How Ben & Jerry’s Creates Flavors

Fast Company: “Ben & Jerry’s tastemakers don’t just rely on their own judgment … After assembling a couple hundred ideas, the Gurus then turn to a surprisingly low-tech yet crucial source in order to whittle them down: email surveys. Close to 200 flavor possibilities enter the ‘reduction’ stage. Only about 15 make it through. The team sends out a short survey to a representative slice of its massive email list of ice cream enthusiasts. The survey is extremely straightforward; it consists of a one-sentence description of each of the 200 flavors, followed by the same two questions apiece: How likely are you to buy this flavor? How unique is this flavor?”

“Respondents are asked to rank their answers on a five-point scale. According to the Flavor Gurus, the goal is to zero in on flavors that are both familiar and novel.”

“The second question, ‘How unique is the flavor?’ helps Gurus ensure they’re maintaining enough novelty in the flavor pool. Based on the survey data, the team settles on the 15 flavors they believe have the ideal balance of novelty and familiarity. This is the reduction step, and it’s likewise a key part of many creative processes. To generate ideas that stick, you need to go from a wide-ranging list of plausible ideas to a data-driven subset of the ones that have the strongest likelihood of succeeding, based on whatever metrics for success you’ve outlined.”

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Meatless Meat Stampedes Grocery Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “For thousands of years, meat came from slaughtered animals, and milk was squeezed from cows. Tech-style disruptions are now upending supermarket meat cases and turning the stomach of cattle ranchers … dismayed to find the meat replacements sold next to the real thing. High-tech startups are building burgers from plant proteins and compounds that grill and taste more like the real thing than old-fashioned veggie burgers. Other firms are using cell-culture technology to grow animal muscle tissue—otherwise known as meat—in stainless steel bioreactor tanks, similar to the fermentors used to brew beer.”

“The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the Agriculture Department to bar plant-based products from bearing labels that say ‘beef’ or ‘meat,’ with similar restrictions on meat grown from animal cells … Stakes are high for the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat market. Sales of alternative meat products account for less than 1% of fresh meat sales in the U.S. but are growing at an annual rate of 24.5%, according to Nielsen Total Food View.”

“To get better exposure, Beyond Meat requires that retailers carry its products in the grocery meat section, rather than the frozen foods case—what Mr. Brown called the ‘penalty box.’ Alison Pham, 22, of Bokeelia, Fla., is a vegan who sees the realistic looking Beyond Meat patties as a way to get her father to try a plant-based diet. She reaches for the package in the same meat-filled cases she long avoided.”

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ConAgra: Fresh in Frozen

The Wall Street Journal: “Last year, Conagra freshened up of three of its frozen brands: Healthy Choice, Marie Callender’s and Banquet. Healthy Choice, a diet brand launched in 1989, rolled out new microwavable meal bowls with trendy ingredients like edamame, kale and quinoa, and exotic flavors like Cuban pork and Korean beef. Banquet, a value-oriented brand with frozen basics like chicken fingers and meatloaf that typically sell for around $1 each, also got an upgrade, including Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese bowls that sell for $2 or more.”

“The results have been clear. Comparable sales for Conagra’s refrigerated and frozen-food segment went from declining sharply last fiscal year to rising for three quarters in a row, reaching 2.6% growth in the quarter ended Feb. 25. Conagra Chief Executive Sean Connolly summed up his approach at a Goldman Sachs conference in May: ‘When you take legacy, well-known brands and bring modern elements into the food and packaging, you will have a winner’.”

“Consumers are shying away from carbohydrates and processed foods, preferring fresh meat and vegetables. But these take more effort to cook and can look less than fresh by the end of the week. For busy, health-conscious families, picking up proteins and vegetables from the freezer aisle makes sense. Perceptions of the health properties of frozen vegetables have also improved after studies showed they can retain nutrients better than vegetables that have sat for days in delivery trucks or grocery shelves.”

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Wendy’s Cultivates Better Tomato Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “By largely moving production to the U.S. from Mexico, where Wendy’s currently gets the majority of its tomatoes, and using the more controlled setting of greenhouses, the company says it expects to be able to deliver more ripe—and therefore more flavorful—tomatoes to its restaurants. There are also fewer insects and plant diseases to contend with when tomatoes are grown inside.”

“Whether consumers will care about the change in its tomatoes remains to be seen. Although fast-food rivals have been touting the quality and freshness of their food, consumers still want their meals at a low price.”

“Some tomato purists say nothing beats the flavor of a tomato grown in the soil. But field-grown tomatoes sold for commercial use are often sprayed with ethylene gas, a plant hormone that occurs naturally in fruit, just before they reach supermarket shelves or restaurants so that they appear ripe.”

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Decibel Diet: Loud Music is Fattening

The New York Times: “Behavioral scientists who ran a series of lab studies and real-life field experiments found participants selected more unhealthful or calorie-laden items like red meat and cake when the ambient music was loud, and were more likely to choose healthful items when softer music was played in the background. The genre of music did not appear to influence the choices, the researchers said: They found the same effects whether the background music was classical; a mix of pop, rock, soul, R&B and alternative music; or heavy metal.”

Dipayan Biswas, a professor of business and of marketing at University of South Florida in Tampa and lead author of the paper, comments: “High-volume music is more exciting and makes you physically more excited, less inhibited and more likely to choose something indulgent. Low music makes us more relaxed and more mindful, and more likely to go for the things that are good for us in the long run.”

