Valentine Hearts Take Flight on Chicken Wings

The Wall Street Journal: “Somehow, chicken wings are elbowing their way to a spot alongside flowers, chocolate and champagne on America’s Valentine’s Day menu … Restaurant orders of chicken wings—1.1 billion in the U.S. last year—are 14% higher on Feb. 14 compared with other days of the month, excluding Super Bowl Sunday, of course, according to Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for NPD Group, a market-research firm.”

Marivel Guerrero, who plans to give her new boyfriend a chicken-wing bouquet wrapped in a red bow, explains: “When you’re eating wings you’re really getting to know that other person. Will they pick at them with their fingers? Will they dive in and eat right off the bone?” Charlie Morrison, of Wingstop, “a chicken-wing chain of about 1,100 restaurants,” says sharing wings means “you’re ready to be vulnerable with someone, because there’s going to be food on your face.”

“Duffy’s Irish Pub in Washington, D.C., will offer chicken-wing combinations or ‘flights’ on Valentine’s Day in different flavors … The nine-wing combos require a couple to negotiate over the last piece, says co-owner Casey Callister. The back-and-forth could spark new intimacy.” He comments: “Sharing a partially eaten wing is like sharing a toothbrush.”


Efficiency Is No Cure for Phony Baloney

The Wall Street Journal: “Over the past 2½ years, thousands of workers lost their jobs, and iconic Kraft buildings, including the original Oscar Mayer headquarters in Madison, Wis., have been shuttered and sold. The cost-cutting project is now wrapping up, giving Kraft Heinz Co. the highest operating profit margin among its peers in the U.S. food industry.”

Troy Shannan, Kraft Heinz’s head of North America supply chain, comments: “We look at pretty much any opportunity we have to drive efficiency. And we use the savings from those efficiencies to reinvest in our brands and our businesses and back into our supply chain.”

“Still, Kraft Heinz is grappling with a problem that can’t be solved by increasing efficiency: U.S. sales of cold cuts and other processed meats slipped to $21.3 billion last year, from $21.9 billion in 2015. Oscar Mayer’s market share dropped to 17.5% from 18% five years ago, according to Euromonitor. Natural and organic brands, as well as small labels buying from local farms, have nibbled away at sales. ‘Consumers are looking for something they think is handmade or looks handmade,’ said Chris Fuller, a consultant to meat processors.”


Snack Dinners: Bite-Sized Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Snacks aren’t just for snacking anymore. Now, a handful of chips with the right staging—say, alongside carrots and hummus—can count as a meal. Families with picky young palates, busy millennials and people living alone all are making a habit of this irresistible eating option: the snack dinner … The popularity stems in part from the changing definition of a meal. Diners in their 20s and 30s are consuming more snack foods during meals, and for some, a combination of snacks equals dinner … Fresh fruit and corn or potato chips are the most popular snacks to have as part of dinner, appearing about 22 percent of the time.”

A ‘snack dinner’ can range from chips and salsa in front of the TV to a full-blown, restaurant-style array of tastes and textures. The lineups—often veggies, dips, chips or smoked meats—seldom require much effort or cooking beyond a moment in the microwave. A plate of carefully arranged snacks allows younger consumers to elevate the dinner experience, says Jeanine Bassett, vice president of global consumer insights at General Mills … The company’s Totino’s frozen pizza rolls, which take about a minute to warm up in the microwave, are one of the most popular snacks for dinner, she says.”

“Clare Langan, a personal chef in New York City, makes sure each plate in a snack dinner has crunchy, creamy, salty, sweet and fresh offerings. Ms. Langan turns to fresh fruit and veggies, dips, crackers and cheese with a long shelf life, such as Parmesan or feta. The solo dinners she assembles are reminiscent of a restaurant meat-and-cheese appetizer.” She comments: “It’s taking the idea of an epic cheese board and making it work for a Tuesday.”


Why Do Pizza Chains Attract Republicans?

Morning Consult: “Large pizza chains accounted for 36.5% of sales in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, compared to 23% of sales in states that voted for Hillary Clinton … Pizza industry experts suggest the popularity of major chains in traditionally conservative states — and to some extent, price and the level of more premium toppings — could be reasons for the political divide.”

A theory: “While pizza was plentiful in Italian immigrants’ urban communities along the East Coast around the turn of the 20th century, it was sparse elsewhere in the United States. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when companies like Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Caesars cropped up in the Midwest, that pizza was brought to the wider American public. During the industry’s early years, when chains were starting, companies focused their marketing on lower-income neighborhoods and presented pizza as an inexpensive dinner option in those Midwestern hubs.”

Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, comments: “If we think about this in culinary terms, the emphasis is on cost, reliability, standardization and efficiency … Food historians might label these culinary values conservative, in the sense that the consumer wants the same product, and qualities like fast delivery matter more than particular ingredients or the overall taste.”


