Food Recycling Is Gaining Favor, in Several Ways

 

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Morrison’s tweet: We’re rolling our food waste initiative out nationally so that any edible unsold food is donated to charities!

In May of last year, an online petition in the U.K. aimed to force the government to require supermarkets to give unsold food to people in need. One hundred thousand people signed the petition, but the government paid them no heed.

But the Morrison’s food store chain did: Six months later, in October, it announced it would donate all unsold food to local charities. A trial run in 126 of its stores had revealed to Morrison’s management that each store more than likely would be able to weekly fill at least four trolleys (carts) with donatable food that traditionally would have been thrown out. Across the chain’s 500 stores, that’s a lot of food that no longer will be going to waste.

A liaison person will be appointed in each store to interact with charities and oversee food deliveries to them.

Now, France has done what the British government hasn’t: Under a law unanimously approved by the French legislature earlier this month, it is illegal for supermarkets in that country to wastefully throw out food that could, and should, be allocated to charities or food banks. And the councilor who initiated the now-mandatory recycling of formerly wasted food says similar laws should be adopted across the European Union and in the U.S.

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Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city, what The Washington Post has called “the most interesting supermarket in the world” sells nothing but food other stores would refuse to stock because it is past its ‘sell by’ date, in packages that have been marred somehow, or that, in the case of fresh food, is blemished or old-looking.

WeFood, newly opened a few days ago, was crowd-funded to the tune of one million kroner ($145,742), much of it raised through sales of shares to the public, the company’s website says. Its prices are said by The Post to be 30-50% lower than ‘traditional’ food stores’, and despite the less than pristine appearance of its offerings, demand is high.

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WeFood is not only attracting the general public: Among its early visitors was Princess Marie, the wife of Prince Joachim, one of two sons of Margrethe II, the queen of Denmark.

WeFood is staffed by volunteers and its profits support the work of a charity, DanChurchAid, in the world’s poorest countries, the store’s website says.

The Post says the new store “is a not-so-subtle swing at the modern food system, which often prioritizes food safety at the expense of waste.” The paper notes that “roughly one-third of all food produced world-wide ends up in the garbage, complicating efforts to alleviate hunger around the globe.”

In Denmark alone, as much as 1.5 billion pounds of food is send to landfills annually. In the U.S., some 70 billion pounds of food meets the same fate.

Incredibly, The Post notes, Americans “throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass, a fact that reflects poorly on the country’s fussiness about eating only the freshest foods possible.”

French food retailers whose stores are more than roughly 1,300 sq. ft are motivated to comply with the new don’t-waste-food law because to do otherwise would expose them to fines of close to $5000 per incident.

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Unfortunately, though, a significant number of stores are exempt from the law because, in a land where there still are an abundance of small, local purveyors of baked goods, produce, meat and other edibles, France’s food-recycling law won’t catch the probably-sizable volume of still-valid food discarded by those ‘small’ stores.

But trying to capture those stores’ discards would be inefficiently costly, and possibly counter-productive, in that such an effort could conceivable force some small retailers out of business.

There’s always the chance, though, that some of those small-sized food-selling operations could, voluntarily, as their big-store competitors are now required to, establish relationships with food recyclers, to keep even more potentially edible food out of landfills.

Whether small retailers’ economics would allow for that remains to be seen.

Ordering Systems Win Big in QSR Magazine’s Applied Technology Awards

 

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A fascinating assortment of innovations took top honors in QSR Magazine’s Applied Technology Awards for 2016.

One of the winners is a 46-inch outdoor display Starbucks is using to simulate, at its drive-thrus, the over-the-counter, face-to-face experience customers get inside their stores.

The magazine’s explanation for why this entry won: “The enormous outdoor display accomplishes two things that have long been elusive in the limited-service industry: It’s dynamic and attractive, but also tough enough to install in any location. More impressive, though, is the Facetime-style feed that creates a personal connection between customer and employee, allowing Starbucks to engage on a more personal level with guests.”

Almost at the opposite extreme – in that it removes the face-to-face interaction between server and patron – is iPourIt Inc.’s self-serve beer and wine tap system, which allows customers to pull their own pints (or glasses of wine) while the one-time server serves other customers, and the restaurant’s owner reaps the rewards of a more efficient and more productive operation. The self-served servings are, of course, metered, so the customer is billed, as usual, for what’s been ordered – ‘self-served’, in this instance.

