Monday, May 31, 2010

The boysenberry and its California history, where it is nearly extinct,

The flavorful, juicy fruit is no longer grown in great numbers in California, but it's worth seeking out at farmers markets and farm stands during its short season.

To the uninitiated, the boysenberry may look like a big, blowzy, underripe blackberry, but it is in fact a noble fruit, as distinct from a common blackberry as a thoroughbred is from a mule.

Large, dark purple, juicy and intense, it derives its unique flavor from its complex ancestry: sweetness and floral aroma from its raspberry grandmother, and a winy, feral tang from three native blackberry species.

It's a California classic, emblematic of the joys of growing up in the Southland before it succumbed completely to sprawl. And it's all the more precious, despite its near extinction in this state, because it evokes why people moved here in the first place.

But Boysens can still be found if you know where to look, although their season is brief — late May to early July — and they are so delicate that as a fresh fruit they can be enjoyed at their best only from farmers markets, farm stands and home gardens.

The boysenberry was the fruit sensation of its era, rocketing from mysterious origins to be grown on some 2,400 acres in California by 1954. This gradually dwindled to 70 in 2008, and last year agricultural statisticians stopped counting, the ultimate indignity for the once-dominant variety.

One of the few remaining local growers, retired math professor Robert Poole, 72, came to love boysenberries in the early 1950s when his family grew a patch of them in Rialto for market, like hundreds of small farmers. This ended after his father died young of complications from a tonsillectomy, but Poole's taste for Boysens lingered, and when he bought property in Redlands in 1977 he put in a modest planting for his family's use.

He expanded production, but it was only when he started selling at farmers markets in the mid-1980s that he found a viable outlet for the perishable fruit. He and his family now cultivate 1 acre of berries, doing all the work themselves — planting, pruning, weaving the thorny canes onto wire trellises and harvesting. His wife, Patricia, makes boysenberry pies and jam, the most traditional uses for the fruit.

Most of the commercial Boysen crop has always gone into preserves, pies, syrups, juice, yogurt and ice cream. Ripe, fresh Boysens are so soft and thin-skinned that they leak juice and soon decay, so they must be sold within a day or two of harvest. Commercial shippers therefore have to compromise on maturity to get fresh Boysens to market with decent shelf life, but reddish, underripe fruits are quite tart for eating fresh.

"To be at their best, boysenberries need to be both really sweet and tart, that's the combination," says Gordon Mason, a software designer and self-proclaimed fruit connoisseur who tends his mother's garden in West Los Angeles. "When they separate easily from the calyx, the white part underneath turns translucent, and the drupelets start to shrivel a little bit. That's when they're spot-on."

The Boysen's soft texture and rich, fruity flavor come from Rubus ursinus, a wild blackberry species improbably descended from a cross with a giant raspberry now found only on the island of Hawaii. Native to the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Southern California, it's one of several American species of so-called dewberries, basically blackberries with a trailing habit (tending to sprawl close to the ground, rather than growing upright) that were domesticated starting in the late 19th century.

In 1881, Judge James Logan of Santa Cruz planted seeds from ursinus plants growing in his garden next to raspberries. He came up with the loganberry, a celebrated hybrid with large, conical, reddish-purple fruits. It was a leading variety for several decades, much prized for wine, juice and preserves.

The exact parentage of boysenberry is obscure, but scientists surmise, based on analyses of genes, plants and fruits, that it resulted from a cross of Logan with an Eastern dewberry. It may in fact have been one of the famous plant breeder Luther Burbank's seedlings, which somehow made its way to John Lubben's home in Alameda, Calif., and thence to his Napa County farm, where it was called lubbenberry.

In the early 1920s, Rudolph Boysen, who was farming Lubben's property, was crossing blackberries and raspberries, and when he moved to Anaheim in 1923, he took with him some plants growing large, exquisitely flavored berries, which he claimed to have bred.

Boysen soon shifted his attention to growing oranges, but George Darrow of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a great berry breeder, traveled from Maryland to see this novel fruit, marveled at it and contacted a small farmer, Walter Knott, at his Berry Place in Buena Park.

When Knott started growing the new variety in 1932, he found it surpassed the standard dewberry at the time, the milder, Louisiana-bred youngberry, in size, yield and profitability. He named it boysenberry and introduced it to the public in 1934, launching such a hullabaloo that by the next year this newspaper would trumpet it as the "California-developed king of the bush," destined to trounce all rivals. From this start Knott's Berry Farm, as the giant amusement park became known, took off.

So did boysenberry plantings, which expanded to 559 acres in 1940, with Los Angeles County in the lead. Acreage declined during the war because of the scarcity and high cost of labor, but boomed in the postwar decade, reaching a peak of several thousand acres in the late 1950s. The Boysen was then the preeminent bush berry grown in California, far exceeding raspberries and other blackberries.

Meanwhile, as development consumed farmland near Los Angeles, most production shifted to the areas around Modesto and Fresno, and focused on processing. Boysens are not ideally suited to the San Joaquin Valley, particularly the hottest, most arid southern reaches, where broiling days scald the berries and plants, and low humidity and warm nights diminish fruit size; but growers made a go of it for many years, using migrant farmworkers and students for harvest labor.

In the 1960s, the Boysen began a slow decline: Its trailing habit made it difficult and expensive to manage; the plant was susceptible in coastal areas to fungal disease; the soft, leaky berry offered poor shelf life; supermarket chains and food service preferred fruits with year-round availability; competition from imported frozen Boysens diminished profits. The Boysen was supplanted by more productive, better-adapted hybrid blackberries, Olallie for fresh market in California, Marion for processing in Oregon. When picked ripe, these and similar Western varieties can offer very good flavor, but they are different from Boysens.

Today, improved varieties of Eastern blackberries, grown in Mexico, the Southeast and California, dominate the fresh market. Oregon, which has a large berry processing industry, grows most of the nation's remaining Boysens, some 600 acres, which are mechanically harvested at night when they are firmer and come off more readily.

Meanwhile, several breeders, including Chad Finn of the USDA in Corvallis, Ore., have pursued a dream of berries with the superb flavor of Boysen but firm enough to ship. Until recently, Finn's new varieties were not readily available in California. But three years ago, the Willems family of Kingsburg, south of Fresno, planted 20 acres of a complex hybrid involving Boysen, Logan and Marion, officially named newberry, which they are marketing as "Ruby Boysen" to chains including Trader Joe's, Costco and Albertsons.

Sweeter and lighter in color than Boysen, with a stronger skin, this variety has outstanding flavor. But it may never replace the original in the hearts of aficionados, who can only hope that if enough of them vote with their dollars, there may be life in the old berry yet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Retail produce sales increased 2.3% and volume climbed 2.5% in the first quarter of 2010

Better times are here again in the retail produce department.

Retail produce sales increased 2.3% and volume climbed 2.5% in the first quarter of 2010 compared with 2009, according to figures from the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group.

Citrus sales increased 10.6% in the first quarter while peppers, prepared food and cooking greens also registered double digit sales gains.

Avocados, pineapples tomatoes, mushrooms, prepared vegetables, pears and celery registered sales gains between 5% and 10%. Apples, grapes, cooking vegetables, onions, lettuce, blueberries, cucumbers and squash/pumpkins had sales gains between 0.6% and 4.3%.

On the other hand, sales declines were noted for packaged salad (-1%), bananas (-4.3%), potatoes (-13%), strawberries (-8.9%) carrots (-0.9%) and melons (-3.6%)

Generally speaking, improved results are expected through the year, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group.

“It feels like it is a lot different and a lot better than 2009, when so much price deflation was occurring,” he said.

“This year has been a nice turnaround for retailers” said Dick Spezzano, an independent retail analyst and president of Spezzano Consulting Services in Monrovia, Calif.

Deflation in 2009 made it tougher for retailers to adjust and keep their profits where they wanted them to be.

“Some guys told me they were as high as 10% deflation in their department on key months,” Spezzano said. “When you are down that much, you can’t sell enough to make up for deflation.”

In the third quarter of 2009, Lutz said all top 25 produce items had lower average retail prices than year-ago numbers. For the first quarter of 2010, he said just a little over half of the commodities had lower average retail prices compared with a year ago.

“That’s definitely an improvement,” he said.

Lutz said strawberry volumes were down 19.3% compared with a year ago. Poor weather in growing areas contributed to the lighter supply. Likewise, blueberry volume was down 14.5% and grape volume was off 27% in the first quarter. That reduction is linked to the Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile, Lutz said.

The shorter crops helped other fruit items thrive, he said.

“Certainly it is likely that apples, bananas and pears benefited from the limited availability of grapes and possibly limited availability of blueberries and strawberries,” Lutz said.

Packaged salad average prices were off 2.3% compared to a year ago, resulting in a 1.3% rise in volume but a 1% decline in sales.

Lutz said a number of consumers have apparently bailed out of the more expensive salad kits in favor of the bargain bagged salad packs.

“The blends and the salad kits are the ones that have been hurt the most in the last year and a half,” Spezzano said.

Lutz said organic produce sales slowed from prerecession double-digit levels but still showing growth.
“That’s not bad, considering everything else was going south,” he said. “Overall, I think organic came through this pretty well.”

Outlook for 2010

Spezzano said this year’s slow start to the summer fruit season, caused by cool weather in California and Arizona, may hurt retail performance in the second quarter for cherries, tree fruit, grapes and melons.
While there may be no big breakthrough in the size of crops that will result in a 10% to 15% increase in tonnage, he said 2010 should provide improved returns compared with 2009.

