By Micah Cheek
Bittermilk: The name is made up, but the quality isn’t. “We wanted to evoke a more southern feeling. We wanted to do another avenue of business. The idea is, the labor is in the bottle; just add booze,” says Owner MariElena Raya.
Bittermilk, purveyors of cocktail mixers, has won a sofi Award in the Cold Beverage category for its No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour. The mix, made with bitter orange peel, lemon and honey smoked over barrel staves, is made for mixing with bourbon for a whiskey sour, or tequila for a smoked honey margarita. The company, based in Charleston, South Carolina, was inspired by the experiences of owners MariElena and Joe Raya as they operated their Charleston bar, The Gin Joint, after their house-made mixers began receiving lots of attention. “We got a lot of people asking for the recipe, but coming back and saying they had trouble finding the ingredients or it didn’t taste the same.” says Raya. “People often refer to them as bitters – they have bittering agents in them. We use organic juices; we use some interesting culinary techniques like barrel aging.”
Bittermilk’s first big break, an award from Garden & Gun magazine, gave an unexpected boost to the small company. “We won as a finalist in the beverage category, for the No.1 Old Fashioned. We went to selling 10,000 bottles in December. And we’re hand bottling and capping them. We had a small warehouse that we used a lot for our bar, and then it just went nuts. That was an amazing award to win,” Raya says.
Soon after, Bittermilk products became finalists in both the Good Food Awards and sofi Awards. “The acceptance of the product has been wonderful. We spent a great deal on branding. It really paid off,” says Raya. “A lot of people want to stock the product. They love the look and it fits into their store. Customers say they bought it because it looked neat, and they come back and say it’s like they’re addicted to it.”
With a gold sofi for the shelf, Raya is hoping to increase Bittermilk’s footprint. “Buyers can recognize the award and know it’s important. We’re not sure what to expect, but we’re really excited to branch out,” says Raya. “We haven’t delved into the Northeast that much and the Midwest. California’s been a great area for us, and all of the Southeast. The Northeast is still untapped.”
Bittermilk’s strongest sales have been during the holiday season, and Raya is preparing for it with some new options. Gift sets and new packaging have been in the works, as well as seasonal flavors. “We’ve done a lot with the No.7 – we’re doing it as a seasonal mixer. Last year, we did a Gingerbread Old Fashioned. This year, we’re coming out with a Yuletide Old Fashioned with sour cherry,” says Raya.
Raya has also released a line of bar syrups under the name Tippleman’s. “The Tippleman’s line is geared more to the restaurant industry, and people who want to explore more with cocktails,” she says. “We’re selling just the maple syrup that we cook over oak staves, and the burnt sugar – you can make a really great tiki drink with that.”
By Lorrie Baumann
La Pasta’s Radicchio, Parsnip & Apricot Ravioli has won the 2016 sofi Award for Best New Product. Radicchio is sauteed with a little bit of balsamic vinegar to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables and then folded into ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese together with roasted parsnips and dried apricots. The filling is then enclosed in La Pasta’s signature pasta with black pepper pasta stripes.
“We got lucky. It happens,” said Alexis Konownitzine, President of La Pasta, “Our chef Kristen made the product and will be at the Fancy Food Show.”
La Pasta already had several sofi Awards for products including its Marinara Sauce and Beet, Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Ravioli. This year’s winner was selected from among 23 finalists in the Best New Product category by the sofi judging panel of culinary experts in a blind tasting. Overall, 28 products were named winners and 100 named finalists from among 3,200 entries this year.
This year’s judging diverged from the methodology used for the past couple of years, in that the judging was completed before the Summer Fancy Food Show and winners were named at the same time as finalists. This process was designed to make the judging more fair and transparent, according to the Specialty Food Association, which owns the sofi Awards program. The products were judged by criteria that awarded 70 percent of the product’s score for taste, which included flavor, appearance, texture and aroma and 30 percent for ingredient quality, which included a consideration of whether any of the product’s ingredients were artificial and whether they were combined in a creative or unexpected way. One winner was chosen in each of the 28 judging categories, and the top 4 percent of the entries in each category were named finalists. No awards were presented this year in classic, foodservice or product line categories, which were part of last year’s contest.
