Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Sweet It Is

Did you know it's National Baking Week? Sponsored by Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit working to end child hunger in America, National Baking Week is a part of the Great American Bake Sale.

From August 29 to September 4, bakeries, restaurants, and freestanding and supermarket-based delis are encouraged to host bake sales, offer promotions, or donate a percentage of sales from the week to help make sure no child in this country goes hungry. Since 2003, the program has raised more than $6 million.

In honor of National Baking Week, I want to know: Which sweet treat is your pastry of choice?

*Note: Survey works best in Chrome.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gluten-Free Goodness

With celiac disease on the rise in the United States, it's no wonder that food manufacturers have shifted the way they make products to accommodate consumers' diets. Many food and beverage CPG companies have created gluten-free items, and supermarkets and retailers have increased their selection in response to this growing trend. Here are just some of the gluten-free goods lining store shelves today.

Both Kellogg's and General Mills offer popular cereals in gluten-free varieties. The companies now produce Rice Krispies and several flavors of Chex, respectively, in gluten-free forms.

Looking for crackers or other snacks that don't contain the wheat, barley, or rye that set off the ailment? Snyder's-Lance, Incorporated, makes a number of products that conform to the celiac diet, including an assortment of chips, popcorn, and pretzel sticks. Frito-Lay also generates dozens of gluten-free munchies for people who suffer from an intolerance to foods containing gluten.

Baking has been made easier as well, with quite a few companies supplying ingredients for amateur and professional bakers alike. King Arthur Flour provides an array of mixes and flours to make everything from breads and brownies to cakes and cookies. With such products, gluten-free bakeries have been popping up around the country, making it easy for sufferers to enjoy muffins, pies, and pastries.

More substantial meals are effortless, too. Heinz offers convenient options for gluten-restricted diets, such as sauces, condiments, and frozen entrees. Additionally, Thai Kitchen has recipes to change up your lunch or dinner while still meeting the needs of a celiac diet.

Those needing to stick to a gluten-free regime, but want to eat more natural foods are in luck. Start your morning out right with everything from waffles to cereal by Nature's Path. Amy's Kitchen even has a plan for customers looking to lose weight or eat healthy while sticking to a gluten-free regimen. Consumers have even more natural and organic options thanks to Annie's. The company's line of gluten-free goods includes crackers, pastas, and salad dressings.

Retailers across the country, such as Trader Joe's, Giant Eagle, and Supervalu stores, are all working toward catering to customers with gluten sensitivity.

Get answers to your questions about gluten-free living from Kraft, and be sure to check out additional resources from the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Are you following a gluten-free diet? Tell me where you shop and which brands you buy to help maintain your lifestyle.

Thanks, Lori, for your inspiration behind this post!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie

Bigger isn't always better. If you've paid close attention to food and beverage CPG trends during the past few years, you've noticed snacks have gone mini. From 100-calorie packs of cookies and chips to calorie-controlled ice cream cups, food manufacturers are churning out bite-size snacks for consumers to get a taste of their favorite treats without overindulging.

Pillsbury Sweet Moments are some of the newest minis on the market. The European-inspired desserts premiered last summer, launching a new category for the brand – refrigerated desserts. These bite-sized brownies are bursting with smooth caramel or velvety cheesecake, giving sweet-toothed shoppers an opportunity to enjoy a few chocolaty bites without wrecking their diets.

Hostess has been offering smaller portions for quite some time. The company's 100-calorie packs miniaturized cakey childhood favorites, including Chocolate Cupcakes, Strawberry Cupcakes, and Twinkie Bites. In addition, Hostess sells four flavors of Mini Muffins in Chocolate Chip, Blueberry, Banana Walnut, and Brownie Bites varieties. These controlled-portion snacks are perfect to pop morning, noon, or night.

When it comes to ice cream, dairy lovers need no longer sit with a spoon and a pint. In recent months, several brands have introduced single-serving cups. Ben & Jerry's, Edy's/Dreyer's, Häagen-Dazs, Skinny Cow, and Starbucks all offer decadently indulgent frozen delights without excess fat and calories.

Even restaurants have jumped on the mini craze. Houlihan's menu includes small plates with items like sliders and frites bars, and mini desserts with items such as reasonably priced ice cream flights. At Orlando-based Seasons 52, mini indulgences featuring high-impact flavors and top quality ingredients boast all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.

At places like Starbucks, you can find the company's new line of petites in the bakery. Cake pops and peanut butter mini cupcakes are just two little pastries on the menu. Walk in Dairy Queen and order any Blizzard, only smaller! Since last summer, the six-ounce Mini Blizzard has provided customers with a taste of their favorite DQ frozen confection.

So, call it what you will – miniature, snack size, or fun size – these smaller portions are helping to satisfy cravings and curb binges, and they're cute to boot! Personally, Mini Nilla Wafers and Mini Fruit-Flavored Marshmallows are choice treats that take me right back to my childhood! What are some of your favorite itty-bitty eats?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do the Right Thing

Corporate social responsibility is a key aspect of today's business model. Organizations work to make a difference in the communities in which they operate to make a positive impact. They strive to earn the trust of consumers and stakeholders by participating as an active corporate citizen. Lately, several examples have surfaced of how food and beverage consumer packaged goods companies are giving back through successful CSR campaigns.