While deflation has eased, Lutz said many produce shoppers are keen to find bargains.

“Consumers are shopping for what they perceive to be the best value they can find and if your price is not considered to be right or a pretty good value, then consumers are penalizing you for it,” he said.

Spezzano said “hot specials” continue to be a dominant influence for consumers in all food categories.

The average for dollars of fruits and vegetables sold on promotion relative to all sales is about 24%, Lutz said.
Except for bananas, the percentage of fruit on promotion is generally higher than vegetables.

Last year, some retailers reported the percentage for produce sold on promotion rose from the low 20% range to as high as 30%, Spezzano said.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A plethora of yogurt options have become available

Every culture sees its share of trends. Even yogurt.

And as yogurt hipsters know, the days of fruit-on-the-bottom and pina colada-flavored puddings are so passe.

An explosion of yogurt options has given Americans bold new choices, from goat's milk to Greek-style to soy and even coconut milk yogurts.

And have you tried the Icelandic-style brands like siggi's? It's a stick-to-your-ribs product that Errol Schweizer, senior global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market, describes as "sort of like Greek yogurt for Vikings."

Yogurt's cultural transformation is most noticeable at upscale grocers. Atlanta copy editor Lauren Vogelbaum jokes that when a Whole Foods opened near her apartment a few years ago, "I was introduced to a new universe of yogurt."

But mainstream markets also have seen a change, as products once limited mostly to natural food stores — such as Greek-style strained yogurts and kefir (KEE-fer), a drinkable, fermented dairy product — have become widely available.

"There's been a big increase in the number of yogurts and the different cultures available," says Robert Garfield, senior vice president of public policy and international affairs for the National Yogurt Association, a nonprofit industry group based in McLean, Va.

Though the recession slowed yogurt sales in 2009, especially yogurt drinks, sales of both grew 32 percent between 2004 and 2009, reaching nearly $4.1 billion in sales, according to market research company Mintel.

Icelandic yogurts are dense nutrient-packed products that are so thoroughly strained they can be classified as soft cheeses. Two brands are sold in the United States —, imported from Iceland, and siggi's, made in America by Siggi Hilmarsson, an immigrant from Iceland.

The brand, available exclusively at Whole Foods, is currently available on the East Coast, as well as cities including Denver and Seattle, with plans to roll out the product in other regions this year. The brand is "just growing bigger and bigger," says Blair Gordon, president of E&B's Natural Way company, which is based in Frederick, Md., and imports

Hilmarsson's yogurt ventures began about six years ago in New York during his first Christmas away from home. In an effort to capture a taste of home, he decided to make strained yogurt following his grandmother's recipe.

The sort of temperature control needed to produce yogurt is tough in a New York apartment, but he persevered, moving up to a professional test kitchen and eventually creating a product that caught the attention of local stores.

Today, siggi's is available nationally at Whole Foods and other chains, such as Wegmans.

Yogurt, which is made by adding bacterial cultures to milk, has long been recognized as a healthy food. (In this case, the bacteria are good for you, aiding digestion, among other things.) But sweet-toothed Americans have balked at the tangy taste of the real thing. For years, American "yogurt" was more pudding than culture.

"The issue for Americans is getting used to the natural fermented flavor of the product," Garfield says.

These days the big sellers are low-fat and nonfat brands, and there's a move toward reduced sugar, he says.

A persistent issue with American yogurt has been whether you're getting a product containing live cultures. The National Yogurt Association issues a seal to products that have a specified amount of live and active cultures.

Some of the new products aren't cheap — siggi's, which comes in seven flavors, all nonfat — typically runs more than $2.50 for a 6-ounce carton. Many mainstream brands, even some organic varieties, sell for less than $1.

Hilmarsson notes that since his product is strained, producing a hearty yogurt that is thick and tart. He says you are getting more protein per ounce. He also pays a premium for milk from New York state farmers who don't use hormones or antibiotics, a cost that does get passed on.

Some people aren't ready for that much yogurt attitude.

Vogelbaum, who blogs about food and books at the website "Do Not Feed the Editor," tried the orange and ginger flavor and found it to be a very intense yogurt experience in a "not delicious" way. But she thought siggi's pomegranate and passion fruit flavor was "on the tolerable side of sour, and tasty."

On the other hand, Lauren Slayton, a New York nutritionist, tried siggi's orange and ginger and "it was love at first taste," she said. "It's always so nice when the product kind of reads your mind and comes out exactly as you would have designed it." She recommends siggi's as a post-workout snack for protein and the orange and ginger for prenatal clients. At home, she uses plain siggi's for tuna and chicken salads as well as smoothies.

Hilmarsson, who started making Icelandic yogurt partly because he was put off by sweet American yogurts, takes a tolerant view. It's fine with him if you want to add a little honey.

But, he says, don't be afraid of the tart. He often gets e-mails saying, "Hey, Siggi. Your yogurt — it was a mouthful at first; it was very tart, but now I can't eat anything else. Everything else tasted too sweet to me."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Researchers from University Sain Malaysia developed a biodegradable plastic packaging

Researchers in Malaysia said they have developed a biodegradable plastic packaging from tropical fruit skins that is durable and economic to produce.

The Fruitplast product has been pioneered at the University Sain Malaysia (USM) and made from the skins of tropical fruits such as bananas, rambutans and chempedak.

Team leader professor Hanafi Ismail said the idea to produce plastic from fruit waste came about because of the perceived potential for bio-degradable plastic which is forecast to grow by up to 30 per cent a year.

“Commercial bio-degradable plastic such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polycaprolacton (PCL) that are available in the West are at least eight times as expensive as the petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastic such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP),” said the professor. “We have developed a study to produce bio-degradable plastic using waste products from fruits to reduce costs but which can compete with the quality of the commercial plastics that are currently available in the market.”

Fruitplast is estimated to be 10 per cent cheaper than the petroleum-based commercial plastics (PE, PP) and is able to biodegrade within three to six months, said the team.

Two years

“This innovation also has huge commercial prospects not only in Malaysia but also world-wide because it is based on the concept of sustainability, is cheap and excellent for the packaging industry,” added Hanafi. “The durability of the plastic also has met the standards that have been determined and if it is not exposed to the elements (soil and weather), Fruitplast can remain in its original condition for up to two years.”

The university, which funded the project, said Fruitplast won a Gold medal at the International Invention, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) 2010, held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Symphony of Spice

Flavor balance in foods leads to a more-exciting, satisfying flavor profile and, hopefully, a more-pleasurable, memorable eating experience. Achieving the right flavor balance can be accomplished through creating layers of flavor that hit the palate at different times in different ways, creating excitement and delivering eating satisfaction.

One-dimensional foods can certainly deliver a flavor experience, but one that might be flat and unsatisfying—much like an orchestra lacking in that rich, full, balanced sound we need for maximum listening enjoyment. Similarly, by incorporating the right selection of spices into foods, we add interest and richness that go a long way toward heightening our eating experience.

Highly spiced history

Spices have a long history of intrigue. For more than 5,000 years, people have cultivated and harvested spices and herbs. The overland spice trade initially brought Europe these wonderful flavors via secretive, dangerous routes from their sources in the East (India, China, Indonesia, etc.) to new and impressionable consumers in the West (Italy, France, Spain, etc.). Over the centuries, trade-savvy countries, such as Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands, came to control the many segments and distribution points of these caravan and shipping routes. Trade wars over the centuries were common, often making the cost of spices in Europe enormous at the time.

Spices, such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and mace, were heavily sought after for their perceived value and the status they conferred. Wealthy European noblemen kept hoards of spices in their castles to demonstrate wealth. Spices were also an integral part of religious ceremonies and celebrations. Medieval European, as well as early Chinese and Indian, medical remedies would often incorporate spices as part of the cure, for conditions such as respiratory and gastrointestinal distress. Spices’ aromas and sensations were even thought to address intimacy issues. Spices were also employed to disguise the taste of spoiled foods, such as wine.

As worldwide agriculture practices grew and developed, the demand for spices to add value, flavor and flair to everyday eating grew, as well.

Cultural distinctions

Over the centuries, many countries, regions and cultures have developed emblematic spice and herb seasoning blends that remain popular to this day. The Chinese have five-spice seasoning, a blend of ground cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seed and Szechuan peppercorns that transforms a pork tenderloin into a fascinating flavor experience. India has introduced many curry blends, mixtures of turmeric with several spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin and fenugreek, made pungent with ginger, chile and pepper. Curry blends can enhance most any chicken or vegetarian dish. Hispanic cuisine highlights, among others, blends of dried chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander and cloves—a natural choice to highlight many beef products. The French have herbes de Provence, a mixture of herbs that always seems to include thyme, savory and rosemary, and occasionally lavender, oregano and marjoram. Herbes de Provence is an intriguing addition to a dish with cheese and/or other dairy ingredients. Today’s tastes allow these culturally created spice and herb blends to be used in dishes as diverse as entrées (pork, poultry, beef and seafood), savory snacks (topically coated chips and nuts) and desserts.

