The real risk to consumers when we go without most FDA food inspections

After a tumultuous year with multiple recalls, consumers are wary. Add in the government shutdown complete with plenty of press coverage, and we see the confidence in our food supply system tank. Although the full impact of the government shutdown on food inspections is unknown, instability is at the root of real consumer risk.

Shaken consumer confidence during the shutdown

The initial storm broke in a January 9 tweet by Scott Gottlieb, M.D., commissioner of the FDA, where he said his agency wasn’t completing domestic food inspections due to the shutdown. He tweeted that “we’d typically do about 160 domestic food inspections each week, and about 1/3 of those would be considered high risk.”

Dr. Gottlieb listed high-risk products, like baby formulas, seafood and soft cheeses, as missing inspections. For the average consumer, this lengthy list added to their concern, and some took to Twitter to ask if any food was safe. Within minutes, an NBC news interview with Gottlieb surfaced with talks of recalling workers.

While some experts praised this decision, NBC quoted others like Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs at The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), saying, “We don’t want the person inspecting our meat… to be distracted by not being able to pay their bills.”

This argument sheds light on the genuine threat to consumers: a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of an already strained system.

Concern over issues with food recalls

On a good business day, the FDA faces ongoing staffing shortages and worry over budget cuts. Sarah Taber, a consultant whose company, Boto Waterworks, monitors fruit and vegetable facilities told Bloomberg  the FDA  hasn’t been doing “enough for decades.” With the average food inspector earning less than $40,000 per year, attracting quality applicants isn’t easy. Rising concerns over transparency in the food supply system add to the increasing uneasiness over the credibility of the inspections.

Consumers rely on regular reviews of at-risk facilities to prevent a problem before it reaches a critical level. In the most recent data from the FDA, hundreds of facilities were cited for pest contamination. Others were found with objectionable water and sanitation conditions. Dozens more were written up after inspectors visually observed employees eating food, chewing gum, drinking beverages or using tobacco in areas with exposed food, equipment or utensils. With the majority of inspections halted, this increases the likelihood of problems.

Thorough investigations help deliver the evidence for food recalls

The Center for Disease Control lists 24 foodborne disease outbreaks in 2018, the highest in more than a decade. Dr. Gottlieb credits this to “better technology than ever before to link outbreaks of human illness to a common pathogen.” However, without proper regulatory protections during a government shutdown, unknown threats abound.

If total food inspections drop in 2019, then we face shortfalls in consumer trust that will impact sales in several industries. For those in the foodservice industry, it makes transparency difficult yet vital. Add in a lapse in service, a backlog of high-risk inspections, and you have the perfect storm for a health outbreak.


Food Waste Solutions Present Opportunities for Brands

According to estimates from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the United States accounts for approximately 133 billion pounds of food loss annually. That translates to one-third of the national food supply, worth $161 billion each year. As awareness of this crisis grows, a number of cities have passed ordinances requiring restaurants, grocery stores, bars and farmers markets to donate or compost all organic material waste, which could begin having significant effects on the food and restaurant industry.

Austin is the most recent community to join a growing list of environmentally conscious cities by instituting the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO). The URO decrees that everything “that grows or once grew” -- items ranging from dirty pizza boxes to leftover veggie scraps -- be properly contributed or converted into usable material. San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island have all passed some sort of ordinance or law regarding food waste.

For impacted restaurants and retailers, the process of attaining compliance may seem daunting. Austin’s Office of Sustainability’s website outlines a number of country-wide best practices, beginning with organic diversion, where excess perishables are donated to food banks or soup kitchens.

For restaurants and retailers concerned about the potential repercussions of donating easily spoiled foodstuffs, it's important to note that the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act -- signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton -- protects businesses donating perishables to nonprofits from criminal and civil liability. Similarly, many areas have moved to composting initiatives, with both Seattle and San Francisco providing special trash receptacles for eligible waste.

In January 2018, ReFED, a nonprofit committed to reducing food waste, and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a collaboration of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association, released the first-ever Retail Food Waste Action Guide. According to the guide, food waste represents an $18.2 billion opportunity for grocery retailers, equal to roughly double the profits from food sales. Similarly, the savings could total $16 billion for full-service restaurants and $9.1 billion for limited-service restaurants. The guide also includes an overview of the challenges facing retailers and restaurateurs, while providing ideas on advanced initiatives for prevention, recovery and recycling.

Notably, the guide stresses the value of prevention-focused solutions, such as dynamic pricing and markdowns, as they are expected to create three times the net economic value of recovery and recycling solutions combined. To that end, it also highlights best practices, such as measuring and identifying root causes of waste, and engaging in industry collaborations such as consumer education campaigns and standardized date labeling.

The reasons to minimize food waste are many, whether through government mandates or other motivators. Restaurants, retailers and food suppliers adopting these initiatives could also help bolster their profit margins, with the added benefit of creating a greener, less wasteful world.

44.5 Tons of Ham Recalled After Deadly Listeria Outbreak

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Johnston County Hams voluntarily recalled approximately 89,096 pounds of ready-to-eat ham products potentially infected with Listeria monocytogenes.

The investigation began Sept. 27 when FSIS was notified a person fell ill after consuming their cured country ham. Further investigation revealed a total of four confirmed listeriosis illnesses between July 8, 2017 and Aug. 11, 2018. Unfortunately, one of the victims has since passed.

After determining a link between the illnesses and the ham producer, FSIS epidemiologists compared samples from the four confirmed cases. Results showed Listeria monocytogenes present in deli ham closely related to those found in the infected individuals.

As a result, five ready-to-eat deli loaf ham products produced between April 3, 2017 and Oct. 2, 2018, were subject to recall. These items were shipped to distributors in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina and Virginia. FSIS urged consumers to check freezers and throw away or return any potentially infected items.

In a statement released Oct. 4 , Johnston County Hams released the following:

“Safety is a top priority for Johnston County Hams and we have issued a voluntary recall of our ready-to-eat deli loaf ham products. We are recalling the products listed below:

  • Varying weights “Johnston County Hams, Inc. Country Style Fully Cooked Boneless Deli Ham.”
  • Varying weights “Ole Fashioned Sugar Cured The Old Dominion Brand Hams Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham”
  • Varying weights “Padow’s Hams & Deli, Inc. Fully Cooked Country Ham Boneless Glazed with Brown Sugar.”
  • Varying weights “Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham Less Salt Distributed By: Valley Country Hams LLC”
  • Varying weights “Goodnight Brothers Country Ham Boneless Fully Cooked.

We are deeply saddened to hear of the link between our products and consumer injuries. We are committed to identifying the root cause and taking proper corrective actions in close collaboration with the USDA and CDC. In addition, we have notified our distribution partners and will continue efforts to notify the public.”

The recalls quickly spread to other companies using Johnson County Ham products including Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods and Ladyfingers Caterers.

On Oct. 4, Callie’s Charleston Biscuits voluntarily recalled two frozen products and released a statement reiterating their commitment to quality:

"At the core of our business is making sure that our customers and community are receiving the best possible products. We have a plan in place that we were hoping to never use. We acted immediately with every possible precaution to ensure the safety of our customers. To our loyal retailers, we have a contingency plan in place and do not foresee any major disruptions in our service.”

The same day, Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods also announced the recall of 18,296 pounds of product related to the Johnston County recall. More than two dozen wraps, pinwheels and salad products were included.

Although no illnesses were reported, they released a statement following the recall:

“The safety of those who consume our products is our highest priority. As soon as we learned of the supplier recall, we immediately communicated with our retail partners so that impacted items could be removed from store shelves. We are now working to ensure that fresh products will be back in stores as soon as possible.”

A day later, Ladyfingers Caterers recalled all Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls. One associated illness was reported, but no official statement was released.

A holiday favorite found anywhere from Costco to, most Johnston County Ham products are currently unavailable as they work to restart the 10 to 14-month-long ham-curing process.


Top 10 Brands Getting Recognition for Sustainability

In a recent study, 81% of consumers reported a willingness to make personal sacrifices to address social and environmental issues. Furthermore, these socially and environmentally conscious consumers seek out responsible brands and products whenever possible, giving those items priority in purchasing decisions. As a result, a number of major food brands have started to promote their sustainability practices in an effort to elevate their perceived level of responsibility, sway consumer purchasing decisions and gain an edge over the competition.

We looked at 10 brands who are making strides toward sustainability and getting recognized for it. They – and through them, their loyal customers – are cutting down on waste, chemicals and their carbon footprint.

1. Ben & Jerry’s

In 2001, the Vermont-based ice cream manufacturer was purchased by British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever. While environmentally conscious since their inception in 1978, Unilever bolstered existing efforts by offsetting the carbon footprint from their manufacturing facilities by partnering with NativeEnergy, a Vermont sustainability consultancy, as well as investing “early and often” in efficiencies in their supply chain, retail scoop shops and manufacturing plants.

2. Carlsberg Beer

In 2017, Carlsberg announced an ambitious new sustainability program they call Together Towards ZERO. The four-part endeavor is aimed at climate change, water scarcity and public health concerns, and focuses on the key goals of zero carbon footprint, water waste and irresponsible drinking, as well as an accident-free culture. The plan includes a number of milestone goals, such as a 50% reduction in carbon emissions and 15% reduction in beer-in-hand carbon footprint at their breweries by 2022, with a target of zero carbon footprint by 2030.

3. Celestial Seasonings

The well-known herbal tea company has taken a number of measures to increase sustainability, including buying directly from farmers and supporting rain forest protections. They also place a particular focus on their packaging, including using pillow-style tea bags that don’t require a string, tag, staple or individual wrapper, and manufacturing their recyclable art-covered boxes from 100% recycled paperboard, including 35% post-consumer waste.

4. Clif Bar

First sold in 1992, Clif Bar hired a full-time ecologist to develop an in-house sustainability program in 2001. Since that time, the energy bar manufacturer has won numerous awards for its sustainable manufacturing processes, while switching to 100% sustainably sourced, organic ingredients; providing a stipend to employees who commute to work by bicycle; and investing $10M in organic farming research.

5. General Mills

As part of their sustainability mission, General Mills has committed to focus on climate change, water stewardship and preserving ecosystems, as well as sustainable sourcing, and human rights and animal welfare goals. In 2016, they were able to sustainably source 100% of their palm oil, and their stated goal is to do the same with their remaining top nine priority ingredients by 2020.

6. Lipton

Along with working to make all of its tea Rainforest Alliance Certified - a project which helps protect the land, water and people in tea-growing areas - Lipton is committed to finding 100% sustainable origins for its tea leaves by 2020. In addition, the company works to reduce, and when possible, eliminate, the use of pesticides in their farming.

7. Mars, Incorporated

With businesses spanning from Wrigley’s Chewing Gum to Uncle Ben’s Rice, Mars is embracing opportunities to lower their impact by delivering on the Paris Accord and the UN Sustainable Development Goals within a generation. Mars, Inc. has earmarked $1B to achieve these goals with plans to streamline their use of energy and water, simplify supply chains by buying directly from farmers and recreate their recipes without artificial ingredients.

8. PepsiCo

PepsiCo’s efforts focus on creating a healthier relationship between people and food, with specific 2025 goals aimed at transforming the company’s food and beverage product portfolio, contributing to a more sustainable global food system and helping to make local communities more prosperous by promoting environmentally responsible agricultural practices and increasing crop yields, thereby improving growers' livelihoods.

9. Starbucks

Already one of the largest retail builders of LEED-certified stores, Starbucks has announced plans to design, build and operate 10,000 “greener stores” by 2025. These coffee shops will focus on efficiency and water stewardship, while being 100% powered by renewable energy from solar and wind projects.

10. Whole Foods

Purchased by Amazon in August 2017, Whole Foods is continuing their environmental stewardship initiatives by sourcing only sustainably caught wild or responsibly farmed fish and seafood, supporting organic and bio-dynamic agriculture, and reducing their waste and consumption of non-renewable resources.


