The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA), in conjunction with the Cambria Tourism Board, San Simeon Tourism Board and Wine Coast Country announced a new partnership to bring a Paso Robles wine event to the north coast of San Luis Obispo County. On February 21, 2015 the 1st Annual Paso BlendFest on the Coast will showcase the best characteristics of each partner, combining the scenic beauty of the coast with Paso Robles Wine Country, only miles away. Held during off season, BlendFest is sure to become an annual marquee event helping to promote stays at the area’s lodging properties and celebrate Paso Robles Wine Country in a beautiful setting.
BlendFest will invite visitors to San Simeon and Cambria to Grow Wild beyond a glass of everyday wine and will feature 25-30 of Paso Robles’ renowned wineries, each featuring two distinct blends! Held at The Cavalier Resort in San Simeon, guests will be able to enjoy spectacular wines, only surpassed by the stunning coastal views.
“As evidenced by Paso’s recent honor as Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, the region has become known for rule breaking, unconventional blends,” said Jennifer Porter, Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “It is now time those blends got their own dedicated festival!”
By David Bernard
Time was, when you wanted to experience top-quality caviar, there was one game in town (or rather one sea in town): the Caspian Sea. The Soviet Union and Iran, with Caspian shoreline, had sole access to the species of sturgeon that provided the world’s most delicious caviar, which retailed for hundreds of dollars per ounce. However, today, retailers wanting to procure some of the best “Russian” caviar available, may take their shopping trip far and wide – to China and Uruguay, for example.
With exports of wild caviar from the Caspian Sea and other locations banned or mostly banned since 2006 due to poaching, overfishing, pollution and shrinking habitat, American caviar importers have turned to a growing global aquafarm industry. This is yielding some delicious results.
The key to sourcing the best caviar is to keep your eye not so much on the fish, but on the farm. While most aquafarms started their operations with the prized Caspian Sturgeon, Russian Osetra or Siberian Sturgeon (chosen for its rapid rate of maturation), it is the individual farm’s processes and practices that determine whether the fish turn out world-class “Russian” caviar or an also-ran product. While feed is not typically a distinguishing factor in product quality – there are only a few large-scale feed producers worldwide – aspects such as how much and what kind of vitamins are given and the strength of a country’s regulatory practices play important roles in ultimately determining caviar quality.
“My job is to go to visit every single farm to see if they have close to a natural situation,” said Max Moghaddam, President and owner of Bemka House of Caviar & Fine Foods, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based importer and distributor. “The quality of the water is most important. If a farm is landlocked and water is a limited resource – maybe they’re using only 10 percent fresh water and recycling the rest – that’s not really a farm we want to work with.”
In addition to China and Uruguay, countries producing farmed caviar include Italy, the world leader in the production and export of such caviar, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Israel, Canada, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran and a number of former Soviet Republics. Russia produces a significant amount of caviar, but most is consumed by the country’s large domestic market.
Today, the main varieties of caviar imported into the United States continue to be Russian Osetra and Siberian Sturgeon. Some hybrids are sold as well, for example Bester, which is a hybrid of the Caspian native Beluga and the smaller Sterlet Sturgeon. Beluga caviar itself is banned from import or sale in this country, because the Beluga Sturgeon is an endangered species.
Marky’s, based in Miami, sources its top-selling Osetra from an Israeli aquafarm that uses a continuous flow of mountain stream water. The Karat Osetra caviar is sold in Black, Amber and Gold varieties. The Amber is a particular hit, juicy but with a firm grain and distinctive nutty clean taste.
While foreign aquafarms are turning out quality caviar, domestic production has grown as well, thanks to both lower pricing and increased demand. With the overall dip in world production that occurred between the banning of much wild caviar and the growth of the farmed caviar industry, domestic producers were able to fill part of the supply void.The caviar from California White Sturgeon, similar to Russian Osetra in size and taste, if a bit more fishy, now makes up more than 70 percent of authentic domestic caviar production and provides consumers with a gourmet product at a somewhat lower price.
“We find that White Sturgeon is a very good middle ground,” said Christopher Hlubb, President and COO of Marky’s. “It does not usually compete with products at the top such as Russian Osetra. Like most products, it depends on grade, but it positions itself as a very good product, although the price has risen and is nearing that of Russian Osetra.”
For retailers looking to offer consumers fish roe at an even lower price, there are a number of non-sturgeon “American caviar” products available (note: this term is also often used to refer to the authentic caviar from California White Sturgeon). Paddlefish roe, the “cousin of caviar,” comes from fish native to the Yellowstone River and Mississippi River system. Salmon and whitefish roe are also lower price-point options.
“We talk to customers and ask them what their need is,” said Dale Sherrow, Vice President of Seattle Caviar Company, which sells American caviar as well as a full range of imported caviar. “If it’s an event, what kind of event, how many people, what’s their budget. And for some customers, salmon roe is the perfect choice. You get that strong salmon flavor. It has a larger bead. It’s just delicious.”
