Consumers trying to maintain or improve their health are increasingly seeking specialty food and non-food alternatives. Whether they are organic, gluten-free, dye-free or lactose-free, these products can be costly, but a new survey of special needs store brands items shows significant savings for consumers.
The research, conducted by the Private Label Manufacturers Association, assembled a market basket consisting of 27 typical specialty products that consumers might purchase as healthy alternatives or for special dietary needs. These products include gluten-free items like pancake mix and chicken broth; organics such as milk and pasta; even non-food allergy-free items like dye and perfume-free laundry detergent.
For every category in the study, a leading national brand product was compared to a similar store brand product when available and prices were adjusted to account for all known discounts, coupons and promotions available for each of the four shopping visits in the study.
The PLMA survey discovered that many organic products on the shelves had a private label product but sometimes did not have a national brand counterpart. However, when a national brand was available for comparison, private label products saved consumers 15 percent. When comparing gluten-free products, the PLMA market basket study found the private label products cost 17 percent less on average when compared to their national brand counterparts, while some store brand products saved shoppers as much as 41 percent.
Millions in the U.S. who are suffering from food allergies, and those with special dietary needs can also save with store brands. Consumers who choose to buy soy burgers, lactose-free milk and low-salt chicken broth, among other specialty food products, would save almost 30 percent when compared to national brand products.
Organic food sales overall continue to grow. Presently they represent a $26 billion market, but sales are projected to reach $60 billion by 2020, according to a report from Packaged Facts. A recent Gallup survey found 45 percent of consumers actively try to include organic products into their diet, and for consumers under the age of 29, that jumps to 53 percent.
The opportunity for private label is evident for a growing number of retailers. In a consumer survey, Walmart found 91 percent of people would buy organic products if they were more affordable. Kroger’s Simple Truth Organic has become a billion dollar brand for the retailer, while other retailers like Costco and Target are expecting billions of dollars in organic food sales this coming year.
The growth of gluten-free products in the U.S. is also widespread. According to Mintel, gluten-free sales have grown 63 percent since 2011 and gluten free sales will top $8 billion this year. Mintel also projects sales are expected to reach $14 billion by 2017 as their popularity and their availability on the shelves continue to grow.
Looking beyond organics and gluten, the Food Allergy Network reports 15 million U.S. adults and children suffer from food allergies, while another five million are allergic to various chemical products. In a recent survey by Datamonitor, 20 percent of consumers said that they avoid certain foods due to an allergy or intolerance most or all of the time.
The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. has acquired the Mona Group, a producer of plant-based foods and beverages with facilities in Germany and Austria through one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries. Mona offers a wide range of organic and natural products under the Joya® and Happy® brands, including soy, oat, rice and nut-based drinks as well as plant-based yogurts, desserts, creamers, tofu and private label products, sold to leading retailers in Europe, primarily in Austria and Germany and eastern European countries.
“We are excited by the acquisition of Mona, which expands our presence in plant-based products in Europe, solidifying our leadership position in the category with the addition of Joya® and Happy® to our Dream™, Lima® and Natumi® brands. This acquisition increases the scale of our plant-based operations to over $100 million net sales in Europe in a growing category of branded and private label products, while providing us with additional manufacturing capacity,” said Irwin D. Simon, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hain Celestial. “Mona also presents us with the opportunity to expand our European product offerings of Lima, Ella’s Kitchen®, Frank Cooper’s®, Robertson’s® and Sun-Pat® brands into Austria, Germany and other central and eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. We plan to create sales opportunities with plant-based beverages and yogurt, which we have successfully introduced in the United States, expand the refrigerated category into desserts, extend the reach of our global brands, including Celestial Seasonings®, Terra® and Tilda®, and leverage our existing infrastructure, manufacturing and research and development expertise for cost efficiencies.”
In calendar year 2014 Mona had approximately $50 million in net sales and is expected to be accretive to Hain Celestial’s earnings in fiscal year 2016. Mona’s plant-based business, which was established in 2001, was owned by several venture capital groups and members of current and former management.
