LaCroix: The Essence of Effervescence

The Wall Street Journal: “The makers of LaCroix sparkling water go to great lengths to explain what isn’t used to create the beverage’s 20 flavors. There are no calories, no sugars, no artificial ingredients, no castoreum, no genetically modified organisms and no added phosphoric acid, according to the company. LaCroix nutritional labels contain only zeros. LaCroix is less forthcoming about what is actually inside its ubiquitous neon cans. The company says the flavors, such as peach-pear and pomme bayá, are derived from ‘natural essence oils’.”

“Essence is, essentially, the mystery behind a billion-dollar brand. As cases of LaCroix pile up to the ceiling of grocery stores across the U.S., die-hard fans admit they don’t have a clue what’s inside—and don’t care, either … Ask LaCroix executives for a definition of essence and you may receive something short of a clear response. ‘Essence is our picture word,’ LaCroix spokesman Rod Liddle said in a written response to questions.” He added: “Essence is—FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!”

“Essence isn’t defined in U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, an FDA spokeswoman said … Essence is created by heating at high temperatures the skin, rinds or broken down remnants of fruits or vegetables. Alcohol is sometimes added to the mixture. The vapors that rise off the stew are captured, condensed and eventually sold by the 55-gallon barrel … The LaCroix spokesman didn’t pour cold water on that interpretation, but wouldn’t provide cut-and-dried details of its manufacturing process.”

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Costco Knockoffs: It’s Cruel to Be KIND

The Wall Street Journal: “Kirkland Signature, Costco’s store brand, is challenging manufacturers hoping to earn or retain a coveted spot at the warehouse retailer. Since 1995, Costco has used its Kirkland products to attract shoppers, building a reputation for quality and low prices on milk, toilet paper, men’s shirts and golf balls bearing the unassuming red logo. About a quarter of Costco’s $118.7 billion in annual sales come from Kirkland Signature products, and the percentage is growing, company executives say.”

“Costco often introduces a new Kirkland product when its buyers or executives believe a brand isn’t selling at the lowest possible price.” For example: “Kind Bars sold for about $18 for a pack of 18 … When almond prices dropped in 2016 … Costco developed the Kirkland Signature Nut Bars, made by Leclerc Foods USA, which is owned by Leclerc Group, a Canadian manufacturer, and now sells a 30-pack for $17 in stores.”

“Kind Bars are still carried at Costco, though mostly new varieties, including fruit bars, mini nut bars and a peanut-free bar. ‘We look forward to continuing to grow with them,’ a Kind spokeswoman said.”

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That’s Nuts: Milkadamia’s ‘Free Range’ Trees

Quartz: “In the wild world of product claims, the fledgling macadamia-nut-milk industry is charging into the US market elbows out, taking pot-shots at the dairy and almond industries along the way. This explains the unabashed claim on Milkadamia’s cartons, which is that the company only sources nuts from so-called ‘free-range trees.’The Chicago-based company’s nuts are grown from trees in Australia, then shipped to the US for processing.”

“To be sure, ‘free-range tree’ does not fall within the scientific lexicon used by horticulturalists. It’s nothing more than a marketing ploy to hook consumers enamored by product claims. Milkadamia cartons go on to explain that its milk comes from ‘trees supporting life, not trees on life support,’ meaning they aren’t attached to irrigation systems.”

“It’s meant to be a ‘gentle’ dig at California almond farmers, Milkadamia CEO Jim Richards tells Quartz. He characterizes these farmers—much to their chagrin—as being dependent on irrigating water from aquifers … In less than two years Milkadamia has expanded its US footprint to more than 5,000 retail locations and will be sold in Walmart in January, Richards says.”

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The Bagelwich: Bagels & Ice Cream?

The Wall Street Journal: “New York may have a new viral-food contender: the bagelwich. It’s a bagel stuffed with ice cream, a novelty concocted by Bagel Shop, a store at East 93rd Street and Third Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Store owner Paul Dimino, Sr. , believes the bagelwich has the potential to wow New Yorkers in the same way as such novelties as the Cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid, or the rainbow bagel.”

“The offerings range from the Pina Colada bagelwich, with vanilla ice cream, grilled pineapple and bits of coconut macaroons, to the Chocoholic, with chocolate ice cream, chocolate icing and chocolate chips.”

Mr. Dimino “admits, however, that the item, priced starting at $7.50, hasn’t been in demand in the few weeks since its debut. Bagel Shop is selling only about a dozen each day.” He admits: “The hardest part is getting people to try it.”

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Ruby Chocolate: Neither Bitter, Milky nor Sweet

The Wall Street Journal: “Barry Callebaut Group … has produced a type of chocolate extracted from the Ruby cocoa bean, resulting in a chocolate that is reddish, a hue usually associated with lipstick, not chocolate … The company described the taste as ‘not bitter, milky or sweet, but a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.’ No berries, berry flavor or colors are added, it said.”

