Issue 108: 19 November 2010

You may never know what results come from your action.
But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Mahatma Gandhi

Food bites… The evidence-less Happy Meal ban…

Image“… should remind us that the entire idea of fat children is largely a cultural construct, not a scientific one. A hundred years ago, today’s penchant for thin children would have been considered a shocking instance of child neglect. The idea that children weighing over a certain amount are fat or obese has no scientific foundation, as the dividing line between fat and normal is purely arbitrary, representing nothing more than a public health bureaucrat’s notion of where normal ends and fat begins.”

Patrick Basham and John Luik, of the Democracy Institue and coauthors of Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade writing in Spiked on San Francisco’s ban of the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Read more


Editor’s Stuff – Impressive NPD a portent of happier times?


Another rate cut, positive sentiment for retail spending over the festive period, a charging JSE… have we turned the economic corner? Perhaps not if exports are your game, but generally it’s looking optimistic for the food industry in the near term. Surely, too, this is evident in the interesting NPD hitting our shelves of late – something that’s been rather scarce in the past two years or so.

Making their début in the past few months have been Fair Cape’s new Rooiboost functional dairy drink, new one percent milk from Clover SA and Fair Cape, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Shots and new liquid stocks from Ina Paarman, to mention the most striking launches that have crossed my portal/PC of late. And now there’s another impressive innovation from Unilever SA: Robertsons Paste!, a range shelf-stable wet herb pastes and a big break out of this iconic brand’s traditional mould of dry products. 

ImageI can’t vouch as yet for their taste or efficacy in adding zest to one’s culinary efforts, but I like this concept! And here’s why: it perfectly fits the current consumer zeitgeist. And no better way to illustrate what I mean but to repeat this apt quote I used in my newsletter two weeks back from UK food researcher and analyst, Bryan Urbick (who is no stranger to SA): “If lack of time was the key driver towards convenience and thus processed foods, nothing has changed on that front. The current shift comes from people’s desire to return to ‘real food’. Consumers still want convenience, more so than ever, but they’re no longer prepared to compromise on the quality of what they eat. Thus, bringing real food values back to processed food is imperative and becoming a true cost of entry to their success.” You can read more on Robertson’s Paste! here and more on Bryan Urbick’s take on convenience food success here.

Welcome to Scistaff recruitment

ImageFOODStuff SA is now a hub for employment opportunities within the broader food industry, and this week we welcome Scistaff, is a dynamic specialist recruitment consultancy for people in science-based industries with a scientific background.

All SciStaff’s recruiters are qualified scientists themselves with experience in a range of scientific fields. They can assist you in finding qualified scientific staff and they welcome CV submissions from job seekers who can also can view current jobs on offer on their website. Click here for the jobs on offer

ImageTwo year’s old today!

This newsletter mark’s FOODStuff SA’s second birthday! It has been a wonderful journey thus far and my passion for this ‘tamagotchi‘ (as I often think of it – needs endless feeding, watering, changing, nurturing) that I birthed back in 2008 is unwavering.

I trust that FOODStuff SA is in various ways meeting today’s demand for ‘anytime, anywhere, anyhow’ access to informed and trusted content: news, research, trends, in-depth information and entertainment. One of the joys of a website from the publisher’s perspective is the remarkable feedback statistics and analysis that goes with them and my stats are really encouraging: FOODStuff SA is currently peaking at 4 000 unique visitors every month, who are making over 8 000 visits and turning over 85 000 pages. And growing every month, too. And when I started out in late November 2008, my newsletter subscriber database comprised around 1000 names; today I have over 2 550 recipients.

A big thank you to my readers and my very valued advertisers who make it all possible. Gracias! Onwards and upwards!

Enjoy this week’s read!

Email Brenda Neall: [email protected]

Publisher & Editor

 See jobs
here and here.

Local Food Industry Stuff

Clover about more than milk as it works to JSE listing

ImageTurning Clover from a sleepy co-operative into a listed company has been CEO Johann Vorster’s objective since he took the job in 2005. “Before that it was pretty much still a co-operative, run by co-op thinkers,” he says. “When I took over, I invited the farmers to a conference … I explained my plans to move from a co-operative. Our Clover brand is much bigger than dairy. Growth in our business is good for them in their business.” Business Day. Read more

ImageFarming out Africa: a pragmatic take on ‘neocolonialism’

The oft-told tale is that all Africans want land, because that land will secure a livelihood for themselves, an education for their children and a bright future for the family. The truth is often less rosy. No one wants to grow stuff and those who want to often can’t do so very well, despite what some government departments might think. An interesting new idea is taking hold elsewhere on the continent: why not just rent the land out to corporations who actually do want to grow stuff? The Daily Maverick. Read more

ImageBottled draught from Castle

Castle Lager launched the new, limited edition Castle Draught in a bottle to commemorate 115 years of brewing excellence late last week. It will be available in 340ml bottles, in six packs and cases of 24. [No Link]

Yum yum, bubblegum

ImageChampion toffees and apricot sweets, Fizz Pops, Cream Caramels, Nutt Puffs and sherbet in straws. But above all there was Chappies bubblegum – Charl Blignaut looks back at an iconic local brand.