“As a leading natural and organic foods company in Europe, we believe plant-based foods will become more and more a part of our daily diets. With this acquisition we will be able to further expand our healthy food offerings and capitalize on plant-based eating trends,” commented Bart Dobbelaere, Chief Executive Officer of Hain Celestial Europe. “In addition plant-based foods and beverages are more sustainable and lighten the footprint we leave behind.”
With the acquisition of Mona, Hain Celestial Europe will have three facilities producing plant-based beverages, two in Germany and one in Austria, serving the European markets. Mona’s Vienna office will be the base for expansion into eastern Europe.
By Lorrie Baumann
The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it proposes to require that nutrition fact labels on packaged foods include a declaration of added sugars “to provide consumers with information that is necessary to meet the dietary recommendation to reduce caloric intake from solid fats and added sugars,” according to the agency’s announcement published in the Federal Register in March, 2014. If and when that proposal becomes a federal requirement, the labels on Uncle Steve’s Italian sauces will report that the sauces contain the same amount of added sugars they always have – zero.
The recipes for the sauces came from Steve Schirrippa, actor, author and creator of the sauces, who’s better known as his character, Bobby Baccalieri on the hit television show “The Sopranos.” He got the recipe from his mother, who has since passed away, Scarpinito says. “Steve wanted to pay a tribute to his mother. Abundant home cooked Sunday family meals were very important to her. Steve honored her by producing products he got from her recipes to keep the Sunday tradition alive.”
None of the three varieties of Uncle Steve’s sauces: Marinara, Tomato with Basil and Arrabiata, contain any added sugar, a common ingredient in other prepared pasta sauces. They also contain no GMOs or gluten, and they’re organic. That’s at the insistence of Schirripa’s wife Laura, who’s a marathon runner conscious of healthy eating and who told her husband that if he wanted to make and sell tomato sauce, he needed to be sure that it would be good for people as well as enjoyable, says Uncle Steve’s Italian Specialties Chief Operating Officer Joseph Scarpinito, Jr.:“If you were to line up all of the popular tomato sauces and then remove the ones with pesticides, tomato paste, puree, and added sweetener, you’d be left with only one—Uncle Steve’s.”
“Uncle Steve’s is simmered on our stove for six hours. The only sugar in our sauce comes from organic tomatoes imported from Italy and organic onions. Quality is of the utmost important to us,” he added.
The sauces were launched just last year on the company’s website and quickly picked up by Whole Foods Northeast. Other markets along the East Coast followed.
This year, Scarpinito is concentrating on expanding distribution of the sauces to the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast. “That expansion has already started – the sauce has been picked up by the Albertson’s Boise division and by Gelson’s in Los Angeles,” he said. “The sauce is also available from several distributors servicing large independent retailers.”
New products are also under development, including olive oil, pasta and other flavored pasta sauces. Scarpinito is naturally a little coy about pinning them down with any more detail than that, but he did offer a hint: we can expect to see an Uncle Steve’s vodka sauce early next year.
Once the FDA’s proposal is finalized, the FDA wants to give the food industry two years to switch to the new labels. In addition to requiring a declaration for added sugars, the FDA is also proposing a new format for the label that would make calories, serving sizes, and percent daily value figures more prominent. Serving sizes would be changed to reflect the amounts reasonably consumed in one eating occasion. “People are generally eating more today than 20 years ago, so some of the current serving sizes, and the amount of calories and nutrients that go with them, are out of date,” according to the FDA.
By Richard Thompson
Beets are getting a whole new look this year, emphasizing their nutritional benefits while being featured in products that appeals to shifting consumer tastes. Similar to the way kale appealed to consumers last year, beets are being marketed as the new super trendy vegetable, grabbing the attention of food retailers and restaurateurs who are selling more items with beets in them than in previous years. Beet products are becoming so popular that this year’s list of sofi Award finalists include two different beet products that were up for three different awards between them.
