Posts in Culinary inspiration

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?”

What happens when the consumer moves on and the brand doesn’t.

The pace of change these days is unsettlingly quick. Pandemic-authored forms of disruption have come hard and fast, supplemented by equally measured swings in consumer behavior, priorities and preferences. The world around us is evolving. Needs are changing. Attitudes and interests are getting a makeover. The pace of marketplace shifts is accelerating.

  • We’ve entered an entirely new era of marketing challenges where consumers move more quickly than brands. This creates fractures in relevance and perceived value as businesses remain anchored to a legacy business model or said more simply, “how we’ve always done it.’

When the consumer’s wants and needs move to another location on the relevance chess board and the brand doesn’t move with them, what happens when the business suddenly finds itself at odds with its user base?

Changes now upon us –

  • Modern food culture has gained new levels of sophistication.
  • What food is and where it comes from is headed towards a bioengineered future.
  • Health and wellness needs are now dominant preference considerations.
  • Sustainability concerns have morphed to focus on climate impacts.
  • Shopping patterns and behaviors are now linked to extraordinary experiences.
  • Safety and security are simmering underneath a cauldron of uncertainty.
  • Brand trust deficits compound while also multiplying perceived risks on the path to purchase.

Challenges that result –

  • Your product portfolio hasn’t advanced to match the consumer’s evolving quality definition and expectation.
  • You’re not looking hard enough at innovation driven by climate outcomes and requiring advanced bioengineering.
  • Your products are not fully in sync with health and wellness lifestyle goals.
  • You are still narrowly focused on clean energy as the platform for sustainability solutions.
  • There’s nothing remarkable and entertaining about shopping your store.
  • You haven’t answered the bellwether safety and security issues swaying your users.
  • You haven’t placed trust creation at the core of your strategic marketing plan.

New brands are stepping into the gap

Where there’s a lingering need, others will step in to fulfill it. The world is ripe for entrepreneurs who wish to serve these evolving needs creating a business environment founded on new definitions of what scale is; value propositions that re-write the rule book on average cost of goods; and what people will pay for entirely new and higher standards of quality. Brand narratives are moving to focus on purpose and values while historic brand stories remain tethered to feature/benefit selling.

When people change, if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.

This summer I attended a backyard community barbecue where the entire menu was a trip into Korean culinary culture. It was mesmerizingly good, a welcome departure from hot dogs and burgers, and an eyeopener on flavor interplay between sweet (sauce) and sour (kimchi). The novel ingredients were off the charts delicious and created a learning moment.

The lesson: once people have experiences that alter their world order and concept of what’s important, tastes good or matters to their sense of values and beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the old behavioral patterns.

Food culture refinement is fueling change

You just know expectations on what great food is like are shifting when more sophisticated menus and unique global taste experiences start showing up at the corner neighborhood bar – gastropubs are getting Michelin stars!! We are awash in cooking competitions, chef authored packaged artisanal foods, fancy meal kits, and preoccupation with fresh local food ingredients that require preparation skills.

As people acquire knowledge and experience, perceptions shift. The lowly Brussel sprout, and veggies generally, enjoy a renaissance as cheffy preparations take this mini-cabbage (same species of plant – the brassica oleracea) sulphur bomb to new heights of flavor transformation with cured meat and high temp roasting to caramelize the leafy exterior. Cooking techniques magically alter a one-time musty vegetal eating experience with deeper umami flavors.  

The American palate is maturing alongside growing enthusiasm for more complex and layered food preparations and menus. Are food brands right there with them helping share the future of food, or mired in a legacy infrastructure of ultra-processed preparations that lean too heavily on fat, sugar and sodium to drive their appeal?

While popping open a bag of potato chips is still a common snack time ritual, people making their own chips from scratch isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Food culture in America is rapidly evolving with raised expectations for tastes, flavor profiles and gustatory adventures.