Finalists for the Best New Product award included Dalmatia Sour Cherry Spread from Atalanta Corporation, Jansal Valley Boneless Prosciutto Toscano D.O.P. from Sid Wainer and Son Specialty Produce and Specialty Food, Organic Stoneground Flakes Cereal — Purple Corn from Back to the Roots and Sliced Prosciutto (Domestic) from Creminelli Fine Meats. “Prosciutto is everywhere in the U.S., but we do it differently, using whole-muscle Duroc pork that’s 100 percent vegetarian-fed with no antibiotics ever. We layer it in the tray by hand instead of by machine,” said Kyle Svete, Creminelli Fine Meats’ Director of Sales for National Accounts. “We invest in people, not machines. It’s part of who we are – people, animal, craft…. We have machines to help us do our job, but it’s really about the people. The recyclable tray and the elegant look of it elevates the product and the category.”
“We’re proud of it. We put the ingredients right on the front of the label,” he added. “That’s all there is to it – time, love, pork and sea salt.”
Chocolate-covered Cocomels – 5 Salts from JJ’s Sweets, Gourmet Honey Spread: Salted Honey from Cloister Honey LLC, Wild Boar Salted Star Anise Single Origin Organic Dark Chocolate Bar from Hagensborg Chocolate Ltd., Original Tangerine Sriracha from Just Jan’s Inc., Mr. Hot Stuff Pepper Spread from Steppin’ Out LLC, Clementine Crush Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Enzo Olive Oil Company/P-R Farms, Inc. and Deschutes Brewery® Black Butte Porter Truffle from Moonstruck Chocolate, Co. were also among the finalists for the Best New Product Award.
Other finalists were Pineapple Habanero Caramel from JulieAnn Caramels, Frozen Passion Chia Lassi from Monsieur Singh LLC, Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) Premium Cooking Oil from Fatworks LLC, Avocado Oil Mayo and Licorice Mint Tea from Chosen Foods, Inc., Chili Crunch Bar from Vivra Chocolate, Vegan Stone Ground Hazelnut Butter from Karmalize LLC, Raspberry Amaretto Preserves from Robert Rothschild Farm, Orange Artisan Fruit Cracker from Simple & Crisp, Gluten-Free Coffee Brownie from Savvy Girl Baking Company and Dark Moon from Marin French Cheese Company.
In the remaining categories, Brussizzle Sprouts from Pacific Pickle Works, Inc. was named the best appetizer. The Spice Hunter, Inc.‘s Coriander Lime Global Fusion Rub was named best baking ingredient, baking mix or flavor enhancer, Ginger Hemp Granola from Michele’s Granola LLC was the best in the category for breads, muffins, granola or cereal, and Vermont Creamery‘s Bijou was judged the best cheese. Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche was a finalist for the award both this year and last year.
Money on Honey by Droga Chocolates won the sofi in the chocolate category, and Bittermilk LLC‘s No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour won the award in the cold beverage category. Bittermilk was a sofi finalist last year with the same product. Non-GMO Salted Caramelized Fig Spread from King’s Cupboard was named the best condiment, and Sea Salt & Vanilla Farmstead Goat Milk Caramels from Big Picture Farm LLC received the award for the best confection. Big Picture Farm won sofi Awards last year for best new product with its Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramels and for best confection with its Goat Milk Chai Caramels. Moon Dance Baking‘s Holly Baking Cookie Brittle Cinnamon & Spice was named in the category for cookies, brownies, cakes or pie.
