By Micah Cheek
Wind & Willow, founded in 1991, was born out of a small rural community in southwest Missouri. Its close-knit crew, comprising three generations of workers, sounds more like a family than a company. Everyone from office workers to truck drivers is given snacks for taste testing. In the summer, the staff’s monthly lunch is moved outside for grilling. Potluck turkey dinners are standard practice for Thanksgiving. This sense of camaraderie is reflected in Wind & Willow’s products, which are made for sharing with friends and family. The company produces mixes for dips, soups, and cheese balls.
Convenience and flexible recipes are a primary focus for Wind & Willow. Soup mixes require only water and heat to make a meal and include options for adding ingredients or changing the cooking style. Dip mixes are suggested for use in seasonings, vinaigrettes, and biscuits. These alternate recipes are a hallmark of Wind & Willow’s production team. New recipes are featured weekly on the company’s Facebook page, the test kitchen is always creating new ways to use the products, and annual staff contests are held to discover new possibilities for mixes. Renee Tettenhorst, Co-owner of Wind & Willows, says, “We like to think about each product being almost like a recipe box of ideas included with the mix.”
A line of gluten-free products was created in response to Co-owner Sheila Renard’s diagnosis of celiac disease. “We’ve always had several products that do not contain gluten in the ingredient list, but of course we became much more conscious of the concept at the time,” says Tettenhorst. The gluten free line is now produced in a separate facility from any wheat products, and independently lab tested for traces of gluten. The resulting products are crafted to be as tasty for gluten eaters as they are for those who are gluten free.
In January, Wind & Willow added a pickle mix to its portfolio. It was an instant hit, especially with the company’s workers. Now there are always a few jars hidden in the staff refrigerator.
The pickle mixes are sold in mason jars to use for the pickling. The only necessary additions are fresh vegetables, vinegar, and boiling water. The vegetables pickle in under 10 minutes. Tettenhorst says, “What we’re finding is that people start out with one jar. Then they try another flavor. And then they buy several jars for gifts and refill bags for themselves!” Their newest introductions are tailored for the fall and winter months. Salted Caramel Hot Dip, Wind & Willow’s first sweet hot dip, is ideal for topping apple slices or pumpkin pie. The White Cheddar and Mushroom Soup Mix has been a hit in taste testing, and comes with a wide variety of recipe ideas. Tettenhorst is excited about the possibilities for this mix, saying “You can simply add water or add meat, veggies, herbs, cheese, [or] whatever you want to make it truly your own unique creation.”
By Lorrie Baumann
World Centric is just going into production with a line of compostable packaging for prepared foods made out of fiber that’s grown in the USA and turned into clamshells and covered plates in an American factory under American environmental regulations and sustainability ethics. They comply with the regulations of an increasing number of cities across the country that now require take-out food to be served in packaging that can go into municipal composting facilities instead of into the landfill.
The new containers are made by World Centric, which was started in 2004 as a nonprofit organization. “For us, the business initially was a result of trying to support a nonprofit mission of raising awareness of social and environmental issues,” says World Centric Founder Aseem Das. “We have kept a lot of those values for making change and trying to do our part, in whatever small way, to create a better world and make a difference…. Packaging was opportunistic. We were looking around for a way to support the nonprofit, for products and services that would be sustainable and beneficial to the environment or services that help mitigate social disparities that exist in the world.”
World Centric is headquartered in Petaluma, California, and in those days “polystyrene,” known commonly by the brand name, Styrofoam, had already become a bit of a dirty word in California. Cities around the state were becoming concerned about the material’s durability in the environment and the expense of picking it up off beaches, and they started passing bans on the material. “In 2005, we were at the Green Festival in San Francisco. We were so busy because everybody was so interested in compostable packaging as an alternative to Styrofoam,” Das remembers. “People just got the concept of compostable packaging. There was a fair amount of interest in it.”
