Tag Archives: Food Industry

Burgers, Beverages, Orgasms – Just Push The Button!

Toledo is not only blessed with thousands of years’ worth of culture, breathtaking views and the most horrid fountain in municipal water feature history, but it has now officially joined the ranks of elite cities, where all human desires can be satisfied in one garish vestibule at the click of a button. Move over Tokyo!

This is what popped up in the main shopping street in Toledo’s historic city centre a few months ago:

Pica y pica

A “shop” featuring no doors, no staff – just orange slot machines, ready and waiting to cater to your every whim. There’s even a tape recorded message welcoming you.

Pica y pica vending machines

Fancy a cow burger? A porky? A Hannibal?  Or perhaps an intergalactic orion? (I’m 99.9% certain that this is a typo and should have read “onion”)

Now, if someone could perhaps explain to me why anybody would want a soggy burger that’s been festering in a metal bio hazard box for three days, when there’s both a McDonald’s AND a Burger King just around the corner…? If only I could be bothered to loiter outside this dreary dispensary at 3 am, I’d probably get my answer…

As to the establishment’s name, “Pica y Pica”, the verb “picar”, in colloquial Spanish, means “to grab a bite” or “to nibble”. It also means “to itch” and/or “scratch”. Evidently, those in need of scratching a particular kind of itch are well served by this outlet:

Vibrators

Do the “diamonds” change colour, I wonder, the closer you get…?

Blow up doll

Never mind the furry cuffs. My attention was seized by Romping Rosy designed for men with a dwarf fetish. Any guesses as to whether she’s got hairy Hobbit extremities leading up to her “love passage”?

Easy Beat Love Egg

Another one for the boys to have a crack at. Or, rather, insert into same such.

Ah. NOW I understand the facial expression of the guy on the top left:

Vending Machine Enjoyment

It’s not just the potato chips that are stoking his bliss…

I think I’m ready for cake…

 

 

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The Unhealthy Truth About Food And Sex

There is an intimate link between food and gender, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Forget perky asparagus, squelchy oysters, slippery figs and anything else imbued with folklore or aphrodisiacal connotations. It’s much more basic than that:

Salad, fruit, vegetables, smoothies, chocolate, Baileys: Women’s food/drink

Steak, sausages, pork pie, burgers, potatoes, vindaloo, beer: Men’s food/drink

As absurd as this ad hoc dichotomy may seem, it presents an eternal headache for public health organisations and food marketers alike.

Chocolate's for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise....

Chocolate’s for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise….

I vividly recall an episode of The Apprentice (UK edition) that aired well over a decade ago, in which a corporate scion, tasked with evaluating a fresh-faced crop of budding executives, barked at a softly-spoken, young Asian candidate: “Go and eat some red meat!”.

Meanwhile, Japan is experiencing a well-publicised social movement, in which young men renounce the traditional male role. Instead of turning into slavish “salarymen” chained to their corporate desks 16+ hours a day, they go for jobs they actually enjoy, actively cultivate the more sensitive and empathetic sides of their personalities, and spend their free time shopping and socialising with their (strictly platonic, ahem…) girlfriends. These guys are referred to as “herbivore men” (as opposed to their traditional “carnivore men” counterparts). [Here is an article on this fascinating subject, if you’re interested in global/national social trends]

Is he less of a guy...

Is he less of a guy…

...than that one...?

…than that one…?

One fact that I’ve always found baffling is that average male life expectancy consistently trails behind that of women. In most countries, the difference is around three years. Why is that?!

Not only do men have much more power than women, but, save for a set of precariously vulnerable, dangly goolies, their bodies are far less complicated than those of females. I mean, just take into account the ravages of pregnancy, followed by the potential damage (including death!) that can occur when pushing out multiple ten-pound sprogs, then having your life energy sucked out of your mammaries for months on end – men suffer none of these physical tribulations. Putting up some shelves at the weekend, rummaging around underneath rusty cars, and, perhaps, a few drunken pub brawls in their youth… I dare say, it doesn’t quite compare.