While there are a number of tasty non-sturgeon roe products available, these are not necessarily a steppingstone for consumers to move into imported caviar. “We find a lot of customers have their preference, their budget, and they stay with it,” said Sherrow. “They get great tasting American caviar that can be used most ways.”
This story was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
By Lorrie Baumann
For many home bakers today, “made from scratch” means using a mix that is convenient, economical and includes the same quality ingredients they would use themselves if they just had the time, energy and a real urge to buy flour in bulk. This is according to Donna Cook, owner of Rabbit Creek Products, which makes an extensive line of “scratch baking for today” baking mixes.
“In the old days, you measured out your flour and your sugar. Now it’s become convenient, and when people ask if that’s homemade, you can say, ‘Yes, it’s homemade.’” she says. “Most people do not have all these ingredients on hand, so you’d have to buy five pounds of flour and five pounds of sugar to make something, when maybe all you need is a half a cup. So using a mix instead is economical and convenient.”
“This saves so much time, and it’s easier just to buy a mix, hurry up and have the cookies or the cake done, and you’re ready to go,” Cook continues. “This is still considered a homemade product.”
Part of the time-saving convenience comes from a quicker clean-up: using the mixes saves utensils – there’s no flour sifter or separate mixing bowls for wet and dry ingredients to wash. “Basically, you have a spoon and a bowl, maybe a measuring cup for the butter to clean up,” Cook says. “They’re delicious, and they’re convenient and easy. Beer Bread takes one can of beer, and the Mudd Brownie takes butter and eggs, and most people have those in their refrigerator.”
The holiday season is home baking season too, and Rabbit Creek has a whole range of products to bring to the feast, including Brownie for the Reindeer Mix, with chocolate, peanut butter and white chips; Santa’s “Naughty” Brownie Mix; Jolly Old Saint Nick’s Cinnamon Apple Quick Bread mix and Merry Moose Holiday Cinnamon Pull Apart Quick Bread, among other treats to take to a party, add to a holiday gift basket or contribute to the family celebration. There is even a mix for Peppermint Hot Chocolate to offer the carolers when they come a’wassailing.
For home cooks who are more likely to have wine in the rack than beer in the refrigerator, Rabbit Creek Products offers a whole line of mixes that call for the addition of wine to make treats like Raspberry with Cabernet Wine Brownies, Drunken Cherry Wine Brownies, Red Red Wine Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. For everybody’s favorite character at a New Year’s Eve party, there is even The Intoxicated Nut Brownie.
“Since we’re from Kansas, we have a whole Land of Oz category of mixes for breads and brownies,” Cook adds.
These products all represent Rabbit Creek’s creative twist on classic recipes, and it is Cook’s keen attention to current food trends that sparks the company’s innovation. “Once I have in my mind what I want to do, then product development happens very quickly. If I’ve been out to a restaurant and had something that made me say, ‘Oh, this is great,’ then I’ll take those flavors and put them into a bread,” she says.
Right now, foodies are embracing coffee flavors. “We’re seeing coffee with chocolate, coffee dribbled on things, coffee-infused meat rubs,” said Cook.
Very hot peppers and pepper sauces, including sriracha, are trending as well, and Rabbit Creek’s recent addition to its line of dip mixes is called “Damn!! That’s Hot!! Vegetable Dip Mix.” As Cook tells it, the name came from a taste-tester’s reaction to a dip that gets its heat from jalapeño and a dose of cayenne.
For the foodies who are following the locavore, clean-eating or Farm to Table movements or who are just trying to find more creative ways to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into a healthier diet, Rabbit Creek Products offers Farm Fresh Creations, a mix that calls for the addition of fresh vegetables and another that requires fresh fruit. The home cook just sautés four cups of fresh vegetables from the farmers market or the backyard garden, adds the Rabbit Creek topping and bakes it.
“There’s also a fruit one that lets people pop out a dessert from their farmers market fruit. As long as you have four cups of fruit, you can use anything you want,” Cook says. “It’s a great use for leftovers. If you have four cups of anything, you can use it. Once I had an apple I had to use, and I had some blackberries and some strawberries. You sauté those and then add the topping, bake it, and flip it upside down, so it’s like an upside down dessert. If it’s warm, it’s wonderful with ice cream on top.”
For further information and a look at other offerings from Rabbit Creek Products, visit www.rabbitcreekgourmet.com.
This story was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
By David Bernard
When developing a successful specialty food company, usually you work hard to create a product, market that product and build the business. Then you have some fun after success hits. The team at Hampton, Virginia-based Simply Panache, maker of Mango Mango preserve, took the opposite route.
Simply Panache’s three co-owners, Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis started out having quite a bit of fun as corporate and special event planners. While organizing these events, the trio wanted to give guests something special to remember the occasion, and that turned out to be a signature mango preserve. They had their chef add the preserve to everything from mimosas and lemonade to cream cheese dip and ginger shrimp. And the preserve simply took off from there.
