Category Archives: food

A Matter Of Trust

If you’ve eaten recently you might want to wait to read today’s Foodie Friday Fun. As always on Friday we look at something going on in the food world and attempt to broaden the lesson beyond food. Today’s topic is food-tech. I’m not talking about the robots who are making burgers or pizzas (we’ve already visited with them). Today it’s the food itself and how technology is changing the very nature of food.

Specifically, I want us to think about food made in the lab. Not new flavors of Pringles or the latest batch of Triscuit varieties. I mean things such as chicken and beef made in a lab with cells from living animals. Yes, such stuff exists and while it still costs about $9,000 a pound to make, in five years the scientists believe they’ll have the costs down to be comparable to what we now pay for chicken.

I’m also talking about GMO‘s – genetically engineered foods like the “impossible burger” that “bleeds” yet is made from plants or the apple that won’t brown when cut due to a gene beings removed. There are next to no studies on if these foods are safe over the long term nor are the few regulations able to keep up with the fast-changing developments in the field. So what we’re left with is “trust me”, and that’s something any of us in business need to think about.

Do I think consumers are begging for apples that won’t brown? No, but I do think there is ample evidence that they want their food to be safe as well as to know where it comes from and how it’s made. That same principle applies to your business as well. Consumers will trust you up to a point. In the case of food, they believe that the FDA and other governmental organizations are protecting them (which is laughable but another topic). In your case, it might be that you’ve built up trust over a number of years. In fact, trust is one of the most important assets a company or brand has. When it’s lost, as in the case of the Volkswagen diesel fiasco, the company risks disappearing. There are many excellent pieces how brands are losing trust – I’d encourage you to read this one as a start.

From my perspective, food companies should spend less on developing GMO’s and more on transparency. Educate us, don’t feed us stuff that might not be safe. Build trust. Sound like a plan?

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Bilkies And Bunnies

Handmade shmura matzo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!

This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week.  You know who you are.  But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean?  What could possibly stop someone up that badly?”  Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.

As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:

Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Let’s eat.

Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels.  Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand.  Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used.  Oy!

One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.  We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling.  It’s sort of a knish without the outside.  One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes.  Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind.  Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown.  I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap.   I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?

I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter.  Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts.  And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits.   On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!

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Filed under food, Growing up, What's Going On

Sweets Trolley

It’s Foodie Friday, and this week I’m already looking forward to next week and the Passover and Easter holidays. As you might expect, it’s because of the food. There are a few things that seem only to make an appearance around this time – Easter Pie (pizza rustica) and bilkies (like a knish without a crust) being two of my favorites. Most of these foods, however, are desserts. Macaroons, cakes made with ground nuts instead of flour, Simnel cakes, hot cross buns, and yes, even Peeps are sweets that are now eaten year-round but were originally only eaten around Passover or Easter. That’s why desserts are on my mind.

Desserts began as a “thing” in the 17th century. As a host, you were expected to leave your guests filled to the brim. The word “dessert” comes from Old French “desservir,” “cleaning the table,” and that’s what it did—it filled people up to the brim. I look at it as the “something extra” that takes a good meal and makes it special. If you’ve dined in some restaurants (or are a Harry Potter fan), then you’re aware of the sweets trolley – the cart that comes around after the meal with the desserts. It always makes me feel the way that the sound of the Good Humor truck did as it came around when I was a kid.

So my question for you this Foodie Friday is what’s on your sweets trolley? What desserts have you created to complement and enhance your main meal? How are you filling your customers to the brim? Is your product great but your customer service the dessert? Is your online experience first-rate but the experience of unboxing what you send an added joy? What are you doing that goes above and beyond?

I’m actually not a dessert person – I avoid sweets. This week is one exception because the desserts are so unique and wonderful. What are you doing to entice people who might avoid you to change their mind?

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Filed under food, Consulting

It All Comes Out In The Wash

I’m not quite sure what to make of our Foodie Friday Fun topic this week. It’s a piece I saw that discusses how someone invented a bag that you can use to cook dinner in your washing machine. Not, it’s not from The Onion. Apparently, the person who invented it was moved by a piece he saw about homeless people using the laundromat as a sanctuary of sorts. There, the homeless get water, clean up, do laundry, charge devices, etc. He wanted to add cooking to the list.

