facts that consumers report reading are: calories (71 percent), total fat (63 percent), sugars (50 percent), sodium (45 percent) and serving size (39 percent). Four out of 10 (42 percent) consumers surveyed frequently or always purchase packaged/bottled foods influenced by health-related claims, such as "low carb," "low sodium" and "heart healthy."

"Over the past two years, we have seen a significant shift in how consumers view the foods they purchase," said Conroy. "Though our survey still shows health and safety as the top two concerns facing Americans, the percentages have dropped and consumers are using their increased knowledge of food products to raise concerns around over-processed foods. Food companies are now dealing with an engaged consumer who actively seeks to understand the products they are looking to buy. This survey should be yet another red flag for the industry, as it shows that consumers are determined to be smarter about the foods they put on their table."

For a copy of Deloitte's 2010 Food Safety Survey, please visit

About the Survey

The survey was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company between March 22 and March 24, 2010. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,102 consumers. The survey has a margin of error of +/- three percentage points.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Americans Concerned About Sodium Content

There is a gap between consumers’ concerns about the amount of sodium in their diets and their consumption of low-sodium and sodium-free foods. Although the level of sodium concern is not as high as two decades ago, concern has risen in recent years, but the number consuming low-sodium/sodium-free foods has steadily decreased, according to The NPD Group’s National Eating Trends® report, which has tracked Americans’ eating behaviors for the last 30 years.

A separate report titled “A Look into The Future of Eating” reveals the more American will be concerned about serving foods with salt over the next decade. The projected number of individuals who feel “a person should be very cautious in serving foods with salt” is forecasted to increase by 14 percent by 2018.

“In my 30 years of observing Americans eating behaviors, there is often a gap between what consumers say and what they do,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group and author of Eating Patterns in America. “It’s easier to aspire to a positive behavior than to actually do it.”

* The NPD Group: Americans Increasingly Concerned About the Amount of Sodium in Their Diets, But Consumption of Low Sodium/Sodium-Free Foods Steadily Declining, Reports NPD

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chocolate Aroma Improves Mood

According to recent studies from the Human Olfaction Laboratory, Middlesex University, chocolate aroma may play a part in helping people relax. Neil Martin, reader in psychology at the university, found that the aroma of chocolate “really does make people less stressed and anxious, and more relaxed.”

The studies involved analyzing the effect of chocolate aromas on brain activity, using electroencephalography (EEG) to record brain waves as subjects took in aromas emanating from the laboratory’s AromaCube, a device that warms odorants and distributes them throughout the room.

“We presented people with a range of smells, some artificial food odors and some real food odors, with both samples including chocolate,” said Martin. EEG data found that chocolate aromas affected a reduction in theta levels, brain activity apparently connected to attentiveness.

Other aroma-centric studies showed that people demonstrate inferior cognitive performance and report more symptoms of ill health in the presence of a “bad” aroma; orange scents reduced anxiety in women while waiting for the dentist; and that subjects playing a driving video game “were consistently able to brake more safely and appropriately in the presence of the lemon scent,” notes Martin, positing that “dangling a lemon-smelling air freshener in the car could make you a better driver.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Broccoli Sprouts Ward off Skin Tumors

Feeding hairless mice broccoli sprouts extracts inhibited skin tumor growth after 13 weeks, according to a recent study (Photochem. Photobiol. Sci. 2010;9:597-600). SKH-1 hairless mice were chronically exposed to UV radiation twice a week for 17 weeks prior to receiving 10 mol/d of of glucoraphanin from broccoli sprout extracts. The active plant chemical in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, is glucoraphanin, which metabolizes in the body and acts as an anti-carcinogenic agent. After 13 weeks of receiving the extract, the development of skin tumors were inhibited; and compared to the controls, tumor incidence, multiplicity and volume were reduced by 25, 47 and 70 percent, respectively, in the animals that received the protective agent.

Down to Earth on Garlic

For centuries, garlic (Allium sativum) has been prized by cultures around the world for its benefits as a healthy and flavorful ingredient. Legend has it that the ancient Egyptians wore bulbs of garlic around their necks to give them strength as they constructed the pyramids, and Roman soldiers consumed raw cloves before going to battle. Today, the world is embracing garlic once again for its culinary and health attributes.

Growing garlic demand

There are two main types, or subspecies, of garlic: hardneck garlic (var. ophioscorodon) and softneck garlic (var. sativum). Hardneck garlic typically has smaller, more-uniform bulbs, while softneck generally has larger bulbs with more cloves of more-variable size. Flavor can vary with garlic type, and the climate where the plants are grown can also influence flavor.

Green garlic is young garlic harvested before the bulb develops, yielding tender leaves with delicate flavor that add a mellow touch of garlic to any recipe. It has been growing in popularity among consumers and chefs, but availability has been limited to farmers markets and specialty produce purveyors during the springtime. The upcoming harvest marks the first time this seasonal delicacy will be available in markets nationwide beyond the spring.

Heirloom seed is a critical factor in the cultivation of garlic because the different seed stocks used around the world lend to unique flavor profiles. Certain varieties compromise flavor for more pounds per acre or better appearance. The exclusive Monviso seed line grown by Christopher Ranch, Gilroy, CA, traces its lineage back to the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. For over 50 years, Ranch farmers have perfected their seed program to maintain the distinct garlic flavor that this variety delivers.

From seed to store

It all starts with a single clove, which is planted as seed in the fall. Over time, the clove germinates, a sprout emerges, and the first signs of a new plant are evident. As the plant matures, the original clove falls off and a new bulb begins to form in its place. By spring, the plant can reach a height of up to 2 feet. In the summer months, the leaves begin to yellow, water is cut off, and the bulbs begin an underground curing process that lasts several weeks. Finally, 9 months after planting, the bulbs are undercut (usually by hand) and laid in rows to further cure in the sun and wind. The final harvesting step is to “hand top” the garlic by cutting the roots and stems and placing in storage bins. From there, they are taken to the packing facility to be processed.

In the packing sheds, the garlic runs through graders, where it is sorted and sized. The best quality bulbs are packed into cases for the retail market. Bulbs with missing cloves or loose skins are collected and taken to the “cracker,” where they are distributed onto belts and passed under rubber rollers that break the bulbs into individual cloves. The cloves are again sorted by size and placed into bins, which sit overnight on heaters to loosen the skins and prepare the cloves for peeling.

Grown in the USA

Garlic is grown globally and has become a critical flavor component for a variety of international cuisines. The vast majority of U.S. garlic comes from California, and most California garlic production is centralized in Gilroy, CA, affectionately known as “the garlic capital of the world.” However, recently, China has emerged as the world’s leading source, growing two-thirds of the world supply. Even in the United States, where California-grown garlic is available year-round, Chinese garlic amounts to well over half of the domestic supply. The International Trade Commission reports that Chinese garlic exports into the U.S. in 2009 alone totaled 145 million pounds.

Despite garlic’s increasing popularity, U.S. production has actually declined over the last several decades. Starting in the early 1990s when domestic garlic plantings struggled with disease, Chinese imports have slowly gained traction in U.S. markets. A 376% anti-dumping tariff was implemented to prevent illegal dumping at U.S. ports, but Chinese imports have continued to grow nonetheless. California growers have taken a huge hit during this time, unable to compete with cheaper Chinese garlic that isn’t subject to the same quality, food safety, labor and environmental regulations. However, recent media scares over tainted Chinese products have led many consumers to investigate where their food is grown and how it is produced.

“This demand for greater transparency, accountability and oversight has led to the resurgence of domestic sources like Christopher Ranch, where rigorous food-safety audits and Good Manufacturing Practices instill a greater sense of confidence in the quality and safety of the product,” says Jeff Stokes, vice president of sales, Christopher Ranch.

Analysis in food labs and feedback from consumers has revealed further differences in support of domestically grown garlic. Lab tests reveal that California garlic has 23% higher Brix levels, indicating that it has higher oil content and less water saturation, leading to a better sauté and more concentrated flavor. Allicin, the compound released when garlic is crushed, and likely responsible for garlic’s numerous reported health benefits, also exists in quantities up to 19% higher in domestic over imported.

“Both our chef and processing customers report that California-grown garlic is 2 to 3 times more flavorful than Chinese garlic, negating any perceived price difference,” says Rick Dyer, national accounts manager for Christopher Ranch. Dyer and other proponents of California garlic are aggressively promoting these differences and raising awareness about the benefits of California grown.

