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 Lorrie Baumann
A California produce company has found a way to make the Farm to Fork movement a reality for customers in urban areas across the state – including those who live in food deserts. Farm Fresh To You is a service that delivers produce from Capay Organic, the company’s own farm, as well as from about 50 other organic farms across the state directly to customers’ doors in the San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas each week. “Our philosophy is that for local produce to be successful, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to make the best selection of local produce show up at their door each week,” said Thaddeus Barsotti, one of the brothers who owns the business. “We’ve been very successful at keeping customers happy because we’ve made it really easy to fit into their lives.”
Capay Organic and Farm Fresh to You were originally founded in 1976 by Martin and Kathy Barsotti, Thaddeus’ parents. Martin was a student at the University of California, Davis when he began developing his ideas about how to create direct relationships between farmers and consumers. He got a permit from the city of Davis to start a farmers market that’s now one of the most robust in the country. Then, he and his wife decided that they wanted move out of the city and onto a farm, where they would use organic methods and make it their full-time careers.
Eventually, Martin left the business, but Kathy carried on. She heard about the idea of Community Supported Agriculture from another farmer, and in 1992, she adopted some of those ideas and started delivering produce directly to her CSA customers out of the back of her parents’ Buick station wagon. Kathy kept track of her customers and what they liked and didn’t like in binders full of account records. By 2000, the company was distributing about 500 boxes a month.
About 15 years ago, her sons, who’d grown up with the business, took it over after Kathy’s death just after Thaddeus had graduated from college. Since then, the company has been growing aggressively throughout California, expanded its network of family farms, has added value-added farm products to the offerings and penetrated into food deserts with a business model that Barsotti says is scalable and adaptable elsewhere outside California. “We are serving food deserts in the Central Valley, Manteca, Stockton, some rural communities that are classified as food deserts. We can go there; we just need to have enough people to justify sending a driver out there,” he said. “All of the food deserts in the Bay Area and Los Angeles – we go to all of those places.”
Contents of the boxes change according to what’s local to those regions. A purchasing team stays in touch with the whole network of farms to find out what’s in season and available in their area, and they build local menus for each region each week. “It is a full-time job for a whole team of people,” Barsotti said. The weekly boxes are packed in two facilities, one in Sacramento and one in Los Angeles. Sourcing and distributing season produce that’s mostly local to each region across the entire state is the most difficult piece of the model – Barsotti calls it “ pretty complicated and logistically rich,” but the result is that Barsotti can sell the regular-size box that will feed a family of four for a week for $33. “We’re pretty good at what we do. We’ve been doing it for a long time. The owners grew up doing this, growing produce and hustling produce at farmers markets. We understand it quite well,” he said. “We’re in the business. We know each week, what the best local organic produce is, and we make that selection for our customers, and they don’t even have to think about it.”
Customers can choose to be surprised by what shows up in their weekly box, or they can log onto the company’s website to find out what the company plans to send and alter their box according to their own preferences. A customer might cancel this week’s carrots, add more fruit or opt for spinach instead of kale.
Recently Farm Fresh To You began offering customers a few direct-from-the-farm processed food products sourced from farmers who also provide fresh produce products to the business, including jams, granola, juices, dried fruit, nuts, olive oil and tomato sauces. “We’re excited about the specialty flours we have,” Barsotti said. “Our niche is focusing on products that come straight off farms, and that includes processed things that preserve a crop.”
Customers can also decide before they go on vacation, they’ll donate their weekly box to a local food bank instead of suspending the service. Farm Fresh To You works with food banks in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego that serve the communities in which the company’s customers live and the affiliated family farmers grow. We’ve been able to get tens of thousands of pounds of fresh local organic food to our customers’ local food banks, and we’re really proud of that,” Barsotti said. “We believe that everyone should be able to eat healthy food, but we recognize that not everyone can afford it.”
New customers find out about the service either through meeting with Farm Fresh To You sales representatives that set up shop at local events such as home and garden shows or green festivals, through word of mouth from existing customers or by learning about it through the media exposure that the business has been attracting since a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about it in the mid 1990s. These days, customers sometimes find the business online at www.farmfreshtoyou.com, where customers can sign up for deliveries of various sizes of boxes that contain fruits and vegetables, all fruits or all vegetables in a seasonal mix that varies according to the specific area in which the customer lives, depending on what’s in season there.