“Our event clients always wanted to know, what was in the shrimp, what was in the punch,” said Brown-Renfro, co-owner and Product Executive at Simply Panache. “They started asking if they could buy what was in all of these things we made. We looked at each other and said, ‘We think we have something here.’”
Immediately a hit, the preserve actually landed its co-owners a coveted spot on the television show Shark Tank. While the owners did not end up partnering with the Shark, they did field 15,000 new orders in the 48 hours after the show aired. “We have people who order from all over the world now,” said Brown-Renfro. In the year ending in September, the company sold more than 60,000 jars, a whopping 300 percent increase over the previous year’s sales.
Simply Panache’s Mango Mango preserve is an all-natural, four-ingredient preserve that just two and a half years after its debut is now sold in all Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores, and in gourmet and other specialty stores nationwide. When creating the preserve, Brown-Renfro and her colleagues had all-natural and less sugar in mind. Mango Mango contains no preservatives and uses less sugar than most commercially available preserves.
“It’s a very distinctive taste,” said Brown-Renfro. “It’s the blend that does it. You don’t really see commercial preserves with lime juice and vanilla. The blend is what sets it apart from other mango products and other preserves. And with no fillers, you get more of the mango fruit.”
Simply Panache will open a new production facility and bistro in Hampton, early next year. The company has several new products in the works, including two vinaigrettes – one with red wine, olive oil and vinegar and one with mango and Dijon mustard – a mimosa mixer, lemonade and cocktail sauce. If all goes to plan, these products will start rolling out next spring.
For three friends who were happily operating an event planning business, this fruity turn has been a pleasant surprise. “This was an accidental business,” said Brown-Renfro. “But once we started making the preserve, with our event clients requesting it, and then the positive early feedback we got, we thought it would be successful. And we’re hoping that it will be a lot more successful. We’d love for it to be a household product, because it just has so many uses.”
This story was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
By David Bernard
Stocking the pantry is so old school. After decades of making up a shopping list and piling up the grocery cart with a two-week supply of food, American consumers have shifted gears and are presenting retailers with a moving target that shops in smaller amounts, on more days and at a wider category range of retailers. These trends and others, documented previously by leading consumer research company, The Hartman Group, will get a fresh look when the company launches its “Food Shopping in America 2014” project in the coming weeks. The company performs the study every two years, which has proven plenty of time for new trends to emerge in the continually advancing technological environment that affects shoppers today.
With the online marketplace bringing shopping opportunities to consumers on a continuous basis and with the increasing variety of brick-and-mortar food retailers available, consumers today carry more power than ever. (The Hartman Group refers to the explosion of food availability as the “Roadside Pantry” effect.) As a result, retailers are constantly looking for ways to anticipate and meet the unique demands of today’s consumer.
“People can get food anywhere now, and that’s what this idea of the Roadside Pantry represents,” said Blaine Becker, Senior Director of Marketing at The Hartman Group. “For example, convenience stores have always been a place where you can hop in and hop out with a quick snack, but now these stores are offering higher-quality, healthier snacks, which make them more attractive to consumers. And even drug stores now have these huge food sections, some even with prepared foods … Food is everywhere.”
In addition to the shifting landscape of where consumers food purchases are occurring, the demographics of precisely who is doing the shopping is also changing. While women had traditionally been thought of as the primary shoppers in most households, The Hartman Group’s 2012 study actually found that 47 percent of primary shoppers were male. This result proved valuable to retailers, since men and women display different shopping patterns and respond to different marketing strategies. The upcoming study, whether it repeats, accentuates or reverses the 2012 results, could provide valuable insight as well.
Previous research from The Hartman Group has helped retailers tailor their in-store and extra-store messages to match shoppers’ mindsets, and this new study aims to provide retailers with even more insights on consumer behavior. In its 2012 study, the company, for example, uncovered that a full 50 percent of shopping trips involved stops at two or more stores. A typical trip, then, might mean picking up a broiled chicken at the supermarket, followed by a quick dash to Trader Joe’s for a couple of microwavable ethnic sides with a few additional need-to-stock-up-on items gathered at each store as well. Retailers are anxious to see how this trend has progressed in the past two years.
Another important finding from The Hartman Group’s 2012 study concerns the continued use shopping “plans” by consumers to help them plot out their shopping trips. This revelation was a particularly surprising one to retailers who had long believed most consumers shopped in their stores without a plan. “There had been a longheld belief that most decisions happened in the store,” said Becker. “We found that just wasn’t true. The vast majority of consumers’ planning and decision-making is done before they head to the store. It happens primarily at home, and now because we’re so mobile, also at work.”
For retailers anxious to see how consumer shopping patterns have evolved over the past two years, The Hartman Group’s Food Shopping in America 2014 Study will surely offer an eye-opening glimpse into today’s food retail landscape. “We help retailers and consumer packaged good companies understand how people are making decisions of not only what to buy but where they’re going to buy it,” said Becker. “Is it going to be club store vs. grocery store vs. specialty food or natural food store vs. any other number of channels? And once you understand why consumers do what they do, then you can begin to formulate marketing strategy plans and things like that.”