The magazine says the iPourIt system “also gives [operators] a fun and interactive way to introduce alcohol to their in-store experience.”

Sure to be popular with Millennials and others who seem perpetually attached to their smart phones is Domino’s Emoji Ordering system that, QSR says, “takes all the hassle out of the ordering process” – particularly for people who habitually order the same thing.

All guests need to do, the magazine says, “is set up an online account through Domino’s and then save an ‘easy order,’ and from then on they will receive that order any time they tweet or text the pizza emoji to the brand.”

Another perceived advantage is that the system “cleverly lets customers order and interact with the brand where they spend an increasing amount of time every day: On their smart phone. Besides,” they add, “who wants to go through the trouble of dialing a phone number anymore?” (Duh! That’s why people store numbers in their phones!)

Oh, and it you want to break the routine and order something aside from the usual, this system won’t be of much help.

Among the balance of the eight winners, the one that strikes us as most useful – and beneficial, cost-wise, is SCA Americas’ Tork Expressnap Drive Thru Napkin Dispenser. It delivers a set quantity of napkins through a drive-in window at the touch of a button – serving to save the drive-thru employee time, prevent them from grabbing fistfuls of napkins that, facility owners surely know, often are wasted and always are costly.

The winners’ list also included an app-based system to allow passengers passing through Atlanta’s airport to order on the fly, as it were, while standing in a security line or somewhere else removed from the source of what they want to eat; An e-learning ‘academy’ “through which both hourly employees and area directors are learning about the culture, standards and core processes driving the [Newk’s Eatery] brand [in Mississippi]”; HMR’s Vuze Table Location System, which lets the likes of McDonald’s – an initial user – use a guest tag and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to learn exactly where customers are so orders can be delivered right to them, and a point-of-purchase software program designed to provide full-color renderings of individual restaurants’ interiors, allowing for the prioritizing of merchandising elements in a way that, QSR notes, “maximizes the potential of each poster, decal, banner and more within the dining room, the front counter area, the drive-thru and the store’s exterior.”

The magazine notes that while POP has never been an exact science, this system gets pretty close to offering one.

This is, of course, but the latest step in the homogenizing of America, enabling restaurant operators to have their facilities as indistinguishable as hotel rooms – and town approach-roads – have long been.

There are those who’d say this trend is not in anyone best interest.

USDA Grants To Fund At Least 80 Research Projects Concerned With Food Safety, More

 

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The USDA has awarded $30.1 million in competitive grants to fund 80 research projects to improve food safety, reduce antibiotic resistance in food, and increase the resilience of plants in the face of climate change. The grants are made possible through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences.

In addition to the awards, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Dr. John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, announced that the President’s 2017 Budget will invest a total of $700 million for AFRI, the fully authorized funding level established by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill.

In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety.

“In the face of diminishing land and water resources and increasingly variable climatic conditions, food production must increase to meet the demands of world population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Funding in research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our nation’s future, an investment which will pay big dividends in the years to come.” Since its creation, AFRI has been funded at less than half the levels established in the 2008 Farm Bill, and USDA has only been able to fund one out of 10 research proposals presented.

While grants awarded to universities, non-profits, community groups, businesses, foundations, associations, and federal agency and international partnerships have led to significant achievements that address critical issues related to agriculture, food, the environment, and communities, thousands of innovative research proposals have been left unfunded.

“Science, technology, and innovation are essential to meeting virtually every challenge our Nation faces, which is why the Administration has consistently supported increasing Federal investments in R&D,” said Dr. Holdren. “Further strengthening our investments in agricultural research will be essential for U.S. farmers to be able to keep the Nation’s food supply abundant, healthy, reliable, and sustainable through the 21st century. That’s why the President’s forthcoming 2017 budget request doubles funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to the full authorized level of $700 million.”

AFRI grants are administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which is making the awards through funding provided in fiscal year 2015. NIFA is awarding $15.1 million to fund 35 projects in AFRI’s Food Safety area, focused on enhancing food safety through improved processing technologies, effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, improving food safety, and improving food quality. $3.4 million of this funding will be used to address antimicrobial resistance throughout the food chain.

Since 2009, more than $82 million in food safety research and extension grants has been awarded through AFRI.

