By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing
casselld@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: White House haute cuisine?

Among the many articles I read online about yesterday’s inaugural events was one detailing former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush’s departure from Washington, D.C. As many of you may already know, President Barack Obama and his wife saw off their predecessors as the couple boarded a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base before heading to Midland, Texas. You also may have heard of the gifts bestowed on the former First Lady by Michelle Obama: a pen and journal with which to write her memoirs. Meanwhile, Bush kept recent tradition by leaving President Obama a parting letter in the top drawer of his desk at the White House.

Turns out the Obamas weren’t the only ones giving and receiving on Tuesday. According to CNN.com, outgoing press secretary Dana Perino gave reporters boxes of M&M’S wrapped with presidential seals and signed by President Bush in “an attempt to sweeten the memories of the White House press corps.”

I could not help but chuckle over the idea that a popular chocolate candy might rid certain journalists of the bitter taste left in their mouths by Bush, whose own popularity slid to record lows in recent months. That said, chocolate heals all wounds, especially emotional ones, right? (Men: Remember that on Valentine’s Day.)

Speaking of good taste, food has been a subject of debate in D.C. ever since Obama was elected. Okay, maybe not as much debate as, say, the war in Iraq, but it’s been a topic of discussion, nonetheless, in part because the Obamas are known as “foodies.” (Back in 2001, the now 44th American prez even appeared on Chicago’s own “Check, Please!” -- a well-watched PBS program where locals critique area restaurants.)

According to Newsweek.com, in November, San Francisco chef and organic food movement pioneer Alice Waters wrote an open letter to the then president-elect “suggesting that his eating habits could set an example for the rest of the country.” Furthermore, she, Gourmet magazine's Ruth Reichl and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer all offered to serve as an informal "kitchen cabinet” for Obama.

The three also suggested that Obama hire a new White House chef “who would cook local, seasonal, organic meals for the First Family, preferably with items grown in a presidential garden.” This led to reports that celebrity chefs such as Rick Bayless and Art Smith were being considered for the job. However, it was eventually announced that the Obamas would be keeping on Cristeta Comerford, who has been White House chef since 2005.

So, what of Waters’ suggestion that the Obamas go organic? Turns out the Bushes have been eating organic for years, Newsweek reports. However, Waters still is pushing to add locally grown foods to the White House diet. According to Reuters.com, “she has been heartened by signs from Michelle Obama, who has relayed her husband's concerns about childhood obesity and sustainable farming.”

That said, a Chicago Sun-Times article on “The Obama Diet” claims that the new leader of the free world will eat anything, from chicken wings to cheeseburgers. (Sound familiar? Who can forget former President Bill Clinton -- now husband to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- and his penchant for McDonald’s?)

However, the Sun-Times also lists a variety of confection and snack products among Obama’s favorite foods. They include Planters trail mix, Dentyne Ice gum and Seattle-based Fran’s Chocolates. What won’t he eat? Salt and vinegar potato chips, for one thing. And-- what’s this -- ice cream? Say it ain’t so, Mr. President!

Let’s see … Carter was “the peanut president” (so to speak), Reagan lived for jelly beans, and Bush favored Mexican chicharrones or pork rinds (despite his recent press corps gifts). What foods will Obama be best known for?

We’ve got at least four years to find out.

Editor’s Note: Not one hour ago, President Obama blocked the Bush administration’s country-of-origin food labeling proposal. Looks like food-related issues will remain on the political menu in the White House.

Mintel reports rise in 'natural' claims

A Jan. 13, 2009, report by Chicago-based Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) finds that “natural” claims, which include all-natural, no additives or preservatives, organic and whole grain, are up 9% globally from 2007. In the United States, one-third of new product launches have “natural” claims -- that’s a 16% increase from 2007. In 2008, “natural” claims ranked No. 1 globally in new food and drink product introductions.

“Although convenience and the environment are popular talking points today, these benefits did not receive anywhere near the same level of attention as “natural” claims did,” says Lynn Dornblaser, leading new product expert at Mintel. “With economic struggles driving people toward a simpler way of life, we expect that food and drink manufacturers will continue to prize natural, wholesome benefits well into 2009.”