Barnier Pimento Sauce with Preserved Lemon from FoodMatch Inc. was named best cooking, dipping or finishing sauce. Cranberry Pistachio “The Original” from Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps was named the best cracker. Epicurean Butter‘s Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter was named in the category for best dairy or dairy alternative product. “The reason this is something really new and innovative is that this is organic pasteurized cream, organic coconut oil, organic honey, organic canola oil, organic cocoa powder and Himalayan pink salt. It’s good on crepes, pancakes French toast. We actually just love it on a baguette,” said Janey Hubschman, who co-founded Epicurean Butter with her husband John, who’s the chef and still does all the formulations for the company’s products. “It’s got a lovely mouth feel with the butter and the coconut oil and then the finish of the salt.” The Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter is part of a product line that includes 13 finishing butters, of which two are organic. The company has just installed new equipment in its plant that allows Epicurean Butter to produce single-serve squeeze packs. Each of those has 190 calories for a 1-ounce serving, and Hubschman expects that the single-serve packaging will draw a lot of interest from the producers of home-delivered meal kits.
Bourbon Matured Maple Syrup from BLiS LLC was named the best dessert sauce, topping or syrup. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate‘s Single Origin Drinking Chocolate 72% Belize, Toledo received the sofi Award for the best hot beverage. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate was a finalist in the chocolate category last year with its 72% Madagascar, Sambirano bar. The Gelato Fiasco‘s Ripe Mango Sorbetto was named the best ice cream, gelato or frozen treat.
Cioccomiel, a spread made from hazelnuts, cocoa and honey, won the sofi Award for the best jam, preserve, honey or nut butter. It is imported by Marcelli Formaggi LLC.
Fermín Chorizo Ibérico Picante / Fermín Ibérico Pork Dry-Cured Chorizo Sausage Spicy from Fermin USA was named the best meat, pate or seafood.
Stöger Organic Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil was named the best oil. It is imported by Los Chileros, which won a finalist award last year for the same product.
Gustiamo, Inc.‘s Pianogrillo Sicilian Cherry Tomato Sauce took home the sofi Award for the best pasta sauce, while the best pasta was Pastifico Artigianale Leonardo Carassai, made in Campofilone, Italy, and imported by Bravo International Inc.
Wozz! Kitchen Creations, which won the 2015 sofi Award for best salsa or dip with its Kiwi Lime Salsa Verde takes home the gold in the salad dressing category this year with North African Chermoula Dressing. This year’s award in the salsa or dip category went to American Spoon Foods’ Pumpkin Seed Salsa.
Hickory Smoked Spicy Candied Bacon from Little Red Dot Kitchen LLC won the sofi Award this year in the category for savory snacks. The best sweet snack came from Creative Snacks Co. with its Organic Coconut Bites.
Dinner Tonight Black Bean Tortilla Chili Mix from Backyard Safari Company won the award for best soup, stew, bean or chili. ParmCrisps Mini Aged Parmesan Crisps from Kitchen Table Bakers won the award for the best vegan or gluten-free product. Kitchen Table Bakers was a finalist last year for its Jalapeno Parmesan Crisps. Finally, this year’s best vinegar was Balsamic Nectar from Boulder Flavours.
By Greg Gonzales
Need a quick caffeine boost and a blast of antioxidants? The ready-to-drink Matcha Love can do that. Maybe you prefer non-synthetic caffeine extracted from green coffee beans in fruit juice, along with a dose of vitamins — a company called Frava has you covered. Just like, “there’s an app for that,” beverages aren’t just for hydration any more.
“In general, consumers are getting the picture that empty calories are really causing our health problems in this country,” said Chrissy Weiss, a registered dietitian who serves as Director of Marketing and Communications at Culinary Collective. “There’s a movement. These big companies are seeing a decline in regular soda sales and that’s been going on for a couple of years now. There’s a wave of information and a health movement that’s going on in this country. What we’re seeing today is that there’s this whole other wave of people looking for healthy hydration, something that gives them health benefits.” Some of these beverages include plant waters, low-sugar or natural-sugar juices, non-dairy probiotic drinks like kombucha and ready-to-drink simple beverages, like tea and coffee.
Category growth has opened the doors for new producers and expansion opportunities for larger ones, too. The tea market for instance, has grown by 15 times over since 2009. Loose leaf tea, ready-to-drink teas and cold-press coffee at home have become increasingly popular.
