It’s 2019. We still don’t know what to have for breakfast

We’ve been lied to and lied to. Ever since we were told to ‘Dig for Victory’ back in 1941 governments have grown addicted to telling us how and what to eat in order to stay healthy. Often they were wrong. Sometimes, very wrong. Not that they were strategically malicious, you understand. Like all professional liars governments make stuff up, for often very good reasons…but once evidence emerges to deflate their well meaning hunches, instead of coming clean they double down or wriggle duplicitously so that the edges of truth become blurred and impossible to make out.

Fat is the obvious example. Scientists originally promoted low fat diets back in the fifties, along with the concept of controlling calories for cardiovascular health. Post war optimism ultimately embraced the low fat, high carb lifestyle. After all, we watched as the fat solidified after our morning fry up, and we certainly didn’t want that clogging up our arteries! So, in the sixties we switched to Cornflakes (along with a cup of sugar).

It turns out this was the worst advice given since the days of blood letting. Today, Cardiovascular Disease is the number one killer, responsible for a third of all premature deaths. A third ffs! But did we get an apology for the untold slaughter of a million innocent butter-dodgers?

New evidence contradicts everything the World Health Organisation still evangelises. Namely, saturated fats directly enable us to absorb essential minerals and vitamins, build cell membranes, and raise levels of good cholesterol…at the same time as disarming the bad. Bread and dripping anyone?

Just as the medical institutions enthusiastically leapt on the fat bandwagon, so they jumped on the cholesterol one too. Latest evidence suggests bad cholesterol may not be that wicked after all, despite Statins being one of the world’s most widely prescribed drugs ever. Bandwagons build tremendous momentum when they get going, and rather than change direction they simply get outpaced by a newer one.

A case in point is the anti-meat bandwagon, which is currently gathering speed at one hell of a rate. Only a few years ago, vegans and vegetarians were a rare and endangered species notable mainly for their nose-rings and knitted socks. Today by contrast, even the reddest-blooded meat enthusiast will boast of the joys of flexitarianism. Shamed by a vitriolic climate of health-freakery, carnivores must now be wary of offending their friends and colleagues. They nibble their pork pies furtively inside the wrapper and sensitively lower their voices when recounting tales of the weekend barbecue. 

But actual evidence proving red meat causes cancer, which we hear on an almost daily basis, is very dubious indeed (the worst offender is very well done, or over-roasted meat…much like the risk of burnt toast) The WHO’s website sprinkles its meat warnings with a generous handful of mights and maybes, but then the press get hold of it and distil a thousand words into another bite-sized, blood-curdling headline. I can’t help but think this is driven primarily by environmental concerns, and our own health, rather than the planet’s, is their way of scaring us into abstention. (These are the things that keep me up at night)

Before the virtue signallers among you grin too broadly above your enormous plate of under-cooked kale, it’s worth pointing out that every silver lining is wrapped in a miserable, grey cloud. In short, iron in vegetables is nowhere near as absorbable as the iron in red meat. Rates of anaemia among vegans is rising, along with other delightfully named conditions such as Leaky Gut and Fatty Liver Disease. And we haven’t got time to get into the whole side effects of phytoestrogens thing, but trust me, it’s pretty scary. And believe it or not, just like everything else, you can have too many vegetables in your diet. A big plateful of fibre takes so much digesting that it can cause a deficiency in essential proteins and fats. Suck on that, smug potato.

If you don’t believe me, read this personal story of an ex-vegan:

https://www.cleaneatingkitchen.com/vegan-diet-dangers-health/

Things are changing so fast. We now know that many of the vegetable oils we glugged so enthusiastically a few years ago are much worse for us than lard, and  probably increase the risk of heart disease. So, it looks like we’ll learn to love lard like it’s 1939 again.

Fruit is another minefield of contradictions. Not long ago we were told to eat as much fruit as humanly possible, presumably because it was unlikely anyone could overdose on oranges. Blueberries, we were told, are a superfood that can prevent the cancer we’re all growing as a result of our meat addiction. Armed with this very rare, good news we gleefully poured bucketfuls of berries into the blender in the hope of living to 150. Within a few short weeks however, an alternative truth emerged: the high sugar content in fruit means we may as well drink Coca Cola.

