“We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”
Samuel Smiles (1812 – 1904) Scottish social reformer and writer
“A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”
Food bites . . .Cooking? What's that?
Harry Balzer, veteran food-marketing researcher, USA
Editor's Stuff - Refreshing common sense on the modern food system debate
Last week, I highlighted the latest tranche of food-industry-bashing in TIME magazine with an article entitled “The Real Cost of Cheap Food”. This hit the global streets just a few weeks after the launch of a movie in similar mould, Food Inc.
There has been much reaction, as expected, to these "exposés" from both sides of the spectrum: those who see modern agriculture and food as the devil incarnate determined to poison us all and trash the planet in the search of extravagent profit, and those who see the food-bashers as naive, ill-informed, luvvies-to-pseudoscience-incarnate.
It's difficult to get to the truth in an emotional and mostly agenda-based debate. I had one cogent moment this week while watching a WW1 documentary on the History Channel. Aside from the genocide in the trenches, it highlighted the deprivation and near starvation of those back in Britain, and it struck home just how precarious were the lives of even our grandparents and great grandparents. Not only because of war-mongering despots, but from famine, simply because Western society then didn't have modern agricultural, food or distribution systems and all were victim to rudimentary food preservation, packaging, refrigeration and transport. Sadly, for billions today the situation is no different, but that's another debate.
While it's far from perfect, I say hurrah to the modern food system and for the abundance, choice, freedom, variety, security and massive pleasure it gives us. I have no doubt that our forebears would join the chorus, too.
In this vein, this week I came across a superb essay by John Floros, Professor & Head Department of Food Science, Penn State University in the US. He writes:
"Voltaire once said that 'common sense is not so common', a statement that resonates as particularly true lately. In recent years, our modern food system has come under attack by people who may mean well, but they lack the knowledge, experience, foresight, and historical perspective to understand its complexity and importance.
Numerous popular press articles, books, movies, blogs, etc., use imagination and seductively simplistic, sometimes even misleading, approaches to blame “industrial” agriculture and the “industrial” food system for many of the problems that afflict our society today—energy shortages, environmental degradation, climate change, obesity, diabetes, allergies, etc. My belief is that our modern food system is not perfect, but has served us well, and before we dispose of it, we better design the new one very carefully. As a scientist, I trust science and the progress and solutions it brings, but science alone will not solve all of our problems..." Read more here
Enjoy this week's read! Email Brenda:
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technical sales reps, auditors, plant managers, key account managers, microbiologists etc
Afrikaans translation: To translate this page, go to http://interpret.co.za/, and simply paste the URL into the page translator module. The translation is by no means perfect, but is a help if you want to read in your home language.
SA Food Industry Stuff
The Grapple launched in SAThe grapple, a combination of a grape and an apple, has hit our supermarket shelves. The fruit (R9.99 for a four-pack at Checkers in Emmarentia, Jo'burg) looks like a traditional red apple, but smells and tastes like a grape. Those who don’t trust “frankenfruits” need not be alarmed, the grapple is not a genetically modified product. It isn’t even a hybrid... Read more here and go to the product website here.
Brace yourself for more food price hikes Consumers already grappling with high food inflation can expect further increases in the price of food in coming months. The Food Price Monitor for August, which was on 31 August 2009 by the National Agricultural Marketing Council, said food prices were expected to increase in the next few months due to “pre-season uncertainty”.
Though prices of beef, bread, maize meal and sunflower oil would increase, it would be at a slower rate, said Andre Jooste, an economist at the council. Read more
Income from food, beverages industry up 0.9% year-on-year in June The total income generated by the South African food and beverages industry for June 2009 increased by 0.9% compared with June 2008, Stats SA said this week.
The increase was due to income from food sales (2.4% and contributing 2.1 percentage points). However, this was counteracted by decreases in income from bar sales (-9.6% and contributing -0.9 of a percentage point) and other income (- 17.8% and contributing -0.4 of a percentage point). Read more
Woolworths sure it can win back lost custom While flocks of Woolworths shoppers have gone downmarket during the tough times and some are probably still doing so, the upmarket retailer says it remains positive that despite losing market share in both food and clothing, in the long term it will be able to increase it to 15%.