The past five years have seen beets become more common place as people are more educated about them, says Natasha Shapiro of LoveBeets, known for their popular beet-featured product lines. Adding to the 20 percent increase in distributorship they have seen in the last year is their variety of beet juices and line of beet bars. The Love Beets health bars are coming in Beet & Apple, Beet & Cherry and Beet & Blueberry with all three made gluten-free and with clean ingredients. “We are making beets more fun, accessible and upbeat,” said Shapiro, “We’re modernizing the idea of beets.”
Blue Hill Yogurt, whose Beet Yogurt is a sofi finalist, combined the earthy sweetness of beets with the acidic tangyness of yogurt for a natural and unique trend that could push people looking for something new in milk products. Amped with raspberries and vinegar to maximize the natural earthy sweetness of the beet, Blue Hill wants people to think outside of what is normally thought of with beets and yogurt. “This is a savory yogurt that offers some sweetness, but not fruit-like sweetness. It’s a great afternoon yogurt,” said David Barber, President of Blue Hill.
Beetroot Rasam Soup from Cafe Spices, another finalist for the sofi Award, is competing in two categories, New Products and as a Soup, Stew, Bean or Chili Product. The colorful soup that pairs roasted beets pureed into a tomato base with tamarind, garlic, chiles and mustard seeds is an inspiration from the company’s culinary director and chef Hari Nayak.
Featuring naturally occurring nitrates that help extend exercise performance, fitness communities have long embraced the healthy benefits of beets. Coupled with social media and a general health conscious mindset in consumers, appreciation of beets has spider-webbed through mainstream markets, according to Shapiro. “Its the one vegetable people feel strongly about, Shapiro said, “At events, people just want to share their experiences about beets.”
Adam Kaye, Vice President of Culinary Affairs for Blue Hill, who worked with Dan Barber on their sofi nominated Beet Yogurt, goes one step further. Kaye has seen the appreciation of beets growing beyond it being a fancy potato and finds the whole vegetable incredible. “There is something about the beet that straddles the savory and the sweet,” said Kaye, “You can taste the earth in beets.”
There was much anticipation going into the 2015 Bristol Bay sockeye season this year, with some 54 million sockeye salmon forecasted to return. While the final return of sockeye may fall just short of the pre-season forecast, the 2015 sockeye season was a historic one, with a much higher than average return and a surprisingly late, long run. As of July 26, 51 millon sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay with 35 million of those fish harvested. The peak of Bristol Bay’s run came in about 10 days later than usual this year.
“The season started slow and there was a lot of nervousness on the water, but, as always, the salmon came swimming home on their own schedule. And when they finally did show up, they came by the tens of millions! We had a few rough weather days, but it was an unusually sunny season with lots of rainbows and beautiful sunsets, and the best news is that we have plenty of sockeye for our customers,” said Jason McKinley, Bristol Bay Fisherman and Owner of Caught Wild Salmon.
Unusually late timing of the salmon’s return kept fishery managers, fishermen, and seafood processors on their toes as they waited to see how things would play out. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game kept a close eye on in-season fish numbers and managed fishing efforts day-by-day to ensure that escapement targets were met in all the Bay’s major rivers.
This year’s huge return is good news for chefs and other seafood buyers who source Bristol Bay sockeye and depend on its consistently abundant runs and year-round availability. Because the majority of Bristol Bay sockeye is flash frozen during the peak of the fishing season, late July and August signal the real start of the Bristol Bay salmon season for consumers.
“When you’re dealing with a wild food like sockeye salmon, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s part of the beauty of it and what makes it so special,” said William Dissen, Chef and Owner of The Market Place in Asheville, North Carolina. “I’ve served Bristol Bay sockeye in my restaurant for the past few years and am thrilled to once again be able to provide it to our customers who’ve come to expect it on our menu.”
Others in the marketplace are also pleased with this season’s sockeye return, including the national company Plated, which features Bristol Bay sockeye salmon as part of its meal-delivery menu. “Being able to source and provide Bristol Bay sockeye to our customers is an important part of who we are as a company, and key to our commitment to purchasing sustainable, healthy protein,” said Keith Lydon, Vice President of Operations at Plated.
