Why Local Grocers Matter

Grocery Store

By Brian Brown, President, Ingredient

When I was a kid, I’d go grocery shopping with my mom at the Stater Bros. down the street from our house in Covina, California. We’d always go to the same checker, even if she had a line and others didn’t. She’d absolutely fly over those register keys and hardly looked at the price tags on everything as she rung us up and chatted about our lives since the last time she saw us. She knew all the prices in the store (or thought she did) and she knew us and what we liked and what we usually bought. It was a few moments of friendly banter with someone we thought of as a real friend, punctuated with a slightly more generous dispensation of Blue Chip trading stamps at the end of the transaction than we had earned.

Man, does that make me sound old.

Blue Chips stamps and manual registers are both gone, overtaken by newer ideas, but that Stater Bros. is still there. So are thousands of similar local groceries all across the country—and that’s an undeniably good thing, because I think locally operated grocers are part of the nucleus of healthy communities.

Like schools and civic buildings and churches, grocery stores are where communities mix and meet. It’s where you see your neighbors and the parents of your kids’ friends and their teachers. It’s where your kids (or even you) get their first job bagging or stocking shelves. These are companies where you can start as a teenager and work your way up to leading the entire organization. They’re companies whose success depends on knowing the needs and preferences of their communities. They’re knitted into the fabric of their neighborhoods in ways more intimate than most other businesses.

Because of this, I wasn’t at all surprised to see two of our grocery clients recently named by Consumer Reports as leaders in their fieldGelson’s Markets in Southern California was the top local grocer in the entire western United States and Lunds & Byerlys was tied for the highest score in the northern midwestern states.

These stores thrive in the face of brutal competitive pressure by big box and discount retailers because of their obsessive focus on service, quality, and freshness. Their aisles are filled with new and local brands that haven’t yet made the radar of the big guys. They know the farmers and ranchers in the nearby counties and have decades-old relationships that allow them to get the first and best pick of each year’s harvest. Their employees know their customers personally. They’ve watched their kids grow up and know which one has a peanut allergy and remember to ask how the backyard barbeque they bought those steaks for went. And they have this insight into their customers because these companies are places people can work at for years. Decades. That alone is nearly a superpower the big box guys can’t compete against.

As the competition has evolved, local grocers have, too. More ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook options made with the same fresh ingredients are available throughout the store. New technologies like online ordering, in-store pick-up, and delivery give customers options. Yet, by doubling down on investments in store experience, service, and selection, they are tapping into what research has already proven: Many people like to grocery shop. When grocers create a pleasant experience, share inspiration, offer new products, and participate in their communities, they develop the kind of relationships with their customers that most retailers can only dream of.

Local grocers need to continue to connect with their communities both in person and online. They can leverage their local insights into service and product offerings that prove their value to consumers. Companies like Lunds & Byerlys and Gelson’s are doing that right now. At Ingredient, we couldn’t be more excited to work to elevate these efforts and help them achieve greater success.



The Impossible, Possible

Impossible Meatball Sub

The goal of Impossible Foods is nothing less than saving the planet. Pound for pound, Impossible Burger takes 96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions to produce. One day, they hope to totally replace animals as a source of food.

A noble goal! But it will only happen if they can make a plant-based product that tastes and feels and cooks the same as meat. Have they? In fact, yes. And we know that because we got a sneak peek at how Impossible Burger can be used in our test kitchen.

Our client, Gelson’s Markets, was the first retail outlet in the nation to sell Impossible Burger to the public. Prior to that, you could only get it at a restaurant or fast food location. When Impossible was deciding on its consumer roll-out strategy, they partnered with Gelson’s as their first-in-the-nation retailer because of the southern California grocery chain’s commitment to offering customers innovative and high-quality products, along with a best-in-class in-store experience.