For more information on the Food Shopping in America 2014 study, visit www.hartman-group.com/upcoming-studies/food-shopping-in-america-2014.
By Lucas Witman
On September 8, General Mills made the announcement that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Annie’s Inc., the California-based natural and organic product manufacturer. A leading natural foods brand, Annie’s had net sales of $204 million in the past fiscal year. The Board of Directors of Annie’s has unanimously recommended that the company’s stockholders accept the acquisition offer.
“This acquisition will significantly expand our presence in the U.S. branded organic and natural foods industry, where sales have been growing at a 12 percent compound rate over the last 10 years,” said Jeff Harmening, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for General Mills. “Annie’s competes in a number of attractive food categories, with particular strength in convenient meals and snacks – two of General Mills’ priority platforms. Consumers know and trust Annie’s purpose-driven culture and authentic brand. We believe that combining the Annie’s product portfolio and go-to-market capabilities with General Mills’ supply chain, sales and marketing resources will accelerate the growth of our organic and natural foods business.”
Co-founded in 1989 by Annie Withey and Andrew Martin, Annie’s is well-known among specialty food shoppers for its line of natural, good-for-you mixes and snacks, as well as for its iconic bunny rabbit logo. The company offers macaroni and cheese mixes, meal mixes, canned pastas, frozen snacks and entrees, dressings, condiments, crackers, pretzels, granola bars and more – all manufactured without artificial flavors, colors, GMOs, growth hormones or persistent pesticides.
“Annie’s will remain dedicated to our mission: to cultivate a healthier and happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet,” said John Foraker, Chief Executive Officer of Annie’s. “Authentic roots, great tasting products, high quality organic and natural ingredients and sustainable business practices will continue to be the cornerstones of the Annie’s brand.”
Despite Foraker’s insistence that Annie’s will not waver in its commitment to natural and organic principles, many consumers are reacting with concern to the news that one of their favorite brands will now fall under General Mills’ purview. When the Organic Consumers Association sent out an initial action alert to its base urging consumers to boycott Annie’s, for example, it received 22,000 signatures on the first day, an indication of potential widespread consumer dissatisfaction with the move.
“Initial reaction was based on what historically happens,” said Katherine Paul, Associate Director at the Organic Consumers Association. “On the one hand, it’s further evidence of the growth of organics. The fact that these large corporations want to get in on the action is just further proof that the organic food sector is growing. Consumer demand is growing, and that’s a good thing. But typically what happens when a company like General Mills acquires one of these brands, we see the quality of the product over time deteriorate as lower quality ingredients are substituted for higher quality ingredients. That often happens unbeknownst to the consumer unless it’s a dramatic enough change that the flavor is affected. It’s the beginning of the decline of the quality of the brand. From that perspective, it’s not such a good thing.”
The lion’s share of the criticism being directed at Annie’s surrounds the company’s choice to be acquired by a brand that actively fights against GMO labeling laws. Whereas Annie’s has made the decision to source all of its ingredients from non-GMO suppliers and supports mandatory GMO labeling, General Mills regularly donates money to the fight against GMO labeling laws. This seems a clear conflict of interest to those consumers who seek to put their money where their mouth is and support companies that echo their personal values.
“We were very public and very vocal about the fact that here we have a company like General Mills that spends millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws and then buys up a brand like Annie’s. This is a quandary for the consumer that was loyal to that organic brand,” said Paul. “In this case, Annie’s contributed money to GMO labeling campaigns to support labeling laws. But General Mills is a big contributor to campaigns to defeat those laws, in addition to being a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which sued the state of Vermont for passing a GMO labeling law earlier this year. Conscious consumers don’t really want to support a brand whose parent company is spending millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws.”
Another concern consumers have surrounding General Mills’ purchase of Annie’s is whether or not the acquisition could lead to the erosion of organic standards. “Often when a large corporation buys up organic brands, the corporation works behind the scenes in Washington D.C. to influence, and weaken organic standards in order to allow them to substitute cheaper ingredients and increase their profits,” said Paul. “The more organic brands they buy out, the more motivation they have to do this.”
For their part, leaders at General Mills have pledged that they have no intention of changing Annie’s or redirecting the way the company sources the ingredients that go into its products. In an earnings call to shareholders, General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell said that the plan was to continue to allow the team at Annie’s to “do their thing.”
Of course, Annie’s is not the first niche natural products company to come under the purview of a larger corporation, and most major food companies have at least a few organic products brands in their portfolio. Kellogg’s, for example, successfully operates vegetarian brands Morningstar Farms and Gardenburger, as well as natural foods scion Kashi. Coca Cola owns Honest Tea, odwalla and smartwater. And General Mills itself already has a strong organic presence, operating a number of brands in the natural products sector, including Lärabar, Cascadian Farm Organic, Food Should Taste Good and Muir Glen.