As I see it, the reason why men pop their clogs so early essentially boils down to this: They just don’t look after themselves. And eating some green stuff every once in a while plays a major part in this. They consider their bodies to be “machines”, obliged to yield to their will. Every warning sign emanating from within, like a twinge of chest pain or bleeding from the eyeballs, is staunchly ignored, until it’s way too late, until no amount of roasted aubergines on a bed of arugula will save them.

Unlike women, men are under far less pressure to maintain a healthy body weight. While an overweight woman is constantly reminded of her unsightliness, a man is allowed to parade his paunch around with pride. In Bavaria (where I’m from) reigns the popular saying, “A man without a beer belly is a cripple”.

Men don’t diet. If anything, they work out. Or, failing that (as most of them do), they watch a  bunch of young louts kicking a pig’s bladder about.

Diet CokeNearly a decade ago, in 2005, The Coca Cola Company came up with a stroke of marketing genius, touted as its first “new” product launch in 22 years: Coke Zero.

I’ve put “new” in quotes, because, as we all know, the company’s sugar-free cola has been around for donkey’s years, in the guise of Diet Coke (or Coca-Cola Light, as it is marketed in Europe and elsewhere). However, it is downright impossible to sell anything bearing the words “diet” and/or “light” to a bloke. Heaven forbid!

Coke Zero, aimed squarely at the boys, has been a roaring success. In 2013, 3.7 billion litres of the stuff were guzzled up globally, and sales are still on the up, while those of Diet Coke are in dismal decline.

Even in Korea...

Even in Korea…

Another food that men just wouldn’t touch for fear of their chest hair falling out is yoghurt. Yoghurt – some of which is *pink*, for Pete’s sake! – is a girlie food, fair and square. Or, rather, that’s how it was until the still fairly recent kick-off of the “high protein trend”. (If it hasn’t hit your corner of the world yet, don’t worry, it will.)

The high protein trend is the biggest thing in the US’s packaged food market right now, and it all started on the back of Greek yoghurt, which, due to how it is processed, contains slightly more protein than standard yoghurt. And since protein = muscle = manliness, clever marketers seized this golden opportunity to convince yoghurt-spurning males that a pot of fermented dairy was every bit as macho as a steak.

Dannon's (Danone in Europe) Oikos yoghurt promotion

Dannon’s (Danone in Europe) Oikos Greek yoghurt promotion

Powerful Yogurt

As always, I’d really love to hear from my readers – are there any foods or drinks in your part of the world that suffer from a cultural gender bias? Are the words “high protein” spreading like small pox over all manner of food packaging in your local supermarket? What are the male vs. female attitudes to (healthy) eating in your (host) culture? Any thoughts on and around this topic are greatly appreciated 🙂

Food Industry Ads: Meat Couture…?

When I posted my seminal collection of questionable food industry ads last week, I hadn’t yet come across this little gem:

BelgianMeatOffice

They’ve decapitated Miss Piggy!!! And feeling mighty proud of it, too…

Any educated guesses as to what that white de-limbed specimen in the back might be will be most gratefully received. A cat crossed with a bleached zebra is where I got to.

All that’s missing for a bit of glamour is a headless chicken strutting across the red carpet…

Please, Belgians, please, I’m begging you, stick to making ads about chocolate.

[If you (dis)like this, here is a link to my previous post Food Industry Ads: – It’s A Parallel Universe!]

 

Food Industry Ads – It’s A Parallel Universe!

You may think that, after trawling food industry websites for many years to earn my crust, by now I’d be desensitised to how these folks conduct their advertising, much like a seasoned undertaker, who has long since stopped flinching at the sight of the mangled corpses that pass through his premises. After all, it’s business-to-business communication replete with technical details aimed at food technologists rather than at the end consumer. However, since I’m also a consumer of food, I can’t completely switch off that part of my brain, and I thought it might be fun to share a few precious examples with you…

I bet you’ve always wanted one of these:

Breadometer

Those operators really can’t be trusted, can they? And hidden depths are clearly NOT appreciated….

Oh, what could be more heavenly than the smell of freshly baked bread or the buttery doughiness of croissants still warm from the oven… And isn’t comforting to know that there’s somebody behind the scenes, who worries about all this stuff:

Bakery IngredientsIgnorance is bliss, as they say. We definitely DON’T want to know the secret. EVER! Regarding the “friendly labelling”, there’s an explanatory rant coming up. Hold on to your seats. And your queasy stomachs.

