All posts by javava2012

Instore Robots Are H-E-R-E!

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Marty the robot is being tested at Giant Food Stores on Union Deposit Road in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania.  (Photo: PenLive.com)

An increasing number of food retailers are using, or planning to use, instore robots – not to replace existing workers, but to do some of their tasks more efficiently. In the end, the theory is, everyone benefits: The retailer can keep a better handle of out-of-stocks at the shelf level, be quickly notified of spills and other issues requiring special attention from a worker, and check prices from shelf labels, to ensure prices posted and those in the front-end system are in sync; Employees get help keeping track of where stock is needed; Customers are more likely to find shelves fully stocked (or being restocked, as they shop), enjoy a safer shopping environment as spills, etc. are dealt with quicker, and, as a bonus, get to watch a so-far-unusual piece of technology work their favorite store’s aisles.

AndNowYouKnow, the produce blog/newsletter, reported a few days ago on a pilot robot-using program in a Giant Food Store in eastern Pennsylvania. This Ahold USA store is running the pilot in association with Badger Technologies. They intend to have the robot, called Marty, up and working in 12 stores by sometime next year.

The ANUK also noted that other retailers considering or already employing robots include Walmart, Amazon, and Target. A Digital Trends story in September of last year noted that Walmart is planning to shift some workers to other roles and let some 7,000 go as robotic or newly-automated systems are introduced for ‘back room’ operations such as billing and accounting. The Wall Street Journal noted that one objective of the new hands-off processing of invoices and cash, among other things, is “to put more staff in contact with shoppers.”

CNBC, in a report primarily about Amazon’s growing home delivery services, noted that Walmart also has announced a deal with smart doorbell maker August to provide customers an in-home delivery service: It will enable Amazon delivery personnel to have one-time access to home so they can deliver and put away, where appropriate (as with frozen or refrigerated items), at least part of an order.

Services such as these, plus driver-less trucks, are going to play increasingly important roles in stores and households of the surprisingly near future.

Watch this space.

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Cut the Cocoa, Add Jackfruit Flour, Result: Pretty Much the Same

jackfruit-growing

The bad news: Persistently low and volatile prices are raising fears that world demand for cocoa, the principal ingredient in the much-loved confectionery known as chocolate, could soon exceed availability. Aside from something called swollen shoot virus disease, the problem is, given the money, solvable: A shortage of warehouse storage capacity in the major cocao productions of West Africa, South America and Asia could relatively easily be overcome by, duh, building more facilities. But the funds to do so are lacking, so the risk of shortages is a real one.

The good news: Researchers in the UK and Brazil have found people identify a chocolate-like aroma in flour made from roasted jackfruit seeds, according to Food Navigator. Their studies hold promise for jackfruit’s ability to mimic the aroma of chocolate, making jackfruit, which has many of the same characteristics as cocoa, a potential stand-in for the real thing, providing consumers a taste and feel they like like in chocolate-like products.

The even better news: A study at the University of Malaysia has found that substituting a proportion of jackfruit flour for wheat flour in cake-making can result in a caloric reduction of more than 30% in the end product.

Food Dive reports that, “The International Cocoa Organization said about 4.7 million tons of cocoa are currently being produced worldwide, with total production expected to rise about 18% from 2016.

It’s still early as far as the jackfruit being used as a substitute for cocoa. Even if the fruit has many of the same characteristics as cocoa, if it does not mirror the taste or texture, it could instantly turn off consumers. It’s also uncertain how well the flour made from roasted jackfruit seeds would work with other ingredients used to make chocolate, or how much it would cost to produce the cocoa-like substitute. Figuring out these answers will go a long way toward determining whether it can displace cocoa in even a small amount of foods.

Developing additional U.S. markets for the popular jackfruit — now used in ice cream, smoothies, soups and side dishes — could stimulate new income streams, along with adding value and reducing widespread waste in places where it grows.

Jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, capable of reaching sizes of more than 80 pounds, growing both on branches and the trunks of trees native to South and East Asia. It’s botanically related to figs, mulberries and breadfruit.

It also has a dual identity. If it’s left to ripen, it becomes amazingly fruity and has been rumored to be the inspiration for the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum.

The fruit is increasingly popular with U.S. consumers. Pinterest named jackfruit as the top food item people will be trying in 2017 based on a 420% increase in interest among users of the social media platform. Vegetarians and vegans are driving some of this interest because of jackfruit’s evolving role as a meat substitute, despite its relative lack of protein.