When food experience is driven by ingredients

The basic legacy concept behind packaged food solutions is convenience, an effort to reduce or remove preparation from the equation. But what happens when millions of consumers get a taste of the very flavor layering techniques that make chefs the culinary superstars that they are? Lockdowns helped push people to their stoves. It’s hard to go back to standard boxed mac and cheese when you’ve enjoyed the outcome of informed cooking mixing a béchamel sauce with aged gouda and lardons to envelop an elbow noodle in indulgent magic.

It’s even harder to dismiss these developments when observing 12-year-old kids on FoodTV’s “Chopped Junior” show whip out a wine reduction sauce for pan roasted halibut in under five minutes? Suddenly an otherwise neutral, bland tasting fish rises to a new position in flavor town at the hands of a tween. Does this not signal a change in how we see food ideas, expectations on preparations, romance around the possibilities of better food experiences?

Ingredients take center stage in menus. Packaged products with reimagined ingredients not slavishly tied to what’s cheapest have this incredible competitive advantage of being able to tell their product creation story proudly. This is happening at a time when that’s exactly the kind of behind-the-curtain tale consumers want to know.

How to disrupt yourself

One sure-fire way to guide innovation, restaging, re-purposing and reimagining what your brand is on earth to accomplish – is putting the consumer at the center of your strategic planning and product development strategies.

  • This is harder to do than it sounds because businesses often reflexively sit in service of their legacy brick and mortar infrastructure, supply chain traditions and sensibilities around average retail pricing.

When the consumer is willing to pay more for demonstrable upgrades in quality, where is that coming from? It is the very knowledge they’ve acquired through elevated food experiences where they learn about the relationship between better ingredients and better taste – and often healthier food outcomes to boot. The added spend equals sufficient added value.

Every food and beverage brand should be led by food culture anthropologists, scanning for the sea changes at a time when shifts are occurring more rapidly. We’ve reached a point where the consumer will inevitably move on while the brand plays catch-up or suffers relevance declines.

  • When values change and the consumer wants unique, customized higher quality food experiences, you don’t want to find yourself at odds where you end up fighting them to stay put. Sure enough, a new brand will hit the radar to answer their call for quality innovation.

If you want to stay ahead of developing trends, be sure to register here for the Emerging Trends Report. If you’d like to discuss how your brand and business might evolve to stay ahead of food culture changes, use this link to say hello and invite an informal conversation!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Food retail innovation

Dom’s Kitchen & Market – the Future of Food Retail

June 16th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand strategy, Category Design, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Indulgent brand strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, storytelling, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Dom’s Kitchen & Market – the Future of Food Retail”

Food retail dream team brings shoppers some “wow!”

The world does not need another conventional grocery store. There are plenty of them offering similar, somewhat rote and unremarkable shopping experiences and product assortments. One to another they defy uniqueness and differentiation. Food retail legend Bob Mariano and his long-time partner Don Fitzgerald teamed with DOM Capital Group owner Jay Owen to reinvent the Chicago food retail landscape. Again.

The food retailing industry has long admired Bob Mariano’s penchant for innovation when his namesake Mariano’s chain emerged in 2010 as a refreshingly-elevated concept in the Chicago area grocery game. Mariano, who described his new retail banner as “the first time I’ve had the opportunity in my career to invent a retail concept from a blank sheet of paper,” deftly integrated foodservice experiences with a decided heavy lean into an improved fresh and perishable food assortment and tasting station-oriented shopping experience.

After selling the Roundy’s parent company in 2015 to Kroger, Bob Mariano departed the Chicago retail scene for a while, apparently to go think creatively about where the food retail innovation ball should roll next.

Now Dom’s Kitchen & Market arrives in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood as a 17,800 square foot, tightly edited and curated deep dive into food adventure. It is shopping as entertainment with a big helping of culinary inspiration and a side order of education for erstwhile home chefs. “For the most part grocery shopping is functional and stock-up driven,” said CEO Don Fitzgerald, “Our new concept is built around what we can do to deliver food discovery, experiences, culinary exploration and maybe learning a thing or two for people who love food.”