If General Mills is to successfully migrate the Annie’s business to its portfolio without alienating the brand’s loyal consumer base, it will be the company’s responsibility to prove that nothing is changed with the way Annie’s products are made or with the way its ingredients are sourced. This could be an uphill battle, however.
“You really can’t know if you can rely on the company,” said Paul. “You can read the ingredients to see if there are any actual changes in ingredients, but you will never know if there are changes to the sourcing for those ingredients and if fair trade practices are still valued.”
For consumers seeking out alternative sources for natural and organic products, there are a number of resources at their disposal. Online resource eatlocalgrown recently published a list of 21 alternative companies that shoppers should check out. The list includes Simply 7, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Follow Your Heart, Drew’s Organic and more. You can read the entire list at http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/13460-alternatives-to-annies-mac-and-cheese.html. Concerned consumers might also want to download the smartphone Buycott App that organizes everyday spending so consumers can support companies that follow their chosen principles and avoid those that do not. You can download the app at http://buycott.com/.
By Lucas Witman
In a meeting of the Russian Cabinet in August, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that his country will henceforth ban imports of all meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, dairy and fresh prepared foods produced in the United States, Canada, EU, Australia and Norway for a period of one year. The move was ostensibly made in an effort to give the Russian agriculture sector an opportunity to better compete with foreign farmers and food producers and increase its global market share. However, the import ban implicitly serves as retaliation against these countries for the sanctions that were imposed against Russia following the country’s annexation earlier this year of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.
Only a few months old, the Russian import ban is already yielding negative effects for many European farmers. According to the European commission, exports by companies in EU member countries to Russia of food and agricultural products were worth 5.1 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in 2013. This represents 4.2 percent of total agricultural exports from the EU. From German cabbage to Dutch pears to Italian tomatoes, agricultural products that were once destined for Moscow or St. Petersburg are now without a home, and farmers are left struggling, wondering what to do with their goods.
The good news for European farmers is that the EU has already stepped in to offer assistance to those who have been negatively impacted by the Russian import ban. Almost immediately following Medvedev’s announcement, the European Commission stated that it would provide 125 million euros in support to European farmers saddled with a glut of produce that they cannot export to its original target. Shortly thereafter, the European Commission expanded its support, pledging to help European dairy farmers defer the costs of storing surplus butter, cheese and milk powder. On September 30, the European Commission stated that it would increase its support to farmers by an additional 165 million euros.
It is as yet unclear how deeply the Russian import ban will negatively impact U.S. farmers and food producers. In 2013, U.S. exports of agricultural products to Russia totaled $1.3 billion. Key U.S. exports to Russia include poultry ($310 million), pork ($18 million), tree nuts ($172 million), fruit ($34 million), seafood ($83 million) and prepared foods ($84 million). U.S. producers of these commodities are now being forced to seek out new markets for their products.
The California almond industry has long relied on Russia as a key trading partner, and thus this is one group of U.S. producers who are bracing for an economic hit this year. “Year-to-date, shipments to Russia represent about 3 percent of total California almond exports. Russian imports of almonds from the U.S. in calendar 2013 were approximately 23,500 tons, with a value of $126 million,” said Julie Adams, Vice President of the Almond Board of California.
Although Adams regrets the negative impact that California almond producers may face as a result of their inability to export products to Russia, she is equally concerned that Russian consumers will no longer have access to a product they love to eat. “The sanctions are particularly disruptive to consumers and manufacturers in Russia, who recognize the nutritional benefits of almonds,” she said. “We look forward to working again with our customers in Russia, once the market is reopened. The Almond Board will continue to monitor the situation, working closely with the U.S. government.”
The U.S. poultry industry is also expected to be impacted by the ban on exports to Russia, although industry insiders anticipate that impact to be relatively minimal. “At one point we were exporting 42 percent of our exports to Russia. That was in 1997. That has declined through the years,” said Jim Sumner, President of USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. “In 2013, we exported 7.5 percent of our exports to Russia. Fortunately, this situation didn’t happen ten or 15 years ago. It would have been catastrophic for our industry. Today it is unfortunate. We don’t want to lose a market anywhere, but thanks to the diversification of our industry it’s but a blip on the radar.”
“We’re in a pretty tight market situation here in the United States – the highest beef prices we’ve ever seen, higher pork prices,” Sumner continued. “The timing really couldn’t have been better for our industry if it was going to happen than now.”
Miami-based Russian specialty product superstore Marky’s does a brisk business exporting U.S.-produced Eastern European specialty goods, including caviar, seafood, foie gras, truffles, mushrooms, cheeses, oils and vinegars to Russia. “In relation to the market and our business as it relates to Russia, we do not function as a Russian business,” said Chris Hlubb, President and COO of Marky’s Group Inc. “However, we do export from the U.S. to Russia and Ukraine and ex-Soviet republics and have been adversely affected from our ability to continue to export certain products due to recent bans from the Russian side.” Still, in this case as well, the impact may be felt more severely by Russian consumers who now have diminished access to specialty goods and are forced to pay higher prices.