“What ‘local’ means exactly also changes with the season. Summer and fall, most of the stuff’s coming from our farm,” Barsotti said. “In the winter, we want to make sure our customers still have a good selection, so they don’t go back to using the grocery store, so we’ll source in southern California for vegetables. Apples come from the Pacific Northwest.” All of the produce, except bananas, is grown in the U.S. by family farmers. Barsotti probably wouldn’t offer bananas at all, since they’re strictly a tropical fruit, but Farm Fresh To You customers want them, so Barsotti compromises a bit by offering them fair trade organic bananas. “Our customers sign up because I’m a farmer. I know what’s good,” Barsotti said. “I take the health of our farmworkers seriously, and we make sure that all of the products we grow comply with U.S. labor laws.”
While some customers are aware of the social justice aspects of Barsotti’s purchasing, not all of them either know or care about anything other than that the business provides a dependable supply of fresh, local, organic produce. “I know we’re doing that, and when a customer signs up, whether they know it or not, they’re affecting my planting schedule and the jobs that come out of that. We’re connecting customers directly to our field,” Barsotti said. “We are trying to transform the food system. It can’t be done on a tiny scale. It’s a big thing. There are millions of people who need to eat better. Our objective is to find how we can get local, organic food to people at an affordable price.”
By Micah Cheek
Spring’s bounty will be headed to shelves in just a few months, and customers will be looking for the most Instagram-friendly options for their plates. In addition to the usual snap peas and asparagus, the more exciting options for spring produce have never been better.
Interest in foraged produce is continuing to increase. “On the specialty side the most typical produce would be morel mushrooms and ramps. Next would be fiddlehead ferns. You’ve got a bunch of peripheral specialties there [too], miners lettuce and nettles,” says Justin Marx, CEO of Marx Foods.
Morels are a traditional spring favorite in the northwest, becoming available in April. ”Morels just knock it out of the park,” says Kim Brauer, Culinary Concierge at Marx Foods. “In the Northwest, a lot of us survive winter be knowing that morels will be coming out.” Now that wild vegetables have moved from a restaurant favorite to a foodie phenomenon, they are expected to remain on the minds of consumers. “The ramps and the nettles, I’m seeing more cooks look for those,” Brauer adds. Ramps and stinging nettles will be available for their limited growing season from April to May.
Edible flowers like pansy blossoms and orchids have been a popular garnish in fine restaurants, but producers are beginning to see interest from retail outlets as well. Marx says, “As they become more affordable and available, it’ll just become more common. A lot of them have culinary merit and flavors that deserve their own merit.” Brauer notes that people want to use them as garnish for regular meals to make them feel like they have a restaurant quality meal. Squash blossoms are seeing interest as they make their way out of the restaurant and on to the dinner table. For retailers, Marx Foods usually supplies a single species of edible flower, followed by a variety if there is greater interest. Another interesting edible flower is the Szechuan button, named after the Szechuan pepper for the numbing and tingling sensation both products induce. “It’s a little yellow flower that tastes like electricity,” says Marx. Cocktail parties can also be livened up by edible blossoms, as an attractive and unusual garnish.
For Easter, the classic fresh vegetable choices are expected to remain robust, so much more so if those veggies are miniature. The cipollini onions are being joined by baby beets, carrots and radishes, says Karen Caplan, President and CEO of Frieda’s, Inc. A violaceous variety will be available for Frieda’s “Power of Purple” promotion in March. A monochromatic medley will be promoted, including purple snow peas, cauliflower, artichokes and a new breed of purple sweet potatoes.
For late winter and early spring, an increasing variety of citrus will become available. “In the winter and spring, we do a bang-up job in all the citrus categories,” says Caplan. More specialty options like Meyer lemons, Buddha’s hand (a fingered variety of citron) and finger limes have been finding their way into popular recipes. The same goes for some non-citrus tropical fruits. “Dragonfruit has just become the darling of American consumers,” Caplan adds.
Grower-owned cooperative Oregon Cherry Growers, known for perfecting the original maraschino cherry and debuting the first line of maraschinos made with non-GMO certified Fairtrade® cane sugar, is unveiling its latest innovation – this time in packaging. The cooperative’s popular Royal Harvest™ Bordeaux-Style Maraschinos and The Royal Cherry® Maraschinos, featuring hand-picked cherries grown in the Northwest, are now available in stand-up pouches at select retailers across the country, liquor stores in Oregon and on Amazon.com.