It gets worse. After a thirty thousand year love affair, our most worshipped and romanticised food icon of all time, fresh bread is suddenly the worse thing we eat on a daily basis. News just in is that it’s loaded with salt, sugar, contains very few nutrients if any, and is no better for us than a box of Mr Kiplings.

The problem with advice from colossal institutions like the WHO or the NHS, is that it will never, ever, be up to date. Like ocean going tankers, embarked on a specific course, it is understandably impossible for big organisations to change direction overnight. So much time and money has been invested, millions, if not billions of people in hundreds of countries have been nudged or coaxed to follow certain guidelines, a thousand initiatives have been launched and hundreds of billion dollar deals have been made with Big Pharma. So here we are in 2019, surrounded by advanced technology, armies of super-scientists, legions of researchers and Yottabytes of detailed data, and yet we…actually…don’t…know…what…the…bloody…hell…to…have…for…breakfast. Full English, buttered toast, yoghurt, or a blueberry smoothie? You tell me.

There is, however, hope on the horizon in the shape of our little slab of black glass, yet again. If we wish, our smart-phone will shortly have access to our personal genome: the entire map of our unique DNA and all the biological propensities and fragilities our loving forefathers bestowed upon us. An army of apps will surely follow to advise and warn and encourage us to do what’s best for specifically for us, not generalised, out of date, one-size-fits-all mandates designed for entire populations.

Big data is really powerful when it gets small and personal. Now, pass the butter.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants

  Howard Saunders   Apr 17, 2019   Food, Future, pizza, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

WE MUST GRAB CHRISTMAS BY THE BAUBLES

Being an Englishman at Christmas gives us a wonderfully warm glow. The Scots have their Hogmanay and haggis throwing, Australians will be busy at the barbie, the Americans have Thanksgiving, but Christmas, a proper chestnut roasting Christmas, is an English affair. At the end of every year we slump onto our Christmas laurels, flatulent with pride that this peculiar hybrid of Victorian invention and Dickensian romance is bloody well ours. And apart from when they replaced baby Jesus with the cheerier Morcecambe & Wise in 1970, an English Christmas remains remarkably unchanged.

But perhaps that’s the problem. England’s Christmas capital has become a party pooper. At the turn of the millennium things perked up a little along the ole charcoal Thames with the launch of the Dome, London Eye, IMAX and the Somerset House ice rink, but since then all we’re left with is a sprinkling of market stalls, the crucifix of illuminations at Oxford Circus, and that boring free pine tree in Trafalgar Square.

So, what’s dampened our festive spirit? Was it the big fiscal fish of sobriety that slapped us across the faces in 2008, or have we simply grown too cool for Christmas?

Some of the blame must surely be laid at the shopfronts of those retailers who stretched the celebrations, like a giant stocking elastic, from the end of August to Boxing Day. Psychologists have proven that listening to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want’ for five months causes early onset dementia, so perhaps it’s a US conspiracy. The Americans themselves cleverly fixed a fat, turkey-sized valve, known as Thanksgiving, at the end of November, which holds back the real festivities until just a month before the big day.

The truth is, the rest of the world has raced past us. The wonderfully crisp and tacky German markets have multiplied like mice across Europe and even into the US: Dresden, Cologne, Vienna, Lille and Helsinki, each put on a far more fabulous display of Yuletide optimism than Londoners could ever dream of, with glowing squares festooned in lights and brimful of markets and fun-fairs. Montreal has a ‘Fire on Ice’ fireworks extravaganza, Brisbane has a series of amazing shows and parades on its south bank; Copenhagen’s Tivoli Garden becomes a winter wonderland with dozens of rides and a cheeky Santa to ho ho ho amongst the revellers and a few miles away in Freetown Christiana the Christmas market is more like an oriental bazaar. In its bid for visitors, Zagreb puts on a magnificent show where inhibitions are kicked into touch to encourage dancing and singing with local beer. Metz has an ice sculpture parade, Christkindlmarkt in Chicago holds a kids’ scavenger hunt and in Philadelphia, their month long Christmas village features a German grill for bratwurst and fries. The list of inspiration is endless.

