By Richard Thompson
Historically maligned as a novelty in the cheese segment, American consumers are embracing flavored cheeses that are being offered by specialty cheese companies. More dairy farms and cheese companies are offering products with additional flavorings, like Sriracha and dill, that cater to both sophisticated and adventurous tastes through a growing variety of award-winning flavored cheeses. Companies like Country Connection Cheese Company, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Cypress Grove Chevre are receiving influential awards in the dairy industry for their flavored cheeses: Country Connection’s Sriracha Cheddar, Nicasio Valley’s Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic and Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor. “I think flavored cheeses, when done well, are popular because they expand the specialty cheese category with interesting options for the consumer,” says Ellen Valter, Brand Manager of Country Connection.
Interest in flavored cheese has intensified in the last few years with flavored cheeses now making up seven percent of the total cheese category, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). Heather Porter Engwall, Director of National Product Communications at WMMB, says that for the last five years flavored cheeses have outperformed unflavored cheeses in both volume and dollar sales with year-to-date dollar sales of flavored cheeses up more than 8 percent. “Trends we see within the specialty cheese category are, of course, flavor,” says Porter Engwall, “Be it hot and spicy, sweet and savory, fruity or nutty, Americans continue to enjoy a heightened taste experience.”
Country Connection started creating new taste sensations by adding ingredients to high-quality cheese and was recently awarded the gold medal at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition for its peppery Sriracha Cheddar cheese. According to Valter, the Sriracha Cheddar is a top-seller in the 17-cheese line the company offers and is made with all natural Sriracha for a spicy cheddar blend that goes excellently with beer.
The company also offers Chipotle Cheddar, Basil Garlic Jack Cheese, and Applewood Smoked Gouda – one of the three smoked cheeses in their line. The Chipotle Cheddar is made with cumin, garlic, red chile peppers and chipotle. “Chipotle Cheddar is my personal favorite because its smoky and complex flavor profile makes it one of the few cheddars that pairs well with a full-bodied red wine,” says Valter.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, a farmstead cheese company that is part of the Lafranchi Dairy, has won numerous awards – including second place in the Fromage Blanc category in 2011, 2012 and 2014 at the American Cheese Society (ACS) – for its Foggy Morning cheese. Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic is a flavorful extension of that flagship product. “Our Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic is just like our original, but we add basil and fresh garlic to it,” says Scott Lafranchi, Partner at Nicasio Valley Cheese Company.
This cheese is a very soft, very creamy cheese that carries a tang with it where you can still taste the milk in the cheese, says Lafranchi. “It’s such a versatile cheese; I think it’s great on a bagel. On salads, it’s really good.”
2015 has been a good year for Cypress Grove Chevre and its flavored cheeses, according to Bob McCall, Sales Director for Cypress Grove Chevre. The company’s PsycheDillic goat cheese placed first at this year’s ACS awards in the Fresh Goat With Flavor Added category, while the company’s Truffle Tremor Mini and Truffle Tremor Original placed second and third respectively in the Soft-Ripened with Flavor Added category.
PsycheDillic is infused with dill weed and dill pollen, making it the top bagel-topping choice that will persuade consumers that they don’t want to go back to plain cream cheese, according to McCall. “People who buy this cheese already like dill, but end up trying something brand new from the dill pollen and fresh goat cheese,” says McCall.
The company’s Truffle Tremor Mini and Truffle Tremor Original – northern Italian truffle-infused goat cheeses – were born like most great innovations; by accident. After Mary Keehn, the Founder of Cypress Grove Chevre, tried creating a new fresh chevre flavor that underwhelmed during an initial taste test, the wheels were left in the aging cooler for three weeks before anyone remembered they were there. But when they did remember their existence, the Cypress Grove folks fell in love with the taste. “I kid you not, 60 seconds went by before anyone spoke,” recalls McCall, “We were stunned by how good it was.”
