The Farming Feud

The Farming Feud

               If you work in a small office you know nothing goes unheard. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of listening to two of my coworkers argue over vertical farming and what it means for the future of agriculture. After about 20 minutes they gave up the fight and agreed to disagree. Although they were done with this topic for now, their discussion sparked my curiosity and lead me to write this blog! So, what exactly does vertical farming mean for the future of agriculture?

               First, let me provide a little background on what vertical farming is. Vertical farming is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a used warehouse, or a shipping container. The idea behind vertical farming is to be able to control all environmental factors that affect farming, like humidity, temperature, and amount of sunlight. There are two major techniques used for vertical farming. The first technique is called hydroponics which means the plants are grown in a nutrient-rich base of water. And the second technique is aeroponics, in which the roots of crops are periodically sprayed with a mist containing water and nutrients.

               Now that we all know a little bit about vertical farming, let’s look at the pros and cons of this recent farming method. The first major pro is that vertical farming yields more crops per square meter than any traditional farms or greenhouses do, and since our population is rapidly growing being able to yield more crops is huge. Another pro is that vertical farming uses a lot less water, and grows plants faster. Also, these vertical farming facilities can in theory be built anywhere, which means we will be able to grow crops in the world’s worst climates. Finally, vertical farming can be great for the average consumer, for example grocery stores or supermarkets can build miniature vertical farms of their own, allowing customers to buy fresh crops right in store.

               Even with all of those positives, vertical farming still has some red flags. The biggest problem with vertical farming is how much energy it uses. Vertical farms depends on a constant supply of electricity, much of which will come from fossil fuels, so even though vertical farms use less water and grow crops faster, they are eating up a ton of energy. As Michael Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture of Michigan State University questions, “why would we waste that energy to produce a whole lettuce, when we can get light from the sun?” Michael also points out that it doesn’t make economic sense to grow some crops this way: “at 10 cents a kilowatt hour, the amount of energy it would take to produce wheat would translate to something like $11 dollars for a loaf of bread.” Finally, even though the average consumer might not mind the idea of growing plants indoors, from a culinary standpoint, chefs and restaurateurs want the freshest ingredients, and will probably not stand for produce grown under a light.

               After my research, I fully understand why my coworkers came to such a standstill in their argument. Vertical farming has its pros and is a technique that will continue to develop over the years, but I do not think this method of farming will take over the world of agriculture any time soon. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown from natural sunlight are too valuable, and we can’t forget that there is an entire farming industry that has been around for ages, and doesn’t plan on going away anytime soon. 

Food of the Future

Food of the Future

               It’s the year 2017, and although flying cars haven’t been invented yet, three dimensional printers have. These 3D printers, which can fit on a desktop, can form objects from plastics, metals, and even FOOD! Food printing is a more recent frontier that could potentially improve nutritional value of meals, or help solve hunger issues in regions of the world that lack access to fresh, and affordable ingredients.

               First, let’s talk about the basics of 3D food printing. Most 3D food printers are deposition printers, which means they deposit layers of raw material, while a newer category of 3D printers binds together materials with a kind of edible cement. The latest generation of 3D printers is also the most complex, combing nozzles, powdery material, lasers, and robotic arms to create things like sugar sculptures and latticed pastry. Although much more complicated, these newer printers can create food, like pizza, with fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel capsules, pretty cool if you ask me.

               Now that you have a slight background on 3D printers, how can they actually help? 3D printing can help increase sustainability. The global population is always growing, which means food production is going to have to increase as well. Although 3D printing won’t fully solve all our sustainability problems, it will definitely contribute to the solution. Renewable materials like grass and algae could be used in 3D printing making it easier and more sustainable to feed parts of the ever growing population. Another issue that 3D printers could help with is nutrition. The future of 3D food printers could make processed food healthier. According Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, “food printing could allow consumers to print food with customized nutritional content, optimized based on biometric and genomic data, so instead of eating a slice of yesterday’s bread from the supermarket, you’d eat something baked just for you on demand. This may be the missing link between nutrition and personal medicine, and the foods that’s on your table.” Sustainability and nutrition only scratches the surface of what 3D food printing could do for our society.

