By Lorrie Baumann
This year’s NACS Show offered some real surprises: among them, insight into the extent to which convenience stores are going after a share of consumers’ grocery shopping dollars, with some surprising brands eager to help them do it. The NACS Show is the annual trade show for the Association for Convenience Retailing, and it was held October 17-20 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. This year’s show featured dozens of first-year exhibitors, and among them were a host of brands that we’re more used to seeing at events like the Fancy Food Shows or the Natural Products Expos.
Rhythm Superfoods, for instance, makes Kale Chips and Beet Chips, and the Austin, Texas-based company was at the NACS Show to showcase its new Grab & Go Beet Chips and Kale Chips as well as a Roasted Kale Snack. In January, the company closed a $6 million financing round with a lead investment from 301 INC., the venturing unit of General Mills, and it’s currently registering “off-the-charts” growth with its Kale Chips and now its Beet Chips, said Beth Hackford, the company’s Natural Foodservice Sales Manager. “People are looking for healthier snack options,” she said. “We’ve been embraced [by the convenience channel]. All different sizes of retailers have been coming by.” She added that convenience stores are now looking to appeal to customers who read the backs of packages. Those include Millennial shoppers, who are now reaching the age at which they have small children, and consumer packaged goods companies like Rhythm Superfoods are ready and eager to step up to meet the needs of those customers with package sizes that suit their snacking habits at a price point that works for them. For instance, Rhythm Superfoods developed its new smaller grab-and-go bag particularly for sale at a friendlier price point. The new grab-and-go sizes retail for $2.49, with the Beet Chips packaged as a 0.6-ounce bag and the Kale Chips packaged with 0.75 ounce in the bag.
Convenience stores are seeing traffic from customers who are familiar with the premium brand from their regular grocery stores, and they’re just as willing to buy it in a convenience store, said Kelly Bottenfield, the company’s Senior Sales Manager for Retail. Both she and Hackford say that convenience store chains are coming to them asking for products because they recognize the brand and are looking for healthier options that will attract the customers they want, which definitely includes those Millennials who are stopping in for snacks that they can feel good about giving to their small children.
Volpi brought its Roltini, mozzarella cheese and prosciutto rolls either with or without basil and, at 8-ounces, big enough to make a full meal serving or to slice for a party appetizer. Roltini Singles, which are snack-size portions, are offered in Mozzarella and Spicy Salame, Mozzarella and Pepperoni and Mozzarella and Prosciutto varieties packaged in 12-count boxes.
Aunt Butchies of Brooklyn was at the show to offer up a taste of New York for the freezer case with its Cheesecake Cones. In Brooklyn, Aunt Butchies is a bakery and restaurant named after the mother of Owner Frank Santo, who said that since his own childhood nickname was “Stinky,” which wasn’t suitable for a restaurant, he borrowed his mother’s family nickname instead. “It’s an Italian family. Everybody has a nickname,” he said. Aunt Butchies has been in business for 24 years, starting out as a bakery making cheesecakes and carrot cakes before expanding into foodservice. “In the last couple of years, we started thinking about making things no one else was making,” Santo said. The bakery tried out the Cheesecake Cone in its retail store, where it performed well, and is now looking to launch it nationally.
The Cheesecake Cone is a unique product, like a cross between a cannoli, an ice cream cone and a cheesecake. The cone is an made from almonds, butter and sugar, and it’s filled with New York-style cheesecake. It’s packaged individually for sale from the freezer case, and it’s designed to be eaten frozen. Each 4-ounce cone retails for $2.99 to $3.29.
Family-owned Ozery Bakery, which started out as a Toronto, Canada, cafe and pita baker, brought its Morning Rounds® to the show as well as snack components and crackers. The Muesli Morning Rounds Single-Serve complements the brand’s top-selling full-size product line, Morning Rounds, a line of toastable fruit and grain breakfast buns, which includes flavors such as Cranberry Orange, Apple Cinnamon, Cinnamon & Raisin and Date & Chia. The new item is conveniently packaged as a single serving and contains five grams of protein per serving with no artificial preservatives or flavors. All Ozery Bakery products are free from genetically modified organisms, artificial preservatives, colors and flavors and are prepared with whole grains.