But before we get to that, let me ask you this: what makes marshmallow so delectably fluffy and chewy at the same time? Sugar mixed with beaten egg whites in optimum proportions, right? Trouble is, them eggs is expensive – we desperately need something… erm… “innovative” to please our cost-conscious clientele.  Ingredients supplier Wacko Wacker has just the ticket:

Let me guess... Polyfilla? Polystyrene? Recycled upholstery!

Let me guess… Polyfilla? Polystyrene with a dash of added plasticiser? Recycled upholstery!

CleanLabel

What the heck is a “Clean Label”, I hear you ponder…? Does it involve some hapless trainee scouring the ketchup splodges off the front of the bottle with a soft toothbrush before he puts it on the shelf…? Not quite. The “clean label trend”, as it’s known to industry insiders, is a topic that could probably fill the British Library twice over. I shall attempt to illustrate briefly.

The whole shenanigans started nearly two decades ago, when it slowly dawned on the industry that consumers didn’t find terms like “dioctyl sodium sulphosuccinate” and “butylated hydroxyanisole” on food packages all that appetising.

Essentially, the mission was (and still is!) to replace anything that sounds remotely like a “chemical” with something that Martha Stewart would keep in her pantry.

Sometimes, ingredient substitutions are required to produce a sparkling clean label, but a lot of the time, it’s simply a word game. I mean, why call something “hydrolysed starch” when “potato starch” will do nicely? Or is it “Monosodium glutamate” (MSG) that’s scaring the punters off your products in droves? No worries, just switch to “yeast extract”, which is virtually identical and does the same job.

RadiationSign“E-numbers”, in particular, are known for striking fear into European consumers’ hearts. They’ve been suspected of giving kids autism and poor ol’ granny pancreatic cancer, not to mention throttling the life out of strutting Frenchmen’s sperm… the list of their E-vil doings is endless. Thing is, most E-numbers are, in fact, harmless substances, and so manufactures have simply reverted to calling them by their first names, like vitamin C (instead of E300) and calcium (aka E170). Label space on food packages is at a premium and E-numbers provided a convenient short hand, but the mood has turned, and if, as a food manufacturer, you’re still bent on sticking to them, you may as well be slapping the radiation warning sign on your chocolate biscuit packets for all the good it’ll do your sales.

As for colourings and flavourings, a great big slew of them can just be referred to as “natural”, no need to give an E-number or a long-winded chemical name. The label will be clean, and everybody will be happy. Luckily, the average shopper doesn’t realise that you can make strawberry flavouring out of wood chips and still call it “natural” without breaking any laws. Nobody needs to know that the flavours don’t come from actual fruits.

Yum! Some days, my pee looks like this first thing in the morning...

Just as natural as the first slosh of morning pee…

You may be left with the impression that the food industry views you, the consumer, very much like this:

Meatpreservation

Trusting, infantile and clueless.

But at least they’ve a sense of humour about it…

And there was me thinking I was the Queen Of Sad Puns! I think I've been well and truly usurped...

And there was me thinking I was the Queen Of Sad Puns! I think I’ve been well and truly usurped…

 

 

 

Hilarious Headlines: October 2013 – April 2014

As regular readers will know, the daily perusal of  the food industry news is one of the requirements of my job (and I’m using that term very loosely). Anyway, here’s a few of the luminous gems that made the headlines over the last few months:

Uplifting  Ice Cream Created for Secret Celeb (Foodmanufacture.co.uk, 14 Apr 2014)

A British ice cream company has concocted some champagne-flavoured ice cream laced with Viagra (25mg per serving, if you need to know). This exciting treat was commissioned by an unnamed A-lister celeb, for the purpose of livening up one of his house parties.

Must have been one of the Hughs… either Grant or “The Hef”. The latter is probably no longer capable of consuming anything not suited to travelling through a straw.

ViagraIceCreamI guess a sticky end was pretty much guaranteed, though maybe not necessarily a happy one….

