Food & drink

You ate that so you might like this...

News that mobile phone owners with Verizon's mobile web 2.0 service can now surf the menus of local restaurants and access addresses, phone numbers and prices is not particularly revolutionary (even if they do provide access to restaurant reviews and map details). However, maybe this is the start of something quite interesting. What if, in the future, your phone could upload information about what you eat for dinner and where you like to dine out. It could then suggest meal ideas,take-away menus or restaurants based on previous eating experience. It could even base such suggestions on the number of days since you last ate a particular cuisine or dish.

Pommes des Glace

A war is breaking out in Canada over the creation of a new type of drink. Ice wine is a German invention where grapes are left on the vine until snow or frost freezes the fruit. This in turn creates grape juice with a very high sugar content which makes for a rather elegant and refined drink. Canada is now the world's leading producer of ice wine thanks to the dependably cold winters. But there's a new kid on the ice block. Canadian apple growers are getting in on the act with the development of ice ciders. Whilst there is an agreed application (standard) for ice wine no such quality control has yet been invented for the cider makers. Calvados makers take note.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 22 May 2004.

Sake is flavour of the month in the US

Sales of sake are growing between 40-50% in the US with retailers and upscale New York restaurants like Megu and Matsuri selections of up to 100 different varieties. Restaurants like Tocqueville and WD-50 are even offering customers small tasting plates of sake to go with specific dishes. Why the growth? Part of the explanation is obviously fashion and the continued interest in Asian cuisine. However, the mystery surrounding sake and the aesthetic nature of sake bottles and their labels also has something to do with it. Meanwhile, Shochu, Japan's other famous drink, is tipped to be the 'hot' new drink in Tokyo according to trend watchers.

Ref: New York Times (US),28 July 2004. Trendwatching (US),11 March 2004.

Beer warnings

UK brewer Scottish & Newcastle has become the first brewer in the world to put health warnings on bottles of beer. The warning is along similar lines to that found on packets of cigarettes and contains information about sensible daily limits. Other drinks companies are expected to follow suit given that the government is making the teenage binge-drinking problem a top priority.

Ref: Health & Science/Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), 21 October 2004.

The future of chocolate

The UK is one of the world's leading consumers of chocolate but the market has been flat for almost five years due to concerns about obesity and health. However, two segments are looking especially tasty. Organic chocolate maker Green & Black have seen their sales increase by 500% over the last 5 years. This is partly due to an increase in organic foods generally but also has to do with a 'trading up' where consumers are looking for extra special and luxurious manifestations of otherwise ordinary products. The second sector that's showing growth is the so-called 'fair-trade' segment. This comprises products grown on an ethical basis - with farmers (especially in Africa) being paid a fair price for their raw materials. The Co-op supermarket is sourcing all it's chocolate from fair-trade suppliers and most other UK supermarkets offer at least a handful of fair-trade confectionery. Last but not least, there's the Endangered Species Chocolate Company in the US. Proceeds from the sale of their candy bars go to saving tigers, rhinos and elephants.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 3 July 2004. (US),14 September 2004.

When the label is the most important thing

A Japanese phone company has created technology that will allow shoppers to instantly scan supermarket food items with their phones to find out about how the product was made. For example, scanning a portion of fresh fish could give you information about the time and method of capture,the name of the fisherman and the name of his boat. The reason for such food fanaticism is safety. Recent food scares have got people rattled and they don't trust the government (or the retailer) to tell them the truth. Hence the appetite for information about where food is from and who made it. A scheme to identify where fruit and vegetables are from and what pesticides and fertilisers were used in their production is already available in some Japanese supermarkets.

Open ocean aquaculture

Problem: The World's population is forecast to increase by 10% by 2010and demand for animal protein (beef, chicken, fish) is expected to increase by 25% over the same period. Meanwhile 25% of fish stocks are on the road to extinction and a further 47% are close to the limit of sustainability. Solution? - ranching fish like livestock. Open ocean aquaculture is the name given to a new method of fish farming where fish are grown in rigid 100,000 cubic foot nets that float around the world's oceans. Feeding and navigation are controlled automatically and the nets are monitored from land by computer.

Ref: Wired (US), May 2004.

Eating al desko

In the future people will eat less at home, eat more at the office and consume more snacks and other portable foods traveling between the two.This is the forecast from Datamonitor, a UK market research company. The report says that on average Britons missed 113 breakfasts per person in2003 compared to 71 in the rest of Europe. The UK also heads the table for the amount spent on food and drink at work (GB £1 billion per year) which has created the term 'deskfast' to describe breakfasts taken at work.

Ref: (US), 3 September 2004.

Some sobering numbers

The issue of binge drinking is on the rise with an increase of 35% between 1995-2001 in the US and a cover feature in New Scientist magazine in the UK. The figures are certainly alarming. Almost one third of Americans aged 21-25 claim to binge drink on a regular basis while in Britain the figure is almost identical with binge drinking accounting for 40%of male and 20% of female drinking sessions. In Australia the National Drug Research Institute estimates the figure to be 51%.The consequences of such drinking include public safety (70% of people in the UK say that it has created violence and public disorder issues locally) and public health. But why the increase and what's the solution? Causes include a number of factors ranging from stress, anger and alienation to group behaviour but the key factor is availability. It's really easy to get drunk quickly these days and it's also inexpensive. The real cost of drinking in the UK has fallen by about 50% over the past 30 years while in the US wine has fallen in price by 28% and beer by 32% between 1975 and 1990. All of which leads to a seemingly obvious solution - increase the price. Or maybe a more innovative solution would be to relate the cost of the product to the age of the drinker and the risk (like with car insurance) thus making drink more expensive for people under the age of say 25.

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 21 August 2004.

A taste of things to come

Personalised food is on the (distant) horizon with a number of companies such as Kraft working on drinks that can be customised according to a consumer’s whim, genetic make-up or medical history. Nanotechnology will mean that ingredients and additives could be stored inside food and drink products and only released if directed. For example, you could change the colour of a soft drink by pressing a button on the bottle or by firing a command from your mobile phone. On a more serious level, the 'functionality' of certain foods could be changed according to your medical requirements (dial the vitamin E level up or down) and supermarkets could sell products specifically tailored to an individual’s genetic pre-disposition to certain diseases.

Own your own brewery

Blowfly beer is a great example of both open source innovation and viral marketing. The beer was developed on-line with the help of some self-appointed beer evangelists who designed everything from the label to the advertising. These evangelists then spread the word so that at the time of launch there was pre-existing demand. Sales are a modest AUS $ 700,000 but the company is already profitable.

Ref: AFR Boss January 2004.