Super Bowl Sunday drew 102 million viewers, and brands battled for all those eyeballs. Meanwhile, updated nutrition research questioned the impact of our big game chowing. Note: We eat a LOT of chicken wings.

  • For brands? High stakes.
  • For red meat? More debates.
  • For 90’s foods? Remakes.

“The Super Bowl is one of the few times of the year — if not the only — where we don’t mind when the show switches to commercial break.”

Bridget Hallinan, Digital Reporter, Food & Wine

High stakes for athletes and brands (and their agencies)

Super Bowl Sunday is as big of a deal for food brands as it is for sports fans. Here’s a roundup of this year’s most memorable food and beverage moments:

  • Food & Wine chronicled every food and beverage commercial that aired during this year’s game.
  • The New York Times highlighted one of the most viral ads of the night, the death (and rebirth) of Mr. Peanut (aka the legume Baby Groot)
  • Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold promoted its “6 for 6-pack” program that dedicates a portion of proceeds from every 6-pack sold to help transition 6 square feet of farmland to certified organic land.
  • Eater took the bowl theme literally and produced a bracket for their favorite fast-casual foods served in bowls. A Mediterranean-themed restaurant, Cava, came out on top.
  • Data from IRI and SNAC International (formerly, Snack Food Association) predicted snack sales, noting “last year, snack food sales jumped 10.3% to $404 million during Super Bowl week.”
  • The National Chicken Council estimated “Americans will eat 27 million more wings during this year’s big game weekend versus last year’s.” Amazing, considering that’s only a 2% increase!

An update to the meat and health debates

Last fall, Nutritional Recommendations Consortium (NutriRECS) published an analysis in Annals of Internal Medicine that called research about meat’s health impacts too weak to recommend dietary changes. That put the group NutriRECS at the center of a heated debate among leading health researchers.

  • Influential Harvard nutrition professor Frank Hu called the group’s research methods flawed and stressed the importance of a balanced diet (The Harvard Gazette).
  • On January 15, JAMA’s Rita Rubin reported Harvard faculty and associates from the True Health Initiative (THI) harassed Annals of Internal Medicine editor-in-chief Christine Laine.
  • On January 22, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp wrote a letter to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow: “Several of your faculty are involved as council members or advisers of THI and collaborated with THI in their effort to discredit scientific evidence that runs contrary to their ideology.” He assured Bacow that “Texas A&M’s research is driven by science. Period.”
  • Bacow did not respond. But on February 1, Harvard’s medical school posted a closer look “at the main issues and questions regarding the role of red and processed meats in your diet.”
  • On February 3, researchers from Cornell and Northwestern University published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that suggests higher intake of processed and unprocessed red meat (or poultry) comes with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The debate will undoubtedly be continued …

90s remakes poised for revival

Some items that made 1990’s eating trends truly unique have resurfaced. That’s good news for lovers of malls, lettuce wraps, sugar and nostalgia.

  • Dunkaroos, the dunkable cookie and icing snack that debuted in 1992, announced a comeback this week via Instagram. “Frosted tips? Totally not coming back. Cassette tapes? Definitely not coming back. ’90s fashion? Probably coming back. Dunkaroos definitely coming back! Summer 2020.”
  • P.F. Changs first introduced Americans to wok cooking and a new style of Asian-inspired concept restaurants in 1993. After closing the last of its Chicago locations February 3, Eater reported P.F. Changs opened its first fast-casual concept: P.F. Chang’s To Go. The chain plans to open 20 of these tinier to-go restaurants across the country.
  • Remember mall food courts? The Wall Street Journal spoke with real estate developers who are investing in abandoned malls, hoping that online food delivery hubs, or ghost kitchens, will “create new interest in retail and warehouse space vacated by merchants that have struggled to compete with e-commerce.”

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Optimal Meatball Levels

The Wall Street Journal reported that Ikea “wants to bring the supply-chain precision behind its flat-pack furniture business to the way it manages meatballs.” Optimization efforts will focus on waste reduction, establishing a digital platform for its food division, and cutting costs.

Selective Sustainability

Michelin Guide unveiled a new green clover designation for restaurants that highlight sustainable practices. The symbol, dubbed the “Sustainable Gastronomy Selection,” is intended to “promote the chefs who have taken responsibility by preserving resources and embracing biodiversity, reducing food waste and reducing the consumption of non-renewable energy.”

In Brands We Trust

Morning Consult released its first annual State of Brand Trust report. Bakery and Snacks synopsized the report, noting that 28% of consumers say they have “little or no trust” in the food and beverage industry. Consumers do, however, “place conviction in brands like Cheerios, Oreos and Doritos.”

Eat Local, or Don’t

“Eat Local,” is often cited as a strategy to reduce one’s environmental footprint. In a February 4 article, Bloomberg questioned that mantra’s efficacy, speaking with climate experts who claim the approach is misguided, as “transit’s contribution to any food’s overall carbon footprint is tiny.”

Soy Misinformed

The Atlantic writer James Hamblin spoke with James Stangle, a veterinarian who published a viral article that claimed eating four Impossible Burgers per day “has enough estrogen to grow boobs on a male.” The widely shared article has since been debunked, and now Stangle is coming out to refute once and for all the belief that “plant-based proteins are inextricably tied to gender.”

Caffeine: Onward and Upward

The Washington Post interviewed Michael Pollan on February 5. The author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” has a new audiobook that explores “the most popular mind-altering chemical on the planet” — caffeine — and its effects on human progress.