According to Weiss, market success in functional and healthy beverages categories is similar. “People are seeing these beverages like an affordable luxury, like specialty coffee drinks. I think these appeal to a lot of people because they’re willing to do something that makes them feel good and buy a product that makes them feel better. … What people pay for these, even when a little pricier, they seem a little more affordable.”
Growth in better-for-you beverages may be coming at the expense of traditional soft drinks. The last two decades have seen soft drinks taking a hard fall, by more than 25 percent, according to the New York Times — by more than $1 billion, since 2011. On the other hand, healthier beverage categories’ double-digit sales growth is expected to continue for years to come. According to Nielsen reports, functional beverage sales increased by 6.9 percent in 2015 and will grow even more rapidly this year. The same report said that 90 percent of 2015 growth in juice beverages came from new product launches.
Coronado Brewing Company is releasing its newest seasonal beer, Berry The Hatchet. A long time favorite, Berry The Hatchet will now be available in bottles for the masses. Light, and bursting with flavor, this ale brewed with berries makes for a perfect summertime beer to enjoy on a warm day. The release also marks an exciting feature for Coronado Brewing Company, as it will be the first bottle and packaging to feature the company’s new brand refresh design.
CORE Nutrition, purveyors of CORE® Hydration premium bottled water, announces its major market rollout of its newest innovation, CORE Organic, a USDA-certified organic fruit-infused beverage with antioxidants and only five calories per serving. The new beverage will roll out into grocers including Kroger, Safeway/Albertson’s, Save Mart/Lucky Supermarkets, H-E-B, Sprouts Farmers Market, Acme, Tops Friendly Markets, Bristol Farms, and select Whole Foods Markets through May. Additionally, extensive distribution will kick in at 7-Eleven locations on both coasts as part of the retailer’s push for “better for you” beverages.
Known for CORE Hydration premium bottled water, CORE Nutrition has developed a first of its kind – an organic and low calorie drink that tastes great without the worry of artificial ingredients, high calorie counts or sugar. With CORE Organic, the company is tapping into America’s growing demand for organics, a market estimated at $40 billion that grew by 11 percent in 2014, according to Mintel. Additionally, 85 percent of Americans are currently buying organic and 75 percent of conventional grocery stores are carrying organic products nationwide.
Harmless Harvest, which produces Fair-for-Life-certified Organic coconut water, is announcing a proprietary new multi-step micro-filtration process that achieves the highest levels of product safety and quality, while preserving optimal flavor, fragrance and nutrients of its critically acclaimed coconut water, which complies with federal Food and Drug Administration standards and requirements.
This new process enables the company to introduce a new, more environmentally conscious bottle with an average of a quarter less plastic than previous bottles. Currently, the primary industry method of ensuring the safety of low-acid juice beverages is thermal (heat) pasteurization. Thermal pasteurization is known to heavily heat (“cook or boil”) the product as a way to regulate safety, but it can leave a modified, burnt-like taste when used on coconut water.
According to the CEO of Harmless Harvest, Giannella Alvarez, the introduction of the multi-step micro-filtration process is a significant advancement for the industry. “With our move to our proprietary FDA-compliant multi-step micro-filtration linked to an aseptic filling and packaging system – as with every step we take as a company – it is our goal to drive the industry forward towards better products, better practices and more environmentally sustainable business models. We have an amazing team that is committed to bringing delicious organic food and beverages to consumers with a fair and sustainable business model that will change the industry as whole,” Alvarez said. Harmless Harvest developed and tested the multi-Step micro-filtration process to ensure that it complies with FDA standards and requirements.
Harmless Harvest is an ecosystem-based business that believes in bringing consumers the best organic ingredients through a business model that centers on the welfare of all people in the supply chain – from plant to shelf – and makes the sourcing environment a core beneficiary of its commercial success. Each year the company strives to make a measurable impact on the sourcing communities and beyond, as verified by third-party boards that ensure adherence to Fair-for-Life principles.
Back in the day, “from concentrate” meant that a beverage was overprocessed, nutritionally empty and would probably taste funny. Back then, the choice between “fresh” or “from concentrate” was a no-brainer.
