Monday, September 30, 2013

Dr. Oz's Sweetener Segment Riles Calorie Control Council

Mehmet Oz, the TV celebrity with an M.D. behind his name, has been shredding sweeteners for years, warning consumers that these butter and sugar alternatives may be linked to cancer, weight gain and possibly Alzheimer's.
In just the latest salvo aimed at the sweetener industry, Dr. Oz warned in a segment that aired Thursday that low-calorie sweeteners could lead consumers to pack on the pounds.
"What I'm concerned about is that it's not delivering on its promise," Dr. Oz said, referring to sweeteners. "By reducing your sweet tooth, it could help you. But if it's increasing your sweet tooth, it could be hurting you."
On television, Dr. Oz gave a woman a raspberry to eat, explaining the natural effects of sugar on the body.
"After a couple pumps you're body says, 'you know what, I feel pretty full. My sweet has been satisfied' and that's what is supposed to happen," Dr. Oz said.
In contrast, phony sugar is unable to "fool our brains into feeling satisfied," the Oz Blog's Medical Research Team wrote, citing a study from Yale University School of Medicine.
Professor Ivan de Araujo, who led the study, said the results imply "humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high calorie alternatives in the future."
The Calorie Control Council (CCC), whose members include manufacturers of sweeteners, on Thursday rushed to the defense of sugar substitutes.
"Numerous studies in humans have shown that the consumption of low-calorie sweeteners do not lead to an increase in feelings of hunger or body weight," Haley Curtis Stevens of the CCC said.
The CCC also refuted the suggestion on Dr. Oz's program that low-calorie sweeteners could lead to diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
"Experts agree that excess weight contributes to heart disease and diabetes, not sugar substitutes," CCC asserted, citing health organizations that it said have found sweeteners can be used as part of an overall healthy diet.
CCC characterized Dr. Oz's claims related to sweeteners' effect on weight gain as "gross exaggerations" that are not grounded in science.
Perhaps most frustrating for the sweetener industry is that Dr. Oz commands influence. After one of his segments aired ("America's Dangerous Artificial Sweetener Addiction, Part 1), Jacqueline Quinn LaRocca wrote, "Thank you Dr. Oz. It's been eight days since my last diet soft drink and I have no desire to drink one ever again."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pretzel Bread on the Rise

The pretzel is taking over the American stomach.
Particularly as a holding vehicle for burgers and sandwiches. 7-Eleven has just begun a national rollout of its first pretzel sandwich. And next week, Wendy's, which arguably started the national pretzel mania with its summer rollout of the wildly successful Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger, is about to introduce yet another pretzel product: a chicken sandwich served on a pretzel bun.Now the pretzel craze that began this summer has extended into fall with 7-Eleven's Diablo Chicken Ranch Sandwich and Wendy's upcoming Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich. A record 160 pretzel products were rolled last year, vs. fewer than 60 back in 2009, reports research specialist Mintel.

JACK IN THE BOX: Grilled cheese atop a burger?

And this may be just the beginning.
Mintel's new-products guru, Lynn Dornblaser, is even projecting the possibility that some sort of pretzel doggie treat will hit the market. After all, many folks love to feed their pooches dog-ified versions of what they eat themselves. "It seems inevitable," says Dornblaser.

So many restaurants already have jumped in — and some, out already — that pretzel buns are almost becoming common. Blimpie got into the action by putting pretzel bread on its permanent menu in June. Sonic rolled out a Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog over the summer. Last month, Ruby Tuesday rolled out four different pretzel burgers and Dunkin' Donuts introduced a Pretzel Roll Roast Beef Sandwich. Red Robin just brought back its Octoberfest Burger served on a pretzel bun. Even Starbucks has a Stoneground Dijon Bavarian-Style Pretzel — with the mustard inside.
Maybe that's why pretzel bread is the fastest-growing sandwich bread, with a 36% jump on sandwich menus from 2011 to 2012, reports research specialist Datassential.

But fast-food's pretzel innovations aren't limited to sandwiches. Back in April, Dairy Queen rolled out what it called a Choco-Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Blizzard.

For 7-Eleven, plopping a sandwich inside a pretzel bun was a no-brainer, says Kelly Buckley, vice president of fresh foods innovation. "We know that one of the first senses you want to hit is a visual wow."

Customers' requests drove Wendy's to add the Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich, which rolls out Monday, says spokesman Denny Lynch.
Pretzels have been transplanted into just about everything this year. Just this month, Aldi rolled out Pretzel Bread Stuffed Sandwiches to compete with Hot Pockets. Wal-Mart rolled out Great Value Parmesan Garlic-Flavored Pretzel Balls. And last month, Nature Valley rolled out Chocolate Pretzel Nut granola bars.

What's driving all this pretzel-mania?
For one thing, says Dornblaser, the new products expert, pretzels taste yummy and crunchy, but don't typically come loaded with all the fat grams of other breads and pastries.

Look for crushed pretzels showing up in fancier entrees soon, she suggests, in the form of pretzel-crusted fish or pretzel-crusted chicken.
And — hold the mustard — perhaps even a pretzel-crusted pie.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Retail Visits For Lunch Increase 29%

Visits to retail stores for prepared foods at lunch increased 29% since 2008, while restaurant lunch visits have declined, according to research from the NPD Group.
The foodservice market research report, The Retail Prepared Foods Market: Assessing the Competition, says consumers prefer retail stores, compared to restaurants and quick service restaurants (QSRs), for healthy options, a good variety of foods, light meal offerings, affordability and one-stop shopping convenience. These attributes are key drivers for the 29% visit growth for retail prepared foods at lunch. High unemployment and shaky consumer confidence are among the reasons lunch visits to restaurants have declined by 1% since 2008.

