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As soft drink companies struggle to find footing in this present day and age, PepsiCo has just introduced a new product that they are hoping will disrupt the industry. The global company’s newest product isn’t just a beverage – it’s an experience. Designed with Millennials in mind, the Drinkfinity beverage system incorporates customization and sustainability and requires the use of individual flavor pods and a reusable custom bottle to mix them. Think of it as almost like a Keurig for soft drinks, except these consist of better-for-you ingredients such as chia seeds, acai fruit extract, spirulina, ginger root extract and pear juice instead of high fructose corn syrup and aspartame. The pods consist of dry and liquid ingredients packed in a dual chamber that are punctured when inserted into the cap and mixed with water or the liquid of choice in the special Drinkfinity BPA-free dishwater safe vessel. The pods come in 12 fruit-based flavors that are organized into four categories: Chill (made with botanicals for relaxation), Flow (with vitamins C and E to power the day), Renew (made with electrolytes for workouts) and Charge (with enough green coffee extract to rival a cup of coffee). The company also promises that no artificial sweeteners or flavors are used. And, the pods use 65 percent less packaging than a regular 20-ounce bottle. It’s also the company’s first product to embrace e-commerce completely since it is only available online through the Drinkfinity.com website. Although the initial $20 bottle may be a deterrent to some consumers, I can see this holding a lot of appeal to young urbanites. Plus, with a price tag ranging from $5 to $6.50 for a pack of four pods, the long-term investment will even out for regular users. Also, with each purchase in the U.S. in 2018, Drinkfinity will donate $1 to Water.org to help provide one year of safe water for one person in the developing world, up to $100,000. The one glaring caveat to the system is that the pods cannot be tossed in the consumers’ regular recycling bin. However, the company tries to remedy that by including a prepaid envelope with each pod order that the consumer can use to send the pods to a facility that does have the ability to recycle them. With the right kind of marketing, I feel like this could be a feather in the cap of PepsiCo’s beverage portfolio. Time will tell…

The USDA Economic Research Service released a study at the end of December that reveals that Millennials devote more of their at-home food expenditures to prepared foods, pasta, and sugar and candies than the other three generations: Traditionalists (those born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). They devote the least of their at-home food spending to grains, poultry and red meat, all items that take typically take more time to prepare. They also shop at grocery stores the least on a monthly basis, possibly indicating a stronger preference for eating out than the other generations. However, despite their penchant for convenience, they still place importance on and demand healthier and fresher foods with the wealthiest Millennials surveyed dedicating 8.1 percent of their food budgets to vegetables compared to around 6 percent for the other generational groups in the same income brackets. The study additionally found that on average, Millennials spend less time preparing and plating food with, on average, 88 minutes devoted to the process. Meanwhile, the preceding Gen Xers take an average of 143 minutes to do the same task. For retailers trying to get their share of Millennial grocery food spending, a focus on convenient but fresh foods that take very little or no preparation would seem to be the way to go. Gone are the days when a Hungryman frozen dinner or a Lean Cuisine would do the trick – this generation wants quality meal solutions that utilize fresh ingredients that also can be prepared quickly and easily.

The Salvation Army just opened its first grocery store right here in our backyard. Named DMG Foods (after the organization’s motto, “Doing the Most Good”), the first national non-profit chain opened its doors in northeast Baltimore early this month. As part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign years ago, the USDA created a food desert locator that mapped America’s “low-access communities.” Per the government’s definition of a food desert — urban areas where at least one-third of the population lives a mile or more from a grocery store — almost all of northeast Baltimore qualifies, which is why the Salvation Army has established its first DMG store in the Waverly neighborhood. The 7,000 square foot store, which houses a butcher shop, deli, bakery, dairy section and ready-made foods area (including pre-made meals and salads from its partner at the Maryland Food Bank), will provide fresh and affordable produce to 1,200 families annually and create at least 15 jobs within the community. It will also provide a five-week workforce development program for citizens seeking employment. After providing these individuals with training and hands-on food retail experience, a case manager will assist them with job placement in Baltimore. Additionally, any profits from the store will go to Catherine’s Cottage, which offers housing to victims of human trafficking. When asked what the inspiration was behind DMG Foods, Salvation Army spokesperson Gene Hogg stated, “How do we present a sustainable model that engages the community in order for them to eat healthier, smarter, cheaper and all of that?” The non-profit store hopes to double the amount of food that people with SNAP benefits (which provides roughly $4 per person per day) can buy and will provide additional coupons to SNAP beneficiaries.

While we are on the topic of charitable organizations that help combat hunger, I’d like to congratulate Radha Muthiah, who has been named the new president and CEO of D.C. based Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). Muthiah, who currently acts as CEO for the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves (a public-private partnership hosted by the UN Foundation to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions) will begin her role on April 17. “We’re thrilled to welcome an executive with the vision, passion, and keen focus on impact that Radha brings,” said Peter Schnall, board chairman of the Capital Area Food Bank. “Her deep commitment to promoting health and her track record of solving big problems through innovative partnerships will be essential to the future of the Capital Area Food Bank.” Muthiah will be stepping into the formidable Nancy E. Roman’s shoes, who is now CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America.

Harris Teeter has launched a donation card campaign in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Organization (MDA) at the beginning of this month. Cashiers in Harris Teeter stores will ask shoppers and associates to purchase a $1, $3, or $5 “Live Unlimited” donation card. The sales of the donation cards will directly benefit MDA in raising funds to continue its mission of finding treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases, including ALS and other related life-threatening diseases. Over the past 10 years, the company has donated more than $1.5 million to MDA thanks to generous contributions from Harris Teeter customers and associates. “Each donation card sold is a symbol of strength, independence and life for kids and adults with life-threatening diseases who count on MDA to find answers and provide support,” said Amy Meyers, executive director of MDA: Charlotte. “Thanks to the generosity of Harris Teeter associates and shoppers, we can help MDA invest in lifesaving research and support programs for these individuals so they can live the life they’ve always imagined and experience the world without any limits.”

Also showing their philanthropic side, Safeway Eastern awarded grants totaling $107,500 to several Baltimore-Washington region non-profits late last month. The grants were funded through the charitable contributions of Safeway employees and went to 19 area organizations, including: Kennedy Krieger Institute, Maryland Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. Jim Perkins, president of Safeway Eastern, stated, “Throughout the year, Safeway’s more than 12,000 employees enthusiastically participate in company sponsored giving and volunteerism programs.” He continued, “We are so proud of our employees, whose generosity and caring truly demonstrate the Safeway spirit of giving.” The Safeway Foundation also awarded over $132, 000 in grants to support 11 local organizations serving veterans. The monies were collected through donations during the “Give to Those Who Gave So Much” in-store campaign in which customers were asked to help fund programs that provide local veterans with assistance in career training, stress counseling, social activities and rehab programs and support to families of fallen soldiers. It’s wonderful to see how both your employees and customers give back to the community – way to go, Safeway Eastern!

Until next month