Today, more ethnic spice blends are gaining broader market appeal in the United States. North African culinary culture offers ras el hanout (literally translated as “top of the shop”), a blend of cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, black and white peppers, cayenne, nutmeg, clove, and allspice. This orchestra of culinary flavors is traditionally used in tagines, couscous, rice, lamb and chicken dishes. Panch phoron from Bengal India is a classic five-spice mixture composed of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, and nigella and black mustard seeds, typically lightly fried in ghee before used in cooking vegetables, proteins or lentils. Garam masala (literally translates to “warm spice blend”), a northern Indian spice combination, comprised of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and pepper, has savory and sweet applications. Spanish cuisine offers pinchos morunos, a spice paste typically used with meat kebobs. It is made from garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, black pepper, lemon and olive oil. Japanese cuisine is offering up for culinary exploration shichimi togarashi, a seven-spice blend that includes black and white sesame seeds, pepper, red chiles, roasted orange peel, seaweed, and ginger. This blend is often used in seasoned soups, noodles and yakitori.

New interpretations

Over the years, the norms by which we use spices, herbs and seasoning blends have begun to blur as we have seen a role reversal of savory flavors used in sweet applications and sweet flavors in savory applications. Some upscale restaurants on the West Coast are gaining attention with creations such as roasted-beet baked Alaska with basil meringue and traditional cheesecakes layered with chèvre and warm apples simmered in rosemary and cinnamon. Traditional desserts, such as crème brûlée, are now being made with a hint of curry powder that brings a more-complex, intriguing, earthy note to a typically sweet profile. In alcoholic beverages, we’ve seen exciting combinations, such as a touch of smoked paprika complementing the smoky notes of tequila, peppercorns floating in sake, green-tea martinis and lemongrass with Thai basil muddled with coconut milk and rum.

Taking it to the bench

To the product developer, spices and herbs offer complex and rewarding tools to create a memorable eating experience. Spices and herbs can be sourced in many ways, including dried, fresh, frozen or freeze-dried, in powdered, granulated, minced, chopped, whole, leaf, bark and stem forms. The particle size of spices and herbs can impact flavor release and appearance among other attributes. Choice also depends on cost, ease-of-use, overall handling, and supply and shelf-life considerations. The final food matrix to be developed, including how it will be processed, packaged and consumed, is a key consideration in the type, form and amount of spices and herbs incorporated. To ensure sufficient dispersion in a matrix, powders are often employed.

The form used impacts how quickly a spice and herb’s flavor is perceived during tasting. A layered-flavor experience can be achieved by how readily and quickly these flavors are released to the palate and nose. The finer the particle or grind size, the faster its flavor is typically released. Black pepper is a perfect example, as a fine grind releases its pungent character much more quickly and readily than its coarser, “cracked” pepper counterpart.

Appearance should also be considered. While adults may see the flakes of oregano or basil in their lasagna as a sign of impending sensory enjoyment, a child may see the appearance of spices and/or herbs in their canned ravioli as a distraction.

Snack chips can create limits to the size of the spices and herbs that can be topically applied. On a slice of Texas toast, a large piece of cracked black pepper may be a natural, but on a chip, it will often end up in the bottom of the bag. Spices and herbs can darken and discolor if a developer is not mindful of the heat involved in the production process. Retorting can easily discolor whole spices and herbs, but this might be less noticeable in ground or granulated forms. In all food systems, especially low-acid systems such as those that contain dairy ingredients, a developer must understand any incoming microbial loads. Spices and herbs can be treated to have the least microbial impact via steam-sterilization, gas or irradiation treatments.

All this being said, it seems to this product developer that spices, herbs and their myriad seasoning blends can offer up limitless potential toward designing great-tasting, memorable, successful food products. Just as great music so often provides its listener a pleasing balance of sound, often with a touch of intrigue and surprise, so too can our choices of spice and herbs to our customers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cheese Effective for Probiotic Delivery

Cheese was found to be an effective carrier for the study of probiotics, and daily consumption of the probiotic enhanced parameters of innate immunity in elderly volunteers, according to a study published in FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology (2010;59(1):53-59). Researchers chose a commercial probiotic cheese to evaluate its potential as a probiotic food. A total of 31healthy elderly volunteers (21 female, 10 male) aged from 72 to 103 consumed a commercial probiotic cheese containing approximately 109 CFU/d−1 of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM. The four-week probiotic intervention was preceded by a two-week consumption of probiotic-free cheese (run-in) and followed by a four-week washout period with the same control cheese. The cytotoxicity of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), the relative numbers of natural killer (NK) and NKT cells in the total PBMCs, and phagocytic activity were assessed.

Consumption of the probiotic cheese significantly increased the cytotoxicity of NK cells. A significant increase in phagocytosis was observed for both the control and the probiotic cheese. It remains to be determined whether this enhancement correlates with a beneficial effect on the health of the elderly population. Researchers noted, “Oral intake of specific probiotics has been reported to enhance the immunity of the elderly. Earlier studies have used milk or yoghurt as a probiotic carrier.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indulgence in snacking is often justified by trade-offs

On-the-go consumers tend to take a ‘debit/credit’ approach to the snack items they choose, suggesting that health will often take a back seat, according to a new survey.

Conducted by Evolution Insights, the survey of 1,100 Americans found that indulgence in snacking is often justified by trade-offs elsewhere in the diet, with most people overlooking calorie counts and nutritional content when snacking.

“Our evidence suggests that the majority of shoppers who say they consider their health when buying lunch and snacks on-the-go are less swayed by calorie content and nutrition of individual items at the point of purchase,” writes Evolution.

Who’s counting?

The new research, which included a demographically representative survey of 1,123 snacking on-the-go and 1,156 lunch on-the-go shoppers aged 13-65+, found that almost 38 percent of shoppers say they consider calories, but only 6 percent give calorie content as a reason for their choice of items.

Females were found to be significantly more likely to say they consider calories when shopping for snacks and lunch on-the-go than males, with 18-34s in particular the most prone to concerns, said Evolution. But at the point of purchase, these concerns appear to evaporate.

A striking example cited by the researcher is that the most frequently purchased items by those consumers who said they do consider calories when snacking on-the-go are chocolate bars.

Healthy alternatives including cereal bars, fruit, water and smoothies fare less well, with a more significant increase in relative penetration only among those who state calorie and nutritional content as an actual reason for item choice, says the researcher.

Careful balance

“While health and wellbeing is clearly of increasing concern to shoppers, manufacturers should be careful to balance attempts to target shoppers with health messages with efforts to retain great taste and brand loyalty,” said Evolution Insights analyst, James Johnson.

Monday, May 24, 2010

High-Calorie, High-Fat Diets Linked to Incontinence

Women who consume high-calorie diets or diets high in saturated fats have an increased risk for urinary incontinence, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers examined intakes of total energy, carbohydrate, protein and fats in relation to UI in a cross-sectional sample of 2,060 women in the population-based Boston Area Community Health Survey (2002–2005). Data were collected from in-person home interviews and food frequency questionnaires. Logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios and 95 percent confidence intervals for the presence of moderate-to-severe UI; a severity index was analyzed in secondary analysis of 597 women with urine leakage.

Greater total energy intake was associated with UI and increased severity. No associations were observed with intake of carbohydrates, protein, or total fat. However, the ratio of saturated fat intake to polyunsaturated fat intake was positively associated with UI and was strongly associated with severity.

The findings suggest dietary changes, particularly decreasing saturated fat relative to polyunsaturated fat and decreasing total calories, could independently account for some of the benefits of weight loss in women with UI.


* American Journal of Epidemiology: Dietary Macronutrient and Energy Intake and Urinary Incontinence in Women

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Study Links Processed Meats to Heart Disease, Diabetes

Eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, is associated with a 42-percent higher risk of heart disease and a 19-percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) published in the journal Circulation. However, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork or lamb.

Researchers systematically reviewed nearly 1,600 studies. Twenty relevant studies were identified, which included a total of 1,218,380 individuals from 10 countries on four continents (North America, Europe, Australia and Asia). The researchers defined unprocessed red meat as any unprocessed meat from beef, lamb or pork, excluding poultry. Processed meat was defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives; examples include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats. Vegetable or seafood protein sources were not evaluated in these studies.

The results showed, on average, each 50 gram (1.8 ounce) daily serving of processed meat (about one to two slices of deli meats or one hot dog) was associated with a 42-percent higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19-percent higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Too few studies evaluated the relationship between eating meat and risk of stroke to enable the researchers to draw any conclusions.

“When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, four times more sodium and 50-precent more nitrate preservatives,” said Renata Micha, a research fellow in the department of epidemiology at HSPH and lead author of the study. “This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats. “To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating. Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid. Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk.”

However, the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) issued a response to the study saying processed meat continues to be a healthy part of a balanced diet and that nutrition decisions should be based on the total body of evidence—not on a study that stands in contrast to other research and to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

AMIF President James H. Hodges noted that this is an epidemiological study, which by itself is not sufficient to establish cause and effect. Rather, this type of study allows researchers to identify associations that may merit further study. Even the authors of the study state in the paper that “Associations of processed meat consumption with diabetes mellitus or CHD could relate to generally less healthy diet or lifestyle rather than causal effects of processed meats.”