Woolworths’ food market share has dropped from 9,2% to 8,5%, while the clothing market share has dropped to 14,5% from 15,5%. Read more
SA retailers eye Africa for growth Top South Africa retailers Massmart and Shoprite are gearing up to compete for the lucrative African food retail market.
Releasing their annual results recently, both companies emphasised that they saw major growth on the continent. They already operate in 13 and 16 African countries, respectively. Read more
Beer: scramble for Africa In 1996, in a presentation to SA shareholders, SAB chairman Meyer Kahn put up just one slide and spoke on it for more than an hour. The slide showed a map of Africa. The thrust of his message: Africa is ours. SAB's push into Africa began in earnest in the 1990s when it gained management control of breweries in several African countries. By the early 2000s SAB was producing two-thirds of all beer in Africa. Read more
SA baby formula 'safe'Aspen, the manufacturer of popular infant milk formula S-26, has affirmed that its product on South African shelves had been thoroughly tested and is "safe for infant consumption", after reports that contaminated product, believed counterfeit, had sickened infants in Tanzania. Read more
Online meals free up MomThe trend to quality, nutritional online cuisine has been successfully developed by Chef Direct, a Gauteng business that serves Greater Johannesburg and Centurion. The company spent 18 months planning and investing before launching the online ordering model a year ago. Read more and read the article (written by myself) on this company as it started up last March.
Food Industry Events
Short Course on the Consumer Protection Act - 16 October
The Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 will afford consumers extensive protection and will significantly affect many aspects of business, making a thorough knowledge of it pivotally important. Experts say the market may be transformed by this act and consumers will have more rights than ever before.
This course is organised by Continuing Education at the University of Pretoria (CE at UP) that offers career-focused courses for individuals and professionals.
For more info: Nadia Noome, T 012 420 5015; E-mail:
The SAAFoST Food Safety Symposia CSIR in Pretoria: Friday 11 September
University of Stellenbosch: Tuesday 15 September
This symposium, being held in both Gauteng and Stellenbosch, will again offer great-value. Proceeds, if any, will go towards the organising costs of "the greatest international food science event of the century in SA", the IUFoST 2010 World Congress, "Food Science Solutions in an Evolving World" that SAAFoST is organising next August 22 - 26.
Topics on the programme include ethical considerations in food safety; a manufacturer' view of food safety; unwanted and undesirable mycotoxins and fumonisin B1; mycotoxin regulations, current and future; faecally-contaminated water for irrigation; food factory design for optimum hygiene and safety; the CGCSA's Food Safety Initiative, food safety incidents - lessons learned; airborne contamination; beyond HACCP; pesticides and food safety; and aspects of international trade law and food safety
For the full programme including titles, speakers and times, see: http://www.saafost.org.za/
Food Industry News
Coke follows Pepsi into coconut water marketThe Coca-Cola Company just became an investor in ZICO Beverages, a California company that makes coconut water. The move comes two weeks after rival soft drink giant PepsiCo purchased Brazil’s largest coconut water producer, Amacoco. Coconut water is a popular option in many Asian and Latin American countries, and it’s slowly gaining attention in the US. It’s found within young, green coconuts and is different from coconut milk, which is squeezed from the meat of the fruit. Complete with electrolytes and carbs, coconut water has been hailed as a natural sports drink. [No link]
UK: Unhealthy cereals - it’s enough to put you off your breakfastThis week came news that the European Union is planning to clamp down on unjustified health claims made by breakfast cereal manufactuers. Many cereals claim to be good for our hearts, bowels, hair, waistline, nervous system, energy levels — despite containing the equivalent of three heaped spoonfuls of sugar per helping, and unhealthy levels of fat and salt. Read more
Brands urge FSA not to run salt-warning ads singling out breakfast cerealsSeveral of the UK's biggest cereal manufacturers, including Kellogg, Weetabix and Cereal Partners, have called an urgent meeting with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) this week in an attempt to halt an impending ad campaign highlighting the salt levels of cereal. Read more
US: Hard-hitting campaign in the "Fat Fight"New York State has shelved the idea of a tax on sugary sodas and juice drinks. But New York City’s public health officials opened a new front in their struggle against high-calorie beverages this week, unveiling an ad campaign that depicts globs of human fat gushing from a soda bottle. “Are you pouring on the pounds?” asks the ad, which urges viewers to consider water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead, and warns: “Don’t drink yourself fat”. Read more
Bob's Beat: "Getting it wrong" can be damaging and costly to marketers
In over 30 years of observing and reporting on this industry, I don't think I've ever seen a time when competing in the marketplace brings so many risks to the table. Thanks to the internet, and to bloggers, Facebook-ers and Twitter-ers, nothing is hidden from view anymore. In the good old days, if you want to call them that, a company in a food safety or false health claim emergency could just circle its wagons and pretty much keep the public, the media and consumer groups at bay. The response, what there was of it, was usually fought by the PR department via highly indignant press releases defending the company's position and defending its executives.