Consumers around the country can now purchase Bristol Bay sockeye directly from fishermen through Community Supported Fisheries, farmers markets, and buying clubs. A list of Bristol Bay sockeye suppliers can be found at www.bristolbaysockeye.org.
By Lorrie Baumann
“Goats are getting a lot of love tonight,” Big Picture Farm Co-founder Lucas Farrell observed as he accepted the sofi Award for Outstanding New Product for 2015 for Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramels together with Co-founder Louisa Conrad. The two started their farm in the fall of 2010 with just four goats and now have 44, who were very happy to see Farrell back at home after the conclusion of this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show. “They were very happy to see us. They’re going to go on new pastures, and I’ve got to mow the old ones,” Farrell said.
The show was a commercial as well as critical success for Big Picture Farm, which also won a sofi Award this year in the Outstanding Confection category for Goat Milk Chai Caramels. Big Picture Farm previously won a sofi in 2011 for its Sea Salt and Bourbon Vanilla Caramel, and the chai caramels also won a Good Food Award in 2013. During the three days of this year’s show, Big Picture took “a fair amount” of orders, both from current customers and some new ones who stopped by for a taste after the sofi Awards ceremony, Farrell said. “It helps bring people who might otherwise not stop at our booth to come over and put a caramel in their mouth,” he said. “That’s our main selling point, when they taste it.”
Continuing the goat love, Fat Toad Farm Goat’s Milk Caramels won the 2015 sofi Award for Outstanding Product Line. Fat Toad Farm is run by husband and wife team Steve Reid and Judith Irving, their daughter Calley Hastings, and three employees. “We’re from Vermont,” Hastings said as she accepted the award. “Our family is back there working the goats so we get to be here.”
The awards were presented by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef and frequent judge on Chopped, who substituted for Ted Allen from Chopped, who had been scheduled to host the ceremony but sent a video presentation in his stead. “You know how much I love food I’m eating, and you know I’m quite passionate about it,” she said. “I really love food, sometimes too much, and nothing gives me more joy than to eat food made by people who love it too.”
Awards were presented in 32 categories, with winners selected from more than 2,700 entries. Products were tasted and judged by a panel that included journalists and restaurateurs to select finalists, while the winners of the gold trophies were selected by the votes of retailers and distributors who tasted the products during the show.
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits took home two sofi Awards for Outstanding Frozen Savory, which went to the company’s Country Ham Biscuits, and for Outstanding Bread, Muffin, Granola, or Cereal, which went to Cheese and Chive Biscuits. There was a tie for the sofi for Outstanding Cooking, Dipping or Finishing Sauce, and dual sofis went to Charissa for Authentic Moroccan Seasoning and to Kitchens of Africa for Zanzibar.
Three Lone Mountain Wagyu products were selected as sofi finalists: 100 percent Fullblood Wagyu Beef Summer Sausage in the Appetizer, Antipasto, or Hors d’Oeuvres category; 100 percent Fullblood Wagyu Beef Sausage Links in the Frozen Savory category; and 100 percent Fullblood Wagyu Beef Jerky in the Savory Snack category. The gold award went to the summer sausage.
This year’s Outstanding Baking Ingredient, Baking Mix or Flavor Enhancer was the Blood Orange Olive Oil Brownie Kit by Sutter Buttes Natural and Artisan Foods, while the Bay Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese was named the Outstanding Cheese. The Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee from Laurie & Sons was named Outstanding Chocolate. Read more about Laurie & Sons in the snacks supplement in this issue. The Outstanding Cookie, Brownie, Cake or Pie was Organic Molten Chocolate Cake – Dark Decadence from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery, while the Outstanding Dessert Sauce, Topping or Syrup was Salted Caramel Sauce from Coop’s MicroCreamery.
Vermont Creamery’s Cultured Butter Sea Salt Basket was named the show’s Outstanding Classic Product, while the Blackberry Sheep Milk Yogurt from Bellwether Farms was named Outstanding Dairy or Dairy Alternative Product. The Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream from Steve’s Ice Cream took home the award for Outstanding Ice Cream, Gelato or Frozen Treat.