This past year, Chinese growers reacted to years of overproduction and low prices by cutting acreage by 50%. This led to a global shortage, which was further exacerbated by the swine flu, causing demand to skyrocket since garlic is widely regarded as a disease-fighting agent. The supply shortage is likely to persist until new crops becomes available in the summer. In the meantime, domestic growers continue their efforts to differentiate California grown garlic as a fresher, more flavorful, and more sustainable alternative to imported product.

“Dining trends toward sustainability, locally grown produce, and increased awareness about the stories behind our food supply all bode favorably for California growers in 2010 and beyond,” concludes Stokes.

Appeal of garlic ingredients

Peeled garlic was introduced to the market over 20 years ago in response to consumer demand for a solution to the tedious but necessary task of peeling cloves. Garlic processors long suspected there may be a market for peeled garlic, but couldn’t figure out a way to peel the cloves efficiently without damaging them. Christopher Ranch experimented with several prototypes that didn’t deliver the quality they were targeting, and stumbled upon a workable solution by chance when a technician who was cleaning one of the sheds with an air hose blasted some cloves that had fallen into a coffee can. The compressed air, coupled with the rotational movement of the cloves in the can, cleanly removed the skins, and peeled garlic was born. This technology was incorporated into the proprietary state-of-the-art peeling plant on the Ranch today. Cracked cloves are loaded into stainless steel cups, which pass through air peelers where blasts of compressed air remove the skins. The cloves then pass through an optical sorter that takes a digital scan of each clove as it passes through. If it fails to grade according to preset specifications, a jet blast of air kicks it off the line. The remaining cloves go through a hand-sorting station for a final check, and then circulate through coolers to bring the temperature down before they are weighed and packed.

Most peeled cloves are packed into jars, but some are placed into bins for further processing in either the purée plant or the roasting plant. In the purée plant, cloves can be chopped or puréed for use in foodservice or manufacturing applications. In the roasting plant, cloves pass through a convection oven for 10 minutes at 450°F to achieve a perfectly consistent golden hue and a nutty, mellowed flavor before being cooled under a series of fans and packed.

The convenience afforded by these value-added garlic products has led to a steady increase in garlic consumption over the years. Americans now consume an estimated 3.1 lbs of garlic annually. This growth in popularity has also been supported by the hugely popular Gilroy Garlic Festival, founded in 1979 to promote garlic and support local charities. Thousands of garlic lovers flock to Gilroy every July to enjoy cooking demonstrations, garlic topping contests, live music and an abundance of garlic-infused delicacies.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food safety efforts produce mixed results

A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of severe infections associated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 (STEC O157) declined significantly in 2009, reaching the lowest level since 2004. There was little or no progress made for other pathogens such as Camploybacter, Listeria and Salmonella, according to the report published in the C.D.C.’s April 16 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly.

Titled “Preliminary FoodNet data on the incidence of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through food – 10 states, 2009,” the report’s authors hypothesized that the recent decrease in STEC O157 infections may be due to control efforts initiated in ground beef processing and produce growing practices.

“The interventions begun in the late 1990s were successful in decreasing some of these foodborne diseases, but we haven’t seen much recent progress,” said Chris Braden, acting director of the C.D.C.’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “To make additional strides against these diseases and ultimately better protect the American people from foodborne illness, C.D.C., our federal and state partners, and the food industry will need to try new strategies.”

Among the four pathogens tracked in FoodNet that have national incidence goals, Salmonella is furthest from meeting the goal. One possible reason for the slow progress in reducing the incidence of Salmonella is that it is spread through a variety of foods, and also through non-foodborne routes. Salmonella may be spread by poultry, meat, eggs, produce and processed foods, as well as by contact with animals such as baby chicks, small turtles, reptiles and frogs.

For most of the infections, the rate was highest in children under the age of 4 years. People over 50 years old had the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths from most foodborne illnesses, emphasizing the need for those over 50 to get diagnosed and get treatment quickly after becoming ill.

The data were collected through the C.D.C.’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, also known as FoodNet. FoodNet conducts active surveillance for nine pathogens commonly transmitted through food, and leads studies designed to help health officials better understand how foodborne diseases are impacting Americans. Annual data are compared with data from the previous three years and with data from the first years of surveillance (1996-1998) to analyze trends and measure progress.

Blueberry's Superfruit Status

As one of the few fruits native to the United States, blueberries are a healthy part of the country’s history. Native Americans gathered fresh blueberries from forests and bogs and used them for food and medicinal purposes. Once the settlers arrived, the Wampanoag Indians taught them how to gather, dry and store blueberries for the long winter months to supplement their cultivated food supply. Civil War soldiers drank blueberry juice in order to prevent scurvy. Today, blueberries have gained a reputation as being a superfruit because of their nutritional benefits.

All about blueberries

The blueberry genus Vaccinium includes over 450 plants, but three varieties are most abundant. The northern highbush (V. corymbosum) grows wild in North American forests, and the bush can reach a height of 15 ft. The lowbush (V. angustifolium), known as “wild blueberries,” grow on 1- to 2-ft. dwarf bushes and survive in the wild as far north as Arctic North America. Unlike cultivated highbush berries, lowbush blueberries are harvested from wild clones. The southern rabbiteye (V. ashei) thrives in the southern United States.

The North American blueberry season is from April through October; in South America it runs from November through March. This makes blueberries available year-round. About half of the blueberry crop is sold as fresh; the rest are processed into various forms, including frozen, dried, and liquid juices and purees.

Superfruit nutrient stats

Cultivated blueberries contain approximately 57 calories per 100 grams, no fat, only 1 mg sodium, and provide 2.4 grams fiber. They are an excellent source of vitamin C (9.7 mg per 100 grams). Wild blueberries are smaller than the cultivated highbush varieties―approximately 1,600 wild blueberries in a pound, compared with around 500 cultivated―so they tend to be more nutrient-dense. One of the most notable differences is that wild blueberries contain more than eight times more manganese per 100 grams than cultivated blueberries. Wild varieties also have 25% fewer calories.

Blueberries rank among the highest in ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) value at 2,400 per 100 grams and, in addition to vitamin C, contain a number of phytochemicals, such as phenolic acid, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and ellagic acid; the latter is linked to inhibiting tumor growth (Nutrition and Cancer, 2008; 60(2):227-234). According to the "USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods," they contain the following average flavonoid amounts: the anthocyanins cyanidin (15 mg per 100 grams), delphinidin (30 mg per 100 grams), malvidin (49 mg per 100 grams), peonidin (7 mg per 100 grams), petunidin (12 mg per 100 grams); the flavan-3-ol epicatechin (1.11 mg per 100 grams); and the flavonols myricetin (0.82 mg per 100 grams) and quercetin (3.11 mg per 100 grams). Anthocyanins give blueberries their deep-blue color and are a major contributor to their antioxidant activity. Procyanidins (catechin and epicatechin, and a series of oligomers) make up to 32% of blueberries’ total ORAC. Fresh and frozen blueberries contain the highest amounts of anthocyanins; little is found in the dried form. A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2006 (54(11):4,069-4,075) found anthocyanins were highest in fresh and frozen berries, but were almost undetectable in processed foods. The fresh highbush (cultivated) contain 125 mg anthocyanins per 100 grams. Proanthocyanidins, or condensed tannins, are polymers of flavan-3-ols, and contribute an astringent flavor.

A 2000 study published in the Journal of Food Science (65:357-364) looked at changes in blueberry anthocyanins and polyphenolics during processing into juice and concentrate. Results indicated that only 32% of the anthocyanins were found in the single-strength juice, with 18% left in the press-cake residue.

Studying health benefits

Northeast Native American tribes relied on blueberries for their medicinal effects. They thought tea made from blueberry leaves was good for the blood, and used blueberry juice to treat coughs. Today, extensive studies indicate that blueberries and blueberry ingredients might play a role in reducing risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and urinary tract infections, and improving memory and cognitive function.

Several blueberry phytochemicals may help protect against various forms of cancer. A 2006 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (54(25):9,329-9,339) found the phenolic compounds in blueberries were most effective against prostate cancer cells and inducing cell death of colon cancer cells. A study published in 2005 in the same journal concluded that phenolic compounds found in blueberries inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells in vitro and induced cancer cell death (53(18):7,320-7,329). A 2001 in vitro study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food (4:49-51) concluded that blueberry extracts inhibited cervical and breast cancer cells.