Dom’s is first and foremost a food destination. As you walk in, guests see a hybrid of multi-faceted food service options featuring top quality menus ranging from “The Stackup” for elevated sandwiches, “The Hearth” if you feel like outsourcing cooking chores for dinner and “Gohan” to sample Asian specialties like Yuzu Salmon and Katsu Sando. Nearby is “The Plant Butcher” station for creative salads and yes, butchering veggies to customer specs.

“We are not a replacement for traditional grocery,” Fitzgerald reports. “Our core shopper is really someone who has a passion for food, who is interested in taste experiences, wants to explore new cuisines, learn and has high standards about the quality of the ingredients they use.” He said he expects people will come to Dom’s for a quality sandwich and sip a glass of their favorite wine, all while ordering paper towels and dishwasher soap from Amazon on their phone.

“You’re coming to Dom’s for lunch or picking up dinner. You are doing your perishable shopping here for high quality produce, bakery and meat. We also expect to serve events and occasions like an anniversary, job promotion, graduation, birthday with wine and cheese or a Bonci pizza,” says Fitzgerald.

The center store is a curated assortment of higher-quality packaged foods, some of them hyper local as evidenced by plans to feature endcap displays of new and emerging food brands born at The Hatchery, Chicago’s food incubator and laboratory for aspiring entrepreneurs.

On opening day a power aisle end cap featured Dom’s specialty coffee. It was a fan of the cards toward their plans to develop a deeper offering in private label products that will build the Dom’s brand, thus helping the company more fully express its core culinary mission.

Think big

If history is any indicator, the Dom’s executive team has no small plans and will be working to add new locations around the city and eventually beyond Chicago. “Dom’s is very much a neighborhood concept, a smaller retail footprint where the decisions we make about what’s on shelf are extremely important,” said Fitzgerald. “While we have a template certainly, each Dom’s location will be a mirror of the community where it resides, and the assortment decisions will reflect what we think shoppers in the trading area will want.”

Fitzgerald says they eschew the typical food retail business model dependent on large cap CPG promotional spending. “We won’t be relying heavily on price promotions to deliver volume. That’s not our business. Our goal is to earn loyalty based on the strength of our unique shopping experience.” That shopping experience is best represented in “The Chef’s Table”, a presentation area where visiting celebrity chefs will come to conduct classes on menu ideas and food preparation techniques. “We just had a session on how to properly cook a steak and I learned I’ve been doing it wrong my entire life,” he said. “Teaching will be core to our concept.”

For that matter meat is yet another example of stepping up a notch. Dom’s is sourcing its fresh meat from the same supplier that serves Gibson’s restaurant, one of Chicago’s most respected and beloved steakhouses.

Safety first

Dom’s is the first EcoLab Science Certified food retailer in the state of Illinois. EcoLab is servicing Dom’s with training, sanitation materials and best practices guidance. Dom’s will be audited for compliance to EcoLab’s industry-leading standards of cleanliness. “We want to be the safest, healthiest place to shop and embed that commitment in our culture from day one,” said Fitzgerald.

“When our shoppers leave here, we hope they say, ‘Wow. That was special. That was fun. This was worth my time,’” he said.

If opening week crowds are any measure, people are resonating to Dom’s food shopping-as-entertainment concept, a truly unique addition to the Chicago area’s food retailing landscape.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Cooking burnout is upon families right now

Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived

August 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, engagement, food experiences, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived”

Food and beverage brands can take the lead as coach and guide

Your brand’s best opportunity for real engagement occurs when consumer need and your expertise overlap at precisely the right moment. And that moment is now.  It’s here, we’re in it. You have an opportunity to become a trusted partner, a useful resource, at a time when families are running out of menu ideas and kitchen fatigue is setting in.

  • We’ll provide guidance on what to do, but first let’s take a look at what’s happening right now that creates this important opening for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with their users.

