Archive for the ‘Food Marketing’ Category

Breast Milk Ice Cream!?!? A hit in London

February 28th, 2011

Cow milk is so 1990s...

Yes you heard correctly. Breast milk ice cream. Lactation has never been so in….at least in the U.K. An eccentric ice cream shop in the London called the Ice Creamists started serving ice cream made with human breast milk, calling it “Baby Gaga”.
Strange? Yes. Waste of breast milk that could have prevented vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition in the Donor-mothers’ babies? Maybe. But disgusting it is not, at least according to store founder Matt O’Connor:

How could anyone POSSIBLY say this is disgusting. If it is good enough for our kids, it’s good enough for anyone else.

Mr. O’Connor went on to say, “it’s pure, it’s natural, it’s organic, and it’s free range — and if it’s good enough for our kids, it’s good enough to use in our ice cream.”

The Ice Creamists shop is not exactly your typical ice cream shop, with a parental advisory on their website and scantily clad, lady-gaga look-a-likes wearing Madonna cone bras serving you ice cream made from human body fluids:

Maybe it tastes great, but is it safe? And is it any healthier then regular cow’s milk, as some may claim?

The nutrition in 1 cup of whole milk as calculated by PhotoCalorie:

And 1 cup of human breast milk, according to the USDA’s Nutrient Database:

Calories: 172
Total Fat: 10.7 g
Saturated Fat: 5 g
Cholesterol: 34 mg
Sodium: 42 mg
Carbohydrates: 16.95 g
Fiber: 0 g
Protein: 2.53 g
Sugar: 16.95 g

They are quite similar. Human milk has slightly more calories and fat, but surprisingly much less protein. But what if the donor was sick, like with HIV for example? The FDA cautions against donor breast milk, saying:

If you are considering feeding a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should know that there are possible health and safety risks for the baby. Risks for the baby include exposure to infectious diseases, including HIV, to chemical contaminants, such as some illegal drugs, and to a limited number of prescription drugs that might be in the human milk, if the donor has not been adequately screened. In addition, if human milk is not handled and stored properly, it could, like any type of milk, become contaminated and unsafe to drink.

According to the Ice Creamists, the milk came from women found on an Internet advertisement, and their milk was screened in line with hospital/blood donor requirements. Sadly the city of London is not convinced, removing the ice cream from the shop, amid concerns that it is unsafe.

Unfortunately Mr.O’Connor will have to come up with a new type of ice cream, hopefully not including any other body fluids…

Founder Matt O'Connor

Food Marketing, Nutrition and Weight Loss, Restaurants

Taco Bell Beef – Perfect for the 64% Vegetarian!

February 2nd, 2011

As you may have heard, there has been some controversy over how beefy Taco Bell’s Beef actually is. At first, I was confused as to why this story was getting so much buzz. Is it really that surprising that Taco Bell’s ingredients aren’t locally grown and farm fresh?

The issue lies in the fact that Taco Bell calls its meat Beef to begin with. According to the USDA, you can’t call your food Beef unless it contains the following:

Chopped fresh and/or frozen beef with or without seasoning and without the addition of beef fat as such, shall not contain more than 30 percent fat, and shall not contain added water, phosphates, binders, or extenders.

Here is the ingredient list from Taco Bell’s “Beef”, from the gizmodo blog:

Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate.

The complaint was filed by a consumer that tested the meat and found it to contain only 36% beef, and 64% other stuff. They believe Taco Bell should change the name of their “Beef” to “Meat Taco Filling”, defined by the USDA as at least 40% fresh meat. Unfortunately, Taco Bell’s “Beef” is only 36% according to this complaint.

Taco Bell’s Australian president thinks otherwise. He says their meat is “88% beef” plus water and flavors:

They have also posted a statement online entitled “Thank you for suing us,” falsifying the claim and threatening to counter-sue.

So who’s lying here? It’s tough to tell so far. As far as I can tell, the USDA has not released any statements confirming or negating these claims.

EIther way, I think it’s a non-issue. People who really care about the quality of their beef probably don’t eat at Taco Bell in the first place. On the upside, vegetarians can eat Taco Bell Beef tacos and not feel terribly bad about it!

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Food Marketing, Restaurants

Happy Meals Ban Vetoed by San Francisco Mayor

November 14th, 2010

In a previous post I mentioned that San Francisco is going to ban toys from happy meals unless they meet specific nutritional requirements. The Mayor of San Francisco however, doesn’t think that is such a good idea. He vetoed the ban, saying “parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat.”

