TrendWire, February 2011

TrendWire, February 2011

Food & Drink

TrendWire, February 2011


The Food Channel Trendwire
February 2011 • Volume 25, Number 1 •

Taco Bell Lawsuit Raises Issue: What’s in Our Food?

The beef over Taco Bell’s tacos raises a bigger question.

As in, what is really in the foods we eat?

The Taco Bell customer who called a lawyer to ask the question, “Where’s the beef?” has left many Americans wondering, “What exactly was in that lunch I picked up at the drive-thru today?”

Taco Bell says it starts with 100% USDA-inspected beef and simmers it in a proprietary blend of seasonings and spices to give its seasoned beef the signature Taco Bell taste and texture. The company adds that it’s proud of the quality of its beef and identifies all the seasoning and spice ingredients on its website.

In fact, the company placed full page ads in major newspapers with the banner headline: “Thank you for suing us,” viewing the suit as an opportunity to set the record straight.

Taco Bell says the company’s seasoned beef is more than 88% USDA inspected beef.

a tacoPhoto credit: iStock

So what else is in that taco meat filling? Well, Taco Bell’s website says there’s water, seasoning, sugar, salt, plus things like soy lecithin (an emulsifier that prevents fat from separating from the mixture), maltodextrine (a starch that also helps stop separation, and adds flavor), and silicon dioxide—added to many products to help make the mixture easier to pour.

In fact, the ground beef used in many fast food restaurants is made up of the leftover trimmings from the cow—which is still meat, of course. Without the additives, the meat simply wouldn’t have much flavor.

But it’s not all about beef. Something as simple as fast food french fries often have hard-to-pronounce ingredients such as xanthan gum and sodium acid pyrophosphate.

Milk shakes are often much more than milk and ice cream. You can find as many as 14 ingredients or more.

Not that any of these additives are actually dangerous. What is more dangerous, argues Bryan Walsh, writing for TIME magazine, isn’t what’s not there in that beef taco, but rather what is there: cheap calories, fat, and sodium.

What it really seems to boil down to is this: people want to know what they’re eating.

It spite of all the negative publicity and jokes on the late night TV monologues, it seems Taco Bell’s loyal customer base is unfazed by the fallout surrounding the seasoned beef lawsuit—at least among those in the social media world. Analysis shows that consumers on Facebook and YouTube have rallied behind the chain and continue to be supportive. Only 3% of Taco Bell’s Facebook Fans say the lawsuit will “keep them away.” The company’s swift and no-nonsense PR response seems to have minimized damage and even fostered some increasing brand loyalty.

Nevertheless, going forward, we expect greater scrutiny of fast food advertising from consumer groups and a move toward improved transparency on the part of fast food advertisers.

Breakfast Trends 2011

The morning meal occasion has become the hot daypart. Just take a look at the battle going on between McDonald’s, Burger King, and Hardee’s. McDonald’s is pushing its fruit-and-maple oatmeal, offering the traditional breakfast item all day long. Burger King has spent millions in recent months promoting its breakfast menu. And Hardee’s may ignite a price war with its new budget breakfast platter consisting of a scratch-made buttermilk biscuit with a bowl of sausage gravy, one scrambled or folded egg, two strips of bacon, and a pile of Hash Rounds—all for $2.49. Even Wendy’s is inching back into the breakfast business, introducing a Fresh Made Breakfast menu in a number of test markets.

Here’s a quick look across the morning meal landscape at some of what we see happening now and in the near future.

Pizza for Breakfast. No, we’re not talking about cold pizza consumed in college dorm rooms after a big night off campus. Breakfast-style pizza tops the list of the ten hottest menu items for the morning meal, according to market research company Technomic. The list is based on the growth of mentions on restaurant menus in the second half of 2010. Domino’s is one chain who’s experimenting with the concept.

Healthy Is Hot. Schools are being pressured to serve healthier meal options, including for the breakfast meal, thanks in part to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and food safety overhaul legislation signed into law late last year. Plus, with aging Baby Boomers paying more attention to health and nutrition, food marketers will want to tap into that need. One good example: Subway promoting its egg white breakfast sandwich.

Chocolate for Breakfast. At the recently completed Winter Fancy Food Show, this was ranked as one of the top five trends by a panel of experts. Plus, Dunkin’ Donuts just introduced a line of yeast-raised chocolate donuts. Dunkin’ claims to be the only domestic chain to offer this unique, airy type of chocolate donut. Did we say “healthy”? Well, dark chocolate has lots of antioxidants.

Other morning meal trends: Non-traditional breakfast spreads gaining traction in the U.S., such as Nutella and grind-your-own nut spreads, especially almond butter. Ethnic breakfast was named a top breakfast trend in a survey of chefs, and oatmeal looks likely to be the breakfast food of the year, thanks to promotional efforts by Jamba Juice, Starbucks, McDonald’s and others.

The Food Channel is set to release its Top Ten Breakfast Trends report later this month, so check back for that.

Sally Smith: Winging Her Way to the Top

Leaders with Guts Interview Series

When Sally Smith joined Buffalo Wild Wings in 1994, the chain was struggling. Looking back, Smith has said if it had been a patient it would have been on life support. She joined the company as CFO with a strong business and financial background, but no restaurant experience. The company had 35 units, processes were non-existent, and the company’s finances were near ruin. Smith was named president and CEO in 1996 and made a number of tough decisions that turned the tide. She changed the name and logo, closed underperforming units and updated and modernized the units, among other strategic moves. Today Smith is one of the most admired foodservice executives in the U.S., leading a chain of 720 restaurants across 44 states. Here are some highlights from her interview for FoodChannelPRO.

  • When she first joined the fledgling chain, one of the first things she needed to do was put together a priority list. In the beginning, she says, the priority list was horizontal instead of vertical. “Rather than going down a list of 1,2,3,4… it was all number ones straight across.”

  • Coming on board, Smith took on a salary that was half of what she had been making. “I like a challenge,” Smith says.

  • On her lack of restaurant experience: “I came in with no preconceived notions. That was one advantage.”

  • She admits that in the beginning she was driven by a fear of failure. She thought a lot about all the people and the families whose livelihoods were at stake. “I felt we couldn’t fail,” she says.

View the complete series of in-depth interviews.

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