“Loud background music in a supermarket similarly nudged customers toward less healthful purchases, compared with softer music … Dr. Biswas, whose earlier research found that patrons are more likely to order healthful items when restaurants are brightly lit and more likely to indulge in dimly lit restaurants, said the findings can help consumers be aware of unconscious factors affecting their choices.”

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Reefer Madness: The New Meaning of ‘Fresh’

The Wall Street Journal: “Refrigerated containers known as “reefers” can keep food fresh for more than a month, allowing distributors to safely send everything from orange juice to lobsters around the world. In the past, those trips were mostly reserved for bananas because only major distributors like Chiquita Brands International Inc. could afford to hire cargo ships with large refrigerated spaces. Meanwhile, the growing affluence of the global population, especially in Asia, has boosted demand for more-expensive foods.”

“The main reefer trade is from the Southern Hemisphere to the north. Exporters in places like South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand move fresh produce to supplement demand in the north during the winter months. The U.S. and Canada are also exporters of vegetables, citrus and other fruit along with meat and seafood, mainly to Asia.”

“One of the smaller customers, Peru’s Sun Fruits Packs SA, last year shipped 700 reefers of grapes to Philadelphia and 220 containers of avocados to Spain and the Netherlands … It takes as long as 18 days to ship grapes from Peru to Philadelphia. The fruit “is put to sleep” in a controlled atmosphere that delays the ripening process before it’s distributed to supermarkets across the East Coast.”

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Jif Jaf: Zen & The Art of Oreos

Quartz: “When Oreos came to China in 1996, consumers were nonplussed. The chocolate sandwich cookies … were far too sweet for the Chinese palate. By 2005, Kraft Foods was losing money on every Oreo sold. The company regrouped, introducing a lighter Oreo, a rectangular Oreo, and chocolate-covered wafer sticks. At the Kraft Foods biscuit research lab in Suzhou, food scientists experimented with dozens of other varieties, among them an Oreo that replaced the traditional filling with a glob of gum. (That version never made it to shelves).”

“Kraft spun off Oreo and other snacks brands into a new company, Mondelez International, in 2012, and itself merged with Heinz in 2015. Now, Kraft Heinz is taking the lessons learned from 1990s Oreos to Jif Jaf, a chocolate-sandwich cookie the company is releasing in China. Filling flavors include a traditional chocolate, but also matcha tea, chili, and cheese.”

“Unlike Oreo, each Jif Jaf character has its own personality, part of a brand-development effort led by creative agency Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR). The matcha character is calm and zen-like, chili is a thrill-seeker, and cheese is a ladies’ man.”

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The Caviar Sandwich is Back!

The Wall Street Journal: “The caviar sandwich at the Grand Central Oyster Bar is back … the under-$15 sandwich, a novelty item that served as a kind of low-rent riff on the luxury lifestyle, disappeared from the menu several months ago. The reason? The cost of the bowfin caviar, a cheaper variety of fish eggs used for the sandwich, had suddenly soared. That left the restaurant with two options: Increase the price for the sandwich threefold or nix it from the menu altogether. Given that the whole point of the sandwich was the caviar-on-the-cheap aspect, the Oyster Bar chose the latter.”

“And Oyster Bar executive chef Sandy Ingber figured the situation would remain that way because he wasn’t finding any caviar purveyors cutting deals … The menu item, a fixture for more than 15 years, had never been a huge seller, as a typical day saw up to 10 orders. But those who liked it really seemed to like it, Mr. Ingber said. The appeal went beyond the novelty aspect, he added. The dish, with the caviar served on plain white toast and paired with chopped egg with a dollop of sour cream on the side, is a perfect study in contrasting textures and flavors: salty, creamy and crispy.”

“But Mr. Ingber still needed to find a source for low-cost bowfin caviar. Fortunately, one turned up at a trade show in Boston last month. The product is the same quality, he said, and only a tad more expensive when factoring in shipping. Mr. Ingber was able to reinstate the sandwich to the menu two weeks ago, raising the price by only a dollar to $13.95.”

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7-Eleven: When Convenience Is Not Enough

The Wall Street Journal: “For 7-Eleven, Big Gulps and Slurpees are no longer enough. The convenience-store pioneer is falling behind rivals that are gleaning more sales from healthier snacks and freshly cooked meals … The company’s executives said they are working to come up with better foods to sell in their 9,700 North American stores. ‘Simply being open longer than the competitor … is not enough,’ said Raj Kapoor, referring to the stores’ extended hours. Mr. Kapoor, a 23-year veteran of 7-Eleven, is head of fresh food and proprietary beverages.”

“The effort to freshen up 7-Eleven’s business has run into resistance from the chain’s franchisees. Eight out of 10 7-Eleven stores are owned by franchisees, most of whom own fewer than five stores. Many say it is too expensive to maintain new equipment like ovens, and that 7-Eleven needs to pay to remodel their stores if they want them to sell more fresh and hot food. ‘Our stores don’t look like we are in the food business,’ said Hashim Sayed, who sold his store in Chicago back to 7-Eleven this week after 25 years as a franchisee.”

“7-Eleven says it has been addressing the shift in tastes for several years. But competitors have done more to sell fresh—and more profitable—foods, analysts said. Regional convenience chains Wawa Inc. and Sheetz Inc. make custom salads and hot meals at on-site kitchens. Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc. is now one of the largest sellers of pizza in the U.S. CVS Health Corp. has reorganized its drugstores to display healthy food more prominently.”

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