Tea Forte’s Vanilla Pear Tea was named Outstanding Hot Beverage, while Owl’s Brew’s White and Vine was named Outstanding Cold Beverage. The award for Outstanding Condiment went to Sir Kensington’s Special Sauce, while Grains of Health took home the Outstanding Cracker award for Laiki Black Rice Crackers. Crown Maple’s Grade A Very Dark Color Strong Taste Maple Syrup was named Outstanding Foodservice Product. The award for Outstanding Jam, Preserve, Honey, or Nut butter went to Manicaretti Italian Food Imports for Sicilian Pistachio Spread. Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods’ Salametto Piccante was named Outstanding Meat, Pate or Seafood; Castillo de Canena Smoked Arbequina Olive Oil, imported into the U.S. by Culinary Collective, won the award for Outstanding Oil. The Outstanding Vinegar was Organic Apple Balsamic Vinegar from Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods.
Nella Pasta’s Corn, Caramelized Onion & Thyme Ravioli won the award for Outstanding Pasta, Rice, or Grain. The award for Outstanding Pasta Sauce went to Pumpkin and Kale Alfredo Sauce from Sauces ‘n Love. Cracked Sesame Miso from Nago Foods won the award for Outstanding Salad Dressing, and Sweet Chili Chickpea Chips from Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods were named the Outstanding Savory Snack. Kettle Pipcorn from Pipsnacks won the award for Outstanding Sweet Snack. Look for more about Pipsnacks in the October issue of Gourmet News.
Tate’s Bake Shop’s Gluten Free Ginger Zinger Cookie was named the Outstanding Vegan or Gluten-Free Product. Nona Lim Thai Curry and Lime Broth from Cook San Francisco was named Outstanding Soup, Stew, Bean or Chili.
Finally, the Outstanding Salsa or Dip was Kiwi Lime Salsa Verde from Wozz! Kitchen Creations. Wozz! won sofi Awards in 2014 for Ginger Soy Infusion, which was named Outstanding Dressing, and for Triple Ale Onion Spread, which was named Outstanding Condiment. “I’m an Australian in America, winning with a Mexican condiment,” Wozz said as he accepted the award. “God bless America!”
By Micah Cheek
Bone broth, the heavily reduced stock that has been popular with various diets and health regimens, is becoming available for quick home use. Mark Cronin, Regional Grocery Buyer/Supervisor of Jimbo’s… Naturally!, says Jimbo’s started selling premade frozen broths three years ago with great results. “Customers want things that are easy for them; offering it where they can be taken home is easy. That’s part of why they’ve been so successful.” Bone broth became popular with various health-conscious groups as a minimally processed source of protein and collagen, and then its popularity exploded after Marco Canora started offering it in his restaurant restaurant, Brodo, and the New York Times took note. It has been touted as an intestinal health aid, workout beverage, and even a morning coffee alternative.
Prepackaged bone broths have found a market with people who want to enjoy the purported benefits of bone broth, but lack the time to simmer organic bones for more than 12 hours. “We have done some customer surveys. People are saying, ‘We love broth, we believe in broth, but we love that we don’t have to make it,’” says Lance Roll, Executive Chef and founder of The Flavor Chef. “There’s also the issue of handling the product. Fifty percent of people have a spouse that doesn’t enjoy the smell of broth. If you’re cooking it for 12 to 24 hours, it constantly smells your house up.”
Premade bone broths have the added convenience of a six month shelf life in the freezer. Shelf-stable broths from Pacific Foods are available in boxes as well. Cronin believes that the next step in retail bone broths should be pre-portioned ice trays or packets so that small amounts can be thawed conveniently.
A good indicator of quality for a premade bone broth is how it behaves at room temperature. The process of making bone broth aims to extract as much gelatin and collagen from bones as possible, so a good bone broth will be a loose gel when thawed. The gelatin contributes to a rich texture when the broth is consumed.
