Safeway Inc. announced today, as part of its plan to exit the Chicago market, it has sold four of its Dominick’s stores in the greater Chicago area to New Albertsons, Inc., which operates Jewel-Osco grocery stores. The four stores are:
During a short transition period, the stores will continue to operate under the Dominick’s banner until Jewel-Osco can complete their conversion to Jewel-Osco stores. Dominick’s will be working with Jewel-Osco and the unions to ease the transition for store employees, and to facilitate continued employment for as many of them as possible.
Safeway has decided to exit the Chicago market and focus its efforts in other operating areas where its business is stronger.
The “Best of Atlanta Awards” has honored Robert Rothschild Farm a blue ribbon for its Hot Pepper Peach Preserves in the Best Jam/Preserves category. The Hot Pepper Peach Preserves is the perfect combination of sweet peaches, the zest of oranges and a subtle heat from crushed red peppers to create their sweet and spicy preserves. It is perfect to top oven-baked brie or cream cheese and serve with crackers.
“We are pleased to accept the ‘Best of Atlanta’ award for our Hot Pepper Peach Preserves,” said Jim Gordon, President of Robert Rothschild Farm. “Winning this award for our gourmet product is confirmation that we develop delicious products that our consumers enjoy. Taste matters to our consumer, so we strive to exceed their expectations.”
This is an annual competition with submissions from the exhibitors at The Atlanta Gourmet Market®. The “Best of Atlanta Awards” recognizes superior achievements in taste, originality and packaging of products.
Chile’s fresh fruit industry is currently assessing the impact of an unusual succession of frosts that has occurred in Chile, as well as other Southern Hemisphere countries since mid-September. Growers and technicians are urgently undertaking preliminary evaluations to assess the complete impact of the adverse climatic affects.
While occasional frosts are not uncommon, such a prolonged period of frost during such a concentrated time period is unprecedented in recent memory. Many fruit plantations, especially the early varieties, were in different early phonological stages, including the development of buds, flowers and new stems. It is expected that another 10-12 days of analysis will be required in order to arrive at an accurate assessment of the damage and reliable forecasts.
Chile’s fresh fruit growers and exporters are committed to providing the international fruit community with a clear and accurate perspective on the way the current fresh fruit season will progress. At this point, it is premature to offer an assessment of potential losses incurred by the industry, but it appears that the most affected crops are kiwifruit, plums, peaches, nectarines, almonds, nuts and cherries.
The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) has presented to the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Commission of the Senate a series of proposals for immediate actions to address this issue. The document proposes a series of concrete actions designed to alleviate the impact on the growing sector as much as possible.
As always, the industry is committed to protecting the interests of our growers and exporters, and to ensuring that Chile’s loyal customers around the world continue to receive the highest quality fresh fruit in the volumes they require.
One hundred and twenty years after winning its first gold medal in the New World at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, De Cecco will commemorate that singular honor with a special event at the Chicago Field Museum’s new exhibition: “Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World Fair,” which opens October 25. Also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, the retrospective exhibition takes a look at the fair that was a glittering showcase of architecture, culture, technology, and food, and attracted people from around the world.
With three main ingredients, Pistachio Chewy Bites provide healthy snack lovers the amazing benefits of pistachios, cranberries and agave nectar in a delicious and nutritious bite-size bar. Pistachio Chewy Bites are heart-healthy, 100% all natural, gluten and dairy free, low in sodium, GMO free, vegan and a great on-the-go protein snack. They also have no cholesterol, zero trans-fat and are a good source of dietary fiber.
Sheila G’s ™ Original Brownie Brittle ™ snacks creator Sheila G. Mains has experienced a vivid summer of winning! Mains was recognized by the South Florida Business Journal as one of the most influential women in business in the state. Additionally, the Florida Business Journals as a collective named Brownie Brittle, LLC, (formerly Sheila G Brands, LLC) as the second-fastest growing company in the state of Florida at their “Florida Fast 100” Awards ceremony held September 26.