Food and Beverage Social Media Leaders

The Apron team reviews several published social media rankings on a regular basis, and below is a list of six food and beverage social media leaders to benchmark:

Taco Bell – Taco Bell holds the spot as the Facebook champion among the leading QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants). One index, ShareIQ, indicated (in the first four months of this year) 500,000 engagements of the 1.1 million notched by the top seven brands on this platform. They use Facebook to communicate their positioning as a lifestyle brand targeting millennials. Taco Bell won the 2017 “Mobile Marketer of the Year” award and an example post highlighted National Taco Day (Oct. 4) using an animated video.

food social media taco bell

McDonald’s – Based on Instagram and Twitter photos, McDonald’s ranked number one (source: Statista) as the most visible brand (a monthly average of 890,000 photos) outpacing the second and third non-food brands Nike and Adidas, each by nearly 100,000. McDonald’s also uses YouTube to communicate promotions, as well as corporate policy (e.g., sustainable packaging by 2025) delivered by their CEO Steven Easterbrook.

food social media mcdonalds

Wendy’s – Social media metrics and receiving top rankings are significant, but nothing is more important than improved profitability performance, which Wendy’s exhibited in 2017. The fast food chain attributes a large part of their increased sales and corresponding profits to stepping up their social media movement via Twitter exchanging witty banter with their followers (2.81M). An example engagement that went viral was follower Carter Wilkerson asking how many retweets would he need for a year of free chicken nuggets to which Wendy’s responded: 18 million. Note: #NuggsForCarter became the most retweeted Tweet of all time, but Carter fell short. Financials by the numbers: Wendy’s saw a 49.7% growth in profit from $129.6 million in 2016 to $194 million in 2017.

food social media wendys

Starbucks – The Seattle chain consistently trends high on most social media platforms. One key metric published by Sprinklr projects their potential reach is approximately 74 million impressions, nearly 50% higher than their major competitor, Dunkin’ Donuts. Twitter has been their leading platform and the brand has 11.5 million followers. They use Twitter to promote their popular seasonal specialty drink Pumpkin Spice Latte (#PSL). They also use it as a recruiting tool for a Starbucks careers.

Whataburger – Social media is also as great way for smaller chains to garner a loyal following. For instance, regional powerhouse Whataburger (820+ units) frequently outperforms larger competitors in terms of engagement. The company has seen success using contests/sweepstakes as marketing tools and makes great use of real-time marketing to join popular conversations when it’s relevant to the brand. User-generated content is also huge, as some of its most recent popular posts have included Whataburger fashion such as Whataburger pants from an Instagram influencer or Whataburger eyeshadow. In addition, L2 Digital IQ Index ranked Whataburger at 97 on its Restaurants US 2017 report benchmarking the digital performance of 126 restaurants.

food social media whataburger

Chobani – The popular Greek yogurt company stands out when it comes to sustaining a fun, authentic social media presence. Their food visuals are an important feature on both their Pinterest and Instagram movements and include healthy recipes using yogurt as a sour cream substitute and containers professionally photographed with fruit. They use YouTube and Facebook to give their fans a look behind the scenes of the company (e.g., manufacturing process, charitable events, etc.) to create an air of transparency. Chobani also uses these platforms as customer service tools to engage with consumers.

food social media chobani

Food and beverage companies are continually accelerating their game as it relates to implementing social movements to further connect with their communities. As you can see from this list of benchmarks, leading brands who do it well manage to stay creative while  also being transparent and authentic.


Our Work: Introducing BBQuest

In recent years, brands have been told to become their own journalists – tell their own stories, on their terms, directly to their target audiences. Our client, Beef Loving Texans, already had a years-long track record of doing just that when we began working with them. Through their series of “Texas Stories,” they highlighted the special role beef plays in the lives of Texans.

In 2018, Beef Loving Texans wanted to do something different. Instead of isolated, two- to five-minute videos with accompanying written blogs, we recommended an episodic content series, tied with content designed to drive sales of beef – namely, recipes. Capitalizing on the trend of food-and-travel shows and today’s golden age of barbecue, the team decided on BBQuest: a tasting tour of Texas’ largest metro areas. To give audiences an additional reason to tune in, we shared some insider information: off-menu items at each restaurant we featured.

Each episode highlights three restaurants and two activities in a major metro area: Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. Our series host, actor Kelsey Pribilski, is joined by a different guide to each city. Barbecue blogger and Hardcore Carnivore cookbook author Jess Pryles led Kelsey around Austin, James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd showed off Houston’s flavors, restauranteur and godfather of San Antonio’s culinary scene Johnny Hernandez gave us a taste of his city, and Top Chef ® contestant and restauranteur John Tesar guided Kelsey through Dallas-Fort Worth. Along the way, audiences got to see the natural beauty, art and historic sites which, along with food, shape the personality of each city.

For Beef Loving Texans, beautiful food photos and videos are important, but they’re not enough on their own. Beef Loving Texans represents the 140,000 beef ranchers and farmers in Texas, helping make beef the protein of choice for Texans through promotion, education and research. And while barbecue is an accessible food for many Texans, our research showed that most Texans only eat out one or fewer times per week. Additionally, given the size of the state, Texans may not be able to easily travel to another city in pursuit of one dish.

We needed to give BBQuest audiences eating at home a reason to eat beef that night. In addition to beautiful video and engaging conversations with top pitmasters and chefs, we offered BBQuest viewers a chance to recreate the secret menu items themselves, with Beef Loving Texans recipes inspired by the show. From a Korean beef ssam to brisket chocolate chip cookies, audiences will have twelve delicious reasons to prepare beef at home.

Apron created the BBQuest show idea and developed a script for a pilot episode, located in Austin. We put out an RFP to seven production companies in the Austin area, and selected a Matchstick Media as our production partner. With Matchstick and Beef Loving Texans, we casted our host and put plans in place for producing our pilot. We also developed a logo for the series.

We kicked off BBQuest production with a concert and party at downtown Austin’s best barbecue joint, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-Be-Cue, coinciding with the first night of the SXSW Interactive festival. Through the spring and summer, we overcame storms and heat and aligned busy schedules to produce the remaining three episodes in two days each. Through late summer, we worked with Matchstick and Beef Loving Texans to edit the episodes to about twenty minutes each, develop and photograph recipes inspired by the secret menu items, and prepare to launch the series.

We promoted the series with earned, social and paid media, driving all traffic back to BBQuest season one is now completed and you can watch all four epsiodes here. Results are still coming, but the launch day for the BBQuest trailer now represents the largest spike in traffic for in more than a year.


How to be a Honey Connoisseur

It’s often said bees are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat. Apron is proud to support Epic Honey Co. who relocates bees that were up for extermination to a safe haven.

Just like wine cultivated from grapes grown in different regions, honey connoisseurs know there are a wide range of wild honey flavors – and they don’t taste anything like the little plastic bear from the grocery store. There are three things any honey connoisseur should consider: flavor, color, and region.


The flavor actually comes from what the bees forage within a three-mile radius of the hive. Like a fine wine, your first taste should direct you to what the bees foraged on, and then, in the back of your throat, detect the sweetness. Imagine an unmistakable avocado or mango first impression taste with just an undertone or afterthought of sweet. 

At Epic Honey, we deal in “limited honey reserves” which are never cooked, blended, or adulterated. Our honey is “bee-approved” in that we let our bees forage naturally and are never pumping their hives full of sugar or dumping fructose into hive toppers to increase honey production. The reason a truly wild honey has such a fantastic impact on your taste buds has to do with the fact that when a honey is kept raw—meaning it’s never cooked over 110 degrees—the flavor profile takes on notes of the region and the medicinal value remains intact.


Taste isn’t the only indicator that sets apart a truly wild honey, however. Color varies just as widely and has a vast spectrum depending on the forage density of a hive. We’ve come to expect honey to be gold in color, but this is just one aspect of a food love story that is more multidimensional in nature.


Where your honey comes from is also very important as it can affect the flavor. If you’ve never had honey straight from the hive, you owe it to yourself to taste the difference that comes with a limited reserve honey. Limited reserve honey comes in small runs. A single hive can only produce a maximum of 100 pounds of honey a year. Each hive will have a unique flavor profile. To start tasting honey like a fine wine, you might consider ordering the five-jar sample pack on the Epic Honey website, or find a local beekeeper in your area.

Plenty of other “bee-approved” honey sources exist as well. At Epic Honey, we’ve partnered with the American Honey Bee Protection Agency, and profits from our honey go to support their bee rescue, relocation and rehabilitation of wild honey bees. All of our honey comes from cooperative relationships with beekeepers and bee wranglers who treat their bees with respect, allow them to forage naturally and make sure there are not nearby farms spraying pesticides which could hurt bee colonies.

Bees truly are a natural resource. It's said that if the bees die, we die, as the crops bees pollinate and the animals which eat those crops would slowly thin out within four years of their disappearance. Organizations like the American Honey Bee Protection Agency are making great strides in educating the public about these issues, growing bee rescue operations all over the country and pointing to “bee-approved” honey suppliers. Consumers can do their part by learning how to be a discerning honey connoisseur and getting their honey the old fashioned way—straight from the hive.

Recall of the Month: Cyclospora Summer Outbreak

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture will remember the summer of 2018 as one of their busiest periods flagging contaminated food products.  They issued a public health alert July 30 due to concern for possible contamination of Cyclospora (an intestinal parasite) in salad and wraps marketed by Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Walgreens.  This alert came on the heels of McDonald’s pulling salads in Illinois and Iowa linked to cases of cyclosporiasis.

Foodborne Illnesses USA

Annually, the FDA estimates 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses as a result of contaminated food – roughly 1 in 6 Americans.  These illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.  The disease-causing bacteria that contaminate food are at high risk for the most vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, young children, senior adults and people with weaken immune systems.

Are foodborne illnesses, especially in light of the consumer demand for convenience products (e.g., pre-packaged salads, wraps) and the health & wellness trend to eat more produce, occurring more frequently?  FoodNet, the surveillance unit of the CDC revealed that the number of outbreaks reported to their National Outbreak Reporting System by state and local health departments has remained stable over the years until an upswing in 2017.  Their data indicates the incidents of foodborne illness related to numerous pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, etc., have increased 96% in 2017 compared to the 2014 to 2016 average.  Within this data, they reported infections from Cyclospora, cited as the cause of the recent McDonald’s recall, increased significantly.

Cyclospora, is an intestinal parasite most commonly found in produce grown in tropical/subtropical environments.  Past outbreaks resulting in an infection of the intestines known as cyclosporiasis were attributed to imported fresh produce (e.g., Guatemalan raspberries, snow peas, basil and mesclun lettuce).  Intestinal health issues related to cyclosporiasis are diarrhea, stomach cramping and nausea that result in weight loss and fatigue.

McDonald’s Recall

In the middle of July, health authorities in Illinois and Iowa reported over 100 cases of cyclosporiasis linked to McDonald’s salads.  As a precaution, McDonald’s removed salads from approximately 3,000 locations.  The FDA continued their investigation well into August focusing in on McDonald’s distributors and growers of romaine lettuce and carrots.  They updated their lab-related data and reported that the outbreak impacted 476 people in 15 midwestern states.  In addition, the FDA revealed the leading source of the contamination issues were linked to the Streamwood, Illinois processing plant of McDonald’s salad blend supplier, Fresh Express.

Given the severity of the Cyclospora outbreak and the uncertainty of how it originated, Fresh Express implemented a panel of food safety and industry experts – the Fresh Express Blue-Ribbon panel. While past Cyclospora outbreaks originated in Central America, the company is now concerned the source of contamination could be fresh produce grown in the U.S. during the spring and summer months.  According to John Olivo, Fresh Express’s president: “The purpose of the Fresh Express Blue-Ribbon Panel is to assemble an interdisciplinary group of independent scientific experts to better understand Cyclospora’s mode of action and how the industry can better guard against future outbreaks.” The panel will collaborate with the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health agencies.

Moving Forward

It is crucial for food, a multi-trillion-dollar industry, to implement sound food safety procedures.  Industry innovators have begun utilizing blockchain technology as a solution to facilitate end-to-end traceability to improve supply chain, plus when it comes to food recalls, locate the issue quickly to remove contaminated products from distribution, shelves, even menus.  In the interim before blockchain technology is universal, food safety training solutions will be paramount to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, especially when it comes to produce.  Training should start in the executive suite and filter down to online and in-person training for employees on the front lines.  In addition, it would be prudent for companies to utilize third-party inspectors to validate that all food safety protocols are being implemented.

Over the last decade, the annual per capita consumption of vegetables increased significantly, especially among consumers under the age of 40; fresh produce by 52 percent (source: NPD).   Consequently, operators are menuing healthier items like salads and wraps.  The crusade to make these products safe from farm to plate is now a top priority.