It is recommended that broths are heated in a pot on the stove, rather than in a microwave. After heating, variations are only limited by the consumer’s tastes. Traditional bone broths are crafted for sipping, with only salt added. Seasonings like fresh ginger and lemon slices or steeped herbs customize the flavor. Bone broth can also be used wherever standard broths are called for, as the liquid in braises and stews or as a base for sauces.
For those who don’t enjoy drinking broth straight, Cronin suggests cooking it with rice noodles, green onions and other vegetables to make a simple soup. Roll has recently developed a Coconut Ginger Mint and Lemon Bone Broth soup, made with 80 percent chicken bone broth.
The majority of retail bone broths are made with either beef or chicken. Many are certified organic. Organic pork broth is rarely seen because of the difficulty in finding pigs that meet organic standards. “We’re not going to be doing it any time soon, mainly because I can’t get enough good pork bone,” says Roll. As bone broth gets more attention, Cronin is looking forward to more varieties of products becoming available. “There are more and more companies jumping into it on a retail level,” he says.
By Lorrie Baumann
Australia’s leading olive oil producer, Boundary Bend Olives, had been in California just long enough to get stationery printed with its address at a former John Deere dealership in Woodland, California, about 20 miles northwest of Sacramento, before the company started winning awards for its California oils at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. The April 15 competition drew nearly 700 olive oils from 25 countries for judging by an international panel of experts, and Boundary Bend took home four NYIOOC awards for Cobram Estate oils produced from California olives as well as five awards for oils produced in Australia.
Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Picual, a medium picual oil from the U.S., won a NYIOOC Silver. Cobram Estate Super Premium Robust Blend, which combines leading varieties from California and Australia for a blend with a cut green grass nose, a strong spicy aroma and complex fruit flavors, earned a NYIOOC Gold Award. Cobram Estate Super Premium Medium Blend took home a NYIOOC Gold Award for appealing fresh fruity aromas and penetrating flavors, and Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Mission, from olives ultra cold-pressed within four hours of picking, received a NYIOOC Silver Award. The company’s NYIOOC awards for Australian oils included two Best in Class Awards for Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Hojiblanca and Cobram Estate Super Premium Premiere, a Robust Blend oil that also won a Best in Class Award in 2014; Cobram Estate Robust Flavour Intensity, a full-bodied blend from Australia that was pressed within six hours of picking, which won a Silver Award; Cobram Estate Classic Flavour, a medium blend from Australia also pressed within six hours, which won a Gold Award and Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Picual, which was ultra cold-pressed within four hours of picking and won a Silver Award in both 2015 and 2014.
Boundary Bend Co-founder and Executive Chairman Rob McGavin announced the company’s plan to expand its operations to the United States in May, 2014, and in January of this year announced that it had set up operations on eight acres near Woodland, California under the guidance of fifth-generation California farmer Adam Engelhardt, formerly of California Olive Ranch, and now CEO of Boundary Bend’s U.S. operations. The company had a small crush last October using another company’s plant for trial runs with small batches of oil. Boundary Bend plans to be in commercial production in California this calendar year. “We do plan to plant our own groves. We’ve got the trees for the plantings ready and are assessing suitable land and expect to have that in process within the next year,” McGavin said. “We’re just waiting for all the balls to line up.”
The company is eager to enter the American market because the country’s olive oil consumption is quite high, but domestic production is quite low, McGavin said. The U.S. is the fourth-largest consumer of olive oil globally, with consumption growing spectacularly over the past 25 years from a bit more than 100,000 metric tons per year in 1990 to the current figure of almost 300,000 metric tons per year, according to the International Olive Council. Per capita consumption in the United States is only 0.9 kg, which is comparable to per capita consumption in the U.K. and Germany, and the vast majority of that is imported, with only 3.8 percent of the olive oil consumed in the U.S. produced domestically. “Consumption of U.S.-produced oil is growing but is limited by supply,” McGavin wrote in a May 2014 letter to Boundary Bend stockholders in which he announced the plan to expand to the U.S.
