Friday, July 30, 2010

Eat Across America

From sea to shining sea, Americans know how to celebrate their food. Cities across this great land pay homage to the sustainable goods that make their region famous with parades, contests, and of course, festivals, often sponsored by CPG companies.

Take for example, the Cheese Curd Festival, hosted in – you guessed it – Wisconsin! This year, the village of Ellsworth, 30 miles east of Minneapolis/St. Paul, held their ninth annual event June 25-27. The event included a scavenger hunt for "The Great Cheese Curd Medallion," a cheese carving contest, and fireworks, thanks to sponsors including the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and Nash Finch.

Wisconsin isn't the only state having all the fun with cheese, though! On July 25, the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival organized its fourteenth annual event where attendees sampled cheese, learned from educational seminars, and watched cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs. Sponsors such as Cabot Cheese and Ben & Jerry's made the day possible.

In Georgia, they take their peaches very having a lot of fun! This year, the Georgia Peach Festival took place June 11-19. The first Georgia Peach festival was staged in Peach County's Fort Valley in 1986. Events during the week-long event included the Miss Georgia Peach Pageant and sampling of the world's largest peach cobbler, all presented with the help of local sponsors, many orchards and farms.

If strawberries are more your thing, the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival is for you! From May 28-31, participants celebrated the 52nd annual fair with carnival rides, a redhead contest, and a parade that has boasted a celebrity grand marshal since 1959. Foster Farms, Sam's Club, and Seattle's Best Coffee were just three of the festival's many sponsors this year.

Moving on to main dishes, you'll want to head to Maine to commemorate the mighty lobster. Sponsored by such companies as PepsiCo and Green Mountain Coffee, the Maine Lobster Festival is right around the corner – August 4-8. In addition to a lobster-eating contest, a lecture on the evolution of lobsters, and a codfish carry competition for kids, participants can take in free concerts by artists ranging from Clint Black to the Wicked Good Band.

For those who like their food a bit spicier, try the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York, brought to you by none other than Frank's RedHot, among others. On September 4 and 5, more than 91,000 attendees will feast on 40 tons of wings. In addition to sampling the best wings in the area, attendees can bob for wings in a blue cheese bowl, enter the amateur creative sauce-off, and salute the newest members of the National Buffalo Wing Hall of Flame.

Other food festivals include:What food festivals take place where you live? Please, leave a message and tell me all about the wonderful fairs you have attended that pay tribute to local fare!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is the Consumer Goods Forum?

Chief Executive Officers and senior managers at consumer packaged goods companies always have the interests of shoppers in mind. What are consumers buying? What motivates them to purchase the items they place in their cart? To better understand shoppers and improve the way CPG companies meet the needs of consumers, a group of executives from across the globe created a collaborative alliance called the Consumer Goods Forum.

The international member-driven organization started in 1953 as the CIES (Comité International d’Entreprises à Succursales, or the International Committee of Food Retail Chains). In 2009, CIES united with the Food Business Forum, the Global Commerce Initiative, and the Global CEO Forum to form the Consumer Goods Forum.

Today, the Forum has grown to encompass 2,400 members from 650 retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and stakeholders from 70 countries. Members consist of manufacturers like Kellogg's and Hormel Foods, associations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, retailers including SUPERVALU and Wal-Mart, and service providers like Daymon Worldwide. The Forum is governed by its Board of Directors, which includes an equal number of manufacturer and retailer CEOs and chairpersons.

According to the organization's website, together, Forum members are able to:
  • Join forces on non-competitive matters
  • Exchange knowledge and industry information
  • Set a strategic vision that delivers sustainable growth and creates value for retailers, manufacturers, and their suppliers by delivering better goods and services to consumers
  • Enhance and protect the reputation of the industry to attract and retain the talent and resources needed for success
The Consumer Goods Forum offers a wide range of programs and initiatives, including events and meetings like the Global Food Safety Conference and the Global Marketing Forum to discuss best practices. They have also worked to improve issues and share best practices in the areas of sustainability, health and wellness, and operational excellence. In addition, the Forum established a Future Leaders Program designed to develop young professionals as they transition into senior management roles within their companies and the CPG industry.

Last month, the group met in London for their annual Global Summit to outline their strategies for success in a post-recession, consumer-led spending environment. Leaders discussed how the industry can meet the needs of the world's ever more knowledgeable and demanding consumers.

To learn more about the Consumer Goods Forum, visit the association's website or view this comprehensive PDF outlining the Forum's vision, mission, and strategy.

