McCormick & Company, Incorporated has unveiled its annual McCormick Flavor Forecast revealing the tantalizing trends that will shape culinary exploration and innovation – in home kitchens, at restaurants and on retail shelves – across the globe for years to come.
Among the emerging trends is a spotlight on underexplored Southeast Asian fare – Malaysian and Filipino – and the evolution of our insatiable appetite for spicy. Also featured are pulses which serve as a protein-packed canvas for delicious flavors – fitting as the United Nations celebrates 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.
“Since its inception in 2000, Flavor Forecast has been tracking the growing interest in heat and identifying upcoming spicy flavors including chipotle, peri-peri and harissa,” said McCormick Executive Chef Kevan Vetter. “Our latest report shows the next wave of this trend is complemented by tang. Look for Southeast Asian sambal sauce powered by chilies, rice vinegar and garlic to take kitchens by storm.”
Emerging Trends and Flavors Identified by a global team of McCormick chefs, food technologists and flavor experts, these trends offer a taste of 2016 and beyond:
1. Heat + Tang – Spicy finds a welcome contrast with tangy accents to elevate the eating experience.
2. Tropical Asian – The vibrant cuisine and distinctive flavors of Malaysia and the Philippines draw attention from adventurous palates seeking bold new tastes.
3. Blends with Benefits – Flavorful herbs and spices add everyday versatility to good-for-you ingredients.
4. Alternative “Pulse” Proteins – Packed with protein and nutrients, pulses are elevated when paired with delicious ingredients.
5. Ancestral Flavors – Modern dishes reconnect with native ingredients to celebrate food that tastes real, pure and satisfying.
6. Culinary-Infused Sips – Three classic culinary techniques provide new tastes and inspiration in the creation of the latest libations.
“Flavor Forecast is a catalyst for innovation,” said Vetter. “Around the world this year, we’re launching 56 new consumer products inspired by Flavor Forecast trends, and we’re working with our customers across the food industry – from chain restaurants to beverage and snack producers – to help them do the same.”
For mouthwatering recipes, images and more ways to explore this year’s top flavors, visit FlavorForecast.com.
The products in the new Ariston line of organic balsamic vinegars are characterized by a perfect balance between sweet and sour. This product is made exclusively with organically farmed grapes, without pesticides involved. The entire production process is certified in order to guarantee consumers compliance with the highest organic farming standards, guaranteed by the CCPB certifying body.
To make the vinegars, the grape must, cooked over a direct heat in an open vessel, simmers slowly and is concentrated until it is reduced to about one third of its original volume. It is then placed in the attic, in a series of casks of oak wood. Here the balsamic vinegar passes the years acidifying and aging until it has reached a balance that only the alchemy of time can provide, prodded along by the masterful hands of artisans.
This balsamic is naturally dark and dense, with a 5 percent acidity content. Add some over strawberries or on your favorite salad to add complexity.
For more information, call Ariston Specialties at 860.224.7184.
Verde Farms, which provides 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb for both retail and food service, is engaging in several new brand initiatives, including a website re-launch and a packaging refresh to position the company towards a new phase of growth. The demand for grass-fed beef in the U.S. has fueled exceptional growth for Verde Farms. Founded in 2005, the company experienced 70 percent sales growth in 2014 and is on track for another record year of growth as 2015 comes to a close.
“I think you’re seeing a shift in how we think about beef here in the states. It’s not just about reducing meat consumption and depriving ourselves – it’s about eating better meat,” said Dana Ehrlich, CEO and Co-founder. “The reason we’re seeing such success is because Verde Farms has always been committed to sourcing and delivering the best 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished beef products that are better across the board. Better for consumers, better for the animals and better for the environment.”
While the company’s first customers were upscale restaurants, caterers, and medical facilities that wanted an organic and grass-fed alternative, Verde Farms now services fine retailers nationwide. The company has also gained loyal food service accounts like Boston-based Boloco, among others.
Heading into 2016, Verde Farms has also quadrupled its sales team and plans to expand its branded retail presence so consumers know to look for the green and orange Verde Farms logo when seeking the best quality meat and lamb. Studies suggest that grass-finished beef may be lower in fat and calories than grain-finished beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acid — an essential fatty acid thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks), and more antioxidant vitamins, like Vitamins E.