“I am truly blessed and humbled by the awards I have been honored with this summer. I know hard work pays off and it is deeply moving to be recognized for everything I have sacrificed to make this company a success,” said Mains.
The Business Journal’s selection process for both awards included the submission and verification of financial data and a look at the community and charitable works Mains and Brownie Brittle snacks have undertaken in the past year.
“I would be nothing without the very strong team of loyal staff and fans we have gained in the past three years. I am grateful each and every day,” said Mains.
With a distribution to over 10,000 retail stores nationwide and growing, Brownie Brittle is making a rich and chocolate-y impression on the snack food industry.
By Lorrie Baumann
American coffee roasters and their customers are teaming up in various ways to better the lives of women in coffee-producing areas. In many impoverished areas of the world where coffee is grown, women typically do most of the work to produce the coffee but have very little control over the proceeds from their crops. “We think it is a very important movement in coffee,” said Nancy Moore, a member of the management team for Almana Harvest, a nonprofit corporation that works in conjunction with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. The IWCA has chapters of registered women coffee producers around the world.
UPDATE: Nancy Moore, CEO Almana Harvest Corp., will be a featured speaker at ExpoEspeciales 2013 Café de Colombia in Bogota, Colombia next week(October 14-18): (http://www.feriaexpoespeciales.com). The folks at Almana Harvest have also published a short video, “Columbian Coffee Stories: Women and Coffee” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FrRW_kNw5bk
“IWCA is active in Central and South America. We work hand in glove. They’re the principal suppliers for the demand we’re creating,” Moore said. “While they continue to grow their chapters and build membership within coffee-producing areas, there will be more supply.”
A portion of the revenue that is generated by the premium pricing goes back to the IWCA chapters to fund community projects that improve the lives of the women who produce the coffee. “They have the program. They’ll be handling the projects and the grant money. We’re providing a revenue stream, so the grants are ongoing,” Moore said. “If you value the women, then the whole community benefits. There’s a tremendous amount of research in that area. It’s not just the women that we’re trying to help and grow—it’s the whole community. But if you value women, it betters the community.”
Boyd’s Coffee of Portland, Ore. has become the first American roaster to buy and sell coffee through the “Harvested by Women” program. Katy Boyd Dutt, s fourth-generation member of the family company, recently visited Guatemala in February of this year to tour some farms and learn more about coffee growing areas and to attend the International Women’s Coffee Conference. At the Conference, Nancy Moore of Almana Harvest was a speaker, and Moore impressed Dutt with her presentation. Dutt went home to Portland and arranged to buy some of the Harvested by Women-certified coffee from a grower in Costa Rica.
“We got the coffee,” Dutt said. “Right now, we only have a little bit of it available, so the coffee will only be available while supplies last. We are hoping to continue on with the process and find other coffees that we like just as well.”
The coffee that Boyd’s purchased is now being sold under the Cafe Libre brand. According to Dutt, it is a light to medium roast coffee, mellow but with full body and personality and good, rich flavor. Because only a limited amount of the Cafe Libre coffee was available, Boyd’s offered most of it to its foodservice customers. A small amount of it is available for retail through a few Portland markets as well as through the Boyd’s website. However, Boyd expects that it will most likely by available only through early September. For every bag that Boyd’s sells, a 25-cent donation goes back to the Harvested by Women program.
“We really believe in this certification, so we are retailing the coffee for the same price as the other coffees in our lineup,” Dutt said. “A lot of people just don’t understand how much women are involved in coffee growing. They’re often the ones managing the farms, and they just don’t get the credit for it.”
Cafe Femenino is a similar program co-founded by Gay Smith. Smith co-owned Organic Products Trading Company, one of the first organic coffee importers in the United States, along with her husband Garth. When fair trade came along, OPTCO was one of the first to join and promote the movement to the coffee cooperatives with which they worked. The company had already been paying additional premiums for the coffee that Smith and her husband were buying, as a way of providing extra revenue to help combat the poverty in coffee-producing areas. “Fair trade made that a lot simpler for us,” Smith said.