Consumer research continues to reinforce a significant shift, and likely permanent change, to an increase in at-home meal preparation occasions. The pandemic has prompted millions of families to get back into the kitchen full time. Working and schooling from home makes this a three meal a day duty. Some are new to this culinary endeavor and the learning curve is upon them. Cooking veterans consistently have to devote more time and attention to laboring over the stove.

According to a recent “COVID-19 Impact on Eating” report from The Hartman Group, 93% of dinner eating occasions are prepared and consumed at home.

  • Even more amazing is the surge in lunch; 81% of occasions are occurring at home.
  • Dinner menus involving ‘heavy’ preparation are at 31% of occasions, up 9 points from a year ago, while lunch occasions requiring moderate preparation have jumped to 33%, up 14 points from 2019.

In sum, despite the dramatic falloff of restaurant eating events, Americans are choosing to cook rather than outsource their meals. The research also reveals that 33% of all eating and drinking occasions are in service of health and wellbeing objectives – no surprise given the elevated importance of health and wellness. People are purposefully making an effort to protect their immune systems while the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Kitchen burnout is a reality and it has arrived

Food, beverage and food retail brands are afforded an extraordinary opportunity to become a useful coach and resource for home cooks. This comes at a time when they not only need inspiration and instruction but personal encouragement and emotional support as well.

Considering people are spending more time at home, menu creation has taken on a new significance and importance for families. Previous studies of home cook behaviors determined that most have a repertoire of roughly 10 dishes they know well and will continue to keep in rotation. However, after months and months of repeat visits, menu weariness sets in as home chefs run out of ways to freshen their tried and true dishes.

Reinforcing the permanent home cooking shift is health and wellness aspirations

Alongside this cooking-from-necessity condition is a growing appreciation that home cooked meals are generally:

  • Healthier, more nutritious
  • Portion controlled
  • Completely customized
  • Convenient to scheduling
  • Safer
  • And can be functionally curated to support health and wellness objectives

Being relevant to consumers is the precursor to creating authentic engagement opportunities with them. What consumers are experiencing now puts your brand in an enviable position to be useful and helpful at a moment of real need.

“During this worrisome time many have re-discovered latent cooking expertise and more than a few have developed newfound culinary skills, but also most are feeling a bit weary and are reporting varying degrees of family meal fatigue. Our meal preparation muscles are tired, tested and stretched. Still we know the nutritional and family functioning benefits are out there awaiting us,” wrote David Fikes in a recent The Food Industry Association report ahead of their annual National Family Meals Month promotion in September.

In other words, now, when we’re tired, we most need the encouraging words of an inspiring trainer urging us to push beyond the fatigue, work through the discomfort and get reenergized about family meals, if we wish to reap the solid benefits they hold for us in terms of health, happiness and well-being,” he said.

Perfect moment for the most effective brand content strategy

Storytelling is best served when proper roles are recognized and respected. Consumers want and need to be the heroes of their own life journeys. The brand’s optimal function in this scenario is as coach and guide. That’s precisely what is required here. Your ability to step in with emotional support, inspirational culinary ideas and guidance on preparation skills and innovative cooking techniques will help consumers save time and avoid mistakes.

  • Your goal is to make the home chef more successful and comfortable in their kitchen-centric calling.

How to optimize this moment for connection and relationship building

Empathetic voice

Now is the time to put the brand ‘in league’ with the consumer by acknowledging the frustrations and burnout they may be feeling after months of constant meal preparation. It gets tough after the entire family is around the dining room table nearly seven days a week for months with no end in sight.

Food is an emotional category

Food consumption is enjoyable, social, indulgent, and can be transformational. This isn’t just about skills and cooking temperatures, it’s also about the table, experimentation, creativity and taste experiences.

Keep it simple

People literally run away from complexity and communication that taxes their brains. People are hardwired to avoid burning mental calories, so ideas and menus need to be presented simply, clearly with an eye towards simplifying what people must tackle in the kitchen.

