Aisle Chatter

Karen is the director of marketing/digital strategy and the specialty foods editor at Food World and Food Trade News. With many years under her belt in the hospitality, food & beverage, and retail food industries, she transitioned to the media side of the business in 2011. She can be reached at

It’s November and we are in full swing for the holiday season! With Halloween just behind us and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas right around the corner, the food brands are constantly looking for ways to make their products stand out in an oversaturated market. This includes well-established lines, who in this day and age, cannot be one to rest on their laurels. Take Reese’s peanut butter cups. A coveted prize for any trick-or-treater, it makes the lower tier candies that get passed out on Hallow’s Eve a major disappointment in comparison. This year, the brand created a vending machine to solve those very woes: the Reese’s Candy Converter. Inspired to create the machine by the results of a survey it commissioned, Reese’s found that 90 percent of Americans have traded or wish they could have traded their unwanted Halloween candy. Essentially, dissatisfied trick-or-treaters could take their undesirable candies to the machine, which would swap it out for a Reese’s peanut butter cup, of which 10,000 were to be distributed by the vending apparatus.  The machine, which officially debuted at the Tarrytown Annual Halloween Parade, made a few stops between there and its final destination of New York City’s Washington Square Park for Halloween night.  In my opinion, the only thing that could improve this marketing idea is to make the candy converter available year round…

Also in a successful attempt to bring their name to the forefront of consumers minds is Pringles. After only releasing their line of Thanksgiving dinner-flavored chips to the media last year, the Kellogg-owned brand announced that they would open the trio of flavors- Turkey, Stuffing, and Pumpkin Pie – to consumers online this year on November 6.  But before you rush to your computers to order the limited edition set of canisters, think again. The holiday themed chips sold out in 41 minutes. Already there are a few eBay listings selling the set for $150 and on Giving Tuesday, Kellogg’s plans to sell a pack of the Thanksgiving trio to the highest bidder on the auction site as well.

Speaking of marketing, American cheese needs a new PR person. Once a must-have ingredient, especially for those with kids, sales of the processed cheese have seen a drop (projected to be 1.6 percent) for the fourth year in a row. Not only that, the price has seen a decrease to under $4 a pound, the first time in seven years. As is the case with many cultural shifts these days, blame the Millennials, whose desire to have a clean and high quality ingredient list is slowly killing the uniform squares of yellow-orange goodness. However, Kraft Heinz, who popularized processed cheese in 1916 and invented the genius individually wrapped Kraft Singles in 1965 when it was just Kraft, is not going down without a fight. The large CPG company has a 30 person R&D team that is focused on keeping it a mainstream product. According to Peter Cotter, the general manager of cheese and dairy for Kraft Heinz, its biggest selling point is “the melt.” Cotter states, “Honestly, you can’t get that in a natural cheese. It’s a very unique product. The creamy smooth texture and melt of the cheese. The natural cheeses, they just don’t melt that way.” As someone who has tried to move towards more healthful foods and simple wholesome ingredients, I must say that the nostalgia associated with a cellophane wrapped piece of cheese makes me sad to see its decline. I still recall the satisfaction of coming home from school and unwrapping the perfectly square piece of cheese to eat as a snack. Sometimes it was a medium for temporary art, where I could fold it into tinier squares or tear different shapes out of it, knowing that it wouldn’t crumble. I even enjoyed leaving the temporary impressions of my bite mark into a slice, which quickly was devoured after being briefly assessed. While I have a more refined palate now than I did as a six year old and I enjoy the many different types of real cheeses (too many to name) out on the market currently, there really is nothing like the simplicity and deliciousness of a buttery grilled cheese sandwich made with good ole American cheese product (since technically, it really can’t be classified as just a cheese).


In a month where we are reminded to be not only be thankful for what we have but also where the too real struggle with hunger is highlighted, retailers in the region once again continue to show their generosity and mindfulness. Both Giant Food and Giant/Martin’s will once again be presenting turkeys to area food banks. Giant Food will be donating 6,000 turkeys to five local Feeding America food banks throughout the month of November: the Maryland Food Bank, the Capital Area Food Bank,  the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the Food Bank of Delaware and the Fredericksburg Food Bank. This is all in conjunction with a three week hunger drive being held at all 164 stores during which customers can purchase hunger boxes to be donated directly to the closest Feeding America food bank. Not to be outdone, sister retailer Giant/ Martin’s donated a company history making 9,500 turkeys to 20 partner food banks in the area. The number is significant because it is meant to commemorate it’s 95th anniversary, which has been a year long celebration centered on giving back to community partners. Additionally, more than 200 Giant/Martin’s associates spent the morning of the large donation volunteering, organizing and restocking shelves at partner food banks to help them prepare in advance for the upcoming busy holiday season.  “Throughout our 95-year history, Giant has been a passionate supporter of the fight against hunger, and every day we are inspired by the dedication and compassion our food bank partners display in this ongoing fight,” said Nicholas Bertram, president of the Carlisle, PA based division of Ahold Delhaize USA. “We are honored to partner with them and do our part to help ensure all families are able to gather around the table to enjoy a warm holiday meal.”

Weis Markets also addressed the issue of food insecurity with its 11th annual Fight Hunger campaign, in which $340,000 was for more than 150 hunger relief organizations in the communities that it serves. The program, which ran from August 30 to October 3, gave customers the option to donate by using $1, $3, $5 or $10 vouchers or by rounding up at checkout. Customers also purchased and donated shelf stable items such as canned goods, pasta peanut butter and soup. “We are grateful to our customers for their generosity, and we’re proud of our associates for their commitment to fighting hunger,” stated Ron Bonacci, Weis Markets’ vice president of advertising and marketing. “Food insecurity remains a challenge in the markets we serve. In some of our key markets, one in seven live in food-insecure households, half of whom are children. We remain committed to fighting hunger year-round.”

And in the spirit of the upcoming festive season, the Safeway Georgetown store is holding an event to celebrate and raise awareness for their annual Holiday Bucks hunger relief campaign. The kickoff, which takes plan on November 13, is meant to bring attention to the campaign which raises funds to feed local families in need. Special guests include Santa Claus, The Washington Redskinettes and the Mrs. D.C. pageant winner. Proceeds will be used to purchase food that is donated to area food banks. Customers can make cash donations at checkout stands from November 1 to December 25.


And finally, before I sign off, I would like to commend Wegmans for not only being named as one of the 75 Best Large Workplaces for Women, but also for achieving the honor of being second in the rankings. The list, published in Fortune magazine, analyzed survey feedback from more than 4.5 million U.S. employees. The majority of the ranking is based on what women themselves reported in a 60-question Trust Index survey about their workplace and how fairly those experiences compared to men’s reports of the same workplaces. The ranking also takes into consideration how well represented women are in the workforce and throughout management with 15 percent of it based on this determination. Companies needed to employ at least 50 women, have a minimum of 20 percent of their non-executive managers be female and have at least have one of their executives be a woman just to be considered for this list.  It is by no means a small feat to make a work environment, especially one the size of the Rochester, NY-based retailer, conducive to such a positive environment for women. Congratulations, Wegmans, on the well-earned designation.


Wishing you all a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and surrounded by loved ones!

Until next month