Distribution and logistics hurdles used to require that food was a local and fresh affair. Then television and new distribution and logistics capabilities enabled the creation of regional and then national grocery chains. This encouraged companies to make one centralized product in quantity for national distribution. The national distribution system lengthened the amount of time that products might spend in retailers' supply chains, and ingredient lists began to lengthen as a result. To make matters worse, as automobiles enabled larger stores outside the city center with larger selections, floor space turned less frequently and retailers increased the pressure for longer shelf lives on top of the longer supply chain survival time. That is why you need a degree in chemistry today to decipher the average food item ingredients list.
So now that our food has a wicked shelf life but no natural taste without loads of sugar, salt, fat, and "flavor enhancers", has a market been created for a new breed of food "innovators"?
The answer is a resounding yes!
The Newman's Own Example
An excerpt from Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good: The Madcap Business Adventure by the Truly Oddest Couple):
"It was a recipe like nothing they had ever seen before, nor had anyone else in the spaghetti sauce business. When Ralph Cantisano saw the recipe, he had serious doubts that a sauce with fresh components and no preservatives would have the necessary shelf life, the same doubts that we had encountered with our dressing and that we would face with all our natural products, primarily because no one had ever bottled fresh stuff before without fixing it with chemical preservatives"
Newman's Own succeeded in finding a way to bottle both their salad dressing and their spaghetti sauce without chemical preservatives, and have gone on to donate more than $200 million to charities.
The Chocolate Milk Example
Look at the ingredient list for Darigold "Old-Fashioned" Chocolate Milk:
Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Whey, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Mono-and Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Vitamin D3.
Organic Valley Chocolate Milk is not much better:
Organic Grade A Reduced Fat Milk, Organic Sugar, Organic Dutch Cocoa, Salt, Carrageenan, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.
And then look at the ingredient list of Wilcox Old Fashioned Chocolate Milk (from a local Washington dairy):
Grade A Milk, Cream, Sugar, Cocoa
If you haven't tasted Wilcox Old Fashioned Chocolate Milk or Marks & Spencer's chocolate milk in the U.K., trust me, they are pure chocolate bliss.
With improvements in the supply chain, distribution efficiency, inventory management, and just in time delivery, food companies and food retailers now have the opportunity to shift food consumption in the United States in innovative new directions away from mile long supply chains and nitrogen ripening chambers.
Luckily, increased shipping costs are bound to force more companies to explore distributed production (ala Coca Cola and Anheuser Busch) to reduce costs. At the same time, the local food and slow food movements are picking up steam. If grocery stores also begin updating their supplier requirements and their stores, then we may see a perfect food storm deliver fresher, tastier food to our shelves soon with fewer preservatives.
Imagine a grocery store with more frequent, efficient re-stocking and a produce section carrying smaller quantities of each item (reducing waste) that reside in constantly weighed bins, matched against boxes in the warehouse and boxes scanned as they are emptied into display stock, giving the store and regional distributors a real-time produce inventory. This real-time produce inventory would allow the stores to carry fresher, and hopefully naturally ripened (and thus tastier) produce with reduced waste.
Now for the bad news. Wilcox Old Fashioned Chocolate Milk is no longer available because the dairy tried to compete on price in their unflavored milk business, started losing money, and sold their milk business off to a competitor. The competitor has chosen to expand distribution of their pre-existing artificial chocolate milk instead of expanding distribution of Wilcox Old Fashioned. Thus consciously choosing to eschew a market willing to pay a premium for a better tasting, natural product.
Imagine my shock and horror...
So, to satisfy my own sweet tooth and to help raise even more money for charities, I will be calling the guys at Newman's Own to pitch them on the idea of producing a fresh and natural chocolate milk on a national scale via a consistent recipe and local dairies for maximum freshness.
What are your "new" food innovation ideas?