Video and webinar are the right mediums

Harness the incredible capability of video to marry instructional or emotive words with pictures to amp the entertainment value. This will help people better understand through visual demonstration what they should be doing to bring great food to life.

Credible experts can help

Chef voices can elevate the conversation and add viewer interest to what you produce. As we said earlier, people now see food as a direct channel to improving their own health and wellbeing. Outside experts in nutrition and wellness add more authority to what your presenting. People are more likely to respect credentialed third-parties than in-house voices.

Social proof and trust creation

Consumers love to hear from other consumers. Employ your social channels to engage the community in sharing their own culinary content, recipes and ideas. People are far more likely to engage their peers before they’ll accept the assertions and claims brands make.

Transparency

Consider virtual farm visits with your suppliers and an opportunity to hear the personal stories of the families who create the ingredients you use. This serves as a transparency mechanism where customers get to see first-hand how your ingredients are sourced and then how your recipes are created.

Don’t wait

Now is the time to create a content calendar and begin operating in service of your customers during their time of need. With work-at-home looking like an ongoing condition and schooling- from-home likely to occur for many young people in the fall, kitchen and menu burnout isn’t going away any time soon.

This is a time for experimentation and openness to trying new flavors and cuisines. With the tried and true dishes most home cooks repeat losing their luster, people are gravitating to new experiences. In light of this condition, they need the guidance and expertise you can provide to bring new food ideas to the table.

Need help creating and building a strong culinary content calendar and fresh creative assets optimally messaged to engage home cooks in the right way? We can help! Let’s discuss your needs in greater detail.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food

September 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Healthy lifestyle, shopper behavior 0 comments on “The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food”

Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you can’t go back…

For most of my adult life I have experienced a love/not love relationship with fresh tomato. The routine, ubiquitous beefsteak variety a frequent guest star that decorates the roof of a hamburger with some color. The pink flesh offers a hard, mealy somewhat bland flavor. In a salad the standard tomato as hero can be even more pronounced in its meh-ness. We hear it travels well through distribution channels and offers some shelf life. Yay.

Along comes the heirloom tomato with its erratic colors, crags, lumps and fissures to completely upend everything you think you understand about a tomato, punching your taste buds with luxurious flavor, acidity and tenderness that elevates anything it swims with. More expensive to be sure and worth every penny. Once you know this you can’t retreat to the beefsteak.

  • So it is with the continued culinary-ization of America: as higher quality food experiences forever elevate the palate and expectation of nearly everyone who eats, the baseline standard of what people want is changing with it.

Thus why strategic planning needs to address this development because as the old but very real saying goes, “times are changing and if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.”

What happens when the consumer is at the center of strategic planning?

If it is vital for the collective futures of food retail and food CPG companies to put the consumer at the epicenter of planning and work backwards from there, then we’re going to pay attention to cultural and behavioral shifts. The goal to sync strategies and capitalize on those insights. It is definitely not business as usual these days because the pace of change has accelerated so significantly in the last five years.

Seven observations on the changes now upon us.

The quality bar keeps rising. The impact of chefs-as-media-heroes, cooking shows, elevated corner bar food, transformation of legacy food categories with reimagined higher quality versions, and the advancement of culinary experiences at restaurants – all blend together in a perfect recipe for moving taste and quality expectations upward.

  1. Once you’ve experienced the added value of a pan reduction sauce to transform a flavor- challenged piece of chicken, you want the sauce every time.
  2. Home delivered meal kits operate as boxed culinary academies, teaching consumers about roasting techniques for vegetables, layering flavors and saucing.
  3. Higher quality ingredients and preparations now reflect the new intersection of indulgent taste and healthier. Healthy now redefined not as calorie math but the use of better quality fresh, real food ingredients, less processed and with a clean label as evidence of same.
  4. Weekends are now calendared opportunities for scratch home-cooking exploration, experiments and food adventure. Which grocery stores observe this phenomenon and move to inspire ideas, ingredient solutions, menus and culinary guidance? …More meatloaf?
  5. Maybe we’re still selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity and so there’s no time to match merchandising to the elevation of food experiences in America? Can you afford not to when disintermediating options are emerging all over the food business landscape?
  6. Restaurants are trial generators for new global flavors, cuisine exploration and realization of unique cooking techniques. Outsourced meals aren’t just about convenience on a busy night, it’s also part of the food culture milieu that’s stoking the fire of culinary excitement.
  7. Where’s the Chef de Cuisine now? He or she is a home chef operating in the kitchen looking to create, innovate and experiment with standard menus and dishes now getting an elevated makeover with layered flavors, sauces and artisanal quality ingredients.

The headline: could it be that the American home kitchen is not that far behind the restaurant kitchen, save a few thousand BTUs from the stove burner, as a place to produce distinctive flavor experiences? The answer to this query is yes. How are retailers and CPG innovators working to recognize and service this consumer? Small niche you say!? Not so fast…

In a recent report from the Hartman Group we find evidence in Compass data:

  • 39% of restaurant sourced eating occasions are efforts to lean in on the culinary skill and experience going on in the professional kitchen. Remember the quality of restaurant food keeps going up, and while doing so challenges some chain foodservice operators who are trapped in cost structures and business models that make it difficult to profitably move up.
  • 29% of at home eating occasions use cooking sauces, flavor aids, Deli prepared items, alongside higher quality produce, meat and seafood intended to replicate the restaurant experience at home.

Food culture changes are an undeniable juggernaut impacting where the ball is moving and challenging everyone to determine if they’re keeping pace with it or languishing behind.

Emergent’s guidance:

  1. Consumers want the unique, higher quality flavor experiences they find at restaurants, repurposed for them in food retail available products. Hence the emerging brand phenomena now roiling legacy CPG market shares. Consumers yearn for the surprise and delight of more innovative packaged and prepared foods.
  2. On the other side, food retail is ideally situated to sponsor artisanal exploration in cheese, baked goods, alternate proteins and cooking ingredients. Yet many find it difficult to get beyond the traditional infrastructure to position themselves in the culinary chair alongside shoppers who want more relevance and food experience in their shopping trip…and their shopping cart.

While so much preoccupation now exists with installing e-commerce platforms and digitizing the management and flow of inventory, we should not lose sight of what the consumer longs for and how we can enhance food relevance and adventure for them.

Your products and store could be a culinary Field of Dreams!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth

June 24th, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Food and wine, food experiences, Food Trend 0 comments on “Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth”

Yes, the Secret Sauce IS the Sauce

To our friends in the food and restaurant business: want to know how to get people to, in effect, eat out of your hands morning, noon and night? Turns out delicious and umami are littermates and keys to the culinary kingdom of eating satisfaction, smiles and happiness. These attributes sit knocking at the front door of repeat purchase and visits.

Yes, the path to great taste is regularly paved with umami, the fifth taste sense (friend to sour, sweet, salty, bitter) discovered and minted in Japan around 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda. His work determined glutamic acid lies at the foundation of great taste experiences. Ikeda then set about commercializing this epiphany by designing it in crystalline form as a flavor enhancer ̶ commonly known as MSG.

The so-called Glutamate was a shot across the bow in refining and defining what it is that humans experience and love about deeper, crave-able flavor. This discovery helps explain why there are more burger and pizza chains than any other form of foodservice business. A cheeseburger with tomato and ketchup is an umami flavor bomb. Thus, perhaps, explaining its lasting popularity across both geography and generations. Ditto pizza.

How Umami found me

It was in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – the Pacific Northwest’s city of Seattle, where my journey begins as a junior home chef on a mission to apprentice the culinary arts. I discovered a cookbook titled The Sixty Minute Gourmet, published by the food editor team at the New York Times. It famously promised to impart basic French technique to the Yankee reader in short order.