NIFA is also awarding $15 million to universities, laboratories, and research organizations to fund 45 projects in AFRI’s Plant Health and Production and Plant Products area. These grants focus on plant breeding for agricultural production; plant growth and development, composition, and stress tolerance; and photosynthesis and nutrient use in agricultural plants.

Since AFRI’s creation, NIFA has awarded more than $89 million to solve challenges related to plant health and production. Additional grants for studies and outreach that address plant protection against microbes, insects, and weeds will be announced later this year.

2016 Restaurant Trends Imagined

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What’s trending – or likely to be this year – in the U.S. restaurant industry? Marina Mayer, Editor-in-Chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine, has some thoughts on that. Early last month, she published them.

Her predictions include:

  • The Sriracha effect – “Chefs are scouting the world for other assertive flavorings to employ” in ways similar to the movement, over the past couple of years, of a flavorful, not-particularly-healthy sauce (too much salt; too much potassium, particularly for the 10% of U.S. adults with with Chronic Kidney Disease [CKD]) from ethnic environments onto table tops in all sorts of middling-taste restaurants;
  • Elevating peasant fare – She cites long-time-favorites meatballs and sausage as up-and-comers, along with ‘multi-ethnic dumplings, from pierogis to bao buns’;
  • Trash to treasure – Meaning that rising meat prices (even as the popularity of red meat falls off) will lead to more consumption of ‘under-utilized stewing cuts, organ meats and “trash” species of fish’. She also sees the trash to treasure movement extending to such exciting new side-of-the-plate items as “a veggie burger made with carrot pulp from the juicer”;
  • Burned – She sees ‘smoke and fire’ [are] showing up everywhere on the menu – in charred or roasted vegetable sides,  in desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings, in cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.” (Not anywhere I eat, you don’t!);
  • Negative on GMOs – She imagines some diners will seek out eateries advertising themselves as GMO-free while others demand GMO labeling on menus. Either will, if either of those trend predictions has legs, prove to be “a big issue for the supply chain,” she says, since many crops have been modified to increase productivity.” (Fortunately, there’s a growing tendency in some areas for field crop farmers to employ off-season cover crops to naturally replenish their soil and increase productivity that way, even as they reduce the use of fertilizers and soil additives.);
  • Modernizing the supply chain – This, she says, is a multi-pronged issue: On one hand, “climate destabilization, mutating pathogens and rising transport costs, among other challenges, will lead to increasingly frequent stresses on the food supply chain.” At the same time, “consumer demand for ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ fare [will] also challenge a distribution system based on consolidation, centralization, large drop sizes and long shelf life.” More than likely, she hit that one on the head – except for the ‘rising transport costs’ issue: With oil prices having dropped by 50% in the past year or so, both road and rail transport costs should have dropped, not gone the other direction. If they haven’t, some producers and recipients of long- and short-hauled food need to be applying some pressure where it’s needed – on their transporters!
  • Fast food refresh – She anticipates consumers gravitating to ‘better’ fast food – “QSR plus” concepts, as she puts it, “with fresher menus and bright units [exploiting] a price niche between fast food and fast casual.” She also sees more ‘build your own’ formats “springing up in more and more categories [and] more and more quick-service eateries adding amenities like alcohol.” There is, of course, good money to be made with alcohol sales, but there are high insurance costs associated with that business; And there’s the risk that if yours has a reputation as a ‘family friendly’ place, the mere presence of alcohol could put off some of your best customers. An interesting compromise to be attempted soon by a new restaurant in my town is to get the insurance then offer a BYO wine opportunity – but no beer or wine table service. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
  • Year of the worker – Mayer sees mandates to boost minimum wages reverberating up and down the workforce, with experienced staffers seeking more, in proportion to less-experienced colleagues. She also anticipates already-hard-to-find skilled workers becoming more scarce, and lower-level workers being replaced by automation in the back of the house and technology in the front of the house. (So long as restaurants steer clear of the ‘Bionic Bar’ concept launched recently on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem-of-the-Sea, one of the world’s largest-ever cruise ships. The Bionic Bar features drinks mixed by a pair of robot arms. A New York Times story said many passengers were underwhelmed by their taste compared to human-prepared drinks.) She also anticipates companies will devote more resources and attention to training and retention.
  • The delivery revolution – Mayer says “proliferating order-and-pay apps and third-party online order and delivery services make ‘dining in’ easier than ever.” Not quite true: As long ago as the late 1960’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant took phone orders for and delivered, piping hot, a splendid steak dinner (with baked potato and salad) accompanied by a patented device called The Korker, a corkscrew substitute – for roughly eight 1960’s dollars per person! Nothing offered today could be easier, and it would be hard to top the quality and service of that long-ago restaurant named Dan Stampler’s Steak Joint. a NYC favorite for 25 years.