The positive news for Russian consumers is that as companies in North America, Europe and Australia are being inhibited from exporting goods to their country, producers in other countries are stepping in to fill the void. Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Egypt, China and Belarus are just a few of the countries stepping in provide much-needed agricultural goods to Russian consumers. The organizers of Russia’s largest food trade show, WorldFood Moscow, held in September, were thrilled by the increased global turnout at this year’s show, arguing that the food bans have been responsible for bringing companies from new countries to the show and the Russian market.
“The changes in Russia’s food regulations has meant that interest from non-EU countries entering this market has increased, and subsequently we received an influx of last minute bookings from those countries that are not affected by the ban,” said Tony Higginson, Sales Director for WorldFood Moscow. “We are also pleased to confirm that Russia’s ban had little effect on the event’s exhibitor list.”
American consumers respond to Russian import ban
As the United States gets further embroiled in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, anti-American sentiment is growing among many in Russia. Some Russian consumers are turning away from American staples like McDonald’s (12 locations were recently closed by Russian officials over dubious food safety concerns) and Kentucky bourbon (health officials have similarly threatened to ban the potable). And American expats in the country report experiencing hostility from Russian nationals.
Anti-Russian sentiment in the United States is also on the rise. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans surveyed stated that they view Russia unfavorably – the highest number since 2005 and a 16 percent spike since 2012. With Americans’ perception of Russia turning sour, U.S. retailers and food companies specializing in Eastern European products are being forced to confront the possibility of a backlash.
Unlike what happened in the early years of the Iraq War when anti-French sentiment in the United States compelled some to dump bottles of French wine and members of Congress to chow down on “freedom fries,” the good news for Russian specialty companies today is that they have yet to experience a similar backlash from American consumers as a result of ongoing global tensions. However, this may have less to do with Americans’ devotion to Russian food or indifference to global politics and more to do with the fact that the market for European specialty goods in this country is made up almost entirely of Eastern European immigrants and their descendants – a group not likely to ditch their affinity for these items.
“We have not seen any such public backlash, as customers for Russian products tend to be uniquely Russian or from Eastern Europe,” said Hlubb of the bustling business Marky’s continues to do both online and at its retail space in Miami. “And due to limited cuisine expansion into Europe and the U.S., we see little to no effect from our customers.”
“Most of our customers are Russian, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Georgian, Bulgarian or from other Eastern European countries,” said Zourab Tsiskaridze President of Russian Gourmet, a chain of five Russian specialty stores in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. “Of course, we have American customers too, but it’s not a majority. It’s a minority.”
According to Tsiskaridze, Russian expatriates and others with Eastern European heritage continue to flock to his store, seeking out the products that remind them of their families and their youth. The most popular items people pick up at Russian Gourmet include sausages, cheeses, caviar, smoked fish, dairy products and prepared foods. This clientele is not likely to abandon these products simply out of a sense of American patriotism. “People who live somewhere in different countries, of course they remember taste, how the food was when they were young or something. They remember this and they want to eat. They can live without Russian food but they have some kind of fondness, some kind of remembrance,” he said.
Although he has not yet observed any backlash by American consumers against his store’s largely Russian product selection, one thing Tsiskaridze has observed among his store’s Eastern European clientele is the occasional rejection of Russian products by Ukrainian nationals and vice versa. For Tsiskaridze, an immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, this reminds him of the hostility he experienced from Russian shoppers when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. He recounts a recent instance of a Ukrainian woman rejecting an item at his store after realizing it was produced in Russia.
“One woman was Ukrainian, and we had the same product from two different countries – one from Ukraine and one from Russia. The Ukrainian was a little more expensive than the Russian,” he said, “She said, ‘I don’t want to buy Russian products.’ I don’t think this was smart.”
Still, although Russian Gourmet, Marky’s and other Russian specialty retailers continue to weather whatever storm of anti-Russian sentiment currently exists in this country with relative ease, as the global tensions between the two countries continue to build, there is no certainty that a larger public backlash will not eventually emerge. The potential threat to purveyors of Russian goods was made apparent during preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi when several gay rights organizations urged a boycott of Stolichnaya vodka and other Russian-produced goods in light of the country’s alleged human rights violations.
In the meantime, however, the added exposure Russia is receiving on the global stage may actually be a positive thing for those selling Eastern European foods in this country. This has been the case for Russian Gourmet, where profits are actually up in recent months. Tsiskaridze says that his stores have become an important meeting place for immigrants coming to share news of their homeland and debate the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. “People from Soviet Union, they are very political people. They might not understand, but they like to talk,” he said. “In my store, I have a Russian kitchen. The sales person is Ukrainian. I am Georgian. Yesterday we talked for two hours about this situation, going back in history. We like to talk. What else can we do?”
