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One Nation Under One Food?

One Nation Under One Food?

              Now that everyone’s Fourth of July celebrations are over and the hangovers are out of our systems, it feels like a good time to discuss food and nationalism. It is not uncommon for people to associate food and identity, as I’m sure the phrase “you are what you eat” rings a bell, but in the modern world, do food preferences really play a role as an anchor of personal and national identity, and should they? In a recent eater article called “Why Food has Become a New Target for Nationalists” the author, Tove Danovich, delves into how European cities, like Florence, feel their culture is being watered down through the rise of foreign food. European governments are even going as far as barring foods from different countries because they do not want their culture to be “diluted or Disneyfied.” To me, and many others this notion of banning foreign foods seems ridiculous, and at the end of the article Danovich makes a great point that no culture has just one history or one food, and if we try to isolate food culture we are just going to keep it from evolving.

               Clearly places like Italy and France have very distinct food identities which is why they want to preserve this idea of their “food nationalism,” but in a place like the United States, which is a country built from different cultures and cuisines, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific food identity. Although something like 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, which is a pretty large percentage, this once-a-year event hardly constitutes as a full identity. Personally, I don’t think having a lack of food identity is a bad thing at all. In the modern culinary world we see fusion restaurants, and all types of new trends that allow us to explore other communities and cultures through food. I’m not saying that food doesn’t play a big role in who we are and what we are as a nation, but in the United States I don’t view food as simply the glue that bonds individuals to their community, I view it as a bridge that brings different communities together.

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.  

'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.

A Corporate dinner table?

A Corporate dinner table?

The creation of brand focused restaurants such as Kellogg’s Pop Up ( 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.      


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