A Veritable Feast of Culinary Data : The Esoteric, Obscure Is Everyday Fare at Food Library

The Washington Post

There are some questions that Hillary Handwerger just can’t answer. How hot is hot food? Can you find a red piece of paper that matches this tomato sauce?

Handwerger is director of informational resources at Domino’s Pizza Resource Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., one of more than 300 specialty food libraries around the world that collect, research and regurgitate information ranging from pizza-eater demographics to sales of fresh figs.

These libraries are part of the Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Division of the Special Library Assn., a trade group that represents about 12,000 librarians who focus on aerospace, nuclear science and other specialties.

Domino’s library, which stocks more than 250 journals, including Pizza Today, helps the company’s technical and marketing divisions get answers that might give them a competitive edge. The temperature inquiry was initiated by staffers trying to find out if the company’s pizzas are perceived as too hot or not hot enough. The quest for a red look-alike came out of an interest in standardizing the color of Domino’s tomato sauce.


Their Own In-House Libraries

Many other major food companies--Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola and Marriott among them--have their own in-house libraries. However, members of the Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Division also include trade associations such as the National Food Brokers Assn. and the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Assn., government agencies and universities. Librarians at these locations deal more with outside questioners rather than company staff.

A Food Marketing Institute member wants to know if there is any research on the effect of music on supermarket shoppers. A caller to the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Assn. wants to know how many ripening rooms there are in the United States. A supplier calls the National Restaurant Assn., asking for a list of all the restaurants in the country that serve buffalo or beefalo.

As a result of these types of inquiries, food libraries must catalogue the esoteric and obscure, the bits of information not likely to be collected by public libraries.


Adolph Coors Co.'s library, located at the plant in Golden, Colo., subscribes to numerous international brewing journals, including those from Germany, Denmark, England and Australia. The library also has a modest collection of old brewing books that belonged to the Coors family, according to Mary Bond, Coors librarian.

Books Are Not the Focus

The library at the National Restaurant Assn. in Washington contains more than 8,000 menus starting from the 1940s. One of Pillsbury’s two libraries has a cookbook collection with about 3,000 volumes.

As a general rule, however, most of these libraries don’t focus on books.


“Our members want to know what’s going on now. A book goes out of date as soon as it hits the shelf,” said Barbara McBride, director of the Food Marketing Institute’s library, one of the oldest and biggest of the division’s members. Located in the association’s Washsington headquarters, the information center’s collection concentrates on consumer surveys, videotapes, abstracts, conference proceedings and trade magazines.

The card catalogue for those journal articles is organized like a supermarket, not like a traditional library file. “You won’t find ‘milk’ under ‘M’ or ‘scanning’ under ‘S,’ ” explained McBride. Milk articles are found in the “dairy” section, and information on scanning is found under “check-out.”

Evidence of the range of information available under “check-out” are articles from Supermarket Business magazine including “How to Move Meat With Computer Scanning,” “A&P; Lust in the Aisles” and “They All Scream for Ice Cream at the Front End.”

Catering to Specialized Audiences


The myriad national trade journals--such as Convenience Store News, Candy Industry and Feedstuffs--are typical of publications that cater to a specialized audience. Aside from the articles in these publications, the advertisements are not the sorts found in mass-media magazines.

“Introducing the Turbo Thermatic Pasta Drying System” reads an ad in Pasta Journal. “Waterproof protective footwear designed to stand up to animal fats, salts and other organic substances . . . " promises a Meat Processing magazine ad from a company that makes boots for slaughterhouse workers.

Retail World, a supermarket trade journal published in Australia, provides a glimpse of consumer behavior in that country. For example, in one news item a group called the Housewives’ Assn. supports a call for an investigation into the practices of the grocery industry. “Consumers are being fleeced,” the association’s president is quoted as saying.

Old issues of magazines reveal the supermarket world before super stores and high-tech displays came on the scene. In the first issue of Progressive Grocer, dated 1922, an article provides tips for retailers on displaying bottled goods.


“The best way to show bottled goods is to build them in the form of a pyramid,” suggests the article. “One grocer does this by the use of a simple, homemade, cardboard arrangement.”

Another section of the library is devoted to doctoral dissertations about the industry. Among them: “An Empirical Examination of Power and Conflict in Jordanian Food Distribution Channels” and “The Derived Image of the Supermarket Tabloid.”

FMI’s library, like many other specialty food libraries, is open to the public on a limited basis. Aside from association members, students, government employees and consultants most often use the library, according to McBride. It is open by appointment only.

One Library, One Researcher


On one particular morning the only researcher in the library was Megan Smolenyak, international-products coordinator for the Institute of Resource Development, a Westinghouse subsidiary involved in private-sector development.

A businessman in Haiti had expressed interest in opening a supermarket, and Smolenyak was asked to get details on how to start such a project.

McBride said that association members looking into new market areas sometimes call for information. After providing the member with articles and other pertinent data, eventually library staffers read about the results.

An article in a trade journal reports that “Supermarket X is going into Atlanta,” said McBride. The article is then indexed and filed, waiting for the next round of researchers.