This story was originally published in the November issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
By Lucas Witman
Finding success as a specialty food retailer can be a difficult proposition even under the best of circumstances, but in a market as competitive as Bend, Oregon, it takes something truly exceptional to draw food shoppers into a retail space. The city of just over 76,000 residents contains at least 15 full-service grocery stores, as well as a bevy of specialty markets. With so many available shopping options for the local populace to turn to, it is clear that any store that has survived – and in fact thrived – for nearly 40 years, experiencing double digit sales growth for the past three years, is doing something right. Case-in-point: Bend’s Newport Avenue Market.
“For us, it’s all about the experience. Anybody can shop online. It really comes down to being a food hub for our neighborhood and going after [the shoppers], whether it’s the weekend visitors to Bend or the everyday European-style shoppers,” said Lauren Johnson, COO of Newport Avenue Market. (Her honorary title is “Leader of the Pack.”) “Being that food hub and creating a sense of excitement and a sense of fun is really what the experience is.”
For the team at Newport Avenue Market, it is the elevated experience of shopping at the store more than anything else that brings shoppers through its doors. The market not only offers an opportunity for hungry shoppers to pick up a few groceries, but it also serves as a meeting place where people in the community can come together to catch up on one another’s lives. And for visitors to Bend, the store serves as a regional showcase for Central Oregon’s farmers, specialty food craftspeople and artists.
Of course, Newport Avenue Market would not be as successful as it is if it did not offer an expansive selection of high-quality, in-demand food and beverage items. The aisles of mainstream groceries at the store as well as its gourmet offerings make this a place where one can go to do a big weekly grocery shop or simply stop in for a bottle of imported olive oil or a few farmstead cheeses. Newport Avenue Market offers meat, seafood, baked goods, deli, cheese,
produce, beer, wine, sushi, housewares and more.
In stocking the market’s shelves, the team at Newport Avenue Market focuses on highlighting the regional bounty that Central Oregon has to offer. From meat to seafood to cheese, every section at the store features an array of local and regional products. When the local Copper River King Salmon return to Oregon’s waters each spring, Newport Avenue Market is proud to be among the first retailers in the state to carry it. The market also sells local non-commodity beef from Country Natural Beef. The butter, milk and cultured dairy products from Eberhard’s Dairy are a Bend favorite. And area residents anxiously wait for local produce to come into season, heading to Newport Avenue Market to pick up everything from asparagus in spring to Opal apples in fall.
In addition, customers will also find products on the store’s shelves from a number of specialty food companies that are based in the region, including Willamette Valley Fruit Company, Red Plate Foods and O’Hana Salsa.
One of the real highlights at Newport Avenue Market is the store’s immense selection of wine and beer. The store offers over 500 distinct beers and over 3,000 wines. In a state that is equally well known as a producer of fine wine and craft beer, the market does not have to look far when sourcing products for these sections. “In Deschutes County, we have over 25 craft brewers and we’re also home to Deschutes Brewery, which is number six in the country. And we carry national brand beer as well. We continue to grow both in the craft beer and cider,” said Johnson. “With wine, we do a tremendous job as well. We have so many resources both regionally and internationally.”
Newport Avenue Market is always looking to expand its product offerings and searches far and wide to find the hottest new products to bring to Central Oregon. The store sends teams of buyers to upwards of a dozen different trade shows each year, scouting out goods for the store. However, it is ultimately the customers themselves that have the most influence over the store’s product selection. “We really take great pride in carrying what our customers want to buy as opposed to telling them what they should buy. If our customers request a product, we guide them to that,” said Johnson.
Newport Avenue Market’s devotion to Central Oregon spreads beyond simply featuring regionally produced products on its shelves. The market prides itself on being a valuable member of its community. As an employer, the store has become home to over 100 dedicated employees, ten of which have been with Newport Avenue Market for over 15 years. In addition, the store engages in a great deal of philanthropic activity within Central Oregon. This year, a charity golf tournament organized by Newport Avenue Market raised $50,000 for The Hunger Prevention Coalition. And Johnson expects a planned charity drive in December will raise another $50,000 for Bend food bank Family Kitchen. “I’m a fifth generation Oregonian,” said Johnson. “I live in this area as do my parents. With Oregon being one of the top hungriest states in the nation, this is something we can do to make a difference.”
For Johnson, Newport Avenue Market is not just a retailer. It is a friend to the community and to the region which it calls home. Johnson prides herself on being a good neighbor to those who she meets and does business with every day. “The relationship that we have with our customers is a friendship, and it’s absolutely experience-based. They come there to see their neighbors,” said Johnson. “It’s important for us to recognize that we are a food hub … We look forward to seeing our customers on a daily basis, and really getting to know their lives. [We love] seeing all of our neighbors – literally our neighbors (I live a few blocks away) – and catching up on their lives.”
