This post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Penny Marsh, global director of regulatory compliance at Sensient Flavors & Fragrances, recently completed her second master’s degree — a Master of Jurisprudence in Global Food Law from Michigan State University — when she decided she needed a new challenge. So, she is learning to play the violin through instructional videos she watches on her iPad.

“I like to be challenged and like to learn, so I said, ‘Why not take up an instrument?’” she explains.

That attitude serves Marsh well in her role at Sensient, which requires constant learning as she researches food-labeling regulations in countries around the globe.

Sensient, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., supplies a range of ingredients used to make packaged food products and other goods, and Marsh is responsible for making sure those products receive the correct label that adheres to regulatory standards. Those labels can include: allergens, kosher, halal, organic, vegetarian, free from genetically modified ingredients and other key product attributes. (read more…)

Descriptions including “craft”, “small batch,” “custom,” “limited edition” and “artisan/artisanal” are more likely to influence the purchasing decisions of millennials than they are to sway older consumers, according to a recent Harris Poll. Chefs and restaurateurs are finding ways to feed the trend — the Culinary Institute of America will hold a Crafting Beer and Food Summit in October, bringing together master brewers and chefs to create menus that complement craft beers.

Millennials are driving much of the growth, as they seek out local, authentic and artisan beer, as well as wine and spirits, said NPD Group Vice President Warren Solochek. The trend in food and beverage in general is toward healthier options, but “healthy” means different things to different people, and in the case of beer, wine and spirits, local and artisan are much more relevant to millennials than calorie counts, he said.

“It’s more true of millennials than others, but it’s also catching on with those of us who are a little older chronologically,” Solochek said. (read more…)

Site selection for restaurants is a delicate balance of art and science. Twenty-plus years ago, when I started my career as director of construction for one of the country’s largest restaurant franchisees, site selection primarily fell into the “art” category — we had a few basic criteria such as traffic counts, ABC classifications and general community demographics, but after that we relied on our instincts and experience. Today science has taken over, as smart brands increasingly rely on the incredible troves of data points — both big and small — that now exist on market conditions, customer preferences, demographics, even where a potential customer was five minutes before they arrived in the drive-thru.

The risk of “paralysis from analysis” is real, however, as our team looked to expand our South Florida-based Pollo Tropical brand into Texas, we identified target markets based on several factors: consumer acceptance studies of the brand offering, supply chain efficiency, operational span and the number of stores needed for media efficiency. (read more…)

Websites and technology are pretty much ubiquitous these days, no matter what industry you work in, but there are challenges that can come with incorporating technology into an existing business model, especially in more traditional industries like food retail and restaurants.

As consumers become more connected via smartphones and other gadgets and technology like mobile payment systems take root across industries, it is vital that retailers and restaurants keep pace with technology and keep customers engaged. And sometimes that means facing the challenges that come with such technology head-on and overcoming them.

Mobile payments is an arena in which retailers and restaurants are seeing a lot of change right now, especially with the introduction and increasing adoption of Apple Pay. High-profile chains and smaller merchants alike are incorporating Apple Pay into their point-of-sale systems, just as customers are starting to incorporate paying without cash or a card into their daily routines. (read more…)

A dear friend and avid scuba diver recently said to me, “If you never explore the ocean, you will only ever see half of the world.”

Above water, enjoying the same kind of pure oxygen I’ve been breathing my entire life, is a more comforting environment by nature. Unfamiliar places are the ones we tend to fear. Yes, you’re still reading a restaurant column. I’ll come back to this.

Speaking of oceans, Olo Founder & CEO Noah Glass turned the ICR XChange’s Mediterranean Ballroom blue during a part of his presentation showing a blue pie chart at 75%. It represented the three quarters of all restaurant purchases that are consumed outside of the restaurant property itself according to Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association’s Research & Knowledge group.

The chart on the screen seemed infinitely large — and not just because it towered over the audience in a fifteen foot radius of blue. (read more…)