The growth in the retail prepared foods market is part of the broader trend on the part of Americans to consume more meals in home. A recent NPD forecast through 2022 finds that the instances of prepared food purchased at retailers for at-home consumption will increase by 10% over the next decade compared to a 4% increase forecast for restaurant traffic. The component of the retail prepared food market that is supporting growth is the portion that is purchased and eaten at home or at work for lunch and dinner.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

.S. Cheese Consumption at Record High

The report's dairy chart tells us the average U.S. consumer is, at 23 pounds per year, eating more than the occasional cheese dip. In 1970, the number was about eight pounds.
In relative terms, yogurt's rise is even more impressive, but yogurt isn't the kind of thing that defines a nation. It's also a lot of low-fat and non-fat stuff, which, as long as it's not loaded with sugar, should be of less cardiovascular consequence than cheese.
Why are we eating thrice the cheese? If you're into cheese and conspiracy, check out Michael Moss in The New York Times a while back:
Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.
Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese. ... In a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.
Consider the Taco Bell steak quesadilla, with cheddar, pepper jack, mozzarella and a creamy sauce. “The item used an average of eight times more cheese than other items on their menu,” the Agriculture Department said in a report, extolling Dairy Management’s work — without mentioning that the quesadilla has more than three-quarters of the daily recommended level of saturated fat and sodium.
Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.
That's the story that became the hook for Moss's book, released earlier this year, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Possible rejected tagline: Who are the real cheese-eating surrender monkeys?
In July, Dairy Management released a report on its next initiative: stemming our lack of interest in milk. "From 1975 to 2010, annual per capita fluid milk consumption dropped from 28.6 to 20.9 gallons. ... It’s been a painful time for the fluid milk industry." Dairy Management remains partnered with McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Domino's "to create new and innovative products using dairy to delight consumers."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fake Online Reviewers Penalized in New York

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” wrote Walt Whitman, America’s great bard of self-promotion. As the world goes ever more digital, quite a few businesses are adopting that philosophy — hiring a veritable chorus of touts to sing their nonexistent praises and lure in customers.


New York regulators will announce on Monday the most comprehensive crackdown to date on deceptive reviews on the Internet. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies to cease their misleading practices and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties.

The yearlong investigation encompassed companies that create fake reviews as well as the clients that buy them. Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo.

A phony review of a restaurant may lead to a bad meal, which is disappointing. But the investigation uncovered a wide range of services buying fake reviews that could do more permanent damage: dentists, lawyers, even an ultrasound clinic.

“What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

Investigators working for Mr. Schneiderman began by posing as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop that was the victim of unfair reviews. Could the reputation management firm gin up some good reviews to drown out the naysayers?

All too often the answer was yes. The investigation revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places they had never seen in countries where they had never been.

In some cases, the reputation shops bribed their clients’ customers to write more fake reviews, giving them $50 gift certificates for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews.

The investigation was aimed at companies based in New York, but it will have a wider reach. “This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement,” said Aaron Schur, senior litigation counsel for Yelp, which has taken an aggressive approach in screening out reviews it believes to be false. Yelp recently sued a California law firm for writing fake reviews of itself.

Within recent memory, reviewing was something professionals did. The Internet changed that, letting anyone with a well-reasoned opinion or a half-baked attitude have his say. Web sites loved this content, because it was free. So consumer reviews became ever more ubiquitous — and influential.

Reviews persuade people to try a new resort or shun an old restaurant. They sell books and the devices the books are read on. They influence the choice of garden tools, plumbers, high fashion and, increasingly, doctors. If you provide a service or sell a product and you are not reviewed, you might as well not exist.

In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, a researcher found that restaurants that increased their ranking on Yelp by one star raised their revenues by 5 to 9 percent. A 2012 Gartner study estimated that one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media sites like Facebook would soon be fake. And there have been instances where all the reviews of a product have been secretly bought and paid for by the seller of the product.

Some retailers and other sites that feature many reviews have largely ignored the problem, perhaps not wanting to scare away real customers. Others have been like Yelp and been more forceful in addressing the problem.

But the New York investigation shows that the fakers are constantly increasing in sophistication. “Do not make them sound like an advertisement,” one firm investigated by the attorney general cautioned its writers. Another boasted of using multiple computers to foil suspicions that arose when more than one review came from the same machine. A third talked of outwitting Facebook.

“Sadly, it will take continued policing, both by law enforcement and the review sites themselves, to make sure some businesses stop lying to customers they claim to serve,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Fake reviews undermine the credibility of the Internet. Olivia Roat, a marketing consultant for Main Street Host, a Buffalo digital marketing agency, discussed her growing realization that fake reviews are omnipresent on the company’s blog last year. “Say it ain’t so!” she wrote. Who, she wondered, could be trusted?

Apparently not Main Street Host, which was one of the 19 companies that signed an agreement to desist. The agreement says Main Street Host “engaged in astroturfing on behalf of over 30 clients,” using a term referring to writing fake reviews. Executives there could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

For the service companies, buying reviews seems a shortcut to the better reputation they are unlikely to achieve on their own.

US Coachways, another company in the investigation, is a charter bus service based in Staten Island. If a prospective customer were to look on Yelp, she might get the sense that this is not an outfit she would want to hire.

“This company basically ruined what was otherwise a great trip,” wrote a typical reviewer in 2012. Currently, the company has 14 reviews averaging one star. It is not possible to get much lower than this.

Edward Telmany, US Coachways’s chief executive, was upset about the low ratings, according to the formal Assurance of Discontinuance he signed with the attorney general’s office.

“We get bashed online,” Mr. Telmany wrote, accurately, to his employees on Nov. 20, 2011. “We are loosing [sic] money from this.”

His response was not to fix the problems that customers were citing, like buses never showing up, but to begin a full-fledged effort to get fake reviews. Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, “US Coachways does a great job!”

Neither Mr. Telmany nor a spokesman for US Coachways could be reached for comment on Sunday. The company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.

Faking reviews often begins with faked reviews of the company faking the reviews. In October 2010, a review appeared on Yahoo that said the writer was “thrilled” by the services provided by Main Street Host. He added that he just didn’t understand “why this company gets all the negative reviews.” He also said, “for the record, I am not a employee, don’t know anyone who is, and have no knowledge of anyone else’s experience but my own.”

The review was, of course, by a Main Street Host employee. The company agreed to a $43,000 fine.



