5 Things We Learned at the Sweets & Snacks Expo

The other day, a group of us braved the center seat to make our way to Chicago to partake in the National Confectioners Association Sweets & Snacks Expo. As promised, there were both sweets and snacks to be seen as far as the eye could see. So. Many. Aisles and aisles lined with innumerable vendors, all giving out samples. Needless to say, we had a light dinner that night.

The purpose of our trip was to get an idea of where the trends in the rapidly growing snack category were heading. Here are five of the key take-aways we…well, took away.

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Pizza as the key to happiness

heggies pizza squaresNot being from Minnesota originally, I have to admit I was not familiar with Heggies Pizza. Then we started working with them and I realized there are two types of people: Those who love Heggies Pizza and those who’ve never tried Heggies Pizza.

While working on this project, I learned that there are a lot of people at Ingredient who love Heggies. Also that square cut is superior to triangular cut (at least when it comes to pizza with thinner crusts). Oh, and that Heggies has one of those qualities all brands crave: Deeply ingrained authenticity. Heggies is more than pizza, it’s a companion to some of life’s best times. It’s simple and good and made with a ridiculous attention to detail and quality.

Find out more about our work with Heggies on their case study page.

World’s best food

sweet me creamery vanilla ice creamBeing part of a new brand launch is always exciting, especially when the brand is also quite easily my favorite food in the world: Ice cream.

Sweet Me Creamery is a brand new label in the crowded ice cream category. The photoshoot we did for them was one of the most interesting I’ve been involved with if only because it involved playing with liquid nitrogen (not something I’d advise you try at home) and, of course, SO MUCH ice cream. I mean, not all of it was manhandled during the shoot.

Besides the shoot, we’re doing a ton more stuff for Sweet Me. Check out the case study page for more details.


How now, brown cow?

sweet meadows farms jersey cowsWalking in a biting cold wind on a farm path squishy with mud to meet some brown cows is not how most days start for those in marketing, but when you’re very lucky, they do.

That was the scene as we visited one of three dairy farms that supply milk for our new client, Sweet Meadows Farms. Sweet Meadows is different than typical milk in that it’s from cows who are pasture-grazed. As much as possible (seasons and weather permitting), these girls hang out with their hooves planted in sweet green goodness, walking and chewing and being the very image of what you think of when you imagine a dairy cow.

The most rewarding part of the trip for us, though, was meeting the dairy farmers whose lives are dedicated to a type of dairy farming that’s more about animal welfare and land stewardship than it is a drive towards the greatest efficiency and lowest costs. These are people whose jobs and lives are integrated in ways those of us who depend on their efforts for our food too often fail to appreciate.

You can find out what we did for Sweet Meadows on their case study page. We’ll be a heading back to the farms later this year to capture photography and start the process of developing content that, like their milk, is fresh from the lives of the farmers.

Words have meanings

The Washington Post published an article yesterday calling into question the veracity of milk produced by Aurora Organic Dairy and marketed under the store brands of Walmart, Costco and others as organic milk. As the story relates, part of the USDA organic requirements for milk producers is that the cows be pasture grazed when seasonally available. Grass-fed cows produce a milk that is higher in certain chemicals and lower in others when compared to conventionally-produced milk. When the Post’s reporters visited the 6,000 acre dairy, they noticed that a relatively small percentage of the cows were in the pasture and most were in feed lots. Chemical analysis of the milk showed the Aurora’s looks very much like conventional milk and not like other organic brands.

Nobody is claiming the Aurora milk is unsafe. There’s no reason to believe it is. This is a question of perception and the value consumer’s place on that perception. In this case, organic milk can be twice as expensive as conventional based on a consumer perception that it’s healthier. But when producers bend the rules like this and are caught doing so, it damages consumer’s trust in the words we use to market food. How will the Post’s expose impact other organic milk producers who follow the USDA rules? Or other organic brands across the grocery store?

It’s true that state and federal inspectors should have caught Aurora’s apparent misrepresentation, but they didn’t. But this was a case in which there’s a specific standard in place. Much of the time, food is marketed using terms that don’t have a clear definition. Or they’re used in application in which they don’t apply (GMO-free water, for example). The misuse, over-use, or inappropriate application of labels in food marketing create an environment that leads to consumer distrust. Lacking a centrally authoritative organization to ensure they’re used correctly, it’s up to brands and their marketers to ensure claims made about the food they produce are accurate and grounded in facts. To do otherwise erodes the ability of all food producers to create an environment of trust with their consumers.

Hero of the relish tray

I was talking to a friend the other day about Thanksgiving and he asked what my favorite part of the dinner was. I didn’t even have to think. I knew immediately.

The gherkin pickles.

I know! The weird, pimply relish tray outcasts that I’m sure in 90% of American households in which they appear end up in the compost pile once the table is cleared. But I love the little devils and only eat them twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Usually, I eat one right off. First thing, I chomp down on the cold, sweet crispness leaving only the tiny tail end where the stem is (which, I’m sure, is also edible, but whatever — this is my fetish and I’ll do it my way). Then, as I progress through the dinner, I try and get the perfect ratio of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (call it what you want, my people say “stuffing”), and gravy on my fork and into my mouth so I can top it off with a bite off a sweet lil’ gherkin. Mmm…perfection.

So crunchy. So sweet.

The first Thanksgiving I had with my wife’s family, there were no gherkins and it was deeply disappointing and I try not to think about it. Next year, they were there in a lovely little crystal three-part dish but I have no idea what was in the other two parts. They could all be filled with gherkins, as far as I’m concerned. So yes, my mother-in-law does buy these tiny pickled pieces of perfection solely for my benefit and I’m deeply grateful.

This Thanksgiving, give the lowly gherkin some respect. Or leave them for me, even better.

Welcome to Ingredient

The idea that eventually became Ingredient was conceived, like a lot of good ideas and perhaps quite fittingly, over a meal. Specifically, a lunchtime pitstop with Ken and Emily at Hello Pizza following a meeting with our client Lunds & Byerlys. We’d been working with food clients for years, but L&B was an opportunity for us to branch out in ways that we really enjoyed but were also, it turns out, pretty good at.

I remember saying, this is what we need to do more of. Not eat pizza (but that’s OK, too). Market food and food culture. Brands and companies involved with making, eating, talking about, living with, or selling food. We had a passion and a talent and a unique team capable of so much more than the work in front of us to that point gave us opportunity to do. So we all agreed to set a course on that day that leads us to this one. A path that allows us to exercise our enthusiasm more fully.

The thing about food that makes it so exciting to us is that it’s such an intimate thing. Of the handful of actions we all do every day as humans that are central to our survival (go ahead, count them – four things? five?) preparing and eating food is the only one we routinely do communally. The one that’s not only socially acceptable to happen with and in front of your friends, family, and loved ones, it’s actually enhanced by doing so. And the lenses though which people perceive and value their ever more numerous food options are more complex than ever before. That creates an incredible opportunity for those willing to dig into it. We relish that challenge.

The path to Ingredient wasn’t straight and it wasn’t short, but it finds us here, today. We launch Ingredient with a great deal of hope and excitement and passion. We strive to tell the stories of similarly passionate creators of food products or the culture that surrounds them.