Drinking it up abroad.

A touch of spice is being added to the ale market in the U.K. New from St. Peter's Brewery is a lemon- and ginger-spiced ale. Also in the U.K. ale market is a new mini-cask presentation (holding five liters) for the Bombardier Ale brand from Charles Wells. Cask packaging is usually found for lagers, so the ale usage is interesting. In the Bombardier case, the cask must be left to stand for four hours before using, to allow the ale to settle.

Coffee flavors are getting more interesting, and in France inspiration has come from the ice cream market. New there from Nestle, under the Nescafe brand, is a range of American ice cream-flavored, coffee-based drinks with varieties such as Totally Toffee and Cookie Temptation. For tea, a premium positioning has been given to new teas in India, through novel packaging. Both Nathmulls and another company called Kashi Udyog have packaged their new Darjeeling and Nepal teas in intricate, hand-crafted wooden boxes.

Ribbit, Ribbit

That is the sound frogs would make, but it is also the name of the newest product from Farmland Foods, Kansas City, Mo. Ribbits are pork brisket tips that look a bit like spareribs and come in several flavors: Teriyaki, Spicy Buffalo Style and Barbecue. Like other refrigerated meat-in-sauce products, they come in a plastic lidded tray and are microwaveable.

The concept is a direct competitor to the Hormel products on the market that offer consumers a quick and convenient meal center. The price is competitive, too, with a 32-oz. tray selling for about $7.50.

All consumers have to do is heat it and add a side dish or two. This kind of concept seems to be the new type of convenience food--one that helps prepare a meal but allows a fair amount of customization and personalization for the consumer. This product is also super-convenient for foodservice operators, who can choose this item to heat and serve to consumers.

Size Matters

At least in breath mints. While other companies have made their mints mini-size, Callard & Bowser-Suchard, Rye Brook, N.Y., instead is changing the size of its tins. The company now offers Tiny Tins (0.4 oz. for $1.29) and the Big Tin (10 oz. for $9.99, clearly the bargain). In addition, the company's normal-size tins are sold in some locations with unique, "hip" package graphics. Peppermint Altoids now feature a Tin Canvas with original art by Jessica Craig-Martin, Virgil Marti and Dario Robleto. Each tin design includes a detail from the works and a statement by the artists. The tins retail in Tower Records and other retail stores nationwide for $2.49.

These new tins follow the February introduction of its Heart Tin, a heart-shaped tin which included some heart-shaped mints along with the usual round ones. Just like Nabisco's cleverness with Oreos and Ritz crackers, and Pepperidge Farm's creativity with its Goldfish, changing the size or shape can spell increased sales.

Pucker Up!

Many people like to use the pickle juice left over when all the pickles are gone to put in tuna salad or to use otherwise in cooking or baking, but to drink? That is what the folks at Goldin Pickle, Garland, Texas, think. The company is selling bottled dill pickle juice, billed as "a sports drink with a bite."

It is also fortified with vitamins C and E. The company says that dieters use it, as the sodium content is quite high and acts as a diuretic. It also must have a good following among pregnant women. Perhaps the company should consider marketing it alongside ice cream.

Fusion Confusion?

Fusion cuisine continues to pop up in a number of markets, particularly in gourmet stores. One typical example, this time from Canada, is from Dan T's Inferno Foods, Mississauga, Ontario.

As with so many others, the sauces are multi-purpose, as well. California Garlic Fusion Stirfry retails in a 150g bottle and is a finishing and roasting sauce. Szechuan Teriyaki Fusion Stirfry retails in a 175g bottle and is a grilling and dipping sauce, and Mexicana Mandarin Fusion Stirfry is a finishing and dipping sauce that retails in a 175g bottle. In addition, Raspberry Chipotle is a grilling and finishing sauce that retails in a 275ml bottle. All retail for C$5.29 in gourmet stores throughout Ontario.

The big questions with these types of sauces are: do consumers really understand the flavors? And will they get tired of them? The answers are probably no and probably yes. One of the benefits of these types of fusion foods is that they clearly tell you what types of cuisines are being combined, but how many unusual sauce flavors can the market stand? Only if the sauces have a real point of difference (either in flavor profile, market position or price) will they be successful at all. These may do well, as the names are very clear and the graphics appealing.

A Cool Idea in a Great Package

In other parts of the world, consumers see plenty of liquid concentrates for both coffee and tea. Not many have been seen here. In the past, others have failed, but if anyone can do it, Nestle Beverage, Glendale, Calif., probably can.

The company now offers in the U.S. Nestea Iced Tea Liquid Concentrate. It comes in three varieties: Lemon, Raspberry, and Green Tea with Honey. These products allow servings of any size from one glass up to four quarts. The package is so unique. The sleek, resealable bottle includes a measuring chart showing how much tea to use per quart of water. The flip-top lid helps measure the concentrate. The liquid concentrates are sold nationally in stores for $1.89 per 16-oz. bottle.