               As exciting as this all is, especially with all the recent advancements in 3D food printing, the industry has many challenges to overcome before making any of these dreams a reality. Currently, most ingredients have to be turned into paste before the printer can work with them plus the printing process takes a very long time. Also, as of now most 3D printers are restricted to dry, shelf-stable ingredients because products like diary and protein have a high risk of spoiling. Even with all the challenges scientists and engineers have to face, 3D food printing could become our future, times change and as Lynette Kucsama, CEO and founder of Natural Machines said, “when people first head about microwaves, they didn’t understand the technology- now 90 percent of households have them.”

All About Allergies

All About Allergies

Raise your hand if you woke up this morning with itchy eyes and a runny nose. If you’re anything like me and have terrible seasonal allergies, your hand is high in the air. This topic of allergies got me thinking, how do restaurants deal with food allergies, and do food allergies negatively affect the restaurant industry?

               First it’s important to note that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention performed a study that said an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies; that’s a lot of people. As we sit down for dinner in a restaurant with friends, family, or colleagues, we often take for granted how much effort goes into meal preparation, especially meals that adhere to food safety guidelines; which includes the accommodation of a myriad of allergies. This isn’t easy, but it is something that has to be done. Some restaurants even go far enough to create separate menus for allergies like tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, and dairy. Although most, if not all restaurants take allergy precautions, the approach to actual food allergen training for restaurants is haphazard at best.  As of now only Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Virginia have laws designed to make it safer for individuals with food allergies to dine. Although only five states have legitimate laws in place about food allergies all restaurants train their staff in how to deal with these issues, and Mike Spigler, vice president of the education non-profit group Food Allergy Research & Education says, “It’s inevitable that laws similar to those already in place will pop up in other states soon.”

               Food allergies aren’t solely the responsibility of the restaurant and restaurant staff. Diners who have food allergies have responsibilities here, too. It is up to them to let their server know, or even better let the restaurant know beforehand about what kind of dietary restrictions they are dealing with so that said restaurant can be ready to accommodate.

               Food allergies are not the most fun issue to deal with in a restaurant, but when the word “allergy” does enter the conversation, any expert will tell you that chefs can’t afford to be doubtful. I actually give restaurants a lot of props because they do a very good job dealing with food allergies and being accommodating to customers. Overall, to answer my questions from above, restaurants deal with food allergies by taking extra precaution like building out separate menus for their customers, or being easily able to switch parts of a dish; and although allergies can be a pain, I wouldn’t say that they have an outwardly negative effect on the industry. Food allergies, seasonal allergies, or really any type of allergy is a hassle to deal with but an issue that needs to be monitored; so if you’re a restaurant, keep taking precaution, and if you are a like me, take a few Claritin.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Culinary Edition

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Culinary Edition

               If you ever took a middle school environmental science class you have probably heard the term “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” This “three R” mantra of environmentalists everywhere is also very applicable to restaurants, and chefs around the country. According to the U.S. Department of agriculture, an estimate of 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States goes to waste each year. That’s a lot of food, and a lot of money going straight in the trash. These days, restaurant owners, and chefs are making a conscious effort to minimalize their food waste, let’s take a look:

               One popular and effective solution is composting. Composting, which is the process of making food or other matter into compost, or decayed organic material, is a great solution for anyone trying to reduce waste. A compost station is not only easy to set up but they can be as large or small as one wants, making it the perfect solution for a single restaurant, or an entire city. For example in 2015, Seattle made it a law to fine people who don’t compost their food waste. Although most cities haven’t placed fines on composting, they have jumped on the composting bandwagon. From San Francisco to New York City, composting has become a popular trend. Not only is composting effective because it reduces food waste, but it also creates rich soil that can be used to grow fresh ingredients, proving to be a win-win situation for any chef or restaurant trying to reduce waste while simultaneously serving the freshest ingredients.

 

               Another solution being used by chefs and restaurants across the country seems pretty obvious, but if actually applied can effectively reduce waste. This solution is simply to rethinking what is waste and what is not. The old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” definitely applies in this case. There is a huge variety of dishes you can cook with food items that may seem like they should be discarded. For example, bones can be used to create broth for soups and stews, or the skin of the potato can be used to make “alternative French fries.” Simply thinking outside the box, and rethinking what is waste and what is not is a great way for chefs and restaurants to save a ton of food and money; and who knows? Maybe your recycled dish will become your most popular.

