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    FRESH FOOD: Perimeter Innovation: Bountiful harvest

    Although price, place, and promotion are essential, products -- particularly new ones -- persist as the linchpins of food retailing.

    While it's a given that a high percentage of new products fail in today's crowded marketplace, retailers can benefit from new light shed on the subject, courtesy of Mintel International's product-tasting sessions at this past summer's 2007 Institute for Food Technologists (IFT) expo in Chicago.

    Specifically, revamped versions of all-American favorites -- think ketchup, peanut butter, and ice cream -- are viewed as the big hitters, while new kids on the block, such as acai from South America and goji berries from Asia, have also proved themselves must-have ingredients for future standout products.

    Over 1,000 food and beverage experts voted for their favorites of the 150 new products sampled during Mintel's tasting sessions, which focused primarily on three specific food trends: "free-from" foods (foods that are free from, or have a reduced content of, known allergens such as lactose or gluten), emerging flavors, and food for improved brain function.

    "We are increasingly seeing everyday foods modified appropriately for a wide variety of allergy sufferers," notes Mintel's Lynn Dornblaser. In addition to often being perceived as better-for-you, "in the future these products will undoubtedly benefit from general health-and-wellness trends. We could even see them become part of the cultural fabric, in the same way that vegetarianism has done in Europe."

    From the emerging-flavors section, the power of "superfoods" such as acai and goji berries was crystal clear.

    "Superfoods are products inherently rich in a variety of healthful ingredients, such as antioxidants, that can improve health or ward off disease. Because of this, we have seen a huge increase in the number and the kinds of products containing superfoods," says Dornblaser.

    Ditto for the rapid growth over the past year or so of products that highlight their ability to improve brain function, says Dornblaser, who adds that while many of the products focus on babies and children, "there is clearly an unexploited market for these products targeting older adults and working executives who need short-term energy boosts for the brain."

    Melissa's unveils mysterious mangosteen

    In what promises to be big news in the culinary world in the coming months, fresh mangosteen from Puerto Rico has finally made its way into the United States -- legally.

    The mysterious mangosteen, often crowned "the queen of fruit" for its powerful antioxidant properties, has been among the most sought-after exotic fruits following a ban aimed at keeping out the Asian fruit fly. With the ban lifted as of July 23, Los Angeles-based Melissa's World/Variety Produce has been working closely with the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to pave the way for the fruit's long-awaited arrival.

    Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's, says that while the supply is at present "so small that only a few stores will be able to offer it initially, this will be a huge story in the coming year, when supplies from Thailand will be coming in for Americans to enjoy."

    Although the mangosteen has been touted for its splendid flavor, Schueller says it's also been suggested that use of the entire fruit can promote good health. "In fact, the whole mangosteen fruit -- especially the xanthone-packed rind -- has been utilized for years in folk medicine to treat a variety of health conditions," he notes.

    Promising health properties aside, Schueller finally got to try his first fresh mangosteen, which he deems "just delicious." Sherry Yard, the pastry chef at famed restaurant Spago Beverly Hills, likened her virgin experience with the exotic fruit to "seeing a unicorn."

    Litehouse spices up freeze-dried herbs line

    Responding to consumer requests, Sandpoint, Idaho-based Litehouse Foods has added cilantro to its growing line of freeze-dried herbs. Available in an easy-to-use flip-top 200-milliliter glass container, the new offering is merchandised in produce departments for a suggested retail price of $2.99.

    Litehouse first introduced imported freeze-dried herbs in 2001, "and they've been a huge success ever since," says Doug Hawkins Jr., Lighthouse's associate marketing director, who notes the freeze-drying process offers a product that retains color and flavor at peak freshness and is easily rehydrated.

    "The consumer falls in love with freeze-dried herbs because of their fresh taste, convenience, and no-waste" aspects, observes Hawkins, adding that sales of freeze-dried herbs peak in the fall and winter.

    The freeze-dried herb line, which includes Basil, Garlic, Red Onion, Dill, Chives, Parsley, Oregano, and Salad Herb Blend, comes in six-pack sleeves, as well as a shipper display including a high graphic header and recipe cards.

    Think5 packs bushel of fruits, veggies in a bar

    Ventura, Calif.-based Thinkproducts, one of the nation's largest natural nutrition bar companies, packs five cups of fruits and vegetables into its new think5 bar.

    Think5 is the newest product to be added to the Thinkproducts family of all-natural, gluten-free nutrition bars, which also include thinkThin (high-protein), thinkOrganic (raw fruit and nut), and thinkGreen (a superfood nutrition bar with two tablespoons of fruits and vegetables).

    The five-cup think5 bar is available in Red Berries (240 calories per serving) and Chocolate Covered Red Berries (290 calories) varieties. A good source of omega-3 fatty acids and naturally occurring fiber, other think5 ingredients include acerola berries, sweet potatoes, brown rice, carrots, parsley, alfalfa grass, watercress, chlorella, and grapes, providing essential nutrients and vitamins and minerals.

