Jack-in-the-Box Tacos: Repulsive & Irresistible

The Wall Street Journal: “More than 1,000 times a minute, someone bites into what has been described as a wet envelope of cat food—and keeps eating. Jack in the Box is known to most of the country for its hamburgers and bigheaded mascot. But for many of its devotees, the magic of the fast-food chain lies in its interpretation of a taco … A tortilla wrapped around a beef filling that is dunked in a fryer and topped with American cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, the taco appeared on the menu in the 1950s … Jack in the Box now sells more tacos than any other item on its menu thanks to a legion of fans who swear by the greasy vessels even as they sometimes struggle to understand their appeal.”

Aficionado Heather Johnson says the taco is “vile and amazing.” Fellow traveler Mike Primavera describes a “soggy, nasty middle” and the “rim of crunchiness on the outside.” He adds: “You can’t look at it too long before you eat it. You just kind of have to get it outside of the sleeve and into your mouth.”

“Despite some unusual qualities, Jack in the Box hears from a lot of customers that the tacos are close to authentic,” says Jack in the Box product marketing director Jen Kennedy. “We are always imitated but never duplicated.” She says the tacos allow customers to “take a break from the norm and instantly satisfy their cravings.”

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Cereal Killer: ‘Product 19’ Flakes Out

Slate: “When you hear the name Product 19, you’ll either flash on an experimental invention from some corporate R&D department, or, if you’re one of its fans, you might think of the health cereal, rare in the aisles of American supermarkets yet loved all the same … While most people these days seemed to barely know of its existence, Product 19 died—a slow, oaty, fade to black, leaving devoted fans desperate.”

“For nearly 50 years, it was simply an answer to a business problem, first released in 1967 as Kellogg’s answer to General Mills’ Total, which had hit the market six years prior … Kellogg’s needed something to compete with this healthy new blockbuster, so they began attempting to develop a vitamin cereal of their own, eventually settling on Product 19 … The cereal was made up of flakes made from a combination of lightly sweetened corn, wheat, oats, and rice, and promoted itself as providing the full daily amounts of multivitamins and iron … The original box was so covered in charts and blocks of text, it truly looked more like some experimental substance than a breakfast cereal.”

“Product 19 never gained the household name recognition of competitors like Total, or even Special K, but the cereal did manage to hold on to a devoted fan base … But as sales of Product 19 began to slump, it began slowly disappearing from stores … Facebook groups like ‘Bring Back Kellogg’s Product 19’ began popping up around the same time … Then it stopped. Without much action on social media in the two years since Product 19 went into decline, Kellogg’s released a statement officially declaring that Product 19 had been discontinued.”

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Nestlé & The Scientific ‘Garden of Eden’

Quartz: “This is where Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the outgoing chairman of the world’s large food company, has staked his flag, casting Nestlé—with its $88.8 billion in annual revenue—not as the purveyor of natural foods or conveniently-available snacks, but as the vessel to deliver a new, scientifically engineered Garden of Eden … Brabeck-Letmathe has forged into new territory, carving out a ‘nutrition, health, and wellness’ industry.”

“In Brabeck-Latmathe’s future, people will undergo health testing during varying stages of life to learn more about the genetic material of the microbes—the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses—living inside their bodies. Each time, the tests would analyze genetics, caloric levels, predisposed illnesses, and more. Such information would allow Nestlé to create products that essentially act as medicine to alleviate known health issues … Nestlé isn’t looking to enter the prescription drug business, but through these partnerships and acquisitions it plans to apply its new scientific knowledge to food products—something that could one day include a frozen pizza that’s healthy and prevents Alzheimer’s disease.”

“As the company incorporates its know-how into hardware, it will further develop its food products, sweeping out more sugars, salts and preservatives, replacing them with micronutrients and potentially with phytonutrients—plant-derived compounds hypothesized to be responsible for much of the disease prevention provided by plants. In theory, if a watch or implant tells you that you need more magnesium in your diet, consumers will be able to go to the grocery store and find products—made by Nestlé—to deliver that nutrient.”