The no-mess, convenient and re-sealable stand-up pouches are the first to market in the maraschino category, and feature transparent packaging for product visibility. As with all Oregon Cherry Growers products, the cherries are of the highest quality and freshness standards.
“We take great pride in delivering the products our customers are looking for, and we know convenient packaging is an increasingly important factor,” said Tim Ramsey, Oregon Cherry Growers President and CEO. “We have had great response to the new pouches so far and expect them to be popular with people looking to enhance their cocktail experience or liven up their desserts.”
The pouches are available in three varieties:
· Royal Harvest Bordeaux-Style Maraschino Cherries, which are rich and dark in color, free of preservatives, made with natural ingredients and sweetened with Non-GMO certified Fairtrade® cane sugar. Available in 8- and 4-ounce sizes.
· Royal Harvest Nature’s Maraschino Cherries, which are ruby red cherries, free of preservatives, made with all natural ingredients and sweetened with Non-GMO certified Fairtrade cane sugar to retain that “just picked” cherry taste. Available in the 4-ounce pouch.
· The Royal Cherry Maraschinos are Oregon Cherry Growers’ traditional maraschino cherries with stems. Available in 8- and 4-ounce sizes.
Suggested retail prices are $3.69 for a 4-ounce pouch and $4.69 for the 8-ounce, available immediately in eight pack cases.
By Dan Wilkins
Meat alternative Quorn, the market leader in the U.S. natural foods channel, is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance for a product line whose protein comes from fungi. “The specific type of fungi allows the mimicking of the taste of real meat with much better health benefits,” says Sanjay Panchal, General Manager of Quorn Foods USA. The Mycoprotein in Quorn products is a complete protein that’s naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber, according to Panchal. “It has as much protein as an egg, as much fiber as broccoli,” he said.
The products contain no soy or GMOs, and the protein source is also environmentally friendly, with a carbon and water footprint that’s about 90 percent less than beef and 75 percent less than chicken, Panchal said. “In addition to the great health benefits and environmental benefits, our food just tastes amazing,” he said. “I’ve got three sons, age 9, 7 and 3, and we, probably once or twice a week, we replace their chicken nuggets with Quorn nuggets, and they Hoover them.”
Five products in the Quorn line are gluten free: Grounds, a product that substitutes for crumbled ground meat; Chik’n Tenders; Chik’n Cutlet, Turk’y Roast and Bacon Style Slices. “It gives folks looking for a gluten-free option another opportunity to use a food like ours in their recipes to satisfy their specific dietary restrictions,” Panchal said.
Quorn appeals to consumers who want to eat less meat but also want both convenience and the flexibility to adapt recipes that already work for them. “Our food doesn’t just attract vegetarians,” he added. “What you’ll find is people like our family who are complete carnivores, but if they’re looking for a way to reduce the meat in their diet, for whatever reason, this appeals. The appeal of a meat alternative, and Quorn specifically, is very broad and broadening…. Our growth rate year to date is 29 percent in sales versus a year ago and growing across all channels. We’re really pleased with our performance.”
The product line includes options like Grounds that will work for the consumer who has the time and the desire to cook meals like spaghetti Bolognese from scratch but also includes heat and eat options like Jalapeno and Three Cheese Stuffed Chik’n Cutlets for the consumer who values speed and convenience. “It’s really easy to prepare on weeknights. It’s basically straight out of the freezer and into the pan or the oven,” Panchal said. “With the nuggets, it’s 10 minutes to eating it…. With the Grounds, you mix it with a little water, taco seasoning and cheese and make it into a quesadilla. It’s a really simple food to make, and that’s why we like it as a family.”
Quorn products retail for $3.69 to $4.99 every day, depending on the retailer, for a package that serves four people. Quorn is distributed nationally.
he Golden Gate Wholesale Produce Market, the largest and busiest produce terminal in Northern California, is planning to renovate the facility by making a series of infrastructure, environmental, food safety, traffic and sustainability improvements.
The state-of-the-art enhancements to be made over the next year include new solar/energy efficiency upgrades, cold chain food storage management and worker safety systems, as well as smoother traffic flow within the facility, which is a mile from San Francisco International Airport on Highway 101.