Interest was so great that, gradually, Das started spending more time running the business and less time tending to the nonprofit organization. Finally, after some soul-searching, Das decided in 2009 to end the nonprofit organization and become a for-profit enterprise while keeping many of the same values that propelled him into business in the first place. World Centric was registered as a certified B corporation in 2010 and a California Benefit Corporation in 2013. The company donates 25 percent of its profits to organizations that address social and environmental issues.
Back when Das was deciding that he needed to focus all his attention on the business of making a profit, Scott Coye-Huhn and a group of business partners were exercising their own combination of idealism and profit motive with a plan to create biomass reserves for renewable fuels. They were looking at marginal farmlands around the U.S. that might be able to grow a perennial crop even if they couldn’t support annual crops like corn or wheat. The thought was that they’d plant once, harvest a crop year after year, and use the plant fibers as biomass to make fuel. “A perennial gives sustainable characteristics; you use much less fuel, much less chemicals, create less erosion,” Coye-Huhn says. “That’s the game-changer here.”
They found that an Asian plant called Miscanthus would grow in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, where farmers had land that wouldn’t grow an annual crop. Coye-Huhn and his partners worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get the plant certified for planting in the U.S., after demonstrating that Miscanthus doesn’t make viable seed and can’t become an invasive pest, and started signing up farmers who needed an income from fallow farm lands. “It’s a big deal. The average age of U.S. farmers is almost 60 years,” Coye-Huhn says. “When you plant a crop that grows for 20 years, it solves a lot of problems that come with transitioning family farms from one generation to the next.”
Along the way, the focus changed from using the plant fiber as biomass for fuel to finding other ways to use it. “Why packaging? The capital to build a full-scale pulp mill is significant, but we can do something like this on a much smaller scale,” Coye-Huhn says. “Consumers are asking for this kind of packaging. We learned from our research and development that we can make a pretty darn good package.”
Coye-Huhn and his company, Aloterra, then went looking for somebody who could sell the packaging if they made it and found World Centric, which by that time had a decade of experience importing compostable packaging from Asia and distributing it to customers in the U.S. and which shared the sense of conscientious capitalism that motivated Aloterra. “Getting into distribution is monster work, filled with holes you can fall into. World Centric is good at selling and distributing the product,” Coye-Huhn said.
The new packaging made by Aloterra and marketed by World Centric will start coming off the line this August. World Centric is offering it first to the company’s existing customers but will start taking orders from new customers shortly. “We sell a lot of products and we are nationwide. The products are currently made in Asia. For us, we’ll be replacing those products with the ones that Scott will be making,” Das says.
“These jobs can never be exported. The economics implode if you try to truck biomass more than 50 or 75 miles,” Coye-Huhn adds. “Technically we’re reshoring here. We’re moving jobs from Asia for this manufacturing plant.”
“Going to work every day is an honor,” says Vice President of Taste and Chief Chocolatier at Bissinger’s, Dave Owens. “The opportunity to build upon 350 years of tradition provides a wonderful incentive as I approach each day and every piece of chocolate crafted at Bissinger’s.”
Bissinger’s has been crafting confections since the time of Louis XIV, when he declared the company “Confiseur Imperial” or Confectioner to the Royal Empire, in 17th Century France. No other chocolate company, let alone company known to Bissinger’s, has such a long-standing legacy. Commitment to crafting premium, indulgent and beautiful confections is always the task at hand. This tradition has been the same for three and one half centuries.
Owens brings an extraordinary range of talent and depth to the company, including executive chef and partner at award-winning restaurants. He has a deep respect for the integrity and proper sourcing of ingredients, an exceptional culinary sense and a praiseworthy passion for natural foods and sustainability. Confectionery innovations have won Bissinger’s sofi Awards from the Specialty Food Association. The categories were best chocolate and best confection.
In his free time, Owens has two children and a wife who is also in the food industry, employed as a food stylist. Owens also enjoys helping philanthropic organizations like the March of Dimes, Habitat for Humanity, St. Louis Area FoodBank and has contributed to Taste of the NFL and Taste of the Nation.