“Too often, epidemiological findings are reported as ‘cased closed’ findings, as if a researcher has discovered the definitive cause of a disease or illness. But epidemiological studies look at a multitude of diet and lifestyle factors in specific volunteer human populations and use sophisticated statistical methods to try and tease out relationships or associations between these factors and certain forms of disease. This method of comparing relationships has many limitations which are widely recognized by researchers in this field. More often than not, epidemiological studies, over time, provide more contradictions than conclusions,” Hodges said. “This study did not achieve the standard threshold that would generate concern. “At best, this hypothesis merits further study. It is certainly no reason for dietary changes.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Retail food outlets in a variety of segments significantly stepped up their efforts

Retail food outlets in a variety of segments have significantly stepped up their efforts to provide new, appealing, and competitively priced meal solutions to consumers, putting themselves in an excellent position to compete head-on with restaurants. With better quality and more variety, consumers now have a wide array of options that simplify and speed up meal preparations, making it increasingly easy to pass on dining out.

Evidence of the shift was found across nearly 20 product categories, according to recent research conducted by Technomic for its RMS (Retailer Meal Solutions) Monitor intelligence service.

While rotisserie chicken, macaroni and cheese, and deli salads remain a substantial part of the mix, they are by no means the sole anchor to capture consumer attention and dollars.

"From Korean-style barbecue, Hispanic baked goods and Mediterranean salads to gourmet versions of retro Americana sides, made-to-order specialty sandwiches and chicken wings in a host of flavors, it's immediately clear that 'deli' doesn't do these offerings justice," says Jenny Anderson, Manager of the RMS Monitor project.

According to Anderson, while "retailer meal solutions" is an accurate label for this broad collection of products, retailers are using other terms and marketing messages to promote their prepared foods offerings to consumers. Positioning options and examples include:

Restaurant Quality at Home: Restaurant trends are migrating to RMS more quickly and it is not just upscale markets that are incorporating ingredients, flavors and preparation techniques proving popular in restaurants. Retailers can now justifiably market their prepared foods and other items as restaurant alternatives with lower prices and do so frequently. Examples range from c-stores like Quick Chek (“Restaurant Quality, No Reservations Needed”) to chef-inspired meals from Safeway’s extensive Signature Café program and Walmart with its new Marketside brand.

Restaurant Dining In-Store: Retailers are also marketing the stores as restaurants and offer onsite dining to further blur the lines between foodservice and retail. Kroger features many of its RMS items in areas called The Bistro. For Hy-Vee, a foodcourt is among the store departments. Others have taken it to the next level with distinctive in-store dining concepts like The Pub at Wegmans and the many diverse dining concepts from Whole Foods (e.g., Italian osterias, wine and tapas bars, diners). The availability of alcoholic beverages adds to the complete dining experience.

Besides a stronger emphasis on quality, retailers are also tapping into consumer stresses and concerns to more effectively position RMS offerings as true solutions that fit consumer lifestyles.

Convenience without Sacrifice: Removing the “chore” of cooking and freeing up that time for something else is another key appeal for RMS. Perusing prepared foods sections that offer complete meals also eliminates the stress of planning what to make. Lunds & Byerly’s use the tagline “Great Food Fast” and other examples abound, including “Easy Meals” at Giant Eagle.

Better-For-You without Effort: Another area where retailers are taking a cue from restaurants is in marketing healthy meals. Fresh & Easy, Market Street and others now offer specific lines of healthy options to help consumers maintain a healthy diet without having to calculate calories and fat or seek out good-for-you ingredients. In addition, offerings priced by the pound are very common and have been promoted as an option that gives customers more control over portion sizes, which also taps into budget-minded concerns about food going to waste.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eight in 10 natural and organic consumers regularly read ingredient labels for health and nutrition content

Mambo Sprouts Marketing MamboTrack™ research revealed 8 in 10 natural and organic consumers regularly read ingredient labels for health and nutrition content and were interested in buying functional foods with added health, nutrition and dietary benefits, with four in ten (39%) very interested in these types of specialty foods.

Consumers expressed the most desire for foods with organic ingredients (65%) and low sodium grocery items (47%) followed by low fat/cholesterol (39%) and vegetarian items (31%). Functional food products with added calcium (44%), Omega 3 (44%), anti-oxidants (43%), probiotics/prebiotics (38%), and Vitamin D (30%) were also preferred.

With Celiac Awareness Month upon us, the study noted interest in specific ingredient-free foods, with one in three natural product consumers seeking allergen free foods. Shoppers were most likely to report buying gluten free/wheat free items (25%), followed by dairy free foods (9%). Fewer avoided soy (6%) or peanuts (4%).

Bread (59%), cereal (56%), chips and snacks (54%), and pasta (46%) were the most popular gluten free products.

Consumers are turning to gluten free foods for a variety of reasons. More than four in ten gluten free buyers felt gluten free products were healthier for their family (43%). Another one in three (34%) had a household member with celiac disease or wheat intolerance or indicated that their favorite brands were gluten free already (36%).

Packaging is a key factor in brand buying decisions. Four in 10 (40%) recently tried a new brand or switched brands, specifically because it had more earth friendly packaging.

Two in three bought products with recyclable packaging or packaging made of recycled materials (66%) and 44% bought products with compostable/biodegradable packaging. New eco packaging options of most interest among 1 in 2 included: compostable/biodegradable, reusable and refillable product packaging.

The Mambo Sprouts Marketing Quick Poll was completed online among 600 MamboTrack health and natural product consumers between April 19th - April 26th, 2010. MamboTrack research is offered by Mambo Sprouts Marketing, the leader in natural, organic and green product marketing, coupon and promotional services.

Visit for more information.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reconsidering ALA Omega 3s

Thanks to a plethora of media attention, many consumers know that omega-3s are good for them. However, omega-3s encompass several healthful fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). And, despite the fact that ALA is the only omega-3 with an established Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) value, the majority of focus has been on the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for their myriad health benefits. Consequently, the efficacy of ALA has come into question.

Omegas dialed down

Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a wide array of physiological processes in the body. For instance, they serve as a structural component for cell membranes, thereby regulating membrane fluidity and integrity of receptor sites. They also regulate serotonin and dopamine transmission, influence the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, and play a role in eicosanoid synthesis, gene expression, cell growth and protection from apoptosis. In addition, omega-3s influence cognitive development and vision in infants (Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2009; 15(36):4,165-4,172).

Each omega-3 fatty acid has its own unique metabolic fate in the body. ALA is the only omega-3 that is considered essential (meaning the body must obtain it from food and cannot make it), whereas EPA and DHA are made from ALA through a series of enzymatic reactions. Though both EPA and DHA are manufactured from ALA, and therefore not (at the current time) considered essential for consumption, this process is inefficient and affected by other fats in the diet. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the desaturase and elongase enzymes and, therefore, the total amount of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid (the only other essential fatty acid) affects the extent of ALA conversion to EPA and DHA (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000; 71(1):179S-188S). Studies show that approximately 8% to 21% of ALA is converted into EPA, and 4% to 9% of ALA is converted to DHA. Men are on the lower end of this scale, and women on the higher end (Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 2004; 7(2):137-144).

Because so little ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, some argue that consumers should opt for EPA and DHA and skip ALA altogether, and that EPA and DHA should have established DRIs. However, others have a different take on the matter.

“For years, ALA was compared to EPA and DHA, but a compilation of ALA research has shown that ALA has its own health benefits, and consumers need to add all omega-3s to their diet,” says Carol Berg Sloan, R.D., nutrition consultant, California Walnut Board and Commission, Folsom, CA.

Several studies show that increased consumption of ALA-rich foods can improve some cardiovascular disease risk factors (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001; 74:612–619; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999; 69:890–897; British Medical Journal, 1996; 313:84–90). However, all foods naturally rich in ALA also contain a variety of other bioactive compounds that may act independently or synergistically to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; 89(5):1,649S-1,656S). Common natural sources of ALA include flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, rapeseed (canola) oil, and olive oil. The Adequate Intake for ALA is 1.6 and 1.1 grams per day for adult men and women, respectively.

Although some evidence points toward ALA for health benefits, an abundance of research shows that EPA and DHA play an important role in health and disease prevention. EPA and DHA consumption decreases high blood triglycerides and coronary heart disease risk (Clinical Cardiology, 2009; 32(7):365-372) and improves blood pressure and vascular function (Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 2006; 33(9):842-846). In addition, research shows that EPA and DHA show promise for taming inflammation in those with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2008; 52(8):885-897) and may help with some symptoms of depression (Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2009; 15(36):4,165-4,172). EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish.

ALA emerging

At this time, the beneficial effects of marine sources of EPA and DHA are well-documented, while evidence on the health benefits of ALA lags behind, perhaps due to confounding variables associated with the metabolism of ALA. Despite this, ALA is an important source of omega-3s in the diet, especially for vegans. The average per capita intake of EPA and DHA in the American diet is just 0.1 to 0.2 grams per day, whereas average per capita intake of ALA is approximately 1.4 grams per day (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 2003; 23(2):e20-e30). Most experts indicate that Western diets are out of balance, with too much omega-6 and too little omega-3.

“Consuming foods rich in ALA can help balance the amount of omega-6s eaten while increasing omega-3s in the diet,” says Bruce A. Watkins, Ph.D., professor and director of biosciences and nutrition, Department of Food Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Future research will hopefully better elucidate the differences between ALA, EPA and DHA, and how ALA exerts its effects—either independently or through its role as a precursor to EPA and DHA. However, consumers who include an array of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet will benefit not only from the healthy fatty acids they are consuming, but also from the wide variety of nutrients found within both plant-based and fish-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Consumers Hungry for More Sandwich Variety

Findings from Technomic’s new “Sandwich Consumer Trend Report” reveal that only 52 percent of consumers are satisfied with the variety of sandwiches available at sub shops and delis, while just 42 percent are satisfied with the sandwich offerings at full-service restaurants. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are least satisfied, at 44 percent and 40 percent respectively.