Meanwhile, back in lacklustre London, even red-pilled Ebeneezer would go back to bed.

So, London, it’s time to bring Christmas home. This isn’t some rose-tinted plea for the good old days. Q4 is how retail pays its rent, so we must step up and unleash all that untapped spirit that currently has nowhere to go.

Please, New West End Company, let’s make sure the (hopefully) newly pedestrianised Oxford Street is the catalyst for bustling street markets, local craft fairs, winter fashion shows, carol karaoke, lantern walks, firework displays and sing-alongs. Yes, Westfield, (Unibail) you must retaliate with street food fairs, celebrity cook-offs, midnight suppers, sleigh rides, light shows, concerts, ice sculptures and treasure hunts.

Sure, retail is going through a tough patch, but it won’t help sobbing into your egg nog. Let’s all pull up our Christmas stockings, shake off our Scrooge and grab Christmas 2018 by the baubles.

If you liked this, please join me on Twitter @SaundersHoward and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Dec 18, 2017   Food, Future, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

BEWARE! SLIPPERY SHOPPING

Retailers are a funny lot. One of the latest buzzwords you hear at conferences and in board rooms around the world is ‘friction’. Removing friction from the shopping experience has become another target in the battle against declining sales, so it deserves a little examination.

Perhaps it’s us customers that are the strange species. We will happily browse the magazines or beauty section with no intent of buying or any hint of time pressure. We scan articles on knitting or weddings that we have zero interest in, and we open and sniff bottles of potions we have already decided we can’t buy and wouldn’t want if it was ‘grab a free potion’ day. And yet, faced with a queue that might delay us a couple of minutes we instantly become frustrated. Worse, if a doddery old lady wheels her trolley into our imaginary laser-line to the magazine aisle then we tut silently at the loss of the 0.44 seconds we will never recover. Life’s tiny hurdles are little more than an illusory inconvenience to what are, obviously, our meaningful and purposeful lives.

The love affair with our phones also illustrates how quickly we become bored or frustrated when the world around us refuses to work in perfect, synchronised harmony to our own personal schedule. When driving, every traffic light or junction is another chance to check our phones, so that a miniscule delay becomes useful to us in some small, pathetic way. As we watch the train pull into the station, on time, there are still a handful of microseconds being wasted here: enough time to quickly check our Facebook page.

Now retailers who have studied our peculiar behaviour for many decades have decided to remove as many of these unnecessary micro-hurdles as possible from the in-store shopping experience, lest we give up and go the Amazon way. But as is so often the case, they have completely misunderstood us.

Not long ago the slipperiest, most friction-free retail model was the supermarket. Before the age of the smartphone we would venture out in the car, drive to the store, pick up a trolley, push the trolley up and down every aisle, load it up with all our weekly needs, unload it at the checkout, pack it into bags, load it back into the trolley, unload it into the car, return the trolley to the trolley bay, drive home, unload car and then store it all neatly at home…until next week. It couldn’t have been simpler! I can already hear my unborn grandchildren begging me to ‘tell us again how you used to buy food Granddad!’. So, in response to the shift in having stuff delivered, our once easy-to-shop spaces are desperately attempting to lubricate their stores further, concentrating primarily on new payment technologies.

Now the camera, in this little documentary I’m making for you, cuts to a fresh food market. Here in the US, markets have increased threefold in number since the financial crash of 2008, but just watch how ridiculously high friction the shopping experience is. Each stall has a queue, and an undignified one at that. The doddery old lady may not have a trolley but she’s been fumbling in her purse at the front of the line for what must be ten minutes now. Your bags are heavy and awkward but still you manage to smile in response to the cheery verbal arithmetic. What a contrast to the dulcet chime that is ‘unexpected item in the bagging area!’

The problem with the supermarket model, within which I include an entire gamut of mid market self-service brands across category, is that it strips away so much of the social aspect of retail, so that even eye contact in the aisles is deemed unacceptable. Retailers have worked hard honing and polishing the cogs of their machines in order that they shine bright beneath the fluorescent lights, but they overlooked the very key to being human, the bit that makes our three score years and ten worthwhile. We are a deeply and innately social species and when we glance at Facebook while the train doors open it’s because we are desperate to connect. At the traffic lights we click on our email to see if anyone wants us, anyone…an awkward client will do. So, in a space deprived of social contact perhaps it’s the magazine aisle and the beauty section that most engages us and offers a little respite from the drudgery of the weekly trawl. Imagine, if you will, a new fresh food market concept, unmanned and where you can help yourself to everything before you simply ‘tap and go’. It wouldn’t last a fortnight.


