This post is sponsored by AFS Technologies.

Scenario planning has long been used in managing resources and making marketing and sales decisions at the enterprise level. But thanks to greater connectivity and mobility, the technology is now becoming a critical tool for the marketing and sales departments, especially in managing consumer goods brands and promotions. We recently spoke with Alex Ring, vice president for trade promotion management at AFS Technologies, who called scenario planning a “Swiss army knife,” as it enables trade marketers and sales to deal with every possible contingency.

What is one of the biggest challenges you see with beverage companies and how can scenario planning help?

The greatest challenge marketers and sales face is the number of beverages and various “flavors” of a brand, and finding the right balance in promotions. If you go back 10 or 20 years, the typical approach was to encourage the salesperson to do the math and make sure they were considering events promotions, different price points and coming up with the balance that would work. (read more…)

There may not be many connections between fine dining and frozen chicken dinners, but Chef Jennifer Johnson is one of them. Formerly a Chez Panisse sous chef under Alice Waters and personal chef to Ann and Gordon Getty, Johnson now devotes her culinary talent to creating premium frozen meals for Hip Chick Farms, a company she founded on a sustainable and ethical foundation with her wife and business partner Serafina Palandech.

Together, Johnson and Palandech create artisan frozen meals like chicken wings and meatballs from locally-sourced and ethically-raised poultry. And the industry is taking note. They were recently recognized as two of the “Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink” by Food & Wine magazine.

SmartBrief talked with Johnson about the path that led her to Hip Chicks Farms, why innovation is so important and the role leaders — especially women leaders — play in the food industry. (read more…)

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…)