Were you familiar with the Consumer Goods Forum before today? If your company is involved, I'd like to hear more about your company's participation. Drop me a line and tell me how you've benefited from the Consumer Goods Forum.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Retail Therapy

Okay, ladies. Admit it. Sometimes, after a bad day or just a week of working and not having time to go out, you need a mini weekend shopping spree. New clothes, new shoes, new accessories; you have to have them and you feel better when the cashier hands you that overstuffed bag. Luckily, I've had the opportunity to live in and visit different parts of the country and have found three retail paradises that can't be beat!

Most recently, I visited the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. With 2,779,242 square feet of shopping space and 523 stores, this is the largest shopping Mecca in the country. The mall has your typical anchor stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Sears, but also has unique specialty stores like For Love 21, the accessories-only boutique from Forever 21. Unlike other malls, though, the Mall of America has some features you'd never to expect to find in a shopping center.

Take for example, Nickelodeon Universe. Roller coasters, water rides, and a carousel are just a few of the thrills you can take in during your MOA experience. The mall also offers a movie theater, a miniature golf course, an aquarium, and even a wedding chapel!

The next mall I'd recommend is a tad more mainstream – Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Virginia. This mall, just outside of Washington, D.C, is also a biggie at 2,200,000 square feet. The mall proudly claims 300 stores ranging from A|X Armani Exchange to Zumiez in addition to eateries and a movie theater.

The final mall on my list is Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, California. Just miles from downtown Los Angeles, Del Amo ranks as one of the largest malls in the nation at 2,100,000 square feet. With 300-plus stores, the mall has everything you can imagine both inside and out to take advantage of L.A.'s year-round mild climate. It is also home to one of my favorite restaurants of all time - Pat & Oscar's!

There is still one mall, though, that I yearn to visit. King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia is the second largest mall in the United States. Its 2,793,200 square feet of retail space is truly a shopping paradise. Anchor stores like Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom are just three of King of Prussia's more than 400 shops. And with no tax on clothes in the state of Pennsylvania, what's not to like?

So bring on the sales! Where do you like to shop? Leave a message and share your favorite shopping experience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We All Scream for Ice Cream

Nothing says summer like an ice cream cone on a hot July day. That's why it makes perfect sense that July is National Ice Cream Month! How will you celebrate and honor this frozen confection?

Many of today's ice creams have jumped from the candy aisle into your grocer's freezer. M&M's now offers such goodies as ice cream sandwiches and character cakes. Snickers produces ice cream bars, cones, and brownie sandwiches. You can find Twix bars and 90-calorie miniatures in the ice cream aisle. Breyer's must also like the idea of marrying candy and ice cream. Its line of fun flavors includes mixes of Oreo cookies, Reese's peanut butter cups, Snickers bars, and Heath candies.

Dove, however, has the opposite story. Founder Leo Stefanos started covering his ice cream bars in rich, creamy chocolate in the 1950s. Dovebars were a hit, and in 1986, M&M/Mars acquired the idea. In 1991, the company started manufacturing the chocolate ice cream covering on its own, introducing it as Dove Promises.

Some ice cream makers sell their products in their shops as well as supermarkets. Patrons to Ben & Jerry's, Carvel, and Friendly's can go into their favorite ice cream boutiques nationwide or just head to the grocery store to pick up a renowned pint, cake, or individualized sundae.

Of course, some ice cream brands you can only find at the supermarket. Blue Bunny, Dreyer's/Edy's, and Häagen-Dazs are staples that continue to crank out creative flavors year after year, like Birthday Party, Nestlé Drumstick Sundae Cone, and Bananas Foster.

Of course, it's always possible to customize your own creation at a place like Coldstone Creamery, Dairy Queen, or Marble Slab.

Ice cream is definitely meant to be enjoyed year-round, but there really is nothing like delighting in a cold treat melting quickly as the mercury rises. When I hear the melodic tune of the Good Humor truck and see that van round the corner, I know we are in the thick of summer. Does it get any better?

What's your favorite ice cream indulgence? Leave a message and tell me how you'll ring in this year's National Ice Cream Month!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Say Goodbye to 1,000,000,000,000 Calories

One trillion is a very large number. And when you're talking about calories, one trillion calories is a lot! On a 2,000 calorie a day diet, it would take a person 500 million days, or more than one million years, to eat one trillion calories.

A consortium of food and beverage retailers, manufacturers, non-profit associations, and trade organizations, though, have joined together in an attempt to eliminate more than one trillion calories in the market. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, or HWCF, will do so by creating healthier foods and snacks and encouraging physical activity. The goal is to curb obesity, especially in kids aged six to 11, by 2015.

The CEO-led effort will focus on three areas: connecting with consumers in the marketplace, empowering employees in the workplace, and creating healthy habits in schools. Members committed to the pledge include:According to the HWCF, these businesses "provide funding and support for programs and activities designed to help people achieve a healthy weight by balancing calories in and calories out." To date, the members have committed $20 million to the effort.