I wonder if this gave them the idea:

Painkillers In Ice Cream: Tesco Pulls More Products  (The Grocer, 18 November 2013)

This UK supermarket giant was forced to swiftly withdraw a rash of its own-brand ice cream products, including chocolate & nut ice cream cones, after the discovery that they contained paracetamol-codeine tablets.

Chocolate ice cream REALLY DOES take your pain away, and now you know how!

And we’re not yet done with drugs:

South Korean Police Net Ring Smuggling Diet Pills Containing Human Flesh (foodnavigator-asia.com, 29 Oct 2013)

To summarise: Two enterprising female Chinese students purchased 3,000 diet pills and 500 detox pills via a Chinese website with the intention of flogging them in South Korea. The South Korean police intercepted the package, analysed its contents and found that the pills consisted of bits of people, spiced up with a cocktail of illegal drugs.

Meanwhile in Europe, people got their knickers in a twist about some horse meat in their burgers.

You’re probably ready for a drink by now:

UK Drinker Strikes Foster’s Gold… Finds 50 Dead Flies In Bottle (beveragedaily.com, 21 Oct 2013)

A guy apparently drank two bottles of this very well-known beer brand, which, so he said, “neither tasted nor looked right”, before he found the insects sloshing around in the third bottle.

I must confess, I’m just a bit biased when it comes to people getting themselves all worked up about weird stuff they supposedly found in their food/drink. When I worked for a McDonald’s supplier company many moons ago, I remember a complaint from a woman, for example, who had allegedly chipped a tooth on a stone contained in her apple pie. We sent the offending pebble, which she had duly posted to us, off for analysis. It turned out to be the silly cow’s own dental filling. I can’t help but wonder about what’s really at the bottom of the aforementioned Tesco painkiller ice cream debacle…!

Anyway, our Lord Of The Flies responsible for this cracking headline reportedly bought those beer bottles in Asda and then sold the story to the Daily Mail. I don’t think either of these details added much credibility to this case…  [If you’re an US reader, Asda is essentially Wal-Mart, and the Daily Mail is but half a peg above the National Enquirer].

I’ve another amusing booze story for you:

“We Hope He’d Be Proud” (Foodnavigator.com, 08 November 2013)

Bulmers, a big British cider manufacturer [Americans take note: Cider in the UK is an ALCOHOLIC drink, NOT an apple juice!] launched an ad campaign using the image below, supposedly depicting the father of Bulmers founders Percy and Fred Bulmer, who had given his sons a loan to help them start their company:

Bulmers

“We hope he’d be proud that they used his money wisely”, the ad read…

Unfortunately, they used the wrong picture. The stern looking dude above is actually  Christian Huges, a teetotal(!) Methodist Minister from Wales. Ouch!

Hold onto your seats for a trip to nerdland:

Scientists Working On Lettuce-Based Electric Wires For Computers (business-standard.com, 27 Feb 2013

A researcher at the University of West England created ‘bio wires’ from lettuce seedlings, and he believes that “it may be possible to incorporate plant wires into bio-hybrid self-growing circuits”. He does does, however, envisage “some challenges” before this ingenious invention becomes commercially viable:

Stand back in awe!

Stand back in awe!

Next week, I expect, he’s going to solve the global energy crisis with potato batteries. If he doesn’t stick his granny’s knitting needles into a socket first.

And talking of revolutionary novelties…

Could Cheese-Chocolate Put Spain On The Chocolatier Map? (Foodnavigator.com, 17 November 2013)

Not even Stephen King, The Grand Master Of Horror, has managed to think up something quite as spine chillingly grotesque as this: A Spanish chocolate manufacturer has decided that amalgamating cheese and olive oil with chocolate would help the country surpass Belgium and Switzerland in the gourmet confectionery stakes.

Stick to ham, you blummin’ idiots!!! And don’t even think about putting that into chocolate…

If you’re overcome by the ardent desire to bash your head against a brick wall right now, this is so much better:

Man Smashes Walnuts Using Head, Breaks Record (freshplaza.com, 25 March 2014)

155 walnuts in one minute… have no words… just click here to watch the (short) vid…

Tesco, please send him all your ice cream!

