Redbro Chickens: Slow Growth, Better Taste

The New York Times: “Perdue Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company so successful. The new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 percent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins, and so are more expensive to raise.”

“Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.”

“Consumers would … have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken most Americans are used to … In marketing slow-growth chickens, Perdue and others will have to make consumers understand why they are paying a higher price … the suggested retail price of a Sonoma Red (from Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry) that weighs four pounds is $16.”

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A Groovy Solution for Drippy Wine Bottles

Brandeis Now: “Daniel Perlman — wine-lover, inventor and Brandeis University biophysicist — has figured out a solution to this age-old oenophile’s problem. Over the course of three years, he has been studying the flow of liquid across the wine bottle’s lip. By cutting a groove just below the lip, he’s created a drip-free wine bottle.”

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De Stijl & Digital Design, Dutch-Style

Backchannel: “2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of a Dutch art movement that has had a worldwide impact: De Stijl. Right up to the present day, De Stijl has influenced art, architecture, and product design. But the impact of De Stijl is particularly apparent in contemporary design—more specifically, in digital design.”

“The key principles of De Stijl still resonate. In the 1990s and early aughts digital design was an explosion of designs, colors, and patterns. But in these times of digital overstimulation, design has shifted. Now we look for something to hold onto, and we often find it in functional, minimalist designs: abstract and elegant, stripped of any frills.”

“Today’s digital design shows a clear preference for horizontally oriented shapes, and a grid-based layout. Naturally, this results in a visual vocabulary that is strongly reminiscent of the characteristic De Stijl compositions, as is evident in the grid-based interface of Pinterest, for example. Other examples include Google’s Material Design, a design theory that explains how every manifestation of Google is constructed. Windows 10, the most geometric looking operating system so far, also invokes De Stijl.”

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Crowd Cow: The New Digital Slaughterhouse

The New York Times: Crowd Cow is “an online service that sells whole cows from small ranchers, divided into manageable orders, usually about 10 to 12 pounds, and delivered to homes as frozen, vacuum-sealed cuts … Rather than putting its own brand on the meat it buys, Crowd Cow advertises the beef’s producers and allows them to tell the stories of their ranches on its website.”

“Joe Heitzeberg, the chief executive of Crowd Cow, which has sold nearly 200 cows online, founded the company with Ethan Lowry. He said their idea was to teach the consumer about the particulars of each ranch.” He explains: “We’re saying it’s like microbrews and wine. There are differences. We want you to understand the differences.”

“Most of the beef on Crowd Cow and similar websites is grass-fed, which research has shown has higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids … While even large commercial cattle operations now sell grass-fed beef and many supermarkets stock it, some consumers prefer the beef they get from small producers online … Much of its beef comes in variety packs: A recent sale from Step by Step Farm in Curtis, Wash., featured a $69 package that included four eight-ounce flat iron steaks, two 10-ounce chuck steaks and two pounds of ground beef.”

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Alit Crafts Winery Transparency

Quartz: Mark Tarlov’s “plan is to do for wine what Everlane has done for cashmere sweaters: eliminate distributors and retailers to bring what would traditionally be a $60-100 bottle of wine to online customers for a fraction of the cost. Also like Everlane, he wants to upend the status quo by publicly declaring his input costs—crafting the story of how he spends those dollars into an accessible course in wine appreciation.”

“Wine pricing is generally opaque—more an art than a science. But Tarlov clearly lists the input costs for his on Alit’s website, outlining just what customers are paying for when they fork over $27.45 for a bottle of his 2015 Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

“Alit’s Pinot Noir is still more than double the average price for wine purchased in the US—even if it’s relatively inexpensive for a French oak-aged Pinot from Willamette Valley. But Tarlov is telling customers the investment is directly reflected in the product.”

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Wine Labels: The Wallaby Paradox

Quartz: “Interestingly, wine drinkers claim they don’t find ‘has an animal on it’ to be a very desirable advantage for a wine label. But five of the nine top-selling wines in 2005 in the US sported animals on their labels. And wine drinkers … rated as second-most attractive a label with an animal—Yellow Tail, with its vibrant picture of a wallaby. The label that achieved the highest rating for attractiveness was Twin Fin, with its colorful picture of a classic convertible with a surfboard near the beach. The top two labels delivered on the characteristics wine drinkers say they like: eye-catching, unique, stylish, creative, clever, and colorful.”

“Interestingly, in a cross-generational survey of the importance of attractiveness, millennials and Baby Boomers both rated a wine label’s appearance more important to them than Generation Xers did. For the most part, wine drinkers of all ages agreed which labels were most attractive … Women preferred more creative, eye-catching, colorful, and ornate wine labels than men did. Similarly, women rated plain, less colorful logos lower in attractiveness than men did.”

“Almost half of the wine drinkers surveyed—49%—said the words on the back label are at least somewhat important to their purchase decision. Further, 55% said they read a wine bottle’s back label at least somewhat often … Consumers indicated that a description of flavors and aromas of the wine on the back label is the most important information … Awards and climate information may also increase purchase likelihood. The romantic story did not increase purchase interest.”

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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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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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