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals

Here's some food for thought: One-third of the world's food goes to waste every year. In the U.S., about 40 percent of our food gets thrown out. It's happening on the farm, at the grocery store and in our own homes.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about what to do about it — from auctioning off food that's past its prime to getting restaurants to track their waste.

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe's, is determined to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash. (That happens in part because people misinterpret the labels, according to a report out this week from Harvard and the National Resources Defense Council.) To tackle the problem, Rauch is opening a new market early next year in Dorchester, Mass., that will prepare and repackage the food at deeply discounted prices.

The project is called the Daily Table. Here's what he shared with NPR's Scott Simon, edited for brevity.

Simon: What gave you the idea?

Rauch: It's the idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities. It basically tries to utilize this 40 percent of this food that is wasted. This is, to a large degree, either excess, overstocked, wholesome food that's thrown out by grocers, etc. ... at the end of the day because of the sell-by dates. Or [it's from] growers that have product that's nutritionally sound, perfectly good, but cosmetically blemished or not quite up for prime time. [So we] bring this food down into a retail environment where it can become affordable nutrition.

A retail environment is a store ... or a food truck or something like that?

Yeah, it's kind of a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant, if you would, because primarily it's going to take this food in, prep it, cook it [for] what I call speed-scratch cooking. But the idea is to offer this at prices that compete with fast food.

Since the food is past its sell date, is it safe to eat?

Absolutely. As a matter of fact, if you have a product that says "sell by Sept. 1" or "Oct. 1" and, you know, it's Oct. 2, most customers don't realize you can eat that.

Still, is it a public relations problem to get people to buy stuff that is past due?

Well, we'll see, won't we? I think that the issue here is really how you talk about it and how you educate.

For instance, food banks for years have done this. I might say, without naming the names, one of the leading, best regarded brands in the large, national, food industry — they basically recover the food within their stores, cook it up and put it out on their hot trays the next day. That's the stuff that we're going to be talking about. We're talking about taking and recovering food. Most of what we offer will be fruits and vegetables that have a use-by date on it that'll be several days out.

Well, customers nevertheless have to consume the food pretty quickly.

As you know, when it comes to bread ... we all know if you put it in the refrigerator it could last for weeks [even if it's expired]. Milk lasts for days. It all depends on the temperature of your refrigerator, frankly.

Most people don't know that, but you lose several days of shelf, whether it's in code or out of code. Or do you leave the milk out on the counter while your kids are having breakfast? There's all kinds of ways in which, if you handled it properly, you extend the life.

Is there any concern among, let's say the people who might own a Trader Joe's or some other food store today that, somehow, your places are going to be potentially underpricing them?

You'd have to ask them. But most of what we'll be selling will be fruits and vegetables, freshly prepared product, stuff that's really not brand-driven. And [we'll be doing it] in areas that, frankly, are underserved. There aren't Trader Joe's in the inner-cities in America, at least to my knowledge.

This is about trying to tackle a very large social challenge we have that is going to create a health care tsunami in cost if we don't do something about it. I don't regard Daily Table as the only solution — there are wonderful innovative ideas out there — but I certainly think it is part of and is an innovative approach to trying to find our way to a solution


Monday, September 23, 2013

Starbucks delicately balances guns and coffee

Starbucks says guns are no longer welcome in its cafes, though it is stopping short of an outright ban on firearms.

The fine line that the retailer is walking to address the concerns of both gun rights and gun control advocates reflects how heated the issue has become, particularly in light of recent mass shootings.

Most states allow people to openly carry licensed guns in some way and many companies do not have policies banning firearms in their stores. But Starbucks has become a target for gun control advocates, in part because of its liberal-leaning corporate image. In turn, gun rights advocates have been galvanized by the company's decision to defer to local laws.

In an interview, CEO Howard Schultz said the decision to ask customers to stop bringing guns into stores came as a result of the growing frequency of "Starbucks Appreciation Days" in recent months, in which gun rights advocates turn up at Starbucks cafes with firearms.

Last month, for example, the company closed down a store in Newtown, Conn., for the day after learning that gun rights advocates planned to hold a "Starbucks Appreciation Day" at the location. The store was near the school where a gunman killed 20 children and six women.

Schultz said the events mischaracterized the company's stance on the issue and the demonstrations "have made our customers uncomfortable."

Schultz hopes people will honor the request not to bring in guns but says the company will nevertheless serve those who do.

"We will not ask you to leave," he said.

The Seattle-based company plans to buy ad space in major national newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today on Thursday to run an open letter from Schultz explaining the decision. The letter points to recent activities by both gun rights and gun control advocates at its stores, saying that it has been "thrust unwillingly" into the middle of the national debate over firearms.

As for the "Starbucks Appreciation Days" being staged by gun rights advocates, it stresses: "To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores."

But the letter notes that Starbucks is standing by its position that the matter should ultimately be left to lawmakers. Schultz also said he doesn't want to put workers in the position of having to confront armed customers by banning guns.

The AP was provided a picture of a memo to Starbucks employees on Tuesday. Partners are instructed not to confront customers or ask them to leave solely for carrying a weapon.

Several companies do not allow firearms in their stores, however, apparently with little trouble. Representatives for Peet's Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods, for example, said there haven't been any problems with enforcing their gun bans.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was formed the day after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, has been organizing "Skip Starbucks Saturdays" to urge the coffee company to ban guns at its stores. Participants take photos of themselves at competitors such as Peet's that do not allow guns and post them online.

Shannon Watts, founder of the gun reform group, noted that Starbucks has taken strong stances on other issues. Earlier this year, for example, the company banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores, wherever its leases allowed. The idea was to extend its no-smoking policy to the outdoor seating areas.

"There's a big difference in the connotation of someone holding a gun and someone holding a cigarette," Schultz said.

In the meantime, Starbucks has become a symbol for advocates of gun rights. A website now even sells products bearing an altered version of the Starbucks logo, with the siren holding up a gun in each hand with the words "I Love Guns & Coffee."


