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 Micah Cheek
The potato may be a bland vegetable, but new sizes and varieties are spicing up the spud sector. While russet and white potato sales are declining, sales of more varied sizes and types of potato are increasing. “There are a lot more SKUs of potatoes of potatoes being offered right now,” says Sarah Reece, Global Retail Marketing Manager for the United States Potato Board.
The greater variety in the potato market is in part due to the slump in traditional potato popularity. After briefly plateauing from 2010 to 2011, potato consumption has been on the decline, with the decline centered on russets. “They’re still a little over half of potato volume, but they continue to lose volume,” says Don Ladhoff, Director of Fresh Sales Marketing. “Other potatoes are growing and outperforming the category. Small potatoes are doing even better.”
Tiny tubers offer a certain novelty that appeals to more adventurous customers. “It’s something new to the category. It’s interesting and fun to take home to the family,” says Reece. According to a study by the United States Potato Board, an increase in the frequency of potato consumption has been driven by working parents and active seniors. These groups have also boosted sales of colored potatoes. “With the interest in premium varieties and smaller potatoes, we’ve been planting more of these red varietals,” says Leah Brakke, Director of Marketing for Black Gold Farms. Black Gold Farms has focused on red potatoes because of the consumer perception of red potatoes as a more valuable and healthy option.
Small spuds have proven effective for in-package cooking, including preseasoned roasting pans and microwavable bags for steaming. Roasting has become a more popular option for petite potato preparation both with and without value-added packaging. “Millenials are 30 percent more likely to prepare potatoes by roasting,” says Ladhoff.
The trend toward smaller sizes has extended past potatoes themselves. Smaller packaging sizes of potatoes have been selling better than the traditional five to 10 pound bags, reflecting a greater change in purchasing habits. “[Customers] are trying to shop for what they need. 51 percent of Millenial shoppers buy for one meal at a time. Smaller potatoes fit into that trend where I want to cook enough potatoes for one night,” says Ladhoff. “From what we hear from retailers, it’s less about portion control, and more about reducing waste.”
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.”