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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610



Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Food Predictions For 2007

Here is the Pundit’s first opportunity to run a prediction list for 2007. Expect a lot of these to come.

Marriott International has tasked its top culinary folks — Brad Nelson, Vice President of Culinary/Corporate Chef, and Matthew Von Ertfelda, Vice President, Restaurants and Beverage, Lodging Operations — to predict the food and beverage trends for 2007.

The list basically speaks to an upscale trend filtered through the hectic, high-tech experience of modern life. Most things are going toward better quality, including times in life, such as grabbing take-out, where lower quality might have once been acceptable. Even when there is a backlash yearning for simple foods such as French toast and fries — this is not your mother’s French toast or fries — unless your mom made Pressed French Toast with Artisanal Bread and Parmesan and Garlic Kennebec Shoestrings.

And for every action, there’s a reaction. So one trend is high-tech with digital menus on PDA’s and flat screens, with mouth-watering food photography. But another trend is high touch with open kitchens that provide interaction with chefs and personalized drinks.

The Pundit adds his prediction: This overall move to quality will tend to favor perishables in both foodservice and retail.

Here is their top ten list, with an 11th thrown thrown in for good luck in 2007:

Matthew Von Ertfelda and Brad Nelson’s Top Food and Beverage Trends for 2007:

TRAVELING CUISINE — No more is it simply fried chicken, burgers and fries. Take- out cuisine has come of age. As lives become busier and office hours longer, more and more, consumers are turning to the meal ready to eat — now available in grocery stores, gourmet markets, etc. Restaurants, too, are getting into the act. Many top chefs and restaurants are now offering menu selections to go, filling the need for quick foods available in the home — but as good as a high end restaurant. From hotel restaurants to neighborhood eateries, diners’ needs for quality, speed and convenience will be addressed both within and outside of the dining venue.

PERSONALIZED DRINKS — A choose-your-own ingredient/create-your-own-blend approach to the customized cocktail. Guests will be originating and constructing cocktails to personalize them — adding the element of creativity in today’s “do-it-yourself” culture, plus feeding the public’s desire to experiment, etc. Alexandra Simon of the Renaissance Plaza Vendome is among the pioneers in creating and serving drinks a la guests. Her creations have spawned this movement.

ALCOHOL ALTERNATIVE — Look for ‘fashion-forward’ lemonade, iced tea, etc., combinations and infusions. Priced equal to their sister libations, these high end mocktails are making an appearance on bar and restaurant menus. With their beautiful presentations and clean flavors, they rival the cocktail market. They also rival the cocktail market in price. These drinks can be priced equally to “high test” libations. This is not a price savings, but a style/lifestyle choice.

WAR OF THE ROSES — Rose wines are making a comeback as more and more consumers become vintage-savvy. In Champagnes and still wines, add pink to the reds and whites.

A TOAST! — Toast makes an unprecedented comeback. Whether buttered, griddled, French-style, pressed or plain, the simple joys of heated bread is heating up. Artisan and conventional styles add warmth to breakfasts and beyond.

VIRTUAL FOODS — High definition digital menus displayed on PCs and PDAs, electronic food photography on a state-of-the-art flat screen; cameras that transmit from kitchen to televised prime time spectacle to guests — food has gone techno tantalizing. The senses are heightened and barraged with luscious and vibrant food and drink that can’t be eaten or sipped.

CANDY IS DANDY — The days of the classic citrus twist, olive and onion aren’t numbered, but bartenders are getting sweet on their garnishes. Look for licorice, Gummi Bears and Oreos to join their more savory counterparts as cocktail garnishes.

OPEN KITCHEN, LIVING LAB — Misstep or hit? Chefs are bringing development front and center by creating spaces for the real judges, the guests, to experience their ideas. No longer just a chef’s table, these open kitchens provide front row interactions with the chefs while they try out new ideas, ingredients and presentations. It’s also the perfect way for chef-savvy guests to form a relationship with their favorite culinary ‘star.’