While visiting South America, Ehrlich was inspired by the expansive pastures and grass-fed cattle that roam in stark contrast to conventional beef farming in the U.S. A former engineer at Intel, Ehrlich leveraged his background in product development with a passion for sustainable, high-quality meat to found Verde Farms. Alongside Tuck School of Business classmate and Co-Founder, Pablo Garbarino, the two built the company on three guiding principles – health benefits for the consumer, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Today, Verde Farms is the number 1 importer of grass-fed beef from Uruguay and also sources from family farms in Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
“Beginning with family farmers that we’ve diligently selected, we wanted to provide consumers with a better option – one that was not only more nutritious, but also better for the environment and for the animals themselves,” said Ehrlich. “We have been meticulous every step of the way to ensure that our cattle is raised as nature intended – on pastures and with grass feed only – and that we provide a delicious, premium product.”
At the COP21 in Paris from November 30 to December 11, while the world’s focus will be on the goal from nearly 200 nations to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, scientists warn that if global trends in meat consumption continue, global warming will more than likely exceed those 2 degrees – even with dramatic emissions reductions across non-agricultural sectors.
“Unfortunately, the connection of meat consumption to climate change is not garnering the serious attention it deserves,” says Roni Neff, PhD, Attending Director of the Food System Sustainability Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and an Assistant Professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Much of the talk at COP21 will be focused on government policies in energy and transportation, but we can’t get from here to there without also changing diets. That’s a win-win for climate and for public health.”
Representatives from 15 Meatless Monday countries including the US, Israel, Korea, Denmark, Nigeria and Kuwait, will join leading scientists, politicians and chefs at COP21 to underline the link between meat and climate change and the impact that simple changes in our diet, like going meatless one day a week, can make in slowing global warming. CLF researchers will present a review of peer-reviewed research that suggests GHG emissions in 2050 from agriculture alone will total over 20 gigatons (Gt) if current meat consumption grows with GDP as the FAO predicts. This accounts for almost the entire emissions budget of 21 Gt, leaving little room for emissions from other sectors.
As an illustration of the impact of simple dietary changes like going meatless on Monday, studies suggest that the annual savings in GHG emissions in 2050 if everyone went meatless one day a week could be 1.3 Gt, the equivalent of taking over 273 million passenger vehicles off the road or closing 341 coal-fired power plants.
Meatless Monday was started in 2003 by former ad exec Sid Lerner to promote the health and environmental benefits of cutting out meat one day a week, but has since grown to include other global benefits like reducing climate change. The global movement picked up steam in 2009 when Sir Paul McCartney started Meat Free Monday in the UK, and followed by grassroots initiatives in 40 countries, from Brazil’s “Segunda Sem Carne” to “Luntiang Lunes” in the Philippines. The initiative has proven successful in shifting people to a plant-based diet in a variety of settings including schools, cafeterias and restaurants. Chefs like Mario Batali, who offers Meatless Monday in most of his restaurants, have also played a role in demonstrating that going meatless one day a week can be an easy, delicious way to eat healthier while helping the planet.
The Meatless Monday COP21 session will be held on December 9, 15:00 – 18:30, Nelson Mandela Auditorium, Climate Generations Area.
Down To Earth Distributors is the exclusive North American stocking distributor for the Le Parfait product line, including the popular 80, 125 and 200 gram sizes. Designed for canning and long-term storage, the bright, clear glass is an international classic known for its strength and quality.
Available with either classic hinged, wire bail lids and orange rubber gaskets or high quality screw caps and lids, the jars feature a wide assortment of sizes that range from 80 grams up to 3 liters and come in straight-sided terrines, faceted jam jars and rounded body stylings. Perfect for home canning and storage, the entire Le Parfait product line makes excellent containers for manufactured products like preserves and pickles, bath products and candles, or coffee and tea, further extending the brand’s quality image.
Available in bulk commercial quantities by the pallet or smaller custom orders by the case to fit your needs. Made in France from virgin raw materials to ensure quality and purity.
For more information, call Down To Earth Distributors, Inc., 1.800.234.5932.
By Micah Cheek
In the current seafood market, the desire for heart healthy proteins, risks of over fishing and concerns about preparation all seem at odds with one another. According to Dave Rudy, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, this complex environment presents an opportunity for retailers. “People are looking for a place where they can ask questions about their seafood and know where their seafood came from,” says Rudy. With the right information, the fishmonger can be a helpful guide to the stormy seas of an increasingly complex seafood counter.