 *       *       *       *

 Hungry for more? Here are the two previous Hilarious Headlines posts:

 

Spain’s Fruit Is A Total Let Down

“The food tastes nothing like it does back home…” is such a cliched expat gripe that I’m almost ashamed to join in. But today, I’m going at it hell for leather. A burst water pipe put me in the right mood. I now have a spare bedroom Home Spa with a ceiling-to-wall water feature feeding a rapidly expanding infinity pool on what was once a shiny hardwood floor.

Right, let’s get to it. I’ve not moved countries for the first time in my life, so I’m used to missing many beloved food items. Decent bread, for instance, is hard to find outside of Germany/Austria/Switzerland, and if you’re used to proper English tea, you’re going to have to find yourself a teabag mule once you take flight from the rainy British Isles. That’s just how it is, and you expect that.

But there are certain things you don’t expect to be in short supply when you move to a sunny country. I’d never have thought that in Spain, I’d miss decent fruit. Yes, you read that right. In the very country, which is Europe’s biggest exporter of fresh produce, I find the fresh fruit offering terribly lacking.

Spanish Straws: Look great. Taste of nothing.

Let’s start with strawberries. We all know Spanish strawberries, right? (Well, if you happen to live in Europe, you do.) It’s those turnip textured red things which start arriving en masse in supermarkets and greengrocers around February. They sure do look like strawberries, but they taste of absolutely zilch. And what’s worse – they are CRUNCHY, for Pete’s sake! HOW WRONG IS THAT?!

Now, because my work is tightly connected with the food industry, I’m well aware that many countries grow two different “types” of fresh produce – produce for domestic consumption (which tastes great but doesn’t transport well) and produce for export. Those turnippy aberrations are excellently suited for the latter – you can toss those into the back of a lorry and truck them across the entire continent, and even after a week in transit punctuated by the odd motorway pile-up, they will emerge at the other end looking fresh and dewy and miraculously unbruised. And if you’re a supermarket that wants to display perfect looking strawberries on its shelves, this is exactly what you want. It’s all about durability and shelf life.

I naively assumed that Spain had two types of strawberries, i.e. those engineered for export, and those divine creations, which were surely spun by the angels from crimson sunset-dipped cotton candy clouds, and which fall from the heavens in the month June.

But I was wrong. I’ve quizzed friends about this, and the response has been a puzzled stare, as if I had been enquiring about the fairies living at the bottom of their garden. Unlike the good people in countries like the UK, Germany and Sweden, Spaniards only know turgid turnipberries. They have no idea of the gloriousness of putting a REAL strawberry into your mouth, and squishing it into a sweet, succulent mush, without it ever touching your teeth.

It’s always a good idea to wrap any dangerous missiles…

Next in for a lambasting are mangoes. All I can find here are those horrible red-green coloured harpy eggs from Brazil. I’m convinced that they are, in fact, a byproduct of cricket ball manufacture. Their fibrous, acrid, slightly slimy interior remains as hard and rubbery as a British Bobby’s baton right up until they start to rot in your fruit bowl.

Nowhere to be seen in Spain are those delectable golden yellow Pakistani mangoes with their rice-pudding soft, perfume-scented flesh that just melts in your mouth, which you can pick up all over London for six quid a box.

And there’s no point pleading with the greengrocers, although some will tell you, with a churlish grin on their faces, that there’s no broccoli to be had because “it’s not in season right now” (WTF?!), and they will quite happily import woody Chilean asparagus stalks so rigid that you could use them for knitting needles.

Pakistani Mangoes

Oh, how I miss you, my luscious friends…

But it is Spain’s apple situation, which is probably the biggest disappointment of them all. I sorely miss English Apples. Coxes. Orange Pippins. REAL apples, with just a few brown flecks on the outside and crispy flesh imbued with that perfect balance of tartness and sweetness on the inside. No such thing as Bramley cooking apples here either. All I’ve seen in Spain so far are generic, polished, sterile fruit that looks and tastes like syrup-injected candle wax fluffed up with polystyrene. Sure, those blemish-free mutants are found in supermarkets all over the globe, but usually, in most other places, there are at least some tasty native mongrels populating the shelves during the autumn months.

