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?


Cool Yule

November 25, 2009

Christmas is one month away as of today. I’m stunned, to be honest. I really can’t believe that the year is almost over (life is moving so fast that I almost feel like it’s flashing before my eyes!)

Given the symmetry of the date, I’ve chosen today to launch my holiday gift guide series that I’m calling Cool Yule. Anyone can toss a bottle of wine in gift bag and make a gracious offering; however, giving gifts that are on trend and show off your good taste is so much better, don’t you think?

At about $300 I’ve chosen a high ticket item to kick off Cool Yule 2009; however, it’s just so perfect for the oenephile (that’s a wine lover, btw) on your list. This wine essence set features 40 aroma flasks that can be used to help train your nose and isolate the aromas in wine.

Besides being a great gift for a wine lover, it’s also fun to pull out at a wine tasting, so if you’re planning one during the holidays, it might make a good gift for yourself, too.

Smaller kits featuring 12 aromas commonly noted in white or red wine are also available at a considerably lower price.

Contact Browne & Co. in Canada for information on availability in your area.


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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Topline Trends Tuesday: Is tea cooling down?

November 17, 2009

TA3

Curious about what’s happening with the tea trend? So am I. So, I asked tea aficionado and graphic design expert Adrian Doran to attend a tea event in Toronto and report back to us.

His findings are interesting. While reports show that consumers are as curious as ever about the health benefits of tea, it seems that food service professionals still haven’t realized how to incorporate tea successfully into their commercial concepts:


Tea Report 2009

 

By Adrian Doran

Ever consulted a wine sommelier at your favourite restaurant? What about their tea sommelier? Do they even have one? More importantly, ever wondered why a meal of exceptional quality and service ends with a tea bag?

At the recent launch of Jeff Fuchs book The Ancient Tea Horse Road, Bill Kamula, instructor at George Brown College Chef School and Louise Roberge, President of the Tea Association of Canada, spoke about the traditions of tea and it’s future – the first batch of graduates from the College’s Tea Sommelier course.

“Tea is where wine was 20 years ago” said Roberge. “Then it was, red or white? Now, we’re aware of region, vintage, so on.” She believes the course will produce the generation of food service professionals that will lead the education of the public.

The tea industry seems to be waiting for a breakthrough. Tea consumption has grown hugely but it’s coming from far behind. A tea-equivalent of Starbucks isn’t even on the horizon and attempts to promote new tea drinks and introduce new customers to classic varieties can feel gimmicky – milk-infused oolong, anyone? There’s even some resistance from the foodservice industry – wine sommeliers seem curious enough about tea to expand their knowledge but not enough to fully commit to a 44 week course.

Kamula admits that the first dozen graduates included few foodservice professionals. “Some are from the distribution side, some are buyers. We had one lady who plans to open a bed-and-breakfast, with afternoon tea, even some Starbucks middle-management but few who plan to go into the restaurant industry.” So, if the market isn’t knowledgeable enough to drive the decisions about tea, it’s going to take a while.

At the end of an exceptional restaurant meal, do you even want to decide between early and late harvest oolongs or are you happy with a bag of Tetley’s?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Butterscotch

November 10, 2009

butterscotchmeringue

Fancier. Butterier. As yummy as ever before but just more (deservingly) popular. Butterscotch is trending up and that can’t help but be good!

From butterscotch desserts appearing on more fine dining restaurant menus to a twitter chat I had with @finecooking a couple of weeks ago, it seems like I can’t pass the day without hearing a butterscotch reference.

It’s even on sitcoms: on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, it was declared that “Butterscotch is Canadian women’s chocolate.”

While I can’t speak for the entire Canadian female population, I can say that chocolate is my chocolate but butterscotch is my butterscotch. Confused? It’s the same as how silk is silk and wool is wool. Both are great but they’re different. And, like a wool sweater over a silk shirt, they’re often fantastic together!

That said, one of my favourite childhood desserts is Butterscotch Meringue Pie; it’s a study in soothing dessert goodness.

What about you? Butterscotch or chocolate? Canadian or American? Fess up!

Dana’s Definitive Butterscotch Meringue Pie

1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) hot milk
4 eggs, separated
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 pre-baked pie crust, 9-in (23 cm)
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar

Stir the flour with the brown sugar in heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook, stirring almost constantly, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes or until thick and smooth; reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring often.

Beat the egg yolks and stir a little of the hot milk mixture into eggs. Pour the egg mixture into pan, stirring constantly and cook for 3 minutes longer. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour into pie shell. Cool completely.

Beat the egg whites until foamy; gradually beat in granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Mound on top of custard, spreading meringue out to edge of crust. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden.

Tips:
• Because this pie and topping are so sweet and rich, use a lard or shortening-based piecrust to ensure that the crust is a foil to the other elements.
• To pre-bake the piecrust, prick the raw shell all over with a fork; line with foil and pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a preheated, 400 F (200 C) oven for 20 minutes; remove foil and weights; bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden. Cool on rack.


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?