Published on: January 17, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, now available on iTunes.
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It was an interesting week at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, especially because certain issues were addressed in a timely fashion.
For example, there was a discussion of cloning, which happened as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was issuing its long-awaited, 968-page “risk assessment” saying that there is no evidence to suggest that consumption of cloned animals – or the progeny of cloned animals – will be harmful to human beings.
And, there as a discussion of “aquaculture,” which does things like allowing scientists to adjust one gene in an Atlantic salmon and then breed fish that can grow to the point where they can be harvested in just 18 months instead of three years, which will help satisfy a growing need for fish even as the oceans are less able to satisfy needs. This discussion took place just as a story broke in the New York Times saying that fish has become so popular in Europe that a black market for fish as evolved.
My biggest concern about such technologies has more to do with how the information is communicated to consumers. I know the presentations at FMI this week were designed to be business-oriented, but as I wrote earlier this week, they sort of reminded me of science classes that I had trouble passing 35 or more years ago. The food industry, not the scientists and technologists, has to be responsible for communicating with consumers about these advances. In the final analysis, consumers are going to hold retailers responsible, and likely will make buying decisions on such items based on how much they trust the retailer…so the retailer had better get it right, making sure its messages are transparent, complete and relevant.
But let’s put technology aside for a moment. One of the reasons that I have enjoyed writing about the food business for the past two decades is that I love food – probably too much for my own good. And I think that most people love food, and associate food with memorable moments in their lives.
One evening I was at a dinner, and the conversation turned to foods that people remembered and loved. One such place – Haven Brothers, which apparently is a hamburger joint housed in a truck that pulls up to City Hall in Providence, Rhode Island, every night of the year, departing in the early morning hours, serving burgers, hot dogs, lobster rolls and something called coffee milk – and has been doing so, in one form or another, for more than a century.
Or Petridis Hot Dogs of Bayonne, New Jersey, which was described to us in loving enough terms to make me want to drive across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey right now.
Michael Sansolo was sitting at our table, and he had similar gastronomic memories. In fact, we share some of those memories because we grew up in the same town at the same time...though we didn’t know each other until we were in our thirties. For Michael, it is Sal’s Pizza in Mamaroneck, NY…which was never my favorite, but he still goes there when he’s in the area. We both have great memories of the great Walter’s Hot Dogs, which has been in Mamaroneck, NY, for more than 90 years. And I have extremely fond memories of the crumb cakes made by Mueller’s Bakery in Bay Head, NJ, where I used to go during the summer when I was a kid. In fact, just saying the word “Mueller’s” makes me smile and daydream a bit. The same goes for the cinnamon buns I used to buy for my kids at a place called Coffee An’ in Westport, Connecticut.
My message here is simple. Cloning and aquaculture are terrific, and certainly are components of an ever-evolving future. But the food industry never should forget the magic – the primal, emotional connection that certain foods have for shoppers, that keep these same shoppers connected – often for a long, long time – to certain retailers.
Because science can do a lot of things…but they’ll never be able to clone a really great hot dog, burger, or crumb cake.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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