               Lastly, it is extremely important to plan ahead. Whether you order your ingredients on a weekly basis, or biweekly basis take the time to see if you are buying a surplus of food. While some waste is inevitable, take note of how much food was thrown out the week before and then decide if you have ordered too much. This process might take a few weeks to figure out and is not always the most effective, but it does show an effort to reduce food waste.

               The amount of food wasted in the United States is a huge issue that has been around for a long time. Although it is unrealistic to think that chefs and restaurants will be able to eliminate their food waste completely, it is crucial that we are conscious of this issue and are always trying to reduce as much waste as possible. Composting, rethinking how to use ingredients, and being aware of how much food is being ordered are only a few examples of how to fix this issue. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” shouldn’t be taken lightly in the culinary industry. Being mindful of food waste not only helps the environment, but it will also help increase annual profit for chefs and restaurants; which in my book is a very valid reason to be aware.  

Will Travel for Food

Will Travel for Food

If you have kids in school or are a kid in school, you probably know we are in the midst of Spring Break season. This crazy time where college kids hit the beach for multiple nights of drunken debauchery (they still do that, right?) and parents with kids still living at home, try and figure out where to take the family so they don’t kill each other sitting at home all week with nothing to do.

Since I have two young kids, the only natural thing for us to do for spring break this year was embark on an 8 hour drive to Williamsburg, VA. About two hours into our drive I heard a noise that wasn’t the radio; it was my stomach telling me it was almost time to stop for food! As we were driving down the highway looking for a good place to stop, I started thinking about the importance of food as part of the travel equation and how technology, and food & travel TV shows have changed and enhanced the way we eat while on the road. 

First let’s discuss app technology. As we all know there are apps for everything these days, there is even an app called Yo., that’s sole purpose is to send someone a voice-note saying “yo;” so when it comes to food and travel there is no shortage of apps either. Jetzy, the world’s first geo-location based, user-to-user social app connects people with a passion for all things travel, like food. Allowing users to connect with one another and share their favorite restaurant, hotel, or site is one aspect of this app that makes it great for finding the most popular spots at or on your way to a destination. To make Jetzy even more appealing to consumers the app offers “JetPoints” that can be redeemed and used towards things like dining out, or going to the spa. Jetzy’s motto is “Travel like a Local” and it really does allow travelers to get connected to all the best native places. Another great recourse for food and traveling is Citymaps. Similar to Jetzy, Citymaps allows users to mark and share maps of all the places they have traveled. This app is extremely customizable and has endless amounts of data for users to engage in. Both Jetzy and Citymaps aren’t strictly food related apps but they can provide consumers with just as much, or more insight on where to eat while traveling than sites like Yelp.

Travel TV shows are also a great outlet for travelers who are looking for good places to dine on the road. Anthony Bourdain, “bad-boy” chef and best-selling author, starred in the Emmy award winning Travel Channel show called “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” which hit all the culinary hotspots and out-of-the-way gems around the globe. Similarly Andrew Zimmern travels around the world in a quest for the strangest foods he can find in his show, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.” You can even tune into Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” which focuses more on lesser known hot spots around the United States. Although harder to utilize on the road, these shows are great to watch in preparation of travel.

Apps and Travel TV are helping turn the average spring break road trip into a foodie’s dream drive. Also, these resources aren’t only great for consumers, restaurant owners can benefit from them as well. For example, a month after Guy Fieri featured Brick House Café, a small café in Cable, Wisconsin, on his show their sales were up 500%. Being able to easily locate and share stand out destinations has changed the way people view traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I know no one ever complained about going on vacation, but the process of actually getting to your destination can be a drag, with travel apps and shows like the ones discusses above, the once dreaded excursion can actually feel like part of the vacation.

'Tis (Always) the Season

'Tis (Always) the Season

I love the holidays, and not just the popular ones like Christmas and Halloween, I celebrate them all. You know who else loves holidays? Brands and marketers. It wasn’t until I started working in the industry that I realized brands love to take advantage of every single holiday, even ones as minor as April Fool’s Day. Before I start talking about why I think it is so smart for brands to utilize even the smallest of holidays, here are a few examples of recent marketing campaigns focused around minor holidays.