I made every dish in the book. Perhaps the chief skill gleaned in the process was saucing and caramelizing. And thus I witnessed how reduction sauces, for instance, could be created to take a plain hamburger patty to an absurdly elevated and refined taste experience. It quickly became clear that any protein or vegetable could climb the deliciousness ladder if a compatible savory sauce pooled above or below.

The sheer act of reducing stocks – vegetable, beef, fish or veal – with butter, wine and in some cases (a little bit of) cream was literally a set-up for injecting umami flavor formally described as concentrated savory, brothy and meaty-ness. Relatively neutral tasting chicken could become a culinary tour de force with a proper sauce.

On commoner ground

Umami isn’t just a highbrow culinary concept. The ubiquitous bottle of ketchup also sits high on the umami ladder, and also probably explains why $8.6 billion of the common red condiment is sold every year in America, a per capita spend of $17.85 per person per year, according to Statista. No surprise Heinz owns about $1.4 billion of that lucre. What’s at work here, in addition to the brothy meaty-ness, is flavor intensity, mouth feel and a redolent savory-ness. When savory is combined with a creamy-like carrier that takes up residence on the tongue, magic happens.

  • The intense salty, nutty richness of correctly aged Parmesan cheese provides another umami-bite example; hence why cheese is, in many ways, king of the umami empire. Translating this understanding into business opportunity can be summed in an innovation cornucopia of opportunity.

Condiments, sauces, toppings and marinades can be employed as umami revitalizers, providing transformative power to reinvent otherwise bland and less interesting foods and menu items. Flavor enhancers impart what the senses want in appetizing taste experiences. It can alter the perception of value in the consumer’s passion for food adventures. Such as:

  1. Bone broth instead of stocks due to its inherent richness, mouth-feel and flavor depth.
  2. Soy, Teriyaki, sesame oil and other Asian sauces that drive the experience of a noodle way past its hereditary plain and maybe boring self.
  3. Sauces and proteins are a marriage made in heaven and allow not only for amping the delicious quotient but also bringing global flavors for an adventurous twist.

In short – bowls, pasta dishes, proteins, salads, vegetables and sandwiches can all be elevated by cranking up the umami index.

Quick innovations

Sauces and toppings can be a faster path to reinvention and reengineering packaged foods and dishes. Think of umami as flavor paint that accompanies anything it sits on or near, to bring the glutamic acid punch that sends ordinary to extraordinary.

The novel use of fresh real-food ingredients to form the basis of umami richness adds to the alchemy of creating flavor without resorting to the chemistry set. In the end, it is deliciousness that wins. Umami is the envelope that enrobes common foods in something special. The outcome is business growth because of the surprise and delight it imparts.

I know because here at the Wheatley house, Hamburger Soopreez as we call it is one of the most popular dishes on the family menu due to its umami bath. Thanks for getting us on the road Ikeda-san.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine

May 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Culinary inspiration, Digital ordering, Food service, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Retail brand building 0 comments on “Nation’s Restaurant Chains Stumble Onto Goldmine”

Can regulation make it rain?

On Monday, May 7 Federal regulations went into effect requiring any foodservice retail business with 20 or more locations to begin posting nutritional details for food and beverage items on their menus. For most foodservice operators this means a revamp of menu descriptions and the addition of nutrition data sections at their web site and point of order. Typically this features spreadsheet-type lists spraying a blurry, eye chart-worthy inventory of calorie, fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium stats.

But hidden within the clarion call for more what-you’re-eating disclosure is a potential restaurant business goldmine. At stake is an important regulatory-inspired opportunity for change. Important given foodservice businesses already face increased dining dollar competition from the significant resurgence of home cooked meal popularity. Yes, a home kitchen renaissance is underway, spurred by pervasive consumer interest in healthier foods and a desire to exercise more control over meal preparations, portions, costs and ingredients choices.

