Tag Archives: Foodie

Looking For The Truffles

This Foodie Friday I’m going to run the risk that I’m going to burst a balloon. If you received some truffle oil as a holiday gift, the odds are overwhelming that there isn’t any truffle in your truffle oil. That’s right: much like true extra virgin olive oil, which is generally often neither “virgin” nor “olive oil,” truffle oil is generally some sort of oil infused with something called 2,4-dithiapentane. Sounds yummy, no? As Tony Bourdain said, truffle oil is “not even food! About as edible as Astroglide and made out of the same material.”

Norcia black truffles.

Norcia black truffles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should not really be the real bearer of bad news here. As far back as 2003, publications were reporting on this and the NY Times did a piece last September on it that was widely read in foodie circles. You might think I’m going to use this as the jumping off point for another rant about deceptive advertising, and as appealing a thought as that is, I’m heading in another direction. Much like the “Where’s The Beef” question, seeing truffle oil on a grocery shelf (heck, even Walmart sells EVOO with “truffle aroma”) makes me wonder where exactly the truffles are. Real truffles in oil don’t last long, you know, so they’re probably not in things that sit on a shelf.

Come to think of it, vanilla extract has the same issue. Much of what you see in the stores isn’t real vanilla and there’s no vanilla in most vanilla things, but vanillin, a chemical compound. Unlike truffles, you probably can buy the real thing at your local store but it’s not 98 cents a bottle, believe me.

What does this have to do with your business, other than making you feel as you did when you found out there isn’t a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny? More than you’d think, actually. When you put up a sign or create a website that announces you as a service provider of some sort, people have an expectation that you can, in fact, provide said service. When you advertise a product, customers expect that the product will do what you say it will. They don’t want to have to look for the truffles nor do they expect that what they’ll find will be fake or something that mimics the real thing. If you’re selling your expertise, have some, even if it’s narrow. I’m surprised sometimes when I speak with people who claim to know something about a piece of this crazy business world how little they actually do know. They might have read a book and can fake their competence, but there really isn’t a truffle there.

A vanilla-flavored extract isn’t the same as vanilla extract. Truffle flavored oil assuredly has no truffles. Make sure there is validity in whatever you’re claiming to be or much like olive oil brands and truffle oil distributors are being sued (there were “four class-action lawsuits filed in New York and California accusing Trader Joe’s, Urbani Truffles, Sabatino and Monini of fraud of ‘false, misleading, and deceptive misbranding’ of its truffle oil products'” you’re heading for big trouble.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Want Fries With That?

Foodie Friday at last and this week the topic is, once again, fries. I see that Taco Bell has joined damn near every other quick-service restaurant and is now offering fries. Not just any fries, though. Nacho fries, which I gather are fries with a bit of Mexican seasoning and some nacho cheese on the side. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe, but not from a business perspective and let me tell you why (and how it might just apply to your business too!).

English: Taco Bell crunchy shell beef tacos

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think of Taco Bell (or any other taco chain), fries don’t enter into the equation. I realize that a few of Taco Bell’s direct competitors have fries (more on that in a second) as does every burger chain and chicken joint. Do you really think that diluting the brand is worth capturing those people who MUST have some fries with the burrito?

Moreover, Taco Bell has actually done a great job in positioning itself as having healthy alternatives and, in fact, has some of the best options for healthy eating in all of fast food. While they don’t tout themselves as being healthy (they respect that much of what’s on their menu isn’t and know it would be inauthentic to claim to be), the fact is that they can now offer “choice” while competing against Chipotle and other “healthier” alternatives.

The chain has also done a great job in coming up with weird menu items that are true to the brand. While I’m not rushing out to grab a naked egg taco or a firecracker burrito, those items are true to the brand identity. Even the California Loaded Fries burrito rings true while just plain fries don’t. A better idea? How about offering carne asada fries, which are common in Southern California and taking them nationally? Sort of a Mexican version of poutine, Taco Bell could have stayed true to their brand while offering something they believed was lacking in their menu. Del Taco, a SoCal competitor, offers chili fries. Here is a chance to one-up them and take a regional specialty into new areas.

