Campbell’s ‘Habit’ Fuses Food & Technology

Philadelphia Business Journal: “Campbell’s Soup Co. has become the sole investor of a San Francisco-based company that combines nutrition, technology and food delivery into one bundle. The Camden-based food company is investing $32 million in Habit, a personalized nutrition company that will launch in 2017. The company develops nutrition recommendations based on a person’s biology, metabolism and personal goals, and it creates a so-called personal blueprint.”

“Habit then delivers customized meals to the person’s doorstep, and offers one-on-one wellness and nutrition coaching as well … Habit users are given an at-home test kit that measures more than 60 different biomarkers, including nutrition-related blood markers and genetic variations in DNA. Users also provide body metrics like body weight and height, as well as health goals. Habit then synthesizes the data to determine food and nutrients best suited for each individual.”

Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison comments: “The entire food industry is being transformed by the fusion of food, well-being and technology … Campbell’s investment is part of our broader efforts to define the future of food, which requires fresh thinking, new models of innovation, smart external development and venture investing to create an ecosystem of innovative partners.”

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Veggie Tots: The Future of Frozen Food?

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Big Food is betting that frozen food, a relic of Sputnik and the Mickey Mouse Club, can stir the hearts and palates of the quinoa generation even as sales figures have fallen each year since 2009. The products need to overcome a reputation, some of it earned and some not, that the meals found in your grocer’s freezer, often packed with sodium and preservatives, taste meh.”

“B&G is wooing millennials with frozen ‘veggie tots’ with broccoli and cauliflower. Kraft Heinz’s Devour line includes recipes like white cheddar mac and cheese with bacon, pulled-chicken burrito bowls and pesto ravioli with spicy Italian sausage … Conagra Foods Inc., the maker of leading brands Marie Callender’s and Banquet, is trying to bring some foodie prestige with its Wicked Kitchen line, which the company says was inspired by food trucks.”

“B&G is approaching the future with a little bit of the past. The pickle and snack company’s purchase of Green Giant nearly doubled its size and marked its first foray into the freezer case. It’s betting the Jolly Green Giant will tap into the nostalgia of parents looking to put vegetables on the dinner table while finding a new audience with millennials.”

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Secret Sauce: From Condiment to Cliché

Ben Zimmer: “These days, ‘special sauce’ (or sometimes ‘secret sauce’) inevitably comes up whenever someone is describing a closely guarded feature that is regarded as crucial to the success of a product or service … But ‘special sauce’ didn’t become truly special until McDonald’s added the Big Mac to its national menu in 1968, after months of secret experiments in its food labs and extensive field testing … Those who came of age in the 1970s can still recite the Big Mac ingredient list by heart: ‘two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun’.”

“As a mnemonic and earworm, the jingle was extremely effective, and it also helped launch a more figurative meaning of ‘special sauce,’ for key ingredients beyond the world of burgers … Meanwhile, it turns out that the Big Mac special sauce isn’t such a closely guarded secret after all: A 2012 YouTube video by a McDonald’s executive chef revealed that the sauce could be made at home with mayonnaise, pickle relish, mustard and a few other condiments.”

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McDonalds & The Better Burger

The Wall Street Journal: “New, ‘better burger’ chains are pulling in customers with gourmet, made-to-order burgers and quick, casual service. Serving that kind of product is at odds with McDonald’s strategy of six decades, in which speed and low cost are pillars of sales.”

“McDonald’s is testing different grinds of beef, various buns and toppings and is tinkering with cook times and temperatures … Other recent changes include switching from cooking beef patties on Teflon sheets, which are easier to clean, to searing them on an iron grill so they come out hotter. Buns are toasted five seconds longer, resulting in burgers that are 15 degrees warmer.”

“The chain is testing customizable burger menus in some markets, allowing diners to select the type of meat, bun and toppings they want from a self-order kiosk and then sit down and wait for an employee to deliver the food to their table. Options include guacamole, grilled onion or bacon … Switching to fresh beef could slow down customer service and add complexity to a system designed to store frozen food … There are also concerns about contamination.”

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Foodies & The Single Cow

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers including Whole Foods Market Inc., FreshDirect, and Amazon.com Inc. are building farm-to-store meat operations that sate some consumers’ desires to trace their burger or bacon all the way back to an individual animal … Other retailers, like Honest Beef Co., are supplying cuts directly to consumers, cutting out the meatpacking middlemen and grocery chains in a foodie twist on traditional mail-order businesses like Omaha Steaks International Inc.”

“Setting up a single-cow supply chain is costly and complex … Customers must be willing to pay princely sums for these cuts. In addition to its minimum order size, Honest Beef charges around $8.50 a pound for dry-age ground beef. Elsewhere, ground beef prices in August averaged $4.25 a pound nationwide … most burgers are made from a combination of lean and fatty scraps left over after higher-value cuts like the T-bone are carved up. That means a 1-pound package of store-bought ground beef could contain meat from hundreds of animals.”

“When officials at online grocer FreshDirect began traveling to Pennsylvania and upstate New York to pitch farmers on ‘disrupting the grocery supply chain,’ the idea was met with skepticism … Today, the skeptics are falling away. Demand for a cut of a cow offered in its ‘hyper, hyper local’ beef, which the Long Island City, N.Y., company can identify down to the group of steers it bought from a particular farm, has been strong since it made its debut last year.”