At work, Owens is passionate with the company’s involvement with the Rainforest Alliance. Because not all cocoa is responsibly farmed, Bissinger’s works with them to ensure its superior cocoa beans are grown on farms in the Cote d’Ivoire esteemed for exceptional taste. The Rainforest Alliance promotes environmental responsibility, social equity and economic viability for farming communities. For more than 25 years, it has been working to conserve biodiversity and ensure livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.
Owens say it is deeply rewarding on both a professional and personal level to be a part of a company that shares his values to in sourcing premium ingredients that not only make for an indulgent and delicious taste, but also are good for our people and the planet. “Our mission is not to be the biggest, but the finest chocolatier,” said Owens. “The word ‘finest’ doesn’t just refer to the quality of the chocolate. It also encapsulates working for a company that has a social and environmental consciousness.”
Ambriola Company Inc. is introducing Auricchio brand Gorgonzola and Mascarpone.
Auricchio’s cheese producing expertise expanded its operations to include Gorgonzola. It produces Gorgonzola Dolce, Sweet Gorgonzola and Gorgonzola Piccante – a natural Gorgonzola. Each wedge is beautifully packaged and individually sealed to ensure freshness.
Auricchio’s world-class mascarpone uses only the freshest cream to produce its soft, creamy and spreadable mascarpone. Customers will appreciate its delicate, mild flavor and how easily it blends with many other ingredients.
The Auricchio brand is a respected name in the cheese industry which is known for quality, premium imported cheeses from Italy.
Umpqua Oats Inc. launched a farm-to-cup classic, Maple Pecan, at the Fancy Food Show in New York City. Umpqua Oats’ Maple Pecan warm oatmeal cup includes a delicious mixture of custom-milled rolled oats, crunchy pecans, pure maple syrup and other all-natural ingredients to create a delicious and satisfying meal.
“Maple and pecan are two of the most highly sought-after oatmeal flavors – they’re classics, but not all oatmeal is the same,” said Sheri Price, co-founder of Umpqua Oats. “Umpqua Oats’ Maple Pecan blends the perfect combination of warm maple syrup with the nuttiness of pecans for a healthy and delicious, non-GMO and gluten-free oatmeal that’s ready at a moment’s notice. It’s a whole meal solution that tastes like home, no matter where you go.”
In developing Maple Pecan, Umpqua Oats stayed true to its farm-to-cup mentality when sourcing ingredients. The pure maple syrup was specifically selected from Coombs Family Farms in New England. The new flavor also has 7 grams of protein and is less than 300 calories.
The newest flavor combination for Umpqua Oats also meets consumers’ desire for oatmeal they can have as a snack, or meal, any time of day and with minimal preparation. Just three minutes after hot water is added, the oatmeal is ready to be stirred and enjoyed.
Umpqua Oats’ portfolio of seven flavorful on-the-go super premium oatmeal cups are available in more than 2,000 retail outlets across the United States, with a heavy concentration in Western states and expanding distribution in the East. The company anticipates Maple Pecan to be available nationwide and online this fall. For more information or to order online, visit www.umpquaoats.com.
Aiya America has taken first place in the annual Iced Tea Competition held by the North American Tea Championship (NATC) for its Matcha to Go single serving sticks. Aiya’s Matcha to Go placed first under the instant unflavored green tea category.
The NATC Iced Tea Competition evaluates premium tea entries from all over North America, under numerous categories. Each tea is blindly evaluated by world renowned tea connoisseurs and rated using a point scale for flavor, aroma, mouth feel, brewed harmony and other characteristics.
Matcha to Go single serving sticks blend ultra-fine matcha powder with dietary fiber for a smooth, creamy, delicious and healthful beverage in just seconds. It requires no sifting or whisking, and eliminates the clumping that may be associated with other matcha tea products. Simply pour Matcha to Go into a cold water bottle and shake for a refreshing iced matcha drink, or stir into hot water for an invigorating matcha tea.
Matcha to Go contains 10 sticks in each box and retails for $18.80. To purchase Matcha to Go or to learn about all of Aiya’s offerings, visit www.aiyamatcha.com.