To help build interest in the brand with their customers, Gelson’s worked with Ingredient to prepare for the launch. Ingredient’s culinary content director Neil Bertucci and team created three recipes: a Bolognese sauce, a meatball sub, and lasagna, as well as grilling up Impossible Burger burgers with the burger sauce we previously created for Gelson’s.

“I was impressed with its ability to sear — in some cases even better than beef. That’s when the real flavor comes out. The texture is very much the same as ground beef,” Bertucci said. “Over the years, I’ve tried using other meat substitutes, but they never captured the texture and flavor that beef has. If you cook Impossible Burger with a hard sear, 9 out of 10 people would not know that it’s not meat.”

With recipes in hand, Ingredient set to work creating and implementing a content strategy for Gelson’s launch. By creating inspirational content — video and photos paired with evocative writing — delivered across digital and social marketing channels, we helped Gelson’s and Impossible realize phenomenal success.

According to the Valdosta Daily Times, Impossible Burger was the #1 SKU in Gelson’s Markets for the first two weeks of its launch.[

“I think it was great that Gelson’s entrusted us to develop recipes in support of the launch,” director of content strategy Emily Tritabaugh said. “Working in partnership with our clients to help them achieve their marketing goals is so satisfying.”

It’s not every day we get to do something so good for the planet and help launch an incredibly successful product.


Candy Talk, Episode 26: Lolli & Pops

Lolli & Pops is the posterchild of corporate Instagram fantasies; an adorable name, pastel-drenched packaging, high price point and – judging by their rapid expansion – an interest in complete world domination. Bow to your sensei.

In this episode, we rise above the twee and keep it real as only cynical, joyless Gen Xers can. Is it worth the sky high price? Which one tasted better than it smelled? And were these flavors inspired by Sex and the City brunch scenes?

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Listen to more Candy Talk.


Candy Talk, Episode 25: Candy Bastardizations

Brands are always trying to find new twists on successful products. Sometimes these extensions work, and sometimes…well, bless their hearts.

In this episode, the Candy Talk team puts aside their better judgement and tries a wide variety of products that range from passable to “you have dishonored my family”, discusses epic examples of brands who took things waaaay too far (Hooters Air, anyone?), and debates when adding gravy flavor to candy is a bad idea (spoiler alert: always a bad idea in every possible scenario, for ever and ever, amen.)

And don’t forget to check out the Museum of Failures mentioned in the episode.

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Listen to more Candy Talk.


Candy Talk, Episode 24: Zingerman’s

Do you like your candy bars as though they materialized from 1960s Batman episodes? Zzang! Wowza! Dorf! Ok we made up that last one. But for all the silly-sounding names, Zingerman’s candy bars are some serious confection contenders.

Listen as the Candy Talk team dissects the bars like a delicious high school biology lab, wonders what candy bars we’d make if left to follow our passions, and contemplates if there is an amount of nougat so vast from which there is no return. Don’t miss out: this episode has the Adam West Seal of Approval!*

*not endorsed by or affiliated with Adam West.

And here’s that Zingerman’s video mentioned in the episode:

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Finding the perfect flavor: a conversation with Kerry

Wisconsin-based food science company Kerry is a world leader in taste and nutrition for the food and beverage industry. Boasting more than 900 highly skilled food scientists and nutritionists, along with teams of market researchers, they provide innovative flavor and nutrition solutions for a wide range of companies across the globe.

We recently spoke with Lauren Piek, Kerry’s Digital Marketing Specialist, to get a little more insight on what Kerry’s work is all about and how it impacts the food industry.

Q. What does Kerry do? What types of roles on your team contribute to this work?
A. Kerry began as a dairy cooperative in Ireland, committed to producing real and wholesome ingredients. As we’ve grown, we continue to provide solutions that satisfy a fundamental need: to eat, to eat well, and to be healthy. Kerry’s focus on Taste & Nutrition combines our multi-sensory aroma and texture experience with in-depth knowledge of people, life stage and daily nutritional needs. By partnering with Kerry, customers are taken on a journey to make food, beverage and pharma products that people enjoy and feel better about.

