Drinkfinity: A Portable Soda Fountain

Fast Company: Pepsi’s “newest venture is centered on a 20-ounce reusable water bottle that comes with sets of flavor pods … The new product line, called Drinkfinity, is a clear reaction to consumers drinking less soda … The name is meant to indicate that there are infinite combinations of drinks you could make with the bottle and the flavor pods. The Drinkfinity team’s ultimate aspiration is that consumers go online, choose all the ingredients they want, and have personalized pods shipped to their door–a vision that reacts to several consumer trends, including on-demand services and healthy living.”

“For now, the brand … is debuting 12 different types of pods … To make yourself a White Peach Chill or a Mandarin Orange Charge, you fill up your Drinkfinity water bottle, unpeel a pod’s label, remove your bottle’s cap, and push the cap of the lid through a pointed plastic structure. This ruptures the dry storage area in the pod and releases the concentrated liquid, which pours into the container. Then you shake and drink. The bottle itself has a magnetic spot on its side to hold down the cap so it doesn’t hit you in the face as you guzzle.”

“To create Drinkfinity, PepsiCo had to rethink the supply chain, manufacturing, shipping, and even recycling. That resulted in the full life cycle of a single pod producing 40% fewer carbon emissions than the typical 20-ounce drink housed in a plastic bottle you’d buy at the supermarket. The pods also use 65% less plastic than these 20-ounce bottles … The Drinkfinity team likens the product to the new soda fountain: a platform for people to choose what they want to drink, except you can carry it in your bag.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Instant-Pot Anxiety: A Culinary Conundrum

The Wall Street Journal: “The Instant Pot—billed as an all-in-one device that sautés, steams, slow-cooks, pressure-cooks and makes yogurt, rice, cakes and preserves—was one of the biggest sellers of the holiday season, buoyed by enthusiasts known among themselves as PotHeads … Missing from the enclosed manual and recipe book is how to fix Instant Pot anxiety.”

“Debbie Rochester, an elementary-school teacher in Atlanta, bought an Instant Pot months ago but returned it unopened. It was too scary, too complicated,’ she says. ‘The front of the thing has so many buttons’ … Double Insight Inc., the company that makes Instant Pot, says common mishaps include overfilling the machine or releasing the pressure too quickly when cooking foods that expand. Instant Pot has 10 safety mechanisms to protect users, the company says.”

“On a chilly January day, Sharon Gebauer of San Diego set out to make beef and barley soup. ‘I filled it up, started it pressure cooking, and then I started to think, what happens when the barley expands?’ she says. ‘I just said a prayer and stayed the hell away.’ When Ms. Gebauer turned the quick-release valve, soup shot across her kitchen, hitting the cupboards, curtains and window. The mishap persuaded Ms. Gebauer to return her Instant Pot. ‘I’m retired,’ she says. ‘A pressure cooker cooks it fast, but what’s my hurry?'”

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Jen Yee: The Architecture of Dessert

The New York Times: Jen Yee “who oversees pastry for all the restaurants in the Resurgens Hospitality Group, used to be an architect, and she designs desserts the way she once did building interiors: meticulously sketching every element, testing many prototypes. And these days she has plenty of company: Many of the country’s top pastry chefs have practiced or studied architecture.”

“Tired of having to abide by mundane building codes and regulations, and wanting something more creative, she began studying pastry in 2002 at Le Cordon Bleu in London, while working as a pastry assistant at the Connaught hotel for the chefs Gordon Ramsay and Angela Hartnett. She found that her architectural training applied in the pastry kitchen as well.”

She comments: “Being an architect is not all about the structure. It’s about the intent. How will this improve someone’s life? Desserts are also about thoughtfulness. What are the ways I can manipulate this apple? What will highlight what’s grown here? It’s about looking at your environment and seeing what will be functional and beautiful in that space.”

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Hot Chocolate: Lap Up Luxury

The Wall Street Journal: “Gotham Bar and Grill is celebrated for its fancy fare, from foie gras to Dover sole. Starting this weekend, the Michelin-starred restaurant will spotlight a childhood treat: hot chocolate. The Manhattan restaurant will offer a $14 cup of steaming cocoa made with a chocolate sourced from Costa Rica … Dozens of restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops throughout New York City are offering gourmet versions of hot chocolate. And they say they are seeing strong demand.”

“At Tetsu, the new Tribeca restaurant from sushi chef Masa Takayama of Masa fame, the $8 hot chocolate is flavored with a spices, including cardamom, cloves and star anise, and topped with a ‘toasted rice’ whipped cream. Customers can add a shot of exotic booze—chili-pepper liqueur, anyone?—for $4-$6.”

“By most accounts, the current New York City craze for gourmet hot chocolate was sparked by City Bakery, a fixture in the Union Square area that began offering a high-end version of the beverage when it opened in the early ‘90s, at the then seemingly outrageous price of $2.50 a cup … Restaurant-industry insiders and observers say the hot-chocolate trend speaks to a growing fascination with retro comfort foods done with a contemporary nod: Think artisanal mac ‘n’ cheese. It also dovetails with the gourmet-coffee movement that shows no signs of stopping.”

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Fast Shopping: Making Convenience ‘Better for You’

The Washington Post: “As sales of gas, cigarettes and soda plummet, many stores are vying for consumers with fresh produce and other ‘better-for-you’ products that would have once looked out of place in the land of Big Gulps … That could make a difference in the diets of millions, experts say, especially those who rely on convenience stores as a primary source of food.”

“At 7-Eleven, the world’s largest convenience store chain, with 10,500 U.S. locations, the company has aggressively developed ‘better-for-you’ products under the Go!Smart banner, pushing low-sugar herbal teas, fruit-and-nut bars and rice crackers. At Kwik Trip, the Midwestern chain seen by many in the industry as the leader of the healthy stores movement, executives hired an in-house dietitian, Erica Flint, to help introduce new products and reformulate old ones.”

“In the past year and a half, four of the country’s largest convenience store distributors have committed to initiatives with Partnership for a Healthier America, which is allied with former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! project. With PHA, the companies have promised to make it easier for convenience stores to source produce and other healthy foods — and to market those products.”

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Tsukiji Fish Market: The Wall Street of Seafood

Business Insider: “The Tsukiji Fish Market is located in the Tsukiji district in central Tokyo. It is bordered by the swanky shopping district Ginza and the Sumida River … The market has become one of the top tourist attractions in Japan, but it wasn’t intended that way. It’s a place for business. Restaurant and market owners come every day to pick the choicest pieces of seafood for their business.”

“More fish passes through Tsukiji than any other market in the world. Some estimates suggest that the market does more than $4 billion in business a year … The market sells over 480 different types of seafood each day, as well as 270 different types of produce. Harvard anthropology professor Ted Bestor, who studies Japanese sushi culture, has called it ‘the nerve center of a global fishing industry’.”

“The tuna in the market is delivered from all over the world frozen or on ice less than 24 hours after being caught. Then the fishmongers have to clean and defrost the giant fish … The wholesalers then cut the tuna into sellable pieces for the top sushi restaurants in the city. Some wholesalers will even massage the fish or have conversations with it as they cut … After you’re done touring, head to any of the sushi joints in the main market for a kaisendon, or sushi-rice bowl. Unless you’ve been to 3-Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro, it will likely be the best you’ve ever had.”

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