Mmmm…..Kwik-E-Mart

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At the beginning of the week, I read in Business Week – which is where I get all my entertainment news – about 7-Eleven’s joint promotion with 20th Century Fox to hype the July 27 release of the Simpsons movie. They converted eleven stores across the country to Kwik-E-Marts over the weekend, complete with Buzz Cola, Krusty-O’s cereal, Squishees and Radioactive Man comic books (but no Lisa Simpson Brand Gazpacho: “It’s tomato soup served ice cold!”).

I scanned the list of stores: New York City; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Burbank, Calif.; Los Angeles; Henderson, Nev.; Orlando, Fla.; Mountain View, Calif.; Seattle; and Bladensburg, Md.

Dammit – I mean D’oh! If I still lived in Virginia, Bladensburg would have been in easy reach. From Fresno, any of the three California conversions are at least a few hours away. I tuned in to Simpsons Kwik-E-Mart on Blogspot to console myself by checking out pictures from some of the convered stores.

Leave it to my beloved friend Mrs. Pinchloaf, who does still live in Virginia, and who is at least as much as a Simpsons nut as I am (the female half of the bridal party sat in her apartment and watched a couple episodes on DVD the day of her wedding while we ate our post-hairstyling meal) to spend the 4th of July in a Simpsonific way.

Sure, she and her husband could have gone to the Folklife Festival or watched the fireworks on the National Mall, both things I miss dearly about the 4th in D.C. (excepting the part where you troop into the Metro to ride home with thousands upon thousands of your closest, sweatiest, drunkest, sunburnest, dehydratedest friends), but both of those opportunities will be there next year. Instead, they went to the Kwik-E-Mart.

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Farmstands vs. Big Brands

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An article on the choose local movement from the Ad Age perspective. It mostly focuses on food but touches on other categories as well.

Some nice details on what some major chains, including Supervalu, are already doing to support and promote the local products they carry. It’s a pretty even-handed piece, with the exception of the somewhat charged remark in the last sentence of this paragraph (emphasis mine):

Granted, a few hundred people in a relatively small collection of towns isn’t a massive buying block that could take down a Kroger or K-Mart. In fact, no true statistics on the might of the buying-local phenomenon exist. Yet, taken together, these disparate efforts could signal the beginning of a consumer revolution that in time could become as pernicious as anti-consumerism.

I knew I’d been feeling different lately and I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. Turns out it’s not just that I’ve been eating too much stone fruit: in addition to my longstanding subversiveness and perspicacity, I’m now pernicious too. And I’m clearly not the only one if Ad Age is writing about it.

The Food News Roundup

Okay, that was a chronic fatigue syndrome-motivated episode of disappearance, these past few days. That coast-to-coast travel last week really wiped me out. Of course, traveling all week sometimes also means that some of the regular work has to get done on the weekend, which it did.

Beyond that, as summer comes on, I’m in serious crunch time at work, and my CFS really has been getting me down. I’m hoping to cook something (something, anything!) this weekend.

For the time being, here’s the product roundup. I get a lot of food newsletters, and they’re perpetually peppered with PR pitches for new products. Sometimes the products featured are remarkable in some way. I’ve noted in bold, below, into which category each of these notable products fit.

Food Products That Scare Me A Little Bit

Z-Trim is a “corn fiber fat replacement.” Does the model on the front page give you the creeps? She’s a little too tan, a little severe…she looks like a model for a miracle weight loss substance rather than a food product. Oh wait, the website says that Z-Trim will help me lose weight without giving up the foods I love, so I guess it is a miracle weight loss substance, and in that case, that model is perfectly appropriate.

It’s corn bran and guar gum.

You could just eat more fiber, but that wouldn’t help you lose weight without giving up the foods you love, unless you love fiber-rich foods.

Food Products That Sound Sort of Gross

General Mills is introducing a line of cereal-flavored milks this coming year, including one flavored like Wheaties. No word in this article as to whether the drink will include that nasty sludge at the bottom of the bowl.

Food Products I Thought of Years Ago When Shopping for a Road Trip, Darn It

Hummus to Go, a shelf-stable single-serve hummus. I’m not kidding; I probably thought of this about ten years ago. Oh well, there goes my million dollars.

Food Products That I Hope Are Better Tasting than Their Level of Achievement in Website Design

Images1I was actually a little disappointed when I went to visit Bubble Wrap Chocolate. They do have an anthropomorphized food mascot, but by the name, I thought I might be getting into something that really did look like bubble wrap rather than just have lots of tiny holes.

They seem to have slapped a TM after almost every phrase on the page, and not in superscript either, which makes it More TM Fun TM to TM Read! TM.

If you do read all the way to the bottom, you’ll be treated to this mental image: “BUBBLE WRAP Candy plans to use some rap-sensibility to delve further into the teen market, with the new Rap, Hip Pop group sensation, “THE BUBBLE RAPPERS.”