“The Golden Gate Produce Market plays a vital role in northern California’s economy, and the improvements announced today will lay the foundation for the Market’s future growth and success,” said Peter Carcione, President of the Golden Gate Produce Market. “This investment in the Market expands our capability to bring the highest-quality fruits, vegetables, and organics to serve the diverse tastes of the region, and it builds on our long history of supporting California’s agriculture industry in a sustainable manner.”
The 742,000-square foot facility in South San Francisco currently employs 475 workers and is open to the public. Twenty-three independent and family-owned businesses operate at the Market, including wholesalers, jobbers, commission merchants, brokers, foodservice distributors, processors and one restaurant. More than 15 million packages move through the Market each year.
The enhancements were made after extensive market research and feedback from customers and businesses at the market. To advance the Market’s long-term goals and its commitment to sustainability, the seven-member board approved the following:
The solar implementation is expected to have a significant positive environmental impact and reduce the market’s overall carbon footprint. The market’s new 1,322 kW solar installation is expected to generate more than 2,015,648 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
The use of a similar amount of conventional energy generated using fossil fuels would create greenhouse gases equal to that of 127 homes, 293 cars or the burning of 1.4 million pounds of coal annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This renovation is the most extensive in the Market’s 53-year history and is designed to meet the changing needs of businesses located at the market and their customers who shop there,” said board member Steve Hurwitz. “By strengthening the Market’s infrastructure and advancing its commitment to sustainability, we will create a better experience for everyone who works at or visits the Market.”
This year, Santa Cruz Organic® will join like-minded sponsors to encourage conversation about ways to incorporate more organic products into school lunches. As a pioneer organic brand with a rich heritage spanning more than 43 years, Santa Cruz Organic is a sponsor of this year’s KIWI’s National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day. The program encourages deeper communication between parents and school officials on how to provide and instill better eating habits in children.
Determining the best options for your child’s lunchbox can be a daunting task. With hectic schedules and endless school obligations, parents are eager to find simple ways to incorporate more organic products into busy routines.
Santa Cruz Organic offers a variety of Certified USDA Organic products that are perfect components for building a child’s organic lunchbox, from Santa Cruz Organic Fruit Sauces that contain no added sugar, to Santa Cruz Organic Fruit Spreads free of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, to Santa Cruz Organic Peanut Butter that contains no hydrogenated oils, sugars or artificial ingredients. All Santa Cruz Organic products are Non-GMO Project® Verified.
KIWI’s National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day takes place Oct. 14, 2015. For more information on the event, visit National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day.
Fresh Express has updated its line of salad kits to meet continued growing demand for delicious healthier eating options. The brand’s newest products include two new Chopped Kits and two new Gourmet Café Kits:
New Chopped Kits
New Gourmet Café Kits
“Today’s consumers demand great tasting and nutritious meals, often ones that can be made quickly on a busy weeknight. Capitalizing on the trend in which one in three people are eating Greek yogurt, three of the new Fresh Express products have dressings made with Greek yogurt. By pairing a great-tasting lettuce base with Greek yogurt salad dressings, Fresh Express is able to provide consumers what they want – delicious and healthy eating options,” said Robert Stallman, Vice President, Marketing & Innovation at Fresh Express.
Chopped Kits and Gourmet Café bowls are great for a quick and smart lunch or dinner: Choose from the new Sweet Kale or Southwest Chopped with Greek Yogurt Kits paired with baked chicken for an effortless weeknight meal. Everything you need for a flavorful and crunchy salad is in the bag. Just add your favorite lean protein for a well-rounded dish. Or, choose the new Mediterranean or Santa Fe Gourmet Café single serving kits with the all essentials for a workday lunch.
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.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Coached by a generation of chefs with television shows, consumers have learned to ask for fresh, local and organic products. Grocers are now teaching them to look for those at the grocery store as well as the farmers market.
“I think people are buying local now more than ever,” said Pat Brown, CEO of the Natural Markets Food Group, which includes Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, Planet Organic Market and Richtree Natural Market restaurants in New York, the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago and Canada. Consumers are asking more questions now about where their food comes from, Brown said. “It forces the hand of the retailer to go out and get that product…. Organic sales are growing at a high rate as well, but the consumer is interested in buying food in their neighborhood from people who grow it in their neighborhood.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total local food sales last year amounted to $6.1 billion, of which only $1.31 billion in sales occurred directly from farmers to consumers through farmers markets, u-pick farms and farm stands. Sales from farms that passed through the hands of intermediates – restaurants, distributors and retailers – grew from $2.7 billion in 2008 to $3.35 billion in 2012.
