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Know your Nutrition

Know your Nutrition

            Do you care about what’s in your food? Most people do. Roughly a year ago, then First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the Nutrition Facts Label’s first big makeover in 20 years. Some of these changes include: including grams of “added sugars” as well as the percentage of recommended daily limit that the amount comprises, making the serving size more closely reflect the actual amount that people typically eat, updating the daily recommended limits for things like sodium, fiber, and vitamins, and more.

            Although all these new nutrition labels sound great, will food manufacturers ever step up their game and change? Originally the FDA gave all food manufacturers a 2 year deadline, saying by 2018 everyone should have their labels updated. Now, as we rapidly approach 2018, the deadline for the new labels has been moved back indefinitely. Creating an extension with no deadline has upset a lot of people, CSPI actually issued a statement saying “with its delay of menu labeling, the FDA will end up denying consumers critical information they need to make healthy food choices in a timely manner,” and many consumers feel they are being cheated because they were promised important information that they now may never get.

               Although most food manufacturers have not updated their nutrition facts, the few large companies that have, have not gone unnoticed. Hersey’s is one of these manufacturers. As a whole Hershey’s has been quite diligent about getting the new labels on as many of its products as possible. According to Gina Shroy, the senior manager on Hershey’s product team, Hershey’s Kisses were the first candy to hit shelves with the updated label. Hershey’s wants to be as transparent as possible with their products to make it easy for customers to know more about the foods they are about to eat. Not only has this mentality gotten Hershey's good publicity, but it is also in the best interest for all of our health; which is why I strongly feel that all food manufacturers should be on board with updating their nutrition labels as well.

 

Hurricane Helpers

Hurricane Helpers

With all the craziness going on in the world I thought it would be a nice change of pace to write about chefs and what they are doing to give back, specifically in regards to hurricane relief.

               When hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico it destroyed everything in its path, the destruction is so bad that some areas of the island have even been described as “apocalyptic.” This is not the first natural disaster to hit our country this year, but it very well may have been the most devastating, which is why Chef Jose Andres is so keen on lending a helping hand. After hearing that 3.4 million residents of the island are without power and relying on temporary generators (for a possible four to six months), Chef Andres immediately stepped in to help. Arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Monday (10/2) Andres has been furiously working to get meals out to the struggling natives day and night. His overall goal is to feed 100,000 people by the end of the week and with the help of his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, they have already has served over 30,000 meals (as of 10/4). Chef Jose Andres is a chef that is known for his political activity and nonprofit work so it is not a surprise that he has jumped right in to support hurricane relief.

               Although hurricane Harvey hit Houston almost two months ago, chefs around the city are still doing their part to restore the damage that was done. In fact, according to Food & Wine, “The Houston restaurant community was one of the first to mobilize after hurricane Harvey pounded the city. They fed emergency responders and people in shelters and began laying the groundwork to support more than 300,000 people.”  Chris Shepherd, and his non-profit Southern Smoke, is organizing a benefit dinner that will take place Sunday, October 22. This benefit dinner will include an all-star lineup of chefs including Chef Justin Yu, Ryan Pera, Ashely Christensen, John Besh, Mike Lata and more. Being that Chef Shepherd is from Houston it has been extremely important to him to “take care of his own.” Two other Houston natives that have been keen to help out are Chef Bryan Caswell and his wife Jennifer Caswell of restaurant Reef. These two jumped at the opportunity to help by serving a “stunning amount of food to flood victims and relief workers” immediately after the storm hit.   

               Lending a helping hand doesn’t necessarily mean being “on-site” of the natural disaster. Chef’s Scott Conant and Nina Compton hosted a dinner in New York on September 27th and donated all proceeds to the Red Cross. Also, one of our very own, Chef Marc Forgione, is hosting a dinner in TriBeCa to benefit The Anguilla Foundation on Sunday, October 15. This fundraiser will allow guests to enjoy an awesome BBQ while simultaneously giving back (link below).

               Chefs are constantly giving back to their communities by cooking and feeding people daily, which is why seeing them go above and beyond to help those affected by the recent events is even more amazing! I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you to anyone who has committed even the smallest bit of time and energy to help those affected by these recent disasters. 

Link to Marc Forgione fundraiser: https://www.youcaring.com/theanguillafoundation-958753

Mythical Mayhem

Mythical Mayhem

               If you have been on any form of social media in the past year you have most likely come across some type of “unicorn” food or drink. This recent trend of colorful food has gone from shimmery and sparkly “galaxy” themed to rainbow and pastel “unicorn” themed but none the less ridiculous. Yes, even I find this trend crazy and I tend to be a sucker for anything bright and shiny. Regardless of how I feel, these types of trends seem to draw in revenue, while simultaneously providing brands with endless free advertising.