The organization's website states that the Foundation's "manufacturing companies will pursue their calorie reduction goal by developing and introducing lower-calorie options, changing recipes where possible to lower the calorie content of current products, or reducing portion sizes of existing single-serve products." To continue to meet consumers' needs for taste, convenience, and value, the member organizations will strive to add vital nutrients like fiber and whole grains and fruits and vegetables to the food supply. HWCF members have already launched a myriad of initiatives to control calories while preserving nutrition in the marketplace.

To promote better eating and more movement in schools across the country, the Foundation has already begun collaboration with associations like the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition Foundation, the American Dietetic Association Foundation, and Girl Scouts of the USA.

The HWCF will report annually to the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent, non-partisan organization working to mobilize action around the specific goals of the Let's Move! campaign developed by First Lady Michelle Obama to curb child obesity within a generation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, will also support a rigorous, independent evaluation of how the HWCF's efforts to reduce calories in the marketplace affect calories consumed by children and adolescents and publicly report its findings.

Personally, I am quite pleased that so many food and beverage consumer packaged goods companies have vowed to produce healthier foods by making them more wholesome and nutritious. These changes are sure to help us today as a nation, which in turn, will help generations in the future. What do you think? Leave a message below with your ideas and opinions on this topic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Find it in Your Grocer's Freezer

These days, dining out or eating in can be one in the same. Numerous restaurants have recreated their entrées and side dishes, and instead of going into your favorite eatery, all you have to do is head to the supermarket.

T.G.I. Friday's is just one place that has made it easier than ever to eat tasty appetizers at home. While their frozen foods like potato skins, chicken quesadilla rolls, and spinach, cheese, and artichoke dip are available in your grocer's freezer, they have also extended their selections to include snack chips, skillet meals, dips, beverage blenders, and non-alcoholic mixers.

Friday's is not the only one, however, to replicate restaurant meals. Thanks to ConAgra Foods, Marie Callender's is serving up an extensive line of its comfort food. Complete frozen meals like meatloaf and gravy, lasagna, and pot pies are on hand at the grocery store, even if you don't have a Marie Callender's in your neighborhood. The restaurant also directly sells its fruit and cream pies, as well as cobblers online, and your grocer's freezer.

Similar to Marie Callender's, Claim Jumper is a restaurant chain with locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. Their hardy servings include entrées like country fried chicken, Salisbury steak, and pot roast. They are also known for their acclaimed cobblers and pies. Even though the eatery is based on the West Coast, with the aid of your neighborhood supermarket, a gracious helping from Claim Jumper is never far away; it's right in your grocer's freezer.

In the mood for pizza? Save time and money by picking up an authentic California Pizza Kitchen pizza in – you guessed it – your grocer's freezer. CPK offers a number of flavors and styles such as crispy thin crust garlic chicken and self-rising Hawaiian recipe.

Side dishes, too, have been made easy with assistance from restaurateur Bob Evans. Products like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, stuffing, and glazed apples can be a part of your at-home meal; just pick up these trimmings the next time you're out grocery shopping.

Even though there is a Starbucks on every corner, if you find yourself hankering for a sweet treat, the coffee shop has you covered when you're at home. Store shelves are lined with bagged Starbucks coffee by the pound, bottled Frappuccino drinks, and its most recent retail addition, ice cream.

Jamba Juice has also started to sell smoothie mixes for fans to make and consume at home. The only thing you need to do is head to your grocer's freezer.

What do you think about these restaurants and shops offering their products at the grocery store? Leave a message if you're a fan of the convenience or tell me what other items you'd like to see lining the shelves.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Break Out the Bikini

Summer is in full swing, and it's time to get outside. Whether you are traveling to the beach to put your toes in the sand or headed out to the backyard for a dip in the pool, swimsuit season is alive and well. Are you ready to don a bikini? More and more companies are offering healthier snacks to help you stay on track and fit into that two-piece. Have you noticed the trend? Packages display phrases like high in fiber, low in sugar, less sodium, no trans fat, or low calorie, as health and wellness has become top of mind for many food and beverage consumer packaged goods companies.

For instance, Sweet'N Low recently introduced a new line of sugar-free candies. The fat free hard candies come in butterscotch, fruit, and mint flavors, and contain only six calories per piece. More and more companies are manufacturing their products with the no calorie sweetener Splenda, including various Ocean Spray juice cocktails, Breyers CarbSmart ice creams, and Hershey's Ice Breakers gum to keep calorie counts low on some of the most popular sweet treats.

With today's savvy consumers seeking more wholesome ingredients in the foods they buy, CPG companies are doing their part to make items healthier. Manufacturers are adding more whole grains to their products, which according to the Whole Grains Council, lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. One serving of Wheat Thins provides up to 11 grams of whole grain, while one serving of Sun Chips packs 18 grams of whole grain. Pepperidge Farm now sells whole grain Goldfish crackers, and even Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies are now made with 100% whole grain.