The seafood species that represent 80 percent of seafood sales are referred to as The Big 5. Shrimp, tuna, salmon, whitefish and crab have historically been best sellers in the seafood case. According to Shawn Cronin, Business Program Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, breaking away from the Big 5 represents a valuable opportunity for retailers. “It’s a trend across all food systems, people love local. It adds an exciting element to supporting the communities you’re surrounded by.” Cronin adds that west coast retailers have seen success with local sole, flounder and rockfish. These varieties belong to the larger category of rockfish, a fishery that has gained a great deal of attention in recent years. While rockfish were greatly overfished in the 1990s, the reduction of bycatch, or unintentional catching of the wrong species, and new technology have made groundfish an ecologically responsible option.
Bycatch reduction, efforts to reduce ocean acidification, and sustainability initiatives have been increasingly successful, and a more informed customer is more aware of these issues. Tommy Gomes, expert fishmonger at Catalina Offshore Products, has witnessed the change over time. “I’m 55 years old, I’m the first generation of the TV dinner. Our food is changing. Everyone’s excited about dock to plate, and farm to market. Now it’s very critical to educate people on how to use the whole fish and how to prepare it in a healthy way.” To get a wide variety of seafood to a consumer focused on sustainable and local eating, the key is communication with a distributor. According to Seafood Watch, 90 percent of American seafood is imported, and tracking the chain of custody of any given fish can be difficult. “The only way you’ll know is diving deep into your supply chain to find out. Having a strong traceability policy in your organization is important,” says Cronin. “If you’re doing that work and you’re proud of what you’re sourcing, communicate that. Let the customers know, let them make purchasing decisions based on that information.”
The role of the fishmonger is becoming more and more involved, as customers want to know more about their seafood. “Sometimes a piece of fish gets bent or broken, it happens. I’m going to take them and grind them and show people how to make meatballs,” adds Gomes. “If you can take fish that’s broken, run it through a grinder, sell it for 5.99 and educate people on how to cook it, people will do amazing stuff.”
Aquaculture, or fish farming, presents another opportunity for discussion with customers. “A lot of the things we do are educate, promote and have fun. A lot of people have questions about farmed fish; these are the questions consumers are now asking,” Gomes says.
Aquaculture has been something of a dirty word in the seafood sector for the last 20 years, after environmental groups found overly dense and unsanitary conditions in Chilean farm fisheries. Since then, the aquaculture industry has made great strides in quality and is now considered an important part of sustainable seafood consumption. Unfortunately, the stigma has been difficult to shake. “This is one of the most frustrating things for me, because I believe that aquaculture is the future,” says Jacqueline Claudia, Co-Founder and CEO of Love The Wild. Using current advances in technology, farmed seafood has been able to encourage consistently healthy growth, eliminate antibiotic use in favor of probiotics and vaccines, and using feed that is composed of as little as one percent fish meal. “There are even some guys out in San Francisco that are basically making tofu for fish. You can replace fish meal in aquaculture feed with this alternative protein and get a farmed fish with a very similar omega-3 content as a wild fish.”
While seafood is gaining more interest with consumers, the barrier of entry remains high. The chance of making a mistake with a delicate filet is a strong concern for potential customers. “Seafood, more than any other category, has the possibility of stinking up your house for three days. It’s pretty high-risk for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,” says Claudia. The recent increase in value-added seafood products is a response to these fears. Love The Wild offers prepackaged sets of two fillets paired with sauces. The meal for two is designed to be easily assembled, wrapped in paper, and baked. “Value-added seafood helps people get the training wheels to add seafood to their diet,” says Claudia. “They’re not looking for fish sticks anymore, they’re looking for clean-labeled fish that’s hard to screw up.”
Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery’s Founder, Jennifer Bice, announced today that she has chosen Switzerland-based Emmi to acquire her company, which will become an independently operated subsidiary of Emmi Holding (USA), Inc. The makers of the nation’s leading goat milk dairy brand, Redwood Hill Farm, and the nation’s leading organic lactose-free cow dairy brand, Green Valley Organics, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery will continue business as usual at their creamery’s location in Sebastopol, California.
Bice has committed to stay on as head of the company, overseeing day-to-day operations for several years until she retires, retaining ownership of her farm and 300 goats. The company’s entire leadership team will remain in place, with all employees retained and all jobs secure for the community in west Sonoma County, California. Emmi and Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery have agreed to keep the terms of the acquisition confidential.
