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On a recent trip out shopping, my wife started to count the number of frozen yogurt storefronts that seem to be popping up in every mall and strip center in our area. We got to talking about what would be the next fad or bubble that would replace them when their time came due. Later that day we spotted something that might be strange enough to be that next fad: Cup of Corn.

The idea is that you buy a cup of corn niblets, top them with flavored butters, cheese, etc. and eat it with a spoon. This is not a side dish, but the actual snack.

We saw it at the higher end mall in our area and people were lined up to buy it. It might actually have enough of a shelf-life that it can sell franchised kiosks and be the next big thing for a few months this summer.It’s so new that it’s hard to find much on the internet about it, but it seems that it might be coming soon to a food court near you.

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recent USA Today article brings to light the growing trend of referring to food products as “artisan, ” with the number of “artisan” products in store shelves having doubled in the last four years. The word “artisan” implies that a product has been created with care by a craftsperson, yet these seem to be mass-marketed and -produced products. (Nevermind the fact that the  “artisan” refers to to craftsperson, while “artisanal” refers to the product itself.)

Now, when a company sub-brands its product as “artisan,” as is the case with Tostitos chips or Domino’s Pizza, what does that say about the rest of their products? Seems to me that the flip-side to going up-market with a sub-brand is that you’re admitting some sort of deficiency in the rest of your products. At the very least, it raises questions…

– Are “regular” Tostitos not as tasty as their “artisan” counterparts?  
– If my “artisinal” Domino’s pizza is hand-crafted, what about the rest of their pizzas? 

Like “organic” and “natural” before it, “artisan”seems to be the next ill-defined food buzzword.

A favorite under my tree this year was “The Flavor Thesarus” by Niki Segnit. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” it is not, but being the cultural data geek I am, I nevertheless love the premise of the book–the pairing of different food ingredients, often unbeknownst marriages, that create even more appealing couplings.

From the traditional to the avant garde, Segnit develops nearly 1,000 combinations using over 100 ingredients from fruits, veggies, meat, poultry and seafood. What’s cool about this alchemy is she takes the extra step of segmenting the results into over a dozen flavor categories, such as “Sulphurous” and “Cheesy.” Can you think of a better holiday gift, just in time for feasting?

Nothing like a “real” bound book for a gift I say (especially when purchased at your local,  independently owned bookstore). What’s colder than a gift certificate for a bevvy of ebooks? I mean, it’s winter, things are cold enough already!

 

Yes, we all know about Americans’ love affair with food, and the broadening of our palates the past twenty years. One of the reasons I decided on an early career in advertising was that, back then, it meant a move to NYC, which meant an increased food spectrum. Where else could I get Malaysian delivered to my door on a whim at 11pm on a Tuesday evening?

Alas, no longer. The dance of Asian and Latin cuisine has changed what we expect from food, and all kinds of food, especially ever-present junk food available at arms length in every corner C-store. Nowadays food combinations are not just the providence of chefs, but chemists in laboratories such as International Flavors and Fragrances, who provide new potions to leading snack food manufacturers. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Miriam Gottfried, in addition to adding tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, food companies now seek to add “umani,” a Japanese word meaning “good flavor.”

Umani is not a flavor, but an experience to ‘amp’ food, bring up an intensity of flavor to satisfy the need for a spicier, fruitier, bigger flavor experience. The result? Potentially, the development of a generation of flavor junkies who become desensitized to the true flavors exhibited by ‘real’ food.

No  longer is hot good enough, now we need three levels of heat intensity. Fruit flavors blend to create a polyglot that really isn’t a flavor, but rather a fusion of high and low notes. We don’t really seek food that is flavorful, but rather a series of taste sensations packaged in various forms of food delivery systems.

So much marketing research testing goes on in the CPG industry with food products. I just don’t get it. Sure, you can tweak a product a bit, and maybe it’s packaging, name and positioning a lot – but a product just works, or it dosen’t, and most don’t. I’ve heard a few times that something like 60,000 new products fail each year! Some products on the other hand just ‘work’, and have for years.

The other night I was watching college basketball, and was getting late after a light dinner. I shuffled to the fridge, opening the freezer out of habit, and there they were: a half box of “Thin Mint” Girl Scout cookies that I forgot about from a few weeks back. Yes! With a glass of milk (which is a rare occassion nowadays, but a prerequisite for such occassions) I plunked down and merrily proceeded with the Duke game.

My God, some, but so very few, man-made foods are as perfect as a Thin Mint. I don’t want to argue the frivolities about packaging or how cookie count has decreased over the years. They are, as is the marketing, sales, and channel distribution processes behind them (i.e. “cookie master?”), the perfect packaged food. They are, I will say, my favorite food on earth.

And no guerilla marketing/crowd sourcing/viral campaign can match the sheer veracity of three 10 year-old steely-eyed girl scouts, uniforms replent with merit badges, with a table of cookies in front of a Loews on a Saturday afternoon….

As we get ready to eat too much next week, many of us will travelling at some point. As you do, the following is a handy reference from Eating the Road.

This week’s infographic is a short, animated film produced for Hellman’s “Eat Local, Eat Real” campaign. It beautifully integrates statistics and dancing dinner items to encourage Canadians to buy local. Really well done.

steaknite

I’m off on vacation starting tomorrow, down to Charleston, SC for Spoleto and had to get in a last post before I go PC-free for a while. Before I forget, one last entry regarding my visit to Dallas last week.

Dallas is quickly emerging as a great eating town  (I can attest), but when visiting, though arguably cliche, I think one should sample a steak. But if you wants to experience more than just a beautiful cut of meat, and it’s Wednesday, a great place to visit is “Steak Nite.” It’s a truly unique cultural event that exudes a genuine Texas feel in a revised post-industrial American urban environment- an interesting juxtaposition.  

Held at “OFF THE GRID” aka the Dallas Power & Light Substation, rain or shine, Steak Nite is a communal outdoor feast, complete with live music and attended by local folks of all ages. Check it out!