Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to launch a food brand: Interview with Chris Cornyn from Supermarket Superstar

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Food marketing expert Chris Cornyn helps aspiring entrepreneur Patricia Kiernan design her label on Lifetime's Supermarket Superstar (photo: Adam Taylor)

Have you ever thought of taking your signature dish to supermarket shelves? Anyone ever told you that you should bottle your barbecue sauce, salad dressing, homemade jam?

[Raises hand.]

That's why I was so excited to talk with Chris Cornyn, founder of DINE Marketing, one of the country's premier food branding companies. Not only has DINE developed the brands and packaging for more than 2,000 different food products, but Chris is currently a mentor on Lifetime's new food reality show Supermarket Superstar, where aspiring food entrepreneurs compete to get their products manufactured and in front of grocery buyers. If anyone knows what it takes to make a food product successful, he does. Read and learn.

Erika: How long does a product have to get shoppers' attention?

Chris Cornyn: There's a lot of research on that. It takes somewhere between 2.5 and 3 seconds for a consumer to decide whether they're going to pick up a product - we call that "The Stop." If they pick it up, then generally they look at the label. That's "The Sell" - they look at the photo or illustration, the product if it's showing, and the information on the label to decide whether they want to buy it.

Erika: When the Supermarket Superstar contestants came in, how far along were they in their product development processes?

The Supermarket Superstar mentors: From left, Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies, chef Michael Chiarello, and Cornyn, with program host Stacy Keibler (photo: Adam Taylor)

Chris Cornyn: All of them had an idea that they thought belonged on supermarket shelves. But none had thought out what we call "The 6 P's": product, positioning, packaging, production, profit, and promotion. I assume anyone who wants to get into the food business has a delicious product. But the other P's are what make the product work.

Erika: When you first meet the three contestants in each episode, they give you a short pitch. How much help did they get with that?

Chris Cornyn: I don't really know - that was the first exposure we three mentors had to the contestants. I heard some of the ideas and thought "That's a home run - just needs a little tweaking." Other people came in with unbelievable passion, conviction, and personality, but they didn't have the product to match.

Erika: What did you think of the guy who made snacks out of cricket flour [in the Natural Foods episode]?

Chris Cornyn: I was rooting for him because he's trying to change the world by making a sustainable protein that helps the planet. We're one of the only countries that doesn't eat insects - you can go down to Mexico and get some amazing cricket tacos. Is America ready to start eating bugs? Maybe not. But is he a trend-setter and thinking ahead? Absolutely.

Erika: In one episode the contestants made barbecue sauce. Does the world really need another barbecue sauce?

Chris Cornyn: Actually, a mature category like barbecue sauce is ripe for innovation. Consumers like to try new products, even if they're really similar to existing products, just because they're new. What about a barbecue sauce with an ethnic twist? Or a sustainable angle? Or a local style of sauce that's not as well known? There are ways to make everything new.

Erika: What trends do you see in food product labeling and packaging?

Chris Cornyn: The label should have as few ingredients as possible, and the easier they are to pronounce, the better. The package and label have to stand out in the product's category. I recommend that food entrepreneurs go buy every single product in their category and set them up like a grocery store shelf, then put their product in the middle and ask random people - not family and friends and neighbors - which ones they'd pick up.

Erika: Once you get your product made [and there's a whole manufacturing issue to deal with which doesn't get a lot of attention on the show - it's pretty technical], then you have to sell it. How does that usually happen?

Chris Cornyn: The most successful food entrepreneurs are the ones who go out and sell it themselves, often starting with small independent grocery stores or at farmers markets. They know the product and they have the passion - no hired gun broker or salesperson can replicate that passion. When you see entrepreneurs demoing their products in markets, that passion comes across both to consumers and to supermarket buyers.

Supermarket Superstar airs Monday nights on Lifetime. Check your local listings for channel and time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Santa Rosa plum jam

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The first thing I did when my husband and I bought our house in Santa Monica 17 years ago was to plant fruit trees in the backyard.

The house came with an old avocado tree, a scraggly lemon tree, and a dwarf fig tree. I put in lime, tangerine, Meyer lemon, kumquat.

Most of which died. Turns out the huge eucalyptus tree we removed when we moved in did something nasty to the soil, and baby trees don't like eucalyptus oil.

But the Santa Rosa plum tree I put in about five years ago has held its own. Last year it gave us three plums. I was encouraged.

This year we got a cool dozen and a half plums. All of which ripened at once. So I cut them up, added some sugar and boiled them down into a gem-colored jam that looks and tastes like a southern California sunset during fire season, all flame-red and intense.

Santa Rosa plums are hard to find outside California. They're thin-skinned and turn soft as soon as they ripen, so shipping them is nearly impossible. But you'll never find a plum that tastes more like a plum than a Santa Rosa. If you see them, grab them.

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Santa Rosa plum jam
Fruit, sugar and heat: That's all you need to make this Santa Rosa plum jam. If you can't find Santa Rosas, substitute another tart, purple-skinned plum.
  • 2 pounds Santa Rosa plums, pitted and chopped (weigh after removing pits)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
In a medium-sized pot, combine the chopped plums with the sugar. Let sit 5 minutes. Bring the plum mixture to a boil, then quickly turn down the heat to medium (not low) and cook the jam about 20 minutes, until the syrup has thickened and the bubbles coming to the top are big and viscous. Turn off the heat and puree the jam with a hand-held immersion blender, or pour the mixture into a countertop blender or food processor and blend until smooth.Immediately pour the jam into a clean jar or other glass container. Cover, let cool on the counter, then refrigerate until chilled. Use within 4 weeks. (Alternatively, you can process the jam in a water bath according to standard canning methods - I'm just way too lazy.)
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Broccoli fritters

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I try not to get my kids hooked on fried vegetables, but some days I figure fried vegetables are better than no vegetables.

My husband's book club met at our house and left us with half a tray of roasted broccoli. I chopped it up, added some eggs and flour, and fried away. Hot Dog Boy downed a dozen. Mission accomplished.

How do you use leftover vegetables? I'd love to hear your ideas!

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Broccoli fritters
Leftover cooked broccoli morphs neatly into crispy broccoli fritters.
  • 4 cups roasted or steamed broccoli, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 lemon (juice and zest)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (may need less if the broccoli is already salted)
  • grapeseed or canola oil, for frying
In a large bowl, mix together the broccoli, eggs, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, cheese, and salt.Heat about 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, start frying the fritters, using about 2 Tablespoons of the broccoli mixture for each fritter and flattening the patties gently with a spatula. Pan-fry until golden brown on both sides, then put the finished fritters on a sheet pan lined with paper towels to let some of the oil wick away.Continue cooking the broccoli fritters, adding more oil to the pan as necessary, until all the broccoli mixture has been used.Serve the broccoli fritters hot.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 2 dozen 4-inch fritters