The report contains menu, consumer and competitive insights that will help industry professionals understand current and emerging menu trends and consumer consumption behavior, purchasing decisions, attitudes and preferences toward sandwiches. Additional findings include:

● Most consumers (81 percent) have purchased a sandwich away from home at least once in the past 60 days. Among these consumers, 93 percent eat at least one sandwich a week, and 59 percent say they eat at least three sandwiches a week.

● More than three-fourths of consumers surveyed (77 percent) say they have eaten a hamburger in the past 60 days. Beyond burgers, 57 percent say they had eaten deli sandwiches and about half had eaten tacos or burritos (52 percent) or sub sandwiches (47 percent) in the same period.

● More than four in five consumers say quality and taste drive their selection of where to purchase a sandwich for both lunch (84 percent) and dinner (82 percent). Overall value and price round out the top three traffic drivers, with more than seven in 10 consumers citing each as a reason for choosing a specific restaurant for lunch and dinner sandwich purchases.

● More than four out of five consumers indicate that the quality of meat (86 percent), freshness of ingredients (84 percent), and quality of bread (81 percent) have the most impact in making a good sandwich.

● The vast majority of consumers report that customization (77 percent) and quantity of ingredients (75 percent) are crucial factors to creating a good sandwich.


* Technomic: Consumers looking for more sandwich variety, finds Technomic

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Private Label Brands Now 20% of U.S. Dollar Share

Private Label products account for nearly 20 percent of dollar share and more than 20 percent of the unit share in stores in the United States, according to Nielsen Co. reported Packaging World.

An article in Packaging World said store brands grew to a 17.3-percent share of dollars and a 21.9-percent share of units at the end of March in the United States, up from 15.2-percent share of dollars and 20-percent share of units in 2007.

When European markets were included, Nielsen found private label increased an average of 1.3-percent share points during 2009 in two-thirds of the 21 countries analyzed.

However, national brands still control82.7-percent of the dollar share and 78.1-percent of unit sales, and have been working to improve products in 2009 to combat rising private label sales. The article noted store brand sales increased 2.5 percent while national brands grew 0.4 percent.

Packaging World said Nielsen expects private label quality to increase and will start to offer more premium and unique goods.

The article highlighted a few other key points of the Nielsen report, including: private-label products captured at least a 20-perent unit share in 48 of 117 categories studied; and heavy buyers of private-label products represented 22 percent of households and accounted for 48 percent of private-label sales in 2009, compared with 20 percent of households and 46 percent of private label sales in 2008.


* Packaging World: Nielsen: Store-brand gains approaching 20% of dollar share in U.S.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Milk?

The dairy industry is stepping up its campaign to keep dairy-related terms like “milk” specific to the industry. Ten years after the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) first asked the FDA to crack down on what it considers the misuse of dairy terminology on imitation milk products, the organization sent another petition to the FDA, asserting that the practice has gotten worse in the past 10 years.

The NMPF contends that not only have the terms “soy milk” and “soymilk” continued to proliferate, but also other dairy-specific terms like “yogurt,” “cheese,” and “ice cream” are now being used by products made out of a wide variety of non-dairy ingredients.

“The FDA has allowed the meaning of ‘milk’ to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn,” says Jerry Kozak, president and CEO, NMPF. “You don’t got milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can’t say cheese if it’s made from rice, and faux yogurt can’t be made from soy and still be called yogurt.”

The petition mentions nondairy, imitation milks made from hemp, rice, almonds, and other plants, legumes and vegetables; yogurts made from soybeans and rice; and cheeses made from soy, rice, and nuts. Some products use terms like “cheeze” to avoid running afoul of standards of identity regulations.

In the petition, the NMPF claims that these products should be considered misbranded per FDCA rules [21 USC. § 331(b)]. It says “FDCA’s prohibition on misbranding is particularly relevant for the dairy sector because standards of identity exist in FDA regulations for most dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheeses, and ice cream (21 CFR Parts 131, 133, and 135). Products for which no standard of identity has been established may be placed on the market under an apt ‘common or usual name’ so long as that name does not cause confusion regarding the true nature of the product; however, if the name is likely to cause confusion, the product is misbranded, within the meaning of section 403(g).” The group asks the FDA to step up its enforcement of the law with respect to the misbranding of dairy products.

“Non-dairy products “can vary wildly in their composition and are inferior to the nutrient profile of those from dairy milk—although they are marketed as replacements for foods that consumers are familiar with and which have a healthful image,” Kozak says. “Although some phony dairy foods may have a passing resemblance to their authentic counterparts, they are very different in nutritional value, composition, and performance from standardized dairy products.”


* National Milk Producers Federation : “FDA Should Stop Imitation Products From Milking Dairy Terms, Says NMPF”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Obese Pregnancy Ups Kids’ Heart Risk

The more obese a woman is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the likelihood that she will give birth to an infant with a congenital heart defect, according to a study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York state Department of Health.

The researchers found, on average, obesity increases a woman’s chance of having a baby with a heart defect by around 15 percent. The risk increases with rising obesity. Moderately obese women are 11 percent more likely to have a child with a heart defect, and morbidly obese women are 33 percent more likely.

Researchers analyzed data in the New York State Congenital Malformations Registry, a repository of case reports on children born with birth defects in New York state, excluding New York City. Using 1.53 million births that took place in the state over the course of 11 years, the researchers compared the records of mothers of 7,392 of children born with major heart defects to those of more than 56,000 mothers of infants born without birth defects.

The researchers calculated the mothers’ body mass index (BMI), and found obese mothers were 15-percent more likely than mothers with normal BMI to have children with heart defects. Women classified as morbidly obese—with a BMI of 40 or higher—were 33 percent more likely than women with normal BMI to have children with heart defects. The risk of heart defects increased sharply at a BMI of 30 and was progressively higher with each increase in BMI.

On average, women who were overweight, but not obese had no increased risk. However, the researchers saw the chances of having a child with a congenital heart defect increase for obese women, and increase sharply for morbidly obese women.

"The current findings strongly suggest by losing weight before they become pregnant, obese women may reduce the chances that their infants will be born with heart defects," said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., acting director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH Institute that conducted the study.

In a press release, NIH noted previous studies have shown obesity also increases the risk for pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia (a serious form of hypertension during pregnancy), gestational diabetes and cesarean delivery. Infants born to women who were obese during pregnancy are themselves at increased risk for overweight and type 2 diabetes later in life. Previous research by NICHD scientists and others has also shown an association between maternal obesity and birth defects, such as neural tube defects—serious malformations of the spinal column.

The findings were published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

* National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): Risk of Newborn Heart Defects Increases with Maternal Obesity

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Convenience stores do not rank in one of the top three foodservice segments

Too many c-store foodservice operators focus solely on the cost side of food when pricing foodservice items. With this approach, operators lose sight of a product's full revenue potential. Prices that are too low may actually hurt consumers' perception of food quality in a c-store, presenting a critical barrier to attracting new business.

In a recent consumer survey, Technomic found that c-stores did not rate as a top foodservice segment in doing a "really good job" with value for the money. This is disconcerting, considering that c-stores strive to be known for providing quality food at low prices. In addition, c-stores do not rank in one of the top three foodservice segments for food freshness, appearance or portion size.

For the question: "In general, which type of food establishment does a
"really good" job at offering the following?" consumers responded positively as follows:

-- Good value for your money: quick-service burger restaurant (56 percent of respondents); quick-service sub shop (41 percent); local independent deli (21 percent); and supermarket deli (21 percent).

-- Fresh Ingredients: quick-service sub shop (44 percent); local independent deli (39 percent); bakery/café (27 percent).

-- Good portion sizes: family-style restaurant (36 percent); casual dining restaurant (34 percent); quick-service sub shop (33 percent).

-- Sandwiches that are appetizing in appearance: quick-service sub shop (35 percent); casual dining restaurant (34 percent); family-style restaurant (33 percent).

A potential theory to explain these low ratings is that too-low pricing has a domino effect on the entire foodservice experience, thereby bringing down perceptions of quality, freshness, taste and appearance in its wake. For example, if a c-store offers a slice of breakfast pizza for 59 cents, but the fast-food restaurant across the street is charging $1.69 for a similar offering and a fast-casual restaurant nearby is charging $2.50, this likely communicates to the c-store customer that the breakfast pizza is made with really cheap ingredients and therefore is probably not very good.

My guess is that customers are not balking at the higher, non-c-store prices because they have come to equate a certain level of quality with a certain level of pricing. As a result, one of the first steps c-stores should take to enhance consumers' perception of their foodservice programs is to test consumer willingness to spend slightly more money on foodservice items. Pricing alone will not solve the problem, though, so here are some additional ways to increase customer acceptance of higher prices:

-- See what the restaurant competition is charging for similar items. How much is the flat-bread sandwich at Subway? How much is the flat bread sandwich at Panera?

-- Improve menu descriptions. While this has improved over the past few years, there is still room to develop creative product names and enhance product descriptions.

-- Use c-store foodservice leaders as the benchmark for pricing. Visit a Rutter's, Quik Check, Thornton's and/or Wilson's Farms -- in addition to industry trailblazers Sheetz and Wawa. If you can't make a visit, check the Web sites of these operators and download their foodservice menus.

