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Posts Tagged ‘Food

“You don’t win friends with salad”*…

The best meal I had all pandemic cost $1.14 and took about 90 seconds to make. It was a Margherita pizza inhaled in the car on a desolate day in late April. I know the precise cost because my husband is the chef who made it: 61 cents for a few slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella, 24 cents for the San Marzano tomatoes and salt, a quarter for enough basil leaves to supply the rest of the menu’s needs for free, and just 11 cents for the dough, made from a mix of top-shelf imported Italian flours. In normal times, his restaurant sold a Margherita for $20, but he could get away with selling it for $10 and still reach 10% food cost.

We are a nation in the throes of an unprecedented eight-month pizza binge that shows no signs of abating. Multiple pizzerias in Los Angeles reported a 250% rise in sales on Election Day, and on Thursday, Papa John’s reported quarterly same-store sales growth of 23.8%. For months now, the underlying forces for the sustained pizza craze have been as hotly debated within the restaurant industry as the election results have been parsed by professional pollsters. Stress eating is a major cause; quarantine-induced failure of imagination and the return of three major-league sports within weeks of one another over the summer certainly didn’t hurt.

But the actual reason that doesn’t get nearly enough notice is that pizza is one of the few genres of food that is actually more profitable than — and almost as addictive as — booze. Fries and fried chicken — not wings, but tenders and drumsticks — are the only other foods that come close. If that reminds you at all of the suggestions that await you on Grubhub and Uber Eats, well, that’s what’s left of the menu when restaurants lose their alcohol sales and are forced to fork over a third of their gross revenues to delivery app commissions. There are not a lot of foods where taste collides so perfectly with profit: Pizza stands alone…

But times are nothing if not desperate, and the financial case for making a pivot to pizza is anything but ambiguous. Tens of thousands of independent restaurants have closed permanently since March, but independent pizzerias listed on the delivery app Slice have seen sales grow 60%. The chain Marco’s Pizza, which just opened its 1,000th location, in Kissimmee, Florida, has seen sales surge roughly 50% every week since mid-April, according to the consumer data analytics firm Sense360. The pandemic has even breathed new life into the forgotten Pizza Hut chain, which reported a 9% rise in U.S. same-store sales last quarter despite the July bankruptcy of its debt-saddled biggest franchisee, NPC International — which said in a filing that its Pizza Hut division’s 2020 earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) had exceeded its internal forecasts by a factor of eight. And mediocre pizza behemoth Domino’s, which was starting from a much higher base after reporting 38 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth, reported a 16% uptick in same-store sales in its second quarter.

The losing side of this stark new restaurant reality is a virtually endless list, but the unequivocal biggest loser has been the so-called $15 salad genre embodied by the fast-food cum tech unicorn Sweetgreen, which recently announced it would be laying off 20% of its corporate staff in its second round of post-outbreak job cuts. Hard numbers on this mostly privately held category, which includes Chopt Creative Salads, Just Salad, Fresh & Co, and True Food Kitchen — all of which have at one point been hailed as the “next Sweetgreen” — were easier to come by in more prosperous times, but the few out there are ugly. Sweetgreen sales fell about 60% during the eight weeks after the first shutdowns, according to Sense360, and the one publicly traded chain in the salad business, Toronto’s Freshii, reported a 51.4% plunge in its second-quarter sales…

Learn how pizza won the pandemic—and Sweetgreen got left behind: “The Death of the $15 Salad.”

* Homer Simpson

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As we savor a slice, we might send well-preserved birthday greetings to the man who was ultimately responsible for that getting that especially- delicious tomato sauce to your pizzeria: Nicolas Appert; he was born on this date in 1749.  A confectioner and inventor, he is known as “the father of canning.”

In 1795, Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the award in 1810.

Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans

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“A Genuine ‘TV’ Brand Dinner”*…

In 1925, the Brooklyn-born entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye invented a machine for freezing packaged fish that would revolutionize the storage and preparation of food. [see here.] Maxson Food Systems of Long Island used Birdseye’s technology, the double-belt freezer, to sell the first complete frozen dinners to airlines in 1945, but plans to offer those meals in supermarkets were canceled after the death of the company’s founder, William L. Maxson. Ultimately, it was the Swanson company that transformed how Americans ate dinner (and lunch)—and it all came about, the story goes, because of Thanksgiving turkey.

According to the most widely accepted account, a Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the company’s frozen dinners in late 1953 when he saw that the company had 260 tons of frozen turkey left over after Thanksgiving, sitting in ten refrigerated railroad cars. (The train’s refrigeration worked only when the cars were moving, so Swanson had the trains travel back and forth between its Nebraska headquarters and the East Coast “until panicked executives could figure out what to do,” according to Adweek.) Thomas had the idea to add other holiday staples such as cornbread stuffing and sweet potatoes, and to serve them alongside the bird in frozen, partitioned aluminum trays designed to be heated in the oven. Betty Cronin, Swanson’s bacteriologist, helped the meals succeed with her research into how to heat the meat and vegetables at the same time while killing food-borne germs.

