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Gourmet Newswire

Victoria Fine Foods Sauces at Sur La Table

Victoria Fine Foods and Sur La Table are launching a new line of artisanal pasta sauces created exclusively for the Sur La Table customer.The line consists of the following five varieties:

  • Organic Pomodoro Sauce
  • Fra Diavolo Sauce
  • Roasted Garlic Sauce
  • Vodka Sauce
  • Chianti Marinara Sauce

All sauces come in 24-ounce jars and are available in Sur La Table stories nationwide, as well as on the Sur La Table website and catalog. The suggested retail price is $12-$13. All sauces, except the Vodka variety, are Non-GMO Project verified.

Just like Victoria’s premium and Organic sauce lines, the Sur La Table artisanal sauces are made with just a handful of ingredients which are featured prominently on the front of the label: ripe plum tomatoes, fresh onions, fresh garlic, fresh basil, olive oil and salt. No artificial flavors or colors are ever added.

The Sur La Table artisanal pasta sauces owe their rich flavor to the superb quality of the tomatoes and a slow kettle-cooking process. The San Marzano-style plum whole tomatoes are grown in the volcanic soil of coastal Italy, long considered the source of the world’s finest tomatoes, and slow cooked them in small batches with fresh, hand picked basil, fresh garlic, and fresh onions.

“This is Victoria Fine Foods’ first co-branded partnership, and we are thrilled to be launching this venture with Sur La Table,” says Tim Shanley, CEO, Victoria Fine Foods.  “Our brands and mission are very similar, with a focus on the highest quality, best-tasting ingredients and the desire to help consumers achieve kitchen victories every day.”

NASDA Urges Passage of Trans-Pacific Partnership

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) has called on Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the end of the year.  NASDA co-signed a letter to House and Senate leadership with over 220 organizations that represent the broad spectrum of American agriculture, all of whom stand to benefit from the passage of the 12-country free trade agreement.

Greg Ibach, Nebraska Director of Agriculture and NASDA President, has been NASDA’s chief advocate of the benefits of international trade during his decade of service to the organization. NASDA voted in February in favor of an Ibach-sponsored Action Item to support TPP.

“America’s farmers and ranchers depend on the global marketplace. TPP will open markets and eliminate trade barriers that currently prevent us from competitively providing our high-quality food and fiber to consumers in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Ibach. “TPP will open the door to increased farm income for farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers of all sizes and production methods. This is an opportunity which Congress cannot ignore.”

NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories.  NASDA grows and enhances agriculture by forging partnerships and creating consensus to achieve sound policy outcomes between state departments of agriculture, the federal government, and stakeholders.

Kenny Kimball to Become President of Smith’s

The Kroger Co. has announced the promotion of Kenny Kimball, currently Vice President of Operations in the company’s Smith’s division, to serve as President of Smith’s, effective April 30. Kimball succeeds Jay Cummins, whose retirement was announced in February.

“Kenny’s passion for developing associates and his commitment to putting our customers first will further accelerate growth in our important Smith’s division markets,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s Chairman and CEO. “Kenny brings to this role leadership experience at all levels of our business and a record of success as both an operator and a merchandiser. We look forward to his leadership as president of Smith’s.”

Kimball joined the company in 1984 as a courtesy clerk in the Smith’s division. He served in several leadership roles with Smith’s, including store manager, district manager and bakery director. In 2009, he was named Smith’s senior vice president of sales and merchandising. In 2012, he was named vice president of merchandising for the Ralphs division, and in 2013 was named vice president of operations for Ralphs. Kimball most recently served on special assignment at Kroger’s general office in 2015, before taking on his current role in February.

Wynn’s Market Re-creates Itself in Naples

Naples, Florida is considered one of the wealthiest cities in America; known for its architecture and local flora that gives a European feel to the affluent beach-side community. Famous for its palm tree flecked, white sand beaches, the city is home to a historical landmark that’s almost as old as the city itself: Wynn’s Market.

“[We’ve] been here since the beginning,” says Tim Wynn, Owner of Wynn’s Market. “Even our employees have been here for a long time. We have a saying: ‘If you haven’t worked here for over 20 years, you’re a newbie!’”

Wynn’s Market started in Naples way back in 1938 by Wynn’s grandfather as a small inn for Depression-era travelers who took the train from New York to Miami. After the end of the second World War, the building was taken over by Wynn’s father, who transformed the inn into the first modern grocery store for the community of less than 600. Much has changed in the community over the years, such as the metamorphosis from a small fishing village to wealthy tourist destination, but what has remained the same, according to Wynn, is his family’s dedication to offering the best product and service at a fair price. “We give them the service, give them the quality and give them a unique selection,” says Wynn. “We are also one of the first ones to start online sales in Naples region, which gives us a competitive advantage over our competition.”