The other day I bought a Chappies. I’d started on the research for this story and I realised I hadn’t chewed one since I was a child. I popped it in my mouth and there it was, the familiar burst of synthetic pink bliss … the shrill tune calling me to the ice cream van, the drama of the veld fire in the empty plots across the road, freedom in the white-trash lands of Port Elizabeth… It’s amazing to think that a talk-show host, a mountain climber and a concert pianist growing up in a bipolar society can share a common cultural ritual. But they do. Chappies has led its market category for almost 50years and it still sells a staggering seven million units a day…. From president to pauper, everyone in South Africa has chewed a Chappies. Sunday Times. Read more

Food Industry News

Unilever unveils ambitious long-term sustainability programme

ImageUnilever has unveiled an ambitious new sustainability plan that aims to double sales and halve the environmental impact of its products over the next 10 years. The initiative will cover not just Unilever’s greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water use – but the impact caused by its suppliers and consumers, from agricultural growers to the packaging and waste water produced by consumers of Unilever brands, which include Dove, Persil, Bertolli, Flora and PG Tips.

The Anglo-Dutch group also intends to improve the nutritional quality of its food products – with cuts in salt, saturated fats, sugar and calories – and link more than 500,000 smallholder farmers and small scale distributors in developing countries to its supply chain. The Guardian. Read more

“Many would say making consumption sustainable is impossible. Our view is that we have to make it possible. We cannot choose between growth and sustainability. We have to do both.”

Michael Polk, Unilever’s President of Global Food. Read more

To get a closer look at the new Unilever plan, visit the site here.

ImageUK: Outcry grows at ‘ridiculous’ waste of fishing catch

North Sea fishermen are throwing away up to half of all the fish they catch every year in what campaigners say is a chronic waste of food. Almost a million dead and dying fish are discarded at sea each year, according to a campaign calling for Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to be comprehensively reformed. Most are tossed overboard because they are too small, of the wrong species or will take fishing boats over their quotas, making it illegal to land them.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the food campaigner and celebrity chef, was so appalled at learning of the level of discards, describing it as an “insane waste”, that he has launched a campaign to get the practice banned.The Independent. Read more

Ingredient winners from HiE 2010

ImageHealth Ingredients Europe expo took place in Madrid this week. The HiE Awards were made on Tuesday night, reportedly among some ruffled feathers. In the weight management section (entered by three companies: Bio Serae and Clarinol CLA, and Pure Circle with Stevia), all three were rejected on the grounds that they didn’t meet the criteria. The rest of the presentation passed without any problems. Chr Hansen won the ‘Sports Performance’ category for L Fermentation PCC, while ‘Best Overall Concept’ was won by DSM for FruitFlow. Read more

ImageFrance’s Lactalis offers to buy 100% of Yoplait

Lactalis, Europe’s largest dairy group, has fired the first shot in a possible battle for Yoplait, offering to buy the French yoghurt maker for an estimated 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion). Family-run Lactalis, owner of the Galbani, Lactel and President brands, did not put a price tag on its offer. But a source close to the matter told Reuters the offer valued the world’s second-largest dairy products maker at around 1.3 billion euros, or more than 10 times its operating profit. Reuters. Read more

FDA cracks down on alcoholic energy drinks

ImageThe FDA this week cracked down on four manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks, giving them 15 days to stop adding caffeine to the products or stop selling them altogether. Dr Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said the drinks appeared to pose a serious public health threat because the caffeine masked the effects of the alcohol, leading to “a state of wide-awake drunk.” After a yearlong review found no conclusive evidence that the drinks were safe, she said, the FDA decided the caffeine in them was an illegal additive. NY Times. Read more

Major conflict: USDA promotes anti-obesity AND consumption of cheese

ImageNotably this story grabbed the front of a recent Sunday New York Times – an exposé about the USDA’s efforts to aid the dairy industry by encouraging excessive cheese consumption. Can the USDA ever reconcile its two mandates, the article queries? On the one hand, the USDA has the task of tackling the obesity epidemic by encouraging healthier eating habits. Yet it must also promote the interests of US agriculture, two missions that are in total conflict.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, a marketing creation of the USDA, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese… Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. NY Times. Read more