In the nationally representative 2011 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, more than four out of five of the surveyed grocery store shoppers reported that they purchased local foods occasionally, while almost one out of 10 says they purchased local foods whenever possible. The Specialty Food Association reported in its “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2015” report that, according to specialty food manufacturers, “Local and all-natural products continue to be the most interesting to consumers. More than half of the manufacturers cited ‘local’ as a claim that interests consumers most today, with almost half of them expecting growth in local products over the next three years. “
Those who buy local foods are doing it because they want food that’s fresher and tastes better, and they want to support their local economy rather than because they’re concerned for the environmental impacts of transporting food long distances. In a 2012 study, scientists found that grocery shoppers were more willing to pay extra for food labeled “local” than they were for foods labeled “certified organic,” “certified fair trade” or with a note about the food’s carbon footprint.
Some of those shoppers, particularly those who are white, upper to middle class and convinced that their buying habits can “make a difference,” are looking to farmers markets to supply their desires for fresh, local food – mainly produce – driving growth in the number of farmers markets across the country by 180 percent between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, the USDA counted 8,268 in the United States. State and local governments are encouraging the trend too. As of 2014, 26 states had state farmers’ market associations designed to provide the markets with technical assistance, and there were 65 state and regional or local Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters in 21 states organizing outreach events and local food guides to promote locally produced food and farmers.
Grocers have taken notice. Almost three quarters of the retailers surveyed by the Specialty Food Association said that “local” is of great interest to consumers today, with more than half of them saying that they expect growth in that segment over the next three years. “Over the past five to six years, the focus on local, natural and organic has really taken hold among food retailers,” said Jim Hertel, Managing Partner for food retail consultants Willard Bishop.
Natural Markets Food Group has begun contracting directly with local farmers to provide produce to its markets in the Northeastern U.S. “At the peak of the season in the Northeast, we will be 65 or 70 percent local produce. That farmer used to sell produce in farmers markets… It’s exactly why we’re growing, that we’re able to create relationships with local farmers and bring their product in,” Brown said. “Other markets are doing the same thing.”
The Rising Tide Floats All Boats
While not necessarily local, sales of organic products are following the consumer preference for fresh, trustworthy products. “That’s true both of natural foods retailers as well as more traditional mainstream food retailers, whether it’s Walmart, which has significantly ramped up emphasis on organics, especially value-priced organics,” said Hertel. “There’s been a recognition by retailers that consumers are interested and also that it’s an area where the margins are greater, so profits are greater.”
Sales of organic food in the United States totaled $35.9 billion in 2014, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest data from the Organic Trade Association, which reported that total U.S. sales for organic products amounted to more than $39 billion in 2014, breaking previous industry records.
Sales research by the OTA shows sales trends for organic products growing at double digit rates for several years, compared to about a 1.5 percent projected growth rate for other foods. “The growth rates of traditional product lines are much smaller,” Hertel said. “The Millennial generation is very interested in healthy eating, and to them, that means natural and organic as well as less processed food.”
The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic products a part of their supermarket and retail purchases, according to the new research from the Organic Trade Association.
Retailers report that the demand for organic produce that prompted entry into the market by Walmart and Kroger is causing stress on the supply chain and making it harder for smaller retailers who have less buying power to compete for supplies that are limited by the amount of acreage that farmers have dedicated to certified organic growing methods and the length of time it takes to obtain organic certification on new fields. “The supply chain for organic product has become difficult at best because the bigger chains are getting into the market. The demand is causing outages and shortages occasionally,” said Brown. “Bigger growers are pleased because it’s easier and cost-effective to contract out an entire crop to a large buyer. The buying power of a big company like that impacts those who’ve been selling product for a long time.”
Imports of organic produce from Mexico are helping to ease the shortages and meet the demands of American consumers who’ve been long trained to expect their grocers to supply whatever food they want whenever they want it. “There’s a lot more organic farming in Mexico now than even five years ago,” Brown said. “There are gaps in some products, but generally, you can get organic produce year-round now because there’s so much organic production in Mexico now.”