“My succession decision is the result of years of careful planning and research,” says Bice. “More than anything,” she continues, “I wanted to ensure that, after I retire, Redwood Hill will continue to thrive as a Sonoma County business, a community resource, and that we can continue our efforts to make pure, wholesome and organic food more accessible and affordable throughout the United States.”
Bice, who starting in 1978 grew her parents’ goat dairy farm from a 4-H project to a national brand, found the ideal succession partner in Emmi. The 108-year old company is to this day majority owned by a cooperative of small-scale dairy farmers in Switzerland who farm between 10 and 50 cows. As one of the most innovative premium dairy makers in Europe, Emmi produces a full line of dairy in the Swiss, European and other international markets.
“I am entirely confident that Emmi is the right choice for Redwood Hill’s future, as ours is a relationship of trust,” says Bice, “I feel completely aligned with Emmi’s very high standards for quality, their strong emphasis on employees and their commitment to sustainability. Most importantly, they have encouraged us to maintain the way we do business here at Redwood Hill.”
“Redwood Hill Farm is a jewel in the U.S. dairy community, built by Jennifer Bice,” says Matthias Kunz, Vice President Americas of Emmi, “With dedication to Sonoma County and its people, she pioneered the U.S. goat movement from the start with compassion for employees and a sustainable environment. We are really humbled to have been chosen as the partner for Redwood Hill’s future and are very pleased to be able to count on Jennifer and her team for the next years.”
Mary Keehn, Founder of Cypress Grove Chevre in Humboldt County, California, sold her business to Emmi in 2010. Keehn, a fellow pioneer of goat cheesemaking and Jennifer Bice’s friend, chose the same succession path.
“Creating a company felt much like raising a child,” says Keehn of Cypress Grove Chevre, “With Emmi’s financial and strategic support, we have been able to send that child to Stanford rather than our local community college. We now have a Certified Humane, showcase dairy, a state-of-the art creamery and have been able to increase our workforce by more than a dozen employees, which creates much-needed jobs in our community.”
Once a small niche product, Redwood Hill Farm put goat milk dairy products on the map, which are now sold nationwide. Redwood Hill Farm’s quart-sized plain goat milk yogurt is the number one selling large yogurt in the natural food channel in the United States today, compared to any other goat or cow milk yogurt brand.
Tapping into its expertise of making dairy for the digestively diverse, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery launched its lactose-free cow dairy brand, Green Valley Organics, in 2010. Above all, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery strives for highest quality in its minimally processed dairy products, while ensuring the quality of life for its people, animals and the planet.
Grafton Village Cheese, a business of the nonprofit Windham Foundation in Grafton, Vermont, has teamed with specialty cheese leader Murray’s Cheese to manage its consumer e-commerce program. Online sales of Grafton Cheese on MurraysCheese.com commenced in late October.
Grafton Village Cheese makes handmade aged Vermont cheddar and specialty cheeses using premium raw milk from small local family farms. A selection of its award-winning cheeses are available at MurraysCheese.com.
“We are delighted to have partnered with Murray’s to take over our online consumer sales,” said Meri Spicer, Grafton’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “Murray’s established and reputable e-commerce program allows our existing consumer base to enjoy a more streamlined experience.”
“We are proud to partner with Grafton Cheese,” says Steven Millard, Vice President of Merchandizing at Murray’s. “Long a mainstay in New England and New York cheese cases and on the counters at Murray’s Cheese, Grafton has played an important part in our country’s amazing cultural revolution in cheese. Grafton can focus on making great cheeses, and Murray’s Cheese can focus on providing a seamless online shopping experience.”
Murray’s Cheese, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has a successful e-commerce business that focuses on the specialty cheese market. The Murray’s brand includes two New York locations, state-of-the-art cheese caves, a restaurant, an educational program, a wholesale business and 250 cheese kiosks in Kroger supermarkets.
By Richard Thompson
Meat industry professionals are seeing red as media coverage of a recent World Health Organization report tying red meat consumption with colorectal cancer continues to confuse consumers. Media responses to the report have made mountains out of meatballs, creating confusion on what makes up a balanced diet for consumers, says Eric Mittenthal, Vice President of Public Affairs at North American Meat Institute, but will not, in the end, much affect the meat industry.
