By Lorrie Baumann
The Specialty Food Association announced on April 19 that 154 products earned sofi Awards this year. An additional sofi Award for Product of the Year, awarded to the single product that received the highest score in the judging, will be announced at the Summer Fancy Food Show in June.
The April announcement, made without a public ceremony by Specialty Food Association President Phil Kafarakis and celebrity Chef Sara Moulton, honors products in 39 categories with gold, silver, and bronze awards for each category. Sofi awards have been presented by the Specialty Food Association since 1972. This year, sofi Awards were also given to the best new product in 37 of the categories. The winners were chosen from among almost 3,000 entries submitted by 875 Specialty Food Association member companies, noted Kafarakis. “Winning the sofi is really a big deal,” he said.
“It’s the best of the best. It’s promoted in the industry like crazy,” added Moulton, who recalled that in covering the Fancy Food Show for 12 years for “Good Morning America,” she always liked to head first to the display case for sofi winners because she knew that those products had already been filtered by knowledgeable judges. To this day, when she’s at the Fancy Food Show, the sight of a sofi statuette in a vendor’s booth will often make her turn aside and take a look at that booth, even if she hadn’t intended to do so, because the statuette indicates to her that the booth represents a company that produces good products, she said. “It attracts a lot of traffic,” she said.
Judging for this year’s awards competition was done at the Specialty Food Association offices in New York over a two-week period by 62 judges who included chefs, culinary instructors, bloggers, food writers and specialty food buyers, Moulton said. “We all get together to talk about what’s happening in the specialty food world,” she said. “You learn while you’re tasting. It’s fantastic.”
The products were judged after being prepared by professional chefs as they were intended to be used, according to Moulton. For instance, a marinade intended to be used with chicken was prepared by the chefs according to package directions before being presented to the judges for tasting. “These are all prepared right then and there as we tasted them,” she said with particular reference to the entries in the pasta, rice and grains category.
Each product was judged in a blind tasting, so the judges didn’t know which company had made it. Scores were sent directly from each judge to be tallied without any discussion that might otherwise have influenced anyone’s individual decision, according to Moulton. “We tasted the food the way it should be tasted,” she said, adding that this year’s judging process was an improvement over the methodology of previous years. “I think it was the best it’s ever been,” she said.
In four categories, the gold award winner was also named best new product. Those were Wozz! Kitchen Creations’ Cambodian Coconut Peanut Sauce, Aunt Dottie’s Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette from JGF Enterprises, Manicaretti Italian Food Imports’ Rustichella d’Abruzzo Pasta Integrale di Farro – Couscous and Le Bon Magot LLC’s Spiced Raisin Marmalata. JGF Enterprises also won a silver sofi in the salad dressings category for its Aunt Dottie’s Turmeric Maple Dressing. Le Bon Magot also won a gold award for its Tomato and White Sultana Chutney, a bronze award for its Lemon-Sultana Marmalata with Caraway and Saffron and a bronze award for its Brinjal Caponata condiment. Manicaretti Italian Food Imports also won a bronze award for IASA Spicy Anchovies in the seafood category. In addition to the two sofi awards for Cambodian Coconut Peanut Sauce, Wozz! Kitchen Creations won a bronze award in the vinegar category for its Spiced Beet Vinegar and a silver award in the condiment category for its Balsamic Fig Mostarda Savory Spread. Calivirgin Olive Oils swept the gold, silver and bronze awards for olive oils with a gold award for Jalapeno Garlic Olive Oil, a silver award for Blood Orange Olive Oil and a bronze for Frantoio Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Azienda Agricola Coppini Arte Olearia Srl won the award for best new product in the olive oil category with Olives and Mandarines Condiment Coppini Arte Olearia. More than 80 olives oils were entered for the sofi judging this year, according to Kafarakis.
Vermont Creamery was also among this year’s big winners. Its Vanilla Creme Fraiche received a gold award in the category for a dessert sauce or topping or a syrup; Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals won a bronze award in the category for dairy, yogurt or dairy alternative products; a silver award for Bonne Bouche, a geotrichum-rinded aged goat cheese; and a best new product award for St. Albans, an aged cow milk cheese introduced to the market in October of 2016.
Royal Basmati Rice is launching a new line of gourmet side dishes in eight globally-inspired flavors. Royal Authentic Adventures™ dishes are made with Royal’s Premium Basmati Rice.
Royal Authentic Adventures is available now at nationwide grocers including Harris Teeter, Kings Supermarket Inc./Balducci’s, SpartanNash, Tops Friendly Markets, Walmart (Calif. locations) and Costco, and will hit shelves at Shaw’s and Wegmans stores in May, followed by Weis Markets and Randalls stores in June.