Whereas Maxson had called its frozen airline meals “Strato-Plates,” Swanson introduced America to its “TV dinner” (Thomas claims to have invented the name) at a time when the concept was guaranteed to be lucrative: As millions of white women entered the workforce in the early 1950s, Mom was no longer always at home to cook elaborate meals—but now the question of what to eat for dinner had a prepared answer. Some men wrote angry letters to the Swanson company complaining about the loss of home-cooked meals. For many families, though, TV dinners were just the ticket. Pop them in the oven, and 25 minutes later, you could have a full supper while enjoying the new national pastime: television.

In 1950, only 9 percent of U.S. households had television sets—but by 1955, the number had risen to more than 64 percent, and by 1960, to more than 87 percent. Swanson took full advantage of this trend, with TV advertisements that depicted elegant, modern women serving these novel meals to their families, or enjoying one themselves. “The best fried chicken I know comes with a TV dinner,” Barbra Streisand told the New Yorker in 1962…

Thanks to the pandemic, Thanksgiving’s most unexpected legacy is heating up again: “A Brief History of the TV Dinner.”

* The Swanson “promise” on every package

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As we peel back the foil, we might send clearly-outlined birthday greetings to Irma S. Rombauer; she was born on this date in 1877. An author of cookbooks, she is best remembered for The Joy of Cooking, one of the most widely-published and used cookbooks in the U.S. Originally unable to find a publisher, she privately printed an edition in 1931. But in 1935 a commercial edition (the first of nine) was released by Bobbs-Merrill.

Written in a plain but witty style, including basic techniques and simple dishes, not just the complext recipes that were the staples of most cookbooks of the time, it found a broad and loyal audience among the American middle class. Indeed, Julia Child credits The Joy of Cooking with teaching her the basic techniques of the kitchen, and (along with Gourmet Magazine) teaching her to cook.

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“You cannot store them To warm the winter’s cold, The lad that hopes for heaven shall fill his mouth with mould”*…

[Earlier this month] craving sweets, Colin Purrington remembered the Twinkies.

He’d purchased them back in 2012 for sentimental reasons when he heard that Hostess Brands was going bankrupt and Twinkies might disappear forever.

“When there’s no desserts in the house, you get desperate,” says Purrington, who went down to the basement and retrieved the old box of snack cakes, fully intending to enjoy several…

Like many people, Purrington believed Twinkies are basically immortal, although the official shelf life is 45 days. He removed a Twinkie from the box, unwrapped it — it looked fine — and took a bite. Then he retched. “It tasted like old sock,” Purrington says. “Not that I’ve ever eaten old sock.”

That’s when he examined the other Twinkies. Two looked weird. One had a dark-colored blemish the size of a quarter. The other Twinkie was completely transformed — it was gray, shrunken and wrinkly, like a dried morel mushroom.

He posted photos on Twitter, and they caught the attention of two scientists: Brian Lovett and Matt Kasson, who study fungi at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “Matt is going to want that Twinkie,” thought Lovett, the instant he saw the mummified one.

That’s because, in the past, their lab has tested how well molds grow in Peeps, the classic Easter treat. Fungi actually found it difficult to survive on Peeps, because of the food’s low water content. “In a way, they are kind of like an extreme environment, right?” Kasson notes. “The food industry has crafted the ability to make foods that have a long shelf life.

Still, Kasson says, fungi are everywhere and have an amazing set of chemical tools that let them break down all kinds of substances. “You find fungi growing on jet fuel,” he says…

They reached out to Purrington, who was only too happy to mail them the Twinkies immediately. “Science is a collaborative sport,” he says. “If someone can take this and figure out what was actually growing, I’m all in. I really want to know what species exactly was eating my Twinkies.”

The Twinkies arrived at the lab, and the researchers got to work…

The illuminating (if not appetizing) tale of “A Disturbing Twinkie That Has, So Far, Defied Science.”

* A.E. Housman

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As we stop stockpiling snacks, we might send variously-well preserved birthday greetings to William A. Mitchell; he was born on this date in 1911.  A chemist who spent most of his career at General Foods, he was the inventor of Pop Rocks, Tang, quick-set Jell-O, Cool Whip, and powdered egg whites; over his career, he received over 70 patents almost all of them for processed food items or preparation procedures.

MITCHELL

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Written by LW

October 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The golden rule when reading the menu is, if you cannot pronounce it, you cannot afford it”*…

 

menu-read

 

Consider the restaurant menu.