The report, headed by a panel from the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) and released by WHO, concluded that for large numbers of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance. Mittenthal, whose agency represents processors and meat packers throughout the country, sees that despite all of the sensational headlines used by the media, consumers and meat industry professionals are still finding the report’s results hard to swallow: “This confirms our position that the report was over-reaching and alarmist and the fact that the [IARC] panelists were not even unanimous about the findings supports [our position].”
According to Jeff Stier, Risk Analysis Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), the report confuses readers by not accurately explaining the difference between actual and theoretical risks. “Correlation is different than causation.” warns Stier, “Even if they are right, all they are alleging is that if you eat a lot of [processed meat] your whole life, you have a very slight increased risk for cancer. But if you’re eating that much meat anyway, you might be more concerned with cardiovascular disease, weight problems and diabetic issues. Not colorectal cancer.”
In the report, the experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, but Mittenthal and Stier dispute that finding as inaccurate and poorly worded.
Stier, whose job is to direct the risk analysis division of NCPPR and help translate information into good public policy, says that using the 18 percent without understanding the context is like saying that living near a NASA facility triples the chances someone will be hit by an errant spaceship. “It may be true, but doesn’t mean much,” says Stier.
“Our industry supplies consumers, and they are the bottom line, and it’s clear by how people are reacting to this that they are rolling their eyes. Most people take this information with a grain of salt – which, I’m sure, somehow can cause cancer too,” says Mittenthal.
While public affair officials like Mittenthal are concerned over the public relations impact of the study, industry professionals from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) and American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA) are branding the science behind the report as inaccurate and incomplete. Dr. Shalene McNeill, PhD., RD, Beef Checkoff Nutrition Scientist and Registered Dietician for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association observed the IARC process, “IARC…doesn’t always represent consensus in the scientific community. After seven days of deliberation…IARC was unable to reach a consensus agreement from a group of 22 experts in the field of cancer research, something that IARC… typically achieves.”
“We know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and the report simply adds to people’s confusion about cancer,” says Deidrea Mabry, MS, Director of Scientific Communications and Technical Programs for the American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA).
The IARC findings insinuate that for every 50 grams of processed meat (or about two pieces of bacon) comes an 18 percent increase of getting colorectal cancer, but the reality is more mundane, according to Stier. During a lifetime of eating 50 grams of processed meat a day, every day, a person has an estimated 18 percent increase of having colorectal cancer versus someone who didn’t follow the same diet (an actual individual risk increase of 1 or 2 percent over the course of their life). To put that in perspective, red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC – consisting of air, aloe vera, coffee and wine, among others – that pose some level of theoretical hazard if used over-abundantly. McNeill explains, “The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”
Now that the WHO report is out, pro-meat agencies like NCPPR will continue to provide scientifically accurate information to consumers. “This is what I do for a living; stuffing toothpaste back in the tube,” says Stier.
As for national regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, no action is planned in response to the report or its findings. According to a press release by the FDA, the agency hasn’t had an opportunity to review the IARC monograph report and that IARC does not recommend regulations, legislation or public health interventions. On top of that, the NIH National Toxicology Program (NTP) report on Carcinogens has not looked at red or processed meats nor have those substances been nominated for review for the next edition.
Mabry seasons her concerns with prudence, “Consumers have seen beyond the sensational, and often inaccurate headlines….we know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and…it’s easy to get caught up in a report or a study.” According to Mabry, what’s most important is that consumers understand eating a healthy and well-balanced diet – including meat (both red and processed) – is supported by the strongest science available.
Her words appear to have resonated with WHO and IARC as well, since at time of press, the agencies have started backpedaling on how the report was worded and subsequently reported on via a Twitter account. Sample tweets include: “The #cancer review on processed meat does not ask ppl to stop eating meat, but to reduce intake to lower cancer risk.” They even went as far as to say there was a “shortcoming” to the classification system that processed meats were placed in.
For McNeill, this report changes nothing to what everyone in and out of the industry has already known for years, “As a registered dietitian and mother, my advice hasn’t changed. Eat a balanced diet, which includes lean meats like beef, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and, please, don’t smoke.”
By Lorrie Baumann
Olive oil industry experts are enlisting retailers to improve the quality of the olive oil assortment on their shelves and to educate consumers that the low-price olive oil they can buy on some retailers’ shelves isn’t a quality extra-virgin olive oil, regardless of what it says on the label. While it’s not necessarily easy for the average consumer to know if the olive oil they’re buying is truly a high-quality oil, it is very easy to identify a very cheap oil as a fraud, says David Neuman, CEO of Gaea North America, a subsidiary of Greek olive oil maker Gaea.