Cypress Grove Chevre is a cheese company that prides itself on the uniqueness of its names and their allusions to their northern California zeitgeist. Herbs de Humboldt, for instance, which sports locally harvested herbes de Provence, is monickered with a tongue-in-cheek allusion to one of the region’s better-known cash crops. “Its wonderful on pasta or as a substitute for cream and pairs well with almost any beer, red ale and Sauvignon blanc,” says McCall.
Follow Your Heart, makers of egg-free foods since the 70s, and the producers of the leading vegetarian mayonnaise alternative, Vegenaise®, will launch a 100 percent plant-based whole egg replacer called VeganEgg™ to the public in early November. With egg prices at an all-time high and an increased need for a more sustainable egg alternative, Follow Your Heart is pleased to announce that VeganEgg has finally hatched. VeganEgg is an entirely egg-free, cholesterol-free egg replacer that emulates the flavor, texture and functional properties of eggs, and even makes scrambles, quiches, frittatas, as well as replaces eggs in baked goods.
The team at Follow Your Heart has always kept sustainability top-of-mind. From their own solar-powered production facility, to their entirely plant-based lineup of retail products, founders Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin have long sought to provide their customers with better food options for both health and the environment. “Enormous amounts of water, resources and fossil fuels go into chicken and egg production, not to mention the inhumane conditions that many of these animals are subjected to,” said Goldberg, President and CEO of Follow Your Heart. “We have been working toward VeganEgg for over a decade now, and there were many challenges that we overcame before developing a product that could truly replace eggs.”
As long-standing innovators in the natural foods marketplace, Follow Your Heart is introducing two new ingredients in VeganEgg: “algal flour” and “algal protein,” both derived from a natural microalgae. “When we discovered that microalgae are a highly-sustainable source of nutritionally rich ingredients, we immediately knew they could help us make better plant-based foods,” said Goldberg. Whole algal flour and protein naturally contain high levels of healthy lipids, carbohydrates and micronutrients. These nutrient-dense microalgae also contain all essential amino acids and are a great source of dietary fiber. While not all of VeganEgg’s ingredients can be found in the traditional kitchen pantry, together they create an egg alternative well suited for use in cookies, muffins, cakes and fluffy scrambles and omelets.
All of the ingredients in VeganEgg are plant-based, allergen-free and non-GMO. In addition to functioning like eggs, VeganEgg is a good source of dietary fiber (4g per serving) and calcium (10 percent DV per serving), contains fewer calories and has less than half the fat of eggs.
VeganEgg will initially be available online through Amazon.com for $6.99 – $7.99. Each 4-ounce package of VeganEgg will produce the equivalent of a dozen eggs. The shelf life of VeganEgg is six months from date of manufacture.
On Saturday, January 16, the 30,000 square foot Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason Center will transform into the Good Food Mercantile, one-of-a-kind, intimate ‘un-trade show’ where both winners and members of the Good Food Merchants Guild – exemplary food crafters meeting the same sustainability criteria – exhibit their full line of wares to 400 industry buyers and media. The Good Food Awards Marketplace rounds out the weekend on Sunday, January 17. The general public is invited to come meet the winners, taste and buy their winning food and drink (including bottles of beer, cider and spirits not licensed for sale in California, but permitted this year within the federally-owned historic landmark of Fort Mason Center). Proudly welcoming the winners, and also selling to the public, will be the local farmers and food trucks of the Fort Mason Center Farmers Market. Tickets to the Good Food Awards Marketplace are $5, with a $20 Early Access pass (with welcome gift).
The Good Food Awards are supported by the Good Food Retailers Collaborative, the presenting sponsor for two years running. Composed of 13 of the country’s top independently owned retailers from Chicago to Oakland to Ann Arbor, they are committed to supporting America’s great food producers in their own communities and across the country. Joining them is a vibrant group of key supporters, including six-time premier sponsors Williams-Sonoma and Bi-Rite Market; and lead sponsors Dominic Phillips Event Marketing, Impact HUB Bay Area, Veritable Vegetable, BCV Architects and Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.
