Archive for the ‘Food Business’ Category
I’ve always been impressed at the vertical/horizontal menu expansions at Yum Brands restaurants (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC). Yum (formerly Trincon) was born in 1997 as a spin-off from Pepsi, who previously operated these businesses as the Pepsi fast food division.
They’ve flirted with expansion, acquiring and spinning Long John Silvers / A&W, and with start-ups (Super Chix, designed to compete with Chik-Fil-A) (since spun to founder).
But in the end, they are focusing on their core brands and international expansion. (KFC is in 125 countries, Pizza Hut in 100).
My reference in the opening sentence was particularly unique originally to Taco Bell. They take the same basic 6-8 ingredients, present it in different “shapes,” invent a “Mexican-ized” name for it, and push it thru the sales chain. I used to joke that I thought you should be able to order by shape at Taco Bell. “I’ll have the tube,” or “octagon,” or whatever.
Pizza Hut started to catch on with different types of crusts (thickness, flavored-sprayed, stuffed).
But KFC, for the most part, has either not gotten the corporate memo on the concept, or ignored it. Their in-house innovation has largely been limited to “Original,” and “Extra Crispy” but adding tenders, nuggets and sandwiches, but that’s about it.
But now KFC may have discovered the key to the concept by adding ‘flavored’ chicken, like their current offerings of “Georgia Gold” (a honey-mustard flavored bird) or “Nashville Hot” (a hot sauce/peppery exterior).
I have no direct, inside knowledge, but it appears to me, having ordered both, that the flavorings are added post cooking, sprayed or tossed. I came to this conclusion by observing the pools of flavoring sauce in the bottoms of my serving containers. (I suspect also that’s not standard protocol – see pic below).
The “Georgia Gold” is meant to be KFC’s interpretation of the primary BBQ flavor of the SE United States, which heavily employs a mustard based sauce for BBQing, in lieu of the “red sauce” found in many parts of the US. The “honey” part is KFC’s addition.
The “Nashville Hot” is the company’s interpretation of a dish created in the Tennessee city, and anecdotally dates back to the 1930s, but generally its current popularity is attributed to a local business, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which put the dish on the menu as early as the 1940’s. The Nashville version involves marinating the chicken first, then once cooked (fried or roasted), the pieces are bathed in a paste heavily laden with cayenne.
Pieces of the bird are served on white bread with dill pickle slices on the side. KFC passed on this part, giving you a choice of their usual sides and tossing in a biscuit. Three tenders, a side, a biscuit, a little north of five bucks.
I enjoyed them both, in the tenders version. The Georgia Gold was a tad to sweet for my taste, and therefore the mustard part isn’t all that evident. I would have preferred the reverse.
The Nashville is “hot” probably one of the hottest fast food offerings, and I’m generally a wimp about heat, but this didn’t bother me. Since both dishes rely on human interaction at the finishing stage, I can see where one limitation might be that some pieces would get either too little or too much of the flavoring (thus the pool of hot sauce in my tray).
But the brilliance of this is allowing KFC to run with the multiple offerings like Taco Bell employs, variations on same ingredients. I can see where KFC might try LTOs with varying flavors (BBQ, ranch, dill, whatever), or at least doing it with an eye (taste bud) towards regional tastes (A “California” style, for example). Siracha and Chipotle can’t be far behind.
I don’t know how long Georgia and Nashville are going to be around, but since they share a label on the packaging, they are likely to both vanish at the same time.
I’d buy them both again, but favor the Nashville. Flavorings are available on full sized chicken pieces, tenders or littles (sandwiches).
As evidence of the company’s international dependency for growth, there are over 5,000 KFC outlets in China, and about 2,000 Pizza Huts. I personally witnessed the openings of both chains there, and the immediate success they had with Chinese consumers.
KFC Georgia and Nashville Chicken Review
Both superb in their own right. I’ve hit a couple smaller ones in Chicago that are also enjoyable.
This weekend I ran across the best of the best, in my opinion, in Kenosha, WI of all places.