By Lorrie Baumann
McCrea’s Candies is a small New England candy maker with a product line exclusively composed of high-quality caramels elegantly packaged for gift-giving. Founded almost five years ago by husband-and-wife team Jason and Kate McCrea, McCrea’s Candies are made without corn syrup or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
“Lour flavors are done just like you’d do it in your own kitchen,” Jason says. “For ginger, we juice the root and add the juice to our candy. For our Single-malt Scotch flavor, we use real single-malt Scotch and pour that right into the batch.”
The McCreas were research biologists before they decided to start their candy company, and they use that scientific bent as they develop new flavors of their caramels today. “Understanding food chemistry helps enhance the flavors, and I use chemistry to understand how flavors come together and how to make nice balances. That’s really what we do,” says Jason. The McCreas currently offer 14 flavors, including Irish Coffee, Cafe Noir, Dark Roasted Mocha, Ginger Fusion, Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt, Highland Scotch and Tapped Maple.
McCrea’s Candies are now elegantly packaged for the gift trade after the McCreas learned from their customers that they loved the candies so much that they wanted to share them with their friends, so they were buying them as housewarming and hostess gifts, to send to children away at college or to present to dads on Fathers Day. “We do a lot of farmer’s markets around here, and customers would tell us,” Jason says. “They’d say, ‘I bought three sleeves and we ate them all, but I’d meant to give them to my son when he comes home from school, so now I need more.’ There’s no substitute for being out and talking to customers and listening to them telling you what they want. They’ll tell you the truth; ‘I like this; I don’t like that.’”
“We thought that was very interesting,” he continues. “We never had been going to gift shows – we had been going to food shows, but we decided to listen to our consumers and what they want to have and how we can accommodate them.”
As a result of those conversations the McCrea’s recently redesigned their packaging to focus less on the candy’s all-natural simplicity and more on its sophisticated flavors and high quality – without changing the recipes for the candy inside the packages. The product line’s packaging now includes two sizes of cylindrical sleeves plus a new-to-the line pillow box and a large party box that’s popular with customers who take them to dinner parties instead of a bottle of wine or present them as corporate gifts.
For more information, visit www.mccreascandies.com or visit the company this year at AmericasMart.
Abdallah Candies is introducing 12 new flavors to its truffle flavor lineup that are both trendy and traditional.
In operation for 106 years, Abdallah Candies is already known for the quality in its original 12 flavor truffle line, and adds to it with options like Margarita, Malted Milkshake and Strawberry Cheesecake.
Rounding out the new line of flavors are Tiramisu, Hazelnut, Key Lime, Latte, Butter Pecan, Caramel, Anchochile, Sweet Tea and Rum. Any truffle connoisseur will be hard pressed to find a flavor that they would refuse.
Like the traditional line of truffles, all are made with heavy whipping cream, butter and the finest chocolate for their ganache centers. The new flavors will attract newcomers as well as established foodies.
Each truffle comes in two sizes. The miniature truffle weighs in at 11 grams, while the traditional truffle is 24 grams.
Along with the expansion in the truffle line, Abdallah Candies continues to create its wide assortment of prepackaged products that are excellent impulse buys. With more than 250 bulk candies to choose from, ranging from the 12 different flavors of caramels, traditional candies like raspberry creams and amazing toffees, if you can think of it, Abdallah Candies can make it.
This includes specialties such as Abdallah Candies’ cashew grizzlies which are made with cashews, caramel and chocolate, and the sea salt almond alligator, a scrumptious candy made with rich sea salt and almonds for a salty sweet crunch sensation.
Based in Minnesota and making candy since 1909, Abdallah Candies knows how to make a product that inspires nostalgia from its customers.
“We are truly an American success story,” said MaDonna Schmitz, National Sales Manager, Abdallah Candies. “People want to tell stories of memories of buying our candies when they were children and how much it meant for them.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Coached by a generation of chefs with television shows, consumers have learned to ask for fresh, local and organic products. Grocers are now teaching them to look for those at the grocery store as well as the farmers market.