By Lorrie Baumann
Urban Radish is a little like Cheers, the bar in the television show that ran in its original release from 1982 to 1983 – it’s that place “where everybody knows your name,” says General Manager and Head Buyer MacKenzie Aivazis, who is also the daughter of Owners Michael Aivazis and Keri Johnson. The store in Los Angeles’ Downtown Arts District was designed around the idea that shoppers would be visiting daily rather than weekly. “We designed the store for urbanites,” Aivazis said. “That means that the focus is on the freshness of the ingredients. Our customers are aware that we’re meeting with local farmers several times a week to buy the freshest produce. Customers are aware that when they see produce in our store, they know it was on the farm a day or two ago.”
“Sausages from the meat department have been made that week if not that day,” she continued. “There is a sense of community. I know my customers. I have the same customers who come in every day. I know what’s going on in their lives…. We strive for that. It really is what makes the store special, in my opinion.”
Urban Radish’s neighborhood is in the process of redeveloping from an urban-blighted industrial area into a mixed-use neighborhood with manufacturing, high-occupancy residential and retail uses. Over the next two years, the neighborhood’s population is expected to triple. “Just two blocks after Skid Row ends, you have this really high-end community that’s developing here,” Aivazis said. As a result, the people who’ve moved into the new residential developments tend to be affluent Gen Xers who value transparency about their food sources and prefer fresh locally-sourced food when it’s available. “During lunch, there’s a lot of manufacturing surrounding the store, so we get a very, very hip crew that comes through, all in their 20s and 30s who are very avant-garde, what most people would identify as a hipster. It depends on whether they’re working in the area or actually live here,” Aivazis said. “They’re urban couples and singletons. When they have babies here, they tend to move away, which makes sense because there are not a lot of amenities for children here.”
The redeveloping nature of the neighborhood means that the store is unable to offer its customers free WiFi, since the infrastructure in the area doesn’t allow enough bandwidth for that yet. Despite that, Urban Radish has a customer following who are engaged with each other and with the store, and they’ve made Urban Radish into a local hang-out spot. The store encourages that with a range of high-quality prepared foods as well as weekly live music sessions. It’s a great event, a great time. All the regulars come and we turn on the grill for a full dinner, and we usually have someone come in and sample wine,” Aivazis said. “That speaks to the community that we try to create for people who are our customers and people who are not our customers…. There are peple who are interested in this area and who come down here just to see what’s going on down here. I believe that this area will draw people who are interested in food. Our mission is to inspire that foodie in everybody. Sometimes you just have to put it in front of them.”
Some six years out from New York City’s attempt to curb the obesity epidemic by mandating calorie counts in chain restaurants, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found that calorie labels, on their own, have not reduced the overall number of calories that consumers of fast food order and presumably eat.
In a report to be published in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs, the NYU Langone team describes its analysis of information gathered from 7,699 fast-food diners in New York City and nearby New Jersey cities.
The study, in which researchers compared food orders in places with and without calorie counts, is believed to be the first long-term analysis of the effects of menu labeling in the United States. Researchers say it also offers early evidence of its possible impact as the federal government prepares to introduce the policy nationwide in December 2016 as part of its Affordable Care Act.
Researchers found that the average number of calories bought by patrons at each sitting between January 2013 and June 2014 was statistically the same as those in a similar survey of 1,068 fast-food diners in 2008, when New York City initially imposed menu labeling. Diners were surveyed at major fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s.
Calorie counts in the 2013-2014 analysis averaged between 804 and 839 per meal at menu-labeled restaurants, and between 802 and 857 per meal at non-labeled eateries; whereas, they averaged 783 per meal for labeled restaurants and 756 per meal for non-labeled restaurants shortly after the policy was introduced.
For the surveys, diners entering the fast-food restaurant were asked to return their itemized receipt to research assistants and answer some follow-up questions in person in exchange for two dollars.
“Our study suggests that menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed,” says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, PhD.
Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, says that while it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the menu-labeling policy by itself, a combination of policies, such as marketing regulations or price subsidies for healthy foods, may have a positive impact on the nation’s obesity epidemic.
