Big Beer: Off With Their Heads!

Bob Pease, writing in The New York Times: “Today there are more breweries in this country than at any time in history — some 4,300, with scores coming online every year … But state laws usually don’t allow brewers to sell their products themselves; instead they have to use distributors, which hold enormous sway over which beers end up at which bars, restaurants and stores.”

“The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors.”

“Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country … The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev … will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.”

“Recent reports say that antitrust authorities are likely to approve the deal by the end of the month. If they do so without adequate protections, the merger could stifle consumer choice and choke off America’s beer renaissance.”

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FDA Re-Designs Nutritional Label

Gizmodo: “The FDA just released its first major change to its nutritional labels in over twenty years … The deadline for the change is July 26, 2018. But you should start seeing the new labels much earlier, as manufacturers start to make the switch.” The new label is on the right.

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The Rutgers 250: A Real Tomato Returns

The New York Times: “This season, Rutgers University introduced a reinvented version of a tomato variety from 1934 that reigned unchallenged for decades. After years of work by Rutgers plant specialists, this old-fashioned tomato with old-fashioned taste has returned as the Rutgers 250, named in honor of the university’s 250th anniversary.”

“The Jersey tomato, red, ripe and juicy, was once revered as the best to be had, with a tangy, sweet-tart flavor that was the very taste of summer. If that kind of tomato perfection has faded to a dim memory in recent decades, blame mechanized harvesting and long-distance shipping, which prize durability over flavor. Pulpy, thick-skinned, flat-tasting tomatoes became the unsatisfying norm.”

“Rutgers’s agricultural programs were once linked to Campbell Soup Company, which is based in Camden, N.J., and is one of the largest food companies in the world. Many of the most successful tomato varieties were the result of collaborations between Rutgers and Campbell Soup.” Rutgers Professor Thomas J. Orton says reviving the old-fashioned tomato was “something almost mystical.” “People have had enough of tomatoes that don’t taste like much and have been demanding that we do better … It wasn’t a sure thing, but we think we got lucky.”

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McNugget Reboot Targets Different Crowd

The Atlantic: “The reboot of the Chicken McNugget is a mechanism by which McDonald’s is continuing its effort to present itself as a ‘modern progressive burger company.’ Last year, the company announced the phasing out of chicken raised with antibiotics used in human medicine, said it would stop using palm oil linked to deforestation, and pledged to shift to cage-free eggs.”

“The revamped version of the Happy Meal staple will soon be free of artificial preservatives, instead containing lemon-juice solids and rice starch.”

“Through its rebranding process, McDonald’s has still managed to sell plenty of Chicken McNuggets, particularly to lower- and middle-income consumers who are concerned more about price point than about the impeachability of the company’s food sourcing. Instead, this tentative new McNugget is an effort to reach a different crowd. ‘There’s a smaller amount of consumers who don’t eat them, but might be willing to if they raised the bar on quality,’ said Darren Tristano, the executive vice president of the market-research firm Technomic.”

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Lucky Charms: Colors Sans Chemicals

Quartz: “Removing the artificial ingredients while retaining the classic flavor of a bowl of Lucky Charms has sent the food scientists at General Mills back to the proverbial drawing board time and again. After all, how does one retain the vibrant hue of the blue crescent moon without Blue #2? … And the moon is just one marshmallow type in the bowl. There are multi-colored rainbows, pink hearts, yellow hour glasses, and neon-green leprechaun hats, too.”

“It has turned the quest to get Lucky Charms to look and taste right into an art form of its own … For each marshmallow conquered, the food scientists must then step back and consider the state of the entire bowl, paying keen attention to any small difference in taste. The subtlety of Lucky Charms—versus the loud, fruity flavors one would find in a bowl of Trix—makes the task of achieving vibrant colors with muted flavor all the more challenging. General Mills hopes to introduce the new, all-natural Lucky Charms to market by the end of 2017.”

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Fake Farms Fool Tesco Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: UK grocery chain Tesco is launching “76 new food lines,” branded with the names of “seven fictitious farms. Critics say the British-sounding monikers obscure the fact that the products come from a variety of farms, including ones overseas. Blueberries under the Rosedene Farms brand come from Spain, for example, while apples under the same brand hail from South Africa.”

“The British efforts are part of a global trend among supermarket chains and food makers as customers increasingly seek food that appears fresh, lacks artificial ingredients and is locally sourced.” Says Tesco CEO Dave Lewis: “We’ve been very open about the fact that this is creation—we’re creating and launching these brands.”