During her coffee-buying trips, Smith had also become aware of the horrific abuse being suffered by the women who were growing the coffee her company was buying. “Women are considered to have no value, no matter whether they’re taking care of the children, raising the animals and taking care of the family gardens, the home and the coffee farm,” she said. “My husband’s and my company had a social mission to begin with. We were a part of organizing and promoting training to help the women with issues relating to self-esteem. What we learned from working with the women was that without actual change occurring, then the women’s self-esteem did not change either.”
Encouraged by the discussions they were having in these training programs, a group of female coffee producers, led by Isabel Uriarte La Torre, formally came together in 2003. They decided to separate their production from that of the men, and they thus created the first official “coffee produced by women” in the world. This coffee became known as Café Femenino coffee.
Café Femenino coffees are all organic and fair trade-certified. These certifications provided a third-party independent certified audit trail to ensure that the coffee is produced by women and that women are directly receiving the premium funds for their coffee. The certifications also ensure that the social and environmental goals generally expected of fair trade products are observed. Café Femenino coffees are still imported and sold by OPTCO.
Smith and her husband sold OPTCO in 2010, and she no longer works with the Café Femenino coffee program. However, she is a part of the board of directors for the Café Femenino Foundation. Established in 2004, the foundation is totally separate from the coffee import company. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with no ties to coffee production or sales.
An open foundation, the Café Feminino Foundation benefits women in the coffee-producing communities around the world by raising funds in wealthier nations and channeling them into community programs in numerous coffee-producing countries though grant requests. Among the projects funded by the Café Femenino Foundation have been schools, libraries, community gardens, animal breeding programs, water projects, health programs, micro-lending funds and emergency aid. “What the foundation does is to use the coffee association’s infrastructure to organize women and to help them have a voice in what the needs are in their families and their communities,” said Smith
Donate to the Cafe Femenino Foundation and view current grant requests at www.coffeecan.org. For more information on Almana Harvest, visit www.almanaharvest.org.
By Jazmine Woodberry
The jury is still out on fracking’s impact on water, both in groundwater aquifers and oceanic fishing yards, and suppliers’ feelings about this heated topic are not escaping the thoughts of retailers and restaurateurs.
Hydraulic fracturing, more popularly known as fracking, is a drilling process that has been used commercially for nearly 65 years. Using a highly pressurized liquid mixed with water, sand and chemicals, rock fracturing is induced thousands of feet below ground. Sand is employed to hold open fractures in order to extract oil and gas from the well. However, there are many holes in popular understanding of fracking, the most dramatic of which surround public health and fracking’s effect on food supplies.
Across the United States, critics of fracking have pointed to reports of animals dependent on the groundwater supply falling ill and being affected (their meat possibly tainted) by chemicals found deep in the earth that are introduced in the fracking process. These chemicals include arsenic, barium, bromide, chloride, sodium, radon and uranium. Famed chefs and restaurateurs Mario Batali and Bill Telepan point to this as one of the main reasons they are against fracking in the state of New York.
“New York’s agricultural economy is strong and vast, and is an important economic driver for our state. We have the second-largest number of farmers’ markets in the country and the fourth-highest number of organic farms—and [we] are the third-largest dairy-producing state. New York is second only to California in its wine production,” Batali and Telepan wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. “As more states pump natural gas from beneath the earth, the negative effects fracking poses to agriculture are more clearly emerging—and we believe they would be devastating for New York.”
Batali and Telepan continued: “Such destructive forces could not only harm our state’s agricultural businesses and tourism, but would also affect consumer confidence in our local food sources, truly creating a negative impact across the state—from upstate farms to the restaurants across the state that serve their food.”
For many fracking critics, the issue of top concern is that of the long term impacts of fracking on one precious and already scarce natural resource: water. “Everyone in the food business…is in the water business,” said The Food Journal’s Phil Lempert. Fracking is not considered in the regulations set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clear Water Act, the CLEAR Act and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. However, the EPA is currently studying the affects of fracking on water.