The “convenience” claim was only found in 12% of new food and drink products, while the “ethical and environmental” claim appeared on just 5% of new products.

Meanwhile, “minus” claims such as low-fat, reduced-sugar and low-calorie are beginning to decrease.

“In the past, low-fat and low-calorie were the hallmarks of good nutrition and dieting, but today, that lifestyle seems passé,” Dornblaser says. “On top of this, fortified products are falling out of favor. Food and drink manufacturers today realize that natural and pure have become healthy eating ideals, as people look for holistic, genuine nutrition they can trust.”

For more information, visit www.mintel.com.

PCA recalls peanut butter, paste

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found samples of peanut butter and peanut paste contaminated with Salmonella, which were traced back to a Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant. PCA voluntarily recalled the peanut butter and paste produced at its facility on Jan. 13 and expanded the recall on Jan. 18. The company’s Web site (www.peanutcorp.com) lists the products affected. Salmonella is an organism that can cause fever, nausea and abdominal pain, and in rare circumstances, can cause arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.

The recalled peanut butter and peanut paste was distributed to institutions, food service industries and private label food companies in 24 states, as well as Korea, Haiti and the province of Saskatchewan in Canada. The items are used as food ingredients in products such as cookies, crackers and candies.

The recalled peanut butter and peanut paste were not sold directly to consumers through retail stores by PCA. They were only produced in the company’s Blakely, Ga. facility, which has stopped production of all products while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigate the Salmonella outbreak. 

For more information, visit www.peanutcorp.com and www.fda.gov.

Barry Callebaut opens new chocolate factory in Mexico

Barry Callebaut -- a manufacturer of organic, Fair Trade and single origin chocolates -- has opened a new state-of-the-art chocolate factory in Monterrey, Mexico. Besides being the company’s third-largest chocolate production facility, with an annual production capacity of around 100,000 tons, the location allows the company to work with confectioners in the Mexican market, the southern United States, Central America and South America.

“Our new chocolate factory in Monterrey, Mexico, will enable Barry Callebaut to move closer to its growing customer base of multinational and local food manufacturers in this region,” explains Patrick De Maeseneire, CEO of Barry Callebaut. “Chocolate confectionery in Mexico is expected to grow on average by 6.5% per year in value terms over the next five years. These growth projections make the Mexican market a very attractive investment for Barry Callebaut.”

The $40 million factory is designed to produce compound, liquid and moulded chocolate, and is expected to reach full capacity within five years.

For more information, visit www.barry-callebaut.com.

World Cocoa Foundation announces sustainability goals, principles

The World Cocoa Foundation has announced sustainability goals and principles designed to help cocoa farmers around the world, provide environmental stewardship, and guide economic and social development. More than 50 of the World Cocoa Foundation’s partner organizations collaborated on the sustainability goals and principles.

“The World Cocoa Foundation is a partnership of nearly 70 member companies fully committed to sustainable cocoa growing,” says Bill Guyton, president, World Cocoa Foundation. “This means helping farmers grow the crop profitably, safely and responsibly, as well as with care for the environment.

“Our announcement of these sustainability principles and goals will ensure that our partnerships and programs are strategically focused and help drive positive change in cocoa-growing communities where it is most needed,” Guyton continues. “Publicizing these principles and goals also will help facilitate our ongoing work in promoting cooperation and collaboration among cocoa stakeholders, encouraging targeted research, and helping guide broad, farmer-focused activities across the supply chain.”

For more information, visit www.worldcocoafoundation.org.

sweet of the week: KickBrix energy chews

After being in development since 2006, KickBrix energy chews from Emeryville, Calif.-based KickBrix are finally available online and in select convenience and sports stores. Defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a dietary supplement, the chews contain vitamin B12, ginseng, taurine and caffeine to provide energy lasting from one to four hours, depending on one’s metabolism. The 25-calorie chews are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and sugar-free. KickBrix energy chews come in Citrus Blast and Berry Blast flavors, at a suggested retail price of $3.99 per 5-chew bag. For more information, visit www.kickbrix.com.