Tenuta’s has been operating since 1950, and have aisle after aisle of imported grocery goods, as well as locally packaged ‘fixins’ like many different kinds of pastas, herbs, spices and such.
In their deli counters, they have prepared Italian dishes you can purchase by the pound, as well as in-house made sandwiches and delicious items like meatballs. Fresh take n bake pizzas, too!
Not incidentally, they have one of the largest selections of craft beers I have ever seen anywhere. Rows of shelves and coolers that run the whole length of the store.
It was hard not to spend my kid’s inheritance there in one day, but I did manage to score some goodies.
Having lived in New Orleans, and always eager to eat the local NOLA sandwich the “muffaletta,” I was pleased to see Tenuta’s had their own version, and at about half the price you’d pay in New Orleans.
Their “small” will feed 2-3 people and comes in at a very reasonable $6.99. It IS their own version tho, if you’re used to have the New Orleans ones, which have a layer of “olive salad,” you won’t find that here. Instead they have opted for adding pickled green pepper pieces, and lettuce, neither of which you’ll find in the NOLA versions.
I also bought a container of meatballs, the ingredients listed include: beef, pork, breadcrumbs, textured vegetable protein, ricotta, romano, soy, flour, salt, garlic, spices, parsley, brown sugar and flavoring.I have to say, they are quite flavorful and the texture is to my liking. (I hate “mushy” meatballs). They come in different quantity packs, I got the ‘small’ which is 15 balls for around $7.
I don’t know what they include in their ingredients under “spices,” my personal preference, and how I make them at home, is to include a bunch of dried fennel seeds. It’s a strong flavor, and many people don’t care for it. Tenuta’s meatballs are perfect for the average consumer tho, nothing at all objectionable!
The store is open 7 days, and also does catering. It’s truly a wonderland. I shall return. You should visit too.
Seemed like a no muss, no fuss opportunity to me, and often a lot cheaper than raw bacon.
Lately, I’ve noticed that most all of the pre-cook brands the slices are nearly translucent, and I like my bacon a little thicker.
Of course, there’s a certain joy of having that aroma waft through the house; it was one of the few ways I could motivate my ex to get out of bed. (At home anyway).
Applewood Farms is the in-house brand for bacon, sausages and ham at Aldi stores, a global chain of discount grocers. Aldi is part of the same German company that owns US lux foods retailer, Trader Joes.
This bacon was more than satisfactory. Thick enough, flavorful, nice smokey aroma. I cooked the whole package at once, I bake bacon (350 for about 12 minutes) on cookie sheets (some people cover their sheets with foil for quicker clean up). There’s no flipping, less shrinkage, and your slices stay perfectly flat.
So I was happy. I’ll buy it again, as long as it stays price competitive, and with Aldi, you never have to worry about that.
Aldi contracts with established manufacturers to make products to its own recipes and specifications. This bacon is produced in the Elkhart, Indiana plant (pictured below) of Plumrose USA, the American division of the European food company of the same name. Plumrose USA was sold in the past few weeks to the giant South American meat processor JBS.
They paid $230 million and picked up five plants and two distribution centers in the deal.
What did I do with my bacon? Why made a monster BLT of course!
Applewood Farms Bacon Review
I love sausage. Smoked. Cured. Uncured. From Chicago. China. Spain. Louisiana. France. Italy. Poland. Anywhere. Sokolow is a major meat processor in Poland, dating back to 1899.
They sell under the brand names of Gold, Sokoliki, Uczta Qulinarna, Naturrino and Darz Bór. Lucky for me, some of these are imported to the states, and in Chicago, there are
numerous, many, many, Polish groceries and delis who stock imported foods.
So I picked up a pack of their “Hunter’s Sausage,” a dry cured product, lightly smoked, made from pork, salt, pepper, and juniper. No matter who the manufacturer is, these are the standard ingredients for “Hunter’s Sausage.” One company in Poland makes a beef version for export to the UK.
