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 February and nothing starts off the month like the Super Bowl. While the whole production, from the game itself to the halftime show and even most of the commercials were a bit of a yawn, there was one commercial that stood out to me not necessarily because of the quality but because of its approach. The Michelob Ultra Pure Gold Organic Beer ad featuring Zoe Kravitz incorporated techniques meant to elicit an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). This is something that has become an online phenomenon, particularly on youTube, in which specific auditory and/or visual stimuli such as a whispered voice or a gentle tapping is meant to create a tingling sensation often in the scalp or the back of the neck that can move down the arms and the legs and into the fingers and toes. It is often described as having a relaxing effect and watching videos catered towards ASMR have been known to help alleviate insomnia. The beer company has engaged this cutting edge approach to market its beer in order to target Millennials, many who have turned away from to wines and hard liquors instead, because they are perceived as the “healthier” options as far as alcohol is concerned. The commercial, which incorporates many quick nature scenes before opening up to a breathtaking mountain vista, has spokesperson Kravitz whisper very simple but soothing words about the beer as she melodically drums her fingers against the bottle, releasing a pleasing fwssssssshing sound as the bottle is uncapped. Even the fizzing noise you hear as the beer is poured into a glass is therapeutic. It all has a very meditative quality, except let’s keep in mind that it is still just a beer, even if its organic. But maybe the perceived notion that it’s a healthier choice versus its competitors (Millennials love labels such as “organic” and “non-GMO,” even when they don’t fully understand them) will be enough to turn the tides in beer sales. If it does, expect to see many more spine-tingling ASMR-targeting ads in the near future.

Also very big in February is anything romance related as the commercial holiday of Valentine’s Day is here to try to guilt consumers into emptying their pockets to prove their affection and allegiance to loved ones. But in this day and age when health has become a major concern for a lot of people, the heart-shaped box of chocolates and candies aren’t going to cut it anymore. The Stop & Shop stores in Hartford, CT have just the solution for today’s Paleo and Keto fanatics for whom sugar is a big no-no. This year, between February 7 and 14, the retailer will be featuring raw, heart shaped steaks and steak tip roses on a bed of greens – meat cuts dolled up to look pretty for that very special someone who has cut the sugar out of his or her diet. The packaged meats even have elaborately tied red satin ribbons to make your Valentine’s heart swoon (if not for the aesthetic factor, then because it will soon be overloaded with a huge dose of animal protein). Too perishable a product for you? Another meat-based alternative for showcasing your affection is the Beef Jerky Valentine’s Day bouquet, available for a limited time from The Manly Man Company. The treats, which come as a half dozen or a dozen, are your choice of rose or daisy shaped jerky “flowers” with the option of one of four flavors: original, mixed, hot or and teriyaki. They even get delivered in a glass or stainless pint glass emblazoned with the company’s name. The company also offers stemless bacon jerky dipped in dark chocolate for those looking to give sweets to their sweet instead. How’s that for a romantic gesture?

And for those of you who believe Valentine’s Day cannot be complete without the nostalgic chalk-like Sweetheart candy hearts that have simple statements like “Be Mine” and “Love You” stamped on in a red typewriter font, worry no more! Even though Necco, the New England based confectioner that created these iconic Valentine’s staples went out of business and the company that bought them, Spangler Candy Co., could not get production up and running in time for this year’s holiday, Brach’s has come to save the day. The Oak Brook, IL-based candy manufacturer, which has been selling its own version of heart-shaped confections with cute messages – Conversation Hearts – since the 60s, will make their candies widely available at mass retailers this year. Plus, in addition to the time-honored messages that we are accustomed to, they feature more modern phrases and acronyms such as LYMY (Love You Miss You) and TTYL (Talk to You Later), which are more the norm in this text and tech savvy world.