Each variety of Royal Authentic Adventures delivers a global, gourmet adventure in a delectable side dish that cooks in only 12 minutes. Royal Authentic Adventures takes taste buds through a journey across the world’s most celebrated culinary cultures, encompassing authentic flavors and ingredients native to each region. Blends include:
Abhinav Arora, President of LT Foods Americas, says, “Because rice is a celebrated staple in so many cultures worldwide, Royal is always looking for innovative ways to incorporate other traditions and backgrounds into our product lines. We are excited to offer our customers a tour of diverse flavors from around the globe with Royal Authentic Adventures. This line truly represents our brand values and commitment to diversity.”
Royal Authentic Adventures uses no artificial colors or preservatives and is made with basmati rice sourced from the foothills of the Himalayas. Overseeing the harvesting, milling, processing and distribution of its products, Royal Basmati Rice is dedicated to providing the highest quality of ingredients to its customers.
Led by the husband-and-wife team of Mary Pellettieri and Noah Swanson, Top Note Tonic, a three-year-old company based in Milwaukee, is introducing a line of ready-to-drink craft tonics that feature bold, notably complex flavors. The premium, non-alcoholic tonics include Indian Tonic Water, Bitter Lemon and Ginger Beer. All are available in four-packs of 8.5-ounce bottles with a suggested retail price of $6.99. Each bottle delivers approximately two servings per cocktail.
Pellettieri is a botanist and 20-year beer industry veteran who saw an opportunity to innovate in a category dominated by highly artificial, overly sweet products.
“Tonics had become commoditized. They’d deviated from their origins and didn’t taste good. I saw a need for better tonics that were balanced,” says Pellettieri. “In brewing, it’s about crafting a balance between bitter, sour and sweet. I wasn’t afraid to play with the bitter spectrum that ranges from a softer, earthier taste to a sharper, quenching hit.”
Calling on her botanist roots and knowledge of sensory science, Pellettieri developed herbal tonic recipes that pair crisp, clean layers of flavor with top notes that enhance the taste. Instead of dulling the senses by coating the tongue with sweet, all Top Note Tonic varieties begin with a forward element of bitter and finish with a soft hint of sweet/sour. The result is a uniquely modern take on classic mixers.
The Indian Tonic Water is like the IPA of tonics. It has an overall dry and refreshing taste with top notes of citrus peel and fresh grass and pairs well with premium gins. The Bitter Lemon is balanced and tart with top notes of lemongrass, lemon peel and spice and is a classic mixer for vodka. The Ginger Beer delivers a rich and earthy flavor that’s topped with notes of ginger and dried fruit and is particularly well suited for Moscow Mules and dark spirits.
Top Note is crafted with the highest quality ingredients. The line of RTDs is non-GMO and includes all-natural roots, fruits, herbs, spices and real cane sugar. No artificial colors or preservatives are used; all varieties are gluten free and contain half the sugar of standard mixers.
Dallas Market Center has opened entries for the 8th Annual Dallas Gourmet Gold Specialty Food Awards to be held at Dallas Market Center during the Total Housewares & Gourmet Market, June 21-27.
The Gourmet Gold Specialty Food Awards celebrates exceptional manufacturers in the gourmet products industry exhibiting at Dallas Market Center. With more than 1,500 product lines of gourmet food and accessories featured in the Gourmet Market in the World Trade Center, gourmet maintains a strong presence at Dallas Market Center as resources in the category continue to expand.
Awards will be presented in 10 categories including a new Best Healthy Lifestyle award which includes one of the following health benefits: organic, sustainable, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, or nut free. June 2017 Gourmet Gold Specialty Foods Awards categories are: Best Baked, for cookies, cake, breads, mixes; Best Beverage; Best Condiment I, for sauces, rubs, seasonings; Best Condiment II, for oils, vinegars, dressings; Fruit Confit, for jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades; Best Soup/Chili; Best Chocolate Candy/Dessert; Best Non-Chocolate Candy/Dessert; Best Snack, for dips, salsas, nuts; and Best Healthy Lifestyle.
Food entries are judged based on taste, originality, and packaging. Participation is limited to current Gourmet Market exhibitors or Temporary exhibitors for June Market. Participants may enter in up to two categories, entry fee is $50 per entry or $75 for two entries. The entry deadline is Friday, May 12, 2017.
Judging will take place Thursday, June 22 and winners will be revealed during an awards ceremony and cocktail reception on Friday, June 23, in the World Trade Center Atrium at 6 p.m. For more information visit dallasmarketcenter.com.
Slow Food USA is launching Slow Food Nations with an inaugural food festival in Denver, Colorado, from July 14 through 16, 2017. Inspired by Slow Food International’s biennial Terra Madre gathering in Turin, Italy, Slow Food Nations will combine the energy of a street food festival, rigor of an academic conference, and inspiration of a cultural exchange. Alice Waters, Ron Finley, Simran Sethi, Jack Johnson, Hosea Rosenberg, and Alon Shaya are just a few of many food movement leaders joining the festival.
