I recently fell down a retail reading rabbit hole. A biography on Amazon.com entitled “The Everything Store” led me to “Sam Walton: Made in America,” the autobiography of the legendary Wal-Mart Stores founder, one of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ inspirations, perhaps not surprisingly. Walton explained the rise of shopping centers in small towns all across America and how these enabled Wal-Mart to compete against the big city department stores.

So when I sat in the audience of the “Fast casual strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities: Is there still time to get in on the game?” panel at the most recent Restaurant Finance and Development Conference and heard Darren Tristano, Frank Paci, Jim Mizes and Philip Friedman talk about their real estate woes, I better understood the origins of their predicament: a fight for end-caps, as Einstein-Noah Restaurant Group CEO Frank Paci explained. In these shopping centers, a restaurant can either take space in-line or on an end-cap (versus standalone real estate not connected to other stores in a center). (read more…)

In the basement of The Plant, a 94,000-square-foot former meat-processing facility in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, a company called Greens & Gills is raising fish and microgreens in the same “aquaponic” ecosystem. Those greens, including basil, kale and arugula, end up on the shelves at local supermarkets, and on the plates of some of the city’s hottest Michelin-starred restaurants, like Everest and El Ideas.

Greens & Gills is just one of a growing number of innovative food startups that are taking advantage of food/culinary incubators like The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste vertical farm with a business incubator program designed to propel startup food businesses like Greens & Gills into viable ventures.

Meanwhile, every month in California, Kitchener Oakland invites locals to a free pop-up market featuring the latest food innovations from its roster of start-up businesses such as The Living Apothecary’s cold-pressed juices or Wooden Spoon’s jarred rillettes. (read more…)

Every restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, food truck, hospital cafeteria, manufacturer, distributor — every food business — generates a huge amount of data. Data on average checks, typical wait times, cooler temperature, product inventory levels, loyalty card usage rates, social media engagement — the list goes on. And that list grows every day, as new technologies and services enter the market.

But, until recently, the food industry made use of only a very limited amount of this data. Managers would check sales at the end of the night, a process made easier with computerized point-of-sale systems. But as technology infiltrates every aspect of the food industry, and with innovative startup companies looking for ways to improve food operations (see the huge variety of meal delivery startups that have popped up in recent years), suddenly everyone is looking to harness this “big data” and make crunching the numbers automated, immediate, and actionable. (read more…)

It’s no surprise that many consumers adhere to gluten-free diets due to gluten allergy or intolerance, but a growing number of consumers are turning to gluten-free products as a way to live healthier lifestyles. The gluten-free market is already a significant one, and it is poised for even more growth in the coming years. While entering the gluten-free market carries a lot of benefits for manufacturers and retailers, there are certain risks companies should keep in mind when trying to capitalize on the gluten-free craze.

The gluten-free diet is one of the most popular diets in the U.S., Alessio Fasano of the Center for Celiac Research said during a webinar this week. The gluten-free market rakes in about $10 billion in annual sales, and while some of that comes from consumers who eat gluten-free for health reasons, a significant amount is due to consumers choosing a gluten-free diet because they think it is healthier. (read more…)

The post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Traveling around the world has given Howard Popoola an appreciation for the quality and safety of the food supply chain in the U.S.

Popoola, vice president of quality assurance at Skokie, Ill.-based Topco Associates, the nation’s largest private-label cooperative, gained his global perspective early in his career working in food safety for the United Nations. After gaining his master’s degree in food and industrial microbiology from the University of Lagos in his native Nigeria, Popoola became the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Program Manager for the U.N. Food Program, where he was responsible for establishing HACCP systems — a prevention-based process for food safety — in food donor processing facilities in more than 80 countries.

He gained further experience in quality assurance and food safety positions with major food brands, including WestFarm Foods (now Darigold), Kraft Foods and Nestle before he joined distribution company U.S. (read more…)