By Micah Cheek
In the current seafood market, the desire for heart healthy proteins, risks of over fishing and concerns about preparation all seem at odds with one another. According to Dave Rudy, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, this complex environment presents an opportunity for retailers. “People are looking for a place where they can ask questions about their seafood and know where their seafood came from,” says Rudy. With the right information, the fishmonger can be a helpful guide to the stormy seas of an increasingly complex seafood counter.
The seafood species that represent 80 percent of seafood sales are referred to as The Big 5. Shrimp, tuna, salmon, whitefish and crab have historically been best sellers in the seafood case. According to Shawn Cronin, Business Program Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, breaking away from the Big 5 represents a valuable opportunity for retailers. “It’s a trend across all food systems, people love local. It adds an exciting element to supporting the communities you’re surrounded by.” Cronin adds that west coast retailers have seen success with local sole, flounder and rockfish. These varieties belong to the larger category of rockfish, a fishery that has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. While rockfish were greatly overfished in the 1990s, the reduction of bycatch, or unintentional catching of the wrong species, and new technology have made groundfish an ecologically responsible option.
Bycatch reduction, efforts to reduce ocean acidification, and sustainability initiatives have been increasingly successful, and a more informed customer is more aware of these issues. Tommy Gomes, expert fishmonger at Catalina Offshore Products, has witnessed the change over time. “I’m 55 years old, I’m the first generation of the TV dinner. Our food is changing. Everyone’s excited about dock to plate, and farm to market. Now it’s very critical to educate people on how to use the whole fish and how to prepare it in a healthy way.” To get a wide variety of seafood to a consumer focused on sustainable and local eating, the key is communication with a distributor. According to Seafood Watch, 90 percent of American seafood is imported, and tracking the chain of custody of any given fish can be difficult. “The only way you’ll know is diving deep into your supply chain to find out. Having a strong traceability policy in your organization is important,” says Cronin. “If you’re doing that work and you’re proud of what you’re sourcing, communicate that. Let the customers know, let them make purchasing decisions based on that information.”
The role of the fishmonger is becoming more and more involved, as customers want to know more about their seafood. “Sometimes a piece of fish gets bent or broken, it happens. I’m going to take them and grind them and show people how to make meatballs,” adds Gomes. “If you can take fish that’s broken, run it through a grinder, sell it for 5.99 and educate people on how to cook it, people will do amazing stuff.”
Aquaculture, or fish farming, presents another opportunity for discussion with customers. “A lot of the things we do are educate, promote and have fun. A lot of people have questions about farmed fish; these are the questions consumers are now asking,” Gomes says.
Aquaculture has been something of a dirty word in the seafood sector for the last 20 years, after environmental groups found overly dense and unsanitary conditions in Chilean farm fisheries. Since then, the aquaculture industry has made great strides in quality and is now considered an important part of sustainable seafood consumption. Unfortunately, the stigma has been difficult to shake. “This is one of the most frustrating things for me, because I believe that aquaculture is the future,” says Jacqueline Claudia, Co-Founder and CEO of Love The Wild. Using current advances in technology, farmed seafood has been able to encourage consistently healthy growth, eliminate antibiotic use in favor of probiotics and vaccines, and using feed that is composed of as little as one percent fish meal. “There are even some guys out in San Francisco that are basically making tofu for fish. You can replace fish meal in aquaculture feed with this alternative protein and get a farmed fish with a very similar omega-3 content as a wild fish.”
While seafood is gaining more interest with consumers, the barrier of entry remains high. The chance of making a mistake with a delicate filet is a strong concern for potential customers. “Seafood, more than any other category, has the possibility of stinking up your house for three days. It’s pretty high-risk for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” says Claudia. The recent increase in value-added seafood products is a response to these fears. Love The Wild offers prepackaged sets of two fillets paired with sauces. The meal for two is designed to be easily assembled, wrapped in paper, and baked. “Value-added seafood helps people get the training wheels to add seafood to their diet,” says Claudia. “They’re not looking for fish sticks anymore, they’re looking for clean-labeled fish that’s hard to screw up.”
Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery’s Founder, Jennifer Bice, announced today that she has chosen Switzerland-based Emmi to acquire her company, which will become an independently operated subsidiary of Emmi Holding (USA), Inc. The makers of the nation’s leading goat milk dairy brand, Redwood Hill Farm, and the nation’s leading organic lactose-free cow dairy brand, Green Valley Organics, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery will continue business as usual at their creamery’s location in Sebastopol, California.
Bice has committed to stay on as head of the company, overseeing day-to-day operations for several years until she retires, retaining ownership of her farm and 300 goats. The company’s entire leadership team will remain in place, with all employees retained and all jobs secure for the community in west Sonoma County, California. Emmi and Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery have agreed to keep the terms of the acquisition confidential.
“My succession decision is the result of years of careful planning and research,” says Bice. “More than anything,” she continues, “I wanted to ensure that, after I retire, Redwood Hill will continue to thrive as a Sonoma County business, a community resource, and that we can continue our efforts to make pure, wholesome and organic food more accessible and affordable throughout the United States.”
Bice, who starting in 1978 grew her parents’ goat dairy farm from a 4-H project to a national brand, found the ideal succession partner in Emmi. The 108-year old company is to this day majority owned by a cooperative of small-scale dairy farmers in Switzerland who farm between 10 and 50 cows. As one of the most innovative premium dairy makers in Europe, Emmi produces a full line of dairy in the Swiss, European and other international markets.
“I am entirely confident that Emmi is the right choice for Redwood Hill’s future, as ours is a relationship of trust,” says Bice, “I feel completely aligned with Emmi’s very high standards for quality, their strong emphasis on employees and their commitment to sustainability. Most importantly, they have encouraged us to maintain the way we do business here at Redwood Hill.”
“Redwood Hill Farm is a jewel in the U.S. dairy community, built by Jennifer Bice,” says Matthias Kunz, Vice President Americas of Emmi, “With dedication to Sonoma County and its people, she pioneered the U.S. goat movement from the start with compassion for employees and a sustainable environment. We are really humbled to have been chosen as the partner for Redwood Hill’s future and are very pleased to be able to count on Jennifer and her team for the next years.”
Mary Keehn, Founder of Cypress Grove Chevre in Humboldt County, California, sold her business to Emmi in 2010. Keehn, a fellow pioneer of goat cheesemaking and Jennifer Bice’s friend, chose the same succession path.
“Creating a company felt much like raising a child,” says Keehn of Cypress Grove Chevre, “With Emmi’s financial and strategic support, we have been able to send that child to Stanford rather than our local community college. We now have a Certified Humane, showcase dairy, a state-of-the art creamery and have been able to increase our workforce by more than a dozen employees, which creates much-needed jobs in our community.”
Once a small niche product, Redwood Hill Farm put goat milk dairy products on the map, which are now sold nationwide. Redwood Hill Farm’s quart-sized plain goat milk yogurt is the number one selling large yogurt in the natural food channel in the United States today, compared to any other goat or cow milk yogurt brand.
Tapping into its expertise of making dairy for the digestively diverse, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery launched its lactose-free cow dairy brand, Green Valley Organics, in 2010. Above all, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery strives for highest quality in its minimally processed dairy products, while ensuring the quality of life for its people, animals and the planet.
Grafton Village Cheese, a business of the nonprofit Windham Foundation in Grafton, Vermont, has teamed with specialty cheese leader Murray’s Cheese to manage its consumer e-commerce program. Online sales of Grafton Cheese on MurraysCheese.com commenced in late October.
Grafton Village Cheese makes handmade aged Vermont cheddar and specialty cheeses using premium raw milk from small local family farms. A selection of its award-winning cheeses are available at MurraysCheese.com.
“We are delighted to have partnered with Murray’s to take over our online consumer sales,” said Meri Spicer, Grafton’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “Murray’s established and reputable e-commerce program allows our existing consumer base to enjoy a more streamlined experience.”
“We are proud to partner with Grafton Cheese,” says Steven Millard, Vice President of Merchandizing at Murray’s. “Long a mainstay in New England and New York cheese cases and on the counters at Murray’s Cheese, Grafton has played an important part in our country’s amazing cultural revolution in cheese. Grafton can focus on making great cheeses, and Murray’s Cheese can focus on providing a seamless online shopping experience.”