Jackfruit delivers a powerful nutritional package as a significant source of vitamin A, C and the B-complex vitamins, dietary fiber and several important minerals, particularly potassium, magnesium, manganese and iron. Among its other assets, jackfruit contains no cholesterol and virtually no fat.

Please check out our other blog, YouSawWHAT.info.

(Between them, these blogs have been view in 90 countries!)

Oprah Launching Sides/Soups Range

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Well, why not? She’s done pretty close to everything else. Now Oprah Winfrey is sponsoring a food line under her name. She recently filed for a trademark for her “O, That’s Good!” line of refrigerated side dishes and soups being prepared in collaboration with Kraft Heinz. Announced recently, the line is due to hit stores in October.

As The Daily Meal put it, “It only makes sense that the queen of living well would have an “Aha!” moment and come out with perfectly portioned side dishes and soups, all under 300 calories, that feed your cravings while also feeding your health.

The four sides are recognizable favorites but with discreet healthy twists: The mashed potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes are actually partially made with cauliflower, while the three cheese pasta incorporates butternut squash and the creamy parmesan pasta includes white beans.

The soups come in comforting favorites, too, such as baked potato, tomato basil, butternut squash and broccoli cheddar. Don’t worry about indulging in a bowl — there is cauliflower in the baked potato, and carrots and celery in the tomato basil. Butternut squash features in the broccoli cheddar, and even though you would think butternut squash is the only vegetable in the butternut squash soup, it’s also packed with sweet potatoes and carrots.

Because everything Oprah touches turns to gold, these side dishes and soups are most likely going to be flying off the shelves when they hit stores in October of this year. A portion of the proceeds even go to charities fighting hunger, because duh, it’s Oprah!”

Please also check out our YouSayWHAT.info blog!

Wegmans Feeds 1,000 C’ville Protests First Responders

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Wegmans on Dick Rd. in Cheektowaga. Photo taken, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

More than 1.000 first responders dealing with the unrest in Charlottesville VA last weekend faced angry protesters – some there to oppose the city’s plan to remove from a public part a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park, others out to protesters that group – from Friday night through Sunday. Thanks to Wegman’s, the New York State-based supermarket chain presently expanding into states far further south, they didn’t do so on empty stomachs.

A car of the first responders visited a Wegman’s a couple of miles from the heart of the protest area, abutting the campus of the University of Virginia, seeking a couple of pizzas and some drinks. They got way more, when store managers and workers set aside normal tasks to go all out preparing and packing hot food, beverages and more for the first responders – and initially refused to take any money for it. (Then, the first responders said they insisted on paying, and the store reluctantly gave in.)

A Facebook posting by Metro Richmond Fire Incidents, which sent crews to Charlottesville for the event, said that “store managers halted their daily work and ‘dedicated themselves and other staff to cooking for us. They fired up all their ovens, called in extra bakers and even emptied their freezers to cook boxed pizza for us when they ran out of dough.”
The night manager stayed till 1 a.m. to oversee the effort to feed more than 1,000 police officers and National Guard members, “amid absolute chaos and with no advanced notice,” according to the Facebook post. The deed culminated Sunday morning with 500 Virginia State Police troopers “walking into their location, bereft with grief, yet so thankful to see a 20-foot long counter lined with breakfast.”

robert wegman

Jo Natale, a spokesperson for Wegmans, confirmed the actions of employees confirmed the actions of employees and declined to comment further to Wegman’s hometown newspaper, the Rochester Democrat a& Chronicle, stating that the Facebook post “speaks for itself.”

Since it was initially put online, the post by the Metro Richmond Fire Incidents page was shared more than 4,000 times with more than 4,300 reactions and 300+ comments, it was reported by WHAM-TV of Rochester NY.

For Protein, Give Peas A Chance

 

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Food Dive reported last week that while alternative proteins from algae and insects continue to make headlines, until they become cheaper and more appetizing, an increasing number of manufacturers will ask us to give peas a chance.

Extracted from dried and ground yellow split peas, pea protein is showing up in everything from sports supplements, smoothies and protein bars, to meat alternatives and yogurt. General Mills uses it in its Lärabar and Cascadian Farms brands, UK bakery giant Warburton’s recently added pea protein to sliced bread, and it is even possible to buy ‘pea milk’.

