McD Attracts Breakfast-all-Day Lovers Everywhere, and a Drunken Horseman in Wales

mcdonalds_sign

Photograph: Alan Diaz/AP

The deepening food crisis in Venezuela has forced McDonald’s largest franchisee, globally, to halt sales of Big Macs because the company is unable to obtain the flat, center bun that separates the two burger patties.

This is hardly the only crisis affecting McDonald’s recently. First, while the ‘all day breakfast’ concept initiated in the fourth quarter of last year remains popular, it seems to be doing so at the expense of other menu items. The company’s domestic sales in the U.S. grew a mere 1.8% in the last three months – half of what Wall Street was anticipating. That, CNNMoney reported recently, “represents a slowdown from the 5.4% growth in the first quarter of the year.”

The Guardian noted that the earnings disappointment was also reflected in a 4% revenue loss, to $6.26 billion, as the burger giant suffered, like many of its competitors, in the face of growing uncertainty among consumers.

But The Washington Post declared that, “Adding the anytime breakfast accomplished important things for McDonald’s: It showed customers that the company was listening to them. And it demonstrated to investors that new chief executive Steve Easterbrook is willing to take bold steps — not just make incremental tweaks — to try to pull the burger chain out of its rut. But, even though McDonald’s plans to make more items available on its all-day breakfast menu later this year, the offering appears to be bumping up against its limits in terms of its ability to drive long-term sales growth.”

With sales down, stock prices followed in the same direction, with share prices falling 4% on one recent day – this after the 30% share price gain the company enjoyed over the past year.

Meanwhile, one franchisee in Wales decided to let nothing stand (or stagger) in its way of boosting its share of the late night, post-pub crowd: It opened, initially at an outlet in the city of Llandudno, a walk-through lane for customers incapacitated by drink and sensibly not driving or, in one instance, out for a late-night horseback ride. (The latter man, who appeared to be and sounded intoxicated, actually used the drive-through lane, before the walk-through version was established.)

 

 

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Meal Kits, Aimed at Busy Home Cooks, Slowly Gain A Following

 

meal kits-1

Meal kits, the food industry’s latest attempt to reinvent itself and in the process hopefully boost profits with a ‘value-added’ product, have, in a few short years, already been tried, sometimes repeatedly, by a slowly growing segment of the U.S. population — some three percent within the past  year, according the NPD Group, a market research firm.

A small step for meal kits, a giant leap for Millennials’ attention-getting ability.

They, to a large degree, are the target market for the several national and numerous local meal kit-offering  services – they and others who might be prepared to push the cost of a prepared-at-home meal from, say, $4 per person to $10 or more by having all of a meal’s ingredients pre-measured, pre-packed and delivered, with clear cooking instructions included.

meak kits-2_peach dish

Peach Dish is one of several national meal kit providers.

Those using meal kits, NDP Group says, in a new report entitled Thinking Inside the Box: A Fresh Look at Meal Kit Delivery Services, “are generally satisfied, and two out of three kit users are extremely or very satisfied; But price may be a barrier for continued use and adoption by others.”

Their study says that saving time is the top reason used for using meal kits, and consumers also say that using them “makes dinner easier to prepare”; And many add, the kits provide variety beyond the usual repertoire of someone who’s been working all day, is tired, and wants to simply through together a familiar dish or two, using well-tried recipes.

But the freshness of meal kits’ ingredients appeal a lot to young adults, many of who truly have limited recipe repertoires and limited time and/or patience for venturing further afield, cuisine-wise. And they certainly don’t have either the time or interest to shop often for a specific meal, so their ingredients are bound to be less fresh than the kits’, which are selected, prepped, packed and delivered daily.

But the kits’ cost is a concern of many users, because while they are used to replace a home-created meal, their per-person is closer to that of a restaurant meal.

Oddly, price didn’t come up as an issue in a laudatory Forbes article on meal kits in March of this year.

“Every single meal turned out as expected and given the potential for user-error in my house, that is an impressive statistic,” said author Katie Kelly Bell, who said she “scouts the world for the best experiences in food, wine and travel.”

That reinforces the belief of Darren Seifer, NPD Group’s food and beverage industry analyst.

The cost issue aside, he said, “there are opportunities for continued growth – for meal kit providers to market around the reasons their customers are satisfied, for manufacturers to get in the kit box, and for foodservice operators to leverage their ability to provide on-demand delivery and meal variety.”

 

 

GMO Bill Passes in US; ‘Free-From’ Advances in Europe

Should you voluntarily follow a 'free-from' diet?