The Last Straw?

For the past 50 years, almost anyone who ordered a cold soda, iced coffee or other iced beverage received a plastic straw. But these days, reusable straws made of metal, silicone, wood or durable plastic are popping up everywhere. What’s behind this trend, and how will it affect the restaurant industry?

Restaurants and coffee shops phasing out straws

Starbucks announced in early July it will stop providing disposable plastic straws in its stores by 2020. That gives the company 18 months to phase out the straws worldwide.

Starbucks customers will have several options once the plastic straws disappear. The first stores to implement the change are offering plastic lids that can be used without straws. These lids have been used on a few specialty drinks like the draft nitro and will soon be used on all Starbucks iced drinks. Customers can also bring their own reusable cup; Starbucks-branded versions are sold at most Starbucks locations. There will still be straws on hand for customers who request them.

Other companies have announced similar plans. Bon Appétit, which has been recognized for its work to “green” its operations, pledged this May to remove plastic straws from its cafes and restaurants worldwide. McDonald’s plans to eliminate plastic straws from its restaurants in the UK and Ireland. Marriott International, Hyatt, Disney theme parks, Royal Caribbean and American Airlines have all promised to phase out disposable plastic straws.

Public opinion driving change

What’s driving this trend? Part of it is the growing number of cities with straw bans. A decade ago, Seattle, the home of Starbucks, passed a ban on disposable plastic straws and utensils provided by restaurants and cafes. The ban finally went into full effect in the summer of 2018. Now, food service establishments may provide straws only upon customer request and the straws must be compostable.

Another driver is customer opinion. Consumers are realizing the convenience of plastic, combined with the explosion in iced coffee’s popularity have created a deluge of disposable straws and cups.1 These and other disposable plastics take a major toll on the environment, especially beaches, the ocean, and marine life, and the public is starting to take notice. In turn, companies across the industry have been feeling pressure to green their images.

Will Starbucks’ pledge make a difference? The Guardian reports the new Starbucks lids contain a tiny bit more plastic than the current lids plus straws combined.2 On the other hand, the new lids will be recyclable, while the plastic straws are not. As long as a sizable number of customers do recycle the new lids, the move will help keep waste out of landfills, off beaches, and out of the ocean. Plus, the company’s decision will likely influence others in the restaurant industry to look into alternatives to plastic.

Food service businesses looking for greener options

Of course, phasing out straws is only the first step. Reducing the number of disposable cups in use could potentially have much more impact. Many coffee shops and other restaurants already sell branded reusable mugs and cups for hot and iced drinks. Some companies have explored opportunities like discount programs for customers who bring in their own mug, but this has not yet caught on at a larger scale.

Other organizations are replacing plastic with paper, the previous standard before plastic straws became popular in the 1960s.2 Compostable straws are another possibility.

The future for straws

We could be in the early stages of a much bigger trend. New York is considering a ban on food service disposables similar to Seattle’s. In Santa Cruz, CA, businesses can only give out straws if the customer asks for one. The most extreme ban so far? The Indian state of Maharashtra banned almost all disposable plastics in an effort to tackle the severe trash problems afflicting its capital Mumbai and nearby cities.

On the flip side, many other companies in the food service industry have decided to keep their straws for now. Although McDonald’s will replace plastic with paper straws in the UK and Ireland, shareholders voted in 2018 against expanding the phase-out to the rest of the world.3 And municipal bans have been passed in only a few, environmentally progressive locales.

The plastic straw won’t be disappearing anytime soon, but coffeehouses and fast food restaurants are some of the biggest users of disposable plastics in the food industry. If industry like Starbucks and McDonalds cut down on plastic use, we might see others follow suit.



TexHahn Media Acquires White Lion Interactive

For Immediate Release
September 18, 2018

AUSTIN—White Lion Interactive is now a part of the TexHahn Media family of brands. The addition of the digital marketing and web design shop dramatically improves TexHahn Media’s ability to deliver digital public relations and marketing services to its clients. White Lion’s systems, contracts, work methodologies and intellectual property, along with other company assets, all convey as part of the acquisition.

In order to continue to seamlessly serve its existing clients, White Lion will operate for the time being as an independent entity under the TexHahn Media banner which includes these brands: Hahn Public, aPRon Food, Newsology and the Predictive Media Network.

“We’re recommending an array of digital solutions to our clients including artificial intelligence-enabled programmatic paid campaigns, search engine optimization, social acquisition programs and digital newsrooms,” said Jeff Hahn, principal of TexHahn Media. “White Lion’s expertise makes it possible for us to activate complex digital strategies at a much faster pace for clients so they can stay ahead of changes in their respective markets.”

The firm’s 39 total team members serve dozens of local, regional and national clients including those recently added through a successful merger with Kristy Ozmun Public Relations. Clients ranging from the Propane Education & Research Council, Lubbock Power & Light and One Gas Corporation to Central Market, Whataburger, NatureSweet and Beef Loving Texans to St. David’s Foundation, The Moody Foundation, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, Catellus’ Mueller development, DPR Construction and the Longhorn Network are all now part of the TexHahn portfolio.

Transaction Details

TexHahn Media, Inc. acquired White Lion Interactive through a competitive bid auction conducted in U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court on August 29, 2018. White Lion Interactive filed for Chapter 11 creditor protection following a protracted contractual dispute with a former client. White Lion emerges from the Chapter 11 process with its talented team of developers intact, debt free and fully recapitalized by TexHahn Media, Inc.


About TexHahn Media, Inc. TexHahn Media, Inc. is located at 4200 Marathon Blvd., Austin, TX. Brand websites include:,, and

Media Contact: Jeff Hahn   |    512.344.2017    |


Companies take quick action in Goldfish and Ritz recalls

On July 20, a dairy company announced a Salmonella contamination had been discovered in whey powder produced at its plant in Blair, Wisconsin. This didn’t get much public attention, but events over the next few days did.

The following day, parents and consumers learned through social media and various news sources that some varieties of Ritz crackers were being recalled due to potential Salmonella contamination. Two days later, Campbell Soup announced a recall of some Goldfish cracker varieties for the same reason. Both Campbell and Mondelez International, the maker of Ritz Crackers, had purchased whey powder from the dairy company involved in the recall, Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI).

Has food contamination become more common?

Campbell’s and Mondelez’ recalls happened on the heels of Chipotle’s latest contamination problems and the recent outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce. Just a week before the Ritz and Goldfish announcements, Kelloggs Honey Smacks were recalled amidst a Salmonella contamination crisis. The cereal sickened people in 33 states between March and July 2018.

With all this in the headlines, it would be easy to assume the U.S. food system is facing serious problems. Recalls and outbreaks seem more common than ever. And the fact that several of these recalls have affected favorite children’s snacks is sure to make parents nervous.

Are there really more food contamination issues these days? Or are we just hearing about them more?

Other factors affecting the number of recalls

Unlike some other recent recalls, the Ritz and Goldfish recalls came before any illnesses were reported. (In the following days, several customers reported illnesses after eating Ritz crackers.) The whey powder contamination was discovered during routine testing at AMPI, according to the company.

Today, contamination is more likely to be discovered early because of advances in detection and tracing technology. Additionally, policy changes stemming from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed in 2011, have led to increased testing and reporting. According to the FDA, one of the major changes instigated by FSMA is a shift in focus from reacting to outbreaks to preventing outbreaks.

Between FSMA, better testing technology and enhanced media attention in the wake of deadly outbreaks, it may appear that food contamination is becoming more common. But in the past, similar incidents may just have not been caught and any resulting illnesses may have been chalked up to other causes.

Are foods frequently served to kids subject to more attention in these situations? The provisions of FSMA apply to companies regardless of whether the products are targeted at kids or adults. But because Goldfish and Ritz are two familiar brands popular for kids’ lunches and snacks may have increased media coverage of the situation. And parents frequently spread the word on social media when a recall affects something their kids use, whether it’s a toy, a crib or a snack food.

Why we need a modern food testing system

Our modern food system is complex and many ingredients have national or international distribution. When, almost inevitably, the occasional contamination occurs, it can affect people across many states and even countries. For this reason, we need a strong detection system as well as a rapid alert system to identify contaminated food and stop it from reaching consumers.

When disease-associated microbes are discovered in the food supply, we need to spread the word fast. Media coverage can actually work to an affected company’s advantage if it prevents people from getting sick from eating already recalled foods.

According to the CDC, kids under age five are more likely to become ill from Salmonella and to have severe symptoms compared to healthy adults and older children. So, it is particularly important to get the word out when a recall affects a popular kids’ brand.

How have Campbell Soup and Mondelez responded?

Both companies made a good choice in proactively issuing a voluntary recall before any illnesses were reported. The quick action they took should increase public trust in these brands.

Another positive is that both companies kept the message clear and simple. A brief, simple announcement giving just the facts is posted on the Pepperidge Farm website, and the Mondelez International and Ritz Crackers websites show similar messages. Both companies include links to sources of more information and provide images of the flavors and varieties being recalled, allowing customers to easily check for the foods in their pantries.

The response to this contamination incident shows the system is working. When companies spread the word quickly and effectively, they can help prevent a manageable problem from developing into a serious and potentially deadly crisis.

Chipotle’s Food Safety Issues Strike Again

On December 10, 2015, in response to the series of foodborne illness outbreaks plaguing the restaurant, Chipotle’s then-CEO and founder, Steve Ellis, appeared on the Today Show, stating, “It has caused us to put in place practices that our epidemiologist expert says will put us 10 to 15 years ahead of industry norms, and I believe this will be the safest restaurant to eat at. This was a very unfortunate incident and I'm deeply sorry this happened, but the procedures we're putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat.”

As a result of the 2015 incident, the fast casual restaurant chain increased the number of inspections by both internal teams and independent auditors. Chipotle also launched new handling procedures for meats, produce and citrus, and instituted new comprehensive sanitizing protocols.

Regardless, problems have arisen again. The latest episode came to the public’s attention on Monday, July 30, when the Mexican fast casual chain closed a location in Powell, Ohio, following online reports from over 250 individuals who claimed they’d contracted food poisoning there. Since that time, health officials have stated 647 people self-reported gastrointestinal symptoms after eating at the Chipotle in question between July 26 and July 30.

On August 16, Ohio-based Delaware District Health District issued a statement, noting although food samples taken from the chain had tested negative for bacteria, stool samples collected from the victims and tested by the CDC came up positive for the bacteria Clostridium perfringens. C. perfringens, one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States, attacks the gastrointestinal tract. It often occurs when food is prepared in large quantities and left at an unsafe temperature for a long period before being served, which is believed to be the case at the Ohio location.

Since that time, two victims of the Ohio incident have filed lawsuits against Chipotle. Plaintiffs Filip Syzller and Clayton Jones ate chicken tacos and a burrito bowl, respectively, before falling violently ill and seeking medical treatment. The lawsuits allege that Chipotle had not done enough to ensure food safety.

For their part, current Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol issued a statement, saying, “Chipotle has a zero-tolerance policy for any violations of our stringent food safety standards and we are committed to doing all we can to ensure it does not happen again. Once we identified this incident, we acted quickly to close the Powell restaurant and implemented our food safety response protocols that include total replacement of all food inventory and complete cleaning and sanitization of the restaurant."

Niccol joined the company in March of this year, taking the reins from Ellis, who now serves as executive chairman. Niccol, previously CEO of Taco Bell and credited with its turnaround, was hailed by Wall Street as a would-be savior for the troubled brand.

In addition to Niccol's statement, the company has moved forward with an aggressive retraining agenda, with thousands of employees at over 2,400 Chipotle restaurants soon to undergo food safety training, predominantly during early morning, pre-business hours. Chipotle spokeswoman Laurie Schalow told Nation’s Restaurant News, “We are retraining all employees on our top food safety protocols (i.e. proper hand washing, hot and cold temperature holding procedures, cooking and prep procedures, etc.).”

Burt Flickinger III, managing director of New York-based Strategic Resource Group, a consulting firm focused on retail chains, wholesalers, suppliers and investment companies, feels Chipotle's nationwide employee retraining plan is a good one. "The food safety problems don't seem to stop," he said. "What they’re doing is very commendable, but it’s very necessary for the ongoing viability of the business, because they’ve survived one or two more consumer health concerns than a lot of other restaurants, and they have to get it right."