Beyond Meat produces a vegetarian burger based on pea protein that looks, sizzles and even ‘bleeds’ like a beef burger, thanks to beetroot juice. Even meat firms are paying attention, as Tyson Foods — the nation’s biggest meat producer — has bought a 5% stake in the company. In meat products themselves, companies are adding pea protein to cut fat content and improve texture.

The appeal for consumers is that pea protein is a non-allergenic, non-GMO and environmentally friendly ingredient — especially when compared to other commonly used protein sources like soy and whey. While whey protein is the most popular fortification product on the market, more consumers are considering plant-based protein sources for their health and environmental benefits.

The list of health benefits for pea protein is long. It is cholesterol-free, helps with satiety and blood pressure, and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol. For elderly or ill consumers, it is more easily digested than animal-derived proteins. Major pea protein supplier Roquette has also done research that suggests it is just as effective as whey for enhancing muscle mass gain during weight training.

All of this adds up to a booming market. According to Mintel, the number of new products containing pea protein grew by 195% from 2013 to 2016.

Roquette is banking on rising demand for pea protein in a big way, and recently announced a CA$400 million ($321 million) investment to build the world’s largest pea protein factory in Manitoba, Canada, as well as an additional €40 million ($47 million) for its French pea processing site. By 2019, the company expects the two facilities to have a combined capacity of 250,000 tons a year, placing it at the heart of two of the world’s biggest regions for pea protein ingredients — North America and Europe — as well as the world’s biggest pea supply. Canada provides 30% of the global pea protein total.

Roquette has seen growing demand for protein-fortified products. Meat substitute products grow rapidly as more consumers become interested in vegetarian options.

Part of peas’ appeal is the claims food companies can make on-pack — including gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and vegan. Unlike soy, whey or casein, pea protein is not considered to be a major allergen, meaning foods and drinks containing the ingredient can make low/no/reduced allergen claims.

Pea protein does have potential downsides, particularly when it comes to protein quality.

Soy and animal-derived proteins are considered “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids — those not made by the body. Protein from peas is “incomplete,” meaning it is low in certain amino acids.

While this may give some athletes pause, it is unlikely to be a problem, according to Melissa Majumdar, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As long as someone is not relying on pea protein for their only source of protein, they will likely meet their amino acid and therefore protein needs,” she told Food Dive.

If all essential amino acids are not available or are only available in limited amounts, the body must get them from another source to perform functions in the body needing protein. In other words, amino acids are the protein puzzle pieces and the puzzle is not complete with a missing piece.”

She explained that pea protein bioavailability is at 69%. Whey is 99% and soy is 95% to 98%. Apart from its limiting amino acids, bioavailability also is affected by chemicals that inhibit nutritional availability, including tannins and lectin.

On the other hand, pea protein can be a less expensive form of protein than animal protein,” Majumdar said. “Pea protein is not as common of an allergy as whey and soy and as long as the limiting acids are replaced or complemented, pea protein can be a quality protein source.”

 

Banana Delivery in NYC: It’s Seriously Complicated

Bananas

The New York Times had a fascinating feature last Friday (August 4) detailing the complications in getting bananas from their US point of entry into stores and fruit stands around New York City. Some 20 million bananas – and that doesn’t count the growing number being processed by supermarket companies – weekly.

The facts, figures and curious asides in this article include the fact that bananas are slightly radioactive. There’s also an explanation of how the ‘slip on a banana peel’ story got started, and another about the day it rained bananas in Pittsburgh.

Then there was the lady who repeatedly slipped on banana peels in a 17-long string of slip-and-fall accidents between 1906 and 1910. Eventually, she was charged with grand larceny, growing out of an investigation of her unapeeling (sic) accidents.

The Times on November 27, 1910, reported Mrs. Anna H. Sturla was due the next day in court, but the result of her hearing there wasn’t included in last week’s banana story. (And a search of the NYT archives found no later mention of her.)

The story did note that, at some point in the probably-near future, New Yorkers – like people elsewhere – are going to have to get used to a new type of banana. The Cavendish, the most commonly variety exported from Ecuador and other banana-growing countries (few of them, in fact, ‘banana republics’), is subject to being attacked and eventually defeated by a new strain of the Panama Disease, a type of Fusarium Wilt, a fungal disease that kills the plants it invades.