Old Croc, makers of Australian cheddar cheese, is dipping its toes into the convenience market with 3/4-ounce packages of its Sharp Cheddar wrapped for individual sale and branded as Croc Bites. Old Croc cheese is grass-fed and non-GMO, and Croc Bites are also packaged in eight-count bags. The single-serving packages retail for 79 to 99 cents.
For the cheese case, Old Croc is introducing bold flavored cheddars in 6 to 7-ounce cuts. The company swept the flavored cheese category at the 2017 U.S. Cheese Championships with best of class, second award and third award wins. The new flavors include Bacon & Jalapeno, Chipotle & Onion, Horseradish and Roasted Garlic & Herb. The 7-ounce cuts retail for $5.99. Old Croc is distributed in the U.S. by Trugman-Nash, LLC.
Out on the show’s main exhibit space, there were a few other familiar names that are very experienced at selling into the convenience channel. Among them, KIND, which is moving into the breakfast space with a couple of product lines, including Pressed by KIND, which are bars that offer a full serving of fruit in two varieties: Dark Chocolate Strawberry and Dark Chocolate Banana. KIND is packaging them in 12-bar boxes for retail sale.
KIND is also offering KIND Breakfast Protein bars, each of which offers 8 grams of protein in a 210-calorie serving of two bars. The KIND Breakfast Protein bars are offered in Crunchy Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate Nut, Dark Chocolate Cocoa and Almond Butter varieties, and they’re packaged as eight two-bar packs.
Loacker was exhibiting at the NACS Show for its fourth year, according to Loacker Vice President of Marketing and Deputy to the President Crystal Black-Davis. “We entered the convenience trade channel two years ago, and we entered with a bang in 7-Eleven,” she said. Loacker has responded to the market with different formats and package sizes, but the cookies inside are still the same snacks familiar to Fancy Food Show attendees. “To have a brand like Loacker enter into this trade class with a better-for-you indulgence option means that there’s no question why we’re performing as well as we are,” Black-Davis said.
She agrees that convenience stores are seeing more nutrition-conscious customers who will buy products made with high-quality ingredients wherever they find them. “If you’re going to snack, snack well,” summarizes that philosophy, she said.
Loacker’s 37.5 gram Cocoa & Milk Raspberry Yoghurt Wafer packs and 4.4-ounce bags of Quadratini are both doing well in the convenience channel because they’re a better-for-you snack option, Black-Davis said. “We don’t compromise on taste, so the indulgence factor is still very prevalent,” she said, pointing to a new 54-gram chocolate bar, the Chocolate Creme Napolitaner, which includes hazelnuts as well as a wafer leaf inside each bar. “We offer a premium snack item, and we don’t abandon our company DNA, which is the wafer.”
By Lorrie Baumann
After wildfires devastated northern California’s wine country, Bellwether Farms was ready to help with a matching gift through its Bellwether Farms Foundation. The wildfires have caused at least $3 billion in insured losses, according to the Los Angeles Times, which quoted state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who noted that the loss tally was likely to grow as more claims were reported by insurers. More than 40 people died in the fires, and about 15,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.
The Bellwether Farms Foundation’s offer was a $25,000 dollar-for-dollar matching grant to provide a total of up to $50,000 to organizations providing direct assistance to northern California communities through food donations and support for recovery. Organizations receiving funds from the grant include the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
Bellwether Farms Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity, is in its first year of operations, set up by the Callahan family, owners of Bellwether Farms, which makes award-winning cheeses and yogurts in Sonoma County, California, to donate to charitable efforts, mostly related to hunger relief and food-related education for children. Callahan, the family-owned company’s Cheesemaker, says that the idea for the foundation came as he was reading about other companies that were actively seeking involvement with their communities and customers that went further than fundraising for causes in the moment. “Over the last couple of years, I was starting to think of ways to do a little more than just make cheese and yogurt,” he says. “We had always donated cheese and yogurt to local schools, the food bank, international organizations with local chapters — most of those were typically the smaller organizations that needed cheese for auctions at their main fundraising events.”