Sunday, September 22, 2013

East Coast Compost Facility to Turn Food Scraps into Energy, Fertilizer

There’s a lot of green energy happening at Quonset Business Park. The 3,200-acre facility already has one of largest solar arrays in the state, at Toray Plastics, and currently several renewable-energy projects are moving ahead.

Compost facility. Permitting for the East Coast’s first food-scrap digester is expected to begin soon. NEO Energy LLC of Portsmouth, N.H., is scheduled to break ground in about six months on an 8-acre site. When finished by mid- to late-2014, it will turn food scrap into energy and fertilizer. Anthony Callendrello, NEO's chief operating officer, said the plant will process about 20,000 tons of food scrap annually. Letters of intent for accepting at least half that volume have already been reached with Rhode Island supermarkets and other food institutions, including a seafood processor at the Port of Quonset. No sewage or animal waste will be permitted.

“There is certainly plenty of food waste in Rhode Island," Callendrello said. "We’re confident that there is sufficient supply."

At a Sept. 10 meeting with members of the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources and the North Kingstown Town Council, Callendrello credited the state’s fixed-price energy program, known as distributed generation, for making the project doable. In 2012, anaerobic digesters were added to the list of qualifying energy sources for the DG program.

Callendrello also noted that Rhode Island has a better regulatory environment than Florida and Texas, two states where NEO has biomass facilities. “I think, on balance, it’s probably a better permitting atmosphere,” Callendrello said

Food scrap, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. waste stream, is a national problem. Diverting food from the waste stream will extend the life of the Central Landfill in Johnston, and perhaps create savings for cities, towns and businesses, as tipping fees, or the cost to drop food scrap at the proposed plant, could be free, Callendrello said.

A local food digester, he said, is “producing both a win for the environment and the energy situation in Rhode Island.” Currently, most of Rhode Island's electricity is generated by natural gas, less than 3 percent comes from renewable energy.

The industrial compost facility will control odors through a ventilation system that draws air into the building when doors are open. All the food scrap will be delivered by truck, and would be emptied indoors, according to Callendrello. The digester, which would draw methane gas from the food for fuel and energy, would be enclosed, containing any odors. “Everything is inside,” Callendrello said.

The primary revenue stream for the plant will be the sale of organic fertilizer. The proposed plant is expected to produce 1,000 tons a year. The fertilizer is low in phosphates and nitrogen and is ideally suited for turf farming and other agricultural uses.

“We want this project to be a showpiece for the region," Callendrello said. "To show that Rhode Island and the Quonset Development Corporation [are] really ahead of other communities in dealing with the food waste issue."

Solar energy. Several large solar-energy projects at Quonset are also helping diversify the state’s energy mix. The Toray Plastics solar array, which went online October 2011, has since been eclipsed in size by other projects in the state. Several proposed solar fields in the business park also will deliver more electricity.

A 2.4-megawatt solar array built on two former Naval warehouses is scheduled to go online by the end of the month. When completed, the $7 million West Davisville project will be tied for the largest rooftop solar project in New England, with the capacity to supply power for some 500 homes. It will be the largest solar project in the state, until the 3.7-megawatt Forbes Street landfill project in East Providence is completed in October.

Two half-megawatt solar projects are also in the works for Quonset: one on a former landfill; the second along a strip of land next to Davisville Road, one of the main thoroughfares at Quonset Business Park.

Toray Plastics is also launching a co-generation energy system, which captures heat from its facility to generate additional energy.

Steve King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation, noted that solar isn't the first choice for open land at Quonset. “We say, 'hold on, we’re here to make jobs.' Solar fields will create some jobs, but probably not as many as we like.”

Palmer Moore of Nexamp, the developer of business park's rooftop solar-energy system, noted that the project employed up to 50 workers during construction, but only requires routine maintainence when operational. But the project won't crowd out other businesses, Moore said.

“We are coexisting with an existing facility,” he said.

State inspectors were initially skeptical about a large rooftop project, he said, but eventually approved it, likely making it easier for future rooftop solar arrays in the state.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

‘Food on the Run’ An Emerging Sector Worth $90 Billion

Recent research dove into the daily eating habits of Americans and found that the age-old image of a family seated around the dining room table enjoying a home-cooked meal is falling by the wayside, while the number of Americans grabbing food on the run is an emerging segment, currently valued at $90 billion, according to new market data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI).
While 79% of Americans are planners and eat three meals or several smaller meals throughout the day, research shows 21% eat on the run. Dubbed “opportunists" by IRI, these eaters tend to grab food and drink throughout the day as the opportunity arises, with little consideration as to whether they are eating a meal or a snack, as reported in the study, “How America Eats: Capturing Growth with Food on the Run."

Compared to the planned eaters, opportunists are less inclined to factor healthy eating into their daily regimen. More opportunists (36%) split their healthy and indulgent behaviors equally, eating healthy half the time and eating more freely the rest of the time, compared to planners (31%). A large number of opportunist eaters (39%) grab convenient foods with little thought as to whether those foods are playing the role of a snack or meal.
Opportunists are also more value-driven, the research showed. For example, 31% of opportunists tend to buy whatever food/beverage is on sale with little concern for nutritional value, compared to 18% of planners. Likewise, available coupons/discounts are a key influencer of meal/snack decisions for one-third of opportunists, versus about one-quarter of planners.

Results show opportunists still enjoy cooking (49%), but look for convenience when evaluating food and beverage options. Two-thirds want foods that are quick and easy to prepare, and one-third prefer to eat heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat foods rather than preparing options from scratch. As a result, opportunists spent 60% more on frozen appetizers and snack rolls versus planners during the past year. Frozen appetizers and snack rolls, as well as a variety of other convenience-oriented categories, are expected to demonstrate high growth, especially among opportunist eaters versus the market as a whole.