Apologies for rambling, but last week I was in Warsaw where I visited Hala Mirowska, the big, central fresh food market. Loitering at the entrance was an old man waving a small bag of runner beans, just enough for a couple of servings at most, which could have been mine for a few measly Zloty. That evening I asked my host if the old are really that poor in Warsaw, and she explained that although they may not have it easy, they ‘hang around the market for something to do, to feel involved.’ After all, the market was the centre of the community for many millennia, until big box retail came along. The good news is that Hala Mirowska is currently undergoing major renovations as they strip out the hideous shop units, remove the supermarket and reopen it as a traditional grand market hall once again.

Surely, the visceral draw to belong to a community is one of the reasons the unemployed visit the doctor so many more times a year than those in work. It’s not that they’re inherently more sick, so it’s more likely they just crave social contact, particularly in a retail landscape made up of discounters and fast food chains.

My warning comes too late, of course. We’ve already arrived at the retail crossroads. If you want stuff then turn left for the internet which is full of it; and what’s more it might well be delivered within the hour. But if you want social contact, proof that you’re not alone on this planet and would perhaps feel reassured by a light, fleeting exchange with a fellow inhabitant, then turn right for the shops. Shops are only for social needs now, everything else is waiting in a brown parcel by your front door. It’s not nuanced, complicated or category specific at all. The brutal, binary simplicity of this can be hard to swallow for professional retailers who have been oiling their machines for half a century, but it’s how it is now. Just ask your grandchildren.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Sep 27, 2016   Brand, discount, Food, Retail, shopping, technology, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

COPYCAT CEREAL KILLER

Some bright spark came up with the idea. We all read about the ironic trend that turned breakfast cereal into a hipster treat and chances are you saw the pictures of Gary and Alan Keery, the photogenic chuckle brothers, who opened the Cereal Killer Cafe on London’s hip Brick Lane. We now also know that those bowls of puffs, pops, flakes and crunchies we woke up to every morning in the 70s, 80s and 90s were poisoning us of course, but those of us who ventured to the CKC were happy to overlook all that to become children once again. Children with bushy beards, that is.

This is not good news for cereal manufacturers and with sales in steep decline the boardroom at Kellogg’s must have been thick with anxiety. Until that is the bright spark piped up with an idea. Maybe, just maybe he stuttered, Kellogg’s could copy the Leery boys and make cereal cool again?

It probably took a good year to launch Kellogg’s NYC in Times Square so, naturally, I was eager to check it out. It must at least be fun, whacky even…you know how over excited big corporations get with the whole pop up thing.

Sweet Jesus it is piss-poor. It looks like it was built by Snap, Crackle and Pop Associates with a design that’s more prison canteen than concept restaurant. In fact, there is no concept here at all. The logo is painted on the white brick wall in a kind of cornflake beige, with the only colour coming from a row of red, numbered, cubby holes where you collect your bowl at the sound of a buzzer. At the counter the prison vibe continues: on thick aluminium trays, four mock up meals, designed by Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi, look so unappetising even Ivan Denisovich would have second thoughts. This place is not just miserable it actually haemorrhages any positive energy there is in there straight back out onto Times Square. And there’s not much: a few lonely souls sup from spoons with their heads bowed low, presumably wondering what they had done to deserve such punishment.

But just imagine what could have been achieved here. Kellogg’s is steeped in a rich, kitsch visual heritage that stretches from Tony the Tiger, Coco the Monkey and The Flintstones through to the iconography of the Corn Flakes packs and Special K logos. Remember the excitement we felt when those assortment fun packs were presented at the breakfast table on special holidays? That’s what Kellogg’s could have recreated at this pop up, but instead they thought eating cereal during the day was ironic enough. Oh dear, oh dear.