               First, it is interesting to note that the unicorn food trend started from a health and wellness blogger and food stylist in Miami named Adeline Waugh. Waugh helped start the trend last year while she was experimenting with natural food dye that added a pop of color to her Instagram photos and got people excited. Once bigger brands and companies started to hear about this trend they took it into their own hands, and took it to the next level. Starbucks, for example, recently created the “Unicorn Frappuccino.”

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This new colorful drink was sold at Starbucks across the country, and “drove significant traffic to chains, as well as spread brand awareness and affinity.” Served for only a limited time, the craziest part about these bright (almost glowing) purple and pink drinks is that even though they apparently taste terrible people continued to buy them. I personally never got to try one, but as seen on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and hearing reviews from friends, they taste like Unicorn vomit. Regardless of taste, the Unicorn Frappuccino helped improve Starbucks same-store sales throughout the second quarter, culminating 4 percent of U.S. same-store sales growth in March, and into April. Also, the number of Instagram’s, Tweets, and posts about this mythical drink were endless; providing Starbucks with free marketing across all social channels which doesn’t even include the mass amounts of traction it gained on television shows, like Jimmy Kimmel Live! (mentioned above) and more. Starbucks is an example of a large chain brand that took advantage of this colorful food trend but many other smaller stores are also jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage of this trend too. The Good Sort, a vegan tea and espresso bar in Chinatown is serving up a rainbow iced latte that has already been featured in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Thrillist, and Grubstreet. They are also getting a lot of social attention just in time for summer.

               Only time will tell how long this unicorn trend lasts, but for now it seems to be working for companies. Whether you look at a large business like Starbucks or a small coffee shop like The Good Sort, these colorful concoction’s draw in a ton of attention which leads to more revenue and company exposure; so, if you haven’t jumped on this latest unicorn trend maybe it’s time to for your brand to brighten itself up and get on board.

'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.

Super Bowl Follow Up: From the Eyes of the Food-Connected

Super Bowl Follow Up: From the Eyes of the Food-Connected

            Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you may have heard something about Super Bowl 51.  Yes, the Patriots pulled off the most miraculous comeback in the sport’s illustrious history.  Yes, Tom Brady is officially in a class all his own with 5 rings and 4 Super Bowl MVP’s – which [sigh] officially makes him the greatest to ever do it.  And yes, that sound you just heard was this Jets fan dry heaving as he is forced to publicly admit that.  All kidding aside, Super Bowl 51 gave us one of the most exhilarating, dramatic and simply put, remarkable championship games in history – something this country needed desperately in these divisive times.  

            As great as the game proved to be, for those lucky enough to experience Super Bowl’s physical footprint first hand, you know it to be much more than just a game.  Every year, the host city opens its doors to sports fans, corporate America and blue-chip brands alike to give them the experience of a lifetime, and it just so happens that there’s a football game at the end of it all.  It should come as no surprise, but food plays an integral role in the “Super Bowl experience”. 

           Every city has its own identity, its own culture, cuisine, etc.  Houston has a story all its own.  Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, its historically native cuisine can best be described as Tex-Mex meets Louisiana Creole meets Texas BBQ, yet is in the midst of a culinary revolution, drawing inspiration from the city’s incredibly diverse populace (try the Vietnamese inspired Cajun spots!).  David Chang, one of NYC’s most popular restaurateurs recently declared Houston to be “the next global food mecca”, a powerful statement by a culinary superstar. While I may not have appreciated it, that notion came to life for me as I walked the streets of Houston, looking for the perfect meal. 

            For the uninitiated, I beg you to make your way to one of Houston’s cajun bars and order yourself a mountain of crawfish (don’t cheap out on the spice – thank me later), then seek out some tacos at the nearest Tex-Mex joint , and wrap up your trip with some proper BBQ.  We say it all the time; if you want to experience true local culture, find out where the natives eat and act accordingly. You may be surprised by what you find. 

            I was fortunate enough to walk through the ‘NFL Live’ footprint and enjoy a late lunch at one of the food trucks littered around the perimeter.  I kid you not, there was even a monster truck, of sorts, transformed into a mobile demo kitchen wherein local chefs gave interactive demonstrations on how to cook like a true Houstonian. The crowds were huge, people were well-fed and they all left talking about the FOOD, not just the big game looming. 

            When you’re catering to a “who’s who” group of VIPs, average just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the grub.  Wheels Up’s annual Super Bowl bash, traditionally one of the week’s more exclusive parties, perfectly highlighted the local cuisine and offered everything from crawfish and oysters to tacos and real, Texas ‘cue. No one left that party hungry (or thirsty, for that matter). 

            Chase took a different route to highlight the local fare, hosting a series of private dinners at one of Houston’s top restaurants, Reef.  Exclusively available to Chase’s Inside Access members, the dinner paired Houston’s top chef, Bryan Caswell, with New Orleans mainstay, John Besh and local Houston pastry chef Rebecca Masson to offer attendees a unique insight into Houston hospitality. The result was a refined dining experience that left the attendees in awe. 