Opportunist eaters hail from diverse backgrounds, cutting across age, income and household brackets. Two-thirds of opportunists are female, and 92% are of non-Hispanic origin. Skewing slightly to the lower end of the income spectrum, nearly two-thirds of opportunists come from single-member or two-member households. Many are living a bachelor/bachelorette life, or the life of a dual-income-no-kid family, where life is a bit less scheduled. Just under half are under the age of 45.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Strawberry Industry Seeks Nonchemical Pesticides

For decades, California strawberry growers like Rod Koda injected the potent pesticide methyl bromide into soil to kill bugs, weeds and plant diseases before planting strawberries. But the chemical was slated to be phased out by international treaty because it depletes the Earth's ozone layer. And later its replacement methyl iodide was pulled off the market after numerous public protests. Now, California regulators have proposed stricter rules to protect the public from a third fumigant that Koda and other conventional berry growers use to sanitize their fields. The restrictions are pushing California's $2.3 billion strawberry industry toward developing nonchemical alternatives to pesticides, reports The Associated Press.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New signs of improvement in the youth obesity epidemic?

There's more evidence to suggest the USA's epidemic of childhood obesity is stabilizing, and the reasons may be that kids are eating better and watching less TV.

Between 2001 and 2009, U.S. adolescents increased physical activity, ate more fruits and vegetables, ate breakfast more, watched less TV and ate fewer sweets, a new study says.

"It's only recently, in the past decade, that some studies have begun to see some leveling off" in obesity-related behaviors, says Ronald Iannotti, chairman of the department of exercise and health sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and co-author of the study in October's Pediatrics, online Monday.

"Seeing this pattern is very encouraging," he says. They worked with kids as young as 11, he adds, and saw the trend "in younger kids as well."

Iannotti and co-author Jing Wang did the research while with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md.

They analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 35,000 U.S. students, ages 11 to 16, collected in 2001, 2005 and 2009 about their diets, physical activity, and height and weight, which was used to calculate where they fall on Body Mass Index (BMI) growth charts.

The average BMI percentile increased over the nine years, but the significant change occurred from 2001 to 2005. The average BMI percentile declined from 62.33 in 2005 to 62.07 in 2009 (both in the normal range). Children are considered overweight if they fall between the 85th to 95th percentile on BMI growth charts. Kids fall into the obese category if they are at or above the 95th percentile on charts. This means their BMI is larger than 95% of the reference population, a group of children from the 1970s and '80s.

Where "we had been seeing an increasing trend (in BMI percentile), we don't see that between 2005 and 2009," says Iannotti.

In the study, most adolescents fell far short of the recommended 60-plus minutes a day of physical activity seven days a week, but the number of days they got that amount increased significantly between 2001 and 2009, from 4.33 to 4.53.

Consumption of fruits increased from an average of two to four days a week in 2001 to five or six in 2009; vegetables from an average of two to four days a week to almost five. Sugary soft drink consumption declined from almost five drinks a day to about four. The average number of days a week they ate breakfast increased from 2.98 to 3.25.

"Over the previous decades, the pattern had been that kids were getting less physical activity, and it's been very hard to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption," Iannotti says. "We've got a long way to go, but the good news is that those are increasing." Among other findings:

• Boys reported getting more physical activity than girls but also playing more video games and watching more TV. Overall, there was a decrease in time spent watching TV, the most prevalent sedentary behavior.

• Girls logged more computer time for social media, homework and Internet use.

• Girls ate more fruits and vegetables than boys, but also more sweets and fewer breakfasts.

The study suggests that pediatricians may need to do more to tailor health advice to teens based on gender, Iannotti says.

These findings are consistent with other recent studies, "including results from numerous cities and states indicating some initial declines in the prevalence of childhood obesity," says Melissa Laska, an associate health professor at the University of Minnesota. She was not involved in the study.

"We may be beginning to see the results of our comprehensive efforts at many levels — in schools, communities, clinical care settings and beyond — but there is still much work that needs to be done," she says.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gluten-Free Food Fad Gaining Momentum Among Marketers


Touted by everyone from the Pillsbury Doughboy to Miley Cyrus, gluten-free foods have entered the mainstream. Even Twinkie is considering jumping in a market estimated by research group Packaged Facts to be worth more than $4.2 billion in sales this year


And last month, the Food and Drug Administration clarified its rules on what qualifies as gluten-free, which could lead more marketers to start labeling products that way -- including those that have never contained gluten. PepsiCo's Lays, for instance, is in the midst of a multiyear effort to certify its chips as being under the FDA limit for gluten-free labeling.

But does the trend have staying power? The answer lies beyond the relatively small market of 3 million Americans diagnosed with celiac disease who must avoid gluten, a protein found in some grains, including wheat, barley and rye. A much larger audience appears to be motivated by the growing -- and controversial -- perception that gluten causes all kinds of health problems, from weight gain to arthritis.

Snagging those types of consumers likely explains the big bets some marketers are making on gluten-free line extensions. Products launching in recent months include Nabisco Rice Thins, Pillsbury gluten-free dough and a line of Goodbye Gluten bread and wraps by baking giant Grupo Bimbo.

Packaged Facts predicts the U.S. gluten-free market will reach $6.6 billion in annual sales by 2017. That report came before the FDA set a threshold for a trace amount of gluten that could be contained in gluten-free-labeled foods. The regulations "give it a stamp of credibility," so major food companies that have "been on the fence now know what they can and cannot do," said Phil Lempert, a food-industry analyst who runs

Still, he predicts that "the bubble will burst" in a couple years. "Gluten-free products are expensive, so that will drive shoppers away from buying them once they realize little or no benefits from the diet." For instance, Betty Crocker gluten-free chocolate- brownie mix costs 38¢ per ounce, compared with 16¢ per ounce for regular fudge-brownie mix, according to prices posted on

The market's long-term prospects might come down to the science, which remains unsettled. Everyone agrees that people with celiac disease should avoid gluten. But another diagnosis is rising in popularity called "non-celiac gluten sensitivity," though there is no medical test for it and estimates of its prevalence vary widely. "Science has shown that there is something going on, but we don't know what," said Carol Shilson, executive director of the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center. She added that there is new research coming out that suggests gluten might not be what is causing problems for this population.

Then there's a third segment of the population that attributes even broader health benefits to gluten-free diets, like helping with weight loss. Only 2% of shoppers who buy gluten-free foods do so because they have celiac disease, while 59% said they buy such products because they think they're more healthful, according to a 2013 shopper survey published by the Food Marketing Institute, which represents retailers.