By design, menus aren’t meant to spark conversation. But as restaurants take drastic steps to weather COVID-19, they are revamping their menus in a big way — and it’s hard not to think twice about the piece of paper in your hands.

IHOP is ditching its 12-page behemoth for a much cleaner 2-page menu. McDonald’s has slashed several items off its all-day breakfast menu. Applebee’s, Taco Bell, and Subway are all slimming down their offerings.

These high-profile shifts reflect what’s happening on a much more local level across the industry: 28% of restaurateurs are shrinking their menus because of the pandemic. That number is so large that New York Magazine recently asked, “Is It Time To Get Rid of Menus For Good?”

The underlying reasons for this are financial: Restaurants can’t bother with low-margin dishes. They have fewer employees on the payroll, so they want to be more efficient with a smaller set of meals. They’re prioritizing fewer — and cheaper — ingredients.

But rewriting a menu is no simple task. Every inch of text, from the typeface down to the order of items, must be workshopped for maximum profitability.

And when restaurants need help, they turn to a niche, little-known cadre of professional “menu engineers.”…

In a changing dining economy, restaurants are turning to a small group of experts who specialize in the science of menu design: “Meet the ‘menu engineers’ helping restaurants retool during the pandemic.”

* Frank Muir

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As we ask about the specials, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Clarence Saunders founded the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain.  His Memphis “flagship” introduced the the modern self-service retail sales model– for which he received U.S. Patent #1,242,872– thus initiating the development of the modern supermarket (and indeed of self-service retail in general).  His Memphis store grew into the Piggly Wiggly chain, which is still in operation.

The first Piggly Wiggly store

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Clarence Saunders

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“I’m not Jesus Christ but I can turn water into Kool-Aid”*…

 

Kool-Aid-Vintage-Packets

 

More than 563 million gallons of Kool-Aid are consumed each year; more than 225 million gallons in the three summer months.  That’s to say, 17 gallons of Kool-Aid are consumed every second during the summer season…

The story of Kool-Aid begins with another hyphenated product: Jell-O. Edwin Perkins—whose father owned a general store in Hastings, Nebraska—was fascinated with Jell-O. He persuaded his father to sell it at their general store and later began selling products directly to customers. Eventually he began manufacturing his own homemade products including perfumes, food flavoring and a bottled beverage he called Fruit Smack. Forming his own sales company and selling his products door-to-door, Perkins began bringing some of his concoctions to the general public. A spirit of DIY and interest in developing products led him to create the precursor to his most famous invention.

Before it was developed by Perkins in 1927, Kool-Aid was preceded by a fruit-based liquid called Fruit Smack.

Fruit-Smack

It was a liquid concentrate available in a few different flavors. Corked and sold in four ounce glass bottles, the product tended to leak or break during transit. Despite Perkins’ intentions of enabling families to use the concentrate to make pitchers of the beverage for a very low cost, he was confronted with a bit of a supply chain problem. Fruit Smack was a hit with the Perkins’ customers, but its fragility created the need for something more economical, easier to transport and preferably in powdered form…

To create his superior drink, Perkins focused on dehydrating Fruit Smack using the proper mix of dextrose, citric acid, tartaric acid, flavoring and food coloring. The rest is sugary beverage history. When Perkins’ original Kool-Aid first hit the market, it had a paltry six flavors—orange, cherry, raspberry, grape, strawberry and the ever popular lemon-lime combo—and it only cost ten cents per packet!

It was originally a wholesale product only available to grocery stores or specialty candy shops. A few years later in 1929, Kool-Aid distribution expanded all over the country, eventually making its way overseas a few years later. Perkins’ operation relocated to Chicago and the Kool-Aid name was officially trademarked in 1934

During The Great Depression, when hard times afflicted the American public, Perkins decided to halve the price to provide a luxury item to people who otherwise may not have been able to afford it. It ended up becoming one of Perkins’ most successful products and he later sold the brand to General Foods in 1953. A packet of Kool-Aid at most stores near me only costs about $.20 today, which is still incredibly affordable—unless you’re trying to buy certain discontinued flavors online, which can get a bit pricey…

From David Buck, via the ever-illuminating Tedium, Kool-Aid– how a powdered mix (and its bulbous mascot) became dominant players in the drinks market: “Thirsty? Oh Yeah!

See also: “Kool Kool-Aid Facts!

* (George) Watsky

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As we stir and sip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Pepsi acquired the Tip Corp. for the rights to their Mountain Dew soft drink, a caffeine-packed citrus soda that currently accounts for about 6.6% of the U.S. soft drink market.  Tip’s eponymous cola brand, a regional player in the Southeast, was allowed to languish.

angel source

 

Written by LW

September 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

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