Not everyone involved in New York agriculture is critical of fracking’s impact on the state. New York-based organic dairy farmer Neil Vitale feels that these drilling operations could in fact be a good thing for his industry. “If I thought it was going to hurt the environment, hurt our animals, hurt our farms, I wouldn’t want it,” Vitale said. “It doesn’t.”
Vitale points out that natural gas powers everything from tractors on farms to ovens in gourmet restaurants and that regulatory agencies have seen the fracking business happen for decades, never finding a reason to step in and stop it. Vitale feels that these are strong reasons to continue fracking. “That kind of activity has gone on all around [my farm] and there’s been no problem,” Vitale said.
At home in the most beautiful desert environment on Earth and headquartered in one of the nation’s half-dozen largest cities, Arizona-based AJ’s Fine Foods is a gourmet and specialty retailer with a focus on fresh and freshly prepared foods. “Quality is paramount, and customer service is as well,” says Ike Basha, Director of Operations for AJ’s Fine Foods, the gourmet brand for Bashas’ Family of Supermarkets.
AJ’s Fine Foods operates 12 locations, all in Arizona—one in Tucson and 11 in the Phoenix metropolitan area. There are no immediate plans for further expansion, as the company readies itself to exit the reorganization process attendant on a 2008 bankruptcy. “The recovery is going incredibly well. We’re very blessed,” Basha says. “The support we’ve received from our vendor community is unparalleled.”
In general, AJ’s Fine Foods stores do not attempt to meet every market basket need for their guests, although there are a few locations that do provide the product range to serve primary shoppers. Instead, the company’s focus is specifically on gourmet and specialty fresh-prepared foods and high-quality indulgences, including produce and other perishables. There are full-service bakeries staffed with bakers, decorators and pastry chefs, wine cellars staffed with expert cellar masters, and complete floral departments staffed with floral teams that regularly supply weddings and local resorts. The company’s aim is to make each guest’s visit to AJ’s a total experience rather than just a shopping trip, says corporate Assistant Director Jayson Mead.
Mead was particularly excited at the time of this writing by plans for a September chain-wide celebration of southern Italian foods and culture. “We sent a team back to Italy to experience southern Italy and Sicily,” Mead says. “We went back to source products that won’t be found in the States. Our team visited 14 different cities.” The products they sourced during that trip included fresh-harvest vegetables, peppers, olive oils and balsamics, anchovies and seafood, chocolates and marinated onions. Some of those products will be familiar to AJ’s guests, but many of them will be new. “If you haven’t traveled to southern Italy, they’ll be unique flavors,” Mead says.
Introducing new products to AJ’s guests is the duty of team members across all of AJ’s departments. The stores’ staff members are trained in AJ’s Inspired Epicurean Hours, voluntary meetings that are scheduled about 10 times a year. The meetings feature a meal service that incorporates ingredients and seasonal pairings from the AJ’s sumptuous grocery pantry. Each of the team members tastes every dish and has the opportunity to taste the dish in a pairing. Staff members are then trained in suggestive selling techniques that invite AJ’s guests to consider some of those pairing options for themselves. “At our last event, about 140 of our members volunteered to spend their time to learn about our products,” Mead says.
Training at the Inspired Epicurean Hours frequently includes a presentation by an individual vendor invited to demonstrate the company’s product line and its uses. The vendor might teach how to use a chutney in different ways or how to use a product in a party dish. “Typically, we’ll focus on flavors that are seasonal,” Mead says. “We’re conscious that we don’t just show our members a line and never get back to it. We try to show specific seasonal uses for those products.”
The frequency of these training events reflects AJ’s intense focus on seasonality. The company works hard to keep guests coming back to its stores to see what’s new, even when they are not naturally reminded of the calendar’s progression in a Southwestern desert climate.
For example, during peach season, AJ’s procures peaches from different growing areas and brings them together inside the stores with displays of peach sauces, desserts and chutneys. In celebration of peaches, the company’s produce buyers have gone so far as to adopt peach trees from one of their growers. “We sent our produce managers to hand-harvest those peaches,” Mead says, adding that the trip combined food fun with the hands-on educational experience of being among the trees and learning from the grower. “I’m sure there was some food and wine pairing along the way,” Mead says, chuckling.
