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    Published on: January 7, 2015

    by Kate McMahon

    Kale is officially toast. So is avocado toast.

    That’s the edict from the scores of online food prognosticators who greet each New Year with a list of what’s in right now and what is so 2014.

    While there is consensus that leafy green superfood has overstayed its welcome in salads, entrees, sides, chips, juices, yogurts and even desserts, the experts are at odds over just what precisely will be the next kale. Or cupcake or quinoa, the darlings of past lists.

    While foodies, consultants, chefs and regular folk continue a spirited debate all across social media, here is our the annual MNB distillation of the top food trends for 2015, and why retailers and marketers should take note:

    It’s All About That Spice. Ah, Sriracha. The Thai export has morphed from an exotic hot sauce to an everyday flavor in Subway sandwiches, Lay’s and Kettle chips, candy canes and vodka. The next new flame? Researchers at Datamonitor are touting harissa, a spread of dried chiles, garlic, tomatoes, caraway, paprika, coriander, and olive oil that is the “go to” condiment in Tunisia, as sriracha’s successor.

    Hummus a Household Word? Yes. There’s no escaping this Middle Eastern chickpea dip in packaged deli sections or restaurant menus. Varieties range from the traditional tahini or garlic to such eclectic flavors as beet, lemongrass chili and chocolate mousse. Google says that hummus has out-trended salsa, which toppled ketchup in the trend department. Some 20% of US household have hummus in the fridge, up from 12% eight years ago. Final proof it is going mainstream? Subway, the ultimate in mainstream taste, is testing hummus as a sandwich topping.

    Non-Olive Oil Slicks. Look for tasty new oils extracted from sources such as pumpkin seeds, avocado and coconut. Avocado oil is hailed for holding up under higher heat settings. And while coconut oil brings to mind the scent of a treacly sunscreen, it is said to add a sweet flavor for baking and sautéing.

    Produce Aisle Showdown. Now that kale and Brussels sprouts have been dethroned, cauliflower and hybrid vegetables are vying to be the consumer’s favorite. Cauliflower gets high marks for versatility – it can be mashed, baked, fried, served grilled as a main course, and as a replacement for potatoes, flour or grains. One new frozen food product capitalizing on this trend: Cauliflower Crust Pizza from Absolutely Gluten Free. Also in vogue: the kalette, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, and broccoflower, a broccoli and cauliflower hybrid.

    Cookin’ With Cannabis. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and three other states has sparked interest in weed-infused anything – from the venerable pot brownie to high-end delicacies and drinks. Culinary experts say the challenge is scientifically balancing the amount of mood-altering THC in a recipe, and delivering a tasty product. The website The Stoner’s Cookbook predicts that the legal marijuana industry will be worth $10.2 billion in five years and that edible marijuana could be as much as 40 percent of that. For the rest of America, expect the hemp seed to infiltrate cereals and other foods. Plenty of nutty flavor, fiber and protein, but no buzz.

    Here are other trends in one line or less:

    • Rabbit meat will become the new white meat.
    • Ramen graduates from college dorm mainstay.
    • The invasion of insects in products such as power bars and flour.
    • There will be unfettered fermenting, and unrestricted smoking, of foods.
    • Health snacks and locally sourced foods continue to rise in popularity.

    Why do these trend lists matter? Particularly when some products turn out to be an after-thought by Groundhog Day?

    Let’s reflect on gluten-free products and Greek yogurt, which were almost specialty items 10 years ago. The manufacturers that spotted the trend and acted quickly garnered market share and momentum. Chobani is the perfect example – the upstart was launched in upstate New York in 2007 and is now the nation’s top-selling yogurt.

    And the retailers that jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon early on, and highlighted the products, cultivated a devoted following of health-conscious customers dissatisfied with traditional supermarkets.

    I’m not predicting harissa hummus on a Subway foot-long by Independence Day, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Just what the hell is a Flat White?

    Starbucks would have us believe that it is the next great coffee innovation.

    According to KIRO TV News in Seattle, "The drink, which originated in Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s, is made of espresso and steamed milk. While that might sound a lot like a latte or a cappuccino, here are a few key differences.

    "First, a flat white is usually smaller than a latte with a higher coffee-to-milk ratio. And unlike a cappuccino, which is topped with dry foam, a flat white has a head of microfoam.