-- Consider "Barbell" pricing, which basically means offering two-tier pricing options. For example, Quiznos offers a $3 and $4 version of its Torpedo subs to meet the budgets of its consumers.

Don't forget, of course, that c-stores must have good, quality food before consumers will be willing to pay more for such items.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Three out of five Americans choose a chocolate based on conditions such as their mood,

Chocolate, like many things, is personal and often times the type of chocolate a person chooses to indulge in is influenced by their mood and personal situations. According to a new survey by Lindt Chocolate, three out of five Americans choose a chocolate based on conditions such as their mood, the occasion, the time of day, and even the weather. To help please any palate, Lindt Chocolate offers an extensive portfolio of chocolate bars, so there's something for any personality and every mood, from the richest dark to the creamiest milk, and everything in between.

The Lindt Chocolate survey asked 1,000 men and women nationwide about their chocolate eating habits and preferences. Survey insights include:

* Chocolate is personal! Seventy percent of Americans agree choosing their own chocolate is just as personal of a decision as choosing their own menu choice.
o Two out of three women say chocolate is just as personal of a decision as choosing their own lipstick or make-up.
* What are you in the mood for? Three out of five (61 percent) Americans choose a chocolate based on conditions such as the time of day, the occasion, and even the weather.
o Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) choose a different type of chocolate based on their mood.
* Decisions, decisions. More than half of Americans (55 percent) eat creamy milk chocolate when they need an escape, followed by any type of chocolate with nuts (44 percent), intense dark chocolate (36 percent), and smooth white chocolate (23 percent).

"Personal taste preferences differ, and people aren't always drawn to the same type of chocolate," said Ann Czaja, Lindt Master Chocolatier. "Eating premium chocolate is truly an experience to be slowly savored. As an expert in all things chocolate, I encourage chocolate lovers to think outside their traditional chocolate choice and fully appreciate the different flavors found in each type of chocolate, to create a truly memorable chocolate experience."

No matter what the mood or occasion, Lindt is inviting consumers to take a deeper look into the company's premium chocolate bar collections, including the newest creation, Excellence 50% Cocoa. The 50% Cocoa dark chocolate bar delivers a hint of intensity found in higher percentage dark chocolate bars combined with a sweetness found in milk chocolate bars, a great option for any chocolate craving.

All of Lindt's chocolate bars are crafted by the Lindt Master Chocolatiers and each is made with the finest cocoa beans and highest quality ingredients, yet each collection has something different to offer. The various Lindt bar collections include:

* Excellence offers a wide range of premium dark chocolate bars including high cocoa percentages and innovative flavor combinations
* Classic Recipe delivers traditional, smooth and creamy milk, dark and white chocolate bars with or without nuts
* Grandeur pairs premium chocolates with whole toasted nuts mixed with caramelized, crunchy nut slivers
* Lindor offers indulgent, premium chocolate with a smooth-melting center in every bite-size piece

For more information on the Lindt Chocolate bar collections, visit

About Lindt & Sprungli

Founded in 1845, Lindt & Sprungli is a global leader in the premium chocolate category, offering high-quality products in more than 80 countries. Lindt & Sprungli operates eight production facilities in Europe and the United States and employs 6,300 worldwide. Lindt USA operates more than 70 retail stores throughout the country and maintains wide distribution through extensive retail and wholesale channels. For more information on Lindt, visit

Survey Details

The 2010 Lindt Chocolate survey was conducted via the CARAVAN® omnibus survey by Opinion Research Corporation. Results are based on telephone interviews conducted April 15-18, 2010 among a nationally projectable sample of 1,010 adults, 18 years of age and older. Interviews were weighted by age, geographic region and race to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level was +/- 3.2 percent for the entire sample.

SOURCE Lindt & Sprungli

There is a lack of consistent information about the prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of food allergies

There's a lack of consistent information about the prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of food allergies, according to researchers who reviewed data from 72 studies.

The articles looked at allergies to cow's milk, hen's eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, which account for more than 50 percent of all food allergies.

The review authors found that food allergies affect between 1 percent and 10 percent of the U.S. population, but it's not clear whether the prevalence of food allergies is increasing.

While food challenges, skin-prick testing and blood-serum testing for IgE antibodies to specific foods (immunoglobulin E allergy testing) all have a role to play in diagnosing food allergies, no one test has sufficient ease of use or sensitivity or specificity to be recommended over other tests, Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen, of the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System and Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues, said in a news release.

Elimination diets are a mainstay of food allergy therapy, but the researchers identified only one randomized controlled trial (RCT) -- the gold-standard of evidence -- of an elimination diet.

"Many authorities would consider RCTs of elimination diets for serious life-threatening food allergy reactions unnecessary and unethical; however, it should be recognized that such studies are generally lacking for other potential food [allergy] conditions," the researchers wrote.

In addition, there's inadequate research on immunotherapy, the use of hydrolyzed formula to prevent cow's milk allergy in high-risk infants, or the use of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) in conjunction with breast-feeding or hypoallergenic formula to prevent food allergy, according to the report published in the May 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This systematic review of food allergies found that the evidence on the prevalence, diagnosis, management and prevention of food allergies is voluminous, diffuse and critically limited by the lack of uniformity for the diagnosis of a food allergy, severely limiting conclusions about best practices for management and prevention," the researchers concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about food allergy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bacon became the second-fastest growing category for pork at foodservice outlets

Bacon has become the second-fastest growing category for pork at foodservice outlets in the last eight years, second only to ground pork and tied with pulled pork, according to Paul Perfilio, national foodservice manager for the Pork Checkoff. Each year in the U.S. more than 1.7 billion lbs. of bacon are consumed in foodservice.

Mr. Perfilio further noted:

• 600 million lbs. of the 1.7 billion total lbs. are consumed in the South.

• 436 million lbs. are consumed in the Northeast.

• 419 million lbs. are consumed in the central U.S.

• 285 million lbs. are consumed in the West.

"Bacon is a big part of the pork business today, and it goes way beyond breakfast," Mr. Perfilio said. "We're pleased restaurant operators have come to us to learn more about bacon, and we continue to work with our chain partners to help them learn more about bacon's possibilities."

During the past two years, the Pork Checkoff has sponsored numerous bacon-themed educational workshops for restaurant chains on how bacon is made and how chains can offer customers high-quality bacon products. Topics include selecting the right vendor or processor, slicing options, curing solutions and other practical considerations important to operators that buy large quantities of bacon.

The highlight of the three-hour seminar, presented to executives from the marketing, operations, culinary and logistics departments, includes the "bacon buffet."

"We offer to them the opportunity to sample as many as 20 different kinds of bacon from various national, regional and local brands," Mr. Perfilio said. "We want to give them a complete taste of what's available, as well as help them find better products and save money, whenever possible. We hope this leads to the continued additional use and menuing of bacon.”

Pork Checkoff data reveals:

• Sixty-nine percent of all foodservice operators buy bacon.

• Seventy-seven percent of non-commercial operators (foodservice companies that supply hospitals, schools, stadiums, etc.) buy bacon.

• From 2004 to 2009, bacon menuing increased from 62% to 64% at fast-food restaurants, 85% to 88% at family-dining menus, 59% to 68% at fast-casual restaurants and 81% to 88% at casual-dining restaurants.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A prolonged cutback in the Gulf seafood supply will translate to shortages of oysters

Even if local seafood lovers don't see as much as a tar ball on their favorite Texas beaches this summer, they can expect to be hit in the wallet when they order their favorite shrimp, oyster or crab dishes.

The oil spill continuing to spread off the Louisiana coast is threatening supplies of all types of seafood and prices, inevitably, will rise.

"We're lucky, we're on the clean side of the spill for now," said Randy Evans, the chef of the hip green restaurant Haven. "But everyone's costs are going to go up. It may be a heavy meat-and-potato summer."

On Friday, government officials extended a ban on fishing in the waters affected by the spill until May 17. The closed area — 4.5 percent of Gulf federal waters — is a jagged, six-sided blob that stretches from Louisiana east to the coast of Florida. Under normal circumstances, the eastern half of the Gulf is so abundant that it is estimated to account for up to 40 percent of all domestic seafood harvested in the continental United States.

Jim Gossen, president and CEO of Houston-based Louisiana Foods, says a prolonged cutback in that supply will translate to shortages of Gulf oysters, brown and white shrimp and crabs.

"There's already an extreme shortage of oysters," said Gossen, who has been in the seafood business for 40 years. "The diminishing supply of product is causing something of a frenzy. For restaurants, Mother's Day is one of the busiest days of the year, and I've had calls every day from people trying to stock up for the holiday."

The Louisiana native says he's not taking on any new customers.

"I want to take care of my regulars as best as I can," he said.

Gossen worries that restaurants will start taking favorite Gulf seafood dishes off their menus, and diners will begin to avoid regional delicacies.

"The Gulf of Mexico is a vast body of water," he said. "I hope people don't think that the entire Gulf is tainted."

Jinxed might seem a more apt word.

On Wednesday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries Division announced that the commercial shrimp season here will close May 15 and won't reopen until some point in July. The problem, state officials said, is that the shrimp are unseasonably small and need more time to grow.

With that double whammy, Gossen worries about the fishermen he's known for decades.

"They're very resilient people, and it takes a lot to knock them down," he said. "But I can tell by their voices that they're very concerned. They're not people who can go sell off some stocks when times get tough."

