In the Dark

No doubt benefiting from an increasingly healthful perception among consumers, dark chocolate can be found in a number of Masterfoods' latest offerings. Noting the sales success of Dark Chocolate M&M's during its promotion coinciding with Star Wars: Episode III, the M&M's brand has reintroduced dark chocolate candies on a permanent basis.

Other new dark chocolate offerings from Masterfoods include a three-item expansion of the Dove line of sugar-free chocolate, as well as a dark expansion of Snickers and Snickers Almond, the latter two on a limited-time basis. Also worth a mention is Snickers Extreme, which has no nougat but more caramel, peanuts and chocolate than its namesake.

Unfortunately for Masterfoods, however, not all of its efforts have met with resounding approval. Its CocoaVia functional candy bars have been the subject of particular scrutiny at the FDA, which sent a warning letter to the company about the folic acid content of the products. The letter noted the food additive regulation for folic acid does not allow the addition of the ingredient to candy products. The FDA also took issue with the product's heart-health claims. As of press time, Masterfoods had yet to reply publicly to the issue.



More Things Change

Consumers continue to embrace the concept of organic food items, and manufacturers are responding in all areas of the supermarket, including the frozen food aisles.

Seeds of Change, for example, has augmented its organic frozen entrées with Spicy Yucatan Frijoles & Vegetables, a dish of Poblano chilies, smoked tofu, roasted corn, black beans, green onions, cilantro and agave. (The products also demonstrate the company's efforts to incorporate flavors from around the globe, also evidenced in its two new pasta sauces--Arrabiatta and Puttanessca.)

A search of Mintel International's Global New Products Database (GNPD) finds 16 frozen organic meals introduced in the past year. Curiously, though organic products would seem a more difficult criteria to meet, that positioning had almost as many frozen entrée introductions as “all natural,” which registered 26. That number includes Kashi's launch of a new line of all-natural frozen entrées. The company's first foray into that territory will include six 10oz entrées in poultry, seafood and vegetarian varieties.



Another Year Bolder

This year's All Candy Expo held at McCormick Place in Chicago provided a glimpse of the bold efforts being made by candy manufacturers. Bold would be the most accurate term for most of those efforts, since that particular descriptor could be found throughout the expo hall on items ranging from almonds to breath mints.

The “Bold Lime 'n Chili” almonds from Blue Diamond also added a healthful positioning by including a “Smart Snacking” note on the package, as well as a mention that a healthy diet including 1.5oz of almonds may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Other companies, meanwhile, chose to advance their flavor efforts. Cadbury Adams, in fact, launched a chewing gum that may not have a bolder flavor, but it does promise to last a long time. Stride is “the ridiculously long lasting gum,” according to the company's marketing campaign.



Culinarily Coke

Beverage companies realize consumers are looking for a little something extra, be it an added element to “personalize” the drink or an option exclusive to restaurants that will not be available on grocery shelves.

The latter is Coca-Cola's choice. The Atlanta giant has partnered with the Culinary Institute of America to develop drinks for restaurants. The concoctions utilize Coke products with other sweet and savory ingredients, a la fruit juice, hot sauce and soda water. Efforts have produced more than 100 drink recipes, including Fresca Pomegranate (Fresca, pomegranate juice, club soda and pomegranate seeds) and Cherry Jack & Coke (mixing Cherry Coke with whiskey). The stated goal is to create drink options that can become signature drinks for an establishment.

One brewer also is expanding beyond its traditional base. Venturing into spirits territory, Anheuser-Busch is testing a line of fruit-flavored shots to be mixed with beer. The company's Long Tail Libations subsidiary also is developing and marketing spirits, the first being Jekyll & Hyde, two bottles of different distilled liquors intended to be mixed into a single drink.



Plenty to Go Around

While much of the blame for the global obesity crisis has been leveled at the food industry, some researchers have instead taken issue with largely sedentary lifestyles and a general lack of exercise. However, a report in July's International Journal of Obesity suggests a number of other reasons.