Our teams of chefs, baristas, brewers, mixologists, nutritionists and dieticians, food scientists and technologists, biochemists, engineers, regulatory affairs, sensorial science experts, flavorists, consumer insight experts and marketing experts all work together to address customer challenges and deliver solutions that consumers can feel good about.

Q. Tell us more about what you do.
A. Kerry began as a private dairy company in southwest Ireland before becoming a dairy co-operative in 1974. From there, the company has expanded throughout the globe, with the Beloit, Wisconsin location opening in 2009. Beloit is home to Kerry’s North America Technology & Innovation Center, which is the first of its kind for the company, and laid the foundation for other centers around the world, including our Global Center in Naas, Ireland.

There are nearly 700 employees at the Beloit Center – with a number of research and development labs, customer collaboration areas, and a fully equipped technical center with manufacturing equipment that replicates both Kerry’s and our customers’ production environments.

The Beloit Center is also home to Kerry’s Taste & Nutrition Discovery Center (TNDC), which includes an engagement room and discovery center, where Kerry’s teams work together with customers to brainstorm ideas for concepts, and explore the food and beverage industry through consumer insights and current trends in the marketplace. The space includes a 30-foot interactive screen where customers can explore market research and trends, and a kitchen where Kerry’s chefs can create menu offerings, test flavor options and sample concepts with customers.

Q. What are Kerry’s goals?
A. At Kerry, leading to better is at the heart of everything we do – better taste and better nutrition. We want to help our customers nourish and delight consumers around the globe, through innovative solutions and applications. We are also committed to a sustainable future with our ‘Towards 2020’ program, in which we are working on positively improving our environment, marketplace, workplace and community.

Q: Two hot topics in CPG today are clean labels and sweetening agents. Your Sensibly Sweet study addresses both issues. Can you tell us a little more about it?
A. Sensibly Sweet is a comprehensive study on consumer perception of various sweetening agents, preferences and expectations for new clean label products. We surveyed over 760 American consumers in the United States, utilizing a mix of quantitative and qualitative research techniques in an online survey. The result is a unique insight into consumer preferences of types of sweetening agents, intensity of sweetness and impact on the taste and nutrition of the product.

For more information about the study and to see the results, check out Kerry’s Sensibly Sweet white paper here.


New to Ingredient: Meet Neil Bertucci

Neil Bertucci recently joined us as our new Content Producer, helping to develop and produce recipes for our clients. He grew up in the restaurant industry and has a passion for all things food-related. We can personally attest to his cooking abilities; since he’s arrived, we’ve really enjoyed eating his delicious, creative dishes. We recently sat down with Neil to ask him a few questions and get to know him a little better.

Where did you work before? What did you do there?
Most recently, I was at Bardo Restaurant in Minneapolis. I designed the restaurant and the concept, opened it with a friend, and was the chef there until I left. I grew up in the food industry; my parents owned a restaurant and I owned my first restaurant when I was 23 in Wisconsin.

What made you interested in this job?
I had left Bardo to do freelance photography and help friends with a few restaurant concepts. I found out about this job opening at Ingredient and almost fell out of my chair. If I could design the perfect job, this would be it. I had lived in New York for a while, working for an ad agency and running a restaurant out there, trying to blend my skills. It’s crazy that I found a job that pulled it all together back here in Minneapolis.

Where did your passion for food come from?
From my family, from watching my grandmother. She was a tiny little Italian woman who had 15 kids. She would cook for her whole family, getting up at 5 AM to start rolling out pasta, to make pasta by hand for the whole family. She made insane amounts of food. She was always cooking, and for as long as I can remember, I was right next to her, helping her.

What do you hope to accomplish here?
Of course, I want to create amazing photographs and videos; but even more so, I want to push the envelope. I don’t want to just do what everyone else is doing. I want to create our own niche – to create a trend versus follow a trend. We have all the resources and tons of talent and we are already starting to do that now.