Local restaurateurs share those concerns.

At Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse, chef Carlos Rodriguez was in the process of revamping the menu with a heavier emphasis on Gulf seafood when the underwater well began gushing oil.

In a dark moment he used his Twitter account to joke about a new dish — Gulf snapper with a sauce of wine, butter and motor oil.

Sounding more resigned during a phone interview, Rodriguez said his plans to lighten and freshen the menu are in limbo.

"That's the most frustrating thing," he said.

Bryan Caswell, the chef-owner of Reef, used different words to express similar emotions.

"It's wait and see — the big unknown," Caswell said. "We're all just scared because we don't know what the hell is going to happen."

Levi Goode, general manager and owner of Goode Co. Restaurants, spoke for many chefs and other owners when he said he has two missions in the coming months: to make sure the seafood he serves is top quality and to support the fishermen who have helped make him successful for so many years.

"I will not be buying shrimp from other parts of the world," Goode said. "The fishing industry up and down the coast is fragile, to say the least. I plan to support these guys through thick and thin."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hotels are increasingly offering more grab-and-go food.

WITH a Javits Center trade show scheduled to take up the majority of his day last month, Allen Marko, director of technical and plant operations for Obagi Medical Products, had no time to stop for a bite.

“I didn’t want to waste my time at the show having lunch,” Mr. Marko said.

A guest at the Grand Hyatt New York, he solved the time problem at Market, a new grab-and-go outlet in the hotel lobby with no seating and lunch options like deli sandwiches ($7.50) and roast chicken with mashed potatoes ($12).

“I was extremely impressed,” Mr. Marko said. “I knew I had a 20-minute cab ride so I grabbed a sandwich in the cab.”

Working lunches and multitasking are standard procedures for many business travelers. The difference now is that hotels are vying to cater to their habits as grab-and-go meals trickle up from fast-food counters to more refined addresses.

“Business travelers are packing more time into the day, using their travel time to work,” said Matthew Adams, vice president and managing director for the 1,300-room Grand Hyatt. “You saw them streaming out of the hotel going to Starbucks.”

The success of Starbucks at stealing breakfast — and sometimes lunch — crowds from their hotels has inspired the hospitality industry to punch back with an array of travel- and budget-friendly food options. They include room service to-go menus, fancy food courts and globe-trotting gourmet markets, distancing grab-and-go food from its humble origins in vending machines.

“Travel is about productivity and using every minute wisely,” said Bjorn Hanson, associate professor at the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. “The dining room is perceived to have slow service and high prices.”

As senior associate director of development for Rochester University, Alan Carmasin travels nearly every other week, often staying at the Aloft Hotel in Lexington, Mass., where guests can toast their own bagels ($2), grab a breakfast sandwich ($6) or take away a boxed salad ($6.50) from the 24-hour self-service lobby cafe called Re:fuel.

“If I have time I’ll sit down, but I’m just as happy to grab and go because I may be meeting a client or have to work in the room,” Mr. Carmasin said. “I like their program. It’s not luxurious, but it’s friendly.”

The two-year-old chain, which operates 40 hotels, is set up for the self-sufficiency of travelers like Mr. Carmasin.

“This is a group that likes to service themselves,” said Brian McGuinness, senior vice president for specialty select brands at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. “They check in themselves, they get their own coffee. They believe they can do it better. Control is an important factor to them.”

Restoring control to travelers in uncertain times is a rallying cry among food and beverage managers eager to serve those with no time for their restaurants nor interest in airport food. The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago sells 20 to 30 lunches to go a week from the room service menu, and more to groups who give the hotel’s insulated lunch bags stuffed with options like Maine lobster pita ($40) and grilled chicken Caesar wrap ($28) to airport-bound meeting attendees.

The W2Go menu at the W Atlanta-Midtown offers $15 lunchboxes from Spice restaurant, which is run by the celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Recent selections included a Vietnamese chicken sandwich with nuoc cham mayo and grilled eggplant spread.

Panzano, a restaurant in the Hotel Monaco Denver, offers guests a “breakfast with wings” menu, featuring house-made granola ($6.75) and a breakfast croissant sandwich ($8.50) ready in 15 minutes, as early as 6 a.m.

Hotels say food sales have increased with to-go programs, rather than cannibalizing restaurant traffic. Many attribute the popularity of grab-and-go to the budget worries brought about by a lagging economy.

“People are less comfortable paying $25 for breakfast, plus gratuity,” said Mr. Hanson of N.Y.U. “Takeaway is in tune with economic times.”

In addition to offering to-go packaging at all of its restaurants, Marriott International is expanding its lobby markets. This month the Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel in London, will open Park Lane Market, replacing a street-level coffee shop with an upscale take-out shop featuring sandwiches, salads and sweets. The company also operates food markets at resorts in Orlando and Phoenix.

“We tested doorknob to-go lunch menus seven years ago and it didn’t work; it’s working now,” said Robin Uler, chief creative officer for Marriott International, who cites the productivity squeeze and the lack of airline food service for forging the trend. “Now if you don’t think about lunch when you can, you may not get it until after five.”

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts plans to open its new food hall in New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel by late spring. Modeled on a European gourmet market like the one in London’s Harrods department store, the 5,400-square-foot market includes eight dining stations devoted to sushi, burgers, noodles, pizza, seafood and more. Food is made to order and prepackaged for carry-out. Though menu pricing is undetermined, management says it will appeal to trimmed expense accounts.

In addition to lowering the cost to consumers, grab-and-go food is cheaper to sell, said Joe Brancatelli, who runs the business Web site

“It’s worked for hotels because it’s a lower-cost way of delivering food,” he said. “Nothing is more expensive than room service.”

Indeed, even Mr. Adams of the Grand Hyatt New York sympathizes with room service complaints. “Guests don’t understand $38 for two eggs over easy from traditional room service,” he said. “They don’t see the infrastructure that goes into it.”

Without the service overhead, to-go prices are closer to those of nonhotel vendors, where guests were often heading. Aiming to keep them in-house, the Grand Hyatt’s Market will begin selling beer and wine, along with its array of prepared meals and snacks. What if you don’t finish that six-pack? A room renovation beginning in July will install refrigerators to store items from the lobby larder.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Flaxseed Protects Against Cancer, Diabetes

Flaxseed may play a role in preventing breast, prostate, colon and skin cancers while the soluble fiber and other components may affect insulin secretion and maintenance of steady blood sugar, according to a review paper, published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

The paper evaluated current research on flaxseed, its role as a functional food, and any potential benefits it may have against diabetes and certain cancers. Flax is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid, and phytochemicals such as lignans.

“Flaxseed has been the focus of increased interest in the field of diet and disease research due to the potential health benefits associated with some of its biologically active components,” according to researchers at the School of Food Science and Technology at Jiangnan University in China.


* Institute of Food Technologists: Flaxseed May Provide Antioxidant Health Benefits

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Paper Calls for Warning Labels on Energy Drinks

A new paper published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety examined the rapid growth of the U.S. energy drink market, which is the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry. The authors, who advocate warning labels on energy drinks that contain elevated levels of active ingredients, especially caffeine, reviewed active ingredients in energy drinks, potential benefits, safety and regulations, as well as the manner in which energy drinks are marketed to target demographics, particularly young adults.

“New developments geared toward increasing the health functionality of energy drinks will gain market acceptance due to an increasingly health-driven society,” said E. Gonzalez de Mejia of the University of Illinois and lead author of the review paper. However, research on the potential benefits of these products needs to continue.

The paper noted that in the United States, energy drink companies have no limitations on the caffeine content of their beverages because, unlike cola beverages, the FDA has placed no restrictions on the amounts of caffeine in energy drinks. There are conflicting results concerning the positive effects of energy drinks on physiological and cognitive performance. Studies show consumption of particular energy drinks as beneficial in improving aerobic endurance and anaerobic performance. However, several studies have looked at the association between energy drink consumption and problematic behavior. A recent study found a positive correlation between increased energy drink consumption and increased risk-taking behavior.

* Institute of Food Technologists: Energy Drinks Dominate the Functional Beverage Market in the U.S.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Antibiotic Use Linked to Resistant E. coli in Kids

Direct and indirect exposure of young children to antibiotics through medical and agricultural usage can increase their risk for carriage of resistant E. coli, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The study, conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, revealed several factors affecting antibiotic-resistant E. coli carriage in young children in Peru. By analyzing E. coli samples from more than 500 children, the researchers were able to identify individual, household and community factors influencing carriage of the resistant bacteria.

"In analyzing the study results, we learned that children's use of antibiotics, as well as their family members' use, increased their risk for carrying resistant E. coli, and that residing in an area where a greater proportion of households served home-raised chickens protected against resistance. This protective effect can be understood in light of the fact that the home-raised chickens carried significantly lower levels of resistant E. coli than did the market chickens, which in Peru are intensively raised with antibiotics. The strength of this community level variable suggests that this is where the transmission of resistance resulting from agricultural antibiotics use was taking place," said lead study investigator Dr. Henry D. Kalter, associate, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health."

In poor communities in developing countries, with inadequate protection of excreta and water, contamination of the environment with antibiotic-resistant bacteria appeared to play at least as great a role in children's carriage of resistant E. coli as did the children's own antibiotics use.