Entrance to the festival is free and includes a taste marketplace with 100 exhibitors and producers, an outdoor culinary stage, gardening and cooking activities for kids and families, heritage food tastings, author talks, and many more events.
Slow Food leaders from around the globe will participate in an all-day delegate summit on Friday, including small group discussions, focused working groups, and a lunch by Alice Waters that will explore school lunch as an academic subject. Delegates will then serve as hosts and speakers during the weekend festival.
The first round of ticketed events went on sale Monday, April 10. Events include taste workshops, block parties, regional food and farm tours, roundtable discussions, and one-of-a-kind dinners.
Slow Food Nations reimagines the food festival to inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair. As Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini says, “If you want to change the world, don’t do it with sadness; do it with joy!”
For the full lineup and details, visit slowfoodnations.org.
With the rapid growth of multicultural households in America and their unparalleled influence on the marketplace, market researchers suggest that there is a strong need for retailers to revise their in-store strategies to include a wider range of fresh food products and flavor profiles that cater to the multicultural consumer set. With this in mind, Nielsen has released a comprehensive report to help retailers understand the influence multicultural consumers wield across the meat, produce, seafood, deli and bakery categories. The report entitled, “A Fresh Look at Multicultural Consumers,” reveals strategic insights for retailers looking to leverage new growth opportunities across the perimeter over the next several decades.
Multicultural consumers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population and the growth engine for fresh food categories within the grocery space. According to this Nielsen report, multicultural households spend a higher share on fresh food as a percentage of their total food spend compared to non-Hispanic white households. In fact, multicultural consumer shoppers make 3 percent more trips to the store containing fresh items and spend 4 percent more per year on fresh items. This results in a $2.2 billion opportunity for retailers.
For many multicultural families, fresh food is a dietary staple. The multicultural preference for fresh comes from cooking and eating norms that centrally reflect the unique cultures of African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. That said, the allure of multicultural flavors and desire for fresh food are influencing a wider range of shoppers and becoming a key driving force for fresh growth.
“In order to tap this critical market, retailers need to rethink their delivery and assortment strategies of fresh products being offered to today’s increasingly multicultural shoppers,” said Courtney Jones, Vice President of Multicultural Growth and Strategy at Nielsen. “To be successful, retailers must understand the importance that culturally relevant, fresh offerings play in the multicultural shopper landscape. Retailers must also embrace the many layers of multicultural consumers and the undeniable ‘halo effect’ that those consumers are having on mainstream non-Hispanic white shoppers. The multicultural consumer covers a broad spectrum, from multi-generational families to Millennials, to Asian American, African American and Hispanic subgroups that have been influenced by distinct global culinary traditions. Retailers must consider the multi-ethnic tastes of their current and desired customers and recognize that the palates that favor multicultural flavors are influencing the taste preferences of non-Hispanic whites and society at large.”
The report’s key findings include the notion that multicultural flavors have moved into the mainstream for the deli department and continue to grow, also attracting non-Hispanic white shoppers who are inspired by the ethnic flavors found in the deli. Multicultural consumers are taking advantage of the quick and easy meal solutions and meals for large families within the deli department.
In the produce department, all kinds of shoppers are being inspired by the produce used in culinary traditions other than their own, and social media influences, television cooking programs and popular restaurant flavor trends are infiltrating the produce aisle. For example, the growth of habañero, with items popping like habañero grilled vegetable and even habañero margaritas.
Neilson’s research found that multicultural consumers spend more in meat and seafood departments than any other fresh department. Within the seafood department, multicultural households spend $62 a year, compared to non-Hispanic white households at just $43. Multicultural consumers are less willing to purchase branded fresh meat and seafood items; instead there is preference towards made-to-order, unbranded meat products, typically prepared behind the counter.
The bakery offers the biggest opportunity for multicultural consumers, who spend only 9.8 percent of their fresh dollars on bakery items, according to Neilsen. The report suggests that the bakery’s proximity to the deli should be leveraged to create strong cross-department connections for multicultural shoppers across multiple entertaining categories.
Emmi Roth USA is expanding its sought-after Kaltbach line with a new imported cheese from Switzerland. Emmi Kaltbach Le Crémeux will join Kaltbach Le Gruyère AOP, Kaltbach Emmentaler AOP and Kaltbach Alpine Extra as available Swiss imports through Emmi USA.