The Callahan family decided to pledge 1 percent of their sales to the foundation and then began figuring out how to get the money to the organizations working for causes they also wanted to support. They started by teaming up with the Whole Foods Foundation, which already had a mechanism in place to support better food options for children, which was a cause that the Callahans wanted to support. The Redwood Empire Food Bank, the largest hunger-relief organization serving north coastal California, from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, was another.
Bellwether Farms has also begun labeling its products with the Bellwether Farms Foundation’s mission statement. “We hope that people will think about these sorts of things when they shop and find ways to get involved,” Callahan said. “The package space is precious space, so I hope that the message there will be something that reaches the people who buy and enjoy Bellwether Farms products. … The food industry has to be part of the solution. We’re not going to solve the digital divide, but we can help with getting food to people and raising awareness about the problem.”
Not far up the highway from Bellwether Farms, Jennifer Bice, who sold her Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery to Swiss dairy company Emmi in 2015, has also been thinking about how her financial resources can make a greater impact on her community. This year, she started the Jennifer Bice Artisan Dairy/Cheesemaker Grant Award, which she intends to be a yearly award to a member of the California Artisan Cheese Guild who will use the money for creamery or farm infrastructure or for education that relates to improving farming or business practices. Bice, who will step down from overseeing day-to-day operations at the company in a few years, views the annual grant program as another form of succession planning to make sure that artisan cheesemaking will continue in her name even after she has retired to her goat dairy farm, which was not included in the sale. She is also giving regular cheesemaking workshops at her farm. “As I come into retirement, and I’ve enjoyed my business of raising dairy goats and making cheese, I wanted to find a way to mentor young and upcoming cheesemakers,” she says. “I’ll be retiring back to my farm, where I have 300 goats, chickens, an apple orchard, an olive grove, and a hopyard, so there’s a lot of work on a farm. I’m looking forward to being more of a farm girl.”
This year’s award recipient of the $10,000 gift, Erika McKenzie-Chapter, was chosen from a field of 10 proposals. “All of them were great prospects,” Bice says. “The recipient this year is a talented young cheesemaker. She makes beautiful farmstead cheese at her creamery, which is called Pennyroyal Farm.”
Pennyroyal Farm, home to more than 100 goats, was named for the wild pennyroyal mint that carpets the 60-acre farmstead and vineyard in Anderson Valley. McKenzie-Chapter began making farmstead goat cheese there in 2012, while her business partner, Sarah Bennett, oversees the vineyard, a flock of chickens, and a tasting room that sells their cheese and wine. McKenzie-Chapter is using the Bice grant to purchase equipment that will improve productivity and efficiency on the farm and allow for increased production of the Pennyroyal Farm cheeses. “Her process calls for treating the milk very gently, and this custom-built milk tank [purchased with the grant] will allow her to improve her efficiency while still handling the milk delicately,” Bice says. “She knows each of her goats by name, like I do in my herd.”
“In some ways, Erika reminds me of myself,” she adds. “It takes a lot of gumption to keep going with limited resources, but when you’re really passionate about your business and about your goats, that really resonates with people.”
Across the country in Maine, Aaron Anker, Chief Granola Officer of GrandyOats, thinks of having a greater impact on his community and the world around them both in terms of providing employment in a rural area of western Maine that doesn’t have a lot of other jobs to offer and by converting the company’s power source to solar energy as well. “We’re also partnering as much as we can with organizations like the Audubon Society and other land conservation organizations. I think it’s what feels right, so you do it,” he says. “Supporting environmental causes and local organizations has been part of our mission since the company started. We’ve always tried to help out. It’s not just a local thing – it’s also global, when you’re sourcing organic ingredients from around the world, it is essential that you’re not polluting those places.”