The researchers find some novel possible culprits, including: air conditioning, inadequate amounts of sleep, a reduced number of smokers and procreating obese people. While some experts believe these ideas have some validity, others choose to regard the suggestions as something more in keeping with a top 10 list from a David Letterman routine.

“I'd put this in the category of 'calorie distracters'--Let's just do anything to get people to stop worry about having to eat less and move more,” explained Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition professor interviewed for the June 27, 2006, issue of RedEye, an edition of the Chicago Tribune, in reporting upon the study. “And let's not say a word to food companies about misleading and manipulative marketing practices, especially those directed toward children.”

The report is the product of 20 scientists who worked together to review more than 100 studies on potential contributors to obesity, excluding diet and exercise. They found support for 10 possible reasons, which they claim play a role in addition to diet and exercise.



A Place of Their Own

Consumers of today largely ignore the stigma of private label products; certainly, a much wider section of the public accepts these products than they did the “generic” items on store shelves a couple of decades ago. Put simply, private label has evolved into a premium, something a growing number of retailers realize they must have to compete.

That was the message delivered to attendees at this year's Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show in Chicago. In a first for the FMI Show, organizers devoted an entire pavilion and a variety of seminars to the subject. Among the notes of interest from speakers: 50 of Wal-Mart's top 100 selling items are private label, 70% of Trader Joe's sales are private label, and 81% of North American consumers regard private label as “a good value for the money.” Granted, these comments do not relate only to food, considering many retailers are exploring the possible returns from private label non-food items. Still, increased quality and value have served to expand the appeal of private label food items. According to ACNielsen, these store brands are growing at more than double the rate of national brands--5% versus 2%.

The next target for private label growth appears to be in organic products. Supervalu, the nation's second-largest supermarket chain, has introduced a line of organic products (currently about 150 items strong) under the Nature's Best label and plans to have about 300 by the middle of 2007. The store brand is priced 10% to 15% below comparable national-brand organic products. In addition, Safeway's O, Organics line has about 150 organic products, with plans for up to 300 by the end of 2007.



Word of Mouth Marketing: What Makes a Product Worth Talking About?

At Prepared Foods' 2006 New Products Conference, speaker Terry Pittman, executive director, Consumer Insights and Innovation Frameworks, AOL, LLC, will provide an “outside the industry” perspective analyzing a key component of many new product successes.

People tell others when a product delights or disappoints. Marketers now are attempting to incorporate "word of mouth" strategies into their promotional efforts. Is word of mouth about marketing, or is it really about the product? What characteristics enable a product to be effectively promoted in this manner?

For more information on the conference, go to www.PreparedFoods.com/npc or contact Marge Whalen at 630-694-4347 or whalenm@bnpmedia.com.



THE IN BOX:

For daily industry news updates, see the homepage of www.PreparedFoods.com and www.NutraSolutions.com.

* Kraft Foods Inc. replaced embattled chief executive Roger Deromedi with Irene B. Rosenfeld, the current CEO of the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo Inc.

* Frutarom USA Inc. announced that Michael Britten-Kelly is assuming a new position at Frutarom USA as the company's vice president, Research & Development. The company also promoted Tim Gulstrom to vice president, Corporate Sales and business manager, Division #2, for Frutarom USA.

* Solae LLC launched SoleCina, a meat substitute or additive product which employs a plant-based protein that can be used to create vegetarian foods.

* Tata Coffee Ltd. agreed to buy the Eight O'Clock Coffee Company for $220 million from private equity firm Gryphon Investors.

* Nestle SA is purchasing weight-loss company Jenny Craig for $600 million.

* The Hain Celestial Group acquired the Linda McCartney brand (under license) frozen meat-free business from the H.J. Heinz Co., including the manufacturing facility based in Fakenham, England. Terms were not disclosed.

* Wendy's announced a switch to non-hydrogenated oil in a move “that will seriously reduce the amount of trans fat in its food.”