“Not all of British retail’s farms are fictional. High-end supermarket chain Waitrose on Friday began streaming live footage in train stations across the country from a farm it owns in Hampshire. Passersby will be greeted with footage of beehives, rapeseed and more from dawn to dusk.” Waitrose “said it aimed to let customers see firsthand where their food comes from. ‘Rather than telling customers what we do, we’ve decided to show them in an open and honest way,’ said Rupert Thomas, Waitrose’s marketing director.”

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Fashionably Moo: The Rise of the Microdairy

“Add milk to the long list of traditional foods that are being rediscovered by young entrepreneurs and reintroduced in small-batch — and often high-priced — form,” reports The New York Times. “As historically low milk prices leave many mom-and-pop farmers struggling, some are choosing to ride the wave of the nation’s new food awareness … bottling their own milk (and ice cream and yogurt) and selling it directly to customers. And they are heralding the various ways it may be different from conventional milk — whether unhomogenized, organic, from grass-fed cows or locally produced.”

“Now many restaurant menus cite the provenance of their dairy products in the same way they boast of grass-fed rib-eyes and hydroponic tomatoes. And consumers are willing to spend more for boutique milk at farmers’ markets and upscale grocers … Manhattan Milk, a small distributor in New York City, evokes the days of the milkman, delivering glass bottles of grass-fed, organic milk from dairies in the region to doorsteps as far away as Greenwich, Conn … Customers of 1871 Dairy, in Wisconsin, “want more than the word organic slapped on a label; they want the satisfaction of knowing the milk was made close to home, in small batches rather than industrial vats.”

“Customers want to learn the story behind the food to see if it’s the values they hold,” says Joe Miller, the marketing director at Trickling Springs Creamery, a small dairy in Chambersburg, Pa. “The more you open the door for them to see behind the scenes, the more comfortable they feel with your product.”

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Philz Coffee: The Value is in The Experience

A San Francisco coffee house called Philz plans to challenge Starbucks with a different kind of experience, Forbes reports. “At Philz you won’t find the fancy brewing equipment of an artisanal coffeehouse. Beans are ground to order and then splashed with 205-degree water in pour-over funnel brewers. The coffee is good, but it is not cheap–a small coffee costs almost twice as much as Starbucks’ equivalent. Philz proponents say the value lies as much in the experience, or in what (founder Phil Jaber and his son Jacob) call ‘Grandma’s House,’ as it does in the coffee.”

“Unlike the corporate uniformity of Starbucks or the manicured hipster haunts like Blue Bottle, Philz has an informal charm that can be found in the mismatched couches at its original location and in the cup-by-cup approach of its baristas, who load drinks with heavy cream and brown sugar to each customer’s preference. ‘Taste it and make sure it’s perfect,’ a barista says before handing over a beverage. Details like that foster ‘an emotional connection’ for customers, says Jacob, 29, the CEO. ‘We think of ourselves as more in the people business than the coffee business.'”

“This year Philz plans to open at least two locations in Washington, D.C., the first true test of whether the company’s service-oriented approach can succeed outside California. Ultimately Jacob has visions of expanding into New York and Boston, with 1,000 stores nationwide, and “disrupting” the coffee industry … So far the company has interviewed more than 300 people, and Jacob has hired 30 … All will go through the company’s Apple-influenced Philz University training program, where they’ll be taught not to ask for customer names the way Starbucks does when taking orders. Doing so, Jacob says, is impersonal, because it suggests you’ve never met, and there’s a chance you’ll get it wrong.”

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Sam Adams: The Craft Beer Revolution Comes To a Head

The Wall Street Journal: “The volume shipped by Boston Beer Co., which makes Sam Adams, last year grew just 3.6% after back-to-back years of more-than-20% gains. The company’s shares have plunged 32% over the past year as investors lose confidence in a quick turnaround. The problem? Sam Adams has gotten too big and familiar to be considered an authentic craft by elitist beer connoisseurs, yet it isn’t hefty enough to have the cost advantages of big brewers.”

“There are more than 4,200 craft breweries now—up from 1,564 in 1999—and together they outsell Boston Beer’s offerings. Plus, over the past year, AB InBev acquired Arizona’s Four Peaks and Los Angeles’ Golden Road breweries, MillerCoors scooped up San Diego’s Saint Archer, and Heineken invested in California’s Lagunitas Brewing Co.”

In response, Boston Beer “is concocting new variations of Sam Adams such as last year’s Sam Adams Rebel Rouser IPA and Grapefruit IPA. This year’s mix includes Rebel Raw, a double India pale ale loaded with bitter hops, and brews infused with nitrogen for creaminess like Nitro Coffee Stout. But even with new recipes, Boston Beer expects beer volume to decline in 2016.”

Founder Jim Koch says he’s been hearing that Sam Adams is no longer new or local since 1985. “I’m excited to see the success of this revolution I helped start,” he says. “I want to continue to drive that success.”

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