While the U.S. struggles with issues related to GMO labeling, gluten- dairy- and wheat-free issues, the U.K. and at least a couple of continental European countries are merrily moving along with a movement called, simply, ‘free-from’. It encompasses all of the above, and might extend to other ‘freedoms’ currently relevant or potentially relevant to food growing and onward up the food chain.

FreeFrom

Meanwhile, the U.S. congress passes, and sends to the president for his signature – ordinarily done with a handful of pens as ‘give-aways’ to selected recipients – a bill that, for all intents and purposes, does next to nothing to ensure products offered to the public are free of genetically modified ingredients.

I know, I touched on the GMO issue a few days ago. But this comparative issue, ‘free-from’, which we will be be looking at in more detail soon, is, oddly, a view few American organizations or individual companies have addressed – and it’s one that’s taking off, elsewhere.

Among the observations about the about-to-be-signed GMO bill is the fact that, as one legislator put it, “the devil is in the details,” and speculation is that it will take “years” for those details to be worked out.

In other words, no one should have high hope that this bill will move the ball very far soon – maybe not even before the next – hopefully one-term – president is replaced.

(While this blog tends to avoid issues of a political nature, it is worth noting, about now, with one the two major political parties having just wrapped up its election year convention and the other’s conclave just getting underway, that whichever of the hardly-lesser ‘evils’ is elected is more than likely to have serious impacts on food-related policies.

Trump has promised to disrupt treaties that affect how, and from where, food enters this country.

A Clinton campaign pledge has her increasing funding “to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems”; And she’ll create “a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times.”

But campaign statements and promises too often give way to different concepts once a politician [at whatever level] is in office. Time will tell how these two’s promises bear up.

But you can be sure that, one way or another, either would in one, two or another way, disrupt ‘business’ as usual as its being done in the food trade these days.

 

Herbalife, Forced to End MLM Structure, Could Impact Food Retailers

herbalife

A recent settlement agreement between the FTC (U.S. Federal Trade Commission) and Herbalife, a marketer of dietary supplements, is likely to have, in the short term, only a marginal impact on food retailers who sell dietary supplements. That sector includes supermarkets with pharmacies and retail pharmacies, most of which give significant amounts of space to such supplements.

The reason the settlement agreement will have any impact on supplement retailers is because, as part of the deal, Herbalife is required to restructure its business away from the multi-level marketing format it has been employing since its founding. The company also has to pay a fine of $200 million to the U.S. government for deceiving consumers into believing that as agents for and sellers of Herbalife products, they could, as they recruited others to be agents, earn substantial sums.

However, according to FTC, Herbalife’s compensation structure was based primarily on participants recruiting others to join and purchase product, rather than on the sale of products.

It is reasonable to assume since that approach has been shot down, Herbalife’s restructuring will be in a direction that will see the company seeking retail shelf space – in competition, of course, with the multiple supplement brands already doing the same thing.

This approach could, somewhere down the road, create space-allocation issues for retailers and even possibly lead to attempts to alter the system(s) determining who gets how much space, and where, in retail stores.

‘Free-From’ Beats GMO, Labeling Changers With A MUCH Clearer Message

free_from_event

A ‘Free-From’ event exhibitor

While the U.S. struggles with issues related to GMO labeling, gluten- dairy- and wheat-free issues, the U.K. and at least a couple of continental European countries are merrily moving along with a movement called, simply, ‘free-from’. It encompasses all of the above, and might extend to other ‘freedoms’ currently relevant or potentially relevant to food growing and onward up the food chain.

Meanwhile, the U.S. congress passes, and sends to the president for his signature – ordinarily done with a handful of pens as ‘give-aways’ to selected recipients – a bill that, for all intents and purposes, does next to nothing to ensure products offered to the public are free of genetically modified ingredients.

I know, I touched on the GMO issue a couple of days ago. But this is, oddly, a view few American organizations or individual companies have addressed – and it’s one that’s taking off, elsewhere.

What has been said about the about-to-be-signed GMO bill is the fact that, as one observer said, “the devil is in the details,” and speculation is that it will take “years” for those details to be worked out. In other words, no one should have high hope that this bill will move the ball very far soon – maybe not even before the next – hopefully one-term – president is replaced.

(While this blog tends to avoid issues of a political nature, it is worth noting, about now, with one of the two major political parties having its election year convention as we speak, with the other’s conclave due within a couple of weeks, that whichever of the hardly-lesser ‘evils’ is elected is more than likely to have serious impacts on food-related policies.