HELLO, I MUST BE GOING — Destination bathrooms add to the complete experience. Signature restrooms with unique design and artifacts, from chirping crickets to interactive stalls to vintage Borax soap dispensers, the rest room is an integral part of the environment and has become a focal point. Make a reservation, enjoy the food and drink, but make SURE to check out the facilities.

PLEASE (DON’T) PASS ON THE CARBS — Cheese fries… NOT. Especially not with that questionable yellow cheese sauce. Now it’s parmesan and garlic Kennebec shoestrings, truffled tater tots, scampi mashed, artisan cheese risottos, and smoky bacon-studded breads. Hail the return of carbs with a serious attitude and real flavor. Carbs — we knew we couldn’t get along without them for long — and they’ve come back better then ever.

SPA MEETS RESTAURANT — No longer just about ‘spa food,’ scents of exotic herbs and oils migrate into the restaurant experience. From the aromatherapeutic to the homeopathic — what’s next? Buffalo wing facials??

Wal-Mart’s Good Fish Story

Looks like Wal-Mart’s green initiative spearheaded by CEO Lee Scott is really starting to influence the kind of press the company is receiving. Marc Gunther, a senior writer from Fortune magazine, spent a day on a fishing boat off Kodiak Island in Alaska:

They caught another 500 pounds of pink salmon, which sells for 35 cents a pound. That’s $1,050, before expenses, to be shared by the four of them — barely worth the effort.

Later in the season, they’ll do better, but the low wholesale price of salmon makes it hard to earn a living running a fishing boat off Kodiak. Many veterans have given up.

This is where Wal-Mart comes in. The giant retailer wants to support fishermen like Mitch, who play by the rules. And it wants to do so for an unsentimental business reason — Wal-Mart intends to grow and to sell fish for a long time, and it needs a reliable supply.

"Supply is already getting tighter," Peter Redmond, the company’s vice president for deli and seafood, told me. "We have a hard time now sourcing some fish, like whiting." Redmond has spent lots of time talking to suppliers and environmentalists about how Wal-Mart can help protect the future of ocean fish, and he has come up with a plan.

They may be the toughest bargainers on the planet for lawn mowers as far as I know, but when it comes to perishables I’ve always gotten the sense that executives at Wal-Mart are more worried about having adequate supplies than they are of getting things a nickel cheaper.

Smaller, slower growing retailers have the luxury of switching suppliers and cutting people out, but if you are talking fish, bananas or similar items, and you look at Wal-Mart’s projected growth, supplier development is a trait everyone better be pretty good at.

Of course, if they ever stop growing ….

Read the complete article here.

Also read the Fortune cover story about Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO and his sustainability program.

Tesco Challenges

The Pundit has been keeping his eye on Tesco since long before it announced earlier this year its intention to spend up to £250 million a year or just shy of $500 million a year to open new stores roughly modeled after the Tesco Express format they use in the U.K and several other countries.

They’ve been trying to keep things quiet, going as far as using a phony name, “Buttoncable West,” to cover their tracks and setting up a prototype store in a warehouse in Los Angeles that they told people was a movie set.

But they have been outed, and it has now been announced that they’ve purchased an 88 acre parcel in Riverside, CA, on a former air force base and will use the land to build a distribution center.

They have registered Tesco Fresh & Easy as a trademark in the U.S., so presumably will banner their stores with this name.

And, if you are interested in a job, you can see what career opportunities they are advertising right here.

Goldman Sachs estimates that the budget should allow for the opening of around 200 stores a year, and it is reported that Tesco has signed retail leases in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Obviously a venture into the world’s single largest consumer market is a top priority venture for Tesco, and they are staffing it with some of Tesco’s most trusted executives. These players include: Tim Mason, a member of the board of directors of the parent corporation and famous as the guy who created one of the most successful loyalty programs in the world; Tony Egg, Tesco’s top real estate officer, who is personally overseeing the US real estate operation; and Bryan Pugh, who was the COO for Lotus stores, Tesco’s chain in Thailand, is on the team as well, presumably preparing for an operating role.

It is believed that most of the leases are for stores in the 10,000 to 15,000 square foot range, which means they are significantly larger than the British concept.