한국어: 유럽향 드럼세탁기 (모델명_F1047TD)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thinking behind this is that a washing machine is like a sous vide like environment in that it’s a water bath. The problem is that it really isn’t. An immersion circulator holds the sous vide bath at a constant temperature for any period of time required to cook the food. I did steak in mine last night holding the food for one hour at 126 degrees. A typical washing machine uses water that’s somewhere around 110 degrees, nowhere near hot enough to cook anything beyond very rare, if at all. The time a load of laundry is fully immersed in the hot water isn’t long enough either.

Putting aside the obvious problems, what I like about this is that it demonstrates outside of the box thinking. People cook on their car engines (mmmm – is that cylinder head in the potatoes?) and bake their lasagna in a dishwasher. Grilled cheese using your clothes iron? Why not! How often have you sat down to solve a problem and immediately discounted some of the more bizarre solutions out of hand? That’s something that happens a lot in group brainstorming sessions. My feeling is that no idea is terrible and no idea is great until they’ve been thought through and explored. In the case of the sous video laundry bags, I’d probably not have kept going, but the fact that they now exist has me asking myself are there any other purposes for which the technology can be used?

Ever used a microwave oven? It was a mistake, the by-product of radar research. Played with a Slinky? Another mistake. So were potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and penicillin. While you may have some great ideas that turn out to be not so great, how can they be repurposed? Maybe the bad stuff will come out in the wash, leaving you with something brilliant?

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Filed under food, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Sampuru

This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.

Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.

Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.

Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.

We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

No Cabbage For The Corned Beef

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

The Luck Of The Scottish

This Foodie Friday, we have a fail to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a demonstration of abject stupidity or just a stunt designed to make some viral noise. If it’s the latter, it’s a very dangerous game they’re playing over at McDonald’s. Yes, they’re on the screed again!
As St.Patrick’s Day approaches, McDonald’s decided to promote its Irish Shamrock Shake – a combination of chocolate and mint – in Ireland. They did so with a little video clip they released on their official Twitter page ahead of St Patrick’s day, targeting their Irish customers. You can click through here to see it. What’s amazing is the number of things whoever did this screwed up in so short a period of time. It’s equally amazing that they managed to do so and offend their target audience.

The clip shows a man “playing” a Shamrock Shake like a set of bagpipes and there are multiple straws inserted in the shake cup to give the appearance of same. In the background, scenes of the countryside click through. The clip features the word “instrumint”, a play on the drink’s minty taste. Clever, right? Wrong. The man is wearing a Scottish style hat, playing a Scottish instrument to the very Scottish-sounding soundtrack. One of the scenes is of Stonehenge, which is in England, not Ireland. In short, just about everything in the clip is from somewhere other than Ireland.

The lessons are pretty clear. First, whoever did this could not have been Irish. When you’re targeting a specific group – and a country is a group! – have someone who is intimately familiar with the culture, preferably a member of the target group itself, review the work. The history of marketing is littered with mistakes by people who were writing in a language whose nuances eluded them or for a group of which they have no more than a passing knowledge. My favorite, by the way, is the introduction of the Chevy Nova into Mexico under that name. “No va” is Spanish for “won’t go”, not the best name for a car.

But let’s suppose this was done on purpose. Maybe the creators of this were trying to have the ad go viral and figured they could do that by making it so wrong. That’s a very dangerous game since the hit to McDonald’s reputation has been pretty severe, even as the ad gets tons of earned media. Setting yourself on fire in the street will get you lots of attention but it’s a tactic you can only use once since the damage is serious and usually fatal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the folks at Mickey D’s here on Foodie Friday and I thought that if I were to write about a drink that contains more calories than 4 Krispy Kreme donuts I’d do so on the basis of the chemical swamp it contains. Who would have thought that the ads could be worse than the drink itself?

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Filed under food, Huh?