Snacks used to be those after-school occasions when children savored milk and cookies, or an adult grabbed an apple to tide herself over until dinner. Now snacks are edging in on meal territory, representing half of all eating occasions.

The reasons for this shift are embedded in U.S. food culture. People’s time — and therefore their traditional meals — have become increasingly fragmented, leaving snacks to carry a greater proportion of the physical, emotional, social and cultural desires people have around food, according to The Hartman Group’s 2013 report, “Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors.” For example:

  • 73% of snacking is physically driven: That includes 44 percent hunger abatement, often between meals, plus 15 percent nutritional support to recover from physical exertion or meet specific nutrient needs and 12 percent pick-me-ups for a burst of energy to combat lethargy or mental fatigue.
  • 36% of snacking is emotionally driven: That includes 23 percent “time markers” to create structure in the day and provide moments of anticipation, plus 13 percent boredom alleviation and 6 percent reward, encouragement or temporary alleviation of discipline.
  • (read more…)

It’s one thing to have a corporate food safety program but entirely another to make sure the executive suite is aware of its importance and the rest of the company buys into a food safety culture, experts said at the 2014 Food Safety Summit.

Food safety programs must be well-funded, integrated in all systems and departments, and receive support starting at the CEO level.

For food safety directors, it begins by having an elevator pitch ready at all times to grab the attention of higher-ups.

For Jorge Hernandez, senior VP for Food Safety & Quality Assurance at US Foods, the line is “I’m the one who is keeping you out of jail,” which he used when he met his new CEO for the first time. It got him a meeting with the chief exec a week later, during which he was able to explain everything the company was doing to ensure safety and protect the company from legal liability. (read more…)

As the healthy dining trend continues to gain steam, restaurants are not only competing with each other for consumers’ dining dollars, they also need to consider the growing amount of health-conscious eaters who choose to prepare food at home in order to have control over ingredients and portion size.

Offering a healthy menu with customizable options can help restaurants win these customers back and attract new ones. Crafting a healthy menu doesn’t have to mean a total overhaul, according to Joy Dubost, director of nutrition and healthy living at the National Restaurant Association. Dubost said honoring special requests to put dressing on the side or omit bread or chips can go a long way towards making customers feel as if their healthy eating needs are being met. “Along the lines of customization, I think sometimes people are afraid to either request or ask, and I would encourage folks when they go into the restaurant to ask for a special request or modification to what’s listed because a lot of times that can be accommodated,” she said. (read more…)

As it has historically in lean economic times, pasta came to the rescue for many families during the recession, when tighter budgets brought tougher choices at grocery stores and restaurants. The economy, coupled with consumer leanings towards healthy options and ethnic foods, have shaped pasta trends in both restaurants and on grocery store shelves.

Pasta can run the gamut from indulgent mac and cheese to healthy whole wheat penne, and the pantry staple proved an essential part of recession-era meal planning, but now there are signs that the recovery may have some U.S. consumers spending less on pasta, at least when it comes to cooking it at home.

Overall retail pasta sales declined last year after rising each year during the downturn, according to Euromonitor. During the recession, consumers not only bought more pasta but they switched to private-label brands to keep costs down, the report says. Private-label accounted for 23% of pasta sales last year, and the report predicts that many who made the switch will resist trading back up to higher-priced pastas even as their finances improve. (read more…)

Large restaurant brands today are drowning in data but thirsty for meaning. It’s easy for food and beverage directors to feel lost in the vast sea of positive and negative social media reviews about their menus.

To help clarify all this social feedback, newBrandAnalytics (nBA) just released a report highlighting the top beverage trends that are driving guest loyalty. This research shows how restaurants and hotels can use their online feedback, as well as their competitor’s social data, to ride the waves of the latest beverage trends to increase customer loyalty.

 nBA’s experts analyzed 40,000 social media reviews from 100 of the hottest U.S. restaurants, and isolated those mentions that included beverage references. As you’ll see below, we then separated meaningful from non-meaningful insights to identify specific trending beverage flavors that are driving guest loyalty.

So which wines, cocktails, beers and non-alcoholic beverages are sure to bring guests back for more? (read more…)