Farmers, food retailers and restaurants serving fresh food have always had to keep an eye on the weather and that’s never been truer than today, as California’s four-year drought drags on and a frigid winter and unseasonably cold spring in the Northeast brings later harvests for many crops.

“The season’s about a month behind,” said Chelsea Strehse, one of three farm managers at Gravity Hill Farm in Titusville, N.J. “We got started on time with some things in our hoop houses, but the ground was still frozen in March.”

This week, the busy market boasted a bounty of fresh from the field fruits and veggies, including husk cherries, heirloom tomatoes, purple peppers and Asian eggplant.

Since the cool spring turned to hot, wet summer, different crops are reacting in different ways, she said. “It’s a great year for eggplants. They like it being hotter, and they’re holding up really well.”

The rain, on the other hand, is making it more challenging to grow the state’s famous tomatoes. (read more…)

As soon as you walk into Nashville’s Pinewood Social, you’ll notice there are a variety of things to do and places to eat. Will it be a game of bowling today, or a quick dip in the pool, complete with an outdoor menu of mahi mahi tacos and churros? Still more options to choose from: a coffee and tea stand, bocce ball, private karaoke rooms, and a lounge living room.

Similarly, when you walk into the Chicago French Market, perhaps you’ll visit an artisan producer festival, take the kids to visit the Easter bunny, sample gourmet truffles, or enjoy a live accordion concert.

Both hangout concepts like Pinewood Social and food halls like the Chicago French Market are examples of growing restaurant concepts that are blending food with experience. At hangout concepts, it’s about offering food with the addition of entertainment options to attract a wide range of consumers- whether it’s young families, foodies, or experience-seeking millennials. (read more…)

The other day I was in the “ethnic” aisle at our local grocery store picking up some items I needed for a few home-cooked meals. As I strolled past the likes of Mission brand tortillas, Ortega salsa, Kikkoman soy sauce and Goya black beans, the experience at the shelf was unremarkable — that is, until I noticed the Taco Bell-branded taco shells. I had seen them before, but this time, for some reason, I paused. I was in the ethnic aisle. And there was Taco Bell. In the ethnic aisle. Taco Bell. Ethnic? I found myself contemplating the whole Venn diagram of ethnicity and branding in U.S. retail today — and the way our thinking around these issues can create unnecessary redundancy and confusion.

For starters, this is America. Aren’t we all ethnic? The globalization of cuisine doesn’t just affect major metro areas. This is a national trend. After all, you’re just as likely to find Chipotle in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. (read more…)

Cashew nuts are soaring in popularity in the U.S. as snackers seek healthier options, and industry experts expect demand to grow further as snack brands include the nuts in new products and the ongoing drought in California drives up the price of almonds.

In the U.S., they’re increasingly used in plant-based milks and as a base for vegan cheeses, creams, nut butters and desserts like Cashew Milk Frozen Dessert from So Delicious. They’re also part of a growing roster of new products, from mixes by Sahale Snacks to cereals and granolas in Kellogg’s new Origins line to TGI Friday’s branded Happy Hour Snack Mixes.

Cashews make up half of all the tree nuts imported by the U.S, according to the Agriculture Department, and the country imports more of India’s cashew nuts than any other country, taking in 33,898 metric tons last year, up 13% from the previous season, according to the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India. (read more…)

“We need to build a mobile app,” is one of the most terrifying phrases that I’ve heard uttered over the past six months. Far too often, brands jump into building an app simply to check the box and without a thoughtful strategy in mind. Deciding to “go mobile” with no purpose is like deciding to go fishing without a fishing pole: success is highly unlikely without hooks.

The impulse to go mobile is understandable, with more than 75% of mobile subscribers owning a smartphone and the average smartphone user reaching for his mobile phone 150 times a day (or far more in my case). Yes, not having a mobile app in 2015 is the equivalent of not having had a website in 2000. But I cringe when I hear marketers talk about mobile apps as nothing more than another “engagement” tool that simply replace the engagement tools of old. More often than not, marketers view the smartphone as nothing more than a screen that lots of people have and like to look at or a new form factor for a plastic card or a sheet of paper. (read more…)