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Eataly Regulars: Try Some & Buy Some

The New York Times: “Eataly NYC Flatiron, which opened in August 2010, has become a popular attraction for tourists. They pack the 50,000 square-foot Italian food emporium, cameras in hand, to buy Italian imports and dine at its several restaurants. But in the produce section, there’s nary a tourist in sight. This is where regulars … stock up on their fruits and vegetables. Produce is delivered and restocked twice daily. Some of it, like blood oranges, Italian frisée and radicchio di Castelfranco (a red-streaked, bitter yellow leafy vegetable) is shipped in from Italy while the rest is from around the United States and nearby farms.”

“On the hunt for fresh baby corn or purple baby cauliflower? They’re here. So are about 17 kinds of mushrooms, including lobster and blue foot, and all sorts of radishes like Easter egg and Cincinnati. The staff of 14 is well-versed on the produce, and tasting is encouraged.” Produce manager Lenny Espinal comments: “I’m a big believer in the try-before-you-buy philosophy. If you don’t like it, you won’t waste your money buying it.”

“One of the department’s most interesting features may be the vegetable butcher, Nicole Williams, who stands at a counter with a sink at Eataly’s vegetarian restaurant, Le Verdure. She washes and chops customers’ fruits, herbs and vegetables for free. She also prepares samples. Recent offerings included watermelon chunks and jicama rounds dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon.”

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Cultured Coffee: Fermented Beans

The Wall Street Journal: “Pickles, kimchi and even sauerkraut juice are becoming more popular. Could the next big thing in fermented offerings be coffee? Afineur, a Brooklyn-based biotechnology company, is selling just that—a product called Cultured Coffee in which the beans have gone through a special fermentation process … coffee often is fermented as a way to break down and ultimately remove the ‘mucilage’ that covers the bean. But Afineur employs a secondary fermentation, adding water and specific microbes to the cleaned beans and letting science take over. The additional step ensures that the coffee is less bitter and easier to digest.”

“The company was launched with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that raised $55,000 … It now sells its coffee via online—a 5-ounce bottle of beans costs $19.99 on the website—and in a few New York City stores … The company has plans to introduce items beyond coffee that also take advantage of the fermentation processes it is developing.”

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Sey What? A Nordic Coffee Experience

The New York Times: “This season, two New York roasters are unveiling shops that are designed to impress. One, the airy Sey Coffee, which opened this month in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is all raw concrete and whitewashed walls, a skylit showcase for a roaster with a following among coffee-heads who favor the bright, clean profile of the so-called Nordic style … Its owners, Tobin Polk and Lance Schnorenberg, started roasting in 2011 in a fourth-floor loft around the corner from the new shop … Mr. Polk built the burnished maple bench that runs along a cinder-block wall himself, and the ceramist Erin Louise Clancy will set up a work space in the back that will supply the shop.”

“A roaster taking a similar tack is Nobletree Coffee, which … is unveiling a shop in front of its Red Hook, Brooklyn, roasting facility that sets out to make a statement, a state-of-the-art coffee bar with all the shiny toys: a gurgling Steampunk brewer, a streamlined Modbar brewer and espresso machine, kegs of nitrogenized cold brew on tap. While the other Nobletree locations are built for speed, this is a place to nerd out, a destination coffee bar. It helps that the roaster is in a mid-19th-century warehouse, on a pier with a postcard view of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor.”

“Eric Taylor, the general manager of Nobletree, says the purpose of the coffee bar isn’t to make sales but to create a tasting room, a place where you can refine your palate. Nobletree is a part of FAL Coffee, which owns coffee farms and a processing mill in Brazil. Some of the beans that make it to Brooklyn are the cream of those crops — the baristas behind the counter are familiar with every link of the supply chain.”

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Dominos Delivers Its Promise: Gross Bro-Food

Fast Company: “In the age of Instagram, food is no longer designed to just be food … Yet in this new wave of food-as-influencer, there is a single, curmudgeonly brand that insists on photographing its dishes on conference room tables, under fluorescent lighting, and from all sorts of unflattering angles. It’s a brand that looks art directed by your 65-year-old parents who bought some no-name Android smartphone, hired based upon their portfolio of blurry photos on Facebook. It’s Domino’s.”

Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer, comments: “In this space, we actually are finding that less than perfect is sometimes actually perfect. A lot of customers are out photographing their food. They know, depending where you take it and the light you’re under, food looks different. It feels much more honest and transparent when the images are imperfect … Even if it is a little bit gooey, greasy, the packaging isn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of a burnt spot, that’s the pizza you get. And that makes you think how good it was last time you had it.”

“But let us be clear about something when it comes to Domino’s social feeds. It’s not just full of realistic photography without a food stylist on the set. It’s often downright gross bro-food, like what you might see waking up at 5 a.m. on the floor of a frat house. We’re talking about grease-stained boxes, mozzarella cheese that has a white balance set to the color of earwax (17,000 likes) … We’re talking about congealed chicken wings sitting in a pool of lukewarm buffalo sauce (8,000 likes) … In theory, Domino’s will only drive more loyalty with every person who sees a deflated pile of cheese sticks on its feed and orders them in real life, because Domino’s is delivering on its promise.”

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