Profiling Kraft’s CEO, Irene Rosenfeld: No 4 in the Financial Times’ 2010 Women at the Top

ImageRosenfeld is often labelled as hard-nosed, competitive and determined. “I happen to believe [these are] important attributes of business success, so I don’t apologise for them. It’s fair to characterise me as competitive and determined, but anyone who works with me will attest to the fact I believe very strongly in the notion of servant leadership. I am here to enable the organisation’s success, as opposed to it being there to enable my success.” Financial Times. Read more (free registration req)

Kenya: Cadbury shuts its chocolate division

In a low-profile restructuring that has left staff anxious, Kraft Foods, the new global owners of Cadbury, recently stopped production of chocolates in Kenya in favour of South Africa.

This is the biggest shake-up at Cadbury Kenya and East Africa since US-based Kraft Foods bought its British rival that makes food beverages, chocolate, candy and gum confectionery, in a hostile takeover. Kraft Foods strategy is anchored on cost-cutting and efficiency. The company has been culling non-profitable Cadbury operations globally. As part of this trend, Kraft has closed the chocolate production unit at Cadbury Kenya factory and has been importing the products from South Africa over the past five or so weeks. Read more

US: The 22nd DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation

ImageDuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers has announced its annual packaging innovation awards. This year the focus was on the essential elements needed to drive breakthroughs in packaging. “Innovative new developments, along with cost/waste reduction and improved sustainability, are what packaged goods companies and retailers are seeking to respond to consumer needs. These winners demonstrate the kind of collaborative innovation that is needed to solve such multi-dimensional problems,” said the judges. This new aluminium bottle, pictured above, was a top winner in the category “Excellence in innovation, cost/waste reduction and sustainability”. FoodProcessing. Read more

ImageWorld’s first robot milker unveiled

The world’s first robotic rotary dairy which maximises milk production while minimising labour is to be unveiled in New South Wales, Australia. The prototype is being hailed as revolutionising Australia’s dairy industry, with the potential to significantly increase productivity and change the lifestyle of farmers. FoodBev. Read more

Food Trends, NPD and Marketing Stuff

Crossing the Gap: Opportunities in communicating sustainability to consumers

ImageConsidering the scope of Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability efforts and money invested, it’s increasingly clear that a vast majority of corporate sustainability activities undertaken by today’s companies go relatively unnoticed by consumers.

This new report from The Hartman Group notes that consumers, when asked how they visualise companies in the context of sustainability, are drawn by how a company treats its employees, distributes wealth within communities, treats animals and finally cares for the environment. Additionally, and importantly, consumers say that personal benefits (eg mitigation of health risks, “high” quality, cost savings, etc) from sustainability is one of the most important facets.

And yet, look around at how CSR and corporate sustainability actions are reported in the media and in press releases today: Typically you’ll see great emphasis placed on actions undertaken in the environment or in energy, with less emphasis placed on the social actions, community efforts, employee satisfaction or personal benefits companies provide and bring to consumers. The Hartman Group. Read more

Getting the “low, light and reduced” product challenge right

ImageThe changing nature of the relationship between consumers and food is an increasingly debated topic, with growing obesity levels grabbing tabloid headlines and inspiring government action. While today’s consumers can afford to eat as much as they want, they’re also being educated that too much salt, fat and sugar is bad for them. This has led to the twin macro-trends of ‘food for pleasure’ and ‘we are what we eat’ sitting alongside the third well-recognised trend of ‘food which fits our hectic lifestyles’.

Low fat (or salt, or sugar) foods are a direct attempt to exploit these trends. But how should food manufacturers decide which products will flourish from the low/light/reduced treatment, and how should they present them to the market? FoodBev. Read more

UK: Cabbages shake off image of most unloved vegetable

ImageThey were once regarded as one of the most unloved vegetables, but cabbages are staging a healthy comeback. Endorsements by celebrity chefs have helped to boost sales of the vegetable, with latest figures reporting a boost in sales of half a million extra sold across all retailers in the past three months compared with a year ago, meaning sales have reached their highest level in living memory with more varieties on sale than ever before, according to research released by Tesco. The Telegraph. Read more

Nutrition and Health Stuff

New Nutrition Business: No change after three decades of dietary advice * FOODStuff SA Exclusive!

ImageDo dietary guidelines serve any useful function? Are they little more than a vague mission statement, aspirational yet irrelevant? Do they influence only the eating habits of the most-informed, most health-conscious consumers?