Ben & Jerry’s and Earth Day:

               In 2015 Ben & Jerry’s decided to celebrate Earth Day by creating a new flavor called, “Save Our Sworld.” They created this flavor to bring attention to the pressing issue of our environment and climate change. Not only did Ben & Jerry’s create this exciting new flavor, but they also backed up their message by partnering with Tesla, the electric car company, to launch their new flavor and show the world they are using less fuel. Ben & Jerry’s also created the 100% Clean Power Petition and put it on their website so customers could get involved. Producing an Earth Day campaign did wonders for the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Not only did they profit from the new flavor they created, it was also a great PR move. How could you dislike a brand that is trying to help make the “sworld” a better place?

SodaStream and April Fool’s Day:

               First, I know what many of you are thinking, is April Fool’s Day even a real holiday? Yes, yes it is (at least in my opinion, which for the sake of this blog is all that matters.) Anyway, this year SodaStream paired up with Paris Hilton to create an April Fool’s day campaign that according to Adweek, “deserved a special shoutout.” To fool the world, Paris Hilton starred in a fake video promoting SodaStream’s new product, “NanoDrop,” a fictitious sparking-water product that claims to be 5,000 times more hydrating than regular water. Although the NanoDrop was a joke, this campaign was far from laughable. The Paris Hilton/NanoDrop ad helped spread the word about the SodaStream brand. This prank even spread awareness about the SodaStream across the world, ending up in publications like The Times of Israel.

Krispy Kreme and St. Patrick’s Day:

             A doughnut is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about St. Patrick’s Day, but Krispy Kreme found a creative way to get involved in the festivities. This year, for one day only, Krispy Kreme turned all of their original glazed doughnuts into “O'riginal Glazed Green Doughnuts”! Dying foods green for St. Patrick’s Day is not a new discovery by any means, but because Krispy Kreme is such a traditional and well-known brand, the news of them changing one of their most popular products earned the company a lot of press. Also, by making this a “one day only” promotion, it created a sense of urgency for the customers to go and buy a unique green doughnut. By giving in to the holiday spirit and turning their traditional glazed doughnut green, Krispy Kreme sure hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

No matter what marketing angle you chose, holidays, even the smallest of them, provide brands and marketers the opportunity to think outside the box and be creative. Also, tying in the holidays to campaigns helps humanize your brand. It helps connect with you audience on a more personal, fun level, and it allows your message to resonate with the customers current state of mind. Whether it is Earth Day, April Fool’s, St. Patty’s, or something as mainstream as Christmas, brands can’t go wrong with holiday themed marketing campaigns.

Technology in Restaurants- What does the Future Hold?

Technology in Restaurants- What does the Future Hold?

Recently, our fearless leader Lonny went to a rather popular chain restaurant with his kids and when he arrived at work the next morning, there was only one thought on his mind. This thought wasn’t about the quality of the food (which for the record, wasn’t great), but rather, the fact that the restaurant had tablets built into every table.  This interesting feature opened up a debate in our office about the pros and cons of bringing technology to the dinner table. 

First, let’s tackle the obvious - how technology is applied in the restaurant space is key.  Meal time is an opportunity to do more than eat; it’s a time for people to get together and actually talk to each other (believe it or not, there are some who still engage in face to face conversations from time to time.) I don’t love the idea of adding a permanent distraction in the middle of the table that gives people even more of a reason to ignore each other.  Who hasn’t walked into a restaurant, stumbled across the following scene (or have even been a part of it) and thought, “Yikes, this is wrong!"