Ask yourself this. Would you head to Burger King for a taco? Maybe for a breakfast burrito but I wouldn’t classify what is basically an egg sandwich wrap as “Mexican.” McDonald’s tried and failed with pizza, and it wasn’t just because of the product. If you’ve done a good job of branding, your customers have a focused expectation of your product. Diluting that image or causing cognitive dissonance with a new offering helps neither you nor them.

My local taco place doesn’t serve fries. It serves papas, and only as a side on the kiddie menu. Frankly, I was upset when they went to a menu in English because it hurt the authenticity of the place in my mind. Fortunately, the food spoke louder than the language change. See your brand from the consumer’s eyes and you won’t get too far out of bounds. You with me?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Most Read Foodie Friday Post Of 2017

It’s only fitting that we end the week of most read posts published in 2017 with the food-themed post that was most read. After all, we end each week with something of that sort and I kind of like ending not just this week but this year with one. This post was published last October and was originally called “They Don’t Make It  Like That Anymore.”  Have a healthy and happy New Year and we’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy!

This Foodie Friday I am going to run the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming. Rather than admonishing you all to get off my lawn, I want to share the sentiment I had a week or so ago as I fired up my smoker. My smoker, or as it’s lovingly known, “The Beast”, was made by the New Braunfels Smoker Company at least 20 years ago, How do I know that? Well, that’s today’s food and business thought.

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move. Why was that, especially when I also gave away or junked a Caja China and two other grills? In a sentence:

Because they don’t make them like that anymore.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company was sold to Char-Broil 20 years ago. Almost immediately, the quality of the products went downhill, and this was especially noticeable on the gauge of the steel. The steel was thinner and didn’t hold heat as well. When a rust spot developed, it was difficult to sand and paint it without almost going through the area that has rusted. The products were similar in design and name, but that was about all that was the same. The bbq forums, home to serious meat smoking aficionados like me, were deluged with negative comments and, more importantly to the business, better alternatives to what had been a superior line of smokers.

This is something from which any business can learn. We’re always under pressure to improve our margins. Some folks look to cheaper materials, other to cheaper, less-skilled labor, and still others to cutting customer service. Sometimes we just skimp on quality control. While margins might improve, there is a strong chance that revenues will decline as the customer base figures out that “you’re not making it like that anymore.” As an Apple user, I recently switched to a Chromebook because my Mac OS isn’t as smooth and there are glitches that were never an issue before. For you cooks out there, Pyrex changed their formula and “new” Pyrex is not as good. Recent Craftsman tools, once the industry standard, are now made in China and aren’t nearly as good. I can go on and I’m sure you can as well.

If you’re successful, resist the temptation to cut corners. People notice (so does your staff). Don’t be part of a conversation that claims you don’t make it like that anymore.

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

What An Egg Roll Tells You About Business

Foodie Friday has arrived at last. This will be the final “new” food-themed screed of the year. Next week’s posts will be the annual review of the most-read posts of the year and the most read food post will be next Friday. While I hope you’ll continue to read next week, thank you for doing so today and throughout the year. Happy 2018!

While I like to think of myself as a fairly worldly person when it comes to knowing about food, I learned of a regional specialty here in the US just the other day. If you’re from the Detroit area you’re going to roll your eyes, but I just found out about Corned Beef Egg Rolls. I’ve lived in and around one of the world’s greatest multicultural food centers (New York City) my entire life until recently and had never encountered such a thing. It’s exactly what you’d think: a pile of thinly-sliced corned beef inside an egg roll wrapper that’s then rolled and fried. There is usually cheese involved (some gooey, white, mild stuff) and sometimes sour cabbage. Apparently, these rolls are quite popular in the Detroit area and they are spreading into adjacent areas. Coming soon to a deli near you?