It is an unavoidable and uncomfortable fact that in the 30-odd years since the dietary guidelines first appeared our diet and health appears not to have improved but to have got worse. The last three decades has seen continuously rising rates of overweight and obesity and diet-related diseases in most countries. FOODStuff SA. Read more

Bisphenol A levels in food too low to pose health problems

ImageFood is the major source of exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) but that levels of the chemical in the human body are very low and quickly eliminated, said an international panel of experts from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The international meeting, which was attended by 30 scientists in Canada recently, said that BPA is migrating from food packaging, such as plastic containers (including baby bottles) and coated food cans, into the food – but raised no concerns about their levels. It also concluded that other sources such as house dust, cash register receipts and thermal papers, are of “minor relevance”. FoodProductionDaily. Read more

ImageWhy chocolate protects against heart disease

Numerous studies have shown that cocoa has a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The reason for this has now been uncovered by researchers in Sweden. When a group of volunteers devoured a good-sized piece of dark chocolate, it inhibited an enzyme in their bodies that is known to raise blood pressure. Science Daily. Read more

Discovery of ‘fat gene’ raises hopes for fighting obesity

ImageThe mystery of why some people stay thin without effort while others have continually to fight off the fat has come significantly closer to being solved with a study showing that a single gene can affect appetite. Scientists have found convincing evidence to support the idea that the “fat gene” affects how hungry someone feels, which has a direct effect on how much food is eaten and how much fat is accumulated in the body. The Independent. Read more

ImageObesity’s link to sense of smell

People who are overweight have a greater sense of smell for food, a study has found. Researchers from the University of Portsmouth say their early findings may go towards explaining why some people struggle to stay slim. Experts already know that part of the brain that processes information about odour is also connected to the feeding centres of the brain. BBC. Read more

Low fat diets could increase heart disease risk, say experts

ImageThere is strong evidence that replacing fat with carbohydrates could be harmful to health, according to nutrition experts at the ADA conference in Boston recently. Recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake are largely based on the notion that high levels increase risk of cardiovascular disease, but unless saturated fat is replaced with other fats, many studies have suggested that fat reduction could increase risk of heart disease … Four leading experts presented evidence suggesting that low fat diets may be less healthy than those containing at least a moderate amount of fat. In particular, all four agreed that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates – as has been widely recommended in the United States – is likely to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Food Navigator-USA. Read more

Wine Stuff

SA’s dramatic improvement in wine quality

ImageOne of the most significant changes across the broad face of the South African wine industry in the past decade has been the dramatic improvement in the quality of the wines produced by the major wholesale merchants. Here it is worth bearing in mind that a couple of corporates account for at least 50% of the nation’s wine sales (a figure which, in Australia, for example, may even be higher).

The brand names under which these wines are sold are well enough known to serious wine lovers — many of whom are probably slightly dismissive of them. This “unworthiness of the big brands” is driven by the snobbery of “small is beautiful”. The truth is that all the big players have upped their games… Business Day. Read more

Van Loveren Wines: if people will drink it, they make it

ImageThirty years may be the blink of a Bacchanalian eye, but the Retief family has managed to pack a heck of a lot in: Van Loveren is the largest family-owned SA winery and their Four Cousins brand, celebrating its 10th birthday, is the largest in SA.

One secret to Van Loveren’s success has been its model as a “one-stop wine shop” – if people will drink it, they make it. The second was to concentrate on the local market. With exports around 10%, they are laughing all the way to the bank as unfavourable exchange rates drive their neighbours to the wall. “The ANC will not have to nationalise farms here. The exchange rate is making farmers bankrupt.” Times Live. Read more

Clues to developing low allergenic wines

ImageCertain ingredients in red and white to cause allergy-like symptoms that range from stuffed up noses to headaches to difficulty breathing. So-called wine allergies occur in an estimated 8% of people worldwide. Only 1% of those involve sulfites, sulfur-containing substances that winemakers add to wine to prevent spoilage and also occur naturally. But the wine components that trigger allergies in the remaining 7% are unclear.

Studies suggest that glycoproteins — proteins coated with sugars produced naturally as grapes ferment — may be a culprit. However, scientists knew little about the structure and function of these substances in wine. Now, a new study in ACS’ monthly Journal of Proteome Research has uncovered 28 glycoproteins, some identified for the first time. The scientists found that many of the grape glycoproteins had structures similar to known allergens, including proteins that trigger allergic reactions to ragweed and latex. The discovery opens to door to development of wine-making processes that minimise formation of the culprit glycoproteins and offer consumers low-allergenic wines. Read more

Food Science Stuff

The inherent conflict between Big Food, Big Agra and the Research University

ImageWell-known American nutritionist and food scientist Marion Nestle, talks with Academe about conflicts of interest between food companies and academics….