Similarly, Lynne Collier, a senior restaurant analyst at Canaccord Genuity investment firm was positive on the decision, noting, "It's definitely a good move, both from a public appearance standpoint and also from a business perspective," she said. "It may prevent a future incident, which is also very costly."

While it’s impossible to predict consumer response to the continued food safety issues, investor confidence in Chipotle appears to be strong. Although the share price dropped to $433.66 on July 31, on August 15 it climbed to an all-time height of $525.89, far above its $320 average in March, when Ellis first took over.

How Blockchain Technology Can Transform Food Supply Chain Transparency

Trust is at an all-time low in many industries. Many consumers, having seen brands fail to live up to their promises, are highly skeptical, especially of big businesses. At the same time, these consumers are more informed than ever before. Some companies have utilized digital platforms like websites, apps or QR codes to aid and guide customers in their research. Perhaps even more promising, Blockchain offers food producers and the food supply chain a way to demonstrate transparency and win back trust.

Food Transparency

It’s no secret consumer trust in large food brands and food producers is dwindling. For starters, consumers have become skeptical of food science and technology because they are uncertain of the long-term effect on personal health. Take GMOs (genetically modified organisms) for example: GMO crops have the potential to help reduce food waste, use water and land more efficiently and improve food safety. However, gene editing sounds scary, and some consumers are wary of both big agriculture and big food. They believe participants in the food supply chain are more concerned about their bottom line than the public’s health and well-being.

Additionally, numerous food recalls have eroded consumer trust. Following Chipotle’s E. coli breakout in 2015, the chain’s reputation was seriously tarnished; their quarterly bottom line profitability declined 44% for the same period one year later. Despite all the food safety protocols Chipotle put into place, in July 2018, they experienced another foodborne illness breakout in Ohio (this time contained to one store). McDonald’s also experienced food safety issues recently when they had to recall salads at approximately 3,000 restaurants due to lettuce tainted by Cyclospora parasites.

Today’s consumers want to learn more about what they eat so they can feel safer. Transparency is the currency of trust.

Blockchain – Supply Chain Solutions

Blockchain technology, originally developed for virtual currencies, is a public electronic digital ledger, which is open to all participants. It traces transactions and assets using a massive amount of computational power. Because every participant’s computer has a copy of the ledger, it is incredibly difficult and labor-intensive to change or falsify a blockchain transaction once it is recorded. In a sense, blockchain crowdsources to create trust.

In the world of food and beverage, supply chains are complex, and foods pass through multiple stages to get from farm to fork. Each handoff can be recorded in the blockchain ledger, which is virtually unchangeable. This will help track foods through their entire journey, making the supply chain transparent to consumers and also speeding and better-targeting recalls.

In the past, isolating food contamination issues has been a tedious, time consuming process that would take days, sometimes weeks. Blockchain tracking takes seconds, enabling food industry leaders to locate the issue quickly to remove contaminated products from supply chain, shelves, even menus.

Early Adopters

In China, multinational retail leader Walmart formed a blockchain food safety alliance with IBM and Tsinghua University as early as 2016. Historically, Chinese agriculture had been notorious for alarming poor food safety mandates. The goal of the blockchain Hyperledger Project was to ensure the provenance and quality of Walmart’s Chinese pork supply.  Their database lists the transactions of how the protein flowed through the commercial network – farm origins, factory data, expirations dates, storage temperatures and distribution.  Another early adopter is French multinational retailer Carrefour. Currently, Carrefour uses blockchain technology for their product line of free-range chicken and plans to extend their capabilities to other protein (including seafood) and vegetable product lines later this year.

Numerous major food companies, including Nestle and Unilever, have begun working with IBM to form a blockchain consortium along with supermarket chains and global financial service companies. But blockchain can also benefit smaller niche players, like Block Bird chicken. Sourced from several small, Midwestern farms and verified by blockchain technology, the entire journey of their chickens to the grocery store is documented and visible on the front label of their packages. Block Bird’s label includes hatchery information, starting weight, ending weight, the type of feeds consumed, as well as the health and handling of each bird.

The Future Challenge

Adoption of blockchain technology in the food and beverage industry is in its infancy. As with any new technology, there will be numerous challenges – flawed data and cybersecurity threats come to mind. However, these challenges are common to any new technology. The opportunity to build trust with consumers, as well as to manage food safety incidents with speed and accuracy, makes blockchain a promising investment for any stage of the food supply chain.

Austin-based Communications Firms Join Forces

For Immediate Release:
September 4, 2018

AUSTIN—Kristy Ozmun Public Relations, a firm founded in 1998 in Austin, Texas, is joining forces with TexHahn Media. TexHahn Media is a family of public affairs, food marketing, media training and digital newsroom brands owned by Jeff Hahn, and also based in the Texas capital city. The combined companies began operating jointly September 1, 2018, and will continue to serve clients from Central Market, Whataburger and Beef Loving Texans to St. David’s Foundation, Catellus’ Mueller development and Longhorn Network. The firm’s 28 team members now serve more than 25 local, regional and national clients.

“Kristy and I share a bend-over-backwards work ethic for our clients and a mutual desire to bring them great strategy, creative and digital capability,” said Jeff Hahn, principal of TexHahn Media. “She is truly one of Austin’s best PR practitioners, so it’s a thrill to now work hand-in-glove with her.”

The combined entity will operate under the TexHahn Media banner and its brands: Hahn Public, aPRon Food, Newsology and the Predictive Media Network. Ozmun assumes the title of Senior Strategist with the firm while managing the KOPR group of clients and becomes a member of the firm’s senior management team.

“Our business is constantly adapting to ensure clients have the very best thinking,” said Ozmun. “This merger is an investment in their future success and sets us up to benefit our clients for years to come.”

The company is located at 4200 Marathon Blvd., Austin, TX 78756, 512.344.2010.


Media contact:
Kristy Ozmun, 512.413.2221


Road Map to Personalized Nutrition

“To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”  – Buddha

For decades, food and beverage companies used extensive consumer research to manufacture products to satisfy the varied appetites of their target market. With the advent of more consumers seeking healthier foods, manufacturers began tweaking the level of salt, sugar, fat, etc. to promote sales of their existing product offerings. Today, a growing subset of health and wellness consumers’ search for highly personalized nutrition information has opened up an entirely new market.

Personalized Nutrition

Personalized nutrition was first popularized by dietitians delivering tailored nutrition advice based on the physical, clinical and emotional needs of their patients/clients. In the past few years, personalized nutrition has slowly evolved into a complex, multifaceted approach. Thanks to technology (e.g., home testing kits, fitness trackers, etc.), numerous data points are analyzed to design an individual’s customized diet. Multiple areas of measurement include an individual’s physical activity, sleep behavior, dietary habits, genetics, blood sugar levels and the emerging science of microbiome (microorganisms in humans including bacteria, fungi and viruses). Despite the recent advancement of personalized nutrition, understanding all the intricate relationships between our eating patterns and our body’s ecosystem is in its infancy.

The Personalized Nutrition Market  

As personalized nutrition is gearing up for prime-time, numerous companies have already jumped into the arena. Detailed below are a few of the leading personalized nutrition solutions on the market:

  • Nutrigenomix – A University of Toronto biotechnology company launched in 2012. They provide genomic information to facilitate improved health via personalized nutrition to healthcare professionals and their clients around the globe (22 countries, 2,000-plus authorized providers). Their primary saliva collection test kit examines 45 genetic markers that are analyzed at their accredited laboratories to deliver customized nutrition and physical activity recommendations tailored to an individual’s DNA.
  • Habit – The company uses an at-home test kit to collect bio samples and analyze more than 60 different biomarkers at their lab. Once the data is evaluated, Habit develops a diet plan based on an individual’s biology, metabolism and personal goals. Habit also offers personalized recipes and one-on-one wellness and nutrition coaching for subscribers.  Of note, the San Francisco-based company received financial backing in 2017 from the Campbell Soup Company.
  • Orig3n – The privately held Boston-based company has raised more than $30 million since its 2014 launch, validating the continued interest and investment in the personalized nutrition market. Depending on the DNA kit one choses, with cheek-swab technology, consumers will be able to monitor their personalized health – fitness potential, skin care, nutritional needs, etc.
  • DayTwo – An Israeli company pioneering in the cutting-edge study of microbiome (the collection of microbes that exist in your gut). They are currently collaborating with Johnson & Johnson to better understand personalized clinical nutrition to combat diabetes. The company collects stool samples from consumers to predict blood sugar responses to different foods. DayTwo’s end result is a recommended personalized dietary plan needed to maintain normalized blood sugar levels 24/7.

Personalized Nutrition 3.0

We expect to see significant growth in the health and wellness food and beverage market, as more and more consumers continue to seek out the plethora of available nutritional information and solutions.  We also anticipate AI (artificial intelligence) to impact this market and continue the drive for innovation through new products (e.g., personalized supplements) and services (e.g., customized home delivery meal kits).


Outbreak of the Month: Kellogg’s Honey Smacks Cereal

When it was first introduced in 1953, Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks cereal became an instant hit with adults and children alike. More recently, the sweetened puffed wheat cereal – known today as Honey Smacks – drew attention for very different reasons.

Between March 3 and May 28, 2018, 73 people across 31 states were identified as having been infected with Salmonella Mbandaka. Hospitalization was required in 24 cases, although there were no reported fatalities. Epidemiological evidence collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showed Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal was the likely source. Sickened patients were interviewed with respect to food they had consumed and other exposures during the week before they fell ill. Of the 39 individuals interviewed, 30 (77%) indicated they had eaten cold cereal, with 14 of those specifically reporting consumption of Honey Smacks.  

On Thursday, June 14, the Kellogg Co. announced a massive, nationwide recall of the sweetened cereal, reporting more than an estimated 1.3 million cases were potentially contaminated with Salmonella. The recall began with 15-ounce and 23-ounce boxes of the frog-festooned breakfast treat marked ‘Best if used by June 14, 2018 through June 14, 2019.”

In their statement, Kellogg asked that “people who purchased the potentially affected product discard it and contact the company for a full refund.” They also noted the potentially contaminated breakfast food had been in limited distribution in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as Guam, Tahiti and Saipan.

On June 15, the CDC updated their online warning to read, “Do not eat Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal in any size package. Check your home for it and throw it away, or return it to the place of purchase for a refund. If you store cereal in a container, thoroughly wash the container with warm, soapy water before using it again to remove harmful germs that could contaminate other food."

In response, restaurants and retailers across the United States and other impacted countries immediately pulled the product from their shelves and menus. The Ministry of Health in Belize issued an official public statement, urging people to “not consume any Kellogg’s Honey Smacks” until further notice.

Although the response was swift and rigorous, on June 22, Michigan’s Battle Creek Enquirer newspaper reported that Houston-based Ron Simon & Associates, a national food safety law firm, had filed a lawsuit against Kellogg Co. The suit alleged that a single mother in Oklahoma City contracted Salmonella within 24 hours of consuming Honey Smacks. The illness resulted in a three-day hospitalization, as well as continued medical treatment.

In an email response to the same paper, a Kellogg spokesperson noted, “While we don’t comment on litigation, we take our commitment to quality and food safety very seriously. We are saddened to learn about any illness that may result from our Honey Smacks cereal and will ensure this situation is handled in a responsible and sensitive manner.”

To date, no other lawsuits have been filed. However, on their website, The Coveny Law Firm noted, “The recall was slow to get on the radar of national health agencies, as the victims are spread widely across the nation. The most any state has is seven, in New York, with a few states having five victims – the majority have one to three victims.  The outbreak also started slowly in early March, and then gained momentum in April and May until, on June 10th, with many more potential illness out there, the trace-back investigation pointed to Honey Smacks cereal. This is not the first time that a Kellogg Cereal was linked to a Salmonella recall, as Kellogg cereals were recalled nearly a decade ago due to a contaminated ingredient (peanut butter).  This time the culprit may again be a contaminated ingredient – introduced into the cereal.  It may also be there was a break-down at the Kellogg facility.”

While such incidents are unusual, in 2008, there was a Salmonella outbreak linked to puffed rice and puffed wheat cereals distributed under the Malt-O-Meal label. In their original statement, Kellogg Co. stated they had launched an investigation immediately after being contacted by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC regarding the reported illnesses. Specifically, they began reviewing the practices of the unnamed, third-party manufacturer who produces Honey Smacks. However, to date, no further updates have been provided by Kellogg Co., the FDA or the CDC.