(Sidebar). I was literally amazed at my first trip to Poland. It wasn’t long after the divorce from the Soviet’s, so “western style” businesses hadn’t really sprung up yet. I stayed in a creaky old Soviet style hotel, heated by coal, I can still remember the smell of that furnace. I spent my days and nights with my local colleague, a former shipyard co-worker with Walesa – turned journalist – who had fascinating tales and was more than willing, eager to accommodate my desires to “be local.”
Restaurants were limited to “private meal houses” wherein a citizen would cook lunch or dinner in their house, and have seating for four or six, and you’d know about these places and eat there. And he took me way out in the country to experience a local sausage haven, including sour sausage soup. Man oh man.
So Sokolow Hunters Sausage. Very dry, very smokey, not sure I can taste the juniper and have never seen that as an ingredient outside of gin. Kind of fatty, but that’s where the flavor comes from, eh? Best used as a snack stick or on an app tray I suspect, too dense for sandwiches.
Check it out if you run into it. Sokolow makes bacon, hams, and other sausages. I’ll keep my eye out for more of their products. The company has a promotional video on YouTube.
Sokolow Hunters Sausage Review
A frozen entree, with mash potatoes and cream gravy. Boston Market, like many companies, does not actually produce this product, but licenses their name to Bellisio Foods, a company I know a bit about.
Both companies were started on a shoestring in Northern Minnesota, by local son of an immigrant entrepreneur, Jeno Paulucci. He built both companies to attain tens of millions in annual revenue, and sold them off, Chun King first, to RJ Reynolds, followed by Jeno’s, which was spun to General Mills to combine with their own “Totino’s” brand.
Most of these foods were produced in my hometown of Duluth, MN, until Jeno had a hissy fit, threatened to move production out of state, and ultimately did – to Ohio. Jeno could be incredibly generous and civic minded, and meaner than moose piss other times.
Years later, he starts a new frozen food company, “Michelina’s,” also based in Duluth (including some production) which he builds up by acquiring other brands in the segment. Jeno was successful in building another monster company, with production facilities around the country, and distribution around the world.
A number of qualified buyers approached him during the last part of his life, but he rebuffed them all, asking far more than the company was worth. Finally, literally on his deathbed, a transaction was negotiated, but for less than the company was worth. Fine tuning the operations, the principles flipped the company a few years later to a Thai conglomerate, and made a bundle.
So now you know where this product comes from – intellectually. Physically, it is produced in a factory in Jackson, OH, about a hundred miles east of Cincinnati.
“TV dinners” were introduced by the Swanson Company in 1953-1954. Swanson was started in 1899 and is stilled around, owned by Pinnacle Foods (formerly Vlasic). The dinners came in tinfoil trays, with separate compartments for entrees, vegetables, and starches. They were heated in a conventional oven – from frozen – for about an hour. They weren’t very tasty.
Today, they are microwave friendly, of course, packaged in plastic, a few minutes from frozen to ‘edible’ tho I still use a conventional oven if the directions are on the box as an option. Which is what I did today, about 45 minutes at 350, with a ‘potato stir’ in the middle.
And here’s what I say about every single “heat and eat” fried thing I try. After sixty years, don’t you think they could have figured out the science to make crispy things crispy? There are few experiences worse than biting into something you expect to be crispy/crunchy, and having it have practially zero texture.
I like chicken fried steak for breakfast, so I prepped it that way, added eggs, toast. Usually mashed potatoes aren’t a breakfast dish, are they? But that’s how this meal is packaged. How were the potatoes? Better than fast food, not as good as those heat and eat tubs they sell nowadays.
Tactile experience aside, the flavor of the meat was OK. As was the gravy, but the plate (pictured) becomes one big mess, not at all (of course) like the corporate marketing image. It might help to put the gravy in a separate ramekin. Just sayin’.
They’re all about the same. At restaurants, you hit the jackpot when you find a cook that makes his own. Would I buy this again? Nah. Just did for the novelty, and for the sake of YOU. LOL.