Murray’s Cheese, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has a successful e-commerce business that focuses on the specialty cheese market. The Murray’s brand includes two New York locations, state-of-the-art cheese caves, a restaurant, an educational program, a wholesale business and 250 cheese kiosks in Kroger supermarkets.
By Richard Thompson
Meat industry professionals are seeing red as media coverage of a recent World Health Organization report tying red meat consumption with colorectal cancer continues to confuse consumers. Media responses to the report have made mountains out of meatballs, creating confusion on what makes up a balanced diet for consumers, says Eric Mittenthal, Vice President of Public Affairs at North American Meat Institute, but will not, in the end, much affect the meat industry.
The report, headed by a panel from the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) and released by WHO, concluded that for large numbers of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance. Mittenthal, whose agency represents processors and meat packers throughout the country, sees that despite all of the sensational headlines used by the media, consumers and meat industry professionals are still finding the report’s results hard to swallow: “This confirms our position that the report was over-reaching and alarmist and the fact that the [IARC] panelists were not even unanimous about the findings supports [our position].”
According to Jeff Stier, Risk Analysis Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), the report confuses readers by not accurately explaining the difference between actual and theoretical risks. “Correlation is different than causation.” warns Stier, “Even if they are right, all they are alleging is that if you eat a lot of [processed meat] your whole life, you have a very slight increased risk for cancer. But if you’re eating that much meat anyway, you might be more concerned with cardiovascular disease, weight problems and diabetic issues. Not colorectal cancer.”
In the report, the experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, but Mittenthal and Stier dispute that finding as inaccurate and poorly worded.
Stier, whose job is to direct the risk analysis division of NCPPR and help translate information into good public policy, says that using the 18 percent without understanding the context is like saying that living near a NASA facility triples the chances someone will be hit by an errant spaceship. “It may be true, but doesn’t mean much,” says Stier.
“Our industry supplies consumers, and they are the bottom line, and it’s clear by how people are reacting to this that they are rolling their eyes. Most people take this information with a grain of salt – which, I’m sure, somehow can cause cancer too,” says Mittenthal.
While public affair officials like Mittenthal are concerned over the public relations impact of the study, industry professionals from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) and American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA) are branding the science behind the report as inaccurate and incomplete. Dr. Shalene McNeill, PhD., RD, Beef Checkoff Nutrition Scientist and Registered Dietician for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association observed the IARC process, “IARC…doesn’t always represent consensus in the scientific community. After seven days of deliberation…IARC was unable to reach a consensus agreement from a group of 22 experts in the field of cancer research, something that IARC… typically achieves.”
“We know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and the report simply adds to people’s confusion about cancer,” says Deidrea Mabry, MS, Director of Scientific Communications and Technical Programs for the American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA).
The IARC findings insinuate that for every 50 grams of processed meat (or about two pieces of bacon) comes an 18 percent increase of getting colorectal cancer, but the reality is more mundane, according to Stier. During a lifetime of eating 50 grams of processed meat a day, every day, a person has an estimated 18 percent increase of having colorectal cancer versus someone who didn’t follow the same diet (an actual individual risk increase of 1 or 2 percent over the course of their life). To put that in perspective, red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC – consisting of air, aloe vera, coffee and wine, among others – that pose some level of theoretical hazard if used over-abundantly. McNeill explains, “The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”
Now that the WHO report is out, pro-meat agencies like NCPPR will continue to provide scientifically accurate information to consumers. “This is what I do for a living; stuffing toothpaste back in the tube,” says Stier.
As for national regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, no action is planned in response to the report or its findings. According to a press release by the FDA, the agency hasn’t had an opportunity to review the IARC monograph report and that IARC does not recommend regulations, legislation or public health interventions. On top of that, the NIH National Toxicology Program (NTP) report on Carcinogens has not looked at red or processed meats nor have those substances been nominated for review for the next edition.
Mabry seasons her concerns with prudence, “Consumers have seen beyond the sensational, and often inaccurate headlines….we know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and…it’s easy to get caught up in a report or a study.” According to Mabry, what’s most important is that consumers understand eating a healthy and well-balanced diet – including meat (both red and processed) – is supported by the strongest science available.
