Kits: The New Packaged Goods

The Wall Street Journal: “Tyson Foods Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and Hershey Co. are working with online couriers to challenge meal-kit companies that ship parcels of ingredients and recipes to consumers looking for an easier way to cook stir-fry or enchiladas at home. These purveyors of packaged foods and commodity meats also hope to stem a consumer shift away from packaged foods that is benefiting startups such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh, which source some ingredients directly from farmers.”

“The Chicago maker of Chef Boyardee in June joined with Ahold USA’s online retailer Peapod to sell kits for Buffalo chicken quinoa and zucchini noodle primavera. Both incorporate products such as Hunt’s canned tomatoes that ConAgra normally sells at grocery stores … Hershey, with startup Chef’d, in September launched dessert kits on Facebook Live … Tyson Foods launched kits through Amazon Fresh in September, working its chicken and beef into tacos, stews and roasts … Campbell’s is also using Peapod to deliver kits to make meals like chicken pot pie out of its cream of chicken soup and Swanson vegetable broth.”

“Whole Foods in October began to stock $20 Purple Carrot vegan meal kits, previously available only by home delivery. Mark Bittman, a food writer and Purple Carrot part owner, said he isn’t convinced yet that consumers will make a permanent habit of meal-kit cooking, no matter the company. ‘I’ve been predicting cooking would make a comeback for 30 years and I’ve been wrong for 30 years,’ he said.”

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Coffee Calculus: Math & The Perfect Cup

Quartz: “A simple cup of black filter coffee—that ubiquitous fuel of labor forces across the globe—is composed of more than 1,800 chemical components. And now scientists think they can rein in those components to create the perfect cup … The key is that in cases where grains are too fine, coffee can often be more bitter to the taste, meanwhile coffee not ground enough can wind up too watery … This is what some of the math looks like:

coffee-math

“What the scientists are trying to do is design the perfect cup of coffee for most people, which means making specific coffee grounds measurement changes based on the most preferred taste of the estimated two billion cups of coffee that are consumed each day … In addition to the size of the coffee grinds, scientists are also curious about the speed at which coffee machines should have water rubbing up against the grains. Until that kind of technology becomes available on standardized coffee machines, consumers will have to continue experimenting on their own to find that perfect cup.”

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Special Delivery: Fancy Burgers & Better Boxes

The Wall Street Journal: “With flourishes like truffle butter, veal jus, slabs of bacon and soft pretzel buns, fast-casual and higher-end restaurants have elevated the once humble burger to cult status. But fancier ingredients also up the risks of a burger gone wrong, creating challenges for delivery services … Packaging is a central focus for Deliveroo and the restaurants it works with. That’s something upper-end restaurants often don’t have much experience with because they haven’t traditionally delivered.”

“What works best … is the corrugated cardboard box. These are ideal for burgers because they are small and sturdy, which means they allow the burger to keep its shape when stuffed into a delivery container. The results are even better when the boxes have small air vents to prevent overheating … Boxes that are completely sealed can result in soggy food … Lower on his list but still acceptable is parchment paper. Some restaurants simply wrap their burgers in the brown paper, bag them and send them off with drivers. The plus here is authenticity. The burgers arrive as if they were being served in the restaurant. The downside is that they can get squashed.”

Polystyrene containers not only “create a mini-sauna for the meal, often leaving the food soggy, it also looks too much like lower-end takeout.” Some chefs keep the burger together with a skewer, however “Dave Bone, the chef at Scottish restaurant Mac & Wild in Central London … relies instead on the béarnaise sauce and cheese to hold the bun and patties together.”

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‘Newman’s Own’ Videos Target Millennials

The New York Times: “Newman’s Own is making more of a show of its record of magnanimity, rolling out a marketing initiative aimed at millennials who might not recognize the famous face of the brand and might have little to no knowledge of its altruistic story … Newman’s Own worked with the production company the Narrative Content Group … to produce videos that highlight a few of the 600 charities the company works with each year.”

“The foundation, which is funded entirely through sales of Newman’s Own products and does not accept donations, gave away $260.8 million before Mr. Newman’s death and $224.4 million since then, or about $28 million annually since 2008. But only a third of Newman’s Own customers said they realized the company gave away its profits … That figure was even lower among millennials … only 12 percent acknowledged they knew how much of Newman’s Own’s profits were donated.”

“The videos are not typical promotional ads, because they do not mention anything about Newman’s Own products. Instead, they highlight its partnerships, such as those with organizations that provide guide dogs to blind veterans and a school for girls in Kenya.”

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Toblerone’s ‘Treasonous’ Triangle

The New York Times: “The maker of Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar, has reconfigured the unique appearance of two of its milk-chocolate versions, with narrower triangles and a larger gap between peaks … the changes to the smaller one … were so pronounced that Toblerone’s Facebook page was filled with outrage from aggrieved consumers, even though only a relatively small number were likely to be affected.”