  • Studies show consumers believe dining out means agreement to compromise on their healthy eating interests while they navigate a trip down the boulevard of indulgence. A recent report by food industry trends watcher The Hartman Group, revealed consumers increasingly blame restaurants for a stunningly short list of healthier choices and absence of transparency around food – thus why they feel obligated to stow their healthy lifestyle interests at the vestibule of their favorite restaurant.

According to Hartman’s work, when the majority of consumers who already claim eating out is less healthy answer why this is true for them, the top scoring reason ̶ at 41 percent of those surveyed ̶ was a focus on ‘other things’ rather than health and wellness. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

If prevailing food culture shifts point to home-cooked meals as the best and healthiest option for the vast majority of consumers, where does that leave restaurants on the better-for-you lifestyle bandwagon?

Could regulation make it rain?

The regulatory requirements may have issued a super-sized opportunity to reframe the restaurant menu story around a greater variety of healthier menu options. Then advanced with new technology that allows patrons to configure their own more informed, personalized menu choices ahead of arrival or on site with mobile friendly apps.

Reformulation through culinary innovation

But first, is the product itself. Restaurant meals can be made healthier without sacrificing taste by applying some of the more enlightened thinking now fueling the growth of new, emerging packaged food brands that are mounting a supermarket shelf takedown. Novel ingredients, cooking techniques, new forms of sweetening using natural sugars or sauces made with vegetable broths; meat alternatives formulated from nuts or pea protein – a cornucopia of new innovation is circling the food industry with an offer of improved nutritionals while delivering the indulgent flavors and textures of chef-inspired food.

There’s simply no longer any reason why menu items can’t be made healthier while retaining taste. It may add cost per serving but then we’ve also have seen repeatedly seen that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier fare if it can be verified as such – assuming taste is not sacrificed on the alter of improved nutrition numbers.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and MyMenu Tech

San Diego-based digital foodservice player HealthyDiningFinder.com, originally stepped into the restaurant marketplace to curate a search-able database of restaurants offering healthy menu items. More recently, they’ve rolled out their new MyMenu platform at CPK and Mexican cuisine specialist Rubio’s Coastal Grill, an algorithm driven business that offers restaurants a plug-and-play solution to their regulatory obligations, but served in a more user-friendly experience. It also brings a compelling add-on benefit: personal menu customization.

California Pizza Kitchen’s MyMenu pages open the door to new reasons to visit: With a few short clicks using a sliding bar selection tool on desired nutritional limits, the platform automatically sorts menu choices according to these preferences while calling up attractive photos and detailed descriptions of each dish or beverage. It reveals what’s in them and what they impart in terms of nutrition impact (calories, fat, sugar, etc.).

The Rubio’s MyMenu page also offers a pre-set list of menu alternatives created by Healthy Dining’s dietitian experts around lifestyle preferences such as Energy, Fit Lifestyle and Weight Control. Each choice rolls up special menus based on these specific interests.

The tool’s flexibility creates the option to customize a dish with ingredient swap-outs or to build a full meal while each dish and drink selection repopulates the overall impact on nutrition outcomes, so you know immediately how many calories and fat grams are involved.

  • In a soon-to-arrive platform enhancement, Healthy Dining says guests will be able to save selections for future use, and there will be options for purchase on-site, for pick-up or delivery. Then patrons will be able to build and retain their own personal menu for a variety of their favorite eateries using the tool  ̶  all based on individual dietary preferences and healthy dining interests.

Of course, the key here is to actually have healthier choices available, and in doing so, solve the dilemma of perceived nutritional sacrifice that restaurant eating might entail. The goldmine is simple: remove the friction from healthier choice at out-of-home eating by offering more healthy choices.

Then look to software platforms like MyMenu to allow patrons to examine, sort and retain their healthy meal preferences ̶ and with it creating an opportunity to forge foodservice brand preference.

For those restaurants that get this right, it could be an equally compelling do-it-for-me dining offer that rivals the siren song of home cooked healthier meals.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

Archives

Categories