Food & drink

Sweet spot in retail

One of the highlights of childhood is eating sweets (lollies in Australia, candy in America), especially when you’re not supposed to. Appealing to the nostalgic among us (parents and kids) are retro sweets, which are definitely the sweet spot in confectionery these days. While global confectionery sales grew 1.6% this year, sales of retro sweets were up nearly 20%.

Hankering after the sweets spot are the investors. Blackstone, US private equity firm, bought the UK’s biggest confectioner, Tangerine, which sells Butterkist popcorn and Barratt Sherbert Fountains (remember those?!) Sweets are very resilient to recession, heavily rely on impulse purchases in, say, cinemas, and are less dominated by the big grocers. However, smaller confectioners are likely to be bought out by the bigger firms if the recession bites. Websites have also got in on the act, such as A Quarter Of and Cybercandy, which sells brands from all different countries as well as Britain.

Nestle and Kraft are well established in the confectionery business, but Nestle’s business is dominated by chocolate at 80% of total sales. Kraft’s The Natural Confectionery Company, offers additive free sweets and global sales are now nearly $US100M. Cadbury, in the 1840s called “Cadbury Brothers of Birmingham”, was bought out by Kraft in 2010.

Of course, you can’t actually buy vintage sweets, only a reproduction of them. It’s also highly unlikely they will taste the same as you remember them. Nothing quite like those pre-pubescent taste buds. So what other foods are ripe for the nostalgic baby boomers?   

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 12-13 November 2011, Nostalgia prompts sweet taste of success. L Lucas.
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Search words: confectionery, nostalgia, Euromonitor, retro sweets, Blackstone, Tangerine, impulse, A Quarter Of, Cybercandy, Nestle, Kraft, chocolate.
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Why food dumps are cool

If aliens were to look down on our planet at the way food is distributed, they would conclude it is a kind of madness. Some people have almost nothing to eat, some have so much they are obese, some starve on purpose, and some eat food waste from dumpsters. The trend, “dumpster-diving” describes the students, anarchists, or homeless, who want to “reclaim” food and establish their self-sufficiency and independence from the system that fails them.

Edible food is thrown away every day (around 27% of food) because it is ugly, past its sell-by, or because the rules of health and safety say so. The culturally defined standards of what is waste seem unethical, given the number of people who are hungry. In America, 14.5% of families suffer from “food insecurity” (they can’t get enough) and 4.4 million people are fed by the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap). Some of these families used to be well off and are now suffering because of unemployment. Meanwhile, 34% of American adults are classified as obese.

The dumpster divers are a new kind of community and they share tips online about where to go, emphasising that they only take what they need, and avoid breaking the law or making a mess. One method of purifying fruit and vegetables is to soak them in mild bleach for 30 minutes, and you can always get fresh bread because bakers can’t sell freshly baked day-old bread.

It’s very hard to explain this story to the aliens, or anyone else for that matter, because it’s a kind of madness with no apparent solution. It’s definitely a hard case for the X-PRIZE, though not as sexy as flying to the moon. (See Fly me to the moon, this issue.)

Ref: Financial Times Magazine (UK), 3-4 December 2011, There’s no time to waste. G Tett.
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Search words: “dumpster-diving”, America, edible, bruised, use-by, obesity, waste, Campbell’s Soup, “food insecurity”, public welfare, food banks, surplus, restaurants, health and safety, homeless, self-sufficiency, reclaiming food.
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How alcohol wastes hospital time

Many hospitals are at breaking point but it’s not always because people are genuinely ill. In a frightening number of cases, 1.17 million in 2010/11, people are admitted because they drank too much alcohol. This number has doubled in the UK in less than a decade and last year’s figures are 11% higher than the year before. The problem of binge drinking is starkly obvious in the under-18s: 7,074 were admitted to casualty last year.

While many admissions are for people who are desperately drunk, there were 1,898 per 100,000 admissions last year for conditions caused by long-term use of alcohol. This figure may be underestimated, considering the number of chronic conditions potentially linked to alcohol, such as heart attacks or diabetes. Do we really know the cost of long-term, sanctioned alcohol use? It is estimated binge drinking will cost the NHS 3.8 billion pounds by 2015.

