Topline Trends Tuesday: Is less more?

December 1, 2009

For a few decades, food product manufacturers had a lot a fun tossing all kinds of special ingredients into their products. People liked it. In fact, they bought crazy stuff like freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for their kids as a fun treat. It was good to be a food manufacturer with a chemistry set. And then, it wasn’t.

People finally decided that weird stuff in their food might do weird stuff to their bodies and they started to make it less fun to be a food chemical maker or one of the food producers hooked on chemicals.

In fact, recent research shows that:
• 63% of consumers want to recognize all ingredients on a label
• 34% want as few ingredients on a label as possible

The good news is that food companies are pretty resilient. Already a lot of them are putting away their chemistry sets and giving people what they want.

It’s true. Consider Haagen Dazs Five and Pillsbury Simply Cookies (available in the USA) and Back to Nature Nut Blends. Each is produced by a huge company (Nestle, General Mills and Kraft to be exact) and all of these products have ingredient labels where every ingredient is familiar. It’s so retro, it’s modern.

Would you pay more for a similar product that offered you less additives and manufacturing ingredients?

Love learning about food trends? Subscribe to my Topline Trends newsletter now to receive my 2010 Food Trends Predictions when they go live on December 15th.

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Uh oh!

November 30, 2009

Photo: James Tse

According to a study by Ketchum that was reported in the February issue of Canadian Grocer magazine, 78% of Canadians would like to get their food from local farms or companies by 2020.  Regrettably, this isn’t likely since as Rebecca LeHuep, executive director of the  Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance pointed out in the September issue of that same magazine, “by 2012, more than 60% of farmers and farm managers will be retiring. The average age of a farmer is about 57 and he doesn’t have a succession plan for his farm.” In an email correspondence Rebecca shares another grim stat that between 1991 and 2001 Ontario lost 135 of its farmers.

Beyond the fact that these stats reveal a disappointing gap between Canadian consumer aspirations and the reality of farming situation, LeHeup’s comments point out that we may be en route to becoming a society almost solely dependent on other countries for food.

Would you ever consider being a farmer?  Or, if you are a farmer, is it a career choice you’d make again?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Ramen

November 24, 2009

Photo credit: http://www.japundit.com/tag/robots

For most North Americans the word ramen is synonymous with super salty, MSG-laced cups of noodles eaten in funky smelling dorm rooms, but that perception is changing.

In cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, ramen restaurants that treat these convenient noodles with care and respect are becoming popular; meanwhile, in Japan, ramen joints are so popular that ramen-making robots are tirelessly employed producing bowls of noodles all day long (that’s a ramen robot pictured above in fact.)

According to National Post restaurant reviewer Gina Mallet (who wrote about Toronto’s Liberty Noodle in her column last week), ramen is a big part of Japanese culture today with “5000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone, small places mostly, where you buy a ticket and stand to eat.” She elaborates that “when the Japanese are not scoffing instant ramen in a Styrofoam cup, they are watching ramen shows on TV, ramen award shows, or they’re scouring the neighbourhood for the newest rave. Japanese are ruthless gourmands.”

I admit to having eaten my fair share of low rent ramen when I was younger. What’s your experience? Have you had ramen in a restaurant? And, if you eat the instant ramen, is it a guilty pleasure or a proud pop-culture statement?

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Frozen fun

November 9, 2009

Sooshi-05Whether it’s in a bowl, a cone or just out of the carton or ice cream maker, I think ice cream is a fun food. Others (who likely lead more exciting lives) don’t agree. The evidence is all around in the ever  exciting ways people keep finding to make ice cream surprise and delight:

Sooshi: This New Zealand product (pictured here) combines ice cream, candies and fruit to resemble maki rolls that will please even the fish phobic.

Icecreamists: Dragging ice cream by the hair out of childhood and into the counter culture is this pop-up restaurant in London’s Selfridges department store. Its menu features alcohol-spiked ice cream concoctions (the word “sundae” just doesn’t fit) with names such as Axl Rose-water and The Sex Pistol (laced with absinthe) that kick conventional ice cream treats in the teeth.

Dippin’ Dots: These pebble-shaped ice cream orbs are sold in mall kiosks and vending machines so that you can enjoy an unusual ice cream treat any time.

Dibs: These frozen snacks are like ice cream M&M’s; they feature vanilla ice cream enrobed in a crunchy chocolate shell. The idea is that you can eat just one but in reality, you’re likely to keep grazing once you open the package.

Beyond the usual cones, sundaes and shakes, what’s the ‘coolest’ ice cream novelty you’ve seen or tasted?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Crystals, cow horns and moon beams – biodynamics defined

October 27, 2009

Even if they can’t recite technical definitions of words such as organic and all-natural, most people have a strong sense of what these terms mean. However, when it comes to biodynamics, I doubt there are very many Canadians who can confidently spout a definition.

Yet, some people believe that biodynamics is the next big thing. So, to help all of us (until I started researching this post, biodynamics confused me, too) here are the essential things you need to know about biodynamics. Seariously, keep reading and you’ll easily carry on a cocktail party conversation about biodyamics! (Your grateful hosts are welcome to send me thank you cards if they like. Email me for my address.)

Biodynamics:
1. is a specific method of organic farming.
2. strives to be a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth to the movement of the cosmos.
3. looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms that are holistically linked and interdependent.
4. regards the maintenance and feeding of soil life as a basic necessity that will preserve soil quality for generations.
5. uses an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.

Still having trouble envisioning how biodynamics can impact your life? Check out these real-life biodynamic food and beverage products:
Southbrook Farm’s Biodynamic Wine
Zhena’s Biodynamic Tea
Australian William’s River Beef and lamb

Want to take your level of biodynamic knowledge to the moon? Check out the Demeter website or watch the video posted above.

Have you ever bought a biodynamic product? If not, will you now that you know more about this farming system? Or, is this just some crazy idea whipped up by pot-smoke addled hippies?


RIP Soupy Sales

October 26, 2009

pieface

Good ole Soupy Sales. What a life he lived! He almost single handedly supported the cream pie industry. By the comics own count he was hit in the face with at least 20,000 pies – almost all of them filled with creamy, custardy goodness.

Friday night, driving to the Chocolate Ball, I heard an archive interview between Soupy and the late, great Canadian journalist Barbara Frum where Soupy admitted that there was, even for him, always a moment of pure humiliation when you’re hit in the face with pie.

Inspiring words that had me making a mental list of the people I’d like to hit in the face with pies…

  1. Lady Gaga who is so over played on Toronto radio stations that I want to scream. (Seriously. If I hear that crappy Papparazi song one more time, I’ll start whipping cream and rolling out pastry!)
  2. The dude too busy talking on his phone while he drove to take a moment to wave when I totally went out of my way to let him in on Saturday.
  3. Every air-duct cleaning company owner that calls me – despite being on the do not call list – while I’m watching Jeopardy! or eating my dinner. (For them, I’ll use salt instead of sugar in the pie since I really want them to suffer.)

I’m sure there are more but I don’t really want to dig too deep into my bitterness reserve. Soupy likely wouldn’t approve. He was a man who devoted his life to making people laugh after all.

But, I will ask you these questions before I sign off for today:  have you ever been hit in the face with a pie?  If so, what was it like?  And, if you could wallop someone with a cream topped pastry crust, who would it be?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Extra crispy gets extra attention

October 13, 2009

kfcYou know, if fried chicken were a person and not a food, its story could be the basis for the movie of the week: with humble beginnings as a homespun, comforting meal that epitomized all that is good about family life, it had a supremely wholesome beginning. Later, after fried chicken rose to success as a part of our popular culture as a fast food phenomena, this much loved entrée became a pariah shunned by the fat police. Then, just when fried chicken’s prospects seemed the worst, this crispy, battered food was rediscovered to become, along with a handful of comfort foods, elevated to gourmet status by chefs. A true underdog success story if  ever there was one.

Today fried chicken is a  menu star at fashionable restaurants such as Momofuko Noodle Bar in NYC and Harlem Restaurant in Toronto while slow food mecca Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California is serving it, too.

When’s the last time you had fried chicken? Did you order it at a fancy restaurant or have some of the Colonel’s special recipe? Or, did you make it at home like I did?