    "And while there's no precise definition for the drink — different cafes make it in different sizes and proportions — it's that velvety microfoam that seems to be the core characteristic."

    But the Flat White actually is "the latest move in Starbucks' plan to get itself more coffee cred," the station says.

    I don't know about that, but I'm intrigued. I'm certainly going to try one next time I go to Starbucks.

    What I'm most intrigued by is the continuous innovation, and the investment in a marketing effort and consumer education that will drive success. Over the past few days, I've seen hundreds of stories about the Flat White ... and every Starbucks has a big sign. There's nothing half-hearted about it.

    We'll see if the Flat White is still around in 12 months. I suspect it will be, but if not, there will be something else.

    It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    The Hill reports that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives plans to vote Thursday on legislation that "would alter the definition of full-time work under ObamaCare from 30 to 40 hours ... Proponents say the 30-hour requirement creates an incentive for companies to reduce part-time workers' hours to under that limit, rather than the 40 hours traditionally considered full time. Companies that employ 50 or more full-time workers are required under the law to offer those employees health insurance."

    Changing the definition of full-time employment in Obamacare is said to be a top Republican priority, which is probably why the White House has said that President Obama will veto the bill if it arrives on his desk.

    Leslie G. Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), said that the trade association supported the change in definition: “The food retail industry is known to be a labor-intensive enterprise that offers employment opportunities for workers spanning a range of ages, educational levels and skill sets. We strongly support efforts in Congress to restore the definition of a full-time grocery employee to one whose workweek is comprised of a level of hours significantly above 30 hours per week in order to offer employers and their associates the flexibility needed to meet their mutual goals."
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure what would possess someone to define a full-time job as 30 hours a week. It seems to me that in the modern economy, full-time means anywhere from 40-50 hours. Maybe more ... because that's what it takes to be successful.

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    The Florida Times-Union reports that Randall Onstead is leaving Bi-Lo Holdings, the 830-store company he ran for seven years and grew dramatically with a number of acquisitions - most notably of Winn-Dixie and 165 stores from the Delhaize Group,

    Bi-Lo Holdings is owned by Texas investment firm Lone Star Funds.

    In 2009, the story notes, "the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but emerged the next year." In addition, "In 2013, it announced that it intended to go public with a $500 million IPO, but withdrew those plans last year. No reason was given."

    No word on Onstead's plans once he leaves the company. Bi-Lo said that a successor has been chosen, but that it is not yet ready to announce the person's identity.
    KC's View:
    We're all guessing about what's going on here, but I have to believe that an inability to make the IPO happen has to be playing a role in Onstead's departure. That may not be his fault ... it just may be that all the acquisitions created a company that simply wasn't well positioned for an IPO.

    It isn't apples-to-apples, but I wonder if somewhere in here there could be a lesson for Haggen, which also is trying to engineer a major expansion.

    I also think we'll know what the problem was at Bi-Lo by who they've hired to succeed Onstead.

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    Los Angeles Magazine has a piece about Smart & Final, the California-based, 252-unit cash-and-carry chain that dates back to the early days of the 20th century, is looking to compete more effectively with the likes of Whole Foods by "rolling out fresh produce that’s club cheap but Whole Foods quality."

    “It’s a unique shopping experience,” Smart & Final CEO David Hirz tells the magazine. “No place else will you find the produce department of a farmers’ market, the variety of a club store, the low prices of a mass merchant, and the 1,800 items we carry to support small businesses.”

    According to the story, "The company’s stealth success comes from choosing out-of-the-way neighborhoods that have a large but underserved community. Cheap rent, lower operating costs, and higher sales volume allow the chain to, in the industry argot, maintain everyday low prices. On average this works out to be 12 percent to 16 percent lower than those of its competitors. So why aren’t we all shopping there? It seems the one item Smart & Final doesn’t have is an identity, which is why the company recently hired the marketing exec behind Kohl’s hip rebranding to give its image a makeover. The promise of healthful, affordable food for more Angelenos—that’s a start."
    KC's View:
    I've always liked the Smart & Final stores, going back to when I was a college student and it was a great place to stock up my kitchen and not spend a ton of money. An "image makeover" seems like a good idea, as long as the company remains in touch with the facets that make it special.