Should iPhone ‘Addiction’ Be ‘Cured’?

Farhad Manjoo: “Tech ‘addiction’ is a topic of rising national concern. I put the A-word in quotes because the precise pull that our phones exert over us isn’t the same as that of drugs or alcohol. The issue isn’t really new, either; researchers who study how we use digital technology have for years been warning of its potential negative effects on our cognition, psyche and well-being.”

“With a single update to its operating system and its app store, Apple could curb some of the worst excesses in how apps monitor and notify you to keep you hooked (as it has done, for instance, by allowing ad blockers in its mobile devices). And because other smartphone makers tend to copy Apple’s best inventions, whatever it did to curb our dependence on our phones would be widely emulated … For starters, Apple could give people a lot more feedback about how they’re using their devices. Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week.”

“Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time … Done right, a full-fledged campaign pushing the benefits of a more deliberative approach to tech wouldn’t come off as self-interest, but in keeping with Apple’s best vision of itself — as a company that looks out for the interests of humanity in an otherwise cold and sometimes inhumane industry.”


Sam’s Club: Ardent Shoppers Feel Jilted

The New York Times: “Walmart’s quiet shuttering of 63 Sam’s Club stores on Thursday — hours after trumpeting its plans to raise wages — sent shock waves through the ardent customer base of the membership-only chain. Patrons protested with unusual passion not granted to the thousands of closings recently announced by other retailers.”

“On social media, some shoppers reminisced about sharing frozen yogurt with their great-grandmother at the local Sam’s Club, while others fretted about remote areas losing a primary source of supplies or a reliable place to pick up prescriptions.”

Bethany Pope Hopp, a mother of five, comments: “Having a store like Sam’s Club is absolutely a necessity for some of us rural, smaller communities. That and Walmart are all we have — we don’t live in an area where there’s a Costco or a Target on every corner.” Dharmendra Singh, whose Sam’s Club was among those closed, laments: “It’s like a long-term girlfriend leaving you and not even giving you a call.”


Circular Logic: Paper Fliers Beat Banners

The Wall Street Journal: “One old-school retailing trick has survived the e-commerce shakeout—the lowly advertising circular. Some grocers and other retail chains have learned they risk losing business without a steady flow of paper mailings nudging shoppers to stores. Even online startups that don’t have physical shops are embracing the idea.”

“For now, paper fliers keep piling up on doorsteps because most people still read their mail, even as they easily ignore most online banner ads and many emails.”

“The biggest retailer, however, has cut back on circulars. Wal-Mart is sending out about a dozen mailings a year, down from a hundred two years ago. The retailer has asked suppliers to spend the marketing dollars that used to go into circulars on lowering their prices and chose to send out fewer circulars, a spokeswoman said.”


Chickens Rule The Retail Roost

The Wall Street Journal: Rotisserie chickens “emerged as a supermarket staple in the 1990s, paving the way for the array of prepared foods that grocery stores sell today. Now they are many grocery stores’ best-selling hot food item and a rare bright spot in an industry struggling to adapt to a shift away from packaged foods … To continue selling them for $5 to $7 each, executives are working to trim supply-chain costs, cook chickens more efficiently and throw fewer of them away unsold.”

“One reason executives say it is so important to hold down rotisserie prices is that shoppers often buy higher-margin side dishes and beverages to round out a meal … Grocers also are tweaking their marketing strategy to make their chickens stand out. Some have introduced lemon pepper and barbecue flavors, as well as organic and antibiotic-free chickens. Others are placing stocked chicken warmers in checkout aisles to inspire last-minute purchases.”

“While Kroger and Mariano’s display their chickens near the front of the store, Costco puts them at the back, hoping people will add to their carts on their way to getting a chicken. Costco has sold rotisserie chickens for $4.99 since 2009. When a bird flu outbreak prompted higher prices for ready-to-cook chickens in 2015, Costco took a $30 million to $40 million profit hit to keep its rotisserie prices steady … Some stores sell deboned rotisserie-chicken meat at a higher price.”


How ‘Ankle-Biters’ Nip Big Brands

The Wall Street Journal: “Consumers in rich countries once embraced the consistency, convenience and affordability of their offerings, from disposable razors to ready-to-boil ravioli. In other parts of the world, a growing middle class clamored for many of the same trusted, Western brands.”

“Today, that isn’t good enough. Shoppers have gravitated in droves toward smaller, niche or locally made products. In many cases, they are seeking out healthy alternatives and more natural ingredients. Manufacturing costs have fallen, allowing small players to seize quickly on trends. Social media and e-commerce have made marketing and distribution easier.”

RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones comments: “We think big incumbents—however well managed—are going to continue to struggle against the depredations of the ‘ankle-biters’.”