Boston Market Country Fried Steak Review
Often these are from one of the industry giants, Advance Pierre, (hereinafter AP) which also recently acquired a sizable competitor, Landshire. Past reviews on this site include Advance Pierre’s Sausage and Cheese Biscuit, Big Az Cheeseburger, and their Pretzel Cheeseburger.
Today I checked out their cheeseburger sliders, which were found at Dollar Tree, packaged two in a box. These can generally be thought to compete with frozen White Castle sliders.
The Advance Pierre sliders are microwave ready, about a minute, but using the “old method” of removing the sandwiches from their plastic wrapping and tucking them into a paper towel. This used to be White Castle’s instructions also, but now theirs are heating directly in their packaging.
In the case of either sandwich, it can be difficult to master the heating process. One can end up with a part that’s rock hard or ice cold. Today, heating worked out pretty universally successful.
The AP‘s buns are much softer than White Castle’s, tho substantial enough to deal with the burger and any toppings you care to add. The burger has less flavor than White Castle, probably due to the latter having the equivalent of the restaurant’s flavor/method of being cooked on a bed of onions.
The AP ingredient list lists “cooked onion” but the flavor isn’t evident. I was surprised, but happy about the fact, that AP’s patties aren’t bathed in liquid smoke, as a lot of heat and eat burgers are, a method to simulate outdoor grilling.
All in all, with condiments of my (or your choice), this is a pretty good product for a quick snack, or to pop something economical in your kid’s mouths. They aren’t terribly unhealthy in terms of fat, sodium, or carbs.
I’ll buy them again, and keep a few on hand. Why not?
Fast Bites Sliders Review Advance Pierre
There are two or three frozen pizzas I rate as exceptional on every level, but unfortunately, as one might suspect, none of these are in the ‘mass market’ offerings.
DiGiorno (Delissio in Canada) was created in the mid 90s by Kraft.
Apparently bored of the segment, they sold off their pizza brands to the international robber barons of water, Nestle. (DiGiorno, Jack’s, Tombstone and California Pizza Kitchen). Kraft picked up $3.2 billion. Nestle got the #`1 frozen pizza brand.
“It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno” goes their commercials. Good thing it’s not delivery, I would have asked for my money back.
The “Bacon Me Crazy” stuffed crust pie (crust rim is stuffed with cheese and ‘bacon’) falls into the higher price range of thin crust frozen pizzas, at about $8. Taking it out of the box, frozen, it looks more like the one dollar variety pies from Totinos. At least to me.
The box informs me this pizza is made at USDA establishment number 1682 A, which is a contract manufacturer called “Nation Pizza,” in Schaumburg, IL. They manufacture frozen foods of all ilks. I’ve driven by the plant many times. (Pictured below, as well).
Following the baking instructions precisely, the crust remained rather doughy, and the minuscule diced toppings might not have even been there. They didn’t really provide any flavor or tactile experience to the pie. The sauce leans towards the sweet side. The “smoke flavoring” is very present.
Whether or not the rim is actually ‘stuffed’ is open for debate.
I had two squares, and then did something I NEVER do. Tossed the rest. Perhaps the raccoons will like it. I sure didn’t.
Lots of ingredients: Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Part-Skim
Mozzarella Cheese with Modified Food Starch (Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Modified Food Starch,
Methylcellulose), Low-Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes), Applewood Smoked Cooked Bacon (Bacon [Cured with Water, Salt, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrate], Smoke Flavoring), Tomato Paste, Genoa Salami (Pork, Beef, Salt, Dextrose, Spice, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Wine, Flavoring, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Citric Acid), 2% or Less of:
Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil and/or Corn Oil), Yeast, Bread Crumbs (Bleached Wheat Flour, Yeast, Sugar, Salt), Vegetable Oil Shortening
(Palm Oil, Natural Flavor, Beta Carotene [Color]), Sugar, Salt, Seasoning Blend (Salt, Spice, Dried Garlic).