It is uncertain exactly what the stores will be like. It is known that they will emphasize private label, and that has led to comparisons with Trader Joe’s. There are also substantial indications that the stores will be heavy with perishables and prepared foods. The Financial Times reports that Tesco will be looking for “top-up” shoppers who want easy, local access to high quality fresh foods.

Reports from the trade in the U.K. indicate that at least some of Tesco’s U.K. suppliers, especially in the prepared foods arena, have been asked to open in the U.S. along with Tesco. The model being discussed seems to emulate the system of Japanese car companies that came to the U.S., built Greenfield plants and had certain Japanese suppliers move with them. When you are putting your own label on food, especially fresh foods, you better be working with suppliers you trust. Here is a techy explanation of how this works.

I wish Tesco well. Certainly the industry could use a vibrant new format. And they could be a tremendous new outlet for fresh foods.

And they might be on to something in terms of size. A classic response when a Supercenter and/or a Warehouse club open in a neighborhood is for the supermarket to revamp, deemphasize the highly competitive packaged goods market, while emphasizing all the perishable departments and foodservice areas.

Of course, a lot of square footage is dedicated in a conventional supermarket to the dry grocery items, so if the stores are going to become “Fresh” stores, maybe they can be smaller stores. And if they can be smaller, maybe they can be put in more convenient locations.

But there are a lot of maybes in there.

Americans , even in the trade, don’t realize it, but Tesco is a giant retailer, bigger in food than Kroger, Safeway, Costco and Ahold. It is a giant non-food retailer as well. But bigness doesn’t guarantee success in every venture. Just ask an even bigger retailer, Wal-Mart, after its recent billion dollar write-off in Germany.

Obviously there are operational issues, labor issues, real estate issues — mess up on any of this and the project could fail.

But there are three overarching obstacles:

First, Tesco is making a massive bet on changing America’s shopping habits, and changing habits is very difficult.

Second, Tesco’s bet on private label is dangerous for a company whose name has no brand equity with Americans.

Third, the substantially lower population densities in the U.S. will make it difficult to sell at the volumes necessary to keep the fresh food, especially the fresh prepared food. It also will be difficult to keep it fresh, safe and appealing. Then the concept will face a dilemma: Keep stocking the fresh prepared foods in variety but experience unacceptable levels of shrink, or scale back the variety, which will make the stores unexceptional. It’s a Hobson’s choice, but could well be Tesco’s.

New Cheese Introduction Provides Lesson in Marketing

BelGioioso has introduced a new cheese called Crescenza-Stracchino. I have never heard of it before, but the people at BelGioioso give it this description:

The cheese originated in the Lombardy and Romagna regions of Italy and, due to the lack of refrigeration, was traditionally made only during the autumn and winter months as the cows descended from the pastures of these mountainous regions. Cheesemakers discovered that the cow’s physical exertion from the journey increased the butterfat content of the milk, and the cooler temperatures were necessary for preserving the freshness of the cheese.

After years of producing classic Italian cheese varieties such as Parmesan, Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella and Provolone, BelGioioso President, Errico Auricchio, decided that Crescenza-Stracchino was well worth sharing with a new audience. A room was specifically built to obtain the precise temperature and moisture levels required for the proper ripening of the cheese

Our Master Cheesemakers have taken great care in developing this fresh rindless cheese. Its creamy texture and mild, milky flavor possess just a hint of tartness that after one bite entices you to eat more,” Auricchio says.

I get a lot of product announcements, but I bring this announcement to the trade’s attention because it is so perfectly in line with what all of us need to be doing today.

First, it is an interesting, new product that can be used to intrigue consumers, to stir interest, to differentiate a store or a chain.

Second, the cheese is formed into petite 3.5- pound wheels, and it is also available in random-weight cuts for retail. In other words, they make it possible for retailers to, practically, embrace specialty cheese.

Third, it is being marketed. The folks at Belgioioso found me and told me about this cheese. They spend money on professionals to help get the message out. We have to get the word out about these kinds of products. It doesn’t happen automatically. These are the products that can actually make a difference in what a consumer thinks about a store or a chain.