Phones down, eyes up people!  Not a great look, to say the least, but it is safe to say this is not the end result restaurants are looking for.  So let’s take a moment to collectively agree that when we sit down with our friends, families and loved ones for a good meal, we try to actually interact with one another.  Glad we got that out of the way…

Now, this is not to say there isn’t a use for this kind of “table tech.”  In fact, notable chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s have recently partnered with Ziosk, a company specializing in tablets for the diners that actually offer a greater level of engagement with the restaurant itself.  Ziok’s tablets allow diners to view the menu, submit an order, alert their server, pay a bill, etc., all meant to help streamline the dining experience.  To be clear, these are NOT set out to replace your traditional wait staff, but to offer them another way to interact with the customer.  I doubt you’ll find many diners get up in arms over a more efficient dining process…

What I find particularly intriguing here is the “business-to-consumer” application.  Could be the marketer in me, but if there is a tablet (read: easy access consumer touch point) available at every table I immediately think to ways we can tie in third parties.  The possibilities are seemingly endless:  Traditional advertisements, discounts and customer loyalty tracking / awards, promoting branded menu items (i.e.: Friday’s line of Jack Daniels meals), etc.  Simply put these technological integrations offer marketers a fresh, dynamic and cost effective medium to reach consumers; that’s essentially the marketing holy grail!

Moving past the consumer application, some restaurants have taken it a step further and are applying technological solutions in the kitchen.  Imagine this, in real-time restaurants can track orders, keep tabs on inventory, and ensure the entire process happens as efficiently as possible.  That can be a game-changer for some restaurants, many of whom likely don’t know the answer to simple operation questions that fuel their business.  True labor costs, material costs, food costs per-menu item, food waste ratios etc. are critically important to a restaurant’s longevity, but are often difficult to compute.  These sorts of technological integrations could prove to be a saving grace for chefs and restaurateurs across the board. 

The truth is, technology’s vice-like grip on our everyday lives isn’t letting up anytime soon, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

Future Foodies of America

Future Foodies of America

A few weeks ago I went to visit two of my friends from college who are now married with a young daughter.  I’ve known them both for many years and one of our shared passions has always been food and cooking. Obviously since having a kid, many things in their life have changed and their apartment has been taken over by baby-phanalia. But, looking around their living room with its mini chrome “play kitchen” (including play fruit and vegetables and pots/pans) and an entire bookshelf dedicated to baby food cookbooks, I could see that their love of food has stayed the same.

The baby food industry has been steadily profitable because, well, people will always have babies. But it’s an industry that’s seen tremendous innovation and growth because of parents’ demands for increased convenience and desire for healthy ingredients. Several years ago Beech-Nut Nutrition, producer of packaged baby food, led a market research study that found that homemade purees (baby food made in people’s own kitchens) accounted for one third of total baby food consumed. Their explanation, according to this NYTimes article, was that baby food available for purchase in grocery stores wasn’t fulfilling parents’ needs so they were taking to making their own. And a recent market analyst by Technavio found that “...there is growing anxiety about the safety of the products consumers use, more so the food they consume. A preference for organic baby products stems from a concern for health and general well-being.” In response to these findings, Beech-Nut revamped their entire line of products to include organic purees and exotic ingredients such as pomegranate and quinoa. As a result of the shift towards organic, wholesome baby products, several new organic-based baby food lines also popped up in the market including Sprout, Ella’s Kitchen, and Plum Organics.

Packaging has also been a huge innovation in the baby food market. Pouches were introduced in the 2000s and have been the biggest driver in increased sales. Quality-wise, the food isn't really that different from the traditional jars but parents love them for the convenience factor. Think about how much easier it is to throw a little plastic pouch in your bag versus a glass jar. And no spoon is needed!

But updated packaging plus organic ingredients equals more expensive so some parents still prefer to create their own at home. And as more and more parents are making their own baby food, several companies have capitalized on this trend by inventing all-in-one baby food machines. Machines like Baby Bullet and Baby Brezza are marketed specifically to new parents and promise to steam/cook and puree ingredients in a minimal amount of time.

I’ve also noticed a really strong preference among my friends who are parents to raise “adventurous eaters.” As a result, parents are trying to introduce exotic flavors to their children when they’re very young. If you look the hundreds of baby food cookbooks, many try to go beyond the standard carrot and apple purees by incorporating unusual fruits or vegetables and several spices. My personal favorite I’ve seen is Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste, which includes recipes for items such as pumpkin and thyme puree and apple, mint, and ricotta puree.

With increasing concerns about farming and produce and our general obsession with food, it’s no surprise that the global baby food market is forecasted to surpass $82 billion by 2022 and see tremendous growth in new products and packaging. I’m constantly shocked by the amount of stuff marketed to new parents and babies but with this predicted revenue growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see companies come up with new ways to appeal to new parents’ tastes. Perhaps soon you’ll visit your local grocery store and see an entire line of celebrity-chef inspired purees? Or maybe even a Blue Apron delivery service dedicated to cooking your own baby food?