"This study is important in a number of respects," said Edward T. Ryan, MD, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH). "It improves our understanding of the growing global public health threat of antibiotic resistant organisms, and underscores the critical role that antibiotic use in animals plays in contributing to this threat. The vast majority of the tons and tons of antibiotics ingested each year on this planet are administered to livestock and animals. This study clearly shows that such use comes with a very real cost to human health."

* PR Newswire: Antibiotic Use and Environmental Exposure are Key Factors Affecting Antibiotic Resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) Carriage in Children in Peru

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Fast-Food Sector Weathered Economic Storm

Research and Markets released its “Global Fast Food: Charting the Course in a Post-Recession World” report, which analyzes global performance, category performance, competitive landscape, case studies and global prospects in the fast-food category.

Key findings indicated that fast-food operators have weathered the economic storm well, with the sector remaining the center of innovation and investment in consumer foodservice, steadily adding new product lines and consumer groups. Growing demand for convenience among consumers, coupled with comparatively high profit margins has led to increased participation in fast food from convenience store operators, supermarket retailers and others. Reflecting an industrywide trend, Asia will continue to drive growth going forward, accounting for the majority of sales expansion over the next five years. At the same time, operators must continue to adapt to a diverse consumer landscape.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The U.S. foodservice industry should look to the "millennials"

As a market already marred by recession-related discretionary spending cutbacks, the U.S. foodservice industry should look to the "millennials" (also known as Gen Y) as a bright spot to lead restaurants out of the economic doldrums, according to The U.S. Foodservice Landscape 2010: Restaurant Industry and Consumer Trends, Momentum and Migration, a first-of-its-kind examination of recent and future consumer habits and attitudes surrounding dining out, by market research publisher Packaged Facts.

Restaurant users aged 18-34 are an industry sweet spot, with strong usage and usage frequency patterns across restaurant segments, according to Packaged Facts' proprietary Consumer Restaurant Tracker. Within the cohort, restaurant users aged 25-34 spend the most money at restaurants on a per meal basis, and also have the largest party sizes resulting in a total spend per visit that is 25% above the average. Likewise, healthy eaters and technology-savvy diners who utilize ordering technology spend more than average per visit and have higher party sizes.

Consumers have become significantly more value-conscious, the report found. About 50% of respondent adult (18+) restaurant goers say they are more likely to eat dinner at home -- and almost one-third doing so "a lot more" -- compared to three months ago. Besides eating more at home, the proprietary data reveals that an increasing number of consumers are inclined to spend more money on groceries or to "pack a lunch, breakfast or snack" in the next three months rather than splurge on takeout or delivery.

"Our data indicates that grocery store sales rose 4% between February 2009 and February 2010, underscoring the trend toward food at home, which continues to exhibit momentum," says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. "This shift toward food at home at the expense of food away has produced a triple threat to the restaurant industry: declining guest traffic, declining average check, and declining sales."

Packaged Facts estimates that sales at eating and drinking establishments will fall 2% in 2010, then increase by 2% in 2011. Full-service restaurants, segment sales of which are forecast to fall 4% in 2010, will lead the drop before increasing 1% in 2011. Meanwhile, limited-service restaurant sales are forecast to drop 1% in 2010 and then rise by 2% in 2011.

Restaurant usage and usage frequency also strongly correlate to household income, with the exception of the fast food/QSR (quick service restaurant) segment, which enjoys universal usage across income groups. In the past three months, consumers with household incomes of at least $100K were more likely to use restaurant delivery/takeout/pickup, but only slightly more likely to spend money on meals at restaurants. Meanwhile, their counterparts from less affluent households were more likely to spend money on food for home.

As part of Packaged Facts' Foodservice Market Insights series, The U.S. Foodservice Landscape 2010: Restaurant Industry and Consumer Trends, Momentum and Migration draws from proprietary consumer surveys and analysis, providing uniquely consultative insight on consumers' evolving relationships with the foodservice industry. As part of this analysis, the report presents three key features: Packaged Facts' quarterly Consumer Restaurant Tracker, offering directional analysis on consumer usage and usage frequency of restaurants by segment; its quarterly Consumer Spend Tracker, providing directional analysis on consumer spending behaviors and attitudes related to restaurant use; and Demographic Drill-Downs, which utilizes a consultative approach to consumer survey analysis to present highly customized consumer insight via custom consumer lifestyle and attitude groupings, psychographic groups, and other narrowly tailored "cross-tabbed" analysis -- leveraging maximum insight. For further information, please visit:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Calcium Essential to Early Bone Health

Calcium nutrition of the neonate may be of greater importance to life-long bone health due to its programming effects on mesenchymal stem cells, according to new research presented at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting on April 25.

As reported by Newswise, researchers bottle-fed 12 piglets a calcium-rich diet and another 12 piglets a calcium-deficient diet during the first 18 days of life. Throughout the study, blood samples were drawn frequently from the piglets, and they were weighed daily. At the end of the study, the researchers collected samples from the animals’ bone marrow, livers, kidneys and small intestines. They also tested their hind legs for bone density and strength.

Results revealed no differences between groups in terms of blood markers of calcium status and growth. These data support the previously suggested concept that, unlike what happens in adults, calcium absorption in newborns is not dependent on vitamin D. They also documented marked differences in bone density and strength such that the calcium-deficient piglets were compromised. When they looked at the bone marrow tissue which contains mesenchymal stem cells that eventually become bone-forming cells, they discovered that many of the calcium-deficient piglets’ cells appeared to have already been programmed to become fat cells instead of bone-forming osteoblast cells. Fewer osteoblasts in early life may translate to a diminished ability for bones to grow and repair themselves throughout the remainder of life. Thus, it appeared as if calcium deficiency had predisposed the animals to having bones that contained more fat and less mineral.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Lemons Prevent Formation of Kidney Stones

Drinking lemonade has been shown to prevent the formation of kidney stones, according to new research at the UC San Diego Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center. The findings revealed that drinking 4 ounces of reconstituted lemon juice in two liters of water per day decreased the rate of stone formation from 1 to 0.13 stones per patient.

Lemons have the highest concentration of citrate—a natural inhibitor of kidney stone formation—of any citrus fruit. Other fruit juices have less citrate and are often supplemented with calcium and contain oxalate, one of the principle components of kidney stones. The most common kidney stone is a calcium stone, which is composed primarily of calcium oxalate. Calcium stones can be caused by too much salt in the diet, which stimulates calcium excretion in the urine.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mediterranean Diet Improves Brain Power

Following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cognitive decline with older age, according to results of an ongoing prospective study, the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which was presented at the Experimental Biology 2010 Meeting on April 26.

Researchers followed nearly 4,000 study participants aged 65 and older who were given a battery of cognitive tests that were assigned scores and then a clinical interview. Those who ranked in the highest in terms of following such a Mediterranean-type diet were more protected from cognitive decline. The adults were given these cognitive tests every three years for 15 years.

“This diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, fish, olive oil, lower meat consumption, and moderate wine and non-refined grain intake,” said lead author Dr. Christy Tangney of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Instead of espousing avoidance of foods, the data support that adults over age 65 should look to include more olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their diet in order to improve their recall times and other cognitive skills, such as identifying symbols and numbers.”


* Experimental Biology 2010: Eating Like the Greeks Can Improve Brain Power

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Niche beverages are seeing more growth

Pepsi, Coca Cola, Snapple, Dr Pepper, Gatorade. Big beverage brands are household names, but while they may make up the lion’s share of revenues niche products are where the growth potential and innovation lies.

Last month market researcher Euromonitor International observed that the battle for new business in the saturated European and North American beverage market has turned to niche brands. It sees low overall growth as a long term reality.

Richard Haffner, the Euromonitor head of non-alcoholic beverages research, told that the packaged drinks market in Europe and North America is now strictly share game.

Relying on brand awareness is no longer enough. To achieve sales growth companies have to segment markets in new ways and blend across categories creating products like fizzy milk. They need to be in touch with changing consumer tastes more than ever before in order to think of new product concepts and ideas to persuade customers to buy their products.

Other industry experts have made similar observations. Last year the Beverage Trends: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, put together by the Center for Culinary Development in the US and Packaged Facts, found significant market potential in niche products tailored to certain demographics – be they teens, savvy parents, or active baby boomers.

Testing innovation

No right minded beverage brand owner would take a chance by changing the recipe of its major money spinners these days.

Rather, they are more likely to try new spins on old favourites as brand extensions. Like Vanilla Coke before it, Black Cherry Coke, for instance, can stimulate sales by catering to Coke users’ quest for novelty; Coke Zero, meanwhile, leverages a well-known brand to reel in consumers with a specific need or demand.

In markets where stevia-derived sweeteners are already permitted, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand, and France, brand-owners are not taking chances with their major brands. Since stevia, although sweet, has a taste profile all of its own, the industry realises there is a need for consumers to get to know – and accept – the taste. This means they have been dipping their toes with niche brands, rather than taking the plunge with major brands and risking mass rejection.

One taste does not fit all

Frequent travellers will be more than aware that a familiar brand may not be the same in every country of the world, as formulations are tweaked to appeal to taste preferences of a given population.

Fanta is a prime example of this – and its tendency to take on a local spin has an intriguing history. During World War II, trading bans meant Coca Cola in Nazi Germany could not get hold of the syrup needed to make regular Coke, so they developed a whole new drink using locally available ingredients. The name sprang from a brainstorming session, where boss Max Keith asked his team to use their imagination, or ‘Fantasie’ in German