This veto makes Ronald McDonald jump for joy! If it were to remain, Mcdonald’s would have to make sure their happy meals met strict nutritional guidelines in order to be accompanied by a toy. Below is a screen shot of the “Healthy Foods Incentive Ordinance,” as it is called:

It would have been quite difficult for McDonald’s to meet these standards without totally revamping their happy meals.

Although McDonald’s seems to get a lot of blame for contributing to obesity, they have made great strides to improve their nutrition labeling. All their foods now come with the full nutrition facts printed directly on the packaging, something the majority of other fast food joints cannot boast. They also offer bottled water, apple slices, or milk as an alternative to fries and coke. Pretty good for a place with such a bad rep.

You can read more about this story here.

Food Marketing, Policy

San Francisco Bans Toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals

November 4th, 2010

San Francisco has become one of the first major cities to crack down on food companies marketing unhealthy foods to children. From now on, in order for a San Francisco McDonald’s to sell a toy with their happy meal, it must be in “meals that have less than 600 calories, contain fruits and vegetables, and include beverages without excessive fat or sugar.” No more 2,000 calorie meals with a side of Shrek for these bay-area children.

With childhood obesity rates soaring all across the country, this seems like a reasonable step in the direction of responsible food marketing. McDonald’s is understandably very upset by this ruling.  ”Getting a toy with a kid’s meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman pleaded.

With their nearly unlimited funding and resources, the McDonald’s corporation should view this as an opportunity to improve their image and increase sales. If Mcdonald’s made a delicious, nutritious 600 calorie meal filled with fruits and milk, parents would no longer feel guilty falling victim to their children’s constant nagging for ball pits and action figures.

Read more about this regulation here.

Food Marketing, Nutrition and Weight Loss

Egg Farm Salmonella Outbreak: A Blessing in Disguise

October 24th, 2010

The FDA has cleared Hillandale farms to sell their eggs again, as a recent inspection has revealed they are taking steps to reduce salmonella poisoning (Entire story here).

For those of you who were unaware, this past summer, public health officials in a few states noticed a rise of cases of Salmonella poisoning. It was traced back to two farms in particular: Wright County Egg & Hillandale Farms, which led to a nationwide-recall of about 500 million eggs. Meanwhile, roughly 1500 people got sick.

It doesn’t take a public health degree to surmise that the results of the congressional investigation were not pretty. According to the New York Times, the congressional report discovered the presence of dangerous bacteria as far back as 2008. Over a 2 year span, there “were 73 instances…in which sponges swabbed on egg conveyor belts and other areas in Wright County Egg’s barns showed the presence of salmonella bacteria, including the strain that infects eggs and causes human illness.” In other words, the farmers knew there was salmonella present in their farms, but according to congress, didn’t do much about it. A really scary thought, considering how many people eat eggs every day.

Unfortunately this seems to be the rule, not the exception.

To the vast majority of animal and egg farmers in America, food safety and responsible farming take a distant back seat to their bottom line. If you could imagine the filthiest, most inhumane, living conditions in which the animals you get your food from are raised, you would probably just scratch the surface of reality. Since we are talking about eggs in particular, lets take a look at chicken farms.

The chickens pictured above can be defined as “Free Range” as long as they have “access to the outdoors.” This could be a small door at one corner of the barn that is open for a short period of time each day. The chickens that aren’t put directly by that door are out of luck.  Not the warm, green, outdoor scene of happy chickens I pictured when reading “Free Range” on my egg containers.

In actuality, Free Range birds tend to be in a dark barn with thousands of other birds. Their feed, which often contains chicken parts, is infused with antibiotics to try to prevent the diseases they will inevitably get living in these conditions.

As genetics research and technology improved, chickens were genetically engineered to grow larger breasts and reach their maximum size in a fraction of the time it would take a typical bird. An incredible achievement for the meat industry, enabling them to make more money per chicken. Unfortunately, the chickens’ legs were were forgotten in this process. Many of these chickens can hardly walk more than a few steps, due to their unnaturally heavy upper bodies supported by their normal legs.

If you buy chicken from the super-market, it is almost certain that they were raised this way, even if the packaging says “All natural, free-range, cage-free birds.” This applies to restaurants as well. Factory farming has become such a profitable business because just about any restaurant or fast food chain that serves meat buys from these factory farmers. Why wouldn’t they? It’s so much cheaper than buying from a local farmer. Chipotle is one of the few major companies that does not agree with this philosophy. You can read about their “food with integrity” here.