“The change, which was announced on the Toblerone Facebook page last month, is in keeping with a common strategy for companies trying to avoid price increases by reducing the contents of a product without changing the packaging. Most consumers are unaware of the changes because the product usually looks and is priced the same — there is simply less of it — but the newer, gappier Toblerone bar felt treasonous to the brand’s loyal consumers.”

“The triangular milk chocolate bar, sold in a yellow package with red letters, has been around since 1908. The founder, Theodor Tobler, combined his family name with ‘torrone,’ the Italian word for nougat, and patented his recipe of chocolate mixed with milk and honey … Mondelez International noted that while the overall look of the bar is different, the recipe remains the same and the chocolate is still made in Switzerland.”

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Chopped Cheese: A New York Hero

The New York Times: “The chopped cheese is a New York success story — with a somewhat charged twist. The sandwich, also called a chop cheese — ground beef with onions, topped by melted cheese and served with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments on a hero roll — has long been a staple of bodegas in Harlem and the Bronx. Now, it has started migrating from grill tops to restaurant menus, from the lyrics of rappers onto the pages of food blogs.”

“Usually costing $4 or $5, the sandwich has the qualities of what scientists call an emergent property — it is greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the food say part of its appeal is that it is infinitely customizable … But in recent years, the sandwich has been finding a wider audience: a cameo in a Bronx-themed episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show, ‘Parts Unknown’; a shout-out in a restaurant review in The New York Times; an in-depth look on a food blog run by Complex Media; and a growing volume of web features, music videos and social media chatter.”

“Jocelyn Guest, a 32-year-old butcher, said that when she and her business partner, Erika Nakamura, decided to open up a butcher shop and restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan featuring classic New York fare, they had to include the chopped cheese … But news that the restaurant … would include an approximately $15 chopped cheese drew … anger. When the restaurant opened recently, the price was lowered to $11 … The sandwich continues to work its way into the city’s culture in unexpected ways, showing up in vegan renditions, in recipes and at a recent food festival.”

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Halo Top: Lo-Cal ‘Wonder’ Dessert

Bloomberg Businessweek: “If you’re a committed ice cream adherent, you may have already heard of Halo Top, the wonder dessert with as many calories per pint (240 to 280; $5.99) as a single half-cup serving of most ice creams. It also has just 5 grams of sugar, as much protein as a 3-ounce serving of beef (24g), and only 8g of fat. Compared with a pint of Chunky Monkey (1,200 calories, 112g sugar, 16g protein, 72g fat), or even Breyer’s fat-free (360 calories, 52g sugar, 8g protein), Halo Top looks like a flat-out miracle.”

“Like many great inventions, Halo Top was the result of trial and error. In traditional ice cream, not only does sugar provide flavor, but it also lowers the melting point so the frozen product doesn’t get rock hard. Fat, meanwhile, helps create a scoopable consistency. Remove both of those components, and you’re left with what amounts to flavored ice.” Halo Top founder Justin Woolverton “landed on a no-calorie sugar alcohol called erythritol (not the kind of alcohol that would get you drunk) along with the all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener Stevia for sweetness, milk protein to make up for the lost fat, plant fiber to help with meltability, and extra egg white for overall consistency.”

Halo Top “appeals to two seemingly opposed groups: those seeking low-calorie ice cream alternatives, and others seduced by a dessert that can help them bulk up … Halo Top’s success has enabled it to experiment in an unexpected way: with higher-calorie versions. In October the company introduced 10 flavors, including red velvet and peanut butter cup … At 360 calories a pint, it’s still a sweet deal.”

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Myth on the Rocks: The Seelbach Story

The New York Times: The Seelbach cocktail, a specialty of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, has an “elaborate origin story involving a couple from New Orleans … The man ordered a manhattan, the woman a Champagne cocktail. The clumsy bartender, spilling the bubbly into the manhattan, set the mess aside and made the drinks anew. But the accidental mélange got the barman thinking. Soon, the Seelbach cocktail was born.”

In 1995, Adam Seger, then a rookie bartender at the Seelbach Hotel, announced he had re-discovered this long-forgotten, pre-Prohibition recipe, and put it on the menu. “The news media soon picked up on the tale, and within a few years, the Seelbach cocktail was regarded as a rescued classic. It’s a tantalizing back story, one that has charmed cocktail writers and aficionados for years, and there’s only one thing wrong with it: None of it is true.”

Mr. Seger, who recently admitted his fabrication, explains: “I was nobody. I had no previous accolades in the bar world. I knew I could make a great drink. I wanted it to be this promotion for the hotel, and I felt the hotel needed a signature cocktail.” A hotel spokesperson says the Seelbach cocktail “has certainly been a tradition of the hotel and will remain part of its future.”

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