Before taking over as Editor-in-Chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, Marina Mayer spend four years as managing editor and executive editor of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery and Dairy Foods magazines. I wrote for the latter, and a predecessor of the former, in the 1980’s.

A New Shelf-stable Probiotic May Benefit Many Food Products, and People

 

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It’s called LactoSpore, and a study recently published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology says it is “significantly stable during processing and in respective storage conditions of baked food, beverages, vegetable oil, concentrated glucose syrup and in brewed coffee,”NutraceuticalsWorld.com reported earlier this month (February).

The study was called ““Evaluation of the stability of Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 during processing and storage of functional foods.” It was published online on January 20 by the food science and technology journal.

The authors found:

  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 was found to be stable during processing and storage of baked food.
  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 retained 87% viability during coffee brewing.
  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 retained 99% viability in apple juice up to 6 months at 4°C (39.2F) and had over 90% viability in glucose syrup up to 24 months at 40°C (104F).

“The most crucial property that a probiotic can have, to confer health benefits, is demonstrated stability,” said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa and one of the authors of the paper. “In this publication, our studies on LactoSpore prove beyond a doubt that our room temperature shelf-stable probiotic can be incorporated in everyday types of formulations.

“We’re creating more opportunities for our customers with different kinds of probiotic formulations using LactoSpore, which ultimately benefits the consumer.”

WebMD says this about probiotics:

“Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.

“Probiotics are naturally found in your body. You can also find them in some foods and supplements.

It’s only been since about the mid-1990s that people have wanted to know more about probiotics and their health benefits. Doctors often suggest them to help with digestive problems. And because of their newfound fame, you can find them in everything from yogurt to chocolate.”

Millennials Don’t Shop, Eat Like Earlier Generations, Reports Say

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Photo: Nutraceuticals World

It was, of course, inevitable: Millennials, like generations that preceded them, are having impacts on buying patterns in food stores. A big shift with the age group born between 1982 and 1994 – which is, according to the Urban Dictionary definition of ‘Millennials’, “something special, cause mom and dad and their 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Winotsky, told them so” – is in who’s doing the grocery shopping and what they’re buying.

More often than in the past, says a survey cited recently in Nutraceuticals World magazine, shoppers are male, and their choices are healthier ones.
The 12th iteration of Agosta Inc.’s twice-annual “The Why Behind the Buy” says, “Shoppers are shopping more consciously, and [are] willing to spend slightly more money and time in an effort to make healthy meals. With less stocking of the pantry and greater focus on cooking at home, more shoppers are prioritizing healthy, homemade meals, especially when it comes to feeding their families.”

An estimated 86% of surveyed shoppers reported eating dinner at home four or more days in the past week, with 37% eating dinner at home all seven days in the preceding week. And they’re increasingly opting for natural and organic foods as well as locally sourced products, the survey data showed.

Parents are especially thoughtful about their food choices. For example, 51% agreed with the statement: “We eat healthy foods even though they are more expensive.” Interest in local products across a range of consumer demographics is exemplified by growth in farmers markets across the U.S. According to the USDA, the number of farmers markets grew more than 350% from 1994 to 2014.

However, even as they express a preference for locally-sourced food, a sizable share of surveyed Millennials also take advantage of online shopping opportunities “to help support their busy, mobile lifestyles,” the report says. It notes that 41% of parents with kids use online grocery ordering, either for delivery or pick-up at the retailer, at least once a month, compared to 29% of total U.S. shoppers.

Some of these findings are, of course, dependent on where surveyed individuals live. For example, the small town I live in appears to have a relatively small population of Millennials – judging from my personal observations as I’m out and about and shopping and dining locally. And none of the town’s food stores – there are three: A Walmart, a Food Lion and a locally-owned smaller-than-super market – offer online food shopping opportunities.

I would venture to guess that most comparably-sized towns (pop. roughly 3,500) offer comparable shopping amenities and online food shopping opportunities – which is to say, a fraction of what you’d expect to find in an urban area or city.

That’s not meant to downplay the importance of  Agosta’s study. But it and similar research, such as was reported recently by Mintel, suggests Americans in general are taking healthier approaches to what they eat and how much they exercise. In so doing, they are encouraging both restaurants and supermarkets to focus more on fresher, healthier foods, and more produced within 50 miles or so of where they’re sold.

Local sourcing is stressed by all three of the local food markets, particularly in the produce section. And the locally-owned store is well recognized as the go-to place for top-grade meat offerings.

Citing the Agosta report, Nutraceuticals World said men, especially dads, are shopping more and having more impact on buying patterns than ever before. “Due in part to generational differences and economic factors, more U.S. males are spending time grocery shopping. Men suffered the most job losses during the recession, and data indicates that the number of stay-at-home dads continues to grow. Couple that with Millennials (and their modern perspective on hands-on parenting) now starting families of their own, and the result is dramatic shifts in the number, frequency and attitude of male grocery shoppers. These guys like to food shop.”

Millennial dads in particular, often having waited longer to get married and have children, are approaching fatherhood without the gender role norms of older generations.

“These dads are proactively engaged in child rearing and taking on more household tasks, including grocery shopping,” Acosta said. “In fact, Mintel reports that 80% of millennial dads claim primary or shared grocery shopping responsibility.” Dads typically spend more, particularly on organic products, and shop more frequently. Mintel also noted that dads are doing more of the food shopping these days, and it recommends every possible effort should be made to market to them.

 

Trimming The Fat: U.S. Government Attacks Childhood Obesity

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With little fanfare, the U.S. government has been spending considerable sums – tens of millions of dollars annually – over the past decade to address an obesity problem so severe it affects more than one-third (34.9%, or 78.6 million) of all U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a single generation, the obesity rate among children has tripled. The rate has doubled within the adult population in 20 years, according to The Campaign To End Obesity.

That organization estimates healthcare costs related to obesity and conditions it contributes to amount to some $210 billion annually – 21% of all national health care spending. Its web site quotes the Congressional Budget Office as noting that when non-health costs related to obesity are factored in, the total per-annum cost is in the neighborhood of $450.

It’s little wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and such other federal agencies as the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) are spending what they are annually to educate various segments of the population about the causes and risks of obesity. The USDA alone spent nearly $70,000,000 in 2010 alone on Childhood Obesity Grants!

One of the programs that resulted from the studies those grants supported is one called Hip Hop To Health. This is that program’s sixth, and possibly final, year, unless further funding is allocated. As it certainly should be.

Hip Hop to Health is described as “an evidence-based healthy eating and exercise curriculum developed for children ages 3-7 years.” It’s clever, it’s catchy, and it works: The project’s web site notes that, “results of a comprehensive randomized evaluation study showed that children who received the Hip Hop to Health (HH2H) Jr. curriculum showed smaller increases in their body mass index at both a 1-year and 2-year follow-ups than children who received a general health curriculum. Thus HH2H was successful in taking these children off the trajectory to overweight and obesity.”

So if it happens, as it’s been reported, that the government “spent $3.5 million on anti-obesity hip hop songs,” you can assume from the results that was money well spent. (Your tax dollars truly at work!)

HH2H was developed by Dr. Melinda Stolley, who has spent much of her career creating health behavior programs for children and adults. Now an associate director at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center, she earned a BS in education at Northwestern University, did a stint as a kindergarten teacher, then returned to Northwestern to complete an MA in counseling psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology.

During the development phase, the HH2H program received feedback from early elementary teachers, parents and school administrators. Its effectiveness was evaluated through a study led by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, a professor at the University of Illinois.

She also has a PhD in clinical psychology and is an expert in the area of childhood obesity. She served on the Institute of Medicine Committee that developed the strategic plan for addressing childhood obesity in the U.S.  She and Dr. Stolley have been colleagues for many years, the project’s web site says.

The program’s simple-to-execute makeup belies its depth and scope. In addition to hip hop songs, a genre chosen because children readily take to it and have fun with the songs, the program employs a spectrum of teaching exercises and an assortment of physical exercises. HH2H can be ‘worked’ in a classroom setting, childcare centers, parks, at afterschool programs and in homes.

With luck, for children who are potentially obese adults, HH2H will be refunded, and many lives as well as millions of dollars will be saved in decades to come.