Naughty But Nice: Food & Morality

The Guardian: “Anything that tastes good has got to be bad for your body, soul or both. The marketing department of Magnum knew this when it called its 2002 limited edition range the Seven Deadly Sins. Nothing makes a product more enticing than its being naughty, or even better, wicked.”

“In recent years, however, the moralistic lexicon of food seems to have expanded. One recent fad has been for ‘dirty’ American food, a term that revels in the idea that fatty burgers and messy pulled pork buns are so right because they’re so wrong … Perhaps the clearest proof that the way we talk about food is saturated with moralism is the ubiquity of the term ‘guilt.’ Marketing departments have seen the power of this and promoted ‘guilt-free’ snacks and treats.”

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Mueller Chocolate: Gross Profits

The Washington Post: “It’s a Saturday afternoon at Philadelphia’s popular Reading Terminal Market … On a busy day like this, Mueller Chocolate might serve 800 customers … As crowds of shoppers move past the Mueller stall, some stop to point, stare and whisper: ‘Oh, my goodness, what is that?’ Well ‘that’ is a display of kidneys (with candy kidney stones), brains, livers, eyes, hands, feet (with almonds as toenails) and noses — all edible, all chocolate.”

“It started, Glenn Jr. recalls, one Valentine’s Day in the late 1990s, when his mother decided that ‘these heart-shaped boxes are stupid.’ She had a mold created based on a drawing of a human heart in her son-in-law’s medical school textbook … When the chocolate heart made national news, orders came in from around he world, he said, and demand hasn’t slowed down.”

“The sweet stuff takes hundreds of forms at the Mueller stall, none more infamous than the chocolate-covered raw onion. It was created in 1983, when the creator of a local children’s television show, ‘Double Muppet Hold the Onions,’ asked the Muellers to make a chocolate-covered onion for Kermit to present to Miss Piggy.” Glenn Meuller Jr. explains: “The chocolate onion . . . is hideous, but we’ve been doing it for 30 years. It changed our trajectory.”

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Big-Bang Retail: Hershey Chocolate World To Triple Size

“Hershey said it would open a new New York City flagship location triple the size of its existing Times Square store,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “At a little more than 2,200-square feet, Hershey’s Chocolate World store at West 48th Street and Broadway is popular, but its size limits the number of brands and experience the company can offer, a Hershey spokeswoman said.”

“Hershey will join other Times Square tenants creating more interactive or engaging retail environments … Last month, the National Football League, Cirque du Soleil and the National Football League Players Association announced they would open an NFL Times Square experience, a four-story, 40,000-square foot permanent exhibit also at 20 Times Square. The exhibit will include an NFL store, a 350-seat theater, and high-tech, interactive displays designed to re-create an immersive experience of a football game for fans.”

Andrew S. Goldberg of CBRE Group comments: “If you look at all the stores now [in Times Square], it’s not traditional retail being done in the old format way. Everyone is looking at how to keep the customers engaged longer and having them stay and be more involved in the store.”

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Supermarket Bars: Drinking & Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Some high-end supermarkets are serving alcohol. Many have set aside space for wine bars and beer gardens where they host tasting events, with drinks and appetizers. Some stores encourage shoppers to ‘sip ’n’ shop,’ drinking while pushing a shopping cart for a more relaxed shopping experience.”

“At nearly 350 Whole Foods locations nationwide, shoppers can carry open beverages out of the bar area and around the store as they shop around. Some stores have added cup holders to their shopping carts or placed racks around the store where shoppers can place empty stemless wine glasses. In some Texas locations, the $1 cans of beer rest in ice-filled buckets labeled ‘walkin’ around beer’.”

“Shoppers perceive drinks at supermarkets to be a better value than drinks in a traditional bar or club … Bars stretch out the time shoppers, especially 20-somethings, spend in the store. That helps new shoppers get to know the store, even if they had planned to make just a quick stop.”