“I think people are buying local now more than ever,” said Pat Brown, CEO of the Natural Markets Food Group, which includes Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, Planet Organic Market and Richtree Natural Market restaurants in New York, the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago and Canada. Consumers are asking more questions now about where their food comes from, Brown said. “It forces the hand of the retailer to go out and get that product…. Organic sales are growing at a high rate as well, but the consumer is interested in buying food in their neighborhood from people who grow it in their neighborhood.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total local food sales last year amounted to $6.1 billion, of which only $1.31 billion in sales occurred directly from farmers to consumers through farmers markets, u-pick farms and farm stands. Sales from farms that passed through the hands of intermediates – restaurants, distributors and retailers – grew from $2.7 billion in 2008 to $3.35 billion in 2012.
In the nationally representative 2011 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, more than four out of five of the surveyed grocery store shoppers reported that they purchased local foods occasionally, while almost one out of 10 says they purchased local foods whenever possible. The Specialty Food Association reported in its “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2015” report that, according to specialty food manufacturers, “Local and all-natural products continue to be the most interesting to consumers. More than half of the manufacturers cited ‘local’ as a claim that interests consumers most today, with almost half of them expecting growth in local products over the next three years. “
Those who buy local foods are doing it because they want food that’s fresher and tastes better, and they want to support their local economy rather than because they’re concerned for the environmental impacts of transporting food long distances. In a 2012 study, scientists found that grocery shoppers were more willing to pay extra for food labeled “local” than they were for foods labeled “certified organic,” “certified fair trade” or with a note about the food’s carbon footprint.
Some of those shoppers, particularly those who are white, upper to middle class and convinced that their buying habits can “make a difference,” are looking to farmers markets to supply their desires for fresh, local food – mainly produce – driving growth in the number of farmers markets across the country by 180 percent between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, the USDA counted 8,268 in the United States. State and local governments are encouraging the trend too. As of 2014, 26 states had state farmers’ market associations designed to provide the markets with technical assistance, and there were 65 state and regional or local Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters in 21 states organizing outreach events and local food guides to promote locally produced food and farmers.
Grocers have taken notice. Almost three quarters of the retailers surveyed by the Specialty Food Association said that “local” is of great interest to consumers today, with more than half of them saying that they expect growth in that segment over the next three years. “Over the past five to six years, the focus on local, natural and organic has really taken hold among food retailers,” said Jim Hertel, Managing Partner for food retail consultants Willard Bishop.
Natural Markets Food Group has begun contracting directly with local farmers to provide produce to its markets in the Northeastern U.S. “At the peak of the season in the Northeast, we will be 65 or 70 percent local produce. That farmer used to sell produce in farmers markets… It’s exactly why we’re growing, that we’re able to create relationships with local farmers and bring their product in,” Brown said. “Other markets are doing the same thing.”
The Rising Tide Floats All Boats
While not necessarily local, sales of organic products are following the consumer preference for fresh, trustworthy products. “That’s true both of natural foods retailers as well as more traditional mainstream food retailers, whether it’s Walmart, which has significantly ramped up emphasis on organics, especially value-priced organics,” said Hertel. “There’s been a recognition by retailers that consumers are interested and also that it’s an area where the margins are greater, so profits are greater.”
Sales of organic food in the United States totaled $35.9 billion in 2014, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest data from the Organic Trade Association, which reported that total U.S. sales for organic products amounted to more than $39 billion in 2014, breaking previous industry records.
Sales research by the OTA shows sales trends for organic products growing at double digit rates for several years, compared to about a 1.5 percent projected growth rate for other foods. “The growth rates of traditional product lines are much smaller,” Hertel said. “The Millennial generation is very interested in healthy eating, and to them, that means natural and organic as well as less processed food.”
The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic products a part of their supermarket and retail purchases, according to the new research from the Organic Trade Association.
Retailers report that the demand for organic produce that prompted entry into the market by Walmart and Kroger is causing stress on the supply chain and making it harder for smaller retailers who have less buying power to compete for supplies that are limited by the amount of acreage that farmers have dedicated to certified organic growing methods and the length of time it takes to obtain organic certification on new fields. “The supply chain for organic product has become difficult at best because the bigger chains are getting into the market. The demand is causing outages and shortages occasionally,” said Brown. “Bigger growers are pleased because it’s easier and cost-effective to contract out an entire crop to a large buyer. The buying power of a big company like that impacts those who’ve been selling product for a long time.”