There is still cause for optimism, he says, because the current and previous studies show at least some awareness of the bloated calorie counts in most fast food. “People are at least reading the information, some are even using it,” says Elbel, pointing out that among the study results from 2008, some 51 percent of survey respondents reported noticing the calorie counts, and 12 percent claimed that it influenced them to choose a lower-calorie item, even if it did not reduce overall caloric intake.
However, the number of people paying attention to the calorie counts diminishes over time. Elbel notes that at the start of the 2013 study, 45 percent of survey respondents said they noticed the calorie counts, a decrease from 2008 levels. As the study continued, this number dropped six months later to 41 percent and dropped again in 2014, to 37 percent, in the last set of surveys.
An estimated third of adult Americans are obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more), and that number is expected to rise to 42 percent by 2030, among the highest of any country in the developed world, he says.
Elbel says continued and closer monitoring of the impact of menu labeling should also boost success rates by showing more clearly where, for whom, and what kind of labeling shows the most promise. Potentially, he says, “labels may yet work at non-fast-food, family-style restaurant chains, or for specific groups of people with a greater need than most to consume fewer calories and eat more healthily. We will have to wait and see, while continuing to monitor and analyze the policy’s impact.”
In addition to a full line of natural and organic extra virgin olive oils, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, organic vinegars from Italy, organic tahini sesame butters, premium quality varietal wines made with 100 percent organic grapes, and other “Always Kosher, Always Non-GMO” products, De La Rosa will debut:
Visit in booth #351 November 10-11, 2015. For wholesale inquiries, contact Simcha Lewis, Business Development, by calling 718.333.0333 or emailing email@example.com.
By Lorrie Baumann
The real reason to be concerned about genetically engineered crops is not food safety. Rather it’s the increased use of the herbicide glyphosate that’s made possible, and perhaps even inevitable, by these crops, according to Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of the advocacy organization Just Label It! as well as Chairman and former President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm.
Read expert opinion about the food safety implications of GMOs here.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was called “probably carcinogenic to humans” in May by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization. In the same report, IARC classified the insecticides malathion and diazinon as probably carcinogenic to humans and the insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The report notes limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer with evidence from studies of exposures in the U.S., Canada and Sweden published since 2001. “In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals,” the report notes.
That report prompted the French government to ban sales of glyphosate to consumers, and retailers in Germany have begun voluntarily pulling products containing glyphosate from their shelves, according to Chemical & Engineering News. Monsanto has asked Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to convene a panel of experts to review the IARC report and points to a statement by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, which says it’s too soon to say what the IARC report means because there are a number of long-term studies of the effects of glyphosate on mice and rats that were not considered by IARC. “IARC received and purposefully disregarded dozens of scientific studies – specifically genetic toxicity studies – that support the conclusion glyphosate is not a human health risk,” says a statement issued by Monsanto. “IARC’s classification is inconsistent with the numerous multi-year, comprehensive assessments conducted by hundreds of scientists from countries worldwide who are responsible for ensuring public safety.”
The suspicion that there might be a link between glyphosate and cancer as well as increased use of herbicides on American crops due to the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds should be enough reason to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically-modified ingredients, Hirshberg said. “The reality is, how can you say that GMOs are safe when there’s a direct correlation to herbicide use,” he said. “I have not said a word about whether GMOs are safe to eat or not. We don’t bother going there.” Hirshberg made the remarks during Natural Products Expo East, held September 16-19 in Baltimore.
“Though poll after poll has shown that more than 90 percent of consumers want labeling, there is no consistent answer about why people are concerned about GMOs,” he said. “In a civil society, we would let people know, and then let them find out.”
Hirshberg noted that in the 19 years since the first genetically engineered corn was introduced into the marketplace with the promise of crops with higher yields and greater drought-resistance, farmers have seen much different results. “There’s no evidence that there’s been higher yields in corn and soybeans versus non-genetically engineered crops. There’s no evidence that non-genetically engineered varieties have evolved any faster or any slower than genetically engineered crops,” he said.
