Tag Archives: Food service

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

 

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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.

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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.”

 

 

Down With Pork? How About Cutting Down on All Meat!

 

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Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images (and The Guardian)

Many years ago, France was so language proud that words from elsewhere were banned. Now, with le hot dog and various other ‘cross-over’ words being very much du jour, the battle for French ‘purity’ has moved to a new front: The school cafeteria.

Where for 30 or more years parents could choose an other-than-pork entrée for their children, some schools have removed that option, leaving Jewish children and, increasingly, Muslim ones, with no meat option at all when, say, roast pork, Strasbourg sausage or ham-pasta bake is on the menu.

When one parent queried at her small town’s administrative office why the change had been instituted, she was told, bluntly,  “From now on, that’s the way it is. Pork or nothing,” The Guardian reported late last year.

The issue, French officials say, is “secularity.” Parents of affected children, who often are themselves too young to understand why their families don’t eat pork, understandably view the matter as a form of discrimination – secularity be damned!

In at least two other jurisdictions – a portion of Germany, and around Houston, Texas – some schools are voluntarily opting to offer other-than-pork options.

An observer in Houston told us that, “Here, we also don’t use pork on a purely voluntary basis to accommodate religious needs. Some of our schools have significant Muslim populations.”

FoodTradeTrends.com was told by the German Embassy in Washington that, “In light of the current refugee situation, several public cafeterias and kindergartens in Germany decided voluntarily to stop or limit the serving of pork out of respect for Muslim migrants. In light of this, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union, a political party) in the state of Schleswig-Holstein submitted a proposal earlier this month to maintain the use of pork in school lunches.

“The disputed application was rejected on March 9th by all the other political parties within the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament. The consensus in the parliament is that each public cafeteria or kindergarten can decide on its own whether it wants to offer pork.

“The reduction of pork in school cafeterias is not based purely on a higher number of Muslim students, but rather on changes in nutrition standards and an overall goal to consume less meat.”

Several American organizations, the American Heart Association being prime among them, are strongly encouraging the consumption of less meat, overall, and less red meat, in particular, for health reasons. The AHA’s D.A.S.H. diet – D.A.S.H. stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension – is widely recognized as being not just a good approach to dealing with and/or preventing hypertension (high blood pressure), it also is very effective for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and managing or preventing diabetes, U.S. News & World Report said earlier this year, when naming D.A.S.H. “the best diet” for the sixth year in a row.

There are at least two other reasons why eating less meat is a good idea. One, a major part of the mission of The Reducetarian Foundation, is to spare farm animals from cruelty. There’s also the fact that, as SustainableTable.org points out, “The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide. Far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption one a week can help slow this trend.

Essentially making that same argument is the “Take Extinction Off Your Plate” initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity. Its website says, “Wild animals suffer not only the collateral damage of meat-related deforestation, drought, pollution and climate change, but also direct targeting by the meat industry.”

As a long-age advertising campaign said relative to Levy’s Jewish Rye Bread, “You don’t have to be Jewish…” or Muslim, or vegetarian … to favor pork- and even meat-free diet options!

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.

Many Hospitals Lack Taste In Food Service Offerings

 

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The symbol for the Food Services and Nutrition Department at J.C. Blair Hospital, Huntingdon PA, where the mission is to serve “tasty, appealing and nutritious meals.” Sadly, many hospitals’ food service operations don’t share this mission statement.

Who better than the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to evaluate the healthiness or lack thereof in hospital food service?

The Committee, which has 12,000 physician members, recently obtained and closely analyzed patient menus and the types of foods offered to hospital staff and visitors from 24 hospitals across the U.S. They were a representative sampling of 262 hospitals surveyed by the Committee, including the country’s 50 largest public hospitals and at least one facility in every state.

Some of what they discovered was, in a word, shocking! An incredible number of hospitals not only have contracts with fast feeders such as Wendy’s and Chic-fil-A, many also encourage or acquiesce to demands that they do all they can to boost the sales of ordinarily-seen-as-unhealthy foods to boost either the fast food company’s or the hospital’s profits.

Such contracts fly in the face of Harvard research presented at an American Heart Association meeting last year that found study participants who ate fried foods up to three times a week saw an 18 percent increased risk for heart disease. The risk increased with the frequency of fried food consumption, with about a 25 percent increased risk if eaten four to six times a week and up to 68 percent if eaten seven times or more a week. This information is, of course, readily available to hospital administrators – and actively ignored by many of them.

One of the most surprising and hard-to-believe un-noted findings of the Committee’s study was the apparent unconcern that hospital staff, presumably including a fair number of doctors, exhibit about the food offerings of the facilities where they work. Not only does hospital staff seemingly accept without question the quality of food offered to them, they also seem to be less than acceptably concerned about what’s fed to their patients. The latter, of course, rightfully anticipate their health is the primary concern of those treating them and the institution itself.

These days, one doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of health issues related to the consumption of too much fat, etc., to appreciate that putting profit before nutrition is something hospitals should not be doing. And the PCRM is fighting back, with the likes of a hard-hitting campaign against the 20 U.S. hospitals, including four in Texas, that feature Chick-fil-A outlets and the not-very-healthy foods they offer. This advertising campaign, which started January 25, includes billboards, street kiosks and other sites where Chick-fil-A’s advertising is mocked with a photo of three white-coated doctors holding signs saying “Eat More Chickpeas.” The ads encourage viewers to “Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!” A website,www.EatMoreChickpeas.org, lists Twitter handles and other contact information for hospitals that host Chick-fil-As. Additionally, large bus shelter ads are positioned near Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta.

“Many of the hospitals that host Chick-fil-As are in states with high rates of diet-related diseases, making hospitals part of the overall toxic food environment,” says Angie Eakin, M.D., M.S., one of the doctors who appears in the advertisements. “Hospitals should be fast-food-free, and patients should eat more chickpeas, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that can promote healing and prevent disease.”

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has a “percentage rent” agreement with McDonald’s, meaning the more artery-clogging burgers and shakes sold to patients, the more money the hospital makes. When Grady’s McDonald’s contract expires in June 2016, it should consider expanding the healthful options in its cafeteria.

Several hospitals named in the Physicians Committee’s previous reports have recently improved their food environments by closing McDonald’s restaurants. These include Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Texas, Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indiana and the Cleveland Clinic. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minnesota has announced it will soon close its McDonald’s, ending its contract early.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS and others that host fast-food restaurants earned lower scores in the 2016 report.

The Chick-fil-A contract with the University of Mississippi Medical Center asks the medical center to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business and maximize the Gross Receipts.” This means the hospital is promoting fried chicken and other foods tied to serious chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

“Hospitals that are fast-food-free and instead have rooftop gardens earn the highest scores,” says Karen Smith, R.D., senior dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “Hospital gardens provide fresh vegetables for hot soup and other plant-based patient meals that can prevent or reverse diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Hospitals earning the highest Patient Food Scores include Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island (NY), which has a rooftop garden, Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, CO., C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI, and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.