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Jul 24, 2014 / Richard Hall

Crazy summer launches

Summer product launches often stretch beyond the limits of ordinary imaginations and this season is no exception. Here are my top four so far:

• Tipsy, a UK range of sparkling alcohol flavoured waters without alcohol – already set on international expansion.

• Friends Fun Coffee Wine, a US wine and coffee combination with 6% alcohol.

• Arty, the world’s first artichoke water, from California.

• Vittel’s Refresh Cap, which has a twistable timer and clicks up a plastic flag after an hour to remind you about rehydrating.

Ingenious. Now for the beach.

Jul 22, 2014 / Richard Hall

Making plastic out of air

I’ve always been sceptical about innovation magic. I invariably dismiss ‘best tasting’. I’ve yet to see a viable ‘water from air’ proposition, despite dozens of attempts.

But what about the idea of carbon-negative plastic ? Newlight Technologies has reportedly developed a way to pull carbon out of pollution in the air and turn it into plastic.

It sounds too good to be true, but I wouldn’t bet against it some day.

Jul 17, 2014 / Richard Hall

250 calorie cap for confectionery

How do we tackle obesity? How can the food industry help? This seems a really good idea – simple, practical, understandable.

The essence is a 250 calorie limit for all single-serve confectionery items in shops. Mars was the first to commit in 2012. Now many other leading companies including Mondelez, Nestlé and PepsiCo have signed up, with the endorsement of the industrywide Food and Drink Federation.

At the moment, this is a primarily UK initiative. I do hope it can be unwrapped internationally.

Jul 15, 2014 / Richard Hall

Now no aspartame

Intense sweetener aspartame has been subjected to endless scrutiny and every major public study has declared it safe for human consumption.

Yet US food giant General Mills has announced it will switch sweeteners in its Yoplait Light product and promote this change with a “Now no aspartame” statement on pack.

The debate about diet and health is already complex enough without food companies themselves exacerbating prejudice and perception. I fear this is an initiative that could backfire on industry by making innovation even harder and consumer trust more difficult to retain.

Jul 10, 2014 / Richard Hall

27 acquisitions in June

June was an unusual month for food and drink transactions. Just 27 were recorded on the database and none was above €600 million.

The largest, at €590 million, was a private equity and management deal over Labeyrie Fine Food in France.

The 27 were spread across many sectors, including 5 in packaging, 4 in alcohol, 3 in soft drinks and 2 each in dairy and ingredients.

Most were within national borders and only 8 fully international. The United States featured in 13, France in 5 and the United Kingdom in 4, with China, Spain and Switzerland on 2 each.

Jul 8, 2014 / Richard Hall

Food sense from United Nations

At last, a global policy that links agriculture to food. The United Nations Global Compact, which Zenith signed some ten years ago, has added business principles for food and agriculture.

The rationale is that “business is a critical partner for governments … to make food systems secure and agricultural sustainable.”

The first principle is the most important because it links production to purpose, which is health and nutrition – “to provide nutrition and promote health for every person on the planet.”

If your company hasn’t signed up to the UN Global Compact, I believe you really should consider it. Even more so now. It’s very easy to sign up. It’s rather harder to follow up.

Jul 3, 2014 / Richard Hall

Reducing sweetness

My views on this are not fully formed, so I would welcome other opinions.

Until recently, I thought part of the solution to calories from sugar should be a progressive 1-2% a year sugar content reduction across a wide range of food and drink products and this would work as well as it has done for salt.

But now I’m not so sure. Sweetness with calories can so easily be replaced by sweetness without calories. Sweetness reduction would depend on unprecedented government and industry co-operation. Even then, it would be unlikely to work unless consumer choice was massively curtailed.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that desserts and confectionery should be outlawed ? Let chocolate be chocolate.

The deciding factor in my change of heart was being told that the benchmark for sweetness in all our tastes is the natural sweetness of breast milk for babies. And no one has advocated changing that.

Jul 1, 2014 / Richard Hall

Drinkpreneur insights

20 start-up drinkpreneurs from around Europe and beyond made Dragons’ Den style pitches of just 90 seconds to a panel of brand, retail and finance experts at Zenith’s first Drinkpreneur Live event in partnership with MyDrink Beverages last month.

There were remarkable similarities and contrasts, combined with even more notable courage and professionalism. My congratulations to the winning Oob green tea range.

In the course of many learnings from the day, I was particularly struck by two from Tesco Soft Drinks Category Buying Manager David Beardmore:

• “90% of brands that we deal with, that have failed, have failed because they ran out of cash.”

• Liquid water enhancers are already selling at a rate of £130,000 per week in Tesco stores.