(Trump has promised to disrupt treaties that affect how, and from where, food enters this country.

(A Clinton campaign pledge has her “increase[ing] funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems; And she’ll create a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times.”

(But campaign statements and promises too often give way to different concepts once a politician [at whatever level] is in office. Time will tell how these two’s promises bear up.

(But you can be sure that, one way or another, either would in one, two or another way, disrupt ‘business’ as usual as its being done in the food trade these days.

 

Feeling Under The Weather? A Pork Chop May Perk You Up

porkchop

Tiring (already) of grass-fed beef, and GMO-free stuff of all sorts? Never fear! Chinese farmers are pursuing what they hope will become ‘the next great thing’ in food – cows, pigs and ducks fed a diet rich in ancient Chinese medicines.

A New York Times article yesterday (July 16) reported that, because there traditional Chinese medicines and health foods are seeing a surge in popularity in the world’s most populous nation, “farmers are adapting the age-old elixirs — a dash of ginseng here, a speck of licorice there — for use on livestock.”

The results they’re promising will be flesh that will be delicious and healthy – “lean, juicy meats that can protect against colds, arthritis and other illnesses.”

The science, rewarded recently with a Nobel Prize to a doctor for the specific scientific research procedures she used to extract a certain plant-based material and use it to create a chemical drug, is said in yesterday’s Times article to be “less resounding, though one study did find that cows that were fed Chinese medicines performed better in hot weather.”)

Several years ago, a farmer in the southern region of Guangxi “began mixing 22 kinds of herbs into the daily feed for his livestock.” The pigs that Mr. Lin now raises sell for $460, about $200 more than the typical price for conventional pigs, he said, and some customers even eat his meats instead of taking medicine.

“The pigs raised this way don’t get sick, they have good texture and they’re meaty,” he said.

Farmers like Mr. Lin hope that China’s increasingly health-conscious middle class will help bring medicinal meats into the mainstream. The health-food market in China reached $1 trillion last year, and it is expected to grow 20 percent annually for the next several years.

Mr. Lin said China was returning to something good from the past that had been neglected. “In the old days, we used traditional methods to feed the animals,” he said. “People’s longevity was very long.”

 

GMO Bill Heads To White House – Why?

GMO_bil_label

With both the Senate and the House of Representatives signed off on it, a much-discussed, somewhat controversial bill concerning the labeling of genetically modified foods is on its way to the White House for signing by President Obama.

The bill has been hailed by some in the food industry and soundly decried by others. And an ‘interactive feature’ in The New York Times last week gave consumers pause to consider how much better off, or wiser, they’ll be (or not) with this or any other GMO-oriented legislation.

The July 11 New York Times piece (cited above) pretty much sums up what consumers need to know, right now, or in the foreseeable future, on the GMO issue. (Spoiler: The issue isn’t as big a deal many would have you believe.)

The problem comes with the concept of genetic manipulation of food, and where it happens in the food chain. At first glance, if you were unfortunate enough to see a ‘modern’ bred-for-cooking chicken in the flesh, as it were, your first reaction no doubt would be, ‘nature would never make something that looks, and is, by design, as physically challenged as this poor creature is’. And you’d be right.

fat chickens

An unfortunately large number of the chickens bred these days for eating – so called ‘food chickens – are a far cry, physically, from their ancestors of half a century ago. They’ve been dramatically ‘modified’ by selective breeding – not by having their genes manipulated. The objective has been to satisfy the public’s desire for white, as opposed to dark, chicken meat, and the best white meat – in terms of quantity and solid volume, is found in the breast. So, chickens have been selectively bred to have enormous breasts – to a point, as The Times interactive feature notes, its “legs can barely support.”

An article linked-to at that point in the ‘interactive’ article goes so far as to describe the selective breeding of chickens – “modern chicken genetics” – as “a form of abuse”: Chickens today, the linked-to piece says, “stagger about, sometimes on splayed legs, or mostly just sit down.”

A good share of the corn grown in the U.S. today is genetically modified so it resistant to the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. This gene modification was necessary because Roundup is designed to travel down through a broad spectrum of plants, killing them all the way down to their root system. So, it can  keep corn fields pretty clear of weeds that grab moisture the corn needs, etc.

Some think the chemical (glyphosate) is toxic, possibly contributing to the development of cancer, in humans. There’s no real evidence to support that.

The point of the corn gene manipulation is to enable the plant to defeat the chemical’s objective, and it works. As or more important, though, is the fact that in the course of traveling down through a plant to its roots, the glyphosate apparently in no modifies the corn in a way that could be harmful to humans.

