Apeel: Edible Barriers For Better Bananas

The New York Times: “Using leaves, stems, banana peels and other fresh plant materials left behind after fruits and vegetables are picked or processed, Apeel has developed a method for creating imperceptible, edible barriers that the company says can extend the life of produce like green beans and berries by as much as five times. Apeel can even deliver a day-of-the-week bunch of bananas, each ripening on a different day.”

“The version of Apeel for avocados, for example, creates a barrier that effectively fools anthracnose, a fungus that exploits tiny cracks that develop in the fruit’s skin when it begins to shrivel. Anthracnose extends a little leg through those cracks and into the fruit itself, creating the ugly brown spots that are such a nasty surprise when an avocado is opened.”

“If the product performs as advertised, it could bring sweeping changes to the produce industry and grocery aisles. It could reduce food waste and the use of pesticides and increase the varieties of fruits and vegetables available. But the company’s product is still largely untested at a commercial level, and it faces several potential hurdles beyond effectiveness. Consumers may be wary of a new coating on fresh food, for example, and growers may decide it adds too much cost.”


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.”


Iceland vs. Iceland: Frozen Food Fight

Quartz: “For decades, a supermarket chain called Iceland has been selling food—much of it frozen—to the UK public. But in recent months its name has begun to annoy the island nation of Iceland, and now the country has decided to take the supermarket to task.”

“Iceland, the supermarket chain famed for its chilly bargains, contests that there’s little likelihood of actual confusion between the shop and the sovereign state of Iceland, the country famed for its hot springs and volcanoes. The chain has about 800 stores that employ 25,000 people—a workforce close to 10% of Iceland the country’s total population in number.”

“The chain, which is run by a maverick millionaire but caters to mainly to poorer shoppers who buy very cheap products, said it processes about 5.5 million transactions every week. It therefore seems safe to assume that more people shop in Iceland the supermarket than live in the whole of Iceland the country, which has a population of 323,000.”


Slow Lanes: Better Pace for Older Shoppers

Quartz: “The researchers in food and public policy from the University of Hertfordshire suggested that supermarkets should introduce ‘slow lanes’ for the elderly, for whom shopping for food is part of a social experience that new technology is eroding … Automated check-outs and efficient service ignore a vital community aspect of food shopping, and not just in the UK but across developed economies, the researcher (Wendy Wills) said.”

“Older people want to remain active but can feel intimidated because they ‘know they’re really slow,’ she said. ‘And they want staff that are going to spend time talking to them…spending some time rather than rushing them.’ Similarly, said Wills, the idea that online food-shopping is a way to help older, less mobile people ignores the need for people to come together.”

“And it seems the ‘slow lanes’ idea could actually catch on, as supermarkets begin to take responsibility for their place in the architecture of local communities. Wills said several local trials had already taken place, and more than one large British supermarket chain had expressed interest in working with the university as it continues with the research.”


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.”


There Goes the Neighborhood (Grocery)

The New York Times: “The neighborhood grocery store — with its dim and narrow aisles full of provisions precariously stacked from floor to ceiling and the cashier who greets you and your dog by name — is a critical piece of a New York life … It can keep a neighborhood manageable for new parents who need diapers now or seniors who cannot carry their groceries a long way … Even if the corner market seems sad and shabby and its aisles are barely wide enough to accommodate a single mini-shopping cart, you can dash in for a carton of milk or a loaf of bread.”

“Some have succumbed to high rent, narrow profit margins and increased competition from upscale supermarkets, online grocers and drugstore chains that have expanded their wares to include grocery items … For two decades, drugstores like CVS and Duane Reade (a.k.a. Walgreens) have been steadily taking over retail space that once housed grocery stores.” However: “Few drugstores, or for that matter, supermarkets, are likely to hold your keys for your brother, or inform you that your husband was just in and already bought dinner. That’s the time-honored business of a neighborhood market. Chances are, you’ve watched the owner’s children grow up in the photos proudly taped to the register.”

“In a city of eight million, the shops on the corner are the ones that make New York feel like a small town. Without them, a neighborhood can feel less like home.” Tommy Berger, a Brooklyn resident comments: “These are unique relationships … with these shopkeepers. I count on them being there in sunshine and rain. And if they go away it disrupts my whole worldview.”


Trader Joe’s: A Toxic Culture of Coercion?

The New York Times: “A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as ‘crew members,’ complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance. Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.”

“Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a ‘Wow customer experience,’ which is defined in the company handbook as ‘the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us’… with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.”

Gammy Alvarez, an employee at a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan, comments: “The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly. I think they want us to be not real people.”


Millennials Shun The Grocery Store

The Wall Street Journal: “Grocers are struggling to lure e-commerce-loving millennials into their aisles amid what experts say is a permanent shift in shopping patterns among consumers. Baby boomers used to bring long grocery lists to supermarkets and club stores. Now shoppers in their 20s and 30s are visiting supermarkets less frequently than their parents … They are spreading purchases across new options, including online grocery services such as AmazonFresh, beefed-up convenience stores and stronger food offerings from omnibus retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.”

“Consumers between 25 and 34 years of age last year spent an average of $3,539 on groceries, about $1,000 less in inflation-adjusted dollars than people that age spent in 1990, federal data shows … The shift away from big grocery bills wasn’t as obvious before the financial crisis saddled millennials with student debt and weak job prospects, and placed a lasting drag on consumer spending.”

“The more than 75 million Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s are also delaying marriage and childbearing, milestones that traditionally lead people to start making big trips to the grocery store … To win over the key young consumer group, some supermarkets are testing smartphone apps that customers can use to place their orders in advance, and introducing new product lines.”


Veggie Tots: The Future of Frozen Food?

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Big Food is betting that frozen food, a relic of Sputnik and the Mickey Mouse Club, can stir the hearts and palates of the quinoa generation even as sales figures have fallen each year since 2009. The products need to overcome a reputation, some of it earned and some not, that the meals found in your grocer’s freezer, often packed with sodium and preservatives, taste meh.”

“B&G is wooing millennials with frozen ‘veggie tots’ with broccoli and cauliflower. Kraft Heinz’s Devour line includes recipes like white cheddar mac and cheese with bacon, pulled-chicken burrito bowls and pesto ravioli with spicy Italian sausage … Conagra Foods Inc., the maker of leading brands Marie Callender’s and Banquet, is trying to bring some foodie prestige with its Wicked Kitchen line, which the company says was inspired by food trucks.”

“B&G is approaching the future with a little bit of the past. The pickle and snack company’s purchase of Green Giant nearly doubled its size and marked its first foray into the freezer case. It’s betting the Jolly Green Giant will tap into the nostalgia of parents looking to put vegetables on the dinner table while finding a new audience with millennials.”


Grocers Trust Their Gut When Buying Stock

The Washington Post: “Blue Yonder, a retail tech company, surveyed 750 grocery managers and directors in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France … The most disturbing metric: 48 percent said they use a ‘gut feeling’ when making inventory decisions … The study also found a quarter of grocers feel they are not delivering at the speed that their customers require–not a great sign in an age where customers are becoming more and more demanding for speed and convenience and would have little patience for stores running out of stock.”

“Losing customers is one risk of not automating. But there are other costs. For example, according to Blue Yonder’s research report 4 million tons of food is wasted each year by the grocery industry in the U.K. alone. That translates into a big cost in what is historically a low-margin business.”

“Adding even more pressure to the typical small grocer is this week’s rumors that Amazon it is entering the brick-and-mortar grocery business. You can bet the managers at Amazon will not be making their inventory decisions based on a ‘gut feel.’ They’ll be using data and automation. Lots of it.”