Her words appear to have resonated with WHO and IARC as well, since at time of press, the agencies have started backpedaling on how the report was worded and subsequently reported on via a Twitter account. Sample tweets include: “The #cancer review on processed meat does not ask ppl to stop eating meat, but to reduce intake to lower cancer risk.” They even went as far as to say there was a “shortcoming” to the classification system that processed meats were placed in.
For McNeill, this report changes nothing to what everyone in and out of the industry has already known for years, “As a registered dietitian and mother, my advice hasn’t changed. Eat a balanced diet, which includes lean meats like beef, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and, please, don’t smoke.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Olive oil industry experts are enlisting retailers to improve the quality of the olive oil assortment on their shelves and to educate consumers that the low-price olive oil they can buy on some retailers’ shelves isn’t a quality extra-virgin olive oil, regardless of what it says on the label. While it’s not necessarily easy for the average consumer to know if the olive oil they’re buying is truly a high-quality oil, it is very easy to identify a very cheap oil as a fraud, says David Neuman, CEO of Gaea North America, a subsidiary of Greek olive oil maker Gaea.
“When you’re selling as a retailer a liter of extra-virgin olive oil for $7, that’s not possible. Organic extra-virgin olive oil being sold for $5.99 a liter. It isn’t possible. You can’t make it for that,” he said.
“You could ask, how do they do it? How do they sell an EV for $4.99?” adds Alexandra Devarenne, Co Founder of Extra Virgin Alliance, a nonprofit trade association representing producers of extra virgin olive oil from around the world. “It’s not really an extra virgin olive oil,” she said.
The product in that bottle is very likely all olive oil, since the presence of other oils, such as canola or soybean oil, is easily detected. Although other oils can be mixed into olive oil and then sold as pure extra-virgin olive oil, the relative ease of detection and clear illegality has discouraged that particular fraud in U.S. retail, she says. The fraud that’s more often perpetrated on American retailers and consumers involves the adulteration of extra-virgin olive oil with lower grades of olive oil to produce a mixture of inferior oils that’s then labeled and sold as extra virgin. “That’s possible, and it’s undercutting the market for true extra virgin,” Devarenne said.
Widescale fraud is made possible because olive oil as a category is worth more than $1 billion a year in U.S. sales, and of that, more than 98 percent is imported, Neuman said. “With olive oils, there are a lot of foreign entities labeling things extra virgin that don’t meet the standards. The rest of the world is sending whatever they want to America. Grocers are selling what they need to to meet the demand,” he said.
That leaves the producers of genuine high-quality extra virgin olive oils – the kind that have been shown actually to have the health benefits and flavor that Americans are often seeking when they choose to buy olive oils, struggling to compete in a marketplace in which their oils, which have to sell at prices that reflect what it actually costs to produce them, sit on the shelf next to commodity-grade oils with much lower prices. Retailers are in a similar bind, according to Maria Reyes, Director, Vendor Management at KeHE Distributors. “It’s a business and we all have to make money including the retailers. There are a lot of oils out there and consumers are confused or simply don’t know the right olive oil to buy. The challenge is how we get the consumers to be educated about olive oil so that they are able to make the right decision as to what they’re buying off the shelf,” she said.
KeHE is getting more and more requests every year from over-stressed retailers who are asking for help with category reviews and product tastings, partly because they’re finding it more difficult to find the time to educate themselves about a product that’s often regarded as a commodity instead of as a specialty category like wine or cheese, Reyes says. “The challenge is that they’re requesting the information, they give us the time, and they listen,” she said, “But then, ‘How do we do this? How do all of us find the time to do this?’”
“They think of olive oil as an everyday food, but it’s as technical as wine – it has a standard of identity; it’s regulated,” Neuman added. “But grocers generally just don’t have the time to investigate. One buyer may be buying half the center store. They sometimes do two reviews a year for each category. Plus, they go to trade shows, etc.”
They’d like retailers to regard olive oil as a category more similar to wine, for which many specialty markets have a sommelier who has invested a significant amount of time to learn about the products their store is selling. But short of that, they’d like to see grocery retailers supporting their buyers in gaining some training about olive oils. “Anyone who cares enough to learn can learn. It’s not necessary for a buyer to go to multiple trainings to make a big difference. It’s enough to want to learn and to taste and to seek out people who are experienced,” Devarenne said. “You may not become an expert taster – that takes years – but you can become a competent taster pretty quickly.”