He pointed out that use of glyphosate by American farmers has grown greatly because genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand the effects of the herbicide, which means that the herbicide can now be applied throughout the growing season. “Glyphosate is now the most-used agrichemical in our country,” he said.
Increased use of glyphosate and other herbicides has led to the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds that have become a nuisance to American farmers, according to Hirshberg. “Today, more than 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with weeds resistant to Roundup,” he said.
In response, farmers are being encouraged to use a solution of a stronger herbicide, 2,4-D, which is a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War, according to Hirshberg. “You have the foxes guarding the henhouse telling us what is and isn’t harmful,” he said. “That was effective for one season, but now we have 2,4-D-resistant weeds being developed. We’re using more and more of this stuff and getting less and less results…. Farmers are becoming more and more dependent on this herbicide treadmill without seeing any effect.”
Glyphosate is commonly found in the air and in rain and streams in Iowa and Mississippi, said environmental scientist Paul Capel, Research Team Leader for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program, who spoke by telephone a few days after Hirshberg’s presentation at NPEE. His team measured the incidence of glyphosate in air and rainwater samples in both Iowa, where glyphosate is primarily used on corn and soybean crops, and in Mississippi, where glyphosate is used on a wider range of crops and in non-agricultural areas throughout the growing season. The analyses found glyphosate in the air in weekly samples taken in Mississippi during the growing season from April through October 86 percent of the time in 2007 and 100 percent of the time in 2008. Glyphosate was found in Mississippi rainwater samples 73 percent of the time in 2007 and 68 percent of the time in 2008.
For rainwater, the USGS team found glyphosate in the water in 73 percent of the samples in 2007 and 68 percent in 2008 in Mississippi. In Iowa, the team found glyphosate in 71 percent of the samples in 2007 and 63 percent of the samples in 2008. Capel was also involved in a 2004 study in Indiana that found glyphosate present in rain water 92 percent of the time.
Despite the chemical’s presence in air and rainwater, there’s little evidence at this point that glyphosate is a danger to groundwater supplies. Studies have shown that glyphosate is rarely detected in shallow groundwater, Capel said. He noted that glyphosate is typically applied by spraying from an airplane or from mechanized equipment near the ground, and as it’s sprayed, some fraction of the chemical enters the air directly, it never makes it to the ground. Of the chemical that does make it to the ground, some will be tied up in the soil, and thus unavailable to percolate into the groundwater.
While Capel’s USGS research documents that glyphosate is frequently found in rivers, streams and the air in areas where it’s heavily used on farm fields, the jury is still out on what that means about the health risk to humans, which depends both on level of exposure and how bioreactive the chemical is, according to Capel. “We’re trying to document environmental concentration off of the farm fields,” he said. “This is the exposure part of the health risk.”
He noted that scientists have associated glyphosate exposure with a number of different health issues, including autism, cancer and kidney disease. “Most of these studies are still under debate,” he said. “There’s not a clear linkage between exposure and some sort of detrimental end point…. These are questions that still need to be asked.”
Banning the chemical is not an immediate solution to this problem, according to Hirshberg. “The simple reality is, with fire retardants for an example, it’s been a 30-year fight. You need epidemiological research. You need deep pockets for lobbyists,” he said.
His organization is advocating in favor of mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, which he believes would create consumer pressure on manufacturers to exclude GMOs from their products. If farmers couldn’t sell their genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops, they’d revert to conventional crops that can’t withstand glyphosate’s effects, so they wouldn’t spray so much glyphosate, he reasons.
His immediate objective on the way to that larger goal is to stop passage of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July with the expectation that it would face a tougher fight in the Senate. The bill allows for voluntary labeling of GMO ingredients but prohibits states from requiring mandatory labeling. Opponents of the bill typically refer to it as the DARK Act, which stands for “Denying Americans the Right to Know.”