Belgioioso has set a special web page up focusing on this one cheese, so an enterprising retailer can learn something about the product or point a consumer to the site.

We in the perishables business repeat like a mantra that perishables are the solution to differentiating a store and, indeed, they can be — but only if a store differentiates itself by the type of perishables it handles and what it does with them.

Mysteries Of Food Storage

A national survey sponsored by the American Plastics Council shows what a difficult time America’s young people have in the kitchen. The Council surveyed 539 young Americans between the ages of 18-34 years old, and found things like this:

“Whether they’re heading off to college, setting up their first apartment or starting a family, many young adults are unsure of how to store food properly and may be unknowingly taking risks that could lead to food-borne illnesses," said Patty Enneking, managing director of the American Plastics Council.

Biggest kitchen mysteries —

  • One third (35%) say "how long can I keep and use leftovers?" is the single biggest kitchen mystery
  • When asked about freezer storage, 32% say knowing "what to store food in to prevent freezer burn" is the biggest mystery

Survey says a sizeable percentage of young adults commit classic kitchen don’ts. For example:

  • Leave food out on the counter to defrost (28%)
  • Store leftover food in the refrigerator uncovered (16%)
  • Microwave food in containers designed for cold food storage only (18%)

But the good news is … young adults demonstrated that they understand a few cardinal rules of food safety, storage and heating:

  • Store food in an airtight plastic container (78%)
  • Heat food in containers purchased specifically for microwave use (52%)
  • Read the container label for instructions
    on proper use (44%)

When the good news is that 44% of the respondents know to read the label, it shows why we need lots of prepared foods, pre-cooked items and fresh-cut produce. And lots of education. What source most influences young people? Well the survey found that some things never change:

Moms reign over all other sources, including the product’s label, as the most trusted resource for food preparation and storage advice. The younger end of the spectrum, 18-24 year olds, are more likely to ask their moms for help (46%) compared to 28% of those aged 25-34.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Fresh Foods vs. Perishable

Bryan Silbermann of the Produce Marketing Association, with a coincidental assist from Karen Caplan of Frieda’s, both keep a watchful eye on consumer perception of the business and so argued for the use of the name Fresh Foods rather than Perishable in the title of this web site. We ran Bryan’s letter last Wednesday along with some commentary, you can see that exchange here.

I ended that piece pointing out we had set up FreshFoodsPundit.com as an automatic relay to our web site, and Bryan, sticking to his guns, sent a note of support indicating:

"I LOVE FreshFoodsPundit!"

— Bryan Silbermann

Hate to be on the other side of an issue from Bryan, so I’ll bring in the big guns. Momma Pundit sent in an unsolicited letter:

Perishable Pundit is alliterative and so it sounds much better than "Fresh Foods Pundit". I thought your reply was excellent!

— Love, Mom

Always good to know that Mom is on your side!

Pundit’s Mailbag — The WIC Program

Our article on the WIC Program prompted one reader to write:

I had an opportunity to speak with Stephen Christianson who manages WIC, and I asked if there is any evidence that this actually increases the consumption of fruits and vegetables. He said that he didn’t know!

My point was: let’s say a family has $200 to spend on groceries per month. And of that $200, $35 comes from WIC. If based on their normal consumption, they spend $40 on fruits and vegetables total, who cares where the money comes from? Shifting where the money comes from doesn’t automatically increase the consumption.

All we have done is shift some of the spending on fruits and vegetables from their own cash to government money. It’s not increasing the size of the pie, it’s only changing how they pay for their slice.

I think you said it in one of your [PRODUCE BUSINESS] editorials several months ago. Our efforts have to be focused on education, not these minimally incremental changes to a government food program.

What I wrote about is the need to seek effective policies. Politicians want to do something for their constituents. Trade associations want to do something for their members. It is one reason industry members of trade association boards of directors have such a valuable role to play. They have to determine the priorities, what really matters. If they don’t seize that leadership, then lots will be done but, as they say, it is hard to get there if you don’t know where you want to go.

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