Boundary Bend Olives, founded in 1998 by college buddies McGavin and Paul Riordan, currently sells more olive oil in Australia than anyone else, and its Australia production, from its own groves in the Murray Valley region of Victoria, is greater than the entire volume of olive oil currently produced in the U.S. “We’ve grown from nothing 10 years ago to the number-one selling brand in Australia,” McGavin said. To his stockholders, he wrote that, “We believe we can replicate, in the USA, the success of our Australian integrated business, but we will be taking a conservative, long-term approach to our business strategy.”
Boundary Bend is starting up agricultural operations in California at a time when the state is in the midst of a historic drought. Agricultural economist Richard Howitt and others from the University of California, Davis and ERA Economics reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture in May of this year that following three critically dry years, many irrigation districts had exhausted their surface water reserves and the groundwater table had been drawn down in many parts of the Central Valley. The economists estimated that this year’s drought, coming on top of the three previous drought years, will result in the fallowing of about 564,000 acres and an $856 million reduction in gross crop farm revenues across the state. About 18,600 full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs may be lost this year, and the total economic loss to California’s agriculture industry is estimated to be $2.7 billion.
None of that scares McGavin one whit. “We know it’s going to be difficult. It’s never, ever easy, but if we do it in a methodical way not to sound arrogant, but we are confident that what worked in Australia’s severe drought conditions will work in California,” he said.
He points out that he and his company have had some experience with drought in Australia. “We had the most awful drought. The scientists were calling it a thousand-year drought, and it went on for seven years,” he said. During the drought, the farmers at Boundary Bend learned how to monitor the water needs of their trees through telemetry-equipped sensors that monitor the percolation of irrigation water through the ground to the tree roots. They learned when the trees needed to be irrigated and when they could stay dry and still survive, thus minimizing the amount of irrigation necessary. “Olives really came into their own in Australia during the drought, and having that experience is something that we can bring to the U.S.,” McGavin said. He added that the experience in the best watering practices to make olive trees thrive on the least possible amount of water was a painful lesson, but he thinks that his neighboring California olive tree farmers will be eager to see how Boundary Bend does it, and that will be beneficial for California agriculture in the long run.
In addition, olive trees require half the irrigation water of nut trees, so replacing some of the nut trees currently growing in California’s Central Valley with olive trees will save water too, he said. “Being able to plant twice the area of olives versus nut tree crops for the same amount of water is a good use of the water,” he said.
When it has secured the land, Boundary Bend will plant the olive trees much less densely than the typical California super high-density planting. While Boundary Bend’s groves will have fewer trees planted per acre, the overall yield of olive oil per acre will be similar because the trees will grow bigger. They’ll also be more drought-tolerant.
The trees will be a mix of varietals rather than the Arbequina monocrop that’s typical in California. This will result in extra-virgin olive oils with outstanding shelf life, better health benefits and complex flavor profiles as well as lowering the risk of crop failure, McGavin said. A good Arbequina oil has a shelf life of 18 months if it’s stored properly, while other oils, such as the Coratina variety originating in southern Italy, can last on the shelf for up to three years because they contain more antioxidants. Those antioxidants are also credited with some of the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oils. “A mix of olives extends the harvest and offers different flavor profiles,” McGavin said. Stretching out the harvest allows the olives to be picked at optimum ripeness and rushed to the mill for pressing within hours. The precise timing of the harvest and the speed of that processing is important in the protection of the volatile components of the oils. What makes a good extra-virgin olive oil is the minor components and how fresh they are and how much is expressed in the oil to contribute to flavor as well as health benefits, according to McGavin. “We think it works well here [in Australia], and we think it’ll work well in the USA, and we’re really excited about coming over and bringing it to American consumers,” he said. “A really important part of our strategy is to introduce the varieties that we grow in Australia and our way of growing them – different varieties of olives that give greater complexity to the oil.”
“We’re all a bunch of farmers,” he added. “Our company stands by farmers. We’re farmers, and today we own 2.5 million trees on our own land, and the reason we’re successful is that we love what we do and have a brilliant product.”
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.”