“Our mission is not just to stop this bill,” Hirshberg said. “Our mission is to get mandatory labeling…. The real critical societal question is if we’re going to be a society that’s satisfied with labeling the absence, or are we going to say what’s in it…. The reality is we vote every time we shop, and unless we have information, we can’t vote…. The other side has spent over $100 million denying your right to know. What are they hiding?”
By Lorrie Baumann
Just as California’s Silicon Valley has a justly deserved worldwide reputation as a center of excellence in computing and information technology, Italy has a “Food Valley” with an equally deserved worldwide reputation, according to Massimo Cannas.
Cannas is an Italian-American food importer and broker who’s a familiar figure in the exhibit halls of the Fancy Food Shows, particularly in the Italian food areas, as well as throughout the entire specialty food industry. He founded specialty food brokerage MAXCO International in 1995 and has clients across the country. Now, he’s expanding his enterprises with the founding of Cibo California, a new specialty food import business based in southern California. Federico Pavoncelli is the company’s Co-Founder and Executive Vice President. “I am so proud that he has joined the company and shares its vision,” Cannas says. “He is a great person that I respect very much.”
As President and CEO of Cibo California, Cannas plans to source a wide selection of authentic Italian food specialties and import them into the U.S. He and his partners, all first-generation Italian-Americans who speak Italian as their native language, will use their knowledge of Italian culinaria as well as their Italian language skills and their ability to navigate the culture to bring authentic Italian specialty food products to an American public that’s eager to taste them, Cannas says. “Thanks to my relationships with the food producers, I have had the opportunity to find products from suppliers who have opened every door to me,” he says. “My face is known there, and I have had the chance to explain what the company is about..
The Italian foods that most Americans are already familiar with are but a small sampling of the range of authentic and delicious products that are being produced for commercial sale in Italy today, according to Cannas. Over the past 30 years or so, the Italian specialty foods industry has developed from a few large companies that made products characteristic of the owners’ culinary traditions. For years, those companies dominated the export market to the U.S., leaving many Americans with the impression that once they’d tasted, and come to love, those products, they knew all there was to know about Italian food.
But Italy is a country, not with a few basic recipes for foods that the entire country has in common, but with a multitude of intensely local culinary traditions, Cannas says. As he speaks, the Italian-accented words begin to tumble over themselves as they rush to explain why this is important to American consumers. “When you drive for 10 miles in Italy, you find yourself every 10 miles in a new Italy. Nothing is similar to what you tasted 10 miles ago. In Italy, we have dialects. Every 10 miles, there is a different dialect. Everyone speaks Italian, but between neighbors, they speak local dialects. With that, the varieties of wine are different. The kind of bread is different. The pasta, the soup, the meat, the fish, the cured meats, the cheese, the extra virgin olive oil, the wine, the mineral water, the cookies, they’re all different. This is why Italy is so very interesting to the food lover. It’s always a discovery, day after day.”
“For an example, recently I found a producer who makes what I consider the very best hand-made breadsticks,” he continues. “We drove for six hours in the rain and wind to arrive for a visit with this artisan that produces these breadsticks, which are very unique. It’s a family-owned company, and after a couple of hours, they have granted us the exclusive right for distribution in the U.S. Now it’s up to us to translate this to the American consumers and to restaurants, but we are positive that we are going to be successful…. Americans today are excited to discover these new things coming from Italy. It’s no longer spaghetti and meatballs and pizza. There are specialty foods from every region to be discovered here. This is what we are trying to do. This is exactly why Cibo California is excited to discover for all of our customers and for everyone who loves food and who loves Italy.”
For more information, visit www.cibocalifornia.com or call Cibo California at 949.427.5555. To place orders, call 800.991.5199.
By Dan Wilkins
Meat alternative Quorn, the market leader in the U.S. natural foods channel, is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance for a product line whose protein comes from fungi. “The specific type of fungi allows the mimicking of the taste of real meat with much better health benefits,” says Sanjay Panchal, General Manager of Quorn Foods USA. The Mycoprotein in Quorn products is a complete protein that’s naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber, according to Panchal. “It has as much protein as an egg, as much fiber as broccoli,” he said.