But back then there was very little blogging or twittering or connecting with a critical mass of consumers. Now, however, there is just no way a company can hide from the outside world. There are too many industry observers and detractors with easy and instant access to literally tens of millions of consumers, and they know how to get the 'word' out fast. A company that doesn't instantly respond to trouble can be instantly damaged. It's why I say: what will separate winners from losers today is how they handle a food safety crisis or a critical challenge to a health claim. It will define them and shape their public image. If managed poorly, it could cripple a marketer where it hurts the most — in the grocery aisle, and, inevitably, on the bottom line.
Bob Messenger is a foremost observer of the US food industry. He publishes a daily e-zine: The Morning Cup
Food Trends and NPD
Mintel reviews global consumer trends of 2009
It's not going to be all work and no play for today's consumers. Even as the economy drags people down financially and emotionally, Mintel sees a continued focus on enjoyment and life fulfillment. While people around the world still feel pessimistic, Mintel sees them discovering ways to transform their lifestyles and lighten the mood. Read more
Mintel: Energy drinks not likely to be healthy anytime soonAmid the constant publicity about the potential danger of energy drink ingredients, Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) revealed that the latest energy drink launches aren't getting any healthier. Despite this, the popular beverage market continues to grow with sales increasing over 240% from 2004 to 2009. In the same time frame, there has been a flood of new energy drinks to the market with new product launches up by over 110%. Read more
Hot shots: tequila becomes Britain's spirit of choiceFew liquors can match tequila for its association with endurance drinking and lethal hangovers. For decades, Mexico's national spirit has been at the heart of an unholy alliance with salt, lime and pickled caterpillars to make it the tipple of choice for those in search of cheap and rapid oblivion.
It is to "premium" tequilas, made for sipping rather than slamming, that Britons are turning, however, as they develop a more sophisticated taste for Mexican food and drink. Read more
Boxed wine coming of ageIt’s clear that box wine is moving beyond the cheap-spirits-in-bulk stigma that has marked it for years. There are some really striking packages on shelves around the world and they’re being used to contain pricier and pricier wines.
And users of alternative packaging for wine are starting to assert themselves more as a united front, much like glass packaging manufacturers have done for years. As evidence, see www.AboutBoxedWine.com, an interactive website dedicated to everything and anything about boxed wine.
CANADA: New fruit puree snack in squeezable pouchDesigned with on-the-go children in mind, Dole Squish’ems! are packed in standup pouches with resealable, safety caps. The pouches are designed for easy one-handed product delivery, which can encourage independent eating by young children, and a solution for any parent who has ever had their child's snack become the backseat decor of their vehicle. Read more
Kids’ menu falls behind the timesMintel Menu Insights, which tracks restaurant menu trends, says the average kids’ menu doesn’t offer enough variety or healthy food, even as parents, kids, and chefs alike call out for better options. Analyzing kids’ menus from 2005 to the present, Mintel Menu Insights sees the same foods repeated year after year. Read more
Beverage Entrepreneur 1: The Juice BreweryIt’s not easy launching a beverage, even if your idea is sound and has an obvious target market. Investment is substantial, as it takes a while to penetrate the consumer mindset. British graphic designers, Neville Portelli and Gregory Watson, knew they were onto something good when they conceived ‘Hopper – the soft drink with a sharp taste, topped off by a foaming head, and born in a brewery’ in a beer-type bottle, yet containing no alcohol. In three flavours, the drinks have the tang of fruit, complemented by the earthy notes of hops, malt, wheat and barley. Read more
Beverage Entrepreneur 2: Mario is a smooth(ie) operator The speed with which Cape Town-based entrepreneur Mario Thompson is taking his fruit-based smoothie from being a local product to one destined for foreign shores is nothing short of remarkable. First is the product itself, which is made of 100% pure fruit juice, puree and pulp, with no added sugar, preservatives, stabilisers or colourants. According to Thompson, his was the first packaged fruit smoothie in SA as all other smoothies are dairy-based. Read more
Health and Nutrition
Taking the pee? Cranberry juice fails to cut itCurrent clinical evidence for using cranberry juice to combat urinary tract infections is 'unsatisfactory and inconclusive', according to Raul Raz, Director of Infectious Diseases at the Technion School of Medicine, Haemek Medical Center in Israel.