Year-round, AJ’s guests can expect to be surrounded by an atmosphere that invites anticipation for the pleasures of the table. Stores feature bistros with kitchens open to the sales floor, offering dishes that showcase items from the AJ’s grocery pantry. Tuesday is Taco Tuesday, and certified chefs set up a station where they prepare tacos to order along with other dishes like pollo asado and carne asada. On Pasta Night, guests can order a dish with alfredo sauce or a beef bolognese dish. “The chef will actually prepare that entree right there on the sales floor,” Mead says. If the chef makes a dish with a featured ingredient, such as a grapeseed oil, guests will probably find a display of the ingredient along with signage describing other uses for the product and takeaway recipe cards for the chef’s dish.
Most AJ’s locations also have a brick pizza oven, Basha says. “It’s an outstanding pizza, with premium meats and cheeses and sauce.” However, AJ’s prepared food offerings do not end with pizza and pasta. “We do sushi too, with the fish we receive daily,” says Basha. “We have a sushi bar in most of our locations.”
The excellence of the Seafood Grottos in each store is another point of particular pride for Basha. Seafood is delivered to each AJ’s Fine Foods location, daily. “Our seafood deliveries are more frequent than the best restaurant in the state in order to provide quality ingredients and incomparable freshness,” he says. “Obviously, seafood is highly perishable, and we like to bring it in fresh and sell it fresh.”
Seafood has its seasons too, and AJ’s honors that with the same devotion to seasonality that applies to the rest of the store. During salmon season, the store’s focus is on king salmon. “To our knowledge, we’re the only ones in the state who bring in the Copper River King Salmon,” Basha says. “You don’t generally find king salmon in restaurants. It’s a premium product, and we treat it in a premium manner.”
Guests who want to make sure that they’re pairing that special salmon with the perfect wine can step down the aisle to the stores’ wine cellars. There they will find an expert to advise them. “Our focus in our wine cellars is in finding you what you’re looking for and, as our relationships with our customers develop, introducing them to wines and varietals and styles that will complement their enjoyment of fine wines,” Basha says.
The primary focus of AJ’s Fine Foods comes down to offering fine ingredients from folks who know and appreciate their products and are eager to share their experience with guests who are hungry for learning as well as for food. “In all of our locations, we’re very fortunate to have the members that we do,” Basha says. “Really, at the end of the day, it’s our people that make all the difference in the world.”
By Lucas Witman
Each October, foragers in France, Italy and a handful of other European locales head into the wilderness, armed with a sack and a shovel and hoping to procure one of the rarest and most luxurious ingredients in the culinary world: the white truffle. Often accompanied by a specially trained dog, these modern foragers harvest truffles today in much the same way as adventurer-gourmands have done for centuries, navigating the forest floor and carefully digging along the roots of oak and poplar trees in search of the elusive, highly prized edible fungus.
It is difficult to imagine a specialty food product that originates in a peasant’s sack on a French hillside and eventually finds its way into the finest gourmet shops in the world’s biggest cities. However, this is precisely what is happening today, as foodies across the globe are purchasing fresh truffles and truffle products that find their way to market in this way.
The truffle has long been a popular ingredient in Italian and French cuisine, but in recent years, there has been an explosion in interest in the product within the American culinary market as well. Once reserved in the United States only for the very wealthy, today one can find truffle products in most grocery stores and specialty shops, where truffle oil, truffle paté, truffle cheese and truffle butter have developed a loyal following.
The mad dash by restaurants and specialty food companies to procure truffles begins every October 1, when the season for white truffles officially begins. This is the most highly prized variety of truffles, as they are the rarest and can never be cultivated. Truffle season carries on into the fall, as the black truffle becomes available in mid-November. In Europe, the harvesting season for truffles lasts until March. Buyers are often willing to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,500 for a single pound of the delicacy.