            Maybe you’ve missed it or haven’t been paying attention, but the trend has been building for quite some time now. Nowadays, you don’t go to a ballgame and seek out a cheap hot dog; you expect refined food service offerings. Stadiums, arenas and even airports around the country are in the midst of a culinary revolution, highlighting local cuisine, celebrity chefs and a refined dining culture.  If you’re hosting a private event, or a big blue-chip brand looking to activate in the marketing vertical, remember, food can be more than just a simple meal.  It’s a sensory experience - an opportunity to provide deeper, more meaningful connections with your audience. 

            You want your event to really resonate?  Give your guests something they’ve never had, open their eyes to something they’ve never seen, and let them experience culture like never before. Food is the ultimate medium to do just that….

Would you like an appetizer with that new car??

Would you like an appetizer with that new car??

Remember the days (like last year) when the only thing to eat or drink while shopping for a new car was vending machine chips and coffee that tastes more like motor oil than an organic roast.  Well, that may be changing…welcome to the new foodie world order. 

In recent months we have seen a Lexus Restaurant, The Cadillac House and BMW Restaurant, all taking advantage of the passionate food connected consumer to open up new lines to customers, by creating unique hospitality venues and restaurants.  And it’s not just the auto companies.  Retailers like Urban Outfitters recently partnered with multiple chefs to create restaurants inside their stores, Macy’s opened the new Chef Street at their Herald Square location (they also have a great food court in Chicago) and of course IKEA is famous not only for their hand-blistering do-it-yourself furniture, but their Swedish meatballs and cinnamon buns.

So what’s with combination of food & retail?  Well, we think it just kind of makes sense.  One thing we all have in common is the need to eat.  Some of us put more emphasis on the quality of the food or the experience of the meal, but retailers are creatively using the tools of culinary marketing to find ways to drive traffic, create buzz, elevate their customers experience and ultimately sell more goods.   

The indicators points towards more and more brands using culinary marketing as a powerful tool in the shed when building out their strategic marketing plans.  We live in a new world where it is hard to break through and even harder to connect emotionally with consumers, and because of that, food is an amazing tool to help tell a different story and connect on a deeper level with consumers.   

That’s the new foodie world order, and we love it!

- Lonny Sweet

A Chef, an Athlete and a fan walked into a room...

One of the things I love about working with Chefs which differentiates from my past experience representing sports personalities (athletes, coaches and broadcasters), is the way fans interact with my clients when they meet them.  When I used to be out and about or at an autograph signing in my sports days, the conversations athletes had with fans, typically went something like this:

Fan:  Oh my god, “insert athlete name here”, I can’t believe it’s actually you.  I am a huge fan, love the “insert team name here” and have been a fan my whole life.
Athlete: Thank you, it’s great to meet you.
Fan: If you don't mind, can I get a picture with you? My brother will be so jealous.
Athlete: Sure, no problem
Fan: Thank you so much – take picture/sign autograph – Really appreciate it, good luck the rest of the season.

Most of the time, fans are always super jazzed, but they don’t have real conversations with the athletes because, while people may aspire to be an athlete, 99.9% of the time, it’s simply not attainable.  This disconnect from reality leaves little common ground to have a real conversation.

Conversely, working with Celebrity Chefs, here is what a typical interaction may look like (if they are not meeting at the restaurant):

Fan: Oh my god, Chef, I can’t believe it’s actually you.  I am a huge fan and just recently ate at your restaurant, the halibut dish was AMAZING.
Chef: Thank you so much, really appreciate it.  It's great to meet you, glad you liked the halibut.   That's one of my favorite dishes on the menu.
Fan: Do you mind if we get a picture and have you sign your cookbook?  We have been cooking from this book for a while, it’s got some great recipes in it.  The stuffed chicken is our favorite one, our kids love it and we have actually gotten them into the kitchen helping us out. They love it because they feel like little chefs.
Chef: That’s the way I started, my parents would get me involved in the kitchen whenever they could and I fell in love with it from there. The parfait is great for kids as well, you should check it out.
Fan: Yeah, we love that one too, but to be honest, we have a really hard time getting it to come out the right way.
Chef: One little trick I left out of the cookbook is to leave it in the fridge to set an extra hour, try that, it should help. And regardless, just have fun with it, that’s the most important ingredient.
Fan: Awesome, thank you so much and really appreciate the picture, my brother is going to be so jealous.

Depending on who the Chef is, often times the fan is just as jazzed to see the Chef, as they are the athlete.  The main difference though is, while being an award-winning chef is still very aspirational, because cooking is something people do every day and they can try to cook the chef's own recipes, its feels attainable. That subtle difference of feeling like you can make a dish by your favorite TV chef, allows the fan to feel like they have more in common with the chef and therefore, a deeper connection and more topics to talk about.