Popular reads this week involved all – both retail and restaurants. Among the top stories were Lidl’s plan to expand out to the East Coast, hoping to build as many as 100 standalone 36,000-square-foot stores, and also, Kroger ranking as the top traditional supermarket retailer in the world, according to a report from the National Retail Federation. Also most-read was a story about what it takes for new products to make it onto McDonald’s menu.

Other big news included Ahold and Delhaize Group getting one step closer to completing its merger with a public filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the rising trend of black garlic in restaurant dishes.

Here’s the complete list of the top 10 most-read stories by SmartBrief this week:

  1. Lidl outlines US East Coast expansion plans
  1. How new products land on the McDonald’s menu
  1. Report: Kroger is the world’s largest supermarket chain
  1. Ahold, Delhaize move closer to merger with public filing
  1. Black garlic is chefs’ secret weapon for unique flavor
  1. ConaAgra CEO: Brands can thrive if they keep consumers in mind
  1. General Mills adds oatmeal-based yogurt to Plenti line
  1. Baking mix startup succeeds with focus on nutrition, simplicity
  1. Sprouts to add 11 new stores in the 2nd quarter
  1. Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s jump into value meal rivalry

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Global foods and flavors are captivating American palates and chefs’ imaginations, making a strong showing on menus and grocery store shelves. Eight in 10 consumers now eat least one ethnic cuisine a month and 66% of consumers eat a wider variety of ethnic cuisines now than five years ago, according to a 2015 survey from the National Restaurant Association. Diners are eagerly exploring dishes from around the globe, but Latin cuisine may have the strongest influence on Americans’ appetites.

Mexican food is one of the top three most-consumed global cuisines, according to the NRA survey, but Americans are also branching out and exploring flavors from across Latin America and the Caribbean. From Peru and Puerto Rico to Brazil and Bolivia, Latin cuisine is increasingly familiar to US diners as it finds a place on more menus and chefs turn out dishes that run the gamut from authentic to modern fusion.

The Culinary Institute of America launched The Center for Foods of the Americas more than a decade ago, and the research hub eventually evolved into the school’s San Antonio, Texas, campus, which began offering a Bachelor’s degree program in Latin studies in 2014. (read more…)

2016 beverage trends will focus on healthThis past year was all about clean labels and free from claims in the food and beverage industry. 2016 will be all about drinking for health. Consumers will be focused on transparency, the brand story and function from natural sources. The brands that are able to deliver those attributes along with a great tasting product will triumph in the marketplace. Here is a breakdown of trends that you can integrate into your product mix to ensure you stay ahead of the competition.

Spice everywhere

Spices are often associated with various health benefits and add flavor without fat or calories. For example, one compound found in spicy peppers, capsaicin, is linked to boosting metabolism by raising body temperature. Many capsaicin-rich peppers are also known to be high in vitamins and minerals such as manganese, iron and Vitamins A and C. Ginger, another spice that delivers a bold flavor impact without added calories, also provides a warming sensation. (read more…)

With increasing influence, consumer-driven demand for less artificial and cleaner, simpler food and beverage ingredients has driven a host of reformulations in the CPG marketplace, ranging from candy brands to breads and snacks.

Since 2003, The Hartman Group’s business analysts have counted dozens of line extensions of mainstream CPG brands that have attempted a “simple,” “natural” or otherwise less processed positioning. In 2015 alone, we saw an uptick in launches from major brands as well as several corporate announcements regarding systematic, enterprise-wide plans to deprocess their branded foods and beverages to varying degrees. We find many food industry stakeholders wondering if the simple/natural line extension actually produces a meaningful consumer response and can generate significant revenue.

Not all manufacturers are using the same approach when it comes to “simple” line extensions, because they are working in what is largely an unregulated sector. The FDA mainly regulates food and beverage category identities and food safety from the perspective of disease prevention and the protection of public health. (read more…)

News about consumers’ top-ranked restaurant chains held the attention of SmartBrief’s food and beverage readers this week. Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza, Firehouse Subs and Bonefish Grill came out on top in terms of food quality, according to Technomic’s 2016 Consumers’ Choice Awards for Chain Restaurants, and Cracker Barrel won the title of most popular casual chain in a Market Force survey.

News about big food companies investing in health-focused brands was also popular this week. Hershey’s announced it will expand its snack business this year with the launch of the SoFit brand, which includes fruit and protein squeezes and nut and seed packets. General Mills contributed to a $3 million investment round in plant-based snack maker Rhythm Superfoods, and also debuted the first wave of its revamped breakfast cereals made without artificial ingredients. Healthy snacks in checkout lanes at ALDI and Target were also a hot topic this week. (read more…)