The products contain no soy or GMOs, and the protein source is also environmentally friendly, with a carbon and water footprint that’s about 90 percent less than beef and 75 percent less than chicken, Panchal said. “In addition to the great health benefits and environmental benefits, our food just tastes amazing,” he said. “I’ve got three sons, age 9, 7 and 3, and we, probably once or twice a week, we replace their chicken nuggets with Quorn nuggets, and they Hoover them.”
Five products in the Quorn line are gluten free: Grounds, a product that substitutes for crumbled ground meat; Chik’n Tenders; Chik’n Cutlet, Turk’y Roast and Bacon Style Slices. “It gives folks looking for a gluten-free option another opportunity to use a food like ours in their recipes to satisfy their specific dietary restrictions,” Panchal said.
Quorn appeals to consumers who want to eat less meat but also want both convenience and the flexibility to adapt recipes that already work for them. “Our food doesn’t just attract vegetarians,” he added. “What you’ll find is people like our family who are complete carnivores, but if they’re looking for a way to reduce the meat in their diet, for whatever reason, this appeals. The appeal of a meat alternative, and Quorn specifically, is very broad and broadening…. Our growth rate year to date is 29 percent in sales versus a year ago and growing across all channels. We’re really pleased with our performance.”
The product line includes options like Grounds that will work for the consumer who has the time and the desire to cook meals like spaghetti Bolognese from scratch but also includes heat and eat options like Jalapeno and Three Cheese Stuffed Chik’n Cutlets for the consumer who values speed and convenience. “It’s really easy to prepare on weeknights. It’s basically straight out of the freezer and into the pan or the oven,” Panchal said. “With the nuggets, it’s 10 minutes to eating it…. With the Grounds, you mix it with a little water, taco seasoning and cheese and make it into a quesadilla. It’s a really simple food to make, and that’s why we like it as a family.”
Quorn products retail for $3.69 to $4.99 every day, depending on the retailer, for a package that serves four people. Quorn is distributed nationally.
By Lorrie Baumann
I met Connor Pelcher, a Wholesale Account Manager for Murray’s Cheese, one morning over breakfast during the American Cheese Society’s Cheese Camp, after my attention was drawn to him by one of his co-workers who asked him if he was wearing his flamingo socks. He reared back in his chair and raised his leg above the table to demonstrate that, yes, the flamingo socks were sur les pieds.
I missed seeing the matching flamingo shirt that he’d also bought after he’d run out of shirts during his stay at Cheese Camp. “I went to the mall, saw a flamingo shirt, and then I saw the flamingo socks,” he says. “As a salesperson, I like to dress in a way that people will remember. The better dressed you are, the more visually impactful you are. That might help people think about me when they have a question about cheese.”
Pelcher started his career in the food industry as an escape from the reality that a college graduate with a degree in English has when realizing the limited options for turning that degree into a well-paid career. “Anyone who has a degree in English can tell you the feeling of fear you get when you get handed that diploma,” he says. “That fear led me back to Vermont, where I grew up.”
Back in Vermont, he began exploring a passion for cooking and applied to the New England Culinary Institute. “I got a call the same week to say they loved my essay and were looking for people who were passionate and who were looking for a second career,” he says. After graduation from culinary school, he moved to New York and began moving up the ladder in white-tablecloth restaurants until he found himself the general manager of a restaurant and two bars in the East Village, and it dawned on him that he was having more to do with spreadsheets and personnel rosters than with actual food. “I took a step away from that and thought about where I could focus myself,” he says. “I had always been obsessed about beer and wine and cheese, so I sent a resume to Murray’s. I went in and got myself hired as a junior sales person.”
He still remembers what he said in that interview, he says. He mentioned “that cheese with the ash.” Humboldt Fog? the interviewer asked, and he agreed that, yes, that’s the one he had in mind. “It was laughable. Now I could talk to you for an hour about my favorite cheeses.”