Marion Nestle: In my field, sad to say, conflicts of interest between food companies and academics are rampant but rarely recognized as such. As I document throughout Food Politics, soft-drink companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo lose no opportunity to sponsor professional meetings; provide training positions; send free samples and technical materials; and support professional newsletters, teaching materials, and journals. The sponsorship list of any nutrition professional society is likely to contain dozens of food companies, and many university nutrition departments actively seek support from food companies. Academe. Read more

Image“Hot” Stuff

A perk of our evolution: pleasure in pain of chillies

Some experts argue that we like chillies because they are good for us. They can help lower blood pressure, may have some antimicrobial effects, and they increase salivation, which is good if you eat a boring diet based on one bland staple crop like corn or rice. The pain of chillies can even kill other pain, a concept supported by recent research.

Others, notably Dr Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania, argue that the beneficial effects are too small to explain the great human love of chilli-spiced food. “I don’t think they have anything to do with why people eat and like it,” he says. Rozin, who studies other human emotions and likes and dislikes (“I am the father of disgust in psychology,” he says) thinks that we’re in it for the pain. “This is a theory,” he emphasises. NY Times. Read more

Why does spicy food taste hot?

Why does spicy food taste “hot”? After all, a chilli pepper at room temperature will still “burn” our tongue and cause us to sweat. We’ll crave ice-cold water and wave our hands frantically in front of our face. To answer this question, we need to investigate the physiology of taste. It turns out that capsaicin – the active ingredient in spicy food – binds to a special class of vanilloid receptor inside our mouth called VR1 receptors. Wired. Read more

Weird, whacky and wonderful stuff!

ImageThe French dinner table – now a UN heritage site

The ritual of the long and detailed French meal was yesterday declared part of the world’s official, cultural heritage. A committee of the UN cultural organisation, Unesco, decided that the French mealtime tradition, and the place of food in French history and society, should be included in its list of the “intangible” jewels of mankind. The Independent. Read more

Consider the avocado

ImageA fruit of fat. What a splendid contradiction, a snook cocked at joyless nutritionists. I’ll eat my fill, thank you very much, on a fruit gunging with oil, slicked with lipids and mushy with adipose loveliness. OK, so avocados have vitamins and fibre and more potassium than bananas, but the fruit is up to 30% fat, like gorgeous, amber-marbled beef. It’s nature’s way of giving something back. The word comes from “ahuacatl” which, the smuttier among you will know, was Aztec for testicle. The Guardian. Read more

Revisiting the myth of the McDonald’s Burger that just won’t rot

ImageThere’s nothing magic, sinister or evil about the non-decomposing McDonald’s burger – a hyped story that has generated reams of disgusted blogging in recent months. The Burger Lab got serious on the science behind its longevity with a detailed experiment and came up with some very mundane conclusions – and no mystery – as to why this indeed the case. As the intrepid researcher comments: “For all of you McDonald’s haters out there: Don’t worry. There are still plenty of reasons to dislike the company! But for now, I hope you’ll have it my way and put aside your beef with their beef.” The Burger Lab. Read more

ImageUK: Couple arrested over ‘smoke and run’ restaurant fraud

A Latvian couple who ducked and ran off without paying huge bills at upmarket restaurants in the UK have been nabbed after being caught in the act at yet another top eaterie. The Guardian. Read more

And finally… the scurrilous Ben Travato on “Clamping down on McFatty meals” 

ImageSan Francisco’s board of supervisors has taken the initiative by banning restaurants from giving away free toys with the glutinous filth they pass off as food…

It’s hard to believe this is San Francisco – a city where, not long ago, you could drop by your neighbourhood bar for a shot of bourbon and two grams of coke before heading home with three willowy blondes – male or female, it didn’t matter… Often, the only way to get a child to eat is to give him a bribe. Or a punch in the head. But bribes work better in the long run. There is nothing wrong with luring children into McDonald’s with the promise of a toy. We’re not talking about sweeties laced with hallucinogenics. We’re talking about Snapper Brainbot, Metro Man and Sugarbunnies. All of which, I have to admit, sound like types of acid…. So, anyway. San Francisco – the city that took away the toys and gave the world Aids. Far out, man. Sunday Times. Read more [Hilarious take on this topic by The Whipping Boy, Ben Travato. Ed]

That’s all the stuff for this week, folks!