The company installed its 288 solar panels in the fall of 2015 while moving operations into an abandoned elementary school that had been a blight in the community. The solar panels went into the ball field where the youngsters used to play, and two years into their operation, the panels are creating more than 100,000 Kilowatt-hours of electricity, and the company is on track to power most of its facility from that output. “When we opened the school, we put in a higher efficiency cooling system, efficient ovens, electric forklifts. We removed all fossil fuels from the premises,” Anker says. “The idea that we’re going to change the world as one small company is true.”
While these companies started with businesses, Dignity Coconuts is a food business that started with a mission. The company started in 2010 as a nonprofit working in the Philippines on poverty and modern-day slavery, then turned to business as a way to help solve these social problems. “We asked, ‘What do you have that we can build a business around?’” says Dignity Vice President Erik Olson. “They said, ‘We have lots of coconuts.’”
Dignity went to work on building a business around coconuts and found a way to make a better coconut oil, avoiding the conventional cold press, which produces oil with a heavy coconut flavor and which belies its name by heating the oil to 160 degrees or more, according to Olson. “Most do not want every dish to taste like coconut,” he says. Dignity oil is produced from certified organic coconuts, using a centrifuge that spins the coconut cream to separate the oil. “We found this method produces a mild taste and smell and is a truly raw product you can’t get from other methods,” Olson says.
The company sells the oil in 4-ounce jars that retail for $5.95 and 15-ounce jars that retail for $14.95. Lids of the jars are signed by members of the staff in the rural Philippines, and revenue from the sales is used to transform rural communities with high unemployment, few educational opportunities and a lack of clean drinking water. According to the company, workers are paid a fair wage, farmers are paid above-minimum prices for their coconuts, employees have ownership options, and the staff and management are always more than 50 percent women.
“It’s not going to stop here. We have structured our plan to make it reproducible. We are going to build more and more plants all over the world. There are plenty of coconuts to harvest out there!” the company says on its web site. “And it won’t be confined to coconuts. We want to go to communities and ask them what they have. Then we will build our business based on our values and their resources. We have a big dream for the future. Dignity is going to change the world.”
Litehouse Inc., a 100 percent employee-owned company and the number-one Refrigerated Salad Dressing (RSD) brand in the U.S. and Canada, is adding a new member to its organic family: Litehouse Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette. Big on flavor, yet light on calories, the new vinaigrette is bursting with the crisp, bright taste of lemon and delicious hints of herbs, to add zest to salads or recipes with less than 50 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.
According to Technomic, consumer demand for the tart taste and flavor of lemon continues to grow, as does the overall organic RSD segment at a rate of 49 percent. To meet these demands, Litehouse developed its light and refreshing Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette, which was recently declared the best-tasting lemon dressing by consumers during a blind sensory test against competing brands. Litehouse Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette joins the best-selling Organic line, the only triple certified dressings with USDA organic, certified gluten free, and Non-GMO Project Verified certifications on the market.
“Consumers love our organic dressings and we continue to expand the line by delivering new and delicious flavors that make every dish exceptional,” said Brooke Gansemer, Litehouse Assistant Brand Manager. “Pair this dairy-free dressing on a dark green salad, drizzled over grilled vegetables, or as a chicken marinade – the options are endless!”
Litehouse Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette joins six other delicious Litehouse Organic flavors: Organic Balsamic, Organic Ranch, Organic Caesar, Organic Raspberry Lime, Organic Rosemary Balsamic and Organic Ginger with Honey.
The new Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette can be found in the produce department next to the rest of Litehouse’s refrigerated dressing line and will be available in December for a suggested retail price of $5.99.