What’s your favorite recipe to make?
I love making pasta!


Food from Our Family to Yours

The holidays are all about food and family; memories of sitting around the table, spending time with loved ones and eating special dishes together. In fact, food memories are some of the most powerful memories we have, because they involve all five senses.

We love hearing about one-of-a-kind food traditions, so we asked our team to share their favorite family recipes – the ones that brought smiles to their faces and reminded them of home. We’re happy to be able to share these family recipes with you!

Tim: Traditional Norwegian Lefse

“Lefse, a potato-based Norwegian flatbread, is definitely a tradition that has been passed down in my family going way, way back. My parents got this lefse griddle as a wedding gift! I make lefse with my family every year around Christmas. I even made it for one of our company’s Monday morning meetings and everyone loved it.”

Ingredients
4 cups milk
¾ cup cream
1 stick of butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups potato flakes
½ cups flour

Directions
1. Heat milk, cream, butter, salt and sugar. Pour cream mixture over potato flakes. Stir until liquid is gone. Leave in bowl with a towel covering partially, cool overnight.
2. Add flour right before you roll into 2-inch lefse balls. Refrigerate as you keep rolling.
3.Using a rolling pin, roll balls on top of flour until the lefse is very thin. Move very carefully to lefse grill. Lefse may start bubbling. Once you see bubbles, flip the lefse. Coloring should only be slightly brown.

 

Stephanie: Polus Family Noodles & Tomatoes

“I know, it sounds weird. And being around our fancy food all the time, it feels like I should upgrade it. But this is how I ate it (no joke) WEEKLY growing up and so, I treasure it! It was our go-to meatless meal, usually on Wednesdays. It was super easy for either of my parents to make – it took just minutes to put together – so we could enjoy it as soon as my mom got home from work.

It’s served with cottage cheese. Salt and pepper required. We usually didn’t mix it up, but now, as an adult who works around food all the time, I might experiment with adding basil, or cooking the tomatoes in some other spices for added flavor.”

Ingredients
1 package egg noodles
1 can whole tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Cottage cheese

Directions
1. Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain.
2. Add the tomatoes and juice from the can. Stir to combine.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cottage cheese as desired.

 

Jenny: Chocolate Whities

“These are my favorite cookies that my mom makes! These chocolate cookies are soft, rich and cakey, topped with a simple white icing – loosely based off an old Pillsbury recipe. Unfortunately, my mom let me name them when I was younger – of course that’s what a kid would name them! – and the name stuck. Tip: They’re actually better the next day. That is, if there are any left…”

Ingredients
¼ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
6 level tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons oil
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups flour

For the frosting:
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Powdered sugar
Milk
Almond extract (optional)

Directions
1. Cream butter and sugar.
2. Blend in egg, cocoa, oil, sour cream, almond extract, baking soda, salt, and flour.
3. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto greased cookie sheets.
4. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes. Let cool.
5. Combine the frosting ingredients until desired consistency. Spoon over cookies and let harden.

 

 


Capturing the essence: Food photography 101

FoodPhotography_image1

Food photography has come a long way since the questionable recipes and muted color palettes of vintage cookbooks. Today’s photos are creative and fresh, using lighting and backgrounds to showcase the wide variety of textures and details that make food naturally appealing.

At Ingredient, we do all our photography in-house; over the years, we’ve honed our skills to create simple, eye-catching images that resonate with consumers. Here are some of our go-to approaches for successful food photography:

Don’t over-style things.

We like to call it “perfectly imperfect.” We gently style the food, keeping it fresh, natural, and timeless. It’s all about being relatable and attainable—not overly difficult or pretentious. We want people to feel as if they can reach into the image and taste the food themselves.

Keep the background neutral.

We use natural lighting and neutral backgrounds to help the food’s organic beauty shine through. Busy backgrounds and unnecessary props can feel cluttered and distracting; when we’re shooting, the food is the focus.