With no further reported illnesses or issues, the cereal is once again back on shelves across the country. It will take time for us to understand the full impact of this recall on brand reputation, but with widespread media coverage and significant social chatter on the issue, it’s likely going to give consumers some pause when choosing a cereal for their families.

How Kids Affect Food and Beverage Buying Decisions

Parents are busier than ever these days. As many households shift to dual-income earners, parents are sharing household responsibilities more than ever. As a parent myself, I can say while convenience and nutrition are both really important, those go out the window if my child won’t eat it. In that sense, kids have a huge impact on purchase decisions.

Childhood Eating Challenges

Groceries are a major slice of the household budget. Parents are challenged to make food and beverage purchases that are healthy, which can mean costly (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables), balanced with items that satisfy their children’s finicky palates. And with busy family lifestyles filled with children’s activities and full-time work schedules, convenience often drives the eating behavior of a household with kids, but many of those foods are higher in sugar, fat and calories. Data shows parents struggle daily to provide healthy food choices:

  • Kids’ taste preferences take precedence over healthy items when it comes to food and beverage purchases. According to a 2016 report from the FMI and Rodale, 95% of the purchases are influenced by taste, 91% by health.
  • A 2017 poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan revealed 1 in 5 parents don’t think it is important to limit junk food and fast food in their child’s diet. More importantly, only 1 in 6 parents believe their child’s diet is very healthy.
  • Package Facts reported that 26% of parents learn about a new product as a request from their child. However, 55% of parents surveyed indicated it is important for children to follow their example (values) when it comes to eating healthy; 46% of the respondents purchase products for their nutritional content.

An emerging mega trend impacting the food and beverage market is the generational influence of Millennials. Consumer research indicates 45% of Millennials with kids shop with a shopping list compared to Millennials without kids at 36%.  However, shopping with kids presents a challenge; 31% of the respondents regularly bring their kids along, but only 27% stick to their list compared to 40% who shop solo. The study by GenerationWhy further highlighted how some Millennials who utilize lists when grocery shopping, recognize the opportunity to engage their children about healthy eating/nutrition as an approach to instill their future food choices.

The K-12 Influence  

School also provides an important environment to develop eating habits. First Lady Michelle Obama made major strides to improve nutrition in schools, but the current administration rolled back some of the standards she championed.  Regardless, the school foodservice landscape has progressed in the past few years to offer more nutritional foods and education.  Some districts are providing farm-to-table items, plant-based foods, heathy all-day breakfast items and DIY salad bars.  As a result, children are being exposed to numerous food-away-from-home options to further broaden their food preferences and eating behavior.

Teenagers – Food on the Brain

A new study by Farm Rich of 2,000 families revealed teenagers spend 945 hours, or approximately 39 days, thinking about food from the age of 13 to 19.  The study (7 out of 10) indicates their parents are their biggest source of food knowledge, while 46 percent gain inspiration from watching food shows. Facebook and YouTube were the top two social media platforms for their online inspiration; 27% and 21% respectively.

The research indicated that while 90 percent of teens enjoy their mealtime, 52% indicated the food served doesn’t always suit their tastes or dietary lifestyles. More than a quarter of teens (28 percent) are experimenting with new diets including low carb, low-fat and vegetarian. The food-obsessed teens are also very vocal – 45 percent of the parents surveyed indicated their children weigh in often on what mealtime should look like. In fact, OnePoll research indicated 30 percent of the weekly grocery bill is driven by teens’ preferences and eating behaviors.

Clearly we live in a child-centric world where parents are highly influenced by their children when purchasing food and beverages. As marketers, we have to look beyond the primary shopper and target messages to the whole home.

AI: The New Look for the Supermarket Industry

The brick-and-mortar grocery retail market is at a tipping point. Amazon, the leader in online grocery shopping is further triggering market disruption with its acquisition of Whole Foods Market and the introduction of Amazon Go, a high-tech, convenient mini-market, the store of the future.

The popularity of meal kit subscriptions and online delivery services have eroded in-store foot traffic.  Consequently, grocers must begin to unlock their consumer data to get a better handle on how to create a more personalized customer shopping experience. AI (Artificial Intelligence) solutions will facilitate the transformation of the supermarket industry.

A recent study by Accenture showed 78 percent of consumer goods executives agree AI will be a game changer. Established AI solutions have already revolutionized the way many leading retailers have enhanced their engagement with customers to deliver superior service. One innovative solution has been LoweBot, introduced by home improvement retail leader Lowe’s in their San Francisco market.  The autonomous robots crunch real-time data (pricing and inventory) to directly or via store employees provide improved personalize service. However, the grocery retail channel is at the early stages of adapting to AI technologies.

Walmart has been a market leader, leveraging technology to create the “seamless customer experience.” They recently upgraded their mobile app to include a product search bar, barcode scanner, customer review and Walmart pay features.  Customers can make “smart” shopping lists that enable them to check price and item availability before they enter a store.  Store navigation maps also facilitate a more convenient shopping experience.  Another recent technology addition in some stores has been their Pick-up-Towers: self-service kiosks located at the store entrance where customers scan the barcodes from their online receipt and products will appear on a conveyor belt. They have also implemented in select sections a “Scan and Go” shopping experience so customers can bypass the regular queue.  With the advent of their investment in all these technology driven customer experience solutions, Walmart will be in position to analyze the data gathered to improve.

CPG companies are also jumping on the AI bandwagon to assist their grocery partners to better understand consumer buying behavior. Kraft Foods integrates AI algorithms with its “iPhone Assistant” app.  They can detect the size of a family based on the recipes downloaded and determine other consumer product preferences.  Consequently, they connect consumers with the recipe ingredients needed so they can create shopping lists at nearby stores and automatically download coupons upon arrival at the checkout line.

The utilization of AI and the deep learning of consumer purchasing algorithms will clearly deliver a personalized customer experience that could lead to increased loyalty for retail grocers in the future. Thanks to the wealth of consumer and product purchasing data available, grocers can also use AI to improve their overall operational efficiency.  In the future, they will be able to better manage their inventory, reduce costly waste associated with produce and perishable items , and as a result, allow supply chain management to reach new heights.

By connecting the dots across all systems and implementing creative strategies, the automated future could improve the consumer experience and boost profitability for the grocery industry.

Understanding the Romaine-Based E. Coli Outbreak of 2018

Beginning in April, 197 people across 35 states contracted E. coli believed to have originated in Yuma, Arizona. Most of the victims reported eating bagged, pre-cut romaine lettuce, although some were merely in close contact with those who became sick from consuming it. Of the 197 victims, 89 required hospitalization. To date, individuals in California, New York, Arkansas and Minnesota have passed away.

In a May 31 blog post by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), authors Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Stephen Ostroff, M.D. noted, “This is a serious and tragic outbreak. And we’re devoting considerable effort to identifying the primary source. We’ve made progress in recent weeks toward this goal. This outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses is the largest in the United States in more than 10 years.”

That outbreak, which occurred during the summer of 2006, impacted 199 people across 26 states and Canada and included three fatalities. The 2006 incident was ultimately linked to a baby spinach field in California, which had been contaminated by a mix of river water and cattle and feral pig feces. At present, the exact source of the current contamination is still unknown.

In a statement released by the FDA on June 1, they noted, “The traceback investigation indicates that the illnesses associated with this outbreak cannot be explained by a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. While traceback continues, the FDA will focus on trying to identify factors that contributed to contamination of romaine across multiple supply chains.”

Across the country, retail food chains and grocery stores responded quickly to the threat. Costco, Walmart and Kroger grocery stores pulled existing lettuce products off their shelves in response to warnings from federal investigators. On April 21, the popular fast casual chain Just Salad took to Twitter to respond to concerns. With nearly 30 locations in the New York and New Jersey area, plus outposts in Philadelphia and Chicago, they reassured customers with the following: “Just Salad suppliers are NOT affected by the possible E.coli outbreak. Our Romaine in all markets is grown in CA, where there have not been any reports of contaminated lettuce. We will be adding Iceberg to the menu for those that would like another lettuce option.”

Selling contaminated food can have significant financial impacts for retailers and restaurants. A Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in April 2018 estimated the potential damages to a fast food restaurant due to an outbreak. According to the researchers, a single foodborne illness incident costs between $4,000 and $1.9 million for cases involving fines, lost revenue and legal fees.

In late May, the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which is administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture, confirmed romaine lettuce was no longer being produced nor distributed from the Yuma growing region. The last known harvest occurred on April 16, 2018, and – due to the product’s 21-day shelf life – it's presumed the infected romaine lettuce is no longer available in stores or restaurants.

While the contaminated product is likely out of supply, it remains to be seen whether or not consumer trust in romaine lettuce has been impacted. However, kudos go to the grocers and restaurants who reacted quickly, because it demonstrated effective food safety systems in practice and reinforced consumer trust in their brands.

Raw Water: Harmless Trend or Health Threat?

An unusual trend has been gaining steam since late 2017. It’s called raw water, and its fans say it’s healthier than tap water, more natural, even probiotic. Raw water has mostly taken off in California and in affluent areas of the East Coast, among the same demographics who might go in for raw food diets or juicing. And some customers are willing to pay a premium to call themselves raw-water drinkers.

Of course, “raw water” is not a new thing. People have collected water directly from roadside and trailside springs for centuries, and specific springs have long been reputed to offer health-promoting properties. Many bottled water brands tout their water’s origin at some of these same springs, though bottled water is required to be tested and treated, if necessary, to bring it within federal and state water quality standards.

So, is “raw water” just re-branded bottled water? Or is this trend actually unsafe?

To answer this, it’s important to distinguish between different types of untreated water. Water safety depends on both the source – surface water, groundwater, or rainwater – and on what the water has been in contact with on its way from the source to the consumer. For all sources, water testing is very important to ensure safety.

Surface water and groundwater

Collecting untreated surface water (like the water in streams, rivers and lakes) for drinking can certainly make you sick. E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Shigella and hepatitis A virus are just a few of the infectious agents frequently found in untreated water located near human residences. Industrial and pesticide contamination are also concerns. Runoff from farms, factories, roads and cities easily enters surface bodies of water.

Clearly, in today’s world, it’s extremely difficult to find a stream or lake that’s untouched by human activity. But when it comes to microbes, even that bubbling mountain stream is likely not as clean as it looks. The parasite Giardia lamblia is shed in wild animal droppings and can survive for several months in a wilderness stream. This parasite can make you miserable for six weeks or more.

In contrast with untreated surface water, groundwater – in its original state deep under the earth’s surface – is often safe without treatment. Groundwater supplies are built up over time as water seeps into the earth through layers of soil, sand, silt and clay. Microbes and many organic contaminants get caught in tiny pores and stick to particles as the water passes through. Thus, deep ground water is naturally filtered and is typically free of microbes or even viruses.

Deep wells and water collection at natural springs are both ways of accessing this potentially safer water resource. But there are some major caveats: groundwater quality ranges widely among regions. Contaminants in some groundwater supplies can include industrial chemicals, petroleum, natural chemical or mineral contaminants like arsenic, and bad-tasting components like sulfur. In some areas, very high natural levels of fluoride exist – much higher than the levels added to tap water that some raw water drinkers are intent on avoiding. And groundwater can be contaminated near the surface or on its way to the bottling spot.

All this means testing is necessary. Over 15 million Americans access groundwater through private wells, and the CDC recommends that these homeowners have their wells tested at least yearly for both pathogens and pollutants. Many municipal water supplies originate as groundwater, too, but only after in-depth testing and treatment.

What about probiotic claims?

One of the biggest selling points for some raw water aficionados is the idea that “raw water” is probiotic or “alive,” and that it’s healthier to consume products that contain microbes. But there’s a huge difference between the microbes in probiotic foods and the microbes in untreated water. In yogurt and properly fermented food, benign microbes outcompete and suppress harmful ones. In drinking water, on the other hand, the presence of bacteria and other life forms is not a positive as there’s no fermentation process to suppress dangerous organisms.

Looking beyond the hype, raw water appears to be just another incarnation of bottled water, something the environmentally-concerned public is turning away from. The environmental costs of its transport and bottling are likely similar to those of traditional bottled water. The cost to the planet might be even higher when you consider that some customers pay to have this "super-premium" water shipped across the country.