(Full disclosure: For the better part of a year, in the mid-1970’s, shortly after Roundup was first marketed, I helped promote it by producing, at Monsanto’s expense, ‘user stories’ from farmers, municipal and state roadside maintenance authorities, NASA, the Orange Bowl, cemetery managers, wholesale plant growers, lawn care professionals, and many others from one side of the U.S. to the other. The articles were placed in trade magazine serving specific trades – and they were glad to get them, because Roundup was, and still widely is, considered to be something of a ‘miracle product’ that cuts labor costs by vastly reducing the amount of time it takes to clear away unwanted plants.

(A Monsanto sales rep I traveled with in Texas told me a story of an instance where a woman complained to him that Roundup was “killing my dogs, my chickens and my kids; Notice the priorities, there, he said.” His response: He pulled out a sample size of the product – a couple of ounces – and promptly drank it! “She all but fainted,” he laughed.)

Another issue, also pointed out in The Times’ interactive piece, is the fact that, with GMOs being talked about by some as posing health risks (no proof, so far) et cetera, some manufacturers are sticking ‘GMO free’ and similar labels on products – including ground oats, and water – where GMOs are not an issue!

Sadly, there is no ‘safe source’ of authoritative information on whether or not, ultimately, some GMOs might be found to be less than beneficial, without posing any risk to humans.

Chickens are routinely fed genetically modified grain – modified to help chickens ward off diseases. No one has ever suggested that GMO grain, or the breeding manipulations causing chickens to grown far faster and end up with far great breast weights than nature intended, is causing fried chicken eaters to gain weight or developed clogged arteries. Both have a far more direct relationship to the cooking fat that favorite food is cooked in.

People notoriously try to blame ‘something else’ on such conditions as having high blood pressure (cut your salt intake!) water retention (ditto’) or being too ‘bulky’ (you can see where this is going!).

In the grand scheme of things, as we can see that scheme today, GMOs are the least of the worries of people who consume way too much salt, and sugar (in the form of soft drinks, candy, etc.) and fail to exercise.

For the moment, it would be best to keep the GMO ‘threat’ in perspective: It ain’t one, that anyone’s been able to pin down.

The president can sign the bill, creating a new law, and the food industry can say – or it could, if the language of the bill were clear enough – ‘see, we’re doing what you want! Isn’t that wonderful?’

No, in fact, it isn’t.

I’ve worked (as a writer) on the fringe of the food industry for the better part of forty years. The technological changes in that time – what’s known now that wasn’t even imaged then – is mind boggling. Maybe there’s some reason why, in some instances, genetically modified foods might pose a risk of some sort to people. Maybe there isn’t. But none of what I regularly read about developments in the trade suggest there’s any reason why careful manipulations shouldn’t continue, when risk are clearly evaluated and taken into consideration.

A lot of what Congress does is wheel-spinning, or publicity-oriented. This bill may represent one, the other or both of those. What it doesn’t represent is a viable means of addressing what may, or may not,  be an issue worth getting excited about. Or wasting all the Congressional time and energy this bill has.

While some Congressional bills may require as few as two pages  – the one authorizing President Obama to give gold medals to the Apollo astronauts on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing – many spending bills and some others are notorious for filling 1,000 or more pages.

Multiply than times 500 or so – for 435 members of Congress plus other need-to-see’s. That amounts to 1,000 reams of paper – at 500 pages per ream – per bill. And that’s just the House version.

Every month, I attend meetings of county-level Board of Supervisors in Virginia meetings where the agenda, including multiple pages of explanatory files and charts, etc., is readily available on tablet-sized computers placed conveniently in front of each Supervisor. Small towns, as mine is (at 4,000 or so souls), and right-thinking counties really need to watch their expenditures, and it’s pretty obvious that using even a few reams of paper to duplicate, every month, something stored in an electronic file, is beyond wasteful: It’s an irresponsible use of public money.

Call me stupid, but I have enough faith that those who produce the food we eat, have no interest whatsoever in poisoning us. I can’t imagine any major (or even a minor) food producer introducing GMO ingredients into what they intend to market if they had the least suspicion the GMO aspect could put their customers – members of the shopping and consuming public – at risk.

All else aside, doing so would be illegal under existing law. The about-to-be GMO labeling law is highly unlikely to have any positive effect, but certainly could have some negative ones: Companies charged with mislabeling when the ‘facts’, between the complainant  and the accused, are, well, disputable.