“It’s not super-easy, but it’s also not rocket science,” she added. “And it really is important. Otherwise, you’re just at the mercy of the person who comes in and says it was done the way his grandfather did it, and then you taste the product, and if you know nothing, then you still know nothing. Do the same research you’d put into other purchases. We need to convince people that there’s information out there, and there’s good unbiased information out there. They just have to care enough to look for it.”
The investment is worthwhile for retailers because specialty food consumers are looking for premium products. Americans are not using a lot of olive oil now, especially in comparison to consumers in European olive-oil producing countries, but as they learn more about the value of high-quality oils and their range of flavors and varieties, there’s a lot of room for American consumption to increase, according to Neuman. “There’s nothing else in the grocery story that costs $17 per unit and drives a 40 percent to 50 percent gross margin,” he said. “Retailers win when they’re selling a better product at a higher price. The producers win because we can afford to pay farmers premium prices. And the specialty consumer wants to be taught how to use good product…. There is a lot of room for premium brands.”
By Richard Thompson
“We were cleaning our aprons when he just comes in to have coffee. We were planning the dinner and he just walks in. Really, it was like he floated in,” recalls Lidia Bastianich, award-winning chef of Felidia and meal curator for the Pope.
Bastianich gets giddy and, in her sweet Italian accent, recounts the time that the People’s Pope walked into her kitchen and took a coffee break with her and her staff. “He talked to us about family – in Italian of course – for nearly 15 minutes. It was extraordinary, but beautiful because he addressed each one of us and asked us to pray for him.” she says.
For Bastianich, who is a devout Catholic, the pope’s surprise visit to her kitchen resonated on a personal and professional level. “He makes people feel important in his life. From somebody of his magnitude…it’s big,” Bastianich says.
For anyone wondering if the Pope likes cream or sugar in his coffee, he doesn’t. “For me, cooking for the Pope is special because…I am proud to give back through what is most dear to me on this Earth: food and my family,” she says.
Bastianich worked alongside Angelo Vivolo and a team of executive chefs that included Bastianich’s children to carefully curate a meal plan that would embody a homeliness for the spiritual leader. “For me, food – comfort food – is home, and I wanted [the pope] to feel welcome and feel like he was right at home,” says Bastianich.
Initially aiming to create a series of dishes reminiscent of Pope Francis’s background, Bastianich instead moved to lighter fare such as squash and other vegetables, rice and fresh fish to accommodate his diet better. “I wanted him to feel like he was in his mother’s kitchen. We were going to show off American beef – a whole rack – for Argentinian beef meals, but we were told he wanted to eat light, so I cooked more seasonal fare like rice dishes… He loves risotto with some olive oil, lemon and parsley,” she says.
The first meal that would grace the pope’s plate was Caprese di Astice e Burrata (Heirloom tomatoes, house-made Burrata and steamed Maine lobster) followed by Brodo di Cappone con Anolini (Capon soup with Grana Padano raviolini) and veal medallions ‘Boscaiola’, porcini, corn and fresh tomato – known as Medaglioni di Vitello alla Boscaiola. For dessert, Sobetto di Uva Fragola con Torta degli Angeli – Concord grape sorbetto with angel food cake.
While the pope follows a very specific diet, Bastianich’s capon soup was such a hit with His Holiness that he had leftovers the next day. “It was really done from the heart…I made a big pot of capon soup and fed it to him twice. One day with lots of vegetables and one day with lots of rice,” says Bastianich.
Each morning started at 6:45 am with the pope coming down for a breakfast that consisted of a medley of frittatas, all kinds of yogurts, honeys and cereals and fruits of every type, recalls Bastianich, “He was rather simple on the breakfasts he liked and was very undemanding of everything, but he loved his coffee.”
The pope never did business at the table – maybe with the exception of light scheduling – and didn’t stray from his routine of mangoes and pineapple, Melba toast and some jam, despite the abundance of jams, baked goods, crepes and freshly squeezed juices that were available. “Saturday was the last breakfast…and he greeted everyone’s family before eating,” Bastianich says. “It was very moving.”
