Editor’s Letter: Take comfort
By Brian Hartz
As expected, the news from the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, has been dour, especially in regard to the restaurant and
foodservice industry, which is seeing a sharp decline in patronage as
worried consumers take up cooking and baking “comfort foods” at home.
As expected, the news from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has been dour, especially in regard to the restaurant and foodservice industry, which is seeing a sharp decline in patronage as worried consumers take up cooking and baking “comfort foods” at home. On the other side of the coin, however, grocery companies are benefiting from consumers’ desire to get back to basics and ride out these uncertain economic times.
“Consumers in North America are rediscovering the grocery store and cooking at home again, clearly to the benefit of some and the [sic] disbenefit of others as many restaurants really struggle … right now,” General Mills CEO Ken Powell said from Davos in a Jan. 31 Reuters article, which also reported that General Mills has been buoyed during the downturn by strong performance of its Betty Crocker and Pillsbury home baking brands.
For decades, eating out a few times a week had become a tradition for many U.S. and Canadian households, but “what we see now, over the last year and a half, is a very, very significant change in the direction of that trend,” Powell said.
When I was growing up, Friday dinner was almost always take-out pizza, and Saturday morning errands usually included a trip to the local bakery for doughnuts. Nowadays, when I visit my parents, I notice the pizza tradition has stayed, but the doughnut run is often reserved for when there are other out-of-town guests. It’s been replaced by cereal or oatmeal – courtesy of General Mills, most likely.
Many food industry experts predicted 2009 would be a year when comfort food prepared in the home reigned supreme and it looks like that forecast is proving accurate. Hormel’s Spam and Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese are flying off shelves as consumers dig in for the recession, while research firm Nielsen Co. reports that in the U.S., canning and freezing supplies enjoyed the highest annual growth rate of any grocery category as of November 2008.
But, if you’ll excuse the pun, take comfort – there are ways to capitalize on consumers’ cautionary spending. For example, in late January I attended a cupcake decorating class at Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream, a charming European-style café and bakery in Toronto’s Annex district. Cupcakes of any stripe are big right now, but none more so than the homemade variety, which make great gifts for almost any occasion.
Spotting an opportunity, Madeleines owner Kyla Eaglesham decided to put on an eight-week cupcake decorating class at the shop, charging $275 per head, and judging by the attendance the evening I attended, it should pan out to be a smart move. The enthusiastic students were a diverse mix of professionals and amateurs, men and women, young and old, and they filled the little shop’s upstairs seating area to capacity as they learned skills such as piping with different tips and making handmade floral decorations.
It was an inspiring evening, to be sure, and proof that the people in this industry possess the drive and creativity to weather this recession and come out refreshed and strong on the other side.
To give you further inspiration this month, Michelle Brisebois tells the story of a policewoman turned self-made fudge entrepreneur in far northern Ontario, and her column on pricing strategies for a recession will get you talking. Also in this issue, Tuija Seipell delivers good news for artisan bread makers, and with springtime and the season for graduations and weddings just around the corner, we bring you the latest tips, trends and ideas for making stunning cookies, cupcakes and wedding cakes.