Speaking of being tech savvy, McCormick & Company, the global leader in spices and seasonings, is turning to AI to help it come up with new products. The Hunt Valley, MD-based manufacturer partnered up with IBM Research to mine 40-plus years of data it has collected about spices, taste profiles and customer preferences to accelerate the creation of new flavor combinations. The first three fruits of this labor will be introduced as a line of one dish recipe mixes called “ONE” by mid-2019: Tuscan Shrimp, Bourbon Pork Tenderloin and New Orleans Sausage. The manufacturer currently depends on a five-step system to produce new flavor combos: ideation, development, testing, scale up, and commercialization and maintenance. Most efforts go into the initial two first steps and the testing aspect alone can take 50 to 150 iterations over a time period spanning anywhere from two weeks to six months. McCormick believes the use of AI can accelerate the speed of new flavor products to market by up to three times. “McCormick’s use of artificial intelligence highlights our commitment to insight-driven innovation and the application of the most forward-looking technologies to continually enhance our products and bring new flavors to market,” said company chairman, president and CEO Lawrence Kurzius. “This is one of several projects in our pipeline where we’ve embraced new and emerging technologies.”  The company plans to scale this technology globally by 2021.

Also keeping up with technology is Giant Food, which has launched its first-ever podcast, “Nutrition Made Easy!” The bi-weekly informative series of discussions, led by the Landover, MD-based retailer’s registered dietitians and nutritionists, will answer customers’ most frequently asked questions and can be used as a tool for healthcare providers to educate patients. Through two series – clinical and consumer – listeners are offered insight into today’s food news and trends. The clinical series is designed to assist customers in managing a health care diagnosis and will help translate patients’ biggest questions into actionable steps for meeting their goals through everyday choices by providing scientific and evidence-based solutions. The series will also be shared with Giant’s local health partners as a resource for their patients. Additionally, in the consumer series episodes, listeners are offered advice for choosing what to put in their shopping carts, and on their dinner plates through a variety of food topics. Customers will be offered nutrition advice they can take with them and incorporate into daily life. “Giant Food proudly supports our customers in navigating their wellness journey by offering in-store nutritionists, The Guiding Stars Program, and now our first podcast, ‘Nutrition Made Easy!,’” stated Gordon Reid, Giant Food president. “We’re excited to have an accessible space where shoppers can get their biggest questions about their health and favorite products answered by our in-store industry experts.” The podcast is now available online at, and on iTunes or Google Play.


Two big congratulations to Giant/Martin’s and Shoprite, which both received the 2018 Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) Gold Plate Award at this year’s FMI Midwinter Executive Conference in Miami, FL. The awards (in recognition of both retailers’ contributions to the FMI’s National Family Meals Month campaign) honor retailers, suppliers, and community collaborators that create innovative and impactful campaigns that help families share one more meal each week at home and were presented at the “Stir It Up” fundraising event during the annual industry confab. Giant/Martin’ launched its “Power of One More Family Meal” campaign last September, which was an omni-channel experience that delivered tools, resources and moneysaving offers to help customers experience to power one more family meal can have. In addition to the inspirational stories shared in ads via TV, radio, billboards and the Giant/Martin’s website, the Carlisle, PA based division of Ahold Delhaize USA also shared recipes, easy meal solutions and cost saving offers with their customers through multiple channels, held in-store wellness walks with Giant nutritionists, and donated 17 million meal to families in need through monetary and product donations made possible by the retailer and its customers. “At Giant, we believe that creating strong and healthy communities starts by bringing families together around the table to share a nutritious and delicious meal,” said Nicholas Bertram, president of Giant/Martin’s. “Giant is a strong supporter of family meals year-round and strives to offer families easy, affordable and nutritious meal solutions every day. National Family Meals Month was the perfect time for us to amplify our efforts to raise awareness around the importance of family meals and we are honored to have our campaign recognized by FMI.”

Shoprite posted “Family Meals Month” announcements in its weekly circular, on thousands of posts on social media channels and on a dedicated landing page on the Shoprite website. It also hosted in-store events with their dieticians, cooking demos and provided free recipe books about the importance and power of sharing family meals. “Bringing families together around a common table is at the heart of what we do as a company,” said Wakefern COO Joe Sheridan. “Our associates are constantly searching for ways to help families solve their dinner dilemmas. We’re grateful to our friends at FMI for recognizing the outstanding work this program has done and the impact it has had on our customers.” Wakefern Chairman and CEO Joe Colalillo added, “This is an incredible honor. My wife Jeannie and I have always made family meals a priority in our household. It’s wonderful to see that our stores are making it easier for other families in our community to sit down and share a meal together.”

What an amazing accomplishment for both retailers!

Until next month…