Red Delicious – a misnomer if ever there was one. Get this thing away from me!

Where art thou, my lovely Cox?

Where art thou, my lovely Cox?

I realise, of course, that people across Spain have the most sumptuous fruit sprouting in their back gardens, but, as nobody grows these varieties commercially, the good stuff just isn’t entering supermarket supply chains. Ho hum 😦

So, is there any fresh produce you really miss?

Who Eats The Most Potatoes?

Germans have a reputation for being big on potatoes. But is it deserved? We shall find out…

As for me, personally, I can take them or leave them. Probably my least favourite are boiled potatoes of the “mealy” kind, which taste of nothing and clog up your windpipe. Floury potatoes are only ever palatable with lashings of butter and/or cheese, preferably mashed. Potato crisps, chips, fries, etc … I will eat them if they’re put in front of me, but it’s not something I’d ever crave.

This is the REAL thing

This is the REAL thing. Except for being boil-in-the-bag, that is… 😉

However ambivalent I might feel about spuds and potato products in general, I do have one big weaknesses: Kartoffelknödel. For those unfamiliar with them, they are the big brother of the Italian gnocchi. (Gnocchi have been, in fact, my fail safe substitute in foreign lands). It’s the texture that does it for me. They are like soft, chewy, springy putty. Gravy (there HAS to be gravy) sticks to Kartoffelknödel like iron filings to a magnet. Kartoffelknödel are a common accompaniment to German meat dishes, like pork roast and Sauerbraten.

Eastern Europe is Potato Crazy
OK, let’s get down to some figures. Which countries’ citizens consume the most fresh potatoes? I must admit, it was somewhat of a surprise to find Germany so frightfully low down on the list with just 22kg per capita in 2012. In 2007, it was still 30kg. Actually, Germany is very close to the global average of 23kg, but global consumption is slowly on the way up rather than declining. The reason for Germany’s dwindling fresh potato intake is the steadily growing popularity of processed foods, including processed potato products. Nobody wants to buy a bag of fresh potatoes anymore. I mean, they need preparation, perish the thought! Also, Germans scoff a lot of pasta and, increasingly, rice, displacing spuds as the national carbohydrate staple.

NewPotatoes

Really… you eat them like THAT?!?

As an aside – and things may have changed in the two+ decades since I left Germany – but eating a potato with the skin still on was totally unheard of back then. When I moved to the UK in the early 90’s, I was confronted with concept of “new potatoes” and baked potatoes. It was also the first time I’d seen people gobble up slices of (gasp!) unpeeled cucumber in their salads and sandwiches. I had clearly landed on an island inhabited by Pleistocene heathens. To my great relief, they did pull the skins off their bananas before biting into them, so not all was lost, as far as I could tell.

Back to the stats: Trumping the fresh potato consumption charts is the Ukraine, with 143kg per person in 2012. Now, this sounds like some serious potato load, but it’s an underestimate, because potatoes grown on allotments/datchas etc, destined for private consumption, which never enter the formal market place, are excluded from these figures.  Poland managed 116kg, and Russia 70kg. Incidentally, Peru, birthplace of the tuber, stood at 79kg per head.

Irish spud intake almost pales into insignificance by comparison, with 47kg and a falling tendency, but Ireland is still ahead of the UK’s 30kg. The US, shock horror, barely musters half of that! But we all know why: fries.

Yes, it was once a potato...

Screwed-up potatoes…

Next, let’s look at frozen processed potatoes. This includes potato chips for oven baking, potato waffles, croquettes, etc. The UK leads world per capita consumption with 21kg in 2013, followed by Australia and Canada (both 19kg), and the US (15kg).

Where potato crisps/chips are concerned, the surprise global leader turns out to be Norway, with a per capita intake of just over 4kg per head in 2013. Hot on its heels are the UK, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, followed by the US and Spain. In Spain, a small plate of “free” potato chips is usually served with drinks in places that can’t be bothered to do proper tapas. It’s always a total disappointment for me 😦

Anyway, let’s hear it from everybody else – what’s your fave potato product that you couldn’t live without?