Some theories blame wheat in general for an assortment of health ailments. One influential critic is Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist whose 2011 book "Wheat Belly" argues that modern, mass-produced wheat causes problems ranging from arthritis to schizophrenia.

The Wheat Foods Council, an industry trade group, is fighting back with an educational campaign targeting dietitians and nutritionists. After Dr. Davis appeared on the "Dr. Oz" show last year, the council responded with a letter to the show criticizing the book: "Research has shown that an overly restrictive diet, such as the one proposed in "Wheat Belly,' can not only be unhealthy, it is also not sustainable long-term," the letter stated, adding that "cutting out wheat puts dieters at risk for getting adequate fiber."

"People are using [gluten-free] as a fad diet when [celiac disease] is a very serious disease," said Judi Adams, the wheat council's president and a registered dietitian. "Would they go on a kidney-disease diet if they didn't have kidney disease?" She attributed the rise in popularity to celebrities who have embraced gluten-free diets as cure-alls. Among them is Miley Cyrus, who in a tweet last year said: "Everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing!"

Marketers have been careful not to engage too much in the medical debate, although "gluten-free" labels appear prominently in some ads and in stores. General Mills, which offers more than 300 gluten-free lines including Pillsbury dough, said in a statement that "as with all of our brands, we leave the ultimate choice with the consumer."

For its Chex cereals, which began reformulating its lineup in 2008, Big G does tout its gluten-free benefits with a TV ad featuring a fan praising the brand for doing "the impossible" by making gluten-free cereals in a "bunch of yummy flavors."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Claims of olive oil quality ripe for fraud, trade agency says

Olive oil debates might start reheating, with a long-awaited International Trade Commission study noting that a lack of standards enforcement has led to "a long history of fraudulent practices."

It turns out that "extra virgin" may not be so innocent, after all.

After a yearlong study, the trade commission concluded that relatively loose and widely unenforced standards “allow a wide range of oil qualities to be marketed as extra virgin.” Investigators warn that the resulting “adulterated and mislabeled products” hurt U.S. producers, who compete with lower-cost imports by touting higher quality.

“Many producers believe that broad and unenforced olive oil standards work to the advantage of unscrupulous producers and fail to benefit both high-quality producers and olive oil consumers,” the trade commission noted.

Competing studies offered by importers and U.S. domestic producers underscore the conflict.

The North American Olive Oil Association, which represents the importers that dominate the U.S. market, cites random testing of supermarket samples that shows less than 2 percent of the oils sold as extra virgin have evidence of adulteration. Likewise, less than 10 percent of samples taken by the International Olive Council show “chemical anomalies” that might suggest mislabeling.

“On the other hand,” the trade commission noted, “an analysis by the University of California, Davis, concluded that 73 percent of samples from the top-selling brands failed sensory tests – taste and aroma – for extra-virgin olive oil.”

The U.C. Davis researchers further found that 28 percent of samples failed at least one chemical test for extra-virgin olive oil, the trade commission noted.

“Extra virgin” refers to the highest-quality olive oil, which can’t be diluted and must be processed mechanically rather than with chemicals. Quality tests include assessing taste and smell, as well as checking for trace chemicals. Often, the commission noted, U.S. consumers don’t know enough about olive oil to reliably judge its quality.

“It looks like the report largely corroborates the U.S. industry’s view of what’s happening,” Gregg Kelley, the CEO of California Olive Ranch in Chico, Calif., said in a telephone interview Friday. “We’re hopeful that this serves as an impetus to action.”

Kelley added that “we’re ready to work with the federal government and the importers,” though a number of key questions remain unanswered with the release late Thursday of the International Trade Commission’s 282-page study. These questions include how U.S. trade officials will handle future negotiations with subsidizing European nations and whether U.S. producers will pursue an olive oil-marketing order, setting industrywide quality standards.

“We believe consumers deserve to understand the quality of the oil they are buying and trust its authenticity, and producers deserve fair access to consumers in markets both here and abroad,” Kimberly Houlding, the executive director of the American Olive Oil Producers Association, said in a statement.

A representative for the olive oil importers couldn’t be reached Friday. In prior oral and written testimony, the North American Olive Oil Association has warned against “increased testing costs” and “delays at the port” that could result from new quality-testing regimes. The organization also has raised concerns that certain tests may be unreliable.

The American Olive Oil Producers Association is based in Clovis, Calif., the state that accounts for about 99 percent of U.S. olive oil production. A handful of Southern states – including Texas, Florida and Georgia – have been increasing production recently, as well.

Overall, though, U.S. olive oil production is only a drop in the global bucket.

Led by Spain, Italy and Greece, worldwide olive oil production was 3.7 million tons during the 2011-12 season, according to the trade commission. U.S. production was less than 5,000 tons. The United States even lagged far behind countries such as Libya and Syria, although investigators noted that “Syrian production has (since) declined as a result of the political unrest and the outbreak of the civil war.”

Imported olive oil is also cheaper than most U.S. olive oil.

California Olive Ranch, the largest U.S. producer, sells its product for an average of 47 cents per ounce, according to the commission, while Lodi Olive Oil Co. sells its oil for an average of 99 cents per ounce. By contrast, Bertolli, a well-known import, sells for an average of 26 cents per ounce. Another import, Star, sells for an average of 35 cents per ounce.

Subsidies help the foreign producers. European government support payments “generally account for between 25 and 50 percent of olive farm income,” the commission found.

The California producers brought their competitive concerns to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. Nunes and the committee, in turn, asked the five-member International Trade Commission to conduct the olive oil investigation.

Some lawmakers now want to give U.S. olive oil producers a chance to establish an industry marketing order, similar to those that mandate high quality standards for crops such as almonds and pistachios, but the move faces stiff opposition from certain circles

After an intensive lobbying campaign by olive oil importers and others, the House of Representatives by 343-81 stripped out a farm bill provision earlier this year that would have forced imports to meet domestic quality standards if a marketing order is ever established.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Your Coffee

We’re obviously not proponents of waste, but bagged coffee goes bad faster than you think. Coffee’s biggest enemies are oxygen and moisture, says Starbucks — and the moment that the coffee is ground is when it starts losing freshness. (It’s why Ultimo and coffee connoisseurs are proponents of freshly ground, freshly made coffee and espresso drinks.) But a major problem can occur even before you grind the beans (which, if you’re not doing it already, should be done right before you start brewing). It’s often how coffee is stored that causes a loss of oxygen and moisture.