Cranberry juice and related products have been touted as a simple solution for urinary tract infections, but Raz, a member of F1000 Medicine, finds little to support this claim ..... Cranberry contains hundreds of compounds, and it has been difficult to determine which might be responsible for any therapeutic effect. Read more
How much Omega-3 fatty acid do we need to prevent cardiovascular disease? Scientists claim to have found the dose of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) that is "just right" for preventing cardiovascular disease in healthy men. In a new study, they show that 200 mg of DHA per day is enough to affect biochemical markers that reliably predict cardiovascular problems. This study is the first to identify how much DHA is necessary to promote optimal heart health. Read more
British big stores counting the cost of ban on GM foodBritain's food giants have privately warned that they are struggling to maintain their decade-long ban on genetic modification and called for the public to be educated about the increasing cost of avoiding GM. As major producers such as the US and Brazil switch to GM, supermarkets are now paying 10 to 20% more for the dwindling supplies of conventional soya and maize, according to a report by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Read more
COMMENT FROM The Independent: We need an honest debate on GMThe news – which The Independent discloses today – that supermarkets fear they may run out of food free of genetic modification – is certain to alarm sections of the environmentalist movement. Opponents of GM food will suspect that the Government and the supermarket chains are teaming up to overturn the latter's decade-long ban on the sale of GM foods by claiming the ban has now become unsustainable.
It is no secret that some supermarket bosses want to see the ban ended and believe they caved in on the use of GM foods too quickly in response to public opposition. But the claims being advanced by the big grocers cannot be shrugged aside, above all their insistence that as sourcing GM-free foods becomes more difficult, the price of such foods has risen already by about 20%.
One of the big problems over GM crops is that the debate, such as it is, has become more like trench warfare. Each side blasts the public with a barrage of fears, hopes and opinions dressed up as hard facts. Each side also appears to believe it has a monopoly on virtue as well as knowledge. The Government, meanwhile, seems to favour greater use of GM food, but only discretely and through smoke signals. It has yet to make its views plain.
This is not the way forward. If the ban on GM foods is becoming difficult to uphold, it is imperative that the country is not bounced into accepting a fait accompli. People must have a chance to listen to, and join, a more open discussion in which hear the pros and cons of GM crops are debated by impartial experts that are not obviously tied to a particular outcome. This is clearly not the case with either of the two main sources of public information, the GM seed companies and the environmental campaigners.
Only when the evidence has been put under the spotlight can we hope to reach a consensus of whether concerns for health and potential damage to the environment should automatically outweigh hopes that the wider use of GM crops could help solve the world food crisis. As the world's population climbs, the need for a more rational, and conclusive, debate than we have had so far becomes ever more pressing.
Taking food waste and turning it into raw carbon The entrepreneur, who with co-founder Jo Fairley sold the Green & Black’s organic chocolate firm to Cadbury for a reputed £20m, has founded a biochar business, and his firm is about to announce its first deal with the government of the Maldives.
Carbon Gold, Sams’s new company, is to develop biochar projects on three islands in the Maldives, taking waste from agriculture and fishing and turning it into charcoal by roasting it in a low-oxygen atmosphere. The process turns waste into raw carbon, which can then be used to fertilise the soil. Read more
Engineering tasty cattle that don't feel pain?With "hormone-free", "cage-free" and "antibiotic-free" becoming common labels on supermarket shelves, might "pain-free" be the next sticker slapped onto a rump roast? As unlikely as that may seem, progress in neuroscience and genetics in recent years makes it a very real possibility. In fact, according to one philosopher, we have an ethical duty to consider the option. A paper published this month in the journal Neuroethics argues for minimising animal suffering by creating beasts that lack the ability to sense pain. Read more
Food Science & Technology Stuff
Got milk? You're weird!If you're American or European it's hard to realise this, but being able to digest milk as an adult is one weird genetic adaptation. It's not normal. Somewhat less than 40% of people in the world retain the ability to digest lactose after childhood.