Nation Pizza photos from their website. Product photos are my own.
DiGiorno Bacon Me Crazy Pizza Review
Rarely have I been able to find out so little about a product that I really wanted to share with you – I’m that excited about it. “Lombardi’s” is apparently a small/boutique/artisan sausage maker out of Chicago, which may or may not be owned by a small packer named Roma.
I have to say “may be owned” because I can’t find a reference to that one way or another, but I was able to determine that Lombardi’s is made in the small Roma plant. (Pictured below).
Various business sites list Roma has having sales of less than $750,000 annually, and between 5-10 employees. That’s a labor of love.
Speaking of love, I adore this product, Lombardi’s (Hot) Italian Sausage. Check out the ingredient list: Pork, Water, Salt, Sugar, Spices, Paprika. Wow. Fantastic, huh? Well, I think so.
The flavor is terrific, texture is perfect, and the casing makes for a great snap, if you’re having on a bun, whether you cook on the stove top or grill.
I made half the package like that and bunned them with kraut, and the rest I stripped the casings off of and pinched pieces to dot the top of a home made pizza. Superb. Bravo. Really.
But this company is so small, you’ll probably not be able to share my enthusiasm, unless you’re in the Chicago area and spot the sausages in a local supermarket. I found mine at Woodman’s, a regional chain in Wisconsin and Illinois.
I love these babies.
Lombardis Italian Sausage Review
Shouldn’t have, he was right. No matter your favorite fast food or casual dining choice, it’s very likely you’ll find products with their names on them in the frozen food section of your grocery. Who knew? (Except that expert).
Today I tried out their frozen crinkle cut fries, which is a new offering (at least to me). I’ve taken to crinkle cuts lately, and it seems so have many fast food chains, someone somewhere thinks they are “retro” and since we all hunger for the past, they’ve popped up on a lot of menues. Fine with me. I’ve had them at Zaxby’s, Shake Shack, Culvers, as well as that granddaddy of iconic Chicago hot dog stands, Superdawg. All excellent.
I had pretty low expectations for the White Castle variety, most of the frozen fast food sides I have tried have been somewhat of a disappointment, hardly resembling the restaurant product.
Delightfully, my expectations were exceeded, and these crinkles are crisp and tasty out of the oven. Instructions are to bake them at a higher temp than most frozen fries, and I suspect that’s one key to their success; I caution you to keep an eye on them in the oven, because they can go from hot and crispy to rock like in a hurry.
I think they are a fair representation of the restaurant product, perhaps a wee bit smaller, not sure. I’ll remember to check next time I’m in a Castle. And yes, I’d buy these regularly.
White Castle Frozen Fries Review
Having been a bagel muncher for many decades, I was suprised to note in a store the other day a package of “Chicago style” bagels. Who knew? Whereas most consumers of bagels (and pizza for that matter) are familiar with “New York Style” bagels (and pizza), afficianados insists “it’s the water” that makes those products different.
Around the country, various enterprises have popped up claiming to be able to duplicate “the water” to provide an authentic New York bagel experience. There’s even a small chain,mostly in Florida, but with an outlet in Beverly Hills, as well.
So anyway, turns out there are “Montreal style,” “Toronto style,” “New York Style,” “Chicago style” and a gaggle of other “styles.” There are even “Los Angeles style,” and the big company outthere is Western Bagel, a wholesaler and retailer. I used to like going to their factory store in the valley in the middle of the night, where you could buy ’em ‘fresh.’ They also sell online.
The primary difference between New York and Chicago? New York bagels are boiled, then baked. Chicago are ‘baked with steam.”
Now you know. As to I. These “Chicago Style” bagels are made by a company called “HometownBagel” in Alsip, IL (which really isn’t Chicago). Maybe they should change the name to “Chicago Area Style Bagels?”
So I ate one. Tasted like a bagel. BTW, my favorite flavors of all bagels made anywhere? Salt, followed by everything, followed by pumpernickel. That’s it.
Hometown Bagels Review