    Featuring apples, cranberries, spinach, and broccoli, think5 bills itself as the first product of its kind to offer five cups of pure fruit and vegetables in one bar. With a suggested retail price of $2.79 to $3.29, think5 is in distribution at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Ralphs, and Target.

    La Brea adds snack granola to bakery lineup

    Fans of La Brea Bakery can now get their granola fix in convenient snack form with Nut & Honey Snack Granola. The trans-fat-free granola snack, which offers 11 grams of healthy whole grains and six grams of protein per serving, will be a wholesome addition to the in-store bakery's convenient grab-and-go case.

    Loyalists of cult favorite La Brea Bakery granola will be happy to have an even more convenient way to munch -- as will anyone pressed for time (or short on bowls). Not too sweet and a little bit salty, the low-sodium mixture of grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits found in Nut & Honey Snack Granola delivers bite-size clusters that are easy to handle, in a resealable package to keep them fresh.

    Beginning this month, individual 12-ounce packages of Nut & Honey Snack Granola will also be available to grocers nationwide. For more information contact [email protected]

    Hass Avocado Board targets tailgaters

    The Hass Avocado Board (HAB) has created a game plan for encouraging consumers to include Hass Avocados in all of their tailgating events.

    Jose Luis Obregon, managing director for HAB, is pumped about the promotion's potential. "The Hass Avocado tailgating promotion is firing on all cylinders," he says. "With an integrated marketing program featuring television advertising, Sports Illustrated magazine, online advertising, co-marketing, an enticing sweepstakes, and an intense public relations effort, we anticipate a substantial lift in consumer demand for Hass Avocados at retail."

    Television advertising is the quarterback of HAB's tailgating program, which will kick off on the Food Network beginning Sept. 10, and run through Oct. 7. The programming features HAB's Field of Guacamole recipe, which is ideally suited for smokin' tailgaters.

    In conjunction with this year's Sports Illustrated "Tailgate Nation" multimedia effort, Hass Avocados will participate with online banner advertising on Sportsillustrated.com. Hass will also furnish an e-mail newsletter featuring avocado tailgating recipes and tips to Avocadocentral.com's nearly 25,000 subscribers this month, while an additional 80,000 subscribers on www.allrecipes.com will receive Hass tailgating info.

    Both Web sites will invite consumer interest via an exciting sweepstakes on the specially created www.tailgatingfans.com Web site, which features a grand-prize trip for four to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Nine first-prize winners will receive a Coleman Road Trip Grill LXE for use during future tailgating occasions.

    Posters on college campuses and banner advertising via online college newspapers will further expand avocado category demographics, inviting students and alumni to visit www.tailgatingfans.com to enter the sweepstakes.

    While tailgating parties are popular year-round and accompany a variety of American sports, timing for HAB's tailgating program focuses on the months when football season is in full swing.

    "Autumn is a perfect time for retailers to include Hass avocados in football-themed displays," says Obregon. "Supplies are projected to be steady, and with the cohesive media support of the HAB tailgating promotion, it's a great opportunity for the produce department to gain a greater share of sales supporting this popular pastime."

    Tanimura & Antle's appointment-based trans system a trucker's delight

    Built on a platform of state-of-the-art scheduling technologies, Spreckels, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle is upping its solutions-provider scorecard with a new appointment system that aims to provide customers an unparalleled produce logistics and transportation advantage.

    The unique appointment system "gives our customers the assurance that trucks can reliably arrive and, more importantly, depart within a designated time frame," says Ken Silveira, Tanimura & Antle's president.

    The system interacts with forecast technology to anticipate when product will be ready for harvest, explains Silveira, adding that the forecast data ensures that product is tracked into the system and slated for a particular shipment before it arrives into inventory, which in turn translates "into less storage time, shorter turnaround, and, ultimately, fresher product."

    With an estimated 200 trucks visiting Tanimura & Antle's coolers each day, managing trucks is critical to keeping customers satisfied while maintaining fleet efficiencies. With the new system, average truck turn-around time is 49 minutes, with 90 percent of appointments kept as originally scheduled.

    "Truckers in particular appreciate the consideration, and the fact that when they make an appointment for a particular day, the appointment is kept," says Fred Cauntay, Tanimura & Antle's appointments manager. "They trust us."

    Solving the transportation dilemma is of tremendous value to customers, particularly during times when trucks are scarce. To that end, Tanimura & Antle can alternately source transportation to ship produce at a delivered price, adds Cauntay. Staffed by a seasoned logistics team, "the system works well because it balances the data on our system with the benefit of our experienced employees."

    Each appointments desk is staffed by a person who must be able to successfully manage forecasted schedules in conjunction with communication from the inbound truck drivers, as well as ever-changing supply forces, all of which "combine to make our appointments team a sort of 'air traffic control'" of trucking, adds Cauntay.

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