One such company is General Mills. According to an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, one in-house volunteer project became so successful, the company turned it into a stand-alone charity called Partners in Food Solutions. The program started in 2009 when a group of the food manufacturer's engineers and food scientists started to package meals and donate them to schools in Malawi. In just three months, the volunteers provided one million meals.

Today, more than 500 employees contribute their time, knowledge, and a passion for helping people to the effort. Recently, Partners in Food Solutions announced partnerships with food and nutrition producers Cargill and DSM to strengthen its goal of helping to feed the people of Africa and developing a strong, sustainable food supply chain throughout the continent.

Over the next five years, Partners in Food Solutions hopes to broaden its network of U.S.-based food companies and expand its effort to other parts of the developing world.

In addition to General Mills, many companies endeavor to use their brand, name, and profits for good. Since 1984, The Coca-Cola Company's philanthropic arm, The Coca-Cola Foundation has partnered with organizations around the world to support initiatives and programs that respond in a meaningful way to community needs and priorities. Recently, the beverage maker announced $2 million in grants to 20 organizations across the country during the second quarter alone that support: education and youth development programs; community; diversity and inclusion; active, healthy living; water stewardship; and community recycling.

Just days earlier, the Foundation awarded grants totaling $1 million to six U.S. colleges and universities to send approximately 160 students to study abroad in China over the next four years. Specifically, the grants support the U.S. State Department's 100,000 Strong Initiative to increase the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China.

Coca-Cola's biggest competitor, Pepsi, has been giving away millions each month to fund refreshing ideas that change the world, one community at a time. Since the Pepsi Refresh Project started in January 2010, the company has awarded more than $20 million in grants.

In addition to food and beverage CPG companies, retailers are working to better the community as well. Target store grants provide monies to K-12 schools and other non-profit organizations to bring art and cultural experiences to schools, support educations field trips, and provide early childhood reading programs. The company is committed to giving 5 percent of its income – more than $3 million – to communities each week. Moreover, the Target Foundation offers grants to support arts and social services programs and organizations based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area where the company's headquarters are located.

Finally, being environmentally friendly, or "green," is another factor of CSR that companies try to achieve to be a good corporate citizen. Just a few weeks ago, Interbrand announced its 2011 list of Best Global Green Brands. The report focused on planet-focused efforts of the world's most valuable brands. The results comprised this comprehensive report of public perception of environmental sustainability performance and a demonstration of that performance of these brands. In regards to food and beverage CPG manufacturers, the results are as follows:
  • France-based yogurt, bottled water, and baby food maker Danone landed highest on the list at number 14. Recognized for its sustainability initiatives, the company also runs programs to solve clean water-related problems in urban areas and reduce packaging.
  • Coca-Cola came in next at number 27. The company has worked to increase the fuel efficiency of the system's fleet of more than 200,000 vehicles used to deliver products around the world, and plans to create sustainable shelving made from cardboard.
  • Pepsi follows closely behind at number 29 for its attempt to reduce packaging, reformulate its plastic bottles, and increase recycling. To do that, the company has introduced "Dream Machine" recycling centers and outlined policies for reducing environmental impact in its "Performance with Purpose" initiative.
  • Campbell's listed at number 35 for identifying and eliminating more than 9.3 million pounds of packaging materials, including steel, plastic, and paper since 2009. The soup maker has also invested in renewable energy, including an agreement to power its Ohio plant from solar energy, and has committed to sourcing 40 percent of its energy from sustainable sources by 2020.
  • Starbucks rounds out the food and beverage CPG list at number 42. The company has pledged to make significant improvements, including: ensuring 100 percent percent of its cups are reusable or recyclable by 2015; to make all new stores green compliant (LEED certified); to preserve ecosystems around their facilities; and to reduce water consumption by 25 percent by 2015.
What are your thoughts? Tell me what food manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants you feel are making a strong impact in your community and around the world.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Direct TV

Temperatures are sweltering across the United States. To beat the heat, the only logical thing for me to do is to enjoy the air conditioning of my home with a big bowl of ice cream! Of course, I wouldn’t want to waste my summer being cooped up and unproductive, so I’ve uncovered some amazing and informative documentaries to help pass the time. Here are my recommendations to learn more about the food and beverage consumer packaged goods industry on the small screen. Thanks, CNBC!

CNBC Titans: Milton Hershey

TV doesn't get much sweeter than discovering the history behind The Hershey Company. Chocolate mogul Milton Hershey put Hershey, Pennsylvania, on the map. Today the town boasts The Milton Hersey School, Hersheypark and Chocolate World, and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Supermarkets Inc: Inside a $500 Billion Money Machine

Ever walk around a grocery store and wonder why items are placed where? Find out what goes on behind the scenes of your local market, as well as how these supermarkets remain competitive in this tough industry. The show also includes insights from Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, and features stores such as Pittsburgh's Market District. Watch the whole broadcast on Hulu.

Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind the Real Thing

For the past 125 years, Coca-Cola has built its strong reputation. Today, Coke is the best-known brand around the globe and the world's largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. This original one-hour documentary reveals never-before-seen labs, secret archives, and high-tech product testing involved in creating and maintaining this American icon. Find the entire presentation online at

If you've seen a show about the food and beverage CPG industry that I need to add to my "must watch" list, leave a message and let me know!