Made in 9-pound wheels, Kaltbach Le Crémeux is a washed-rind cheese that is sweet and unassuming at first, but keeps you coming back for another bite as the flavor and texture develops and becomes reminiscent of a soft cooked egg yolk in a bowl of ramen. It is a semi-firm cheese that’s crafted with pasteurized milk and microbial rennet and aged a minimum of 120 days in the Kaltbach caves in the Alpine Valley near Lucerne, Switzerland.
Swiss cheesemakers and affineurs carefully handpick a select number of wheels to continue their refinement in the Kaltbach Caves. The caves are a 22 million-year-old natural sandstone labyrinth with a small tranquil river that runs through it. It’s that river that inspired the complex’s name – Kaltbach means “cold river,” and it’s what allows for a constant 96 percent humidity in the cool, mineral-rich cave air. The enormous amount of cave-wall surface area helps regulate the aging atmosphere and promotes a stable setting for the cheese to ripen. The porous nature of the sandstone acts as a give and take. It absorbs moisture when the air is too damp and releases it when it’s needed. This natural process regulates the humidity and is a crucial part of texture and flavor development that makes Kaltbach cheeses unlike any other in the world.
“The demand for artisan cheese continues to grow in the United States,” says Tim Omer, President and Managing Director at Emmi Roth USA. “We remain the number-one importer of Gruyère in the country and are proud to continue to introduce new products to the United States from our parent company in Switzerland. Like all cheeses we import, Kaltbach Le Crémeux is unique and special.”
Emmi Kaltbach Le Crémeux was introduced in the U.S. at the Winter Fancy Food Show from January 21-23 in San Francisco. The entire Kaltbach line is available to retailers nationwide and will continue to be available in specialty cheese shops throughout 2017.
The Specialty Food Association is reporting that dollar sales for the specialty food industry grew by 15 percent between 2014 and 2016 and reached $127 billion in annual sales in 2016, now accounting for 14.8 percent of all food sales at retail. Snack food sales reached $16.3 billion in 2016, and snacks now account for about 28 percent of the entire specialty food market. Jerky and meat snacks led the growth for the snack food segment, leaping ahead by more than 86 percent between 2014 and 2016, while sales of chips, pretzels and similar snacks grew by 13.6 percent between 2014 and 2016 and now account for more than $3.5 billion in annual sales.
Cheese, including plant-based cheese alternatives, still continues to be the leading category in the specialty food market, with $4.422 billion in sales during 2016, for a 12.4 percent increase between 2014 and 2016.
The information comes from the Specialty Food Association’s annual report on the state of the specialty food industry. “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2017” is a collaboration between the Specialty Food Association and market research firm Mintel. The report indicates that while specialty food sales continued to climb in 2016, growth in retail and foodservice channels slowed over the previous year, partly due to an increase in online purchasing for these products.
Some of the growth in the retail channel is coming in mainstream retail channels, with growth in sales in chain grocery stores and mass merchants outpacing that in natural and specialty chains for the first time. Growth is also happening in the foodservice channel, as more fine dining restaurants adopt specialty food products into their menus. Foodservice represents more than one fifth of specialty food sales and grew by 13.7 percent between 2014 and 2016.
Cheese lovers (a.k.a. turophiles) around the world will have the chance to nibble on traditional raw milk cheeses at more than 600 events on April 22, 2017, designated Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day.
Created by the Oldways Cheese Coalition in 2015, and in association with the prestigious Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, this worldwide holiday offers cheese enthusiasts a chance to participate in events celebrating the distinctiveness and cultural heritage of cheeses made with raw milk.
This year’s celebration will highlight four worldwide flagship events at:
Even if you can’t make one of the flagship events, there are hundreds more, taking place everywhere from Whole Foods to your local cheese shop. (Partial list)
“Raw milk cheeses are unique in flavor, history, and carry on traditional cheesemaking practices,” said Carlos Yescas, Program Director, Oldways Cheese Coalition. “The producers who make them are passionate about craftsmanship and animal husbandry. Their cheeses represent years, even decades, of knowledge and thoughtful innovation to better their products.”
Since cheese was first discovered many millennia ago it has been made with pure raw milk. In fact, it was only in the last century that cheese began to be made with pasteurized milk.
More than half of cheese lovers prefer raw milk cheeses and purchase them regularly. It’s no wonder since the natural microflora in raw milk produces cheeses — such as Le Gruyère AOP, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort and many American originals — that are characteristic of local environments, expressive of terroir, and evocative of complex flavors.
Another benefit? Scientific studies reveal that, when consumed in moderation, cheese is a tremendous way to add healthy fats, minerals, vitamins and probiotics to your diet.
Retailers, restaurants, producers and cheese enthusiasts are invited to participate with their own events. For more information about how to be involved with Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day or to join the Oldways Cheese Coalition, visit www.oldwayscheese.org.
Everyone is encouraged to join in the cheese conversation and celebration on Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #RawMilkCheese.