So what does this have to do with business? It serves as a gentle reminder of a few of the things we’ve discussed this year. First, like many great dishes, this one was born as a sort of happy accident. Just as buffalo wings were the result of using up some food a bar has around, so too was this roll the result of a thrifty employee not wanting to toss out a bunch of corned beef scraps. Begin Vietnamese, he did something very typical in his culture – he made a roll out of them.

This reminds us that if you make content or products, there is no garbage can. Beyond content, if you have an idea that doesn’t quite do what you had planned, don’t toss it. Think about how what you have can serve another purpose. You miay have the right answer to another question you or your customers haven’t asked yet.

Second, it’s a blending of two iconic dishes from very different cultures – Jewish and/or Irish corned beef (see this post on THAT subject) and a Chinese/pan-Asian fried roll. This is a great reminder that the business world has become a very small place. There is a huge value in understanding how to communicate to and with different cultures, both with respect to language, values, and practices. If we isolate ourselves by failing to tailor our messages and products, we’re really going to be missing out. What are we doing in business today if not trying to blend a lot of cultures into a more coherent market?

Finally, I suspect that the Corned Beef Egg Roll will mirror what happened with the Coney Dog which also came from Detroit. There are places all over that serve a hot dog with thin chili and onions (The Roast Grill has been in business here in Raleigh for over 75 years serving just that) even if they’re not called Coneys or Coney Island Hot Dogs or Coney dogs. That product has grown way beyond its origins. Smart entrepreneurs spot trends, assess needs, find openings, and fill them. I did a little digging and while there are a few restaurants with “egg roll” in their name, there really doesn’t seem to be a chain that just serves egg rolls (and the restaurants named Egg Roll Express, despite the name, are regular Chinese restaurants with 2 egg rolls on the menu). Here is your first business idea for 2018 and a franchise opportunity for well beyond.

A few good reminder with which to end the year. I’m looking forward to stepping up to the fryer with you next year!

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Cookies And Caster Sugar

It’s Foodie Friday! I’ve written before that I’m not much of a baker and only do so when a guest is counting on some sort of baked dessert. It’s not because I don’t have a sweet tooth though. One weakness I do have with respect to baked goods is cookies. The blue guy on Sesame Street has nothing on me and I suspect if I didn’t exercise some sort of self-control I’d weigh 300+ pounds.

I love me some cookies and take a vicarious thrill in looking at various cookie recipes even though I will only consume them through my eyes and not my mouth. One thing that I noticed popping up in a number of recipes was caster sugar, and an article on Food52 yesterday helped me understand what it is and why it’s used in baking. This is their very fine explanation:

Caster sugar goes by a variety of names, including castor sugar, baker’s sugar, and superfine sugar, the last of which alludes to what exactly it is: a finer granulated sugar. If a grain of granulated sugar is big and a grain of powdered sugar is tiny, caster sugar would be somewhere in between.

Which of course got me thinking about business, and about data in particular. Just as the more granular nature of caster sugar makes cookies a better product (they’re softer and lighter), so too can refining your data yield much better results. You’ve probably heard about the need to segment your data but if you’ve never done so or have never gone beyond basic age/sex or other large groups, you’re really missing out. Refining your data makes it possible to address each segment in a way that’s meaningful to them. The more personalized you can make your messaging, the more effective it will be. Getting beyond “first name” and into where in a purchase cycle a customer might be as a data segment will make for a better outcome. Special offers by segment only yield great results when the specificity of those segments make the offer truly special.

Caster sugar is more refined but not overly so. That’s a great thing to keep in mind as you analyze and use all the raw data you collect every day. The fact that the data isn’t fattening is a big plus!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, digital media, food

The Food Business Isn’t Just Food

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic today is business. I know: that’s pretty much the topic every day, but let me explain. I read an article on one of the restaurant sites I frequent that spurred a thought that goes beyond the restaurant business.