Several studies have also suggested that blueberries may play a role in heart health and helping prevent urinary tract infections. A 2008 study in the British Journal of Nutrition (100(1):70-78) linked blueberry supplementation in pigs to reduced plasma cholesterol levels. A 2002 study in Nutritional Neuroscience concluded that the consumption of blueberries may protect the brain against damage from ischemic strokes (5(6):427-431). A study published in 2004 in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (52(21):6,433-6,442) found that blueberries contain the same compounds as cranberries that prevent the growth of bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections.

Studies of older laboratory animals consuming blueberry supplements have shown measurable improvement in memory and cognitive function. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research (85(5):1,010-1,017) found that blueberry extract inhibited various markers of CNS inflammation, such as nitric oxide, cytokines interleukin-1B and tumor necrosis factor-a. A second study, published in 2008 in Neurobiology of Aging (29(11):1,680-1,689), found that rats fed a diet containing 2% blueberry extract and treated with kainic acid exhibited less impaired learning performance than rats treated with kainic acid alone, based on performance variables using a T-maze. A third study, published in April 2005 in Nutritional Neuroscience (8(2):111-120), found a relationship between performance of aged rats in the Morris water maze and the total number of anthocyanin compounds found in the cortex of the rats.

Another potential blueberry benefit might be for obesity and diabetes. A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Obesity (33:1,166–1,173) studied the effects of juice extract from lowbush blueberries biotransformed with bacteria from the skin of the fruit. This juice decreased hyperglycemia in diabetic mice and protected prediabetic mice from developing obesity and diabetes.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nearly four out of five Hispanics feel that the U.S. economy stabilized

According to the newest Ipsos-Telemundo telephone poll, nearly four out of five Hispanics feel that the economy has stabilized or that it has already started to improve. Among 500 adult Hispanics living in the United States, 14% say that that the U.S. economy has turned the corner on the economic crisis and 63% say that the economy hasn’t yet begun to improve, but that it has stabilized. However, 20% say the worst is yet to come.

The poll results suggest that Hispanics are more optimistic than the general U.S. public about the current state of the economy as they are more likely to say it has stabilized or started improving. In an Ipsos/McClatchy telephone poll conducted among 1,076 adults of all ethnicities living in the U.S. during the same period of time, only 11% said the economy had turned the corner (compared with 14% among Hispanics) and only 55% that it had stabilized (vs. 63%) while as many as 31% said the worst is yet to come (vs. 20%). In both surveys, 3% said they weren’t sure.

Among Hispanics, optimism is most prevalent among those who live in the West of the United States and those who prefer watching television in Spanish over English:

* 17% of those living in the West say the economy has turned the corner (vs. 12% of those in other regions) and only 16% say the worst is yet to come (vs. 23%).
* 17% of those who prefer watching television in Spanish say the economy has started improved (vs. 10% of those who prefer it in English) while only 15% expect it to get worse (26%).

Also of note, Hispanic women (68%), more than Hispanic men (58%) or women of all ethnicities (56%), are particularly likely to say the U.S. economy has stabilized but not yet begun to improve.

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos-Telemundo poll conducted from February 11 to March 7, 2010 with a nationally representative sample of 500 Hispanics aged 18 and older, interviewed by telephone via Ipsos’ U.S. Hispanic Omnibus. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population of Hispanics in the U.S. been polled.

The findings of the general population poll are based on an Ipsos poll conducted February 26-28, 2010 on behalf of the McClatchy Company. For the survey, a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of exactly 1,076 adults aged 18 and older across the United States was interviewed by Ipsos. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.99 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled.

All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures. In both polls, respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Food coupons were the top searched category in March

Retailers generated approximately $33 million in sales through in March, more than a 33 percent increase compared to the same time last year ($25.1 million in 2009). In March, more than 12.1 million consumers visited and saved $7.9 million using online and printable coupons ($6.4 million online and $1.5 million printable). Community members shared more than 32,000 coupons and submitted more than 475,897 votes and 18,000 comments on the reliability of the coupons.

The top online coupon in March was for $10 off a $50 purchase at JCPenney and the top national printable coupon download in March was for a free entree with the purchase of one entree and two beverages from IHOP. Residents of Illinois once again came out on top this month as the number one state using printable coupons, while residents of New York remained the most frequent users of online coupons. Food was the most searched category in printable coupons.

A snapshot of the data collected in the March Consumer Coupon Report can be found below. To download the complete report and methodology, please visit

Top 10 most searched stores in online coupons in March:

1. Victoria's Secret
2. Kohl’s
3. JCPenney
4. Amazon
5. Domino’s
6. Macy’s
7. Enterprise
8. Old Navy
9. Target
10. Children's Place

Top 10 most searched brands in printable coupons in March:

1. Fantastic Sam's
3. Kentucky Fried Chicken
4. Great Clips
5. Moe's Southwest Grill
6. Stanley Steemer
7. Subway
8. Dunkin' Donuts
9. Texas Roadhouse
10. Culver's

Top 10 most searched categories in printable coupons in March:

1. Food
2. Clothing
3. Pizza
4. Retailers
5. Restaurant
6. Haircut
7. Restaurant + Chains
7. Free
9. Entertainment
10. Car + Wash

Top 10 states using online coupons in March:

1. New York
2. Massachusetts
3. New Jersey
4. Missouri
5. Virginia
6. Connecticut
7. Maryland
8. Rhode Island
9. Illinois
10. Pennsylvania

Top 10 states using printable coupons in March:

1. Illinois
2. Minnesota
3. Georgia
4. New Jersey
5. Missouri
6. New York
7. Pennsylvania
8. Wisconsin
9. North Carolina
10. Arizona

Thursday, April 22, 2010

About 51.8% of consumers will treat mom to a brunch or dinner for Mother's Day

Having spent slightly more on Valentine’s Day, Easter and even St. Patrick’s Day this year, consumers are continuing the trend and will spend a little bit more on mommy dearest as well. Behind the winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza), Mother’s Day is the second largest U.S. consumer spending holiday. NRF’s 2010 Mother’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found the average person will shell out $126.90 on Mother’s Day gifts, compared to $123.89 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $14.6 billion.*

As one of the biggest holidays of the year, billions will be spent at restaurants or on clothing, jewelry and flowers. Nearly two-thirds (65.2%) of celebrants will buy flowers, totaling $1.9 billion. An additional 51.8 percent will treat mom to a brunch or dinner, spending $2.9 billion on mom’s favorite food. Jewelers will also see some traffic this year with 26.2 percent of people planning on buying a special bracelet or earring set, totaling $2.5 billion. Others will buy clothing or clothing accessories ($1.3 billion), gift certificates ($1.5 billion), personal service such as a day at the spa ($933 million), consumer electronics ($906 million) and greeting cards ($671 million).

“Even with slight improvements in the economy, consumers are still looking for unique, sentimental and inexpensive ways to show mom that she is important,” said Tracy Mullin, President and CEO, NRF. “Retailers and restaurants will have an array of gift options for people to choose from, ranging from small flower bouquets to brunch and dinner promotions for the entire family to enjoy.”

Marking a noticeable shift in where people will buy Mother’s Day gifts this year, one-third (30.6%) will head to department stores, compared to 27.2 percent last year. Specialty stores such as florists or jewelers will see the most traffic, however (33.6%). Others will shop at a discount store (30.4%), online (19.7%), specialty clothing store (6.2%) or catalog (2.5%).

Of the 83.3 percent of Americans celebrating the holiday this year, most will focus on buying a gift for their mom or stepmom (62.6%) or wife (20.6%). Others will treat their daughter (9.4%), grandmother (7.9%), sister (7.6%), friend (6.8%) or godmother (1.7%) to something nice.

“For some, mom is the glue that holds the family together,” said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “After a few years of cutting back on their discretionary spending, consumers will open up their wallets a little bit more to celebrate the woman with the most important job in the world.”

Men will spend much more than women on Mother’s Day, shelling out an average of $154.74, compared to women who will spend an average of $100.46. Adults 25-34 years old will spend the most with the average person expected to spend $156.84; young adults will spend only slightly less at $155.52 average per person.

About the Survey

The NRF 2010 Mother’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey was designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to the Mother’s Day holiday. The survey was conducted for NRF by BIGresearch. The poll of 8,197 consumers was conducted from April 6 – 13, 2010. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Study finds raw poultry a key source of Listeria

Incoming raw poultry is the primary source of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in commercial chicken cooking plants, according to a 21-month study conducted by Agricultural Research Service (A.R.S.) scientists and their collaborators at the University of Georgia, Athens, and published in the Journal of Food Protection.

The researchers conducted their study in a new commercial cooking facility and began taking samples before the facility was operational. As a result, the research team was able to track the sources of contamination.