But food science and beverage manufacturing have come a long way since then. In today’s globalized beverage manufacturing system, “from concentrate” means something much more positive. As a company whose core ingredient comes from the Philippines, Coco Libre stakes its reputation on “from concentrate” giving consumers everything they demand and deserve. How is this possible? Here are three reasons why.
First, Coco Libre’s low-energy concentration method makes use of advances in no- and low-heat methods to retain maximum nutrition and flavor quality. The process involves the cold-concentration method known as reverse osmosis, or RO, to gently remove a majority of water while retaining all of the nutrition and flavor components. This ultra-premium, low-energy method removes water from fruit juices by means of special filters. Additional water is then removed under a vacuum at a minimal temperature to maintain the highest level of quality and nutritional integrity.
Bringing concentrate to the U.S. has considerably less overall energy impact compared with unconcentrated coconut water. The Philippines, where the young, green coconuts that go into Coco Libre’s concentrate grow, is more than 8,000 miles away from California, where Coco Libre beverages are made. After water is removed, the concentrated coconut water weighs less, resulting in a three-times carbon impact reduction.
The coconut water concentrate, with nutrition and flavor intact, then goes into Coco Libre beverages that are made in the USA. That enables the company to deliver beverages that embody the trust and quality Coco Libre customers expect. That level of assurance isn’t currently possible for beverage manufacturing at the ingredient source, so Coco Libre chose to make beverages close to home at facilities certified by GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) with SQF (Safe Quality Food).
But do consumers understand? “We still have work to do there,” says Candace Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of Maverick Brands, Coco Libre’s parent company. “The average consumer doesn’t know about all the advances in manufacturing and quality efforts behind the scenes. So we have to show how every decision we make, in the end, is aimed at bringing them a better tasting, better functioning product.”
The Champagne Bureau, USA announced today that 20,508,784 million bottles of Champagne were shipped to the United States in 2015, an increase of 6.61 percent from 2014. This marks the third consecutive year of growth in Champagne shipments to the United States.
“It is wonderful to see U.S. consumers buying Champagne at record numbers. The strong growth represents the real excitement consumers have for Champagne and highlights the important role Champagne plays in the growing U.S. wine market,” said Sam Heitner, Director of the Champagne Bureau, USA. “As more Americans drink wine, they are placing more value on wines that come from unique places. This desire to understand where their wines come from is a key to building long-term connections with consumers and why we like to remind all that Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”
The United States is the second largest export market for Champagne, trailing the United Kingdom, which imported 34,153,662 bottles in 2015. Worldwide, Champagne shipments totaled 312,531,444 bottles, an increase of nearly 2 percent over last year.
More than merely a type of wine, Champagne is a unique winemaking region with a long history of winemaking expertise. In fact, its historic hillsides, houses and cellars were recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore, to earn the right to label their bottles with the “Champagne” name, the growers and producers of the Champagne region adhere to strict grape growing, harvesting and winemaking regulations. In recent years, the region has also been lauded for its environmental leadership, launching a comprehensive carbon reduction effort that has already reduced the region’s carbon footprint and establishing a new environmental certification for wine growers and producers to quantify their environmental sustainability and advances.
Twenty years after carrying its first craft brew at a single Kalamazoo store, Meijer is selling more than 34 locally-brewed craft beers each minute in Michigan while continuing to add up-and-coming local breweries to an extensive selection that rivals specialty stores across the Midwest.
Meijer says it expects to continue five years of double-digit volume growth in craft beer sales and plans to sell more than $90 million in craft beer in 2016, including $30 million in local and hyper-local craft beers produced by breweries in Michigan. Building on the popularity of local breweries that account for 44 percent of all craft beer sold in Michigan, Meijer will carry IPAs, amber ales, stouts, and porters from 50 Michigan breweries and also expand the reach of six of the most popular local brands in the state at stores across its Midwestern footprint this year.
“What’s happening here in Michigan is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Midwest and across the country – the state of craft beer is thriving,” said Peter Whitsett, Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing for Meijer, who notes that since 2010 the number of craft breweries Meijer carries and the space it provides for its selection has more than doubled. “Since carrying our first six packs of Bell’s Oberon in 1995, the culture of exploration in the craft beer community has continued to seek new tastes and flavors from locally-made brands. The craft partnerships we’ve forged over the last two decades are indicative of what is considered some of the best beers available in the country.”