- Cassie

 

Not Your Average University

Not Your Average University

Now that winter has come to an end, I can’t stop thinking about the fact I have been out of school for a year. Although I know I am still young, and in retrospect a year isn’t that long, I can’t help but reminisce on the times I spent hanging out with friends, ordering late night eats, and debating if I should set my alarm for class the next morning (sorry mom!) I am not usually one for nostalgia, but looking back on my four years at Penn reminded me to check out one of my favorite publications, spoonuniversity.com.

Spoon University, which was started by two Northwestern graduates, Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler, is a student-run publication created to share recipes, health and lifestyle stories, restaurant reviews, and other food related content to millennials and college students all across the country. With endless food related publications out there; my question is, how did Spoon University grow to attract 4 million unique visitors per month, partner with over 150 college campuses across the country, and get 3,000 plus students to actively contribute year round?

First of all, Spoon University has a very specific target audience: millennials. The initial idea for Spoon University was created because Barth and Adler (millennials themselves) both struggled with cooking and meal time throughout college. Targeting millennials made it easy for the founders to relate to their audience, and gave SpoonU a large enough fan base to really take off.

Second of all, while there are a ton of other foodie publications on the web, Spoon University has a pretty unique business model that has helped differentiate it, and keep it successful. Rather than the two founders coming up with all the content on their own, each school participating has their own “chapter,” which is run by independent groups at each college or university. Not only does this model give each writer freedom to do their own thing, it keeps Spoon University’s content diverse. Barth and Adler knew that “food was becoming a much bigger conversation at college,” they knew students would want to “create things, and leave their own personal imprint,” which is exactly what Spoon University allows them to do. Now, students around the country are actually willing to pay a membership fee to write articles, eager to get their knowledge on food out into the world.

Third of all, the relaxed environment Spoon University created has paid off big time. Spoon University keeps their atmosphere casual by not enforcing harsh deadlines or putting pressure on students to write an unrealistic amount of articles per month. In many ways, Spoon University has become a living example of what nearly every millennial “employee” would suggest: no real boss, flexible hours, and a way to get their voice out there. While most companies are just realizing these trends, the founders of Spoon University took them as truths from the beginning and were able to formulate a great business model around it.

The final aspect that has kept Spoon University so successful is that it spans all social channels. What started as a simple website is now spread across Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and even snapchat. By creating a platform that easily spreads across all networks Spoon University has been able to continue to grow and expand their content from online articles to short video tutorials, live stream recipe creations, and more.

From a culinary marketing standpoint, Spoon University has done a good job. They targeted a specific but large audience, came up with a unique and strategic business model that also appeals to their audience, and found creative ways to expand on all social channels; which is why their popularity continues to climb.

A Corporate dinner table?

A Corporate dinner table?

The creation of brand focused restaurants such as Kellogg’s Pop Up (http://kelloggsnyc.com/) and Cadillac branded restaurant got me thinking, how far could the idea of co-branding go in the culinary industry?  As it currently stands, there are a few examples (some seen below) of larger restaurant chains who have successfully integrated other brands into their own menus, creating new buzz for both of the businesses involved.

Taco Bell and Frito-Lay:

These two came together to create one of Taco Bell’s best-selling menu items, The Doritos Locos Taco. This collaboration had fans guessing via social media for weeks about what the next flavor of Doritos Locos Tacos would be, which created huge media buzz before the item was even announced. Eventually the introduction of Doritos Locos Taco’s became the brands third most successful product platform, and even brought Chris Brandt, the old chief marketing officer of Taco Bell to say, “The partnership continues to prove the power of two mega brands working together to create firsts in restaurants and on the grocery aisle.”

TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s:

This duo partnered together to create a smoky glaze for the TGI Fridays menu that hit the jackpot. “This partnership has synergy for both brands,” explained Robert Byrne, manager of market insights at Techonomic. Jack Daniel’s was one of the first spirit labels to make a strong connection to a large restaurant chain, and beyond great brand recognition, this partnership also lead to a huge hit on the TGI Fridays menu. Deciding to work together was a success for TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s because it was a thought out partnership on both ends. TGI Fridays played to the fact that they are a festive restaurant, positioned around a bar, making a spirits brand tie-in the perfect co-branding partner for them. 