Raw water that is advertised as probiotic could be worse than a waste of money and resources, though. If it’s not properly tested, there’s no way to know what you’re getting.

Will GMO Labeling Change Consumer Purchase Decisions?

The passing of H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, mandates the labeling of any food containing genetically modified materials. As written, the legislation requires food packages to indicate the presence of GMOs through a QR code, symbol or plain text. Critics, including the Food and Drug Administration, believe the bill's limited definition of “bioengineering” is overly narrow, as it does include gene editing, the process by which a cell’s DNA is replaced, added to or deleted. Nonetheless, some form of labeling is imminent and inevitable. What isn't known is how these specifications, no matter their form, will impact consumer purchasing decisions.

Studies have shown purchase decisions are driven by a number of factors.
Along with the primary drivers of sensory characteristics and price, many buyers consider ingredient lists, allergen warnings and nutritional information. However, research indicates conventional shoppers are more likely to be attached to specific brands; whereas consumers with a preference for organic products are not brand-loyal so much as they seek organic products in general.  Similarly, the customers who regularly buy organic brands are less inclined to research whether they are considered sustainable or ethical, perhaps believing the designation implies as much.

While it’s not possible to foresee the exact outcomes of GMO labeling, a reasonable prediction can be made from the current labeling efforts of several major food brands. Beginning in 2016, General Mills, Campbells and Mars, Inc., as well as Kelloggs, Frito-Lay and ConAgra began identifying products containing genetically modified ingredients. This was done in accordance with the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 and involved labels with language such as “produced with genetic engineering,” “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”

In an interview with The Organic and Non-GMO Report, General Mills' media relations representative Bridget Christenson revealed zero impact to company sales, stating, “We haven’t noted any strong consumer response, and haven’t seen any impact on sales.” Similarly, Thomas Hushen, a media representative at Campbell’s, echoed similar reactions, disclosing, “Regarding sales, there are a variety of factors that impact sales and we can’t attribute changes to any one thing. It (labeling) was a popular decision in the eyes of consumers and customers.”

Although product appearance and price point are believed to be the most significant drivers of consumer purchase decisions by American shoppers, a 2011 study by Elise Golan and Kuchler, economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, looked into the habits of consumers in countries already requiring labels to identify genetically modified products. In their study, the economists noted little to no impact, stating “labels are generally a weak policy tool for changing consumer consumption behavior,” because they “generally fail to get consumers’ attention.” Moreover, their research indicated most individuals make impulse-driven food purchases and rarely consult labels at all.

In Brazil, where a 'transgenic' symbol has been required on all GMO-containing foods since 2001, Golan and Kuchler found many consumers were actually drawn to the products bearing the symbol, particularly if they claimed to possess a nutritional advantage.

While it’s fair to presume the current interest in organic and natural foods will be a strong, positive driver for non-GMO labeled products, current studies indicate the average consumer is unlikely to note or be particularly concerned whether a product has been produced with genetically enhanced ingredients, likely electing instead to maintain loyalty to brands they already know and trust.

What about the organic or health-conscious consumer?
The Organic Trade Administration reports that U.S. sales of organic products increased 11% in 2017, representing more than $39 billion in overall purchases. Currently, it's estimated that almost five percent of all U.S. food sales are comprised of organic products. On that note, it's safe to assume those already inclined to read labels and evaluate nutritional information are most likely to recognize and respond to a GMO designation. Nonetheless, although GMO labeling will likely increase the perceived value and justify higher costs for non-GMO goods among health-conscious consumers, it is still just a small fraction of the population.

That fact, coupled with the known impacts of widespread, self-initiated labeling at companies like Campbell's and General Mills, lead to the reasonable conclusion that GMO labeling won’t have a significant impact on the majority of consumer purchasing decisions. Likewise, the smaller segment of consumers concerned with nutritional data are likely to respond to the information based on their own pre-existing beliefs and values.

Protecting Fido: Why Companies Need to Prioritize Pet Food Safety

Millennials love their pets. A lot. A recent market research study from Zulily found millennials – defined by Pew as anyone born between 1981 and 1996 – are not only more likely to own pets (over a third of all pets in the US are owned by millennials), but they’re also more devoted to them: 71% of millennials would take a pay cut to spend more time with their pet, and millennials often consider their pets as “starter children.” And just like today’s parents want high-quality food options for their precious tots, millennial pet owners want the best food possible for their fur babies – and increasingly, they’re willing to spend a premium on it. Between 2014 and 2016, millenials increased their spending on pet food by 32%.

Pet food brands must ensure a safe product in order to take advantage of this trend, but pet food recalls remain a common occurrence. In fact, the FDA has announced at least one per month every month this year. Here are some tips on how your brand can take advantage of this robust market while gaining consumer trust.

Be Cautious of the Raw Stuff

The meat-centric paleo diet has become so popular that people now want their dogs to follow suit and eat a diet closer to what they ate before we domesticated them, full of things like raw meat and vegetables. These raw and paleo pet food advocates promise that eschewing grain-based foods will give your pup more energy, a more lustrous coat and healthier teeth (some even say it can help your pet’s stool smell less offensive). The raw food market has grown consistently every year, and it’s common these days to see frozen raw dog food in the freezer next to your ice cream on retail shelves.

Unfortunately, raw pet food can be dangerous. According to the CDC, “There are more harmful germs in raw pet food than any other type of pet food, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration studies.” The organization’s official recommendation: steer clear of the stuff because of the possibility you or your pet could get salmonella or listeria. Many raw pet food brands have been recalled in recent months, despite it’s trendiness.

Know Where Your Products Are Coming From

Around 2007, dog owners across America started noticing a terrifying trend. Their dogs were suddenly dying after a mysterious kidney infection. The culprit? Jerky treats. And even scarier? The FDA couldn’t figure exactly what the ingredient was causing the deaths. By 2015, the FDA had received over 5,000 complaints about the issue and reported over 1,000 canine deaths.

One thing the FDA was able to figure out: most of the treats that caused the sicknesses were from China. A few years prior, a similar scandal erupted when American dogs and cats began dying after eating Chinese-made pet food that included melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastic products, but was mislabelled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

In response to these events, leading pet food retailers like Petsmart and Petco stopped selling Chinese-made pet food treats in 2015. Today, China still struggles with a thriving black market for pet food, and many US consumers still have a strong negative association with pet food from the country, with many seeking out foods that haven’t been produced there.

Deliver on Transparency

It’s no longer good enough to offer plain pet food. Millennial pet owners want their pets to be the healthiest they can be, and they’re eagerly embracing products that promise to give their pets a boost, whether that comes from the inclusion of local ingredients, anti-aging ingredients or supplements like dried kelp. But if you decide to offer products incorporating such premium ingredients, be prepared to explain your ingredients and their sourcing so you can show customers that you offer a safe product.

Millennial customers may want want new intriguing ingredients in their pet’s food, but they also desire simplicity and are suspicious of unhealthy filler ingredients--a Mintel study demonstrated these high standards, with almost 80% of respondents declaring their pet’s food quality is as important as their own. These kinds of customers are the ones reading pet food review blogs and researching to find out if the pet food they’re thinking of buying has ever been recalled. If you want to reach these customers, make sure you’re clear about exactly what ingredients you’re incorporating, where your ingredients come from and the specific benefits those ingredients can provide. As a 2017 pet food industry report pointed out, the pet food market no longer belongs to a small group of big companies. Millennials are embracing smaller pet food brands if they offer the quality and transparency they crave.

Apron Food PR Names Three to Board of Advisors

Group Creates Forum to Share Best-In-Class, National Expertise

Apron Food PR is pleased to announce its Board of Advisors, comprised of nationally-recognized food industry communications leaders. The board features professionals with deep understanding of public policy and public communication in the nutrition, food and agriculture space.

Advisors include:

Dr. Jennifer L. Garrett brings 30 years of leadership and business experience in agriculture, food and nutrition. She currently serves as a senior associate at agricultural consulting firm The Context Network.
Dr. Cathy Kapica is a public health expert, food and nutrition scientist and licensed health processional with over 25 years of experience in organizations such as Ketchum, McDonald’s and Quaker Oats.
Jill Saletta whose varied expertise as chief communications officer includes leading communications teams at two global PR agencies and four Fortune 100/200 corporations, including Kraft Foods and Kellogg Company.

“Tremendous expertise exists in each of these three individuals, and Apron is fortunate to have their guidance and wisdom as we protect and promote food brands across the country,” said Apron Managing Director Jenny Gregorcyk. “This board of advisors brings best and brightest food industry minds to Apron, providing an ability to anticipate and invest in food and technology trends to help our clients stay ahead of the curve.”

Prior to her current role, Dr. Garrett held various US and global leadership roles in the Monsanto Dairy and Monsanto Corporate Engagement businesses, the Kellogg Company and McCain Foods, working with executives, scientists and policy-makers to advocate for science-based food policy and communications. Today Dr. Garrett focuses her time on management and strategy consulting for food and agriculture entities at The Context Network.

Dr. Kapica’s experience focuses on bridging the gap between scientific, academic and policy worlds. In her time as Global Director of Nutrition at McDonald’s, she led worldwide nutrition efforts to develop and promote health and wellness initiatives in 118 countries. At the Quaker Oats Company, she developed and implemented science-based programs to promote the health benefits of oatmeal and breakfast to health professionals and consumers. In 2012, Dr. Kapica founded and continues to lead The Awegrin Institute, an independent public health consultancy, which uses a global perspective to tackle issues on food, nutrition and health policy.

Saletta’s expertise in brand and reputation, crisis communication, social responsibility and community relations have defined her as a leader across food and nutrition and other industries. Saletta has worked as Director or Communications and Corporate Relations at Whirlpool Corporation, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Relations at Kellogg Company and Senior Manager of Corporate Affairs at Kraft Foods, Inc. Prior to her corporate roles, Jill owned and operated a consulting business and held roles with Edelman and Burson-Marsteller.

Much ado about ‘cue: Six things everyone should know about BBQ

Especially where our Texas roots are planted, there’s nothing more indicative of warmer temps than pulling out the barbecue pit or smoker so family and friends can gather to a great meal (and maybe a couple of cold brews).
Coincidentally, there’s no other cuisine in the US of A that inspires as much passion or devotion as barbecue. Still, with passion comes debate, so the Apron team is here to tell you what you need to know about BBQ.

When talking about barbecue (called BBQ by some) let’s get a couple of facts straight. We’re specifically referring to the process when meat is hot-smoked, low and slow, between 200 and 250 degrees. This is often done in a barbecue pit or a grill. However, grilling refers to high, direct heat and faster cooking. And the general barbecue process is even different than smoking; smoked meats are cooked low and slow, but with indirect heat at less than 200 degrees. With that out of the way, these are the top six things to know:
  1. HISTORY: Barbecue predates George Washington, who twice made mention in his diaries about attending a “barbicue” (he was a horrible speller). Recent presidents have also hosted barbecues - the late Lyndon B. Johnson threw the first White House barbecue, while Jimmy Carter opted for a “pig-pickin” for 500 people, and George H. W. Bush gave foreign guests at taste of Texas-style barbecue at his Kennebunkport getaway.
  2. METHOD: There’s much debate on whether to use wood (and what type), charcoal, or gas. It can also be cooked wet, using a sauce or marinade, or via dry rub. It takes trial, error and [lots of] time to find the perfect combination.
  3. MEAT: You can barbecue everything from sausage, brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken and ham to turkey, pork shoulder (or the whole hog), turkey, goat and lamb – although we’re partial to beef here at Apron. There are even four different types of pork ribs - spare ribs come from the underbelly; St. Louis-style are spare ribs without the breastbone; country-style are made from the pork shoulder; and baby-back are from the top of the ribcage.
  4. REGIONS: You may know there are regional differences (think Kansas City, known for its meat variety, Memphis with its tomato-vinegar-based sauces, Chicago’s known-for of dry rubbed meats, and even the hotly-debated Brooklyn). Interestingly, the Carolinas have three regions of their own – Eastern North Carolina, Piedmont, and South Carolina – and Texas has two – Central and East Texas.
  5. SAUCES:With regions come sauces that have developed a cult-like following. To name a few, folks can choose from Alabama white sauce, Texas-style mop sauce, sweet and tangy Kansas City sauce, South Carolina mustard sauce, Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce and Lexington dip.
  6. STATS: Oklahoma has the most BBQ restaurants per capita (one for every 5,000 residents), while Alabama has the highest percentage of BBQ restaurants (8% of all restaurants in Alabama are barbecue). On the other end of the scale, Connecticut has the least number of BBQ restaurants in the nation while New York has the lowest percentage. Our barbecue-loving hearts can’t imagine!
That’s it for your dose of BBQ trivia. We’d love to hear from you – what are your favorite BBQ styles and restaurants?