You let me know how that goes over with the kids, now.

Produce Stats

Searchfor_picI’m on the road this week in Philadelphia and Houston, finding out what consumers like.  I really enjoy marketing research projects. I also happen to be a bit of a data geek in general; I love to add new items to my stock of Helpful Facts.

With that in mind, I wanted to point up this fact sheet (PDF file), just chock-full of statistics, released by the Produce Marketing Association last week.

The good news is that U.S. fruit and vegetable consumption increased 2% in 2004; the less good news (for me as someone who works on the behalf of fruit, of course) is that the consumption increase is entirely in vegetables, which are up about 4%.

Much of it’s not very surprising: older people eat more produce, people with more income and education eat more produce, women eat more produce.  However, be sure not to miss page five, which lists produce consumption in many other countries; keep in mind that PMA estimates U.S. per capita consumption at 346 pounds, and check out China.

Partly Saffron With a Chance of Anise

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I always get a kick out of the McCormick Flavor Forecast; it’s usually just the right blend of pulse-taking and McCormick sales job. Sure, sometimes it gets a little heavy-handed – last year, one of the flavors listed was Pickling Spice, which I suppose was a response to the huge increase in home pickling that we all saw coming for 2005. It was really launched by the sudden nationwide fascination with German cuisine – as with most food trends, it started with all the German fine-dining restaurants that all the socialites were seen in, feeding their tiny dogs huge sausages, and everyone was experiencing that weekend culinary aspiration, and there were massive runs on cabbage and cucumbers and rings and lids.

Okay, maybe not. And pickles aren’t just German, of course, it’s that cucumbers make for better humor than preserved lemons. Gherkin. Cornichon. Much funnier sounding.

Anyhow, the forecast came out way back in December, but that’s the first story I’ve seen on it this year. For 2006, the flavors are:

Anise – A personal favorite; happy to see it get the nod, though I know fennel will feel shortchanged.
Caraway – This is the one spice I just can’t stand – when I was younger I thought I didn’t like rye bread but I eventually figured out that what I didn’t like was caraway.
Chai – I would quarrel with this one; I think chai was actually probably one of the top flavors of the early to mid-1990s, but it takes a big company like McCormick a long time to come around to some things.
Marjoram – Here here, recognition for the more floral cousin of oregano; I have some seeds of this lovely annual I need to get around to planting.
Paprika – Everything needs paprika. It’s a reliable classic that intensifies savory flavors, adds rich color and promotes browning.
Saffron – What’s left to be said about saffron? The combination of rice, butter, salt, cardamom and saffron combine to one of the most transcendent experiences available in food.
Sesame – Pedestrian? Maybe a little, but not when applied in great quantities, as an alternative to breadcrumbs, or used as a blend of white and black sesame seeds.

This reminds me that I bought a bottle of paprika this week because I need to mix up more of my vaguely-Cajun (Very 80s! It’s retro now! Let’s all wear useless belts over our clothes again and make ourselves look thick in the middle, as they’re the season’s key accessory!) stuff I use for red beans.

Off to the kitchen.

Trans America (the other kind, the evil fat kind)

CriscoimageThere was an op-ed piece in the NYT about trans fats this weekend. Nothing big or new in terms of facts, but a great title: Nuggets of Death.

That would be a good name for a band.

Dammit, the name seems to be taken…sort of, I think.

Well, seeing as there’s at least some loose confederation of individuals calling themselves Nuggets of Death, it seems I’m too late to found a all-vegetarian cholesterol-lowering activist band by the same name. (Nuggets of Death, in case you’d forgotten. See? It’s just fun to say. Nuggets of Death, Nuggets of Death Death Death.) I’ll just have to go with my longstanding plan to start an all-woman feminist heavy metal band called Damn Beavers.

Know Your Beef

When I was a Food Marketing student at Western Michigan, one of my classes involved writing a business plan for a vertically-integrated beef producer. I found out pretty quickly as we got started that I knew more about beef – as a food and in terms of the industry – than the four omnivores with whom I was working.

Today I came across a Beef Quiz sponsored by a subsidiary of Cargill as part of a campaign to help consumers feel more comfortable buying meat. I still don’t think I know much about beef in the greater scheme of things, but I easily scored 10 out of 10 on this quiz and earned a coupon for $1.50 off my next beef purchase, for which I didn’t fill out the form to receive the coupon for some reason, probably because it’s about as useful to me as a year’s free membership in the NRA.

The questions are written to be pretty easy to guess – it’s a good tactic – a nice way to do a little gentle education and deliver a mild message at the same time.

If you take the quiz, let me know how you do, how you’d rate your beef knowledge – and whether you’re an omnivore or herbivore.