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

getting fresh: Lent vent

As if you couldn’t tell from the onslaught of fish sandwich advertisements (case in point: Wendy’s “limited time only” Premium Fish Fillet, www.wendys.com), the Lenten season is upon us. Well, it’s upon us Catholics, as we are reminded each Friday when we go to get lunch and realize -- often disappointedly -- that we can’t eat that burger we’ve been craving all morning. At times, as when faced with a lunch buffet populated by delicious chicken dishes, a Lenten Friday can feel like the longest 24 hours ever. (But I’m not bitter.)

Beyond those fateful Fridays, there is the larger design behind Lent, and that is sacrifice. I don’t mean to sound like Father Gannon (my childhood priest) here, but part of the point of Lent is to give up something (other than meat on Fridays) -- something that it is difficult for you to go without -- as a means of penance. For many of us, that something is sweets or snacks.

Now, I have many times failed to give up anything for Lent. (There. I said it.) But this year, starting on Ash Wednesday, I decided to board the good Catholic bandwagon and give up snacking in between meals. So far, this sacrifice that has been far easier than my other two (cursing and emoticons -- don’t ask). This is despite the fact that I am surrounded by bags and boxes of candy, chocolate, chips, crackers, snack bars, pretzels, etc. on a daily basis.

Yes, it has been easier than I thought to go without trying those new Q.bel Wafer Rolls and Wafer Bars, Sensible Portions Cheating with Chocolate 100 Calorie Packs, sweetriot unBARs and Gourmet Peanut Butter & Chocolate Flavored Pretzel Crisps I recently received samples of. Not because they don’t look good. THEY DO. I am right now staring at six varieties of the Q.bel products, and the packaging itself looks good enough to eat. But I know I can do it. (Will power!)

Why has it been so easy for me to abstain, you ask? Well, it might be because there is a light at the end of these 40 days and nights: Easter. There’s nothing like a big grassy basket full of marshmallow Peeps (now available in a chocolate mousse flavor, tulip shapes, and new bunny and chick colors), Jelly Bellys (including pectins, speckled malted chocolate eggs and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs), Cadbury creme eggs (an Easter staple) and those ubiquitous hollow chocolate bunnies (whose ears often are the first part to be bitten off). Just yesterday, I received in the mail a promotion from Bloomsberry & Co. for its Easter Range, which consists of chocolate bars wrapped in funny spring-themed boxes, including one in which a chocolate bunny begs the question: “Do these ears make me look fat?” (Hop on over to www.bloomsberry.com for a look-see.)

Although my parents have in very recent years decided that I need money (often in the form of quarters and one generous check stashed inside of plastic eggs) more than I need candy for Easter, Mom still hides my basket (and gives me hints such as “warmer” and “cold, cold, cold” as I search the first floor of the house for my loot). This spring, my nephews will join me in the hunt, as well as in the decorating of eggs, which my dad (who is actually becoming Catholic this Easter -- I’m his Godmother!) and I have been doing for as long as I can remember. It is yet another one of the activities I look forward to as I head home on Good Friday.

To my friends over at St. Nick’s in Evanston, Ill., I do not mean to vent about Lent. (Honest!) But given today’s tough economy and the stress that accompanies it, it’s a struggle to give up those things that make us feel better. And that includes the occasional midday snack, reactionary expletive and yes, emoticons. :)

Oops.

Ahhh, well. One Lenten promise broken. Two more to go …


This Just In

During my Google search for more information about Lent, I came across an AP article posted to the USA Today Web site (www.usatoday.com) earlier today: “OMG! Italian Catholics asked not to text during Lent.”

I’m not making this stuff up, people.

According to USA Today, “Roman Catholic bishops in Italy are urging the faithful to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern appliances from cars to iPods and abstaining from surfing the Web or text messaging until Easter.” It continues: “The suggestion goes far beyond no-meat Fridays, giving a modern twist to traditional forms of abstinence in the five-week period Christians set aside for fasting and prayer ahead of Easter.”

Although I agree that giving up my cell phone, iPod, Internet and Facebook (EGADS!) would be quite the sacrifice, it’s just not one I’m willing or able to make. Proof positive: Without even thinking, I posted this very article to my Facebook profile as soon as I read it.

That said, the Catholic Church is not opposed to modern media. According to the same article, in January, the Vatican started its own YouTube channel, where Pope Benedict XVI greets visitors. Furthermore, USA Today notes, Benedict praised social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace “for forging friendships and understanding, but cautioned that online networking could isolate people from real social interaction."

Until next time, fair readers (and fellow Catholics). I’ve gotta go update my FB status …

Barry Callebaut may transfer chocolate division to Natra

Zurich, Switzerland-based Barry Callebaut and Valencia, Spain-based Natra have signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the transfer of Barry Callebaut’s consumer chocolate division, Stollwerck, to Natra.