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    The New York Times reports that the US has lifted a ban on the import of Irish beef that was imposed more than 15 years ago because of concerns about mad cow disease. The lifting of the ban actually applied to all European beef, but the Times writes that "Ireland is the first European country since then to have met the requirements ensuring its beef was safe. Although any Irish imports might represent only a tiny fraction of American meat sales, Ireland might be likely to find a market among buyers seeking beef raised in pastures and free from artificial growth hormones."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    • Sprouts Farmers Market announced plans to open its first stores in Tennessee and Missouri in spring 2015, as well as eight additional locations in Fort Worth, Texas ... Hoover, Alabama ... Lawrence, Kansas ... Owasso, Oklahoma ... Peoria, Arizona ... San Rafael, California ... Smyrna, Georgia ... and Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

    The openings mean that Sprouts will operate more than 190 stores in ten states.

    • The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) has announced that it is changing its brand identity, adopting as its new name the National Co+op Grocers (NCG). The changes, it said "better represent the organization’s role as a business services cooperative owned by more than 140 retail food co-ops working together to grow the cooperative economy and serve more people in more communities across the United States."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    • Rite Aid Corp. said yesterday that Jocelyn Zazyczny Konrad, currently vice president, healthcare initiatives, has been promoted to group vice president, pharmacy initiatives and clinical services. Konrad succeeds Karen Staniforth, who was recently promoted to the role of chief operating officer at Health Dialog, a subsidiary of Rite Aid.

    The company said that Konrad "will be responsible for the development, implementation and management of new pharmacy business and clinical programs including Rite Aid Health Alliance, immunizations, medication therapy management and medication."

    • Colorado-based Lucky's Market said yesterday that it has hired Steve Black, most recently VP of Operations, CIO & CMO of Sprouts Farmers Markets, to be its new president, effective immediately.

    Lucky's is scheduled to open its eighth store today.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    From MNB reader Nicole Schubert:

    I was very interested to read that PetCo has made the decision to pull all Chinese-made pet treats from their stores.  In the 6 years I’ve had my dog, I’ve only ever given him Pedigree dog treats.  My dog loves them, but the driver for me is that they are all made in North America. A few years ago – well after all the news came out about the dangers of Chinese-made treats – I found that PetSmart and PetCo started carrying fewer Pedigree treats and more made-in-China treats.  I didn’t start buying the made-in-China treats, I just took my business elsewhere.  Specifically, I took it to Amazon and Target.

    I’m glad that the big pet stores are coming around to this, even if it is way too late in the game to excuse, but I’ll be sticking with Amazon and Target for now. Side note: This weekend at Target I bought a bag of Pedigree Breath Busters that actually has a little seal on the front naming the plant in Ohio where they were made. I thought it was a pretty genius bit of marketing. It lets the company toot its own horn, and it lets me know the product is made safely. And it must be pretty cool to work at that plant and see it advertised right on the product you make!

    From another reader:

    My applause to Petco, in fact a standing ovation for discontinuing Chinese products. The worst polluter in the world is China and consumers are adding to this pollution and distribution of contaminated products. If more retailers would realize this (see the film “Death By China” for more information) and react in a responsible manner we could stop or at least slow down this terrible manufacturing practice!
    As a disclaimer – I am not opposed to products manufactured outside the U.S. and am not at all associated with the film mentioned above.

    And another:

    Kudos to Petco!  Here’s hoping their sourcing team will find tasty and nutritious replacements made in the USA.  I’ve avoided pet treats and foods made in China or do not clearly identify the origin for years.  It may limit options but provides peace of mind.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2015

    Four players have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., including three of the game's best pitchers:

    Randy Johnson won 303 games and five Cy Young awards and amassed 4,875 career strikeouts over 22 years.

    Pedro Martinez, as the Chicago Sun Times writes, "was the best pitcher in the American League from 1997-2003. He led all pitchers in ERA in five of those seven years, and three times had the best winning percentage."

    John Smoltz, the paper notes, "played 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves as a Cy Young-winning starter and MVP-caliber closer. His 213 wins and 154 saves put him in a category all by himself. He’s the only pitcher with as many of both."

    And finally, Craig Biggio, who played catcher, second base and outfield during his 20-year career with the Houston Astros. The paper writes that "Biggio was a seven-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and twice finished in the top five of MVP voting."
    KC's View: