Posts in Food Trend

Enjoy Life prospers

Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?

November 25th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, change, CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Insight 0 comments on “Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?”

Enjoy Life proves the case for unicorn in the herd

Enjoy Life Foods enjoys the enviable position of being intentionally unique and differentiated by virtue of the market it serves. Have you noticed the skyrocketing increases in the number of people with various forms of food allergy? My oldest daughter is one and many families these days have someone in their circle with a digestive rejection problem.

Of note, some experts believe the rapid ascent of allergen free foods is due to compromised immune systems, in part to blame from the cultural and technological shifts that help assure children will be exposed less and less to bacterial and viral hazards. It is contact with these microscopic threats that puts the immune system activity into higher gear. Use it or lose it?

Enjoy Life offers 86 SKUs of products created and designed to give allergy sufferers a shot at snack and sweets bliss with unconventional (entirely) clean recipe solutions. They are crafted with a staggeringly high intolerance for anything in the product creation process that could introduce an allergen somewhere along the path. Such is their franchise and commitment to becoming a trusted solution for people with food allergies.

Enjoy Life is an acquired brand of Mondelez, the spinoff of the Kraft Foods break-up that resulted in today’s Kraft Heinz packaged foods behemoth alongside the snack and sweets oriented and equally hefty Mondelez International operation. In either case we’re talking about big food.

Joel Warady, who leads the Enjoy Life team and has been on board there since its early days, is a bit of an iconoclast in the belly of the Mondolez whale, but it works and works well. Perhaps Enjoy Life offers a model for success to the innovation-challenged legacy packaged foods industry looking to stem the tide of fractional annual growth or share losses. Of late, many legacy CPGs are seeking the cachet of high quality, mission-oriented food brands by investing in or acquiring the fledgling company’s rapidly scaling share and market presence. The food world has turned upside down ever since the barriers to entry evaporated for independent food start-ups.

“Acquiring companies like Mondolez have learned, and sometimes the hard way, that it’s best to let these emerging businesses continue under their current management teams and without a lot of interference,” said Warady. “The challenge is figuring out how and where to help, usually with R&D and distribution support or providing ingredient sourcing efficiencies and pipeline scale.”

Warady believes Enjoy Life has been a success story because key strategic decisions are largely left in their own hands. “We’ve had some embedded executives from Mondolez along the way, but for the most part we operate as we did before the acquisition only with more resources at our disposal,” he said.

Legacy food companies like Kraft and Mondolez have greater challenges on the product innovation front due to their size, and cultural habits that work to wring out risk. It’s a point of view that has caused them to routinely favor line extensions over disruptive, unproven and yet demonstrably higher quality food ideas that are popping up everywhere.

Now, the magic and heat index in food innovation is coming mainly from entrepreneurs with a vision for solving a neglected corner of the market like Enjoy Life. Other successful ideas offer a preparation or ingredient twist that inspires a new category such as Beyond Meat that imitate the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of genuine animal-based meat. These plant-based proteins are more widely targeted to those whose values supports the overall mission (whether clean eating, regional sourcing, minimized carbon footprint, etc.) – not just aimed narrowly at serving Vegan interests.

Enjoy Life was designed from day one to be a difference maker in the lives of people suffering from allergies. It helps when you solve a real problem that has existed for some time but neglected as a niche business and ignored by companies that at one time believed if the volume isn’t a billion dollars within 15 months of launch, it isn’t worth pursuing.

Ingredients for Success

Warady offers some guidance for founders and acquirers alike:

  1. For founders, it’s important to know that food safety and sourcing standards – a pillar of strength for large CPG companies – is often lacking with start-ups and can be deal killers once a strategic investor starts to poke around. Thus for founders, it’s important to have consultants scour every corner of the supply chain ahead of a strategic conversation to help clarify areas of opportunity and deal points.

 

  1. For acquirers, it’s vital to recognize the secret sauce for emerging brands is often held in their story that combines mission and values often with a more artisanal product solution that completely redefines what quality means. Best to let them operate independently to help support and retain the trust they’ve earned.

 

  1. Because the path to market is completely different, emerging businesses can be extraordinary places to test new ideas and limited-edition products, while learning best practices. The old recipe of big TV advertising budgets mixed with quarterly price promotions isn’t resonating like it used to, and is antithetical to the more conversational, user experience-oriented world of emerging food and beverage.

Importantly, emerging food brands like Enjoy Life come to market embedded with deeper meaning and a higher purpose that transcends the more transactional genre of volume, velocity and profit.

Not that growth and profit aren’t equally important to the success of new food businesses, but these soul-driven companies recognize the path to riches is paved in reciprocity and relevance to the consumer’s interest in shared values.

Bottom line: the recipe for success inside big food is to allow the acquired businesses to retain the very lifeblood that makes them successful. Their sheer disruptiveness and uniqueness must be honored and fueled while maintaining the often higher quality sourcing commitments on which their recipes are based.

It is the user experience that sits at the foundation of early success for emerging brands – before there’s much of anything to talk about in brand equity. That said, smaller resource- constrained businesses will benefit greatly from a benevolent investor or owner that fills strategic gaps and helps nurture the business, providing expertise or capital where it can make a difference between a base hit and a grand slam home run.

Joel Warady and the Enjoy Life team sit as a worthy example of how remarkable innovation can prosper inside a much larger organization, continuing to dance to the beat of its own drum while offering a roadmap to the future of the food business.

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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.

GroceryShop Returns

August 29th, 2019 Posted by brand strategy, branded content, e-commerce, Emerging brands, food retail strategy, Food Trend, grocery e-commerce, Retail brand building, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “GroceryShop Returns”

Perhaps the most important convention in the food industry

From September 15 to 18 the food industry convenes in Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel for the second edition of GroceryShop, Anil Aggarwal’s novel answer to a lingering gap in the meetings realm for food business and related technology companies.

Unlike most industry meetings focused on presenting a vast ocean of booths where company sales and marketing staff feature their latest products and services, GroceryShop is more focused on the sea changes, business model disruption and consumer shifts impacting one of the nation’s most important and robust industries.

E-commerce and digitization of the food business has buffeted the value propositions of traditional supermarkets, supported the emergence of new, higher quality food brands with mission-oriented story to tell, and witnessed the rapid rise of e-commerce channel shopping as consumers increasingly acquire food from the comfort of their dining room table.

Packaged food marketers and retailers alike have sought to better understand how to manage the transformational changes occurring around them. Mr. Aggarwal stepped in with a conference concept long on content and insight presentations more so than a straight buyer-meets-seller proposition.

GrocceryShop’s rapid rise can be attributed to creatively answering the thirst for guidance and direction in a rapidly changing business environment. Unlike the food business conventions of yesteryear where global food corporations such as Nestle and Mondelez held court with retail buyers, GroceryShop connects the likes of Google and Facebook to the conversation on how consumers will operate in a digitally-enabled world and what trends in fresh and prepared food will get traction at retail outlets.

GroceryShop presentations examine new technologies in supply chain management, while brand marketing discussions look towards the shift from traditional ad media and promotions to engagement based on relevance to healthy living and lifestyle aspirations, fed by digital forms of outreach and social media.

 The Future of the Food Business

The content forward approach Mr. Aggarwal has landed on serves as inspiration and best practice showcase to retail and CPG executives alike on how to remain relevant and inject deeper meaning into their brand and banner propositions.

The food business is in a state of rapid transition as consumers increasingly shop for menus rather than stock ups and the rise of super-convenient restaurant delivery makes out-sourcing dinner a viable last-minute option on a busy weeknight. Food has never been more competitive as quality choices are within arms-length from virtually anywhere.

  • According to Accenture, the 80 million or so Millennials, now in their prime spending years, wield roughly $600 billion in annual spending power. For the grocery industry that ladders up to about $2,300 per year on average spending at food retail. According to a recent national survey by Sweet Earth Foods, this cohort will try at least 46 new foods each year, helping drive the emergence of new food and beverage brands now gaining additional in-store real estate at supermarkets.

Meantime the grocery industry is reacting to the significant moves by Amazon into their territory through Whole Foods and its own Prime delivery, by bolting on outside e-commerce ordering and delivery solutions from Shipt and Instacart.

So much change and so quickly for a retail business that for many years was fueled by selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at high velocity and razor-thin margins. Now the perimeter fresh departments hold the magic and in-store groceraunts are popping up to satisfy the inevitable last-minute rush to answer the pounding question, what’s for dinner?

All of this helps explain why GrcoeryShop has traveled so far so fast as business model disruption impacts Big Food and small grocery chains alike. If you haven’t thought about where you need to be this September, might be good to check it out: http://www.groceryshop.com

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines

December 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Transparency 0 comments on “Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines”

Food and beverage brands must move to new story…

Growing consumer concerns over health and wellness.

Evolving expectations around higher product quality.

Emerging calls for greater transparency and truth in labeling.

General cynicism toward marketing that sells ‘at them’.

In study after study consumers continue to show their lack of trust while demanding more honesty from brands vying for their spending — with rewards going to those brands that ‘get them’.

Some marketers have attempted to force-fit traditional claim and assertion style marketing tactics into digital platforms but with little success. To consumers, it still smells like conventional spin so they work to avoid it entirely.

Other marketers have smartly moved their strategic game plan to focus on building more respectful consumer relationships around alignment with lifestyle interests and aspirations.

  • Yet new information and insight now coming to light suggests, while lifestyle connections remain important, there’s a new sheriff in town governing what breaks through the clutter to secure brand consideration and selection.

In many respects, this revelation makes absolute sense based on our deeper understanding of consumer skepticism and absence of trust combined with their desire for honesty, authenticity and expressions of a true soul coming from brands and businesses they choose to favor.

Seekers of truth and understanding

We’ve come to a place where marketers recognize consumer interests more fully, texturally, as they evaluate new and emerging food brands with a merit-based system. It’s important to note here first, the fundamental requirement for business growth in any category requires an unshakeable bedrock of clear brand differentiation.

Around the unwavering consumer call for standout uniqueness is an equally strong desire for better products that are also better-for-you, and culturally connected to relevant social issues such as sustainable farming, green environmentally-friendly operations and animal welfare. 

The new secret sauce for accelerating food brand growth

In a recent Premium Marketing Strategy report by food industry trend expert The Hartman Group, a survey question was posed: what kind of narrative would likely cause you to select a new premium brand?

The answer wasn’t about better price or taste. Rather, consumers wanted to know more about how the product was made. Followed in close order by a related topic – the source of ingredients used to make the product; in sum, the product creation story.

So what does this mean?

It’s a gigantic red, neon flag waving three feet in front of every marketer. Consumers want to assess the merits of the food or beverage based on how and who created it.

Contained in the details of this product creation backstory is the necessary evidence of quality, healthfulness, and connection to culturally relevant practices and beliefs. Rather than accept assertions on face value, consumers want to peer under the hood, and in doing so, narrow the chance of being influenced by proverbial brand apple-polishing.

  • It’s one thing to claim better-for-you, and it’s entirely another to reveal ingredients, processes, methods and sources that authentically demonstrate healthy and higher quality.

How to be the credible brand storyteller – Show Me!

So you sell hamburgers… where did the beef come from, who raised the cattle and how were they fed and cared for? About the bun and vegetables used, same need. What are your standards of quality and what about the relationships with your suppliers; their carbon footprints? How is the hamburger prepared, what evidence can be provided about food safety, ingredient integrity and freshness?

No matter the category, there’s a transparency story underneath about how you make things, how you source ingredients and what goes on in your kitchens.

This is the information that forms the basis of earning brand trust and evaluation of the brand’s relevance to consumer beliefs and cultural affiliations. Said another way, the product creation story isn’t a nice to do, rather it’s a must do in getting to active consideration.

Worried that this kind of information demand will be difficult due to weaknesses in your creation story? Then, you have a mandate to make improvements. It may be time to recognize that new premium food solutions are growing while many legacy brand businesses are losing share of heart and sales.

The strategic recipe

Armed with this consumer insight, the food and beverage path to marketing best practices begins with creating an inventory of competitively strong product attributes. These attributes will inform the rationale for how the product will credibly deliver on its key benefits.

  1. Important to note this should be cast as unique attributes that help elevate and separate the product from competing brands, and that make the product better at delivering its promised benefits.
  2. Competitively significant attributes are then integrated in storytelling about product creation and ingredient sourcing.
  3. This means elevated, premium production and sourcing criteria outweigh benefits in the hierarchy of successful brand outreach strategies. Thus, it’s important to cite value-added attributes not offered by legacy brands.