“When you’re selling as a retailer a liter of extra-virgin olive oil for $7, that’s not possible. Organic extra-virgin olive oil being sold for $5.99 a liter. It isn’t possible. You can’t make it for that,” he said.
“You could ask, how do they do it? How do they sell an EV for $4.99?” adds Alexandra Devarenne, Co Founder of Extra Virgin Alliance, a nonprofit trade association representing producers of extra virgin olive oil from around the world. “It’s not really an extra virgin olive oil,” she said.
The product in that bottle is very likely all olive oil, since the presence of other oils, such as canola or soybean oil, is easily detected. Although other oils can be mixed into olive oil and then sold as pure extra-virgin olive oil, the relative ease of detection and clear illegality has discouraged that particular fraud in U.S. retail, she says. The fraud that’s more often perpetrated on American retailers and consumers involves the adulteration of extra-virgin olive oil with lower grades of olive oil to produce a mixture of inferior oils that’s then labeled and sold as extra virgin. “That’s possible, and it’s undercutting the market for true extra virgin,” Devarenne said.
Widescale fraud is made possible because olive oil as a category is worth more than $1 billion a year in U.S. sales, and of that, more than 98 percent is imported, Neuman said. “With olive oils, there are a lot of foreign entities labeling things extra virgin that don’t meet the standards. The rest of the world is sending whatever they want to America. Grocers are selling what they need to to meet the demand,” he said.
That leaves the producers of genuine high-quality extra virgin olive oils – the kind that have been shown actually to have the health benefits and flavor that Americans are often seeking when they choose to buy olive oils, struggling to compete in a marketplace in which their oils, which have to sell at prices that reflect what it actually costs to produce them, sit on the shelf next to commodity-grade oils with much lower prices. Retailers are in a similar bind, according to Maria Reyes, Director, Vendor Management at KeHE Distributors. “It’s a business and we all have to make money including the retailers. There are a lot of oils out there and consumers are confused or simply don’t know the right olive oil to buy. The challenge is how we get the consumers to be educated about olive oil so that they are able to make the right decision as to what they’re buying off the shelf,” she said.
KeHE is getting more and more requests every year from over-stressed retailers who are asking for help with category reviews and product tastings, partly because they’re finding it more difficult to find the time to educate themselves about a product that’s often regarded as a commodity instead of as a specialty category like wine or cheese, Reyes says. “The challenge is that they’re requesting the information, they give us the time, and they listen,” she said, “But then, ‘How do we do this? How do all of us find the time to do this?’”
“They think of olive oil as an everyday food, but it’s as technical as wine – it has a standard of identity; it’s regulated,” Neuman added. “But grocers generally just don’t have the time to investigate. One buyer may be buying half the center store. They sometimes do two reviews a year for each category. Plus, they go to trade shows, etc.”
They’d like retailers to regard olive oil as a category more similar to wine, for which many specialty markets have a sommelier who has invested a significant amount of time to learn about the products their store is selling. But short of that, they’d like to see grocery retailers supporting their buyers in gaining some training about olive oils. “Anyone who cares enough to learn can learn. It’s not necessary for a buyer to go to multiple trainings to make a big difference. It’s enough to want to learn and to taste and to seek out people who are experienced,” Devarenne said. “You may not become an expert taster – that takes years – but you can become a competent taster pretty quickly.”
“It’s not super-easy, but it’s also not rocket science,” she added. “And it really is important. Otherwise, you’re just at the mercy of the person who comes in and says it was done the way his grandfather did it, and then you taste the product, and if you know nothing, then you still know nothing. Do the same research you’d put into other purchases. We need to convince people that there’s information out there, and there’s good unbiased information out there. They just have to care enough to look for it.”
The investment is worthwhile for retailers because specialty food consumers are looking for premium products. Americans are not using a lot of olive oil now, especially in comparison to consumers in European olive-oil producing countries, but as they learn more about the value of high-quality oils and their range of flavors and varieties, there’s a lot of room for American consumption to increase, according to Neuman. “There’s nothing else in the grocery story that costs $17 per unit and drives a 40 percent to 50 percent gross margin,” he said. “Retailers win when they’re selling a better product at a higher price. The producers win because we can afford to pay farmers premium prices. And the specialty consumer wants to be taught how to use good product…. There is a lot of room for premium brands.”