Is Menu Labeling Finally Here or Not?

Only a few more days stand between the FDA’s May 7 compliance deadline for the federal menu labeling standard signed into law by President Obama in 2010. But that compliance date has been delayed several times already, and its future isn’t entirely clear at this point, either.

Although Congress passed the law in 2010, FDA did not finalize its rule implementing it until December 2014. After that, FDA delayed the rule’s compliance date until December 1, 2016; Congress subsequently delayed it until May 5, 2017; and FDA delayed it once more until May 7, 2018.

So, we’re there – right? No, not exactly.

On February 6, the House passed H.R. 772, the so-called "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act," which amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act to clarify the information certain retail food chain establishments, with 20 or more locations, must disclose about nutrition to the consumer. This amendment sought to prevent overly burdensome regulations for certain establishments, such as convenience stores, supermarkets, grocery stores and pizza restaurants, and to provide flexibility in how restaurants display calorie information.

Specifically, the bill allows retail food establishments where the majority of orders are placed by customers who are off-premise at the time their order is placed, such as pizza restaurants, to disclose nutritional information on a remote-access menu (such as an online menu) as the sole method of disclosure instead of on-premise wall signs or menus. The bill also eliminates criminal penalties and allows restaurants and retailers to take corrective action as well as preempts civil litigation for violations of the federal menu labeling law and any state laws that may exist. The bill makes accommodations for inadvertent variations that occur during the food preparation process.

This bill was received in the Senate on February 7, 2018, where it must clear committee and be voted on and passed by the Senate body before being sent to President Trump for signature. Should all that in fact happen, the compliance date would have to be moved once again to allow the FDA time to write the regulations necessary to implement the new law. Actually, the Senate version of the bill (S. 261) contains language specifically stating, “Regulations pursuant to this bill or the clause amended by this bill cannot take effect earlier than two years after final regulations are promulgated.” We would be looking at sometime late in 2020 as the next earliest compliance date if that language remained in the final bill.

On the other hand, if the Senate fails to act or to act in time for the bill-to-law process to be completed before May 7, the 2010 law and its resultant regulations will go into effect, and the FDA will be required to ensure compliance with those rules. While retail food establishments affected by the original legislation should be prepared for compliance on May 7, we’ll keep an eye on the outcome of these intervening legislative efforts.

Pack your bags, we’re going on a BBQuest!

Apron is producing a new original, online video series for Beef Loving Texans called “BBQuest”. This documentary-style, episodic series takes a look at some of the best barbecue joints in Texas, uncovering secret menu items and other hidden gems.

Season one features barbecue restaurants and other popular day-trip attractions in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. BBQuest kicked off with Austin, filming at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in March. The series launches later this summer.

The event at Cooper’s was incredibly well attended with Texans lining up around the building wanting to see bands William Clark Green and Paul Cauthen and eat some delicious barbecue.

The goal of BBQuest is to share Texans’ love of barbecue with other Texans by showcasing popular and out-of-the-way barbecue joints across the state. These different barbecue restaurants and pitmasters highlight the diversity of barbecue beef recipes and grilling tips.

About Beef Loving Texans

Beef Loving Texans is Texas Beef Council’s consumer brand created to share unique recipes, stories, cooking and shopping tips and expert nutrition information. Beef Loving Texans is a community built around Texas pride, heritage and our shared love for beef. We represent the Texas Beef Council and the 130,000 beef farmers and ranchers across the state. Beef Loving Texans works to inspire mealtime solutions that create special moments and balanced lifestyles with beef.

More information about Beef Loving Texans can be found at

The Latest Food Trends Are Actually Technology Trends

The food we eat and the way we find it impacts our daily routines. But many of the most cutting-edge food trends are actually not about food at all – they’re all about technology.

Because of developments in technology and the proliferation of smartphones, consumer expectations for convenience have changed. The same technology that allows consumers to share photos and choose music on demand has entered the food scene, and it’s not going away any time soon.

The way consumers find and receive food reflects a growing focus on convenience as an important part of the user experience.

Grocery Store with a Cashier-Less Twist

E-commerce giant Amazon has long been a pioneer in the food delivery space, with the successful grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh inspiring many other services to follow suit.

Now they are piloting a service in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle called Amazon Go, a service allowing customers to enter a physical Amazon-owned grocery store, pick the items they want, and return home without checking out. Instead, an app tracks customer entry and each time an item is removed or returned to a shelf, adding items to the customer’s virtual cart in the process. When the customer is finished shopping, they just leave the store, and Amazon charges their Amazon account, sending them a receipt using information from the app.

The end result is a customer who has the experience of picking out exactly what they want and leaving the store without having to stop to pay. As Gen Y becomes the largest consumer base in the nation, this “grab and go” style of shopping represents the intersection of convenience and customer experience so many millennials crave.

Grocery Delivery without the Grocery Store

Although online grocery delivery has been steadily growing for years, its growth is expected to increase as more and more millennials become the breadwinners of their households. In fact, “online grocery shopping could grow five-fold over the next decade, with American consumers spending upwards of $100 billion on food-at-home items by 2025,” according to a recent study.

One notable company in the grocery delivery business is Instacart, which connects personal shoppers with customers for a small fee. In its first three years, the company skyrocketed in value to $2 billion and was named “America’s Most Promising Company” in 2015 by Forbes.

Convenience doesn’t stop at grocery delivery, however. Services like Uber Eats, Favor and Postmates also cater to a need for convenience in dining, delivering food and convenience store items from virtually any restaurant or corner store.

Meal Prepping Made Easy with Meal Kits

These services deliver fresh ingredients and recipes right to your door. Blue Apron delivers three million meals a month to U.S. homes, and according to at least one report, HelloFresh has worldwide revenues of $290 million. Convenience isn’t the only message with these brands, however. Customers still want the experience of cooking fresh, homemade meals in their own kitchens without having to go the store, and in this respect, Blue Apron and HelloFresh have resonated with consumers.

Even delivery services as successful as these still have to grow and adapt with their customers, including the way they deliver information about their services to those same consumers. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Freshly and other ingredient delivery services have been placing advertisements in podcasts, on YouTube and a plethora of other Gen Y-friendly platforms in order to continuously deliver their key message: “you want convenience, we can help.”

Grocery Store Drive-Through: Curbside Pickup

As trends in delivery have given customers a reason to skip a visit to the store, conventional grocery chains are racing to catch up through new and inventive ways, one of the most popular being curbside pickup. Grocery stores including Target, Walmart, Kroger, Wegman’s (based in the Northeast) and H-E-B (based in Texas), have all installed curbside pickup to varying degrees as an option for customers who don’t want to spend time perusing the aisles of a store. Through curbside pickup, they can make their grocery selections and pay online, and an associate at the store will prepare it to be picked up at a designated spot in the store or along the front curb.

Curbside pickup functions as a “bridge” between full-on grocery delivery services and the traditional grocery shopping experience. The growth of curbside pickup services shows that the intersection of convenience and experience operates on a spectrum rather than strictly black and white, and grocery brands who cater to older generations or embody traditional elements in their branding should take note.

Key Takeaways for Food Brands

As food brands continue to adapt their delivery methods and update their technology offerings, they must also remember to continue adapting their communication:

Engage in online two-way communication: When the local grocery store was the only option, grocers didn’t have to listen to customers at the same magnitude. Today, consumers expect their preferences to be heard and responded to – otherwise they’ll take their business to one of the numerous other options.

Maintain a strong digital presence: Food retailers should have a strong presence on social media with responses on-demand to match customer expectations, along with digital capabilities like couponing and recipe organizers. Texas retail giant H-E-B does a great job with both their website and digital app. Even CVS, now in the grocery space, is incredibly targeted with their app. When I walk into their store, their location tracking automatically recognizes me and serves me coupons and reminders.

Share convenience messages with experience in mind: The convenience messaging has to follow suit with the convenience medium. Beyond the user experience being simple, consumers have to understand how retailers are making their lives easier.

The trick for food brands in this rapidly changing consumer space is to make this very complex technology look and feel simple to consumers – not an easy task. But with the right tools and an open mindset, companies who listen to their customers can find the intersection of convenience and experience, becoming pioneers in their own right in food – and technology – trends of the future.

Communicating GMOs in a TL;DR World

TL;DR: "Too Long; Didn’t Read."

You’ve probably noticed TL;DR versions of stories popping up on news sites, where three or four bullet points recap a (now considered lengthy) 500-word article. CNN calls this feature “Story highlights.”

The New York Times has started summarizing its top stories in bullets on its homepage. Email newsletters such as The Skimm have flourished in recent years, providing readers with a three-minute daily digest of all the news they need for the day in a pithy, easy-to-read format.

The way consumers take in their news is changing for a few reasons. Because of the internet, there is simply a much larger volume of news available today than 10 years ago. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 81 percent of Americans get at least some of their news through websites, apps or social networking sites. There is even more competition when you consider other digital communication forms like text messaging and email. With 8 trillion text messages sent each year, it hardly seems to leave room for much else.

For food brands needing to communicate complex issues, this consumer mindset creates challenges. It can feel nearly impossible to communicate a complex issue such as FSMA, GMO use or traceability in a few bullet points, but there are ways brands can relay their message successfully.

Know your audience.

Brands falter when they make assumptions about their audiences. Instead, it’s important to ask critical questions such as:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What do they know on this subject?
  • What is their attitude toward this subject? Toward my brand?
  • What misperceptions will they have on this topic?

If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, consider investing in a baseline research effort. Online surveys can be fielded quickly and for a fairly low cost these days – it doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. Not only will it better inform your messaging, it will also give you something to measure against later.

Carefully craft your message.

Once you clearly answer these questions, you can better put yourself in your audience’s shoes and craft messages that will resonate. Carefully consider your headline – what is the one thing I want my audience to take away from this message? Lead with that message and let the rest of your messaging support that headline. The food industry is notorious for using technical speak and jargon; be sure to use consumer-friendly, easily digestible language.

Choose your channels.

The number of communication channels available presents both a blessing and a curse. Should you use Twitter, your blog or a newspaper op-ed? With a clear understanding of your audience, you can choose the channels to most effectively reach them. For example, a seafood company may want to communicate the concept of traceability to its customer base in the Southeast United States. Knowing from research that its customers are mainly female grocery shoppers with children who have limited knowledge of the traceability concept, they would be wise to choose a channel this audience uses most frequently, Facebook. Additionally, they might consider video because it performs so strongly on the platform and, if done correctly, is a great medium for synthesizing complex information.

For an example of a job well done, check out this recent #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign from Naked Juice to bring awareness to the issue of food deserts. Looking at their messaging, they clearly understood their audience’s lack of information on the issue and used a simple headline to capture their attention: “Nearly 30 million Americans have limited access to fruits and veggies.” They also used celebrity influencers relevant to their audience to deliver the message. Most importantly, the campaign worked: #DrinkGoodDoGood was used nearly 50,000 times and campaign videos saw nearly one million views.

Story Behind Food Deserts
With all the clutter and misinformation in today’s news, food brands must carefully plan their communication efforts to make sure their target audiences both see and receive their messages.

Is Your Food Product Healthy in Consumers’ Eyes?

It’s no secret Americans are paying more attention to the food they eat – and talking more about it, too. We see huge volumes of conversation, particularly online, around food. For example, according to one recent article, there were 168,375,343 posts on Instagram using the hashtag #food and another 76,239,441 posts for #foodporn.

The increasingly fragmented media ecosystem is shaping the contours of this dialogue. Niche blogs such as SkinnyTaste and Nerd Fitness have quickly become go-to sources of food information, especially for Millennials. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey tells us one-third of the Millennial generation relies on trusted health, food and nutrition bloggers for information.