Bastianich relied on her own personal garden to provide many of the ingredients in the vegetable-inspired lunch that was prepared for Pope Francis. Insalata Cotta e Cruda con la Nostra Ricotta, cooked and raw vegetable salad with Felidia’s ricotta, comprised a veritable cornucopia of Bastianich’s private vegetable reserve. “Whatever I had in my garden is what I made with…beautiful squash, string beans, beets, sage, basil, parsley, tomatoes….” she says, “We wanted the pope to feel the love of home.”
Next came the Risotto con Porcini e Tartufi (Risotto with porcini, summer truffles and Grana Padano Riserva) followed by Pere ed uva al forno con Gelato alla Vaniglia, roasted pears and grapes with vanilla gelato, for dessert.
For dinner, Bastianich focused the four-course meal of fresh striped bass, tuna and vegetables. The Tutto Tonno is tuna tartare made with a semi carpaccio preserve and tonnato sauce that was followed by the Cacio e Pere, pear and pecorino filled ravioli, aged pecorino and crushed black pepper. The main dish of the evening was Bastianich’s signature Felidia dish, Spigola Striata al forno con Olio d’oliva e Limone, which is whole roasted striped bass, late summer vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and lemon. The dessert was a specially made apple crostata with local honey ice cream. “I think the focus is on the ingredients – the goodness of the ingredients. When making traditional Italian, stick to traditional Italian products. I always say, ‘Follow the recipe…don’t be dominated by it,’” says Bastianich.
Bastianich tempers any pride in who she serves with the humility that the Holy Father carries with him to the masses. “Food is not a luxury,” she says with the inflection of an Italian matriarch, when asked why cooking for Pope Francis meant so much to her. “Food nourishes us all in about the same way.”
Amen to that.
Click the cover image or click here to read the December 2015 issue of Gourmet News.
Grower-owned cooperative Oregon Cherry Growers, known for perfecting the original maraschino cherry and debuting the first line of maraschinos made with non-GMO certified Fairtrade® cane sugar, is unveiling its latest innovation – this time in packaging. The cooperative’s popular Royal Harvest™ Bordeaux-Style Maraschinos and The Royal Cherry® Maraschinos, featuring hand-picked cherries grown in the Northwest, are now available in stand-up pouches at select retailers across the country, liquor stores in Oregon and on Amazon.com.
The no-mess, convenient and re-sealable stand-up pouches are the first to market in the maraschino category, and feature transparent packaging for product visibility. As with all Oregon Cherry Growers products, the cherries are of the highest quality and freshness standards.
“We take great pride in delivering the products our customers are looking for, and we know convenient packaging is an increasingly important factor,” said Tim Ramsey, Oregon Cherry Growers President and CEO. “We have had great response to the new pouches so far and expect them to be popular with people looking to enhance their cocktail experience or liven up their desserts.”
The pouches are available in three varieties:
· Royal Harvest Bordeaux-Style Maraschino Cherries, which are rich and dark in color, free of preservatives, made with natural ingredients and sweetened with Non-GMO certified Fairtrade® cane sugar. Available in 8- and 4-ounce sizes.
· Royal Harvest Nature’s Maraschino Cherries, which are ruby red cherries, free of preservatives, made with all natural ingredients and sweetened with Non-GMO certified Fairtrade cane sugar to retain that “just picked” cherry taste. Available in the 4-ounce pouch.
· The Royal Cherry Maraschinos are Oregon Cherry Growers’ traditional maraschino cherries with stems. Available in 8- and 4-ounce sizes.
Suggested retail prices are $3.69 for a 4-ounce pouch and $4.69 for the 8-ounce, available immediately in eight pack cases.
By the time Andy Wright displayed his organic barbecue sauces at the big Anuga Food Show in Germany this fall, he’d already participated in two other international organic promotion events coordinated by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) during the year, and this novice in the export market had learned quite a bit. Wright put his new knowledge to the test in Germany, and he left Anuga with almost 50 solid business leads.
“This wouldn’t have happened without OTA,” said Wright, Owner of the Minnesota-based Acme Organics and maker of the organic Triple Crown BBQ sauce. “OTA not only gave us a platform to show our products to an international audience, but it also connected us to the right people, the decision makers, and that was huge.”
From those leads in Anuga, Wright is now in the process of closing on three deals to sell his barbecue sauce in Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. Wright notes that the initial contracts aren’t enormous, but that “for a small company, a little bit can create a lot.”