Outback Steakhouse and Stewart-Hass Racing:

This co-branding partnership is relatively different from the other examples provided, but it is just as successful. Rather than creating a new menu item, Outback decided to create a promotion involving Stewart-Hass and NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick. This promotion is called “Happy Bloomin’ Monday” and it lets fans receive a free Bloomin’ Onion on any Monday during NASCAR season where Harvick finishes in the top-10 of a Sprint Cup Series. Like TGI Fridays, Outback made a very smart decision based on their demographic they chose a partner that they knew would get customers excited and coming back Monday after Monday.

Looking at some of the larger chain restaurants that have been successful through co-branding partnerships led me to my next few questions- will we ever see brands begin to infiltrate the dinner tables at higher end restaurants across the country? Is that something we want?

At The Connect Group we know our way around a dinner table so we personally see the potential of brands infiltrating nicer restaurants.  We also know, however, the integrity of a meal experience is king, so any successful program must enhance the experience, not detract from it.  With that in mind, even at the finer dining establishments, there are ways for brands to naturally fit into the mix.  Here are a few basic examples:

Check presenters:

While presenting customers with a check, almost all restaurants use some kind of presentation method, this could include anything from a classic check presenter, to a clip board, to a more creative application, like a postcard. With that in mind, car service companies, like Uber, Lyft, Juno or others, could utilize check presentations by providing an opportunity or incentive for customers. For example, placing a coupon code on each check, so the diners not only think to use that service to take them home, but they are also getting a good deal. This idea could also be a great place for auto companies, real estate companies, and others in these genres.

Charging stations:

Depending on the brand activation, space, and brand message, charging stations could be offered to charge guests phones during their meal. This is not only a convenience for customers, but is also a great way to combat the ever prevalent problem of people being distracted by their phones during meals. It’s time to take back meal time, and counterintuitive to this post, this would be a good way to do that.

Walk-away gifts:

So, you ordered the steak and loved the spice rub they used? Well, if a brand sponsored a spice giveaway with each order you would be in luck. Giving away spices, or sauces with branded labels or gift tags would be a great surprise at the end of any meal, and an efficient way to for brands to market their product.      

Condiments/Snacks:

What better place to brand than actually on a customer’s table? While not all restaurants have condiments on their tables, most do, so this could be an organic and effective place for brands to integrate themselves into a meal.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for brand infiltration one way or another, but as companies (and agencies like us) continue to push the envelope and look for ways to engage with audiences, restaurants could be the next frontier.  

- Lonny Sweet

What can Food do for You?

What can Food do for You?

Over the past 7 years, I’ve been fortunate to be on the forefront of some unbelievably exciting campaigns throughout the marketing world.  I’ve orchestrated celebrity ambassador campaigns, led charitable initiatives and run corporate events, and while each have their own measure of success, my tenure in the culinary marketing vertical has given me a fresh perspective on an age old question:  What can be done to make the ordinary, extraordinary?  A loaded question, and yet, the answer has been right in front of us; make food centerpiece. 

Having spent a few days down in Miami for South Beach Wine & Food Festival (my first as an “insider” in the food-space) the palpable buzz throughout the city has left me thinking about just how incredible our industry really is.  To walk around South Beach throughout the week is to see a flock of food-connected travelers excitedly running from event to event, taking in all that SOBEWFF is all about; great food and beautiful scenes in a world-class festival setting.  While the food was incredible and the crowd’s positivity infectious, what really drew me in was the story of SOBEWFF and the corporate partners who were jumping in head first to tell it.  Being there in person was incredible, to say the least, but my mind was immediately drawn to thinking of ways we can bring the experience to the masses, namely those who can’t be there physically. 

No question, eating great food from the best chefs in the country makes for a dream experience and it goes without saying; the application for food in the “event” setting is natural, somewhat obvious and yet, is continuously evolving.  My coworkers and I have gone into great detail in recent blogs about what that means exactly (give them a read!)  While that, in and of itself, is an exciting proposition for anyone in the culinary world, it is time to start seeing food for more than just an in-person experience. 

