business news in context, analysis with attitude

  • The New York Times had an interesting piece last week about the science of food development, in which chemists endeavor to find new ways to make old and new foods more nutritious without losing the taste.

    “With two-thirds of Americans considered overweight and yet many professing a desire to eat healthier, every major food producer and food-ingredient company has ordered its scientists to find the holy grail: products that either have less bad stuff - fat, white flour, sugar and salt - or more good stuff like whole grains, fiber and fish oil,” the NYT wrote. “Some of these food additives are natural and some are not. But even those that are natural hardly evoke images of a country harvest. Fat-repellent coatings, after all, do not grow on trees.

    “Coming soon to your grocery store, for example, could be salty corn chips cooked in oil but that are marketed as healthy because the addition of chemically modified starches make them high in fiber. Labeled simply as "modified cornstarch," this additive cannot be broken down until it reaches the colon, much like the natural fiber found in fruit and vegetables. Also coming soon: bread containing microscopic capsules of fish oil, enabling food companies to contend that the bread is "heart-healthy" because of the cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering nomega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

    “Some nutritionists question whether all this alchemy will further confuse consumers about the basics of good nutrition. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, maintains that the best way to get fish oil into your diet will always be to eat fish.”

    And, of course, there is another problem. These chemists have more on their minds than the health of America’s consumers. They’re also concerned about the bottom-line health of the companies that employ them – which is why adding fish oil to bread makes a lot more sense if you work for a bread company than encouraging people to eat fish.

  • The Boston Globe had a fascinating piece in its Sunday magazine about Super 88, a six-unit chain of food stores that specializes in ethnic marketing – not just the Asian communities that the company has traditionally served, but now other ethnic communities that are flocking to its aisles.

    The Super 88 story is interesting on a variety of levels. For one, the company caters to ethnic communities in a city that has not always been friendly to minorities, but has recently changed as these minorities begin to become the majority.

    And, it is run by a family of Vietnamese immigrants who have embraced the American dream – working hard, overcoming numerous obstacles, and now even facing off against an ever-expanding range of competitors as they open a seventh store and plan for at least two new stores every year.

    “To pull it off,,” the Globe reports, “the owners will have to appeal to Western shoppers in a market dominated by behemoth chains without alienating their core Asian customers. They'll have to contend with several new rival Asian supermarkets and with traditional supermarkets that have added ethnic foods. And they'll have to do it all while managing various other businesses, including an ambitious venture in Vietnam. It is a family enterprise like few others, run by a deal-making dynamo whose business is more than just business to him; it's his hobby, his family, and his link between his new home and the one he left behind.”

KC's View:
The Super 88 story was particularly interesting to us since it had an “only in America” quality to it – and the Vietnamese family isn’t whining about level playing fields or big box stores, but it just doing its best to be aggressive and innovative every minute or every day.

Good lesson.