Imports of organic produce from Mexico are helping to ease the shortages and meet the demands of American consumers who’ve been long trained to expect their grocers to supply whatever food they want whenever they want it. “There’s a lot more organic farming in Mexico now than even five years ago,” Brown said. “There are gaps in some products, but generally, you can get organic produce year-round now because there’s so much organic production in Mexico now.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Genetically engineered crops pose no current danger to the American Food Supply, according to Gregory Jaffe, Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That’s not to say that genetic engineering poses no threat for the future, so CSPI is urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to require pre-approval before new genetically engineered crops are allowed to enter the nation’s food supply.
The Chairman of Just Label It! says that a possible link between glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and cancer coupled with scientific findings of the presence of glyphosate in soil and water samples taken from areas where the chemical is heavily sprayed should be enough reason to require the labeling of GMOs on food products. Read more here.
CSPI, often called “The Food Police,” is the non-profit consumer group that’s been very vocal over the past several years in campaigns urging less super-sizing of fast food menu items, less consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and more labeling of trans fat content in foods. The organization receives no money from the food industry, Jaffe said.
Genetically engineered foods are currently regulated under Food and Drug Administration rules for substances “Generally Recognized As Safe.” Under those rules, food manufacturers are not required to obtain prior approval from the FDA before including them in food products. According to the FDA, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excluded from the definition of a food additive.” CSPI and other organizations are asking the FDA to exercise tighter control over GRAS designations and to require a safety assessment for any food ingredient produced with new science or technology before it is placed on the market.
There are only eight crops for which genetically engineered varieties are currently grown commercially: corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, papaya and squash, according to Jaffe. These genetically engineered crops are currently grown in 28 countries around the world by more than 18 million farmers. Japan and China each have more than 7 million farmers growing genetically engineered crops, he said. More than 90 percent of the corn, cotton, sugar beets and soybeans currently grown in the United States has been genetically engineered.
Although wheat is widely rumored to have been genetically modified, and that’s frequently proffered as an explanation for growing rates of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, that’s a myth. While wheat has been genetically engineered and field tested, the modified seed was never been sold to farmers for commercial crops, simply because farmers weren’t interested in growing it, so it was abandoned in 2004. There is currently no genetically modified wheat approved for release anywhere in the world. “There is no commercial variety of genetically engineered wheat,” Jaffe said. “There is no genetically engineered wheat on the market…. Gluten comes from wheat, so the information out there that gluten-intolerance is related to genetic engineering is not true.”
Genetic engineering works by moving beneficial traits from one organism to another in a very precise way. For instance, Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt, is a naturally occurring bacterium that lives in soil and that’s routinely used by organic farmers as a natural insecticide. It works by infecting and killing particular insects, such as European corn borers, Colorado potato beetles and cotton bollworms. Each strain of the bacterium acts on specific insects but is harmless to other insects and to humans, other mammals, birds and fish.
Scientists have figured out how to extract from the bacterium’s DNA the gene that produces the protein that kills insects infected by Bt and insert that gene into plants. When those plants make seeds, the seeds carry the Bt gene, inheriting that in the same way they inherit other traits of their parent plants. Both corn and cotton have now been engineered to produce the Bt protein, which means that farmers who grow that seed don’t have to spray their fields with Bt to kill the targeted insects because the plants are able to produce the insect killing protein themselves. “It’s almost like vaccinating the crop,” Jaffe said.
When people eat those genetically engineered plants, the plants’ altered DNA doesn’t become part of the human bodies that ate it, just as humans who eat a salad don’t incorporate that DNA into their genes and turn into lettuces. “There is no harm from foods made from those crops. There’s international consensus that there is no harm,” Jaffe said. “We don’t know about future crops because we have to look at that on a case by case basis, but for now, there is no harm.”