The elimination of trans fat has also been an important trend in the past year. Mars eliminated trans fats in its Snickers and Mars bars, while Sara Lee also removed trans fat from its Earth Grains breads. Girl Scout cookies have been trans fat free since 2006.

Additionally, portion control has become popular during the past few years. To help keep nibbling in check, companies like Blue Diamond Almonds, Hostess, Lance, and Nabisco have amped up their offerings of 100 calorie snack packs.

Finally, as consumers seek lower sodium in their diets, CPG companies have stepped up, creating products with less salt. All 25 varieties of Campbell's Healthy Request soups are certified by the American Heart Association for their low sodium, low cholesterol recipes. Peanut butter lovers now have alternatives as well with Smucker's no salt added creamy natural peanut butter. Just days ago, Frito-Lay launched Fritos Lightly Salted corn chips and Ruffles Lightly Salted potato chips to join Lay's Lightly Salted potato chips on grocery shelves.

No matter what your diet, there are plenty of products on the market today that will help you stick to your eating plan and watch your waistline. So snack healthy this summer and wear that bathing suit with confidence!

What healthy snack has helped you to land poolside this summer? Leave me a message...maybe I'll find a new favorite, too!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This Summer Brought To You By...

What are your plans for the summer? Concerts? Making s'mores over a fire pit? No matter what activities are on your schedule this season, you can be sure that your favorite food and beverage CPG companies will play a role in making those events happen.

Take for example, this summer's American Idol concert tour. Once sponsored by Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, the new M&M's Pretzel candies are sponsoring the 2010 live tour. The top ten contestants of season nine provided a sneak peek of the tour at a launch of the new product inside a giant M&M's Pretzels stage in New York city on June 1. A few weeks ago, Starburst also announced its summer concert series at Six Flags.

Hershey's is also hoping to help you make summertime memories with s'mores, the roasted marshmallow, melted chocolate treat nestled in between two graham crackers. Hershey's knows that summer is the ultimate s'mores season and is offering consumers a chance to download an exclusive song from Rascal Flatts to add to their summer soundtrack. "Your Day to Get Away" is free with the purchase of a Hershey's Milk Chocolate six-pack after the user registers and enters the UPC code from the wrapper.

Another much-promoted summer staple is the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which took place earlier this week on July 4 in Coney Island, New York. The hot dog maker has hosted the contest since 1916, which pits competitive eaters against each other for ten minutes to see who can eat the most hot dogs, including bun. The winner received a cash prize and the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt.

What events are you looking forward to this summer? Keep an eye out for corporate sponsorships and drop me a line if you see anything unique.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

We are two days away from the Fourth of July, and while the holiday is celebrated with barbecues, picnics, and family, it is also important to take a moment to remember those serving in the armed forces who have allowed us to enjoy our freedoms. Retailers and food and beverage consumer packaged goods companies have worked to keep soldiers top of mind by recognizing them not only today, but also throughout the year.

The Coca-Cola Company has been a longtime supporter of the United Service Organizations, or USO, the association that connects the American people with the U.S. military. As a founding corporate partner, Coke has provided philanthropic and promotional support to create awareness of the USO's mission. In addition, Anheuser-Busch serves as a Worldwide Awareness Partner of the USO, and JCPenney has also donated generously to the USO.

Target is another company actively supporting the military community. Its many programs include United Through Reading, which allows deployed parents to read books aloud on DVD, then send the recording to their children at home; Our Military Kids, a program designed to aid the children of severely injured service members by providing them with grants to participate in sports, fine arts, or tutoring; and Operation Gratitude, where Target employees voluntarily assemble care packages for troops overseas.

In 2009, Sears Holdings created a partnership with Rebuilding Together to assist military families facing hardship called Heroes at Home. The volunteer home rehabilitation organization assists homeowners with completing home repairs and other household improvements. Recently, The Hershey Company joined in the effort by producing limited edition Hershey's Kisses that feature a patriotic theme for sale exclusively at Kmart stores. You can also visit the Heroes at Home website to send an encouraging message to our troops.

Kraft Foods is another company with a long history of military support. During WWII, Kraft developed portable food for soldiers, called "K-rations." Today, Kraft's Oscar Mayer brand provides troops with hot dogs, deli meats, and smiles by bringing its products and Wienermobile to military cafeterias, bases, and commissaries around the world.

Finally, Very Best Baking, the recipe website behind the brands of Nestle Toll House, Carnation, and Libby's, offers sound tips in sending goodies to military men and women serving overseas. Visit the site to learn what and how bakers can send treats to the Middle East.

What other companies offer programs to support our armed forces? Please leave your comments and tell me more. Have a safe and happy Independence Day!