The six breweries that will be featured in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin in 2016 include Bell’s Brewery, Founders Brewing Company, Short’s Brewing Company, New Holland Brewing Company, Atwater Brewery and Arcadia Brewing Company.
“It used to be that craft beer was only sold at small, independent stores,” said Dave Engbers, Co-founder of Founder’s Brewery, which started its partnership with Meijer in 2006 and sold more than 200,000 cases of its beer at Meijer stores this year. “Meijer took the opportunity to welcome craft beer enthusiasts and has done a great job engaging customers and listening to what they are demanding.”
“I remember coming to Meijer to start talking about distribution beyond our Bellaire brewery in 2006, and not yet having a production and packaging facility,” said Joe Short, Founder of Short’s Brewing Company. “The only way we could bring a sample was in a growler. They took a chance on us based on our experimental brews and that relationship not only helped build anticipation for our brand, but was pivotal in laying the foundation for our continued growth.”
Whitsett said Meijer customers can expect to see craft ciders, hard soda-flavored beers and distilled craft spirits to increase in popularity this year and that brewers will be aggressive with new innovations in barrel-aged brewing and techniques to improve consistency in each bottle or can of their brews. Whitsett also believes the popularity of hyper-localized breweries will continue to gain traction, and Michigan breweries like Perrin Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse Brewery and Griffin Claw Brewing Company will continue attracting craft beer enthusiasts.
“One of the most exciting things about the craft beer world is its constant evolution, and we’re seeing more enthusiasts and casual beer drinkers shopping our aisles in their quest to find new brews and tastes from Michigan and beyond,” Whitsett said. “Being a retailer that calls Beer City U.S.A. home, it’s always been about community for us, and we’re thrilled we can help breweries expand beyond their local boundaries while providing customers across the Midwest with the craft beers they are most excited about.”
Wacky Apple Organics, family owned and operated fruit orchards and makers of small batch organic applesauce, fruit juice and flat fruit snacks, today unveiled the first of its kind 50.7-ounce juice pouch, made with 100 percent organic real, fresh fruit juice concentrate and zero added sugar or preservatives. This new addition to the juice aisle and family’s refrigerators alike comes in two delicious flavors, apple and fruit punch.
The large pouch delivers a naturally sweet juice with only 98 calories per serving for the apple juice and 80 calories per serving for the fruit punch. All Wacky Apple juices are non-GMO, certified organic, certified kosher, vegan, gluten free, corn free, soy free and nut free and BPA free.
These oversized juice pouches have a reinforced gusset to prevent tipping – so they slide right into refrigerator door for easy access, and are perfect to bring to sporting events, play dates, the park, the beach – or any where family and friends gather for good times. No more large and clumsy plastic bottles! This novel pouch lets the kids be in charge of their healthy beverages. The push dispensers are spill proof, and perfect for little hands to pour their own cup without any mess or heavy lifting.
“We are thrilled to produce the very first large juice pouch! We only use 100 percent real fruit juices, and never any added sugar — the only sugars in our products come straight from the fruit itself. It’s like drinking the juice from the real fruit,” said Sarah Tuft, Co-founder of Wacky Apple Organics. “Our mission is to make healthy food, delicious and fun, and this large juice pack can go anywhere and everywhere!”
“We believe knowledge, combined with fun, will lead to healthy choices now and in the future,” she added. “Our goal is to educate children and families about the benefit of healthy choices while supplying yummy, real, organic food for happy and healthy kids. We believe eating organic food will lead to a healthier life and safer environment for everyone. We are passionate about sustainable farming, a fun and fair work environment and the highest quality products.”
The 50.7-ounce juice pouch is available at wholesale pricing to retailers nationwide, with a suggested retail price of $5.99. For more information, visit Wacky Apple Organics at WackyApple.com and on Facebook at Facebook.com/OrganicWackyApple.