* Cold Stone Creamery entered into a deal with Target Corp. to open four test stores inside Target stores this fall.

* Javo Beverage Co. Inc. and 7-Eleven Inc. are launching a line of fountain-dispensed specialty iced coffee and latte beverages in five flavors.

* Starbucks Corp. announced it will introduce at least one drink every season to attract consumers and increase sales.

* Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. is testing a new coffee-flavored gum in 7-Eleven stores nationwide.

* Technomic announced the “practice acquisition” of Mount Vernon Strategies, a Boston-based marketing consulting firm. Charles Collier will join Technomic as vice president.

* Organic Valley Family of Farms has broken ground on the co-op's new $15 million distribution warehouse in Cashton, Wis.

* The American Institute of Baking (AIB) has awarded the Superior rating to Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, the company's 16th straight such recognition.

* Southeastern Mills Inc. acquired Sportsman's Recipes Inc.

* Anheuser-Busch secured alcohol category exclusivity during NBC broadcasts of Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 and Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, securing the brewer a significant presence in all NFL broadcasts on the network through 2012.

* D.D. Williamson named Margaret A. Lawson vice president, Science and Innovation.

* The Schwan Food Company announced it has reorganized the company's foodservice divisions: Calvin Brink was named president of Schwan's Global Food Service Inc. In addition, the role of Schwan's Food Service Inc. has been expanded to include marketing dessert products to the foodservice industry. This has been done by combining all of the company's foodservice businesses under one organization led by Malcolm Simmonds, senior vice president of Schwan's Food Service Inc. Lawrence Oberkfell was appointed president of Schwan's Home Service.

* CP Kelco announced immediate plans to expand capacity of its recently acquired production facility in Shandong Province, China.

* Stonyfield Europe, a new organic dairy firm co-owned by U.S.-based Stonyfield Farm Inc. and Paris-based Groupe DANONE, with respectively 20% and 80% equity interest, announced acquisition of more than one-third of Irish organic dairy leader Glenisk just as its own creation was announced by Groupe Danone and Stonyfield Farm.

* McCormick & Company spent $97 million for the acquisition of the assets of Epicurean International Inc.

* LycoRed announced the acquisition of the assets and business of H. Reisman Corporation.

* Main Street Ingredients promoted Mike Homewood to sales manager of Custom Manufactured Products, a newly formed division of its Functional Systems Group, and hired Cole Johnson as account representative, Custom Manufactured Products.

* Midwest Ingredients announced the launch of a new consulting division with a focus on all aspects of baked products.

* Archer Daniels Midland Company announced the formation of a joint venture between ADM, Matsutani Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. and Matsutani America Inc. The joint venture supports the worldwide sales and marketing of food ingredient Fibersol-2.

* The 2005 Global Management Award was presented to Takasago Flavors U.S., the second time that a U.S. affiliate was chosen from worldwide Takasago affiliates.

* Charter Baking Company completed the acquisition of Superior Bakery Inc. and Matthew's Bread Company Inc.

* Citroil Enterprises Inc. launched its new interactive website: www.citroil.com.

* Sabra appointed John Mcguckin as executive vice president of sales.

* The Synergy Company added several key employees: Steven Lattey as director of Raw Materials for Synergy Production Laboratories, Tim Harkwright as director of Quality Assurance and Ellen Schuttas director of Marketing.

* F. Bryce Ruiz was appointed president and chief operating officer of Ruiz Foods.

* Nature's Path Foods promoted Chip Goble to vice president of North American Sales, Jeff Davis to U.S. national sales manager, Erik Eaton to district sales manager East and David Neuman to executive vice president of Global Sales & Marketing.

* Hill and Valley hired Jason Bristol to the newly created position of western regional sales manager.

* Mastertaste Inc. named Dr. Markus Eckert vice president of technical for Flavors, North America, Juan Varela vice president of global key accounts for the company's Natural Products and Fragrance Divisions and Ton Mesters vice president of business development of citrus products for Mastertaste's Natural Products Division.