There's been a lot of research over the past decade looking at the genetic mutation that allows this subset of humanity to stay milk drinkers into adulthood. A long-held theory was that the mutation showed up first in Northern Europe, where people got less vitamin D from the sun and therefore did better if they could also get the crucial hormone (it's not really a vitamin at all) from milk. In fact, milk can be viewed as the world's first superfood, with the genetic ability to digest it helping prehistoric families inhabit harsh northern climes. Read more
Nanotechnology coming to your storeA canola oil contains tiny nano-particles that block cholesterol from entering the bloodstream. A chocolate shake is tastier and more nutritious thanks to the addition of nano-sized ingredients 100,000 times smaller than a grain of sand. Food packages are embedded with nano-particles that alert consumers when a product is no longer safe to eat. Nanomaterials enhance the biological activity of dietary supplements or nutraceuticals by allowing delivery of nutrients directly into cells.
These are all examples of currently available food innovations made possible by nanotechnology, using breakthroughs in the manipulation of matter at the molecular level. This article argues that science must recall the hard lessons from GMOs, and get it right this time. Read more
Sucralose safety ‘scientifically sound’: Expert panelStudies reporting that sucralose may be detrimental to gut health were “not scientifically rigorous”, and the totality of evidence supports the safety of the sweetener, an expert panel has concluded. Last year scientists from Duke University reported that consumption of the sweetener Splenda at doses within the US FDA’s Acceptable Daily Intake may suppress beneficial bacteria in the gut, and cause weight gain. Read more
FREE E-BOOK: A natural and clean-label solution to food protectionMore consumers are steering clear of products they view as nothing more than a chemical cocktail and continue a mass migration toward more-natural foods. And although preservatives perform a necessary food-safety function, many have unrecognizable, chemical-sounding names. However, natural, safe, effective preservatives — made from cultured sugar or vinegar — with label-friendly names help keep foods in the scope of the "natural food" category while maintain peak food safety.
Learn the ins and outs of these new natural preservatives and how they perform in various popular products with this e-book. Download for free
The science of longer lasting lager
One of the long standing problems in the drinks industry is how to prevent chemical processes in the drinks compromising their taste, quality and shelf life. In particular, riboflavin (vitamin B2) is responsible for driving photooxidation reactions that affect the flavour of many drinks and so they often have to be packaged in light-shielded containers. Now scientists have developed a way of removing riboflavin. Read more
Food "tattoos" an alternative to fruit labels
Those small and sometimes inconvenient sticky labels on produce may eventually be replaced by laser “tattoo” technology now being tested by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Florida (UFL) scientists. Called laser etching, the new technology puts a tattoo on grapefruit and other produce so it can be identified at the supermarket checkout lines. Read more
New packs on SA shelves: Clive's Column AugustCheck out what new food and beverage packs on local shelves have caught Clive Glover's eye most recently, accompanied by his beautiful digital photography. Featured this month: Renown's new frozen bangers; Shibbes Cream Liqueur; Cadbury Local 'n Lekker; Wild Africa Cream Liqueur; and Thermopac's new barrier trays for MAP meat. Read more
Ben & Jerry's "Hubby Hubby" ice cream flavour supports gay marriageIce cream company Ben & Jerry’s, long known for its support of liberal causes, has created a temporary version of its Chubby Hubby ice cream, renamed “Hubby Hubby,” to celebrate Vermont’s legalization of same-sex marriage, the Unilever subsidiary's home state. The carton design features a rainbow arching over a wedding cake with two grooms on top. Read more
Some more funky flavours from Ben and Jerry"Yes Pecan": Earlier this year they marked Barack Obama's election as US president by renaming one of its nutty ice cream flavours.
"Glastonberry": Named after the music festival Glastonbury, it is vanilla ice cream with fudge brownies and raspberry swirls.
"Imagine Whirled Peace": Tribute flavour to John Lennon, it is caramel & Sweet Cream Ice Creams Swirled with Fudge Peace Signs & Toffee Cookie Pieces Read more
Should Ben and Jerry's have come out for gay marriage?Are food companies trying to take a leaf out of pop stars' books by taking publicity-generating stands on political issues? Read more
That's it for this week, folks!