Drinking is not just a problem among the young: middle aged people, especially among women now, are just as likely to binge drink. These UK figures are blamed on the 24-hour drinking policy and multi-buy offers in supermarkets (now banned), but the problem goes deeper than that. Most people who binge drink seem proud of it – and there is no more acceptable form of relaxation or celebration than drinking alcohol.

Ref: The Daily Telegraph (UK), 10 December 2011, Drink-related admissions to hospital double in a decade. N Collins.
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Search words: hospital, alcohol, under-18s, binge drinking, NHS, 24hr drinking, London, multi-buy offers, supermarket.
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Fairtrade works

Some 4,500 products in the UK carry the Fairtrade logo and global sales are now worth 1.3 billion UK pounds, 20 years after it was first launched. While sales of organic food were down 10% last year, sales of Fairtrade were up 12%. Part of the reason for its success is because supermarkets have given their support, especially Sainsbury, which converted its own brand chocolate, tea and hot chocolate to Fairtrade. It was also first to sell 100% Fairtrade bananas.

The idea of Fairtrade is that buyers must pay a minimum fair price to the farmers, as fixed locally by Fairtrade. If the price overshoots the minimum, then buyers must pay that. This means farmers are protected from price falls below the minimum; they also decide how to spend their cash. Many invest in computers for schools, scholarships for their children, and farm equipment. The downside, according to the Adam Smith Institute, is that it keeps farmers trapped in unsustainable industries, hurts farmers who are not in Fairtrade, and does little more than ease the West’s conscience. (Given the scale of government subsidies to many unsustainable industries, we think that’s a bit rich.)

Beneficiaries of Fairtrade, like St Lucia bananas, say they cannot live without it. Farmers in Rwanda now have access to a bank, which will allow them to invest the money they receive through Fairtrade coffee. Meanwhile, Cadbury invested in middle aged cocoa farmers in Ghana because they were afraid the supply of cocoa would dwindle without young people willing to take their place.

Sainsbury’s Justin King says “if we leave it to the markets, we will not be able to source the products in the future, or the price will be too high”. Yes, we would have no bananas!

Ref: The Sunday Times (UK), 4 March 2011, King goes bananas for Fairtrade. D Derbyshire.
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Resist anything except temptation

A German study found people spend an incredible three to four hours a day resisting temptation and desires! Unfortunately for us, as the day goes on, we become tired and less able to resist. Then in front of the TV in the evening, the big snack advertisers wring out the last piece of willpower. It’s as if willpower is a kind of muscle and, the more you use it, the more fatigued it becomes. Yet, if you have a little nap, it can replenish again for a few more hours.

The trait for self-control seems to show up most in people who have been more successful in life and more popular. They are less likely to be arrested, have fewer personal difficulties, and are less stressed. So willpower, it seems, is a good thing. Interestingly, there is only pool of willpower and whatever you do draws on that one source, whether it is to resist food, exercise, or calling your mother. People who are given glucose between bouts of resistance are more able to withstand the next temptation without giving in. But ironically, people who are on a diet need resistance, but don’t “need” the glucose that helps them resist it! They would probably be better off taking a nap.

The tragic problem of worldwide obesity – 500 million people in 2008 – suggests there may be a shortage of willpower. But some of that lack of willpower is with the authorities who have to resist the temptations of giving into the big snack sector or the alcohol sector. Industries always argue for self-regulation, but that implies they have the willpower to regulate themselves given the temptations of high profits if they don’t. Contrast their profits with the fact type 2 diabetes worldwide is likely to cost 500 billion UK pounds a year by 2030.

The message to advertisers is: get your public when they are tired. Also, if anybody has a nasty habit, make sure you have to resist it in the morning!

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 28 January 2012, Where has your willpower gone? RF Baumeister.
Financial Times, 18 November 2011, Fighting obesity. Anon.
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Search words: public purse, big snack, population, overweight, self-regulation, habits, willpower, success, energy, resistance, tiredness, resource, glucose.
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