Potential sources of L.m. were tested by taking samples of soil and water around and near the facility exterior, and by testing heavily traveled floor surfaces following personnel shift changes. Samples also were collected and tested from incoming air from air vent filters and from monthly swabs of incoming raw meat.

The plant was free of L.m. when first constructed; floor drains in the facility were sampled approximately monthly to determine at what point the plant would become colonized with the bacteria.

Within four months of operation, L.m. was detected in floor drains, indicating that the organism had been introduced from some outside source. No L.m. was recovered from any floor samples in the plant entryways, locker room or cafeteria. Likewise, the organism was not detected on air vent filters during the survey. The only tested source found to be consistently positive for L.m. was incoming raw poultry meat.

The researchers believe the results of the study will help cooking operations more sharply focus their sanitation processes to reduce cross-contamination. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterial human pathogen that is sometimes found in fully-cooked, ready-to-eat processed meat and poultry products.

Co-authors of the study included A.R.S. microbiologist Richard Meinersmann in Athens, University of Georgia scientist Joseph Frank, and former A.R.S. researcher Scott Ladely.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Restaurants are lightening their menus as the weather warms up

Restaurants are lightening their menus as the weather warms up, adding bright fruit flavors and seasonal vegetables, as well as taking advantage of recent price decreases for seafood.

Asian-themed menus are also popping up this season.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, a 65-unit chain based in Newport Beach, Calif., recently launched a three-course spring prix-fixe menu for $39.95. That includes a choice of Caesar salad or shrimp consomme with herb dumplings and garden vegetables for an appetizer; broiled Scottish salmon with spaghetti squash, beurre blanc and crispy capers, or veal scaloppine with mushroom ravioli in gorgonzola cream sauce for the main course; and a white chocolate bread pudding for dessert.

Also based in Scottsdale, the 24-unit Kona Grill recently added an array of “skinny” options, including cocktails with fewer than 115 calories, such as a cucumber mojito, and entrees with fewer than 200 calories, including seven-spice ahi tuna, yellow tail with cucumber salsa, and halibut ceviche.

The Melting Pot chain has incorporated a Pacific island theme in some of its spring menu items, such as a “feng shui cheese fondue” featuring Gruyre cheese with white wine, mirin, sake, horseradish and chive havarti; lettuce wraps with mandarin-orange ginger dressing; and an array of proteins including kiwi lime shrimp, citrus-infused pork tenderloin and sushi-style ahi tuna.

The 31-unit Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant chain, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., has added a Pacific Rim menu through May, which includes menu items such as Kona coffee-rubbed sirloin, Korean barbecue beef tacos, macadamia-crusted mahi mahi bites, ahi spring rolls, teriyaki American Kobe burgers, garlic edamame, Asian chicken salad, miso-glazed tuna, macadamia-crusted chicken, and Kona coffee cheesecake.

Restaurant consulting from Technomic said it is seeing an abundance of seafood and citrus flavors on restaurants' spring menus this year.

The firm attributes the increase in seafood offerings to a recent drop in prices. Grilled shrimp, salmon and tilapia are particularly popular, Technomic said, as is grilled mahi mahi.

Other new additions Technomic noted were the tempura shrimp and lobster tail combo meal at Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse, crispy shrimp tacos at Carrows, blackened tilapia with crab-stuffed shrimp at Luby’s, and a fish wrap at Wienerschnitzel.

Read more:

Seasonal items are being highlighted at many independent restaurants as well, including Aurora in Brooklyn, N.Y., which is featuring ravioli with wild nettles, ricotta and pine nuts.

FARMbloomington in Bloomington, Ind., is serving local dandelions in salad with lardoons, bacon, a duck egg and a vinaigrette sweetened with local honey.

Rioja in Denver is offering asparagus and spring garlic soup with a smoked halibut brandade fritter. Also on the spring menu is a Dungeness crab salad with a crab-jicama-avocado roulade, carrot cumin vinaigrette and roasted raw carrots.

Luciano Pellegrini, chef of the Valentino Restaurant Group in Las Vegas, is cooking up spring lamb medallions with fava beans and red onion marmalade.

On the spring menu at 508 in New York City is a seafood ceviche of scallops, yellowfin tuna and octopus with mandarin oranges, avocado, cherry tomato, red onions, lime juice and cilantro. The restaurant is also serving a whole lobster with rock shrimp and oyster mushrooms on tagliatelle with a light tomato cream lobster sauce and chervil.

Also in New York, at i Trulli, pike with ramps, fingerlings and ramp pesto are on the menu.

At Big Jones in Chicago, Louisiana crawfish is being stuffed into quail, which is being served with preserved lemon curd, steamed asparagus and asparagus that has been shredded, marinated and served in ribbons.

At Branch 27, also in Chicago, English peas are being served with scallop tortellini in lobster sauce.

At American Seasons on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, the spring menu includes pan-fried cod with English peas, fingerling potatoes and morel jus.

Eastern Standard in Boston is serving halibut with Chanteney carrots, confit spring onions and baby pattypan squash.

At Library Bistro in Seattle, fiddlehead ferns sautéed garlic, Thai chiles, sesame and soy are a new menu addition.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Consuming Mediterranean Diet Reduces Alzheimer's Risk

Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish—like the typical Mediterranean diet—appears to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared to individuals whose diets contain more high-fat dairy products and red meat, according to a study appearing in the Archives of Neurology (ePub 13 Apr 2010; 2010;67(6); DOI:10.1001/archneurol.2010.84). There is increasing evidence linking diet to risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), although the impact of specific food items or nutrients is difficult to determine given the synergistic effects of food combinations.

In this investigation, Yian Gu, Ph.D., Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and colleagues studied 2,148 older adults (age 65 and older) without dementia living in New York. Participants provided information about their diets and were assessed for the development of dementia every 1.5 years for an average of four years. Several dietary patterns were identified with varying levels of seven nutrients previously shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk: saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12 and folate.

During the follow-up, 253 individuals developed Alzheimer’s disease. One dietary pattern was significantly associated with a reduced risk of the disease. This pattern involved high intakes of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, fruits and cruciferous and dark and green leafy vegetables, and low intakes of high-fat dairy, red meat, organ meat and butter.

The combination of nutrients in the low-risk dietary pattern reflects multiple pathways in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the authors noted. “For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on Alzheimer’s disease via their ability of reducing circulating homocysteine levels, vitamin E might prevent Alzheimer’s disease via its strong antioxidant effect and fatty acids may be related to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis or inflammation via an effect on brain development and membrane functioning or via accumulation of beta-amyloid,” they wrote.

In their conclusion, the authors stated, “In conclusion, we identified a [dietary pattern] that was strongly protective against the development of AD. … Our findings provide support for further exploration of food combination–based dietary behavior for the prevention of this important public health problem.”

* JAMA & Archives: Study Identifies Food Combination Associated With Reduced Alzheimer's Disease Risk

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Leading restaurants have begun celebrating the arrival of spring and warmer weather by adding lighter dishes, seasonings and sauces, according to food

Leading restaurants have begun celebrating the arrival of spring and warmer weather by adding lighter dishes, seasonings and sauces, according to foodservice consultants Technomic. These dishes are heavily showcasing seafood as well as citrus and fruit flavors such as lemon, lime and peach.

The findings are part of Technomic’s ongoing examination of menu additions to leading independent and chain restaurants’ menus, which are collected bi-annually and available on Technomic’s searchable online MenuMonitor database.

“We found that restaurants have begun rolling out a number of new seafood dishes, especially entrées incorporating grilled shrimp, salmon or tilapia,” says Bernadette Noone, director of product management at Technomic. “We believe that the higher incidence of seafood dishes is the direct result of a fall in seafood’s retail price points. We’ve also seen countless restaurants introduce new menu offerings featuring citrus and other fruit flavors. Lemon and lime have been exceptionally popular.”

A look at recent seafood dishes reveals that shrimp tacos, lobster tails, grilled salmon and grilled mahi mahi are some of the most common menu additions. The seafood trend is evident across all restaurant segments, from quick-service chains to fine-dining restaurants. A sample of new seafood entrées includes:

* Tempura Shrimp & Lobster Tail combo meal at Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse
* Crispy Shrimp Tacos at Carrows Restaurants
* Orange-and-Chipotle-Glazed Grilled Salmon at Jackson’s Steakhouse
* Blackened Tilapia with Crab-Stuffed Shrimp at Luby’s
* Fish Wrap at Wienerschnitzel
* Seafood Platter at K&W Cafeterias

Some chains got a jump-start on summer by crafting seafood entrées prepared with light sauces and seasonal ingredients. Numerous examples of citrus and other fruit flavors are also showing up on beverage items, alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike.

A recovery in consumer restaurant spending is occurring

After more than two years of slow sales and anemic guest traffic for restaurant operators, Wall Street analysts say a recovery in consumer spending may finally be here.

“We officially declare that ‘the restaurant consumer recovery’ began in March 2010,” said Cowen & Co. analyst Paul Westra in an analyst note this week.

Westra said same-store sales appear to be rising at restaurant chains, a phenomenon he witnessed in 2003 as the industry came out of a recession. Following a gain in same-store sales in May 2003, restaurant stocks jumped 45 percent over the next year.

In particular, Westra said “polished casual-dining” chains like Darden Restaurants Inc., which owns the Olive Garden and Red Lobster, are likely to benefit from baby boomers’ preference for dining in “high-end” environments. He said chains that can capitalize on those preferences could take diners away from “mass-casual” competitors as the economy improves.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Larry Miller agreed that a recovery may be imminent, if not already in progress. In a note to investors earlier this week, he said consumer confidence rose for the second straight month in the RBC Consumer Outlook Index.

He also noted that the company’s monthly survey of restaurant spending in April showed that 16 percent of consumers plan to spend more at restaurants over the next 90 days, versus 14 percent in March. The percentage of respondents who plan to spend less in the same time frame has also shrunk.

The positive comments come on the heels of several quarterly financial reports showing major improvements in sales and earnings for the first quarter of 2010.

On Wednesday, Ruby Tuesday Inc. reported its best quarterly sales in three years, with same-store sales at company stores dipping just 0.7 percent for the quarter ending March 2. On a call with investors, chief executive Sandy Beall said same-store sales were slightly positive in January and February despite bad winter weather.

The sales improvement coincides with an effort by the company to attract more higher-end customers. Ruby Tuesday has been rebranding itself with a new menu that focuses on entrees that will bring its average check from $12 to a range of $12.50 to $14.50, Beall said Wednesday. That effort first began in 2007.

Kona Grill Inc. also announced earlier this week a same-store sales improvement for the quarter. The casual-dining chain said same-store sales fell 2.5 percent for the first quarter ended in March, an improvement from a 9.6 percent decline in the year-ago quarter and an 8.1 percent drop in the fourth quarter of 2009. The company added that same-store sales jumped 3.6 percent in March, the first positive result since February 2008.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fiber: What's in a Name?

Just what is dietary fiber? Per St. Paul, MN–based AACC International’s 2001 “Report of the Dietary Fiber Definition Committee” to its Board of Directors: “Dietary fiber is the edible parts of plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the human small intestine with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine. Dietary fiber includes polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin and associated plant substances. Dietary fibers promote beneficial physiological effects, including laxation and/or blood cholesterol attenuation and/or blood glucose attenuation.”

Much debate went into that definition. Fiber has often vexed its definers because they’ve had to strike a balance between what fiber is nutritionally and where it shows up in chemical analysis. “While the physiologically based definitions most widely accepted have generally been accurate in defining the dietary fiber in foods,” says AACC on its website, “scientists and regulators have tended, in fact, to rely on analytical procedures as the definitional basis in fact.”

Even as the AACC definition acknowledges the plant-based dietary fibers that have historically been associated with physiological benefits, it also notes the non-digestible “analogous carbohydrates” that manufacturers extract from natural sources—or in some cases, synthesize—as ingredients for use in food.

Broadly classified as functional fiber, these don’t always show up in traditional analyses, although they’ve spawned a number of methods—like AOAC Methods 995.16 for β-glucan, 997.08 for fructans, 2002.02 for resistant starches RS2 and RS3, and 2000.11 for polydextrose—to detect them.

The name game doesn’t end there, though. Fibers are also generally considered either soluble (as in pectins, β-glucan, fructans, oligosaccharides, gums and some hemicelluloses found in legumes, oat bran, barley, vegetables and fruits) or insoluble (like most hemicelluloses, as well as the cellulose and lignin in whole grains, plant skins, and seeds). And that’s not to mention the in-between cases, like RS2, which qualifies as insoluble, but is prebiotic and fermented in the colon like soluble fiber.

Not your grandfather’s fiber

Nomenclature aside, a constellation of factors has aligned to benefit both fiber’s promoters and its fans—the latter of whose numbers are rising. “With growing consumer awareness of overall health and the importance of addressing health-related issues through diet, the world of fiber is changing,” says Wade Schmelzer, principle food scientist, Cargill Health & Nutrition, Minneapolis. “Consumer demand for fiber-containing products has escalated, opening the door to new application segments, such as dairy products, beverages and soups. However, consumers still expect the same great taste and texture from these products.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

At least 80% of global consumers surveyed indicated that store brands are the same

Consumers from around the world feel strongly that store brands are the same as, or better than, national brands at providing a variety of benefits. This is the latest finding from a study conducted by Ipsos Marketing, Consumer Goods.

While store brands have built their foundation on distinguishing themselves as a good value in terms of low cost, the study suggests that consumers believe store brands provide much more than that. At least 80% of global consumers indicated that store brands are the same as or better than national brands on many dimensions, most notably meeting their needs, offering convenience, being good for their families, caring about the environment and exuding trust.

“Our data indicates that store brands are challenging national brands on a number of key brand attributes,” says Gill Aitchison, President, Ipsos Marketing, Global Shopper & Retail Research. “In essence, the brand experience associated with store brands is matching the brand experience associated with national brands – and that is very alarming for national consumer packaged goods marketers.”

The study further indicates that global consumers are confident that store brands perform just as well as national brands: 81% say that store brands offer food products that taste as good and home products that work as well as national brands. The notion that store brands offer a sub-optimal product experience – the trade-off for lower price – seems to be fading in consumers’ minds.

“Store brands are flourishing as a result of product quality improvements in conjunction with the effects of the poor economy on consumers, which has elevated purchasing of store brands,” Aitchison adds. “The level of trust in store brands across many different product areas at a time of distrust in other sectors like financial services may mean that shoppers may be less likely to return to more expensive brands in the future unless the benefits really outweigh the cost – and these will tend to be emotional benefits rather than functional benefits.”

On which benefits should national brands focus? According to Aitchison, “The data from our survey suggests that national brands’ greatest strengths vs. store brands are packaging, innovation, uniqueness and quality. These are important facets of the brand experience, and ones that manufacturers should consider in their brand strategy.”

These are the findings from a study conducted by Ipsos Marketing, Consumer Goods via the Ipsos Global @dvisor International Omnibus, an online survey of citizens around the world. Interviews were carried out between November 4th, 2009 and January 13th, 2010. For this survey an international sample of 21,623 adults aged 18+ were interviewed in a total of 23 countries. The countries included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States and Turkey.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Consumers are moving beyond the terms 'organic' and 'natural'

Consumers are moving beyond the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ toward broader expectations of minimal processing and general healthfulness, according to a new report from The Hartman Group.

There has been increasing skepticism about foods labeled as natural, and increasing confusion about what natural really means. Currently, the term is not regulated, although the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said recently that it is considering establishing a definition. Organic foods on the other hand, must adhere to well-defined certification standards set by the USDA. But market researchers at The Hartman Group claim that consumers are now looking beyond these categories.

Senior associate at The Hartman Group David Wright told “It’s safe to say that organic and natural are both really loaded terms for consumers. They have a lot to say about those terms, but they have a lot to say about other, related terms.”

Related terms could include local, whole, fresh, safe, or nothing artificial, the market research organization said in its new report, Beyond Organic & Natural 2010.

“What we have seen consumers doing is making more considered choices,” Wright said, explaining that even though natural may not have an official definition, consumers have their own idea about what they seek in a natural product.

“Organic is about agriculture and the story of production but natural is about what happens after production,” he said.

The ‘after production’ part of the equation could cover minimal processing, fewer ingredients, or fewer artificial ingredients. And the whole gamut of messaging that includes, but goes beyond, these ideas is a concept that The Hartman Group sums up by the term ‘clean’.

“Everything seems to be coalescing around this notion of ‘clean’,” Wright said.

‘Clean’ encompasses a wide variety of attributes around sustainability, healthfulness, and safety – as well as the expectations that consumers have of natural foods, such as no artificial ingredients.

Natural disappointment

Wright said that part of the problem with foods labeled as natural is that they do not always live up to consumers’ expectations.

“A lot of consumers can end up disappointed when they look at the ingredient list…To consumers [natural] has been so overused from a marketing standpoint.”

Nevertheless, food manufacturers continue to launch natural foods and drinks, and it is now the leading label claim on new products, according to market research organization Mintel, featuring on 23 percent of new products launched globally last year.

Wright argues that for consumers to see this claim as credible there are a number of criteria that food manufacturers need to bear in mind.

“We have really nailed down what consumers are hoping for,” he said. “…What we are seeing is that there are very specific messages that they want to see. If it’s organic they want to see the story of production. For natural, it’s a short ingredient list and again, the story of production. There is a narrative they expect. Natural Cheetos, for example, short circuits.”

As for organics, The Hartman Group has been tracking consumers’ attitudes towards the sector for more than a decade, and is among several market research groups to have noticed that growth has flattened.

“Core organic consumers have been moving beyond organics to other products that also represent high quality,” Wright said.

However, he said that there is a much larger group of consumers who buy organic at least occasionally, and added that the fact the sector has not shrunk, even during recession, makes it “an impressive market”.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Hispanics have become the most important U.S. demographic growth driver in the food,

Hispanics have become the most important U.S. demographic growth driver in the food, beverage and restaurant sectors, according to data presented by Latinum Network ( during the Sanford C. Bernstein Investor Conference Call today.

The U.S. Hispanic segment made up more than 50% of real growth in the midst of a stagnant U.S. consumer economy between 2005 and 2008, with $52 billion of new inflation-adjusted Hispanic spending outpacing $40 billion of new spending by non-Hispanics. This growth can be attributed primarily to an increase in the number of U.S. Hispanic households, and secondly to an increase in consumer spending among U.S. Hispanics. In the food, beverage and restaurant business, this new spending offset most (84%) of the real decline in demand across the entire $1 trillion sector. This divergence in demand is driven mainly by differences in ethnic preferences, economic and cultural integration, and demographics.

Among Latinum's key findings:

* Over $9B of new value in Food and Beverage was created by Hispanics in otherwise dormant or declining categories such as fish and seafood, fresh fruit juice and dairy products between 2005 and 2008

* $5.9B of new value was created by Hispanics in growing categories where they represent approximately 20% of the growth such as vegetable juices and fruit drinks, meats including pork, ham and mutton and frozen meals, which represent the highest-growth food category among Hispanics. It appears that busy Hispanic professionals are increasingly turning to frozen meals to feed their children.

* While health & wellness trends reduced non-Hispanic consumption of beef, ethnic preferences buoyed Hispanic buying of beef

* Hispanics are eating out more while others are cutting back, driving growth in fast food and full-service. In particular, Hispanics are increasingly likely to eat out during the work day, driving new sales in fast-food breakfasts and full-service lunches

* The increasing rate of Hispanic home ownership is driving growth in household goods, while non-Hispanics are doing the opposite - reducing real estate holdings and their purchase of household goods

* Hispanic teens are driving the majority of new growth in deodorant and feminine hygiene and at least 20% of growth in cosmetics and shaving needs.

According to Alexia Howard, Senior Research Analyst-US Foods at Sanford C. Bernstein, "With total U.S. Hispanic household spending expected to top $1 trillion by 2013, and emerging markets around the world (such as China or India) fraught with political risk and hidden costs, institutional investors have a unique opportunity to look homeward. We see the growth in food, beverage and restaurants here as a particularly interesting opportunity for our investors. Especially with the relative stability of Hispanic demographics, this growth can be reliably predicted through 2050."

Says David Wellisch, co-founder and principal of Latinum Network, "Clearly, U.S. Hispanics represent a growing market in the midst of a mature U.S. consumer economy, but in order to win over this important demo, brands must make an authentic appeal to the unique behaviors and tastes of U.S. Hispanics through distinct products, channels, messaging and marketing strategies."

For example, while younger Hispanics have higher levels of English proficiency and economic achievement due to having more education than their older counterparts, Spanish usage and preference remain high as consumers acculturate, giving companies expanded options for in-language and multichannel advertising and marketing strategies which appeal to a broader portion of the market.

Americans Plan to Up Private Label Buys

The appeal of store brand products is stronger than ever and may even be intensifying, according to a poll of nearly 800 main household grocery shoppers conducted in February 2010 by GfK Custom Research North America for the Private Label Manufacturers Association. The full report, titled “Recession, Recovery and Store Brands” found more than six in 10 American consumers said they plan on buying more private label as they attempt to stretch their food dollars.

Consumer awareness of store brands is also rising. More than half of respondents said they are more aware of store brand products now than they were a year ago. Moreover, shoppers who identify themselves as “frequent” buyers of store brands are at an all-time high. Some 57 percent say they buy private label products frequently, a figure that has been increasing (it was under 55 percent a year ago).

A greater number of shoppers are switching to store brands in product categories where they had previously only purchased a national brand. Some 43 percent report they have recently forsaken a familiar national brand for a private label counterpart, a marked increase since June 2009 when only 35 percent said they had done so.

Virtually all of the shoppers who switched are pleased with their decision. Ninety-seven percent compared store brands favorably to their previous national brand choices in the same categories. About half said that their store brand selections compare “very favorably,” a dramatic increase from the June 2009 study when only one quarter reported that.

Other findings that may also accrue to store brands’ benefit: Half of shoppers intend to spend less money on groceries in the months ahead, and four in 10 American consumers believe economic conditions were “very important” in deciding to buy a supermarket store brand . For most American shoppers, the recovery has yet to begin. Asked whether the economy has changed over the past few months, 40 percent said conditions were worse, while another 42 percent said things have stayed the same. Fewer than one in five felt the economy had improved.

Beyond private label products, study participants endorsed a variety of strategies to cope with what they see as a persistently difficult economy. When asked how they think the economy will impact their supermarket shopping habits, more than two-thirds said they will take advantage of discounts by buying larger sizes or quantities for items they regularly purchase; two-thirds will look for more coupons and promotions on national brands. About a third plan to change the stores or types of stores where they do their primary grocery shopping.

PLMA commissioned GfK to monitor consumer attitudes and behavior toward store brands in the United States. The February 2010 survey updates findings from two earlier PLMA studies on “Store Brands and the Recession,” published in February 2009 and in June 2009.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Raw milk linked to outbreak

An outbreak of campylobacteriosis has been linked to the consumption of raw milk, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Twelve illnesses have been reported in Michigan and the F.D.A. said it is working with the Michigan Department of Community Health, Illinois Department of Public Health and the Indiana State Health Department to investigate the outbreak. It is believed the milk originated from Forest Grove Dairy, Middlebury, Ind.

The F.D.A. requires that all milk packaged for human consumption be pasteurized before being introduced into inter-state commerce. Regulations in various states, however, do allow for the sale of raw milk within the state.

According to the F.D.A., from 1998 to 2008, 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk were reported to Centers for Disease and Prevention, Atlanta. The outbreaks included a total of 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Because not all cases of foodborne illness are recognized and reported, the actual number of illnesses associated with raw milk likely is greater, the agency said.
Proponents of drinking raw milk often claim that raw milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk and that raw milk is inherently antimicrobial, thus making pasteurization unnecessary.

Trade associations such as the International Dairy Foods Association counter that there is no scientific evidence to suggest there is any meaningful difference in the nutritional value of pasteurized milk and unpasteurized milk. In addition, vitamin D, which is not found in significant amounts in raw milk, is added to processed milk to make it a more nutritious product.

Orange Corn Can Save Lives

Beta-carotene-rich corn could reduce rates of childhood blindness and infant mortality.

Researchers at Purdue University have come up with a novel solution to the world's growing epidemic of blindness among children due to vitamin A deficiency: feed them orange corn.

The researchers have identified a gene in maize that, when manipulated, can toggle the levels of beta-carotene content in corn kernels. Beta-carotene, which is what gives carrots their orange color, is what the human body uses to create vitamin A during digestion.

"We're sort of turbocharging corn with desirable, natural variation to make it darker and more nutritious," said Torbert Rocheford, a professor of agronomy at Purdue who led the study.

Orange corn is already a natural variety popular in South American and Caribbean nations, as well as in northern Italy, where it is often used for polenta. But in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, where most of the world's vitamin A deficiency occurs, only white or yellow corn is typically produced.

It's a problem with horrific consequences. As many as 500,000 children in the developing world go blind every year because they don't get enough vitamin A, according to the World Health Organization. Even more alarming, half of those children typically die within a year of going blind. If stocks of white or yellow corn could be replaced with orange-colored varieties, it could go a long way toward preventing many of those deaths.

The solution could even be adapted to help fix problems in industrialized Western nations, too. Aside from increased beta-carotene, orange corn can be made rich in the micronutrient zeaxanthin, which makes up 75% of the central macula in human eyes. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55, and zeaxanthin can help protect against it.

"It's like a designer gene. We can select one version for the U.S. population to increase zeaxanthin and a different version to increase beta-carotene for the needs of the developing world," says Rocheford.

The only real obstacle to implementing the change to orange corn may come from picky consumers who have grown accustomed to the color of their corn. But Rocheford, who recently returned from a trip to Zambia, where orange corn was readily accepted, thinks the transition could come easily.

Once the health benefits of orange corn are proven to local communities on a tangible level, shifts in taste shouldn't take long. After all, adding more color to the dinner table can be more appetizing, as well as more artful from a culinary perspective.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Some 73% of women read ingredients on food labels and 85% are trying to buy healthier foods

iVillage, the largest content-driven community for women on the Web, and Penton's New Hope Natural Media, the leading provider of information for the natural, organic and healthy products industry, today unveiled new research proving an overwhelming majority of women are more focused than ever on buying healthy foods. The study shows that women are scrutinizing labels for ingredients such as high fiber, reduced fat and low sodium and are staying away from additives such as high fructose corn syrup. The full results will be unveiled at New Hope's Natural Products Expo West (, the largest gathering of the natural, organic and healthy products industry, in Anaheim, CA., on Saturday, March 13 from 12:30-2:00 pm PST. Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, senior vice president of marketing at iVillage and Nancy Coulter Parker, director of content and research for New Hope's Consumer Portfolio will present the findings.

"This inaugural research initiative has demonstrated the power of the iVillage community as a viable research tool and offers in-depth, marketable findings regarding their attitudes towards natural and organic foods," said Jodi Kahn, executive vice president, iVillage. "This deal allows us to bring the unique insights we already provide our major advertisers to an entirely different audience of thousands of natural products companies and gives our community a chance to be heard in the process."

"This study is chock full of information about products, health conditions, ingredients and retailing that will help enable the natural, organic and healthy products industry develop new products and rethink marketing," said Sharon Rowlands, Chief Executive Officer of Penton. "We entered into this arrangement with iVillage hoping that the two leaders – New Hope in natural, organic and healthy knowledge and iVillage in women's shopping preferences – would be able to develop new offerings to grow this industry. We achieved our goal."

The new data suggests that women's increasing concern about their own and their family's health is driving them to change their food choices and take control of their nutrition. Findings include:

* 73 percent say they read labels carefully as they are concerned about specific additives such as high fructose corn syrup
* Approximately 50 percent look for specific health benefits such as high fiber, reduced fat and low sodium rather than general claims that food is "organic" or "natural"
* 71 percent are very interested in buying healthy products at mainstream grocers - a trend that should encourage such retailers to devote more shelf space to healthy and organic products
* While 57 percent believe organic food is better for them, only 26 percent will actually go out of their way to purchase it
* 39 percent find that time is the biggest impediment to eating right, closely followed by willpower and motivation

Monday, April 05, 2010

Decaffeinated Coffee and Glucose Metabolism in Young Men

Objective—The epidemiological association between coffee drinking and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes is strong. However, caffeinated coffee acutely impairs glucose metabolism. We assessed acute effects of decaffeinated coffee on glucose and insulin levels.

Research design and methods—This was a randomized, cross-over, placebo-controlled trial of the effects of decaffeinated coffee, caffeinated coffee, and caffeine on glucose, insulin, and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) levels during a 2-h oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) in 11 young men.

Results—Within the first hour of the OGTT, glucose and insulin were higher for decaffeinated coffee than for placebo (P < 0.05). During the whole OGTT, decaffeinated coffee yielded higher insulin than placebo and lower glucose and a higher insulin sensitivity index than caffeine. Changes in GIP could not explain any beverage effects on glucose and insulin.

Conclusions—Some types of decaffeinated coffee may acutely impair glucose metabolism but less than caffeine.

Flaxseed Lowers High Cholesterol in Men

A new study from Iowa State's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center study found that men who consumed at least 150 milligrams of flaxseed lignans per day decreased cholesterol by just under 10 percent over the three months. Dietary intake of flaxseed did not produce a significant change in women.

Researchers followed 90 subjects—which included twice as many men as women—all had high cholesterol, but no other underlying health conditions. The participants were divided into three groups and were randomly assigned to daily consume tablets that contained zero, 150, or 300 milligrams of flaxseed lignans for 12 weeks.

Lead researcher Suzanne Hendrich, an ISU professor in food science and human nutrition, said the flaxseed lignan tablets used in the study are not currently available in the United States. In the absence of tablets, she said flaxseed also can be sprinkled on cereal, or added in a muffin mix or bread, although whole seeds are not very digestible. Ground flaxseed meal also can provide the desired cholesterol-lowering lignans; however, she said it will oxidize over time and potentially could affect the flavor of the foods.

"Because there are people who can't take something like Lipitor, this could at least give you some of that cholesterol-lowering benefit," Hendrich said. "The other thing is, there are certainly some people who would prefer to not use a drug, but rather use foods to try to maintain their health. So this potentially would be something to consider."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

High-Fat Foods Can Be Addicting

Some of the same brain mechanisms that fuel drug addiction in humans accompany the emergence of compulsive eating behaviors and the development of obesity in animals, according to research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a component of the National Institutes of Health. The study, conducted by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute, will be published in the May 2010 issue of Nature Neuroscience.

When investigators gave rats access to varying levels of high-fat foods, they found unrestricted availability alone can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain, leading to compulsive eating behaviors and the onset of obesity.

Researchers conducted the study in three groups of male rats over a 40-day period. Each day, the three groups had unlimited access to standard lab food. In addition, two of the groups also had access to high-fat, cafeteria style foods for short (one-hour) or long (18-23 hours) periods. After 40 days, all groups were denied access to the high-fat foods. Throughout the study, researchers observed the feeding behaviors of each group, noting caloric intake, weight gain, and brain response.

The results support the notion that type 2 dopamine receptors (D2DR)—brain receptors that have been shown to play a key role in addiction—also play a key role in the rats' heightened response to food. In fact, as the rats became obese, the levels of D2DR in the brain's reward circuit decreased. This drop in D2DR is similar to that previously seen in humans addicted to drugs like cocaine or heroin.

"The results of this study could provide insight into a mechanism for obesity," said Paul J. Kenny, one of the study's co-authors and an associate professor at the Scripps. "It's possible that drugs developed to treat addiction may also benefit people who are habitual overeaters."

Study results also suggest that environmental factors, such as increased or unlimited access to high-fat food options, can contribute to the problem of obesity.

"Hopefully, this study will change the way people think about eating," said Paul Johnson, a co-author and graduate student in the department of molecular therapeutics. "It demonstrates how just the availability of food can trigger overconsumption and obesity."

* National Institute on Drug Abuse: Common Mechanisms of Drug Abuse and Obesity

Friday, April 02, 2010

Double-Digit Growth for Gluten-Free Products

Improved labeling regulations, rising health concerns, awareness of gluten intolerance and the search for more mainstream and good-tasting gluten-free food and beverage products has helped double the number of gluten-free products marketed globally since 2007. In fact, the gluten-free food and beverage sector experience double-digit growth in 2009, according to new data from Innova Database.

More than 5 percent of food and beverage launches tracked by Innova Market Insights in 2009 were marketed as gluten-free, rising to over 10 percent in Australia and New Zealand and falling to less than 1 percent in Asia. Higher launch numbers were seen in the United States and Europe, but these largely reflected higher levels of food and drink new product activity as a whole.

The United States has probably the largest gluten-free foods market globally, with estimates of sales at more than $1.5 billion a year in an overall “free-from” market worth over $3 billion. Most European markets are much smaller, reflecting not only smaller populations overall, but also much less developed processed food markets in many instances. The U.K. market, for example, while relatively well developed in European terms, is estimated at less than GB£100 million a year, with the retail market accounting for just more than half of that and the prescription market taking most of the remainder. It has been showing double-digit growth in recent years, however, as have the markets in countries such as France and Italy.

“It has been suggested that up to 10 percent of the population have some form of gluten intolerance,” said Innova Market Insight’s Head of Research Lu Ann Williams. “Although it remains mostly undiagnosed, while estimates of levels of Celiac disease range from about 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 of the population according to country and source.”

Maximizing Calcium Absorption

To fight the growing incidence of osteoporosis, calcium-fortified foods and beverages are essential. Yet calcium is complex, and many factors influence this vital nutrient’s absorption, including the type of calcium consumed, whether calcium is consumed in a fed state or on an empty stomach, the food it is consumed with, and the total calcium consumed at one time.