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A Texas State of Brand

The New York Times: “You can eat waffles shaped like Texas at the Vickery Cafe in Fort Worth and the Texan Diner in Haslet, and you can dive into the Texas-shaped Texas Pool in Plano, as long as you wait 30 minutes after eating the waffles. It wasn’t the pictures of Texas-shaped guitars, tequila bottles, coffee mugs and carving boards that surprised on the Pinterest account called Things Shaped Like Texas. It was the Texas-shaped sinks.”

“The shape of Texas is the Rorschach test deep in the heart of the Texas psyche: the singular, curiously drawn image that somehow encapsulates, with a few right angles and big bends, a state of 27 million people … A few states identify with their shapes, but not many … Maybe Texas is so big that it needed one easy symbol, and a ‘T’ or a cowboy boot or a chicken-fried steak didn’t quite sum it up. Maybe its obsession with its shape is one of many age-old ways that Texas likes to separate itself from the rest of the states.”

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Late & Great: Richard Trentlage

The New York Times: “The Oscar Mayer Wiener Song had its beginnings in September 1962, when Richard Trentlage … learned that Oscar Mayer … was sponsoring a contest for a wiener jingle … Inspiration struck when he remembered one of his sons, using a term for someone who is cool, talking about a friend who was a ‘dirt-bike hot dog’ … ‘I wish I could be a dirt-bike hot dog,’ his son said.”

“When the jingle was first heard on a Houston radio station in 1963, listeners, thinking it was a pop tune, requested that it be played repeatedly … The song became part of the fabric of American culture.”

“Mr. Trentlage’s melodies, lyrics and tag lines were practically a hit parade in the advertising world, many of them with the mental stickiness of flypaper; among others, he wrote ‘McDonald’s is your kind of place’; ‘Wow! It sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice,’ for V8; and ‘Buckle up for safety, buckle up!’ (sung to the tune of ‘Buckle Down, Winsocki’) for a National Safety Council seatbelt promotion.” Richard Trentlage died September 21, 2016, at 87.

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Lucky Charms Finds ‘Natural’ Flavors Elusive

Business Insider: “General Mills scientists still haven’t figured out how to phase out artificial flavors and colors in Lucky Charms without ruining the iconic cereal.” Mills “already pulled it off with Trix, at least in part. In that case, they used mixtures of radish, carrot, blueberry, tumeric, and annatto seed to create red, yellow, orange, and purple corn puffs. Part of the challenge is that each of those natural colors brings in some flavor too. The team abandoned the green and blue puffs after deciding they couldn’t reach those hues without ruining the taste.”

“Lucky Charms, a cereal that includes with colorful marshmallows, has proven more difficult. First, it’s easier to distort the flavor of a marshmallow than a corn puff … Second, Lucky Charms already have a subtler flavor than bold, fruity Trix. It’s so subtle, consumers struggle to define it.”

“Lucky Charms also supposedly trigger powerful feelings of nostalgia … Steve Witherly, PhD writes in “Why Humans Love Junk Food” that the vanilla aroma of marshmallows is one of the few flavors that the brain doesn’t get bored of. Moreover, it ‘may be imprinted soon after birth’ since vanilla is the main flavor of breast milk and infant formula.”

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Grass-Fed Beef: Not a ‘Luxury’ Anymore

The Wall Street Journal: “Grass-fed beef, once a niche luxury, is now sold at ballgames, convention centers and nearly every Wal-Mart in the U.S. Beef labeled as grass-fed connotes much more than cattle that were raised in a pasture, say grocers and restaurateurs. Many consumers perceive grass-fed beef as a healthier, higher-quality alternative to conventional beef and are willing to pay more for it, no matter that labeling—and flavor—can be inconsistent.”

“Not every retailer is onboard. Costco Wholesale Corp., the country’s second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, doesn’t sell grass-fed beef, though it sells organic ground beef in every U.S. store. The definition of grass-fed beef is still too ambiguous, the taste too inconsistent and Costco consumers gravitate most to an ‘organic’ label for now, says Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods.”

“Theo Weening, Whole Foods’ global meat coordinator, expects demand for grass-fed beef to grow well beyond human appetites. ‘When a customer likes grass-fed beef and they have a dog, they want the dog to have grass-fed beef, too,’ he says.”

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Kola House: Pepsi Pushes Cola Buzz

The Wall Street Journal: Pepsi’s Kola House, a new bar in NY’s Meatpacking District is mixing kola nuts “into cocktails such as the Curcuma, billed as an ‘enhancing appetizer of African and arabesque aromatics’ with turmeric, lemon and honeydew, and the Kola Love, a ‘dessert elixir and libido enhancer’ with red wine, vanilla and whipped cream. ‘We like to give people a flavor experience they haven’t had before,’ said Kola House flavor chemist Alex Ott, who trained as a biochemist in Germany.”

“Beverage-industry observers say companies like PepsiCo … are making a push into the bar scene, particularly in the all-important New York market, to reconnect with consumers who have lost interest in sugary sodas. Bars are ‘a great place if you want to get soft drinks in front of millennials,’ said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.”

“The cola buzz is also being driven by bartenders who see it as a way to jolt cocktails with flavor, reminiscent of the complex, heavily spiced cola drinks of the 19th century. Q Drinks’s Kola soda, for example, incorporates cloves, nutmeg, coriander and citrus, among other ingredients. The flavor is tangy, sweet and savory, said Jordan Silbert, the company’s founder and chief executive, but also familiar.”

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