Playing Chicken

With obesity levels among adults showing signs of peaking, concern and attention seem to be turning to the alarming overweight rates among young people. The Department of Health and Human Services reports the number of overweight or obese children has more than doubled in the past 30 years, with 17% of young people between the ages of two and 19 reported as overweight.

One poultry producer is attempting to assuage some of those fears with a line of baked chicken products that will appeal to children’s tastes and parents’ consciences. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has launched EatWellStayHealthy Kids, a line of breaded chicken breast nuggets and breaded popcorn chicken. The company claims the latter are the first to feature the USDA-regulated word “healthy” on pack, and both are certified by the American Heart Association with the “heart-check mark” seal.

Compared to the leading national brand, the EatWellStayHealthy Kids products have less than half the calories, half the carbs and 80% less fat per serving, as well as 0g trans fat.

Something in the Water

Efforts to differentiate bottled water continue. New waters now feature so many flavors that they are bordering on punch. So how can a company distinguish itself?

In the case of Healthy Hydration LLC, differentiation comes in the form of organic. The company’s Waterplus Organic is described as a natural and organic vitamin, antioxidant and electrolyte enhanced water. Each of the five flavors (dragonfruit kiwi, orange tangerine, passionfruit citrus, acai berry and fruit punch) has 50 calories per 8oz serving, plus 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, 20% of vitamin E, 10% vitamin B and no artificial colors or sweeteners.

Bottled water manufacturers also are permitted to make a new claim. The FDA decided to permit bottlers to claim that fluoridated water may reduce the risk of dental cavities or tooth decay. According to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, “The food eligible to bear the claim is bottled water...containing greater than 0.6 and up to 1.0mg/L total fluoride and meeting all general requirements for health claims.”

Juicing Up

Juices, likewise, are looking to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace and, as a result, the premium “super juice” classification is emerging in popularity. The latest addition to that segment is from Old Orchard Brands and features one of the trendiest of fruits from recent years.

Old Orchard’s addition goes by the simple moniker 100% Pure Pomegranate, and the company also debuted three premium frozen juice concentrates: 100% Pure Tart Cherry and 100% blends of pomegranate/blueberry and pomegranate/ cherry juices. The company’s new products may fit the “super juice” classification, but company materials are quick to note that they cost less than other premium juices.

Meanwhile, another juice icon is venturing into new territory. Tropicana is heading into the produce section with Tropicana Pure, a line of 100% fruit juices which will be found among the fresh fruit in the produce aisles.

EU Never Can Tell

Food and drink companies with products in the E.U. may well face notable restrictions on health benefit claims about their products.

The European Commission sets consumer protection standards for the E.U.’s 25 member countries, and the new rules are expected to take effect early this year, although elements of the legislation will be phased in through 2011.

The legislation intends to harmonize company claims about nutrition and health across the E.U. Products claiming nutritional benefits (including high-calcium or low-fat) would have to meet an approved list. Products purporting to reduce the risk of disease (such as margarines claiming to help cut cholesterol) would be subject to approval by the E.U.’s Food Safety Authority. Fears are that the rules are so complicated that they will dissuade some companies from making any health claims at all.

Softening Up

Soft drink manufacturers, for the most part, are delivering when it comes to consumer satisfaction. The University of Michigan’s annual consumer satisfaction index finds Pepsi is more loved than last year, though Coke seems to be fizzling.

Satisfaction for the Atlanta beverage giant fell two points over the last year and settled to a five-year low of 82 points (on a 100-point scale). Pepsi, on the other hand, rose to 86 and a tie for the highest rating with Cadbury Schweppes, which consistently outperformed both Coke and Pepsi since the index began in 1994.

For the category as a whole, consumer satisfaction rose slightly and was “typically high,” according to the report’s compilers. However, Coke may have reason for concern, notes professor Claes Fornell, the researcher in charge of the university’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, who believes Coke’s slide would be insignificant were it not for the fact that satisfaction among Pepsi drinkers jumped four points.

“The gap between these two is greater than we have ever seen before,” said Fornell, director of the school’s National Quality Research Center. Anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in spending on marketing and product innovation, and a lesser reliance on price promotions, may have helped Pepsi’s satisfaction rating.

Stored Up

A nationwide survey suggests the power of store brands in U.S. supermarkets is greater than ever. Ipsos MORI conducted the survey for the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) and involved 1,017 participants from across the country. The nationally representative sample questioned adults responsible for their household’s main grocery shopping.

Almost 20% have their shopping carts filled with half or more private label products, while nearly half have a quarter of their purchases going to store brands. Among all consumers, they buy an average of 32% private label each time they shop.

Some 41% now identify themselves as “frequent” buyers of store brands, an increase from five years ago, when the number was 36%. The total was only 12% just 15 years ago. Some seven in 10 regard private label products to be as good if not better than their national brand competition. Some five years ago, a little more than half of respondents shared that sentiment.

Widespread logic would suggest the less-expensive private label items would appeal most to those consumers in the lowest income range. However, the Ipsos research finds middle- and high-income consumers are “significantly more likely” to increase their purchases of store brands in the coming year than their lower-income counterparts.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents say new and innovative store brands (and a greater variety) would prompt them to purchase even more.

The survey also noted a major change in the way consumers are shopping in grocery stores. The frequency of visits is on a steady decline, and the consumer food dollar is more widely distributed than ever. In this marketplace, retailers have an opportunity to build a unique image with consumers via a vibrant store label range.

The recently released PLMA report “Star Power: The Growing Influence of Store Brands in the U.S.” is available at a cost of $1,000 and free to PLMA members. Retailers and wholesalers may also obtain a copy from PLMA without charge.


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