As the decline in consumer trust continues to chip away at the authority curve for brands, what moves in to fill the vacuum left when assertions and claims don’t resonate? A new era of food and beverage marketing opens based on a real-world reality-check about what’s inside the product.

Tangible, visible evidence of quality now passes assertions of quality in effectively reaching consumers with the motivating message. What the consumer is really saying: Show Me!

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.

Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth

July 12th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emerging brands, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Navigation, Transformation 0 comments on “Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth”

Writing the new rules of successful marketing

Recently Emergent became an active Mentor partner with the Food Marketing Institute’s Emerge platform. FMI, under the leadership of Julie Pryor and Margaret Core, has created Emerge to help nurture the increasingly important population of up and coming food and beverage brands. These growing businesses are gaining attention of the food buying public and occupy an ever more significant proportion of in-store real estate at food retail.

This new world of emerging brands is evidence of a dramatic shift in consumer preferences for food choices with a creation story founded in higher quality, more artisanal and sustainable attributes. These businesses are often married to a higher purpose that transcends commerce; a purpose aimed at improving the food supply, sustainable farming, battling hunger or some other altruistic commitment that imbues the business with greater meaning.

For our part, we enter the FMI Emerge relationship as Mentors – a resource that new and emerging brands most likely would not have access to until later in their development. The goal is to help scale these businesses more rapidly while avoiding some of the mistakes that can occur early in the fundamentals around marketing, packaging, distribution and channel decisions or innovation.

Reengineering of the food and beverage business

The emerging brand growth engine has attracted the interest of private equity investment and large cap CPG looking to participate in this unique, culturally relevant space. Additionally, retailers interested in leveraging this wave must adopt a new set of best practices to help support these new brands that don’t come to the table with deep-pocket promotion and brand-building budgets.

As the pendulum swings towards marketplace reward for the more entrepreneurial food brand business – where everything about their origins and path follows the beat of a different drummer than legacy CPG food brands – NEW marketing rules must also be considered and executed with commitment to maintain the specialness of these businesses.

What remains true for all participants is an interest in scale. But not scale at any cost. Great care must be exercised in building these brands to make successful expansion a reality in a shorter time span. Wrong moves can violate the very principles that sit underneath why these emerging products got traction in the first place.

Application of old-school marketing technique and thinking can interrupt and disrupt the very important reasons why consumers prefer these up and comers. It’s critical that entrepreneurs maintain the artisanal characteristics of their products which is the very reason consumers are attracted to them in their ongoing treasure hunt for new and more interesting, real food experiences.

What’s changed?

To uncover the right formula for growth, it only makes sense to understand the context that makes these businesses relevant and important to the future of the food and beverage business.

Perhaps fundamental here, is the influence of food culture cues on consumer behavior. At one time taste, price and convenience held sway in defining what consumers want. While taste remains an arbiter of anything that ultimately succeeds, other issues command consumer attention and help pull the purchase lever.

Consumers now look for cultural symbols and lifestyle relevance in the food and beverages they buy for the very reason they believe that higher quality choices help them secure a higher quality life.

Here in sum are some few of the evolutionary changes taking place which these new brands are tapping into:

  • People see food differently: higher quality, real and fresh food = higher quality and healthier lifestyle
  • Cultural markers are advancing around health and wellness, clean eating and cleaner labels, shorter ingredient lists, local sourcing, visibility to supply chain, more unique flavor profiles, even fresh versions of previously processed food ideas
  • The pace of innovation and development of new food ideas has made a quantum leap– from concept to beloved at speed — witness Ripple pea milk and Beyond Meat
  • Radical Innovation = new category creation – this is no longer a story built around line extensions of a legacy brand. Wholesale new categories and reinventions of existing ones are becoming the norm
  • Embracing small-is-good – big used to be reliable, trusted and consistent. Now craftsmanship, ingredient integrity and more culinary-inspired solutions hold sway. Smaller often translates as better quality
  • Mission mentality – what used to be understood as philanthropy has changed to represent a core belief imbedded at the onset of product development that then stretches beyond the product. It is most often anchored in a mission aimed at improving the world around us. Food brands with a true soul, if you will

Mentoring new brands

Perhaps most evident in early stages of emerging brand development are resource constraints that make optimal investments in marketing more difficult.

