In the Blend

Whole grains continue to make waves in the industry, as well as into a variety of categories. At the same time, companies are going to great efforts to add health benefits in addition to those found in whole grains.

Ronzoni, for example, is making efforts to improve its Healthy Harvest by adding omega-3 to its original Whole Wheat Blend Pasta, as well as the introduction of its new 7-Grain Blend variety. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend 48g of whole grains each day; the new Ronzoni pasta provides 34g of whole grains per serving. Natural milled flax is also incorporated, meaning the pasta provides 360mg of omega-3 per serving, 28% of the USDA recommended daily requirement. Adding to the healthy components, Healthy Harvest boasts 5-6g of fiber per serving.

Milking It

The NPD Group says milk at dinner has declined over the past decade, to the point where 60% of children’s dinners do not include milk. Soft drinks and fruit drinks, meanwhile, have surged in popularity, with nearly a third of all children’s meals including one or the other.

“What America Drinks,” an analysis of U.S. beverage consumption conducted by Environ International Corp., suggests beverage choices may impact weight and the overall quality of the diet. Children, it finds, consume two to three times the amount of sweetened beverages as they do milk.

The New York State Dietetic Association is making efforts to improve milk’s mealtime fortunes, basing the stance on its healthy benefits. “Choosing milk for family meals can have a real nutrition impact,” explains Beth Smythe, president-elect of the association. “Each time you swap your child’s soft drink for a glass of milk, you boost their intake of nine essential nutrients, and they skip six teaspoons of sugar.”

Old Faces, New Places

Iconic food and beverage brands have developed trust with the consumer. Now, a couple of products are capitalizing on that trust by utilizing industry brands elsewhere.

The latest installment of the Monopoly: Here & Now Edition, titled Monopoly: Electronic Banking Edition, features a mint token--the Altoids Mints’ tin. As Matt Collins, vice president of marketing at Hasbro Games, explains, “These updated tokens are extremely relevant in the 21st century and provide an additional layer of fun and authenticity for players.”

Meanwhile, a beverage brand is finding its way to lip gloss. New! Too Faced Fuze Slenderize Guilt Free Gloss promises to “fuse” beauty and fitness benefits, with the fruit flavors and active ingredients found in the Fuze beverages. It promises “healthy, energy-boosting, appetite-curbing ingredients.”

Ever Get Small?

Bigger may have been better at one time, but the tide is beginning to turn to smaller as superior. A National Restaurant Association (NRA) survey of 1,282 professional chefs has brought to light that small servings, such as small plates, tapas, mezze and bite-sized desserts, are the hottest new trend in U.S. restaurants.

The second annual “What’s Hot…What’s Not” food and drink survey also found interest in alternative-source ingredients, ethnic flavors and specialty alcohol. “The trend of small plates is definitely hot, including offering tasting menus of small portions of food, wine or other alcohol beverages,” explains chef John Kinsella, president of the American Culinary Federation, “(but) the trend I see as the fastest-growing going into 2008 is the alternative-source ingredients--local produce, organics, sustainable seafood, grass-fed and free-range items.”

The addition of ethnic cuisines, flavors and ingredients to menus also showed strength among the chefs, with fusion ethnic cuisine, flatbreads, Asian entrée salads and appetizers, Latin-American cuisine, ciabatta bread and Mediterranean cuisine high on the list.

Something Brewing

After years of existing in virtually opposite leagues of the foodservice world, Starbucks and McDonald’s have slowly infringed on each other’s territory. The former has added drive-through lanes and breakfast sandwiches in recent years, and now, McDonald’s is preparing to give the Seattle coffee giant its biggest battle yet.

This year will see McDonald’s add coffee bars with “Starbucks-esque” baristas in 14,000 U.S. locations. In the process, the burger giant will feature cappuccinos, frappes, lattes and mochas, in addition to its drip coffee. However, those are just the tip of the iceberg.

As reported in the January 8, 2008, edition of the Chicago Tribune Redeye, “Internal documents from 2007 say McDonald’s new coffee program, which also will add smoothies and bottled beverages, will add $1 billion to its annual sales of $21.6 billion.”

Curiously, McDonald’s move to incorporate the “Starbucks experience” (that is, views of coffee beans being ground and baristas topping mochas and frappes with whipped cream) comes as Starbucks sees its consumers increasingly uninterested in that aspect. “About 80% of the orders purchased at U.S. Starbucks,” Redeye reports, “are consumed outside the store.” Largely, this could be the result of the chain’s efforts in breakfast and lunch; however, these have had unintended consequences: namely, slowing traffic at older locations and “gumming” up operations behind its counters.

Starbucks is not taking the McDonald’s threat lightly. Plans have been announced to close underperforming U.S. stores and slow the pace of store openings. Starbucks would be wise to return to its roots, suggests Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, a New York-based brand and customer engagement consultancy. The company finds Starbucks has largely abandoned the coffee experience it had imported from Italy and popularized for U.S. foodservice.

“In the face of long lines of people who did regard the purchase of hot coffee beverages as a recreational activity, they process-engineered away the pulling of shots. Instead of the sound and smell of coffee beans being ground, they went with vacuum packed, pre-ground coffee.

“It’s not a surprise that loyalty numbers, and attendant profits, went down. Without some entertainment, some theater to fill the time and aromas to pack their proboscis, where was the added value?” asks Passikoff. He notes McDonald’s will “apparently borrow heavily from the Starbucks brand experience and Dunkin’ Donuts’ service standards; they'll be calling the crew members ‘baristas,’ and will be displaying the equipment in the front of their stores. It's been reported that the McDonald's process will use a single machine to automatically steam the milk and combine it with the espresso.”

For daily industry news updates, see the homepage of www.PreparedFoods.com and www.NutraSolutions.com.
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  • Butterball Farms Inc. welcomed Asim Syed as new Research and Development director.
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  • Naturex acquired Berkem’s “Actifs Innovants” division. This business consists of clinically tested and trademarked plant extracts for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
  • Main Street Ingredients promoted Sarah Bartz to quality control manager.
  • Wixon Inc. added Judson McLester as corporate chef.
  • Fortitech Europe ApS appointed Martin Austin managing director/general manager.
  • The SunOpta Ingredients Group promoted Douglas Shreves to president, replacing Arthur McEvily who has been promoted to the newly created position of vice president, Technology and Innovation at SunOpta Inc.
  • The 10th annual Dairy Ingredients Symposium will be held March 18-19 at Hotel 480 in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.dairyingredients2008.com or call 866-462-2838.
  • Sargento Foods Inc. promoted Chris Meyer to senior engineering manager of facilities, recognized Gary Pruitt as food safety director of quality systems, promoted Richard Sternhagen to sales director of strategic channels, Jim Besiada to customer business manager, consumer products division and Leathen Christensen to customer business manager for the Sam’s Club account.