He’s now been at Murray’s for two years, has become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and he’s now teaching some of the classes he attended to learn about cheese. Pelcher says he’s more excited now than he was when he started the job. “At Cheese Camp, I got to meet some cheese celebrities. I got to taste a million things that I never even would have known about,” he says. “The panels were incredible – some of the brightest minds, a confluence of some of the best thinkers that the cheese world has to offer. To be allowed to ask questions of them, to have four people that you deeply respect and that you read about answering a question for you…. Someday I’d like to be on one of those panels and to have people look up at me and applaud.”
Chad Farmer Davis, a Kroger Enterprise Set-up Specialist who opens Murray’s Cheese Shops inside partner stores across the country, also remembers the job interview that led to his career in cheese. He’s from Illinois, and he’d never even seen a cheese shop when he applied six years ago for what was supposed to be just a summer job. “I said I was an expert. I ate Kraft every day,” he says. “That was my entire cheese knowledge six years ago – Kraft and Velveeta.”
Much as he loves eating good cheeses now, his favorite part of his job is working with the people he meets as he travels the country, “training new cheese people and spreading the word on curd.” “There are literally so many crazy people in cheese culture. These are people that you tend to be attracted to,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was so focused on Star Wars. When I grew up, it transferred to cheese.”
When he trains new cheesemongers who aren’t yet as obsessed as he is with cheese, he likes to point out that talking about cheese is an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger. “There are so many kinds of people, but most people love cheese, and you can definitely bond with people over cheese. You can start a conversation about cheese, and it leads to, oh, I made a new friend,” he says. “You can meet a lot of new and interesting people, and it makes you a better person because you’re learning so much about other people.”
Like Pelcher, Farmer-Davis’ was once one of those liberal arts graduates willing to think for food. Now, he’s become one willing to spend the rest of his career thinking about food. “This is now a permanent career – one I thought I’d never have,” he says. “It was something that took me by surprise. I fell in love with it the very first day. I’m definitely not going to walk away from it, ever. It’s something that I love to do, and it makes my life extremely interesting.”
Like Pelcher, Cheesemaster and ACS Certified-Cheese Professional Jill Davis started out as a chef. She now works for Kroger at a new Murray’s Cheese Shop inside a Decatur, Georgia store, but before she joined Kroger, she was working for KitchenAid, teaching cooking classes and offering demonstrations to show kitchenware retailers how to use KitchenAid appliances. Before that, she’d worked at Sur Le Table teaching classes in cooking and knife skills, and she’s spent five years as a chocolatier. She intends for Kroger to be her last employer before she retires.
She came to work for Kroger after KitchenAid closed its Atlanta facility. “I’d been a long-time customer of Murray’s and got an email that said, ‘Coming Soon to Atlanta,” she says. “I called directly to New York.”
A Murray’s staffer in New York put her in touch with the Kroger hiring manager in Atlanta, who interviewed her for five minutes and then handed her an airline ticket to leave the next day for training in New York. “I got the whole Murray’s tour and then came back here and directly became a cheesemonger and in charge of the shop,” she says.
“Murray’s is extremely thorough in training, not only about cheese, but about merchandising and the product itself. There are product sheets on every single thing you sell: name of the farmer, name of the cheesemaker, nutritional information, some factoids to help you remember it. You need to have all of this information before you even begin a demo, plus all of this information is on every single sign, which also contains pairings and information on pronunciation,” she continues. “They also bring in their people to teach you the proper way, the Murray’s way, of cutting each cheese within each family of cheeses and how they’re merchandised and displayed.”
Her new shop has about 100 different cheeses, an olive and antipasti bar, a case of charcuterie, pickles, jams and chocolates. Crackers sit on top of he cheese cases. While most of the cheese is cut to order, there are also some grab-and-go precuts because many of the Kroger stores are open 24 hours a day and some customers choose not to interact with the cheesemonger.
“For me, it’s all about the cheese. I like talking to my customers every day. I want to have customers, people who come in and ask for me and say they’re having people over and want to know what to serve,” she says. “Everything – the bottom line – is customer service. It’s not all about the cheese; it’s all about the customer.”