Yet, it also remains true that superior product experience is most vital to initial sales outcomes. The product itself is the marketing in this respect, and relies heavily on the creation story, higher quality components and more unique formulations to gain ground. Nevertheless, scale is a desired outcome for all involved and thus brand marketing will inevitably become a catalyst.

Challenges for new brands trying to scale:

  • Lack of internal seasoned marketing talent
  • Early mistakes and missteps in packaging, pricing, distribution (channel choice)
  • Inability to fully leverage differentiation in crowded product categories
  • Little to no investments in consumer insight that informs, adds relevance to the story and dials in the messaging
  • Loose, patchwork sales infrastructure
  • Supply chain inefficiencies that layer on cost and depress the ability to invest in consumer-facing communication

These conditions make intermediaries like FMI Emerge so important in growth and development. Larger CPGs and equity investors alike would also benefit from making contributions and resource investments in emerging brands that extend beyond sales and distribution infrastructure.

Emergent: The Bridge to Scale

Our agency, Emergent, is focused on these developing brand opportunities because we believe this is the future of the food and beverage industry, and so we have an obligation to support and address the need for scale on a more rapid trajectory.

To do this we help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model.

Here are some examples of appropriate guidance we make to emerging brands and CPGs working to help accelerate the pace of growth:

  • Insight research on core user lifestyle, message testing, innovation assessments
  • Wringing out inefficiencies in cost structures (supply chain) to help fund marketing
  • Improved package design and communication; telegraphing from the shelf
  • More strategic, consumer/lifestyle-relevant earned, owned and social communications assets and programs
  • Developing novel trial-generating programs and product demonstrations

In the end, our offer is a team of experienced marketing, communications and operations talent focused on the unique needs of emerging brands. We eat, live and think Emergent. Our goal with FMI Emerge is to help provide this guidance while the industry continues to transform.

Are you ready?

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.

 

Emergent Announces Emerge Partnership with FMI

July 10th, 2018 Posted by CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Navigation, retail brand relevance, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Emergent Announces Emerge Partnership with FMI”

Mentoring for the greater good in food and beverage business

Today Emergent formally announces a partnership with the Food Marketing Institute’s new Emerge platform, a forum to help nurture and grow new, developing food brands on their way to potential stardom.

FMI recently created Emerge (love the name!!) as a path to helping its stakeholder base of food retailers and CPG brands, realize growth opportunities presented by investments in developing food and beverage companies. It’s no secret these nascent brands are now gaining shelf space and consumer devotion, often at the expense of legacy brands that at one time dominated the food preferences of American households.

  • At stake for all is helping scale these new enterprises without inadvertently upsetting the proverbial applecart ̶ by violating the product truths and marketing rules that influence their hard-won fan base.

Emergent was established to help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model. In keeping with this mission, we have focused also on emerging brands and the distinct differences that govern their go-to-market best practices.

We saw an opportunity through our long-standing alliance with FMI and the evolution now taking place at food retail, to be of greater service and value in helping organizations deal with the seismic changes going on in the industry. We have joined Emerge as a Mentoring partner, there to offer our deep experience and familiarity with how consumers behave and marketplaces evolve, to help these new food ideas gain a faster footing in the race to meaningful volume.

We’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting and guiding entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their efforts to create a sustainable business while also embracing a higher purpose. This matters to us greatly because we have a mission, too.

Our higher purpose is to influence the health and wellbeing of people by helping improve the food and beverage industry’s efforts to align more closely with preferences for a healthier lifestyle. Our values are their values and vice-versa.

As business people we respect the need for all parties to achieve scale while maintaining the integrity of the original concept and remaining faithful to the principles that guided the creation of the business.

In this, we are Mentors that understand the motivations and desires of those who create these new companies as much as we know intimately the needs of people who buy and consume their products.

For that reason we’re honored to join with FMI in this endeavor to embrace change and be a catalyst for helping the industry adapt. The food industry is unique in its blending of technology and emotion – a perfect alchemy that respects the fact we eat to nourish and experience enjoyment, while recognizing the impact the food system has on the world around us.

Best time ever to be in the food and beverage brand building business!! Thanks FMI for inviting us.

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.

 

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