Consumers are responding to food news from both traditional and new media outlets by changing their behaviors. According to IFIC:

“The media were a top source that caused a less healthful view of enriched refined grains, saturated fat, added sugars, and low-calorie sweeteners. Whole grains, protein from plant sources, and natural sugars were among the dietary components that gained a more healthful opinion from consumers based on media headlines.”
The IFIC study found that 31 percent of Americans changed their minds about at least one dietary component, such as grains, sugars or protein, for better or worse. In most cases, media headlines and articles were at or near the top of the sources that altered consumers’ opinions, drove changes to their food purchasing decisions, or led them to engage with friends, family or coworkers in conversations about food and nutrition. When given a list of attributes that describe a “healthy eating style,” 51 percent of consumers chose “the right mix of different foods,” followed by “limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives” (41 percent).
IFIC Food Decisions

Brands can capitalize on these perceptions in their marketing efforts. While consumers care about the perceived health of their food, their perception of healthy food is so broad that almost any brand or product can find a relevant attribute to use in its positioning. Food brands can exercise several options to reach consumers using the latest health trends.

Let’s look at how health messages might sound for a product based on three such options. Low-calorie sweeteners have had it tough lately; after enjoying decades of popularity, real sugar has come back in full force. Consumers are moving away from low-calorie sweeteners as studies have found the body metabolizes these products in the same way it does real sugar.

  • Refute existing health claims. With this option, food brands fight back against disinformation, which oftentimes means going up against trusted consumer sources (and note there’s a distinction here between trusted and credible). A low-calorie sweetener brand could hire its own third-party health experts to talk about the evils of sugar and its path to diabetes and other chronic diseases. However, there are also many health professionals who would argue that real sugar in small doses is better for the body, so this is a risky option for this product.
  • Bolster their own claims. A brand can acknowledge and capitalize on its own strengths. Low-calorie sweeteners could acknowledge the existence and even importance of real sugar, while marketing the benefit of a low-calorie sweetener as a way to manage diabetes and other chronic conditions that afflict millions of Americans.
  • Focus on non-traditional attributes. Sometimes brands simply have to recognize that traditional health messages won’t work for them and instead focus on other factors that consumers perceive as wholesome, such as freshness and authenticity. Many QSR brands have seen success with this option by touting fresh-cut produce and minimally processed meats. However, this option wouldn’t work as well with a heavily processed and largely artificial product such as low-calorie sweeteners.

If I represented a low-calorie sweetener brand, I would go with the bolstering option and own the product’s opportunity to help the 29 million Americans affected by diabetes better manage their condition. The campaign spokesperson could be a relevant health blogger (since we know they are a trusted source) and would include a big media relations push to change the narrative around this product. The important takeaway for brands is to remember that “healthy” is a complex concept that can pose challenges to marketers, but also creates opportunities for new kinds of storytelling.

Chipotle’s Response to E. Coli Woes

Chipotle has been rocked this year, and the past few years it seems, by foodborne illness. In their third and most significant issue of 2015, they temporarily shuttered 43 locations in the Pacific Northwest due to an E. coli outbreak.

Just as those restaurants were reopening, the CDC reported the E. coli issue had spread to five new states (California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota).

Then, to escalate matters, the CDC also identified norovirus had sickened 140 college students at a Chipotle restaurant in Boston, leading to the closure of that location.

Not a fun time for Chipotle, but the brand has responded in an incredibly proactive, transparent manner. They’ve gone so far as to declare they will be THE global leader in food safety.

“We have this desire to be the safest place to eat,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle chairman, founder and co-CEO. “We’re serving extraordinary quality ingredients, and that’s been something in place for many, many years now, and we’re best in the world at that. We’re going to be the best in the world at food safety, and we’re taking this very, very seriously.”

Based on the research we conducted earlier this year, we know consumers look for a proactive response along with third-party validation after a food safety issue:

Food Infographic

We can use Hearit’s model of apologia to diagnose Chipotle’s response. The model tells us a company can select one of three responses when facing a reputation issue.

  • Option 1: Redefinition – this strategy of redefinition relies heavily on the use of dissociation; it’s the technique to use when allegations are justifiably deniable.
  • Option 2: Scapegoating – this strategy works by transferring guilt from an organization to an individual or isolated group; this technique requires the company to acknowledge wrongdoing, but then shift blame onto ‘rogue’ individuals or groups of employees.
  • Option 3: Corrective Action – this strategy seeks to convince the public the organization is responding to and has learned from its wrongdoing – and furthermore – has instituted controls to ensure the transgression won’t happen again.

Chipotle is clearly exercising the corrective action option – they are countering the magnitude of this issue with an equally sized response – full-page ads in newspapers across the country, for instance. Their messaging conveys genuine remorse for what happened and demonstrates their commitment to prevention of another foodborne illness outbreak.

Food Safety Plan

The open letter from founder Steve Ells hit on all the messages consumers want to hear. He expresses his apologies for what has taken place and calls it “completely unacceptable.” He talks about collaborating “with preeminent food safety experts” to validate their processes – something we know from our research consumers expect – and their unprecedented testing process. Near the end of the letter, he makes a big promise: “we are confident that we can achieve near zero risk.”

Well done, Chipotle. Now they just have to make it true and keep it true. They can’t afford another crisis. If one food thing came from this, it’s that Chipotle has in many ways revolutionized the restaurant industry, and their ingredient transparency has helped reshape consumer expectations.

Red Meat Causes Cancer…Now What?

By now you’ve probably heard about the World Health Organization’s report that dooms us meat-eaters to cancer. Well, kinda. The report actually says eating processed meat like hot dogs, ham and bacon raises the risk of colon cancer and that consuming other red meats “probably” raises the risk as well.

Probably? What does that even mean? It means the risk is low enough the average person doesn’t need to worry too much about it, but the study is still making waves.

From a rhetorical perspective, I really don’t like seeing such a vague word like “probably” tied to a word as terrifying as “cancer,” especially in a scientific study.

Say what you want about the report, it’s out there. So what is a beef or processed meat producer to do?

First, we have to get inside the minds of the consumer. These consumers are bombarded every day with conflicting health information. Let’s take sugar substitutes for example. In the 1990s, we heard sugar will make you fat and we should use Sweet’N Low. Then we learned Sweet’N Low’s main ingredient, aspartame, will give us cancer, so we switched to Splenda. Then we heard Splenda will kill us, so now we’re on the Stevia/Truvia train with – you guessed it – real sugar making a big comeback. What’s next?

In my opinion, the evidence presented in this study is not nearly compelling enough to create behavior change. Especially when, on the flip side, you have a 105-year-old woman who swears eating bacon daily is the key to her long life.

We can back up this opinion using the Cialdini Core Motives Model, which tells us there are only three motives of persuasion, and they must go in order:

  1. Build Relationships
  2. Reduce Uncertainty
  3. Motivate to Act

In order to get to step three, we have to accomplish steps 1 and 2. For the purposes of this study, while the WHO didn’t provide any specific guidelines on meat consumption, we can assume the desired result from publishing this information is lower consumption of beef and processed meat – motivating action.

Because the WHO failed to build a relationship with consumers or reduce their uncertainty (the word “probably” inherently implies uncertainty), it’s doubtful they have met the burden to motivate the public to act. We’re seeing evidence of that in social media commentary:

Second, we have to consider what consumers want to hear from red meat and processed meat producers. The North American Meat Institute has given producers some air cover by coming out proactively and calling the study bull.

In fact, there may be other studies that refute this evidence, but I wouldn’t advise individual producers to enter the fight on the merits of this study – that’s for the industry to handle. For food brands who receive customer questions about the study, the message back should simply remind customers that with everything in our diet, not just meat, moderation is the key. Consumers pay more attention to their food sources these days and should decide what’s right for their own dietary needs.

Can Your Organization’s Food Crisis Send You to Jail?

Consumers are paying more attention to their food than ever. This focus goes beyond just the ingredients and nutritional data – consumers are looking more and more at how and where their food is made. Going beyond the food they eat, consumers are putting the companies under the microscope to see if they are acting as good corporate stewards.

That increased attention means consumers are holding brands more responsible for their actions than ever before. Food safety issues are magnified by increased media attention and the ability of social media to perpetuate the news cycle, making the job of a communications team in the food space more difficult.

All of these factors combine into an interesting trend: criminal charges in food safety issues. A recent Time article points to four convictions in foodborne illness outbreaks over the last couple years.

Take the case of Stewart Parnell, former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). PCA was identified in 2009 as the source of a massive salmonella outbreak that made hundreds sick and caused at least nine deaths. Prosecutors argued Parnell knew about the tainted product and famously told a plant manager to “Just ship it.” And, according to evidence, Parnell and his team fabricated certificates of analysis that state the food at issue was free of pathogens, when there had been no testing done or the tests had in fact revealed the presence of pathogens.

Parnell was convicted of 76 federal counts, including knowingly shipping tainted food across state lines, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and wire fraud. He will serve 28 years in prison.

There have been other recent cases of criminal charges for food safety issues. In Colorado, 33 people died from listeria after an outbreak found in cantaloupe originating from Jensen Farms. The owners, brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen, each received five years of probation and $150,000 in fines.

Food safety attorney Shawn Stevens says, “the FDA is just beginning to dip its toes in the water as it relates to how much and how often it will in fact use criminal sanctions…[the FDA] will pick some of the more high profile cases, bring criminal charges, and then use the media attention as a tool to show the public and corporate America that the agency is really serious about food safety.”

This trend adds another layer of anxiety for food producers, but also serves as a reminder of the communication opportunities we have. Food brands should regularly talk about the steps they take to maintain a safe product, whether that’s in social media or inviting a reporter to tour a manufacturing facility. Consumers are looking for transparency, as seen by McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions” video series, giving viewers an up-close look at their manufacturing practices. And, by saying it publicly, the company will have to uphold their commitment to food safety. As the saying goes, we will speak it into existence.

Building Trust in the Food Industry

Consumer confidence (or lack of) in our food supply is a hot issue. Whether it’s a fear of contamination due to recent recalls affecting trusted brands (Chipotle, Blue Bell, Dole to name a few) or distrust of GMOs, it seems like everything related to the food we eat is up for debate.

According to National Geographic, article the general public has started to doubt science, studies and proven scientific facts, from fluoridation (adding small amounts of fluoride to our water to improve dental health) to climate change. This skepticism has now turned to our food sources, with many consumers approaching the mass food market with distrust.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the majority of the general public (57 percent) says that genetically modified (GM) foods are generally unsafe to eat, while only 37 percent say such foods are safe. That’s compared to 88 percent of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science who say GM foods are generally safe. The gap between citizens and scientists in seeing GM foods as safe is 51 percentage points. Some might see that gap more like a river.

The internet has contributed to the skepticism, “Meanwhile the Internet makes it easier than ever for…skeptics and doubters of all kinds to find their own information and experts. Gone are the days when a small number of powerful institutions—elite universities, encyclopedias, major news organizations, even National Geographic—served as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized information, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a ‘filter bubble’ that lets in only the information with which you already agree.”

For example, Food Babe used to eat a lot of junk food which landed her in the hospital, where she had a revelation to start living a healthy life. Now, she has a really popular blog where she investigates “what is really in our food, how is it grown and what chemicals are used in its production… As I began to learn more, I was no longer duped by big business marketing tactics, confused by lengthy food labels, and it became easier for me to live in this over-processed world.”

The high level of trust placed in self-proclaimed experts like the Food Babe and media personalities like Dr. Phil is problematic for those who are actually the authority in the food space. When consumers are listening more to celebrities than scientists, it’s impossible to communicate in a transparent way and build credibility. Consumers have an emotional tie to celebrity personalities, resulting in trust. Scientists, on the other hand, are strangers and met with doubt because they’re unknown.

The food industry has a real challenge on its hands. Where do they start when consumers are more apt to follow someone with no formal science education than the most credible subject matter experts – actual scientists?

According to Cialdini’s Core Motives model, the food community needs to reduce consumer uncertainty. To do that, we look can use one of two outreach tactics in the model: Consensus and Authority.

The lack of trust in the food industry lies with the Authority outreach tactic. Self-made celebrities have established themselves as the authority on food sourcing and safety, and the food community needs to combat these misperceptions with their own credible, sound authority figures. And who better to talk about food science than the ones studying it – the food scientists themselves?

If the food community can communicate the science they are using to make decisions about what we eat then they have a chance to make an impact. The outcome goal shouldn’t be blind faith, but rather pushing consumers to look beyond the fear factor and seek out sources on both sides of the story.