No fake food.

Unlike some food photographers out there, all our food is completely edible. We don’t use any crazy styling techniques like paint, oils, shaving cream or glue (insert horrified screaming emoji here). Everything we shoot is real, cooked fresh in our kitchen, and ready to go. And then we eat it!

Keep a single focus.

We typically use selective focus, or a shallow depth of field, to feature one item, versus an entire tablescape. This allows us to bring full attention to the food and create some drama.

Choose composition that’s best for the food.

With the rise of Instagram comes an increase in top-down food photography. However, we don’t get hung up on any one angle or type of shot. We typically take pictures from a variety of angles—and then simply choose which one makes the food look best.

Recipe shots vs. product shots.

Beautifully styled recipes are easy to photograph, with so many ingredients and textures to draw the consumer in. However, in the case of a single product or ingredient, we need to get creative with the composition! Our team uses design elements to come up with an image that’s engaging and graphically interesting.

These are just a few of the rules we live by—for now. Instagram, iPhones and food bloggers continue to have a huge impact on the evolution of food photography, and our team is always on the lookout for new and upcoming trends!

 

 


Comfort Food That Gives Back: All-Square Restaurant & Institute

AllSquareFRONT

When we create something that helps a business sell food, that makes us feel great. But when our work also helps people succeed…well, that’s even better.

That’s why we’re thrilled to work with All Square, a Minneapolis non-profit institute whose mission is to empower, educate and employ formerly incarcerated individuals – via a craft grilled cheese restaurant.

Founder Emily Hunt Turner, a civil rights attorney in Minneapolis, wanted to create a project in which former prisoners would participate, partly run and directly benefit from the operation. She also really loved grilled cheese. One day, inspiration struck her, she combined her two passions, and the concept of All Square was born.

Located in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, All Square features a delightful menu filled with artisan grilled cheese sandwiches, from basic Four-Cheese to sweet-and-savory Hawaiian and spicy Jerk Chicken, along with a variety of rotating seasonal recipes and sandwiches inspired by the All Square participants themselves. It’s comfort-food at its finest – a must-try if you’re in the Twin Cities area!

But even more impressive is what’s behind the walls of the restaurant: the All Square Institute, a professional development institute that allows All Square Fellows, formerly incarcerated individuals, to earn a living wage and give them the skills and social capital necessary for a bright and productive future.

All Square’s Development & Operations Manager Tommy Harris explains, “Many of our Fellows are pigeonholed into low-wage jobs. We’re trying to help them actively locate their true interests. Our ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism. In order for these folks to succeed, they need to feel meaningfully included in society.”

The Institute’s 12-month program consists of three phases. Phase 1 includes training in restaurant skills and customer relations. Phase 2 helps the Fellows develop a professional foundation, including resume writing, interview skills, and the creation of a career plan. “Phase 3 helps them lay the groundwork for actually executing their plan,” Tommy continues, “We partner the Fellows with folks in their desired career path for hands-on mentoring. We have partners in law schools, business, marketing…pretty much every career field.”

The All-Square Institute deliberately sets a beginning and end date for program participants. “We want to involve formerly incarcerated people not only in our environment but also in greater society, so that requires re-entry,” Tommy explains. “Our Fellows are required to graduate with a business career educational plan so when they graduate on Friday, they know exactly what they’re going to do on Monday.”

Ingredient recently filmed and produced a promotional video for All Square’s Grilled Cheese for Life (GCFL) campaign: a one-time payment that allowed members to enjoy all the grilled cheese they can eat, for the rest of their life. All the proceeds from GCFL directly helped support All Square’s mission to empower people to overcome barriers, develop personal and professional skills, and become gainfully employed.

Up to this point, the majority of the All Square venture has been community funded, and with strong mentors, enthusiastic participants, and fantastic sandwiches, the Institute has a bright future. “Food brings people together!” Tommy smiles, “That’s a huge part of what All Square is.”