How to Fix It


First off, don’t buy so much coffee — Ultimo says that a bag of coffee should be used within a week for ultimate flavor. If you want a small bag of coffee, hit up your local coffee shop for smaller bag, or ask the baristas to grind the beans for you in a smaller quantity — just make sure you use the grinds right away.

Always store coffee in an airtight container at room temperature, says Starbucks — and never in the refrigerator or freezer. Despite what you may think, storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer can result in moisture from condensation


The Grind


Grind, grind baby: your cup of coffee depends all on the grind of your coffee bean. Different brewing methods require different grinds, says Starbucks. It boils down to a science, says Aaron Ultimo, owner of Ultimo Coffee Bar, referring to over-extracted coffee and under-extracted coffee. That means when the water passes through the coffee, it will either over-extract or under-extract all of the flavors from the coffee. If your coffee is ground too coarsely, the coffee will be weak and less flavorful; if your coffee is ground too finely, the coffee will be bitter.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gluten-Free Rum Cake Now Available Online

Lounge has been perfecting their latest gluten-free recipes for six months, and the result is spectacular! Even non gluten-free consumers will love this delicious, moist vanilla bean rum cake. Many will not know they are eating a gluten-free rum cake at all.

According to NPD Group, a leading global information company, one-third of all adults in the US in 2013 are cutting back or eliminating gluten completely from their diets. There are also an estimated 2.18 million people in the U.S living with Celiac Disease, according to

Gluten-Free is not just a trend. The global gluten-free products market is projected to exceed $6.2 billion by 2018*, and Rum Cake Lounge sees tremendous opportunity to expand their product line to the gluten-free consumer. Not surprisingly, gluten-free bakery and confectionary products constitute the largest share of this market with 46% of sales (

The gluten-free Vanilla Bean flavor is a melt-in-your mouth gourmet rum cake made of rice flour, homemade crème fraiche, creamy white chocolate ganache, pure sweet butter, organic sea salt, farm fresh eggs, premium vanilla beans, and, of course, premium oak-barrel-aged rum. The cakes are finished by hand with Rum Cake Lounge’s signature Madagascar vanilla bean glaze. This gluten-free rum cake has to be tasted to believe how delicious it truly is!

Consumer demand for this line of luxurious rum cakes with French inspired flavors has been increasing rapidly this year. Rum Cake Lounge has built their adorable brand image and reputation for America’s Finest Rum Cakes through grass-roots marketing, social media, friends, family, and just plain hard work. Co-founders, Olivier Martinez and Dina Gonzales, have decided to expand their reach in the market by also launching a wholesale program.

Rum Cake Lounge offers a line of 43 oz. rum cakes in a variety of flavors, and also offers an adorably decadent line of 2 oz. mini rum cakes in cupcake size portions with the added bonus of a creamy ganache filled center. These gluten-free rum cakes are made with fresh all natural ingredients, and are vacuum packed for a four week shelf life. They require no refrigeration until opened. a privately-held partnership that sells hand crafted gourmet rum cakes online for retail and wholesale customers. Shipping is available nationwide through USPS Priority Mail. Please allow 5-7 days for delivery. The bakery is in San Diego, CA. Contact them through their website or email them at:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Frozen Yogurt Sales Grow 74% to $486 Million in 2013

Driven by new product releases spurred by consumer interest in health and the popularity of yogurt offerings in the foodservice area, the frozen yogurt sector grew from $279 million in 2011 to reach $486 million in 2013, compared to ice cream, which posted minimal sales growth, going from $5.7 billion in 2011 to $5.9 billion in 2013, according to new market data from Mintel.
Ice cream is the leading frozen treat in the ice cream and frozen novelty market, representing 54% of sales in 2013; however, frozen yogurt sales saw a 74% increase between 2011-13, a monumental increase compared to the minimal 3.9% increase of ice cream.
“While ice cream remains the largest segment of the ice cream and frozen novelties market, sales dipped following the economic downturn. The expanding array of snack options, as well as a lack of product innovation, contributed to this performance," said Beth Bloom, food and drink analyst at Mintel. "In contrast, the frozen yogurt segment has benefitted from a perfect storm of factors, including the growing popularity of yogurt among U.S. consumers, the growing acceptance of frozen yogurt as a snack, and a perception of a higher health profile that coincides with increased attention placed on better-for-you products."
The majority of consumers (73%), believe that ice cream and frozen novelties can fit into a healthy lifestyle and nearly half (47%) agree that low sugar/fat ice cream and frozen treats are as satisfying as regular varieties. However, 53% of consumers say they try to limit the amount of ice cream or frozen treats they keep around the house because they are afraid they will eat too much and 21% believe eating these items even once a week is too excessive.
More than half (56%) of all ice cream and frozen novelty consumers partake in their sweet treat after a meal as a dessert, however younger Americans believe anytime is good for a cold treat. Indeed, 57% of those between 18-24 years old eat ice cream/frozen novelties whenever they want compared to 44% of all age groups. In addition, 30% of 18-24s indulge on frozen treats as a snack between meals versus only 22% of all ages.
Respondents from single-person households are more likely than larger households to eat frozen treats whenever they want (52% vs. 44%). "This is a strong indication that advertisements that depict people reveling in the solo enjoyment of ice cream and frozen treat products should resonate with a large percentage of consumers," Bloom said.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Link Between Illness Complaints, Chobani Recall Unclear