“It’s the rarity,” said Vincent Jeanseaume, Vice President of Sales for Sabatino Tartufi, explaining why people are willing to pay such high prices for this unique ingredient. “It takes a lot of effort, a lot of human resources to harvest a few kilos of truffles, and we might have to buy 10 kilos of truffles to sell two or three decent kilos.”
Founded in Italy in 1911, Sabatino Tartufi has become one of the largest distributors of fresh truffles in the world and the single largest importer of truffles into the United States. In addition to fresh truffles, Sabatino produces a wide array of truffle products, including oils, vinegars, sauces, salts, butters and prepared meals. All of the company’s products sold in the United States are made with authentic imported Italian ingredients and manufactured in a state-of-the-art 42,000-square-foot processing facility in West Haven, Conn.
According to Jeanseaume, Sabatino Tartufi sets itself apart from other companies in the U.S. truffle product market primarily because of the quality and freshness of its offerings. “We bring products that don’t get any fresher,” he said.
Still, Jeanseaume acknowledges that marketing truffles and truffle products in the United States is a completely unique enterprise, and Sabatino Tartufi has had to dramatically rethink its business model in reaching out to a U.S. consumer base.
“We very much have been able to adapt to the demand of the U.S. market,” said Jeanseaume. “We have that sort of flexibility and think-outside-the-box mindset that maybe the older Italian and French companies don’t have. Sometimes you need to shake things up and do things a bit different. We make certain things different here than we do in Europe.”
One of the ways that Sabatino Tartufi has been successful in reaching a U.S. clientele that is particularly hungry for luxury products is to focus on fine packaging. “We have some very consumer friendly packaging, and we try to give the brand a very unique luxury look to it,” said Jeanseaume. “We use the finest bottle companies out there. Being that we process truffle products—it’s not a cheap product—our customers expect this kind of packaging.”
However, simply re-envisioning the packaging was not enough to bring Sabatino Tartufi products into the shopping basket of the average U.S. consumer. For that, the company had to develop new products that specifically target this market. Sabatino Tartufi came out with truffle couscous, risotto, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese that were specifically designed for American palates. “Basically the idea is to bring to the average consumer a very easy-to-prepare gourmet meal,” said Jeanseaume. “The truffle mac and cheese is not something that would be popular in Italy, but it works here.”
Sabatino Tartufi is not the only company working to innovate the American truffle marketplace and bring truffle products into the kitchens of average food-loving consumers throughout the country. A number of specialty food companies are working truffles into their product lines in particularly creative ways.
Squirrel Brand may be best known as a high end producer of nut products for the specialty food industry, but the company is no stranger to the truffle trend. The company uses truffles in two of its products: Italian Black Truffle Almonds and Italian Black Truffle Almond Butter. A true culinary innovator, Squirrel Brand may in fact be the only gourmet company marketing a truffled nut butter in the United States.
“Let’s just say I have a muse,” said Squirrel Brand President and CEO J. Brent Meyer, explaining where the idea for the truffled almond butter originated. “My wife inspires many of our ideas. It simply made sense, and we did it. We have our Italian Black Truffle Almonds trademarked, so why not extend it further.”
Meyer recommends that consumers use his company’s truffled almond butter in any number of culinary capacities. It is delicious by itself, slathered on a piece of crusty bread, or it can be used as an ingredient in recipes, imparting a flavor that particular compliments arugula, figs and other items. However, Meyer cautions that because the product has such a unique flavor, it is best to keep things simple. “There is something so beautiful about not trying to outshine the product,” he said.
As Squirrel Brand has slowly introduced its Italian Black Truffle Almond Butter to retailers and consumers, Meyer jokes that it has often been a challenge getting people to understand the product. “If people like truffles, the response has been energetic and very positive,” he said. However, we get the occasional person who sees the word ‘truffle’ and they think we are sampling chocolate truffles. Needless to say, they [are] in for a surprise.”
For Meyer, when it comes to successfully marketing truffles and truffle products in the United States, the answer ultimately comes down to finding the right audience with an appetite for the one-of-a-kind flavor of this luxury ingredient. “We believe people either get it, or they don’t,” he said. “Fortunately, most folks in our industry do get it.”