Importance of calcium

Calcium helps bones grow in length during adolescence, and in density up until approximately age 30, when peak bone-mineral density is achieved. After this age, bone-mineral density declines, but maintaining adequate calcium and vitamin D levels and participating in weight-bearing exercise can attenuate this decline. Maintaining bone-mineral density is crucial to preventing osteoporosis and helping bones withstand the force of impact without breaking.

Calcium plays other important roles in the body. It helps regulate muscular contractions and plays a role in normal nerve functioning, blood-vessel expansion and contraction, and hormone and enzyme secretion. When dietary calcium intake falls short, calcium is pulled from its storage site in bone to meet the demands of the body and keep calcium in blood, muscle and intercellular fluids within a constant concentration.

Calcium absorption

Several factors affect how much calcium is absorbed in the gut. These include age, the amount of calcium consumed in one sitting, vitamin D intake, other food components and the type of calcium consumed.

Infants and young children absorb significantly more calcium than adults, up to 60% of their calcium intake, because they need more to support bone growth. Calcium absorption decreases in adulthood and continues to decrease with age. Adults absorb just 15% to 20% of intake, according to the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine.

Calcium absorption decreases as the calcium content of a meal increases. Therefore, it is generally recommended that people consume 500 mg or less calcium per serving. Serum vitamin D status also affects calcium absorption. Low serum vitamin D levels decrease intestinal calcium absorption (Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2010; 23(1):54-60), and several studies indicate many people have insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D (“What We Eat in America,” NHANES 2005-2006; Journal of Nutrition, 2007; 137:447-452; European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; 63:1,377-1,386). Phytic acid, found mainly in whole-grain products, beans, seeds, nuts, soybeans and soy protein, binds to calcium, inhibiting its absorption. Likewise, oxalic acid, which is mainly found in dark-green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and beans, also binds calcium, inhibiting its absorption. Though some types of dietary fiber also decrease calcium absorption, the prebiotic fiber inulin enhances calcium absorption (Journal of Nutrition, 2007; 137:2,527S-2,533S).

Formulating with calcium

Given the number of Americans consuming less than the Adequate Intake for calcium, calcium-fortified foods and beverages may help fill the gap, giving consumers more options for meeting their calcium needs. Fortification should be considered carefully and in conjunction with other bone-building nutrients, such as magnesium and vitamins D and K2.

“The challenge for formulators is to select an appropriate form of calcium that delivers the desired level of the mineral without affecting flavor, solubility, bioavailability, sensory properties and the mouthfeel of the finished product,” says Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, NY. “Some of these processing issues can be prevented if a blend of calcium sources is used instead of a single source.”

Further, notes Nadeen Myers, food phosphates specialist, ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis: “The challenge with calcium fortification is that the solubility of calcium phosphates is pH-sensitive, so that clarity of solutions may be an issue. However, there are many types of food and beverage products that still successfully use calcium phosphates for fortification. This includes solids like nutrition bars, yogurts or puddings, and opaque beverages like fruit-based drinks or juices.”

Chaudhari suggests food manufacturers work closely with their suppliers to address product-development issues that could impact calcium delivery or alter the end product. “The supplier can suggest appropriate market forms of calcium, interactions to avoid and processing effects that will improve the chance of success,” he notes.

Chaudhari recommends answering the following questions prior to fortifying a product with calcium:

• What type of product will be fortified?

• How much calcium needs to be added (especially if a manufacturer is trying to meet label claims)?

• Will additional ingredients, such as vitamin D or other nutrients, be added to enhance calcium absorption?

• What are the processing conditions, such as time and temperature?

• What is the pH of the finished product?

• What are the shelf life and other components of the finished product?

Calcium ingredients

A variety of types of calcium can be used to fortify foods and beverages. The decision to choose one type over another is dependent on how well it works in the particular food or beverage application based on solubility, taste and palatability. Bioavailability is important, but it comes second to taste, because consumers will not continue buying a product with an off taste or texture.

According to a study published by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2009; 28:73S-81S) “recommending 3 to 4 servings from the dairy group for all people greater than 9 years of age may be necessary in order to ensure adequate intake of calcium and magnesium, assuming the current diet remains the same."

Dairy foods play an important role in meeting people’s calcium needs. “Milk and milk products provide nearly 75% of the calcium available in the U.S. food supply,” says Erin Coffield, R.D., L.D.N., and spokesperson for the National Dairy Council, Rosemont, IL. “In addition, we know that vitamin D increases calcium absorption. And, milk is the No. 1 source of vitamin D in the American diet, and now many yogurts and some cheeses also are fortified with vitamin D.” For these reasons, using dairy products as a base, or adding dairy, will boost the bone-building compounds within the food or beverage.

Each calcium mineral salt has its benefits and drawbacks. Common calcium mineral salts for food and beverage fortification include calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate, calcium lactate gluconate and calcium gluconate.

Calcium carbonate may be better suited for supplements than fortified foods since it can taste chalky or soapy. However, one advantage of adding calcium carbonate is that it is best absorbed when part of a food.

“Calcium phosphate salts are excellent sources of calcium and can be used to maximize the calcium available in foods and beverages,” says Myers. “In order to maximize the level of calcium obtained in a formulation, tricalcium phosphate may be a good choice since it contains a very high percentage of calcium by weight: 40% calcium.” In addition, tricalcium phosphate has the added benefit of phosphorus, which is necessary to promote the absorption of the calcium in bones, she notes. Certain populations may have a low phosphorus intake, notably women between the ages of 60 to 80 (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2002; 21:239-244). Tricalcium phosphate is often used as an anti-caking agent and food additive, though it can also be used to boost the calcium content of a product. Calcium phosphate is flavorless.

Calcium citrate is typically bitter, but some forms are virtually flavorless. It is relatively soluble at a low pH, and absorption doesn’t depend on food intake. Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are both flavorless and highly soluble.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

General Mills was perceived as the most socially responsible

Social responsibility remains a high priority for consumers, regardless of the recession, according to the second annual Corporate Social Responsibility Branding Survey, released today and conducted by research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with brand consulting firm Landor Associates and strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller. The survey finds that 77 percent of consumers say that it is important for companies to be socially responsible. The survey analyzed consumer views of companies operating across 14 industries ranging from apparel to telecommunications.

The research also reveals that consumers think that companies most often come up short in the sectors where they believe responsible behavior is most important. Of the five industries where respondents most highly value responsibility, financial services, healthcare, and media are perceived as performing worst on the issue. The healthcare industry fared especially badly, as just 35 percent of consumers say that the industry has performed well on social responsibility over the last five years – a 10 percentage-point drop since 2009.

“The Industries that consumers perceive as lacking in responsibility may have the greatest opportunity to benefit from authentically improving their image,” said Scott Osman, global director of Landor Associates’ citizenship branding practice. “Johnson & Johnson, a recognized leader in corporate responsibility, performed very well relative to the healthcare sector this year. The fact that consumers cite the poor performance of these industries shows that they care and are paying attention. By communicating real success in the area of corporate responsibility, corporations have the potential for considerable benefits.”

The survey also found that companies have an opportunity to influence consumer perceptions if they are able to communicate their social responsibility efforts. Just 13 percent of consumers report having read about a company’s social responsibility agenda on its website - but 75 percent of those who have done so indicated that it made them more likely to purchase products or services from that company.

“Companies need to combine strong social responsibility programs with effective communication of what they are doing,” noted Eric Biel, managing director for corporate responsibility at Burson-Marsteller. “While many consumers may not be precise in how they define terms like ‘corporate social responsibility,’ they have a clear sense of how they expect companies to behave. They expect companies to offer high-quality products at good prices and to explain how they treat their employees well, give back to their communities, and respect the environment,” added Biel. “Those companies that can clearly articulate how they advance these values to consumers can achieve real benefits for their brands and overall reputation.”

Socially responsible behavior can also have significant business impact. Even during tough economic times, 38 percent of respondents still plan to spend the same or more for products and services from socially responsible companies. And 70 percent are willing to pay more for a $100 product from a company they regard as responsible.

“Social responsibility remains a differentiator for purchases. Though the recession is causing consumers to be even more price-sensitive than usual, many are still willing to put their pennies where their principles are,” said Scott Siff, executive vice president of Penn Schoen Berland. “And when price is comparable, the choice is no contest - 55 percent are more likely to choose a product that supports a certain cause when choosing between otherwise similar products.”