This doesn’t mean everyone must become a vegetarian. Buying your meat and eggs from local farmers or Whole Foods can help. Although it isn’t perfect, Whole Foods provides meat that is antibiotic free and usually raised in much better conditions. Eating at Chipotle instead of Qdoba or another chain will help as well.

Sometimes a crisis is needed to catalyze change. Hopefully this was that crisis.

For more information on factory farming and the current state of the food industry, you can read books like: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, or Michael Polan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Food Marketing, Food Safety

The Genius and Horror That is Movie Theatre Popcorn

October 19th, 2010

Watching the new blockbuster at your local movie theatre will probably cost you $10 or $11 bucks. That is, assuming you don’t venture to the snack bar. The large bucket of popcorn is almost the same price as the movie ticket. How is that possible? And can people actually eat all that popcorn during the movie?

It turns out that the high price of popcorn is an ingenious way to minimize ticket prices while maximizing profits. If the theatre kept popcorn cheap and increased movie ticket prices, less people would probably watch movies, and most of that extra money from more expensive tickets would be lost to the movie studios. But if instead they keep movie tickets “cheap,” and charge an absurd amount of money for popcorn and snacks, the theatre pockets all of that money. So essentially, buying popcorn and coke at the theatre keep the ticket prices from rising. But the genius does not stop there. Movie theaters also employ another marketing strategy to increase their profits. It is the same basic idea Mcdonald’s has been using for years.

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser explains how much profit there is in selling coke:

The fast food chains purchase Coca-Cola syrup for about 4.25 a gallon. A medium coke that sells for $1.29 contains roughly 9 cents’ worth of syrup. Buying a large coke for $1.49 instead…will add another 3 cents’ worth of syrup-and another 17 cents of pure profit for Mcdonald’s.”

The idea of super-sizing your drinks seems like such a great deal. The customer gets more for their dollar while the company’s profits soar. Movie theaters are no different. Buying the $8.50 bucket of popcorn costs only cents more to make than the small or medium bucket. So when the cashier says “Would you like the giant bucket for 50 cents more,” of course you will say yes!

But before we get to the nutrition of movie popcorn, theatre’s have one more trick up their sleeves to get you to eat more popcorn. In 1999, a man by the name of Brian Taylor, a student at the University of Michigan at the time, started adding his own seasoning to the popcorn he made in his dorm room. It was an instant hit with all his friends. Brian realized he had something special, so he “contacted a team of flavor experts with over 50 years of experience to help perfect the seasonings.” Now Brian is a millionaire and founder of Kernel Seasons.

Movie theaters started placing his seasonings, called Kernel Season’s Popcorn Seasoning, near the snack stands because they discovered that popcorn sales increased when it was available as a topping.

But onto the nutritious popcorn. According to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “a medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal, the country’s biggest movie theater chain [has]: 1,610 calories and three days’ worth—60 grams—of saturated fat.” Or the equivalent of 3 McDonald’s quater pounders with 12 pats of butter, as they put it. Or the daily amount of calories recommended for a 5’2″ 120 pound woman. So what drives someone to eat the whole bag. Is it the incredible taste of fresh popcorn? Or maybe it’s the salt?

According to Brian Wansink Ph.D., a professor of consumer behavior and director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, it is actually the size of the bucket.

He performed an experiment at a movie theatre to prove it. The subjects in his study were 160 people going to see Payback, starring Mel Gibson. As they entered the show, they were told it was “Free popcorn and soda night” to celebrate the Theater’s one year anniversary, and were given a free soda, and randomly given either a medium or a large popcorn. To try to eliminate good taste as a co-founder, the popcorn was 5-days old and stale.

After the movie was over, the people were asked to fill out a short survey, and their popcorn bags were weighed to see which group ate more.

The results were unexpected: the people given the large buckets of popcorn ate 53% more popcorn than those given the medium.

  • When separated by perceived taste of the popcorn, there was no significant difference between the people who rated the popcorn as gross and rated it as tasty
  • Larger packages stimulated 49% more consumption with relatively favorably rated popcorn (93.7 vs. 62.9 grams), and they stimulated 61% more consumption of relatively unfavorably rated popcorn (92.1 vs. 57.3 g)
  • Those who rated the popcorn as relatively favorable, ate more from large containers than small and this effect was further magnified if accompanied with a person of the opposite sex.

Although they didn’t control for things like stress induced by Mel Gibson’s acting ability, it seems like ordering a large bucket of popcorn makes you eat way more than if you would order the medium. So next time you go to the movies, order the small popcorn, or sneak in your own.

Food Marketing, Nutrition and Weight Loss