The result is a concept, with good intent and considerable investment, that has stripped Kellogg’s of any residue goodwill it might have had left over from its glory years. This place is like watching your depressed uncle pretending to enjoy a kid’s party when you know he just wants to go upstairs and hang himself.

But enough of all this, let’s be helpful. Here are a few tips for next time:

1. Momofuku Milk Bar link up. A terrific brand but no one on Times Square has heard of it. It may have street-cred but not on 42nd Street.

2. Design. Well, there isn’t any. Snap, Crackle and Pop Associates clearly didn’t turn up. Pick a proper creative agency that’s in tune with your bold and colourful heritage.

3. Think big. Understand where the beauty and energy of your brand really lies and have fun with it. Just imagine what Warhol or Koons would have done. You could even afford the latter, although I realise the former is unavailable.

4. Aim for PR shock waves rather than footfall. If you don’t believe me ask Prada. Everyone heard about the Prada store in the Texas desert. Number of visitors? Half a dozen. And that includes the photographer. 

5. Next time ask me. I’ll find you the cleverest, most creative guys in the retail business and together we’ll build you a concept that gives you heaped dessert spoons of cool.

Thanks for listening. Now pass the toast.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Jul 27, 2016   Blog, Brand, Food, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

GATWICK REVISITED: credit where credit’s due


In October last year I had the misfortune to pass through Gatwick South Terminal on route to meet a client in Portugal. I say ‘pass through’ intentionally, as I tried hard not to touch the sides. The signature bar was a hideous, sticky Wetherspoons that looked like it had been shipped in from Blackpool along with the locals, and there was nowhere for a sit down lunch, unless you’re pubescent and still think Nando’s is a treat. How can an international hub so critical to Britain’s growth get away with it, I thought? How can Gatwick seriously lobby government without sniggering into their handkerchiefs at the thought of anyone grown up actually coming to check them out? You can read the original rant here.

Good old England is so open minded and future focussed that we’ve only spent several decades cogitating as to where to put this extra runway we so badly need. And we still haven’t made a decision. Never you mind that China has 66 new airports planned over the next five years (airports not runways, remember) and is currently expanding a further 100 existing airports. Oh well, I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan or something.


So, having recently visited Gatwick again, I have to say that things at South Terminal have much improved. The dreadful British public are still there of course, in their hordes. The dull of eye and loud of mouth clamour over all sorts of pre-flight crap when they’re in holiday mode, so it certainly feels like the place is making money at least. But bang in the middle of the upper concourse there’s a bright new bar exactly where it should be. Lamely titled The London Bar, presumably because it’s in Crawley, it is nonetheless a vast improvement serving contemporary cocktails, in a somewhat surly fashion, as is the wont of the younger generation.


Better still, I’m pleased to say the star of the show is no longer the utterly cynical and fictional Wondertree, it is a real restaurant, from a real living chef. Grain Store is a breath of fresh air and is lifted directly from hip Granary Square in London’s King’s Cross, beneath the glorious new Central St Martin’s College of Art. It claims to source all its meat and veg within a thirty mile radius of the airport, but it’s not until you learn that Chef Bruno Loubet refuses to serve beef (due to the damage beef farming does to the planet) that you realise something new is happening here. Grain Store is all about making vegetables the focus of the plate, not a side dish. And it does so very well indeed. It’s not the organic thing that makes it so appealing, it’s simply the fact that there’s an idea, a point of view, behind the menu. Most airport restaurants are happy to churn out burgers and pizza under the beady eyed gaze of accountants that get over excited by margins and portion control.


Many of the staff here are reassuringly pink and pimply, which is lovely because it means that like the food and the beer they too are home grown and fairly local. And they’re nicely brought up too so they can talk about the provenance of things without getting embarrassed.


I’d like to think that somehow my October rant found its way onto the Gatwick board, where a red faced businessman shook a printout of my words, banged the table and shouted ‘We need to do something…and fast!’ Sadly, I know how long it takes to pull a deal like this together, so credit where credit’s due.

Now that we have a new, energized PM there’s a much better chance we’ll actually get a decision on this damn runway. So good luck Gatwick.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Jul 14, 2016   Food, gourmet, Uncategorized   2 Comments   Read More