A little bit can create a lot. A solid investment can yield significant results. For more than 15 years in its role as an official cooperator in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Market Access Program (MAP), OTA has been investing in the promotion of American organic agricultural products in global markets and connecting buyers and sellers in order to reap a good return for organic and create new organic customers around the world.
This hard work has not gone unnoticed by USDA. This week the agency awarded $889,393 to OTA in MAP funds for export promotion activities in 2016, an 11 percent increase from the association’s 2015 funding. Plans are well underway at OTA headquarters on how to leverage that money to enable the biggest return on investment for American organic stakeholders.
“We thank USDA for recognizing the tremendous value and opportunities that our export promotion programs are creating for the organic industry, and for enabling us through its generous funding to continue this work,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. “Our analysis shows that for every dollar we spent in promotion activities this year, over $36 in projected organic sales were created. These new sales not only help organic grow, but they create jobs, boost incomes, and contribute in a positive way to our communities.”
Returns for organic, and beyond
A case in point: Jeff and Peggy Sutton founded To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. in rural Alabama. They have participated in OTA’s export activities for three years now, and Jeff said as a direct result of that involvement, they are beginning to sell their products in the UK, South Korea, Mexico and Japan, and are getting business inquiries every day from all over the world. As demand and sales for their sprouted organic grains and flours have grown, their business has evolved from two part-time employees less than a decade ago to a projected payroll of 45 by the end of next year.
“We’re building a new 26,000-square-foot facility, and this will allow us to quintuple our production capacity. We now employ 30 folks, but we’ll be pushing 45 employees within the next year,” said Sutton. “Our involvement with OTA’s export activities has been a tremendous asset in helping us get started in the export market and creating these opportunities for growth.”
OTA’s export promotion programs in 2015 spanned three continents and included strategic participation and showcasing of American organic products in the biggest food shows in Europe and Asia, sponsoring an Organic Day in Japan, exploring potential opportunities in the Middle East, representing the U.S. organic industry at the World’s Fair in Milan, connecting foreign buyers with U.S. organic suppliers at major trade shows in America, and commissioning a landmark study on organic trade to provide organic stakeholders with the most up-to-date information on the global market.
In 2016, OTA will build on its activities to bring more information about market conditions and opportunities to new and first-time organic exporters, to display and introduce organic products to buyers, and to help first-time exporters connect with qualified global buyers.
“It is not easy to get into the export market,” said Monique Marez, Associate Director of International Trade for OTA. “Our mission is to help open the doors and remove some of the barriers for American organic businesses, and to educate international buyers and consumers on the integrity, diversity and quality of U.S. organic products. There are huge opportunities for the U.S. organic sector throughout the world, and we are invested in helping the industry build relationships and brand awareness so they can take advantage of these opportunities.”
OTA’s membership represents about 85 percent of U.S. organic exports. The market promotion activities administered by OTA are open to the entire organic industry, not just OTA members. OTA provides further assistance to U.S. organic exporters with its online U.S. Organic Export Directory.
As part of Italy’s “Extraordinary Italian Taste” campaign, aimed to promote authentic Italian food in the United States, Italy will become the first-ever partner country of the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco next year.
Under the “Extraordinary Italian Taste” banner, food companies from most Italian regions will present their best in pasta, cheese, olive oil and cured meats to buyers looking to bring more specialty food from Italy to U.S. consumers.
“There is a noticeable change in consumer trends,” said Maurizio Forte, Italy’s Trade Commissioner in the U.S. “Americans are increasingly enjoying authentic Italian food, the Mediterranean diet, which is tastier and healthier. We now need to take advantage of this trend. It’s the right time to go full speed ahead.”
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Italian food exports have climbed 24 percent in the first nine months of 2015, with products such as Italian olive oil, cheese and pasta ranking as number one in their individual sector.
“Food from Italy has long set the standards for excellence in the U.S.,” said Ann Daw, President of the Specialty Food Association. “Our partnership will further raise awareness of the authenticity, taste and quality of Italian food. Together we are changing the way consumers eat.”
The Italian Trade Agency enjoys a long-standing partnership with the Specialty Food Association as well as the key Italian food and wine shows, such as Vinitaly, Cibus and Tuttofood. Italy has long been the largest international exhibitor at the Fancy Food shows.