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The Achilles Heel of U.S. Wine Marketing

I started my career in wine & spirits PR after leaving Europe to chase an American I fell for in my senior year of college. Luckily, both worked out fine – I love my job in the U.S., and I am happily married to the man I left Austria for.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t been back in three years, but as I am visiting home this week, I can’t help but notice an undeniable advantage that European wines have over wines from the U.S.:  they are made in a cultural context of “easy living” that seeps into every bottle and lies at the core of European wine marketing campaigns worldwide. That’s the Achilles heel of U.S. wines and their respective marketing. The American way of life doesn’t have the same appeal as Europeans’ philosophy of living, and living well.

Photo credit: Werner Schandor

Take France, Austria and Spain for example. Each a major wine-producing region, the concept of “easy living” is deeply ingrained in their culture to the point where each language has a special term for it. The French call is “laissez-faire,” which can be translated as “let it be.” In Austria,…


Sweet Surprise Dinner

aOne of the biggest challenges in public relations is to continue to capture and increase interest among our audiences – one of the hardest audiences being media. So how do you host a media dinner in the center of a major global media hub filled with influential writers who are constantly invited to multiple dinners a night?

With this challenge in mind, the NC Sweet Potato Team decided to add an element of surprise. On behalf of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission (NCSP), we partnered with Dinner Lab, a social dining experiment uniting undiscovered chefs with adventurous diners. Our team reached out to local media with a lone promise: enjoy a delicious, one-of-a-kind dining experience. What was our selling point? The air of mystery – mystery chef, mystery pop-up venue, mystery menu (with sweet potatoes of course).

Turns out, suspense wins! Held in a vacant factory penthouse lit up by skylight windows, the dinner was attended by more food editors and bloggers than we expected (fortunately no one had to sacrifice a seat).  Dinner Lab sold out tickets to consumers who exclaimed the dinner was “one of the best…


In Defense of Origin and Geographic Branding – It’s the Where that Counts

the-real-deal3This week in Geneva, Switzerland, over 75 nations are debating why the ‘where’ is as powerful as the ‘what’ in branding premium products, from Champagne to Prosciutto di Parma.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Diplomatic Conference is laboring to update the existing 1958 agreement protecting appellations of origin on a global level, hoping this updated language will encourage additional countries to join. Let’s say, the Unites States, for example.

Having formed a career around defending the value of origin in wine and food, I can sincerely appreciate the importance of courting the U.S. and other countries to help protect the geographic identity of products made with passion and integrity for hundreds of years in a specific location.

After all, would you pay a premium for a jug of “Hearty Burgundy,” a chunk of domestic parmesan cheese, or a generic balsamic vinegar? All of these products have capitalized on the name of real deal products by using their geographic brand to label and sell less expensive products. In many cases, they are displayed side by side at retail, leaving it up to consumers to make the distinction.

But wait, there’s more!

Wine, Food & Nutrition

What’s the deal with the Dietary Guidelines?

supermarket-confusionThe Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Guidelines are reviewed and revised every five years by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is comprised of scientists and experts in nutrition from all over the country.  A lot of the controversy surrounding the guidelines stems from these committee members allegedly basing their decisions not on scientific evidence, but on their financial ties to the food industry.

Based on my experience, consumers don’t think their daily eating is swayed by the dietary guidelines.  But they are extremely important because they influence food policy across several sectors that affect millions. This includes food assistance programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and WIC, and the massive National School Lunch Program.

While the new guidelines are not expected to be published until closer to the end of the year, the scientific summary was recently released and provides a glimpse of what we might see. Below is a very brief glimpse of the recommendations that were included in the summary:

The Booze Bin

Dear Blogger…#ILoveYou

pay-it-forwardIt was one of those weeks where you wake up staring at strange, fancy furniture and forget what city you’re in. Where you take the elevator downstairs and unconsciously sit at the same corner table each morning for good people watching and some sense of familiarity. One where you sleep just enough to maintain the ability to form full sentences, but not enough to completely shed that bleary, red-eyed look that will be forever captured in recap reports. And stay there for long enough to start calling this odd, yet cushy place “home” when you describe where you are headed in the evening.

Full disclosure, these weeks are decidedly harder when there are sweet munchkins waiting for you with hugs and cheers at your real home.

I spent the week with my incredible Wines from Rioja team organizing a series of events that make up Rioja Week in Chicago – from a ~2,000-person wine and tapas festival with endless opportunities to pair tasty wines with cured pork and beyond, to an intimate winemaker luncheon with the sweetest bodegas principals in the world, to endless media interviews in a speed dating…

Wine, Food & Nutrition

Vegetables Take Center Stage/Plate

corn“The next culinary macro-trend will be ‘veg-centric’ dining,” stated Chef Gerry Ludwig, while speaking at the annual Research Chefs Association’s annual conference. I participated in the concept Wednesday night at Root & Bone, a New York City restaurant revered for its fried chicken, but also serving up some delicious veg-centric dishes. On this particular night, we were focused on sweet corn (a client), which is just coming into peak season in the chef’s home state of Florida. I witnessed this trend taken to an entirely different level at Dirt Candy, where acclaimed chef Amanda Cohen is delivering amazingly flavorful and filling fare to vegetarian crowds, and that rising group of flexitarians embracing going meatless for a meal or day.

