Good News for Soda Tax Advocates

pouring-sugar-out-of-soda-can.jpgA recent study on the soda tax in Berkeley, the first in the nation, brings good news for advocates of such taxes nationwide. Since January (when the tax went into effect), the city has apparently seen a one-fifth decline in sugary drink consumption.

The study, done by researchers at UC Berkeley, compared soda sales from April through July of 2014 with January through May of 2015 and found a 21% reduction in low-income neighborhoods. Since such neighborhoods are more likely to suffer from the health consequences of sweetened drinks, this is great news for tax advocates. The researchers do concede that there are flaws to such a study and it may be unwise to base too many policy decisions off their work. Soda consumption has already been on the decline, and the public battle between big soda and politicians may have had as much of an effect as the tax itself by raising awareness of soda’s health consequences.

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FreshRealm Aims to Answer Meal-Kits’ Biggest Problem

right_open_stair_freshrealm-1-21-15-0048-1-1.jpgEven the strongest advocates of meal-kits (companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh which deliver recipes and ingredients to home cooks, specifically portioned for a single meal) have had to concede their biggest problem – the enormous waste of single-serve packaging. When each spice in a curry comes in an individual package (not to mention other glaring examples like single scallions or garlic cloves in their own plastic bags), cooks are bound to notice the packaging pile-up happening in their trash cans. Meal-Kit companies have begun trying to address this problem, making sure that packaging is recyclable and can even be returned to the company (Blue Apron in particular has taken this approach). But in the era of heightened food-safety awareness, there’s also only so much that can be done without putting contaminated ingredients in customers hands.

New Start-up FreshRealm aims to solve this problem with their “Vessel” – a reusable 17″ polyurethane cube in which they deliver all their ingredients. Drawers in the cube house not only individual ingredients, but metal plates that help control internal temperature, meaning FreshRealm does not require refrigerated trucks. All deliveries can be made by FedEx, who will then pick up the returned boxes the next day for sanitizing and reuse. So far the system has been so successful that FreshRealm is also selling it to competitors. Terra’s Kitchen, a Baltimore based delivery company, has already signed on.

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Ikinari Steak Comes to New York from Japan, with Prime Rib and No Chairs

The popular Japanese steakhouse Ikinari steak, known for it’s unusual ordering style and standing-room-only dining room, will soon come to the East Village. Ikinari currently has more than 50 locations in Japan, and in areas with a large office population some Ikinari outposts feed as many as 500 office workers a day.

The fast-casual concept allows guests to order the exact number of grams of steak they’d like, which are then eaten at standing tables with a precisely calibrated height. Chef and Restaurateur Kunio Ichinose explains that such tables discourage diners from putting their forks and knives down between bites, allowing the restaurant to move guests through as quickly as possible. That throughput allows Ikinari to target workers with lower incomes than many steakhouses; a 7-ounce steak comes to about $16, a particularly good deal in Japan.

If such a fast paced setting doesn’t seem like your ideal way to eat steak, there may be some hope. Ikinari’s LES application for a liquor license indicates they may tweak the concept slightly for the New York market, encouraging guests to stay a moment longer and possibly even giving them a place to sit. After all, it’s hard to hold a fork, knife, and a beer through a full 7 ounces.

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Whole Foods Denied “World’s Healthiest” Moniker

whole-foods1.jpgIn 2010, Whole Foods successfully took on the name “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” trademarking the slogan on the basis of existing consumer sentiment. But they recently submitted an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to call themselves  “The World’s Healthiest Grocery Store” – a significant jump in status which could indicate plans for more aggressive expansion overseas.

Unfortunately the Patent office rejected the application, on the basis that such a slogan makes a “laudatory” and unverifiable claim. Papa John’s slogan “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” was originally denied for the same reason. One reason the switch from “America’s” to “The World’s” might have struck officials as puffery is that Whole Foods currently has a presence in only Canada, Britain and the U.S. – hardly the whole world. They’ve also struggled historically to push into these overseas markets, where existing chains often have a hold on loyal clientele.

Whole Foods now has 6 months to update and refile the case for reconsideration.

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Salvage Supperclub is a Pop-Up in a Dumpster

29-salvages-supper-club.w710.h473.2x.jpgSalvage Supperclub is the latest outcome of an increased public awareness about food waste: a traveling pop-up dinner made entirely from wasted food and served (appropriately) in a converted dumpster. The chef behind the club, Pesha Perlsweig, believes that they can change diners’ outlooks with each meal. “It makes me happy to hear that a former guest made carrot top pesto or was inspired by a dish of mine,” she says.

Salvage Supperclub has already hosted dinners in Berkeley, San Francisco and their native New York. And while the list of ingredients at one dinner (including bruised plums, vegetable pulp, garbanzo bean water, sweet potato skins and overripe, peel-on bananas) might force some guests to stifle a gag, the NPR reviewer present described almost everything as “finger-licking good.”

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Chipotle’s Health Scares Do Little For Competitors

CmM6g2YWEAAbmDC.jpgAfter their third straight quarter of declining sales, things continue to look bleak for the once-great Chipotle. The company posted sales this quarter down 24% from the previous year, and quarterly profits of $26 million (compared to $140 million immediately before the E. Coli outbreaks late last year).

One might think that such a plummet would be good news for competitors, but so far the opposite seems to be the case, with other Mexican fast food and fast-casual chains seeing a decline as well. Taco Bell’s same-store sales fell 1%, due in part to a decrease in foot traffic despite hefty advertising dollars spent selling items like the “Quesalupa.” Qdoba on the other hand tried to specifically target Chipotle customers, but claims such ads and promos ultimately hurt their margins.

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Major Producers Paying Farmers to Go Organic

With consumer demand for organic foods now outpacing supply, major companies like Kellogg’s and General Mills are now taking the next logical step to meet that demand: paying farmers to go organic. The move makes perfect sense from a profit perspective; organic foods are now at a 47% premium, and their sales grew 11% last year (4 times the growth industry-wide). Experts say this growth would have been even greater, if there had been more organic food to actually sell.

Given enough time, supply should theoretically increase on its own, but the large up-front costs associated with organic certification are a major hurdle for current conventional farmers. Inspection fees for the federally regulated organic label are paid by growers, who also have to cover the higher labor costs associated with organic farming methods when they abandon synthetic pesticides. Yields are also lower, which makes the switch a risky move as well. So Big Food is in some cases bridging the gap, providing start-up funding to help farmers transition and paying a premium for foods during that transitional phase.

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