Food is the great unifier.  Food is a way to tell a story that reaches everyone.  Recently, I’ve been speaking with a number of blue-chip brands and products that most of us use in our everyday lives, but not just about how they can host a dinner for VIPs; we’re discussing how they can tell their story through the eyes of the food-connected. 

When a chef sits down to curate a menu for their new restaurant or tests a new menu item they hope to implement, what are the tools around them that they reach for to help them?  Everything from the music they listen to and the books they read to their own stress-relieving outlets offer a story ready to be told.  Marc Forgione recently did a wonderful piece in partnership with Remy Martin about what music means to him as his go-to relaxation outlet.  While in person dining experiences are obviously a critical element to the partnership, it is the packaged story that makes it relatable for the at-home consumer.  Watching the video and seeing Marc strum his guitar and talk about the parallels between food and music is the different perspective the average consumer wants (or needs) to engage with a brand.  That’s what gets me excited here every day – our goal every day is to help companies tell their own “food stories”. 

Food, and the overall dining experience, holds an inherent meaning that is unique to each and every one of us.  My dream meal may be drastically different than yours, and the holiday dinner table at the Pinkow household almost definitely looks different than it does for your family (just ask my Italian wife about her first Passover sedar with my family).  That said, it is the role food plays that is the constant.  It’s the stories being told and the experiences shared that prove to be the reasons we come back for more.  For all the “marketers” out there, I implore you to think about food as a “storyteller”, a medium on which you can share your message and reach an entirely new audience.  For all our differences, one thing will always remain true; we all eat!

The Rocking Food

The Rocking Food

I’m still winding down from the delicious, busy, and exciting long weekend that is the yearly South Beach Wine & Food Festival down in Miami. This was my fourth year heading down with the Connect Group and Chef Marc Forgione and over the years I’ve been to many events that range in theme and offerings. But the overall format of these events is generally the same: walk-around tastings with 30-40 different chefs/restaurants or a sit down dinner with multiple courses.

This year The Connect Group had the pleasure of activating King’s Hawaiian sponsorship events during SOBEWFF which included The Art of Tiki on Friday night and Bacardi on the Beach with Beats by Rev Run & DJ Ruckus. Now, I’m not knocking the standard food festival events, they do a great job of marketing the chefs/restaurants and promoting their sponsors. And obviously people love attending them! But as with most things, the more different and unique an event is, the more it stands out.

At first, Bacardi on the Beach seemed like it would be like one of the standard walk-around food festival events. After an hour or so though, it became apparent that this was more of a standout event. It wasn’t just that the crowd was younger and more diverse than the other tentpole events. What made this event truly stand out was that the star wasn’t the food. The music was.

Bacardi on the Beach was a music event that happened to have food. And that doesn’t mean the food wasn’t important. If anything, I would say that the focus on the music enhanced the food even more. I find that at a lot of the tasting events, eating can seem like less of an enjoyable experience and more of a sport as some people are determined to run around and try as many dishes as possible. Sometimes it can even get ugly. I was once elbowed in the face by an older woman for a dumpling, no joke. At Bacardi on the Beach, people were dancing and singing and having a great time. I know it might be a stretch to say this but I truly think the dancing and working up a sweat and overall fun/light mood made people really enjoy what they were eating.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to a non-food festival with a heavy emphasis on food. Now in it’s seventh year, Governor’s Ball is a 3-day music festival that takes place on Randall’s Island. The food definitely isn’t an afterthought at Gov Ball. It gets it’s own “lineup” and the vendors are all curated by popular food website The Infatuation. A couple of years ago I also had the chance to go to Life is Beautiful, a 3-day art and music festival in Downtown Las Vegas. Life is Beautiful takes a different approach to food and actually makes the chefs part of their programming with a dedicated cooking demo stage and chef-hosted elevated food stations in the VIP areas.

Though food at music festivals isn’t a new thing, I’m always looking at new and exciting ways to combine food with lifestyle events or re-invent the typical food festival experience. Sometimes I think we forget that it doesn’t always have to be JUST about the food as there are lots of ways to inject a memorable food experience into other fun activities.

- Cassie