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the U.S. with 1 million of the latter as part of an overall group that totals 8.3 million. This wasn’t exactly what Chef Ludwig was addressing, however. Certainly the number of people abstaining from any animal products has increased, but he was really talking about how vegetables are moving from an interchangeable role player to the protein to a starring role.

Meat isn’t…


From Your Cup to the Global Stage: 5 Reasons Why Coffee’s Future is Brighter than Ever

This month, I attended the most buzz-worthy conference of the year. No, it wasn’t SXSW (although the crowd in attendance was probably equally stimulated) – it was the National Coffee Association’s Annual Convention. And, yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds.

Between sipping samples from vendors around the globe, I absorbed a lot about coffee’s past, present and future. My lessons began with the legend of Kaldi the goat herder, who first discovered Coffea Arabica when his flock became unusually frisky after ingesting some bright red berries while grazing in the Ethiopian hills, and progressed to philosophical discussions on the increasingly dynamic, venture capital-backed Third Wave movement.

While coffee’s trajectory thus far is a fascinating one, the key insight I left with is that the industry’s future is exceptionally bright.

Here’s why:

1-      Health Halo in the Making. Coffee has a myriad of health benefits that are backed by sound science, but are not yet widely acknowledged by consumers. Dr. Alan Leviton, of Harvard University Medical School, shared data showing that regular coffee consumption (3-5 cups/day) is associated with decreased risk of Type 2  Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer or malignancies. Basically, the more coffee people drink…

Wine, Food & Nutrition

From Styled to Wild: The Shift in Food Photography

Okay, so wild may not be the best word, but 10 years ago, stray herbs or seeds outside a perfectly plated dish would be considered messy. A licked spoon sitting on the rim of a plate would have called for a re-shoot. As a trend I hoped would continue into this year, beautifully imperfect content is here to stay and brands are rethinking how they produce content.

Just look at the two pumpkin tortellini examples below. The first is perfectly styled, but when you look at the next photo by the Berlin-based photographers, Krautkopf, it captures more of narrative. Like a Joseph Cornell box, it calls upon the viewer to spend time with it. One should inspect all the intricacies and subtle accents.


Before, perfectly styled


more raviolis

Now, Photo by Krautkopf


Luckily, there are a select number of food photographers – true artists – whose blogs are changing the industry. They are even prompting brands to not only reconsider how they shoot their products, but now partner with these bloggers to…

Wine, Food & Nutrition

Where’s the Beef? It’s Chillin’ with the Pineapple

fruit and proteinThere’s a long culinary history of experimental “you put WHAT in my WHAT?” that has sometimes made food ingredients considered strange bedfellows (or dishfellows) into soulmates.

Dating myself here: does anyone remember the series of 1970s television commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that built 30-second stories around chocolate bars and jars of peanut butter unexpectedly being smashed together, at first being perceived as disaster, and then tasted and pronounced genius? That’s the kind of innovation that was the muse for this post. In particular, I got to thinking about fruits and vegetables, and how putting them with other unexpected foods – sometimes even intentionally hiding them – has informed quite a bit of what we eat in the modern era.

Back in the Middle Ages, European cooks didn’t seem too hung up on the division between sweet foods and savory foods. In fact, they often mashed together all kinds of spices, fruits, nuts and sugar into various dishes – including meats. Somewhere in the ensuing four centuries, we got a little more finicky about the role and order of fruits and veggies in our mealtime progression. Save…


How to Honor Independent Research

All things being equal, media and consumers trust studies without corporate or branded backing most. Edelman’s 2015 Trust Barometer confirms that academic experts are twice as credible to consumers as CEOs.

credibility of spokespeopleWe are quick to call out bias, which makes a new report published by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last week so significant. An independent, government-backed advisory panel announced that drinking more coffee is good for you. It was the first time in 40 years the committee weighed in on coffee consumption and said that up to five cups of Joe a day are A-Okay.  Now, federal endorsement for drinking coffee seems imminent.

If you work in the coffee business, I think you would agree: It doesn’t get much better than this.

One important question remains: How do you leverage positive and independent health research? Everyone agrees independent research ranks highest in credibility. But since you don’t own it, you can’t customize the study to fit your communications needs. Or can you? I spoke to our in-house RD and Manager of Nutrition Communications, Joanne Tehrani to find out.

Here are three…