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When Labels Say … They Really Mean …

The Wall Street Journal: “Government regulators forbid ouright dishonesty, but labels with narrowly defined, cleverly deployed or unregulated buzzwords can confound shoppers trying to figure out what’s what.” For example: “‘Made with’ often means ‘made with very little,’” said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Many consumers assume it means made only of whole grain. That’s simply not true.”

“Cage-free: Most egg-laying hens in the U.S. are confined in small, wire cages that measure 67 to 86 square inches per hen … Cage-free birds, on the other hand, are allowed to roam in a room or open area—but they are not guaranteed access to the outdoors. Free range: These chickens … do have outdoor access, although producers may provide minimal outdoor space or use screened-in porches with floors made of concrete, dirt or grass to provide the access.”

“Hormones aren’t allowed in poultry or hogs … Nonetheless, some producers label those products ‘no hormones added’ … Natural: This refers to the preparation of a product, not how a plant or animal was raised, and the label is supposed to include a statement explaining what it means … ‘Free’ means there is less than 0.5 gram per serving of a nutrient that has a daily value … ‘Low’ means there are 3 grams or less per serving … And ‘reduced’ means there is at least 25% less of the nutrient compared with another food.”

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Intelligent X: Robo-Beer on Tap

Alphr: “IntelligentX’s AI might not actually drink beer, but it is learning how to brew it thanks to machine-learning algorithms.It works like this: IntelligentX has made four different types of beer. People that drink the beer give their feedback to a bot on Facebook Messenger. The company’s algorithm – called Automated Brewing Intelligence (ABI) – uses a mix of reinforcement learning and Bayesian optimisation to tell a human brewer how to push a beer’s recipe in one direction or another.”

“To stop things ending up in a tepid middle ground of taste, ABI is being fitted with ‘wildcard’ ingredients such as certain fruits … IntelligentX insists its method allows brewers to respond to customers’ changing tastes faster than ever before … There does, however, seem to be a fundamental incongruence between the fetishisation of traditional, local brewing at the heart of the current vogue for craft beer, and the impersonal use of an AI to crowdsource the most popular tastes. Then again, if the beer’s good, who cares?”

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Coming Soon: Robo-Burgers

Popular Mechanics: “In 2012, robotics start up Momentum Machines invented a machine that can make a burger from start to finish. This impressive feat will soon be put to use with a robot-run burger restaurant in the South of Market area in San Francisco … Every aspect of the burger is customizable, from thickness and cook time to condiments. The machine will take up about 24 square feet and the tech blog Xconomy predicted it could save a restaurant $90,000 a year in training and salaries.”

“Many people worry that the use of work-saving robotic technology like this machine will put vast numbers of people out of work … Momentum Machines says that their project will actually create jobs by providing opportunities in restaurant management and technology development. That probably isn’t too comforting to your average line cook.”

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Story-doing: The Kellogg’s Café

The Wall Street Journal: “Who would go to a restaurant to eat Frosted Flakes—and pay $6, maybe even $8 for it? What if the bowl was topped with a sprinkle of lemon zest, toasted pistachios and fresh thyme, and was singularly delicious? Kellogg’s will find out the answer on July 4, when it opens its first-ever restaurant, in New York’s Times Square … a sleek, intimate space in which to challenge eaters’ conceptions.”

“The playful recipes … include the pistachio- and lemon-spiked bowl of Frosted Flakes and Special K … and ice cream topped with Rice Krispies, strawberries and matcha powder. Customers will pick up orders via a set of ‘kitchen cabinets,’ a kind of un-automated automat. Inside the door will be their food and a little surprise, like those found in a box of cereal. Most days, it will be a small treat—a plastic ring or a morning newspaper. But there are also plans in the works to give away several tickets to the Broadway smash, Hamilton.”

“This is story-doing versus storytelling,” said Andrew Shripka, the associate director of brand marketing. “We could have put a great recipe on the box. But this is so much more powerful.”

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