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Food Trends: Buddha Bowls & Ugly Fruit

The New York Times: “Each December, lists of culinary forecasts pour forth from public relations companies trying to elevate their profiles, food companies looking to sell more food and professional associations hoping to guide chefs as they try to translate the zeitgeist into menu items. Social media wonks have jumped into the pool, too, eager to show off their powerful search analytics.”

“Meals in a bowl are … driven by … yoga, Gwyneth Paltrow, the gluten-free movement, a new appetite for Asian street food and the demand for grab-and-go convenience … It doesn’t hurt that food in bowls can be visually attractive, perfect for an Instagram feed. At Pinterest, which is used by 150 million people a month, Buddha bowls filled with simple vegan or vegetarian ingredients are among the top items that users post. The name evokes the mindfulness with which a monk holds a bowl of food.”

“Lynn Dornblaser, the director of innovation and insight for Mintel, has been trend-spotting for 30 years … The most important development on her list, she said, is the idea that healthful food and drinks are not luxuries … pointing to the growing sales of imperfect fruits and vegetables, often marketed as ‘ugly produce.’ She comments: “People who earn less than $50,000 a year are not buying gourmet olive oil or having Blue Apron delivered. But they’ve got a need for quality products just like everyone else does.”

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Holiday Seasonings: Egg Nog is Cool Again

The Wall Street Journal: “Pumpkin sprawls its way through supermarkets from September to November, appearing in foods from English muffins to yogurt. But many consumers reach pumpkin saturation by Thanksgiving. Food companies are trying to extend shoppers’ enthusiasm for a limited-time seasonal flavor into December to eggnog … Eggnog is appearing as a limited-edition flavor in other foods and beverages from Turkey Hill Egg Nog Ice Cream to an Eggnog Stout beer by Spring House Brewing Co … Starbucks sells an Eggnog Latte starting in November, while Peet’s Coffee’s Eggnog Latte pulls in customers during the holidays who are less likely to be regular coffee drinkers.”

“Eggnog may be a full-fat beverage, but that is less of a turnoff now that full-fat yogurt and milk are back in fashion among health-conscious shoppers … Its quirky, retro vibe is particularly appealing to consumers in their 20s and 30s.” Food consultant Amy Shipley comments: “There’s a whole rediscovering eggnog is cool again. People love something that they indulge in for just a few weeks.”

“Jelly Belly Candy Co. reintroduced its eggnog jelly bean flavor two years ago. Sales of the flavor are up 20% this year, says John Pola, vice president of specialty sales. ‘It has become the identifiable seasonal flavor,’ he says. While pumpkin jelly bean sales still outpace eggnog jelly beans, Mr. Pola sees that shifting. The company’s Christmas business is five times Halloween and Thanksgiving put together, he says.”

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Short List: Less is More in Processed Foods

The Wall Street Journal: “A yearslong effort by General Mills to remove synthetic food dyes from cereal seems to have turned around that business, with retail sales of its reformulated cereals up 3% in the U.S. in the last reported quarter. But now a persistent decline in yogurt sales has General Mills scrambling … General Mills is adding more organic yogurt and introducing new products like yogurt drinks and snacks that don’t come in the traditional yogurt cup.”

At ConAgra: “Reddi-wip is advertising its use of ‘real cream’ rather than hydrogenated oils, and ‘no artificial growth hormone.’ Hunt’s is promoting how it peels its tomatoes with steam, rather than chemicals. ConAgra’s website for Hebrew National hot dogs brags that they have no artificial flavors, no fillers and no byproducts because ‘the shorter the ingredients list, the better’.”

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Quote of the Day: Emmanuel Faber

“Ultimately, we have to keep in mind that what will make the resilience of this business, the resilience of our brands, is this notion of social justice. We have to be fair in the way we deal.” ~ Emmanuel Faber, CEO, Danone, in a Wall Street Journal interview.

