The Most Interesting Food-Related News — July 2017

I read all the food, beverage, and CPG (consumer packaged goods) news so you don’t have to! Here’s what happened last month and why it matters:

Big Company Moves:

It’s been a big month for Amazon as they continue to freak everyone out by marching relentlessly towards world domination of commerce. The Whole Foods acquisition has everyone thinking of how much bigger Amazon could be in a relatively short amount of time and marketing agencies are starting to pop up that specialize in marketing to Amazon customers. They also launched meal kits and have plans for “single cow burgers.” Link

On a somewhat related note, P&G reduced their digital ad spending by $140M last quarter. Some people think this is a sign that the online ad space is not healthy, but I actually think it’s more of a sign that P&G still hasn’t adapted it’s business model to a digitally native world. Link

Chipotle is reeling after another foodborne illness outbreak, this time in Sterling, Virginia. The E. coli outbreak in 2015 was a major hit for the company and this is going to reset a lot of the work they put into rebuilding trust with consumers. Link

Large CPG companies are increasingly optimizing their products for virality and “instagrammability”. Oreo made Avocado, Unicorn, and Popcorn flavors, Pringles released a Top Ramen flavor, and Pepsi is rebooting the 90s classic “Crystal Pepsi”. These were all clearly pitched by marketing firms as ways to get press attention and boost core-product sales.

Startup Moves:

Tovala launched a smart oven with meal subscription service and received lots of glowing reviews. It’s a great business model for a hardware product and they are going after a group of consumers I can identify with (people too lazy for Blue Apron). Link

BuzzFeed’s Tasty series of recipe videos are reaching up to 3 billion views per month. They’ve created a big trend with these videos and non-media/CPG companies are starting to take notice. I expect the shot-from-above recipe video to be a trendy advertising format for a while, especially with Instagram’s new ability to tag products directly in content. Link

A startup by the name Protein2O raised $4 million to grow its low-calorie protein-infused water brand. 15 grams of protein in a 60 calorie beverage with no sugar or carbs is an interesting product position because there aren’t many options with this nutritional profile. Taste is king though. Link

Brandless launched an online dollar store, but everything is $3. The branding is very minimal and seems inspired by Randall Munroe’s classic xckd comic on the subject of branding. I love the design and business plan, but going up against Amazon is daunting. I wish them luck! Link

Regulatory Changes:

Democratic Senator, Chuck Schumer, is requesting that the FDA investigate fast-food packaging, specifically a substance found in burger wrappers called phthalates. Phthalates were banned from use in children’s toys and baby bottles after studies showed possible links to insulin resistance in children. If you’re eating fast food frequently, I personally doubt it’s the packaging that is increasing your diabetes risk most, but the investigation can’t hurt. Link

The dairy industry is trying to fight the wave of startups creating “milk” from thing other than cows. They collectively invested a lot into creating a brand around milk (remember “Got Milk?”) and don’t want vegan milks riding their wave to profitability. Link

Interesting Data:

For the first time in history, the amount of money Americans spend on eating out is higher than total spending on groceries. This is not a new trend, but it emphasizes the fact that increasingly, Americans are optimizing for convenience. Link

Just Plain Cool:

Some MIT researchers released a paper that describes using AI / machine learning to reverse engineer whole recipes from simple pictures of food. Basically, a Shazam for food, exactly like they described in a recent episode of Silicon Valley. Look forward to give this a try when it makes it into the app store. Link


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