At least 89 people have complained of illness to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following the market withdrawal and eventual recall of Chobani yogurt due to a mold that caused cups to bloat and sour before their expiration date.
The complainants reported becoming ill after eating the recalled yogurt.
Some have called or written into Food Safety News describing episodes of vomiting and nausea after eating yogurt that appeared “fizzy” or “carbonated.” One caller reported having a “very upset stomach” and that they “couldn’t keep anything down” for several days.
But as the allegations of illness file in, experts have begun looking into whether the mold, Mucor circinelloides, could be the source of foodborne illness. The early analysis says it’s not.
Food safety experts contacted by Food Safety News on Tuesday largely said they did not know of any historical evidence describing the mold as a foodborne pathogen, but they were not experts on the topic and declined further comment.
The mold does not produce a toxin that would cause a vomiting response, according to Cornell University food science professor Randy Worobo, Ph.D., who spoke about the mold with the Huffington Post.
It’s far too early to say whether the yogurt actually caused any illnesses, Worobo said. It is not clear if any of the 89 complaints reported by the FDA have involved tests for any known foodborne pathogens.
Proving a connection between a certain food product and an illness is often problematic unless the sickened individual provides a stool sample that can be tested for pathogens and those same pathogens are found in samples of the suspected food, said food safety attorney Bill Marler. (His law firm, Marler Clark, underwrites Food Safety News.)
Knowing the exact pathogen sickening a patient can help give clues as to what food source might have sickened them.
“Lots of things can make you ill, and without knowing the bacteria or virus that made you sick, it’s difficult to pinpoint the food source because the incubation period could be days or weeks depending on the pathogen,” Marler said.
Even though the reported illnesses were not likely caused by the mold, Worobo suggested it might be possible that the yogurt contained another foodborne pathogen responsible for sickening those who reported illness.
Or, he said, the sour, fizzy yogurt could just be causing a gag reflex.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

House Plans to Extend Monsanto Protection Act

The controversial rider known as the "Monsanto Protection Act" has been included in a House appropriations bill that would fund the government through December.
The Center for Food Safety contends the provision would deprive courts of the authority to stop the sale and planting of potentially hazardous, genetically engineered crops and force the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to permit the continued planting of such crops upon request.
"Hundreds of thousands of Americans called their elected officials to voice their frustration and disappointment over the inclusion of 'Monsanto Protection Act' this past spring," said Colin O'Neil, director of government affairs for Center for Food Safety, in a statement. "Its inclusion is a slap in the face to the American public."
Others have maintained the rider is much less radical. In a phone interview in April with Food Product Design, Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization interpreted the provision as giving USDA authority to issue temporary permits to farmers to continue to plant or sell a genetically modified crop in spite of a court injunction—so long as the agency found the crop is safe for the environment and health.
A USDA spokeswoman was not available late today to comment on the agency's interpretation of the rider. USDA stated earlier this year it was interpreting the provision to determine whether it was enforceable.
The provision—contained in President Obama's fiscal budget signed in March—was nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act, referring to the biotechnology seed company that is said to have lobbied for it. Monsanto did not immediately respond today to a request for comment on the Center for Food Safety's statement.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, told The Huffington Post he plans to oppose the reenactment of the provision. "I will fight the House's efforts to extend this special interest loophole that nullifies court orders that are protecting farmers, the environment, and public health," the senator was quoted as saying.
The current appropriations law through which the rider was first attached expires on Sept. 30. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, on Tuesday introduced a $986.3 billion bill to fund the government through Dec. 15.
In recent years, USDA's decisions to deregulate genetically engineered crops have been challenged on procedural grounds under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The law requires federal agencies to consider potential environmental impacts before taking a major federal action.
Some people who have studied the issue maintain such crops pose no health or safety concerns.
"To date, no court has ever held that a biotechnology crop presents a risk to health, safety or the environment," Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, wrote in an April 2 article for Forbes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scientists Eye Purple Sweet Potato for Natural Dyes

We've grown accustomed to choosing our food from a spectacular rainbow — care for an impossibly pink cupcake, a cerulean blue sports drink or yogurt in preppy lavender?
But there's a growing backlash against the synthetic dyes that give us these eye-popping hues. And now scientists are turning to the little-known (and little-grown) purple sweet potato to develop plant-based dyes that can be labeled as nonthreatening vegetable juice.
Stephen Talcott, a food chemist at Texas A&M University, leads the research into extracting the pigments from purple sweet potatoes to dye foods.
"Our work with purple sweet potatoes has been going for a couple of years, partially in response to a trend within the food industry to move away from synthetic colors — primarily shades of red," Talcott said Sunday at a press conference at the American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition. "Purple sweet potatoes are a great alternative."
Talcott says purple sweet potato pigments are unique because they have "tremendous" color stability. In other words, they have more intense color and a wider color range — from raspberry red to grapelike purple — than other deeply hued fruits or vegetables. They're also well-suited for food products because they have a neutral flavor — unlike grapes, which have good color but bitter tannins. The sweet potato pigments even boast slight health benefits — they are mildly anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic, Talcott notes.
But these pigments aren't exactly easy for scientists to extract, one reason there isn't more of this dye around. The hard texture of the potato makes the pigment hard to get to, which is what Talcott's lab has been trying to crack.
Another problem is the supply. Few farmers grow purple sweet potatoes, and the dye currently costs about $136 per pound.
But Talcott argues that as consumers learn to scrutinize their food labels more carefully, they'll push the food industry to grow the natural food coloring market.
Some parents are increasingly seeking out natural food coloring, out of fears about how the lab-made dyes affect children — though there's little scientific evidence to back such fears up. Back in 2011, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel found that the current scientific data did not show that artificial food dyes cause hyperactivity in most children.
Still, food advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the FDA to require that the label of a food containing color additives read "Artificially Colored" on the package next to the product name — something the agency already requires of many artificially colored products.
Even some "natural" dyes, like a red dye made from the cochineal bug, don't make the cut for some consumers. Back in 2012, we reported that Starbucks was ditching the dye — which is made from crushed bugs — after vegetarians and others protested that they had no idea their Strawberries & Creme Frappuccinos were tinted with bug extract.
Other companies continue to use cochineal, however, and CSPI is lobbying Groupe Danone, which makes Dannon yogurt, to replace the bug-based dye with more of the fruit advertised on the yogurt's label