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Total Wine: $2.5 Billion Retail Empire

The Wall Street Journal: “Twenty-five years ago David Trone and his brother Robert opened a small wine shop in Claymont, Del. Today, the Trones preside over a $2.5 billion privately held retail empire based in Bethesda, Md., with 149 Total Wine & More stores in 20 states and plans to open many more next year … Total Wine, which has been profitable since 1991, opened 20 stores this year alone … Total Wine’s biggest impact on American drinking habits has been through its ‘winery direct’ offerings. The company took a commonplace practice—sourcing wine directly from wineries—and turned it into a powerful sales tool.”

“Total Wine bills itself as America’s Wine Superstore, and Mr. Trone believes its reach is greater than even large grocery-store chains … With a considerable customer database, Total Wine executives target specific wines to specific markets. For example, in New Jersey, Total Wine offers a larger selection of Italian wines than it does in other states … The company is also increasing its focus on education, with more in-store seminars and tastings. It’s a wise business move; educated buyers tend to spend more on wine and buy more often.”

“In pursuit of wealthier wine buyers, the company recently entered the futures market, wherein customers pay upfront for wines delivered years later with the expectation that a futures price will be less than the cost of the wine when it’s released years later.”

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The Many Benefits of Better Packaging

The Economist: “Far from being the blight that green critics claim it is, food wrappings can in fact be an environmental boon. By more than doubling the time that some meat items can stay on shelves, for example, better packaging ensures that precious resources are used more efficiently. Planet and profits both benefit … Vacuum packaging helps enormously here (even though shoppers tend to prefer their cuts draped behind glass counters, or nestled on slabs of black polystyrene). The plastic packs, which prevent oxidation, mean meat can stay on shelves for between five and eight days, rather than two to four. It also makes it more tender.”

“Packaging works wonders for customers, too. The resealable kind keeps certain dairy products fresher for far longer in customers’ fridges. The practice of packaging a lump of produce in portions allows the growing number of singletons to prepare exactly what they need and freeze the rest … Longer-lasting products ought to mean fewer trips to the shops. But according to Liz Goodwin, a food-waste expert at the World Resources Institute, a think-tank, half of the money shoppers save through better-lasting products winds up in retailers’ tills anyway. Aspiring cooks are more likely to buy premium items if they know they will use them before they spoil.”

“Some supermarkets are trying to cut down on packaging because the common perception is that it is wasteful. But cutting the amount of plastic covering food makes no sense if products then spoil faster, says Simon Oxley of Marks and Spencer … The next frontier for the world of packaging, he says, is ensuring that as much of it can be reused as possible. That will be a challenge, however, given the hard-to-recycle layers of plastics that go into most vacuum packs.”

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Sour Milk Sea: Flavour & Fluorescent Light

The Wall Street Journal: “Scientists at Virginia Tech report that, in blind tastings, the flavor of milk stored in a standard supermarket-style dairy cooler is significantly degraded by fluorescent light passing through translucent plastic containers. When LED bulbs were used instead, tasters rated the milk about the same as when it was packaged in a lightproof container—which is to say, a lot better.”

“Americans drink less milk just about every year. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per-capita consumption is off by more than a third since 1975—which, says Susan Duncan, one of the Virginia Tech scientists, is around the time that plastic milk cartons went mainstream … the widespread adoption of translucent plastic containers almost certainly changed the flavor of milk for the worse. By now, she says, consumers mistakenly believe that this is how milk is supposed to taste.”

“Scientists say that its higher ultraviolet energy, among other characteristics, triggers a process of oxidation that damages essential nutrients, especially riboflavin, resulting in inferior flavor as well as a less healthful beverage. Over longer time periods, LEDs can degrade milk flavor as well, though not as much. Notably, neither kind of light makes milk go sour any sooner … Dr. Duncan says that she is working with the dairy industry … to encourage costlier packaging that blocks light and to suggest that retailers switch away from fluorescent bulbs. Meanwhile, you might want to buy milk in cardboard cartons.”

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