The new West Coast Kale and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix from Frontier Soups is a vegetarian and certified gluten-free soup that’s part of Frontier Soups’ Homemade-In-Minutes™ line. The soup has a hearty mix of white quinoa and flakes of kale and butternut squash that are freeze-dried to preserve nutrition. Home cooks add canned tomatoes, cubed butternut squash and chicken or vegetable broth and simmer for 25 minutes to make soup for the family. Everything else is in the soup mix, including onions and carrots and a savory seasoning that combines garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary and a peppercorn blend.
This soup mix answers consumer requests for more vegetarian options and for soups that offer an easy way to incorporate popular superfoods into their diet. West Coast Kale and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix is available in 4.5-ounce clear cellophane packages that display the colorful ingredients at a suggested retail price of $5.95 to $6.49. Frontier Soups’ 34 varieties are all natural with no added salt, preservatives or MSG.
Infuse your holidays with the delicious nostalgia of the season by sharing Ethel M® Chocolates. These affordable gourmet confections — with seasonal flavors meticulously crafted of the finest, preservative-free ingredients -– will evoke warm family traditions of the holidays, handed down through generations.
“Confections that infuse seasonal flavors and aromas like pumpkin spice, egg nog, butter rum and peppermint have the power to evoke warm memories, which is why they’re especially popular around the holidays,” said Bernard Pacyniak, editor-in-chief of Candy Industry magazine. “The holidays are truly a time to come together, to celebrate and to create lasting memories with friends and families.”
Based on family recipes, Ethel M Chocolates are handcrafted in small batches and made with fresh, quality ingredients. For example, the buttery filling inside the Satin Cremes® is stirred by hand in special cream beaters and flavored with real chocolate, vanilla, raspberry and lemon. Quality is paramount in every step.
“Today, we use some of Ethel Mars’ 100-year-old recipes to deliver an affordable luxury experience that’s authentic and delicious for chocolate lovers, especially those who appreciate family tradition, uncompromising quality and unparalleled taste,” said Oren Young, General Manager of Ethel M Chocolates. “We’re passionate about continuing Ethel Mars’ legacy of fresh crafted chocolates. It’s a passion you can taste in every bite of Ethel M Chocolates.”
This season, the chocolate artisans at Ethel M Chocolates have prepared special assortments, sure to make your holidays merry and bright. To sweeten the deal, enter the code BFRIDAY14 to receive a 20 percent discount on orders of $50 or more from November 25 to December 3.
A thoughtful gift of Ethel M® Chocolates will transport friends and family back to the fragrant kitchen of Ethel Mars, as she lovingly made kettles of rich holiday chocolates in the early 1900s. Inspired by his mother’s sumptuous creations, Forrest Mars Sr. joined his father, Frank C. Mars, in founding world-renowned Mars, Incorporated, manufacturer of iconic brands like M&M’S® Brand Candies, SNICKERS® Bar and DOVE® Chocolate. In 1981, Forrest established Ethel M Chocolates as a tribute to his mother’s fine art of chocolate making.
Today, Ethel M Chocolates spread holiday cheer by delivering a true gift for the culinary senses. Give the gift of good taste with these seasonal suggestions:
Peppermint Bark ($22) is a beloved holiday tradition. This handmade delicacy features crushed peppermint candies drenched in creamy white chocolate and covered with a layer of premium dark chocolate.
The Holiday Deluxe Collection ($34) offers variety with the mouthwatering flavors of the season all wrapped up. Each 24-piece box includes limited edition pieces of Peppermint Silk, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Egg Nog, plus Satin Crèmes®, Almond Butter Krisps®, chewy and creamy caramels and Almond Crunch.
NEW Seasonal Chocolate Bars ($20-$70) are the perfect gift for the connoisseur who appreciates blending rich, premium chocolate with indulgent seasonal flavors: Milk Chocolate Buttered Rum, Dark Chocolate Pumpkin and White Chocolate Peppermint.
NEW Creamy Caramels in a Keepsake Box ($12-$95) are ready to give in a decorative box topped with a red acrylic bow. These indulgent treats are filled with creamy caramel and wrapped in milk and dark chocolate. Plus — along with several Ethel M Chocolate varieties — they’re kosher and make a thoughtful Hanukkah gift.
The Nut & Caramel Collection ($28-$34), encased in an attractive Snowflake Box, features toffee crisps, pecans, almonds and caramels, each drenched in dark or milk chocolate.
The Classic Collection ($28-$42) is a welcome addition to any festive gathering, offering a selection of sweet caramels, nuts, milk and dark Satin Crèmes® and Almond Butter Krisps®.
The Holiday Cocktail Collection ($28), with retro designs that evoke the 1960s, gives chocolate lovers a new way to toast the holidays. Each of the 16 pieces is filled with real spirits combined in a creme center: Champagne Cocktail and Mucha Margarita in milk chocolate or Lemon Drop and Chocopolitan in dark chocolate. (Some state laws prohibit shipment of alcoholic products directly to consumers. See website for details.)