Photo by Helloquence

The piece was all about the financial statistics a good restaurateur needs to watch. I’m always surprised when a place with good food in a great location goes out of business but it seems to happen a lot. Sometimes it’s that the chef leaves and things slide downhill but more often than not it’s because the business part of the food business overtakes the food part of the food business.

One needs only to watch an episode or two of the show Restaurant Startup to see how a food business is not especially different from any other startup. I assume what I’m seeing on the show reflects the new restaurant world at large and today’s article confirms that belief. Many of the contestants have no clue about the first, and maybe the most important statistics any startup needs to grasp: Cost Of Goods Sold. In a restaurant, that’s food. In a service business, we usually call it cost of sales. In either case, it’s the cost of producing whatever it is you’re selling. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t know this number.

That number is part of a bigger one called overhead, which includes rent, salaries, services such as accounting and legal, and things like keeping the bathroom clean (your restaurant has one; hopefully, so does your office). These numbers are critical because if you charge too little for what you provide you won’t be in business very long, and you can’t figure that out unless you know your monthly nut.

Once you have the Gross Profit (or Gross Income) number, you can subtract your expenses to get Net Income or Net Profit. Divide that by your sales and suddenly you have a profit margin. That’s something you can use to benchmark your results against other businesses of the same type. In the restaurant business, it’s generally not very big, which is all the more reason why a complete grasp of the numbers is critical. There isn’t a lot of room for error.

I spend a lot of time with my clients on their numbers. It’s not just so that they can present themselves well to potential investors either. Like your web traffic or any other piece of data, they can illuminate a lot and help you make critical decisions. Ignore them at your own peril.

By the way, I’m writing this as a sort of thank you to my late brother who was my CPA and who beat accounting into me many years ago. He passed 5 years ago next week and I miss his guidance and the clicking of his calculator every day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

No Waffling Here

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’d like to have us reflect on that great Southern institution The Waffle House. It seems that one trips over a Waffle House every few miles here in the South and there’s a reason for that. It is a beloved place and not just among the stereotypical audience one might suppose. Watch this clip from his Parts Unknown show in which Anthony Bourdain discovers the wonders of the place and you’ll see how even chefs respect it. As the clip hints, there are few better places for one to land having been a little overserved and possessing an appetite.

Photo courtesy Nick Gray

What can any of us learn from this? A few things, I think. First, consistency. You can say you don’t like the food but you can be sure that whenever or at whichever Waffle House you order it from you’ll get the identical dish. It is consistent beyond belief, including how each dish is plated. That’s hard for a single restaurant to do all the time. To have over 2,000 places doing it is pretty unbelievable.

It is efficient. There is a code for servers and cooks involving placement of jelly packs, butter, and other condiments on the plate that allows cooks to work on many orders simultaneously without messing anything up (check out the photo).

It is clean. One might think that a place open 24 hours a day would begin to get a little worse for wear. Not a Waffle House. They are constantly sweeping and cleaning. I think we’ve all experienced something “off” at less-upscale restaurants. Dirty silverware, food residue on a plate or a grimy floor. Not here. I get that your business might not be serving food, but a sense of order reflected by attention to detail is a trait your customers want, something the constant cleaning provides in this case.

It is transparent. Because the kitchen is open, you can see the wonder of each order being made. It instills a feeling of confidence since the kitchen has nothing to hide. The eggs are fresh (I’m told the chain uses 2% of all the food service eggs in the country), not powdered and the other ingredients are clearly fresh as well.

It is personal. Because every plate is cooked to order, it is made exactly the way the customer wants it.

It isn’t vanilla. What I mean by that is that it has its own style and even its own language. Where else can you go and order something smothered, chunked, covered, diced, and several other ways as one can with Waffle House hash browns?

Finally, it is reliable. It’s always open, so much so that there is an unofficial “FEMA test.” If the local Waffle House is closed, a location is undergoing some sort of disaster which may require FEMA intervention.

Each one of the aforementioned qualities is one our own businesses should possess.  Ideally, they have them all. Does yours?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud