Food Market brings news, talk and insight into the food business, from farms to supermarkets to restaurants. Reporters Mike Hughlett and Tom Meersman delve into the work of Minnesota’s food companies and issues such as food safety and labeling.

Grudge Match: Fruity Pebbles vs. Fruity Dyno-Bites

Posted by: Mike Hughlett Updated: November 19, 2014 - 1:13 PM

In a battle pitting Cocoa Pebbles against Cocoa Dyno-Bites, the Flintstone namesake cereal recently won a round over its knockoff rival.

Cocoa Pebbles’ maker, Post Foods, prevailed in an advertising tiff with Minnesota’s MOM Brands, maker of Malt-O-Meal cold cereals, which are mostly patterned after more established brands.

A national advertising self-regulatory group this week recommended that MOM Brands discontinue certain marketing claims based on taste tests. Lakeville-based MOM, however, said it will appeal the finding.

Post challenged claims made on product packaging, as well as in point-of-sale, internet and TV ads. The claims included that Cocoa Dyno-Bites, Fruity Dyno-Bites and Honey Buzzers won in taste tests over Post’s Cocoa Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles and Honeycomb respectively.

The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureaus shot down a couple of Post’s claims and said MOM Brands sought to design its taste tests in accordance with the ad group’s precedents.

However, NAD was concerned that while MOM made “national” taste claims about its Malt-O-Meal cereals, it used only one testing center in the Northeast instead of at least two. MOM Brands said it conducted tests in 10 locations throughout the country. NAD also questioned the age range of taste test subjects in the Malt-O-Meal ads.

MOM Brands, in its “advertiser’s statement” to NAD, said it agrees with most of the group’s decision, but is appealing NAD’s finding on taste testing. The appeal will heard by an advertising self-regulatory review board.

Minnesota's elite apple-taster

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: November 13, 2014 - 3:50 PM

In case you missed it, Star Tribune reporter Kim Palmer wrote a fascinating story about David Bedford, a master apple breeder at the University of Minnesota who tastes 500 to 600 apples a day.  The U’s research is one of three major apple breeding programs in the nation, and began more than a century ago.  Teams of University researchers have introduced 27 new apple varieties during that time, including the popular Honeycrisp in 1991, Zestar! in 1998, and SweeTango in 2009.

To read the story, go to: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/282309561.html

No to GMO labels

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: November 7, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Voters in Oregon and Colorado turned down high-profile ballot initiatives this week that would have required labels on foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered crops.

The Colorado proposal was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin.  It would have required companies to label packaged foods with GMO ingredients with the words “produced with genetic engineering.”

Oregon’s ballot measure lost narrowly, and would have required the labels to include the words “genetically engineered.”

Genetically engineered corn, soybeans, sugar beets and other crops are grown widely in the U.S. and used as oils, refined sugar, syrups, and grains in many food products.

Supporters of GMO labeling say foods made with GMO ingredients may be harmful to human health, and that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

Opponents say that genetically modified crops are as safe as traditional crops, and that labeling would be unnecessary and costly for manufacturers, and misleading to consumers.

Similar mandatory labeling measures failed at the ballot box in Washington state last year, and in California in 2012.  This summer, Vermont’s governor signed the nation’s first GMO labeling requirement into law, effective in 2016, but a group of grocery manufacturers, biotech firms and farmer groups have sued to block it.

Connecticut and Maine have also passed GMO labeling laws, but they won’t take effect unless neighboring states pass similar legislation.  Proposals to label genetically altered food have also been introduced in about 20 other states.

A new Minnesota apple in search of a name

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: October 28, 2014 - 2:44 PM

A new apple developed by University of Minnesota researchers is making its way into the early-season apple market.  Temporarily named the MN55, the new variety is a cross between the popular Honeycrisp apple and the MonArk, an apple known for its early ripening date.

Jim Luby, apple researcher and director of the university’s fruit crops breeding project, said he and several others began developing the new apple in 1997 to get the qualities of Honeycrisp into an apple that ripens about a month earlier.  Many early season apples tend to be soft and to spoil easily, he said.

The flavor, juiciness and appearance of the apple may boost early season sales, researchers said, and jump-start trips to pick-your-own apple orchards that peak in late September.

Despite the apple’s many good qualities, which include long storage, it may have one downside.  MN55 apples sometimes fall off trees prematurely, Luby said.

Minnesota growers and orchards are able to grow and sell MN55 now, but it won’t be widely available for a few years until trees grow larger. Washington-based Stemilt Growers is licensed to market the new apple nationally, and expects to begin shipping it to grocers across the country in a few years.

In the meantime, the University and Stemilt are trying to come up with a permanent name for the apple that will be unique and easy to remember.

Earlycrisp?  HoneyMon?    

Orange corn? Just in time for Halloween

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: October 24, 2014 - 12:07 PM

Photo: Purdue Agricultural Communication, Natalie van HoosePurdue University researchers have identified genes that can be used to naturally convert white or yellow corn to orange corn that is rich in provitamin A carotenoids. The biofortified orange corn can help combat vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness in up to 500,000 children a year, mostly in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Purdue agronomy professor Torbert Rocheford that the research provides the genetic blueprint to quickly and cost-effectively produce the orange corn with vitamin A-rich kernels by “using natural plant breeding methods, not transgenics.”

The corn is “dent corn,” widely used in food manufacturing as a base ingredient for cornmeal flour, corn chips, tortillas and taco shells.

In a statement, Rocheford said that identifying the genes will help plant breeders develop novel biofortified corn varieties for Africa and in the U.S. There is now sufficient genetic information, he said, “to begin developing a major public-private sector collaboration” with the goal of providing orange corn to farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Some varieties of orange corn are already grown in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana.  However, Rocheford said efforts are needed to produce orange corn with higher levels of Vitamin A that can make a difference in improving health of African consumers.

Biofortified orange corn can also strengthen the immune system, researchers said, and prevent macular degeneration that causes visual impairments and blindness, especially in the elderly.

Rocheford said that an open-pollinated variety of the orange corn could be available for organic and local growers in the U.S. by 2016.

 (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Natalie van Hoose)
 

Who's the largest of them all?

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: October 20, 2014 - 4:54 PM

Minnesota-based CHS Inc. was the largest agricultural cooperative in the nation in 2013, according to the latest annual list by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company was so large that it brought in more revenue – more than $44.4 billion - than the next four cooperatives combined. CHS is an energy, farm supply, grain and food co-op based in St. Paul.

Land O’Lakes, Inc., also headquartered in St. Paul, was second on the list with $14.2 billion in gross revenues. It is also categorized as a mixed co-op, with interests in farm supply, food and dairy businesses.

USDA prepares the list of 100 top agricultural cooperatives each year, and issued the latest report last week. Other Minnesota co-ops towards the top of the list were Associated Milk Producers, Inc. of New Ulm, at #12, and American Crystal Sugar Company of Moorhead at #18.

The top 100 co-ops as a group experienced a third consecutive year of record sales, according to the report, with reported revenue of $174 billion in 2013, up almost 9 percent from 2012. USDA said 2013 net income from the group was $3.5 billion, down about $25 million from the record set in 2012.

The fastest growth in the past decade has been grain cooperatives, which rose from 19 on the top 100 list in 2004 to 41 in 2013. Dairy co-ops dropped from 28 to 21 during that time, and farm supply cooperatives grew from 13 to 16 on the list.

Iowa had the most co-ops on the list with 16. Minnesota ranked second among the states with 13, followed by Nebraska with nine, and Illinois and Wisconsin with five each. In terms of total business volume, Minnesota co-ops on the list led the nation.

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