Scientists are trying to find or clone – as the Cavendish is a clone – that can resist that disease. But as banana historian Dan Koeppel told The Times, the Cavendish, like the Gros Michel (Big Mike) before it, have commercial advantages because around the world they are genetically identical, but “when one gets sick, they all get sick.”

In Asia, they’re trying to breed a Panama disease-resistant Cavendish. But, Mr. Koppel said, “You can’t just breed in resistance. You might be breeding out other stuff, like flavor.”

Collectively, The Times article of last week and the links we’ve provided will pretty much guarantee you’ll never again look at bananas quite the same way!

Please check out Doug Harris’s other blog, YouSayWHAT.info.

Gambling Machines Among Latest ‘Added Values’ Items In US Supermarkets

video gambling machines

Generally speaking, grocers aren’t gamblers: Traditionally, they’ve tended to hew to fairly traditional approaches to marketing and selling food. At least they did until a few years ago.

Then, faced with new competitor types – such as hard discounters such as Aldi and Sav-A-Lot (and now, Lidl) – and an increasing emphasis on store periphery departments, retailers started stepping up their game, expanding their offerings and, most recently, paring prices to the bone.

A growing number, including New York State-based Wegman’s, and Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s, added an entertainment factor by bringing ‘backroom’ business to the store floor: Putting in-store baking operations front-and-center; providing a window into juice- and milk-bottling operations (Stew Leonard was a pioneer in this); taking sampling to a new level with educated offerings of featured wines … the list goes on.

But following at least two other Illinois grocers in truly breaking new ground recently was a Piggly Wiggly store in Antioch, where several video gambling machines were introduced. Store owner David Karczewski told the local Daily Herald newspaper that while the machines hadn’t been part of his original plan when he applied for a license to sell alcohol within his store, he quickly realized that the liquor permit, which also allowed him to introduce video gambling into his grocery store, sounded like a good idea.

He’s subsequently said he’s been proved right: He told the Daily Herald that they’ve earned him a number of new customers.

Hardly surprisingly, some community members have objected to the presence of gambling machines in a family-focused establishment, while town board members say allowing gambling wasn’t their intention in approving the store’s liquor license. Store owner Karczewski, meanwhile, said he installed the machines to give his location a competitive edge against larger competitors, and he’s been pleased with the many new shoppers he’s seen in the store.

His innovation, Food Dive noted a few days ago, isn’t all that different from other food retailers’ innovative efforts to attract new customers, or, at the least, new income from existing ones. (Banking, parcel shipping, Coinstar machines and even the occasional Department of Motor Vehicles branch as well as restaurants and bars being among them.)

In all such instances, retailers are fighting as best they can to overcome competitive threats. Even more extreme, though, are the approaches of such disrupters as Lidl and Aldi, in particular, whose strategies revolve around limiting selections (reducing the need for backroom space) and cutting costs – internally and to consumers – to the bone.

The latter’s strategy is disrupting the food retailing industry more dramatically than anything before it came close to doing. The club stores – Costo, Sam’s Club – caused a lot of shoppers to rethink shopping patterns a couple decades ago, but the careful among them quickly realized that the key to successfully shopping those stores – to save money – is to ‘pre-shop’ prices of things you want at other outlets. The clubs aren’t giving anything away, so some of their prices are far from the best out there.

And that concept was further complicated as Amazon introduced an ever-broader range of products online. Now, the click-and-collect concept that Walmart, among others, are greatly promoting are presenting further challenges to walk-in-and-buy oriented retailers.

It’s only a matter of time before Walmart and others figure out how to profitably do click-and-collect on food items. Fresh and frozen food items, that is: Offering click-and-collect on dry groceries is as simple as doing it.

Meanwhile, dollar stores also are becoming more competitive against grocers. Dollar Tree, for example, has been featuring – via a big store-front banner – a several-ounce ‘pre-conditioned’ steak for around $4.00. But this is a real ‘buyer beware’ item: The product looks good, but the ‘pre-conditioning’ has involved a form of pounding that’s beat the … flavor out of the product.

Still, to some shoppers, something called a ‘steak’ is still outside the range of what they usually consume for protein. And that’s the key issue on all the retail changes the industry is undergoing: The value is in the eyes of the beholders, and consumers, having an amazing assortment of tastes and concepts of what’s good, and good for them, will respond to grocers’ changes with their own ideas of what makes sense and what doesn’t.

Watch this space!