This transaction would make Natra a significant private label and third-party chocolate maker in Europe, with estimated annual sales of approximately €850 million ($1.1 billion), according to pro forma combined figures for 2008, a share of 2% of the entire European cocoa and chocolate market ,and a pro forma production output of about 215,000 tonnes in 2008. The transaction also would make Barry Callebaut a minority shareholder of Natra and create a long-term outsourcing contract where Barry Callebaut would be required to supply a minimum of 85,000 tonnes per year of liquid chocolate to Natra. Under the agreement, Natra would reduce its investment in Natraceutical to less than 50% and no longer fully consolidate this investment in their accounts.

The transaction is subject to conditions such as secured long-term financing and approval from both companies’ board of directors. Natra and Barry Callebaut believe the transaction will be carried out in summer 2009.

For more information, visit www.barry-callebaut.com or www.natra.es.

Mars Chocolate president resigns

Bob Gamgort, global president of Mars Chocolate, has resigned from Mars, Inc., a Mars spokesperson has confirmed. Gamgort has agreed to consult with the company through the end of 2009. In the meantime, Mars CEO Paul S. Michaels will manage Mars Chocolate until a successor is named.

Gamgort was hired in 1998 as vice president of marketing for Mars’ U.S. Snackfood division. In 2002, he was promoted to North American president, according to an article in Advertising Age.

“We are disappointed to see him go and thank him for all of his contributions over the past 10 years,” Mars’ spokesperson commented.

For more information about Mars, visit www.mars.com.

Study reveals that consumers buy walnuts for health benefits

In an Attitude & Usage study conducted by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Rose Research and funded by the California Walnut Board, it was discovered that 67% of consumers agree that walnuts are healthy. To obtain these results, 1,000 men and women were interviewed to determine their thoughts about California Walnuts and how these thoughts have changed over time.

The study also found that nearly three-quarters of shoppers who buy walnuts purchase them for their health benefits and Omega-3 content. Additionally, more than half of consumers said they would buy products containing walnuts simply because they contain walnuts, and 53% said they would probably or definitely buy products with walnuts if they were offered at a reasonable price. More than 70% of shoppers said they would buy the product if it carried the health claim “is a rich source of antioxidants” or “is heart healthy.”

Top choices of pre-made or manufactured walnut-containing products include cookies (57%) and snack mixes (48%).

For more information, visit www.walnuts.org.

Native Gardens introduces new organic truffle flavors

Initially launched in February 2008 via Los Angeles stores and restaurants, Native Gardens’ organic chocolate truffles began a full marketing campaign in October 2008. Most recently, the company has added new flavors to the collection: Cabernet, Champagne, Mint, Pear, Raspberry and Tangerine. All the truffles are dairy-free, diabetic-friendly, naturally sweetened, and certified organic and vegan, with a low glycemic index and no artificial preservatives. In addition to their health claims, the truffles also come in recyclable packaging. They’re available online at www.chocolate.com and will be distributed at select Whole Foods stores this month. For more information, visit www.nativegardensinc.com.





Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar gets Fairtrade certification

Cadbury and the Fairtrade Foundation have announced plans to give Fairtrade certification to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar, a top-selling bar in the United Kingdowm, by the end of summer 2009. The certification would triple cocoa sales under Fairtrade terms for cocoa farmers in Ghana.

The announcement also marks the first anniversary of the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership (CCP), in which Cadbury is investing ₤45 million over the next 10 years to secure the futures of cocoa farming in Ghana, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean.

“Cadbury’s commitment is breakthrough news for the farmers in Ghana who are very excited that they will be able to sell more of their cocoa as Fairtrade, bringing greater benefits to their communities,” says Harriet Lamb, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation. “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to certify Cadbury Dairy Milk, enabling all those who buy it to make a real difference for cocoa farmers with every purchase. This certainly sets a new standard for the mainstream chocolate industry.”

“By working together, the Fairtrade Foundation and Cadbury believe we can get more people in the U.K. to buy Fairtrade products and achieve more for this cause than we ever could individually,” says Todd Stitzer, Cadbury’s chief executive. “This Fairtrade initiative is part of our ongoing commitment to cocoa farmers in Ghana where we originally established cocoa farms 100 years ago and last year launched the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership -- after all, what’s good for the farmers is good for our customers and our business.”

For more information, visit www.cadbury.com or www.fairtrade.org.uk.

sweet of the week: Q.bel Wafer Bars and Rolls

Nyack, N.Y.-based Q.bel Foods LLC has announced the introduction of its new line of all-natural chocolate candy bars at Whole Foods Market stores across the United States. The line consists of Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Wafer Rolls; and Crispy Rice Dark Chocolate, Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Wafer Bars. Each variety is made without any artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. The Wafer Bars are available in all Whole Foods Market stores, while the Wafer Rolls are available in the high volume and large-format stores only. For more information, visit www.qbelfoods.com.