An extensive remodeling of the store 11 years ago elevated Wynn’s Market to an upscale, specialty grocery that would match the lifestyle of the residents in the area. “We work with a very affluent segment of the community,” says Wynn. “We carry household things and unique gifts…. We have a complete shopping experience where [customers] can find something that nobody else has.”

The 21,000 square-foot grocery’s center floor offers a limited variety of traditional staples, with the rest of the store dedicated to its renovated wine department, deli and cheese counter, specialty sea food counter and bakery. A sidewalk cafe outside the store offers a dozen tables.

The store has been certified as a Blue Zone grocery, providing organic juices, gluten-free snacks and low-sodium snacks to help customers practice healthy nutrition. Wynn says, “Our checkout area doesn’t have any candy!”

Wynn says that the deli is the grocery’s strongest department, specializing in antibiotic-free cuts of grass-fed beef and chickens as well as fresh-made salads, pastas and prime rib.The deli carries over 60 different items, from meatloaf and pot roast to freshly-made chicken quesadillas and fried chicken. Offerings are rotated so customers will find something new as well as their usual favorites. “You have to keep changing out there, or [the competition] will eat you alive,” says Wynn.

The market has a close relationship with local fishermen. All of the grocery’s seafood is fresh off the boat. Stone crab claws, salmon, yellow snapper, sword fish and trout, not to mention scallops, clams and oysters are all available at the counter. Recently, the store’s sushi department started offering customers the choice to have a dozen oysters shucked, packed on ice and taken home for some ready-to-go oysters on the half shell. He says, “Our sales have gone through the roof… through our strong relationship with local fishers and boaters.”

Wynn’s Market’s large wine department houses a temperature-controlled, walk-in wine cellar that contains nearly 800 different wines from Chile, Australia, Argentina, Germany, France, Spain, New Zealand and South Africa. Wynn says that they carry every type of wine from extremely high-end selections such as Opus 1 and Cristal to more affordable $6.99 bottles.

Sioux Natural Hatches Veggan, a Gluten-Free, Plant-Based Egg Substitute

Sioux Natural is introducing Veggan, a plant-based egg substitute that matches the nutritional and functional properties of whole eggs in baking, while minimizing the health risks we’ve come to know with conventional eggs. The new product comes much to the relief of chickens, vegans, and those with egg allergies everywhere as well as those watching their cholesterol.

“We are proud to offer a clean, plant-based, allergen-free egg alternative in a time where large-scale egg production can’t keep up with maintaining the health and safety of their flocks or their eggs,” said Paula Persinger, President of Sioux Natural, LLC. “Veggan is a natural choice for people avoiding animal products, allergens, and GMOs, and for the companies who’d like to make food for them while also benefiting from cost and risk reduction.”

Since Veggan is created through sustainable, minimally processed, GRAS-certified ingredients, it virtually eliminates the risks we’ve come to recognize—and bear—from large-scale egg production practices. The product offers identical performance: Veggan offers a 1:1 volume and weight substitution, which eliminates the need for additional allowances or reformulations.

Veggan’s ingredients are available and easily sourced at a cost savings to eggs. Without having to rely on flock health, using plant-based Veggan minimizes the huge price increases that occur when chicken populations are fighting widespread illness, like the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in 2015. Not only is Veggan immune to bird illnesses, it also substantially reduces the microbial risk for salmonella and listeria in a way that large-scale egg production simply can’t. When eggs get recalled, so do every product and recipe they touch. Using Veggan helps preserve corporate bottom lines, company reputations, and the health of the end-consumer.

Replacing eggs with Veggan also allows the baking industry to expand their product offering to customers with gluten, cholesterol, and environmental sensitivities. With its amazing functionality, neutral flavor profile, and clean label, Veggan is a clear choice for waffles, donuts, breads, cakes, muffins, cookies, and more.

“It’s always refreshing when science can make good, wholesome food healthier and more accessible,” adds Persinger. “And it’s exciting to see a product that has just as many applications in Grandma’s kitchen as it does in large-scale baking operations.”

Consumers Seeking Healthy Condiments

By Greg Gonzales

Not all condiments were created equal. Consumers increasingly seek alternatives to condiment cornerstones high in sodium or high-fructose corn syrup, or that fail to meet their specific health and diet needs. Producers have responded directly by releasing products that meet individual consumer needs, and some naturally healthy condiments need no alteration.

Of course, a healthy condiment isn’t necessarily the same item for everyone. “It’s more complex than most people think,” said Chrissy Weiss, a nutrition expert who serves as Director of Marketing and Communications at Culinary Collective. “We all are following different diets. Some have health issues, some are athletes, so it depends on someone’s needs individually. … Make sure the product falls in line with your own health goals.” Those goals might include non-GMO products, gluten-free, no high-fructose corn syrup, low sugar, low sodium or vegan.

There’s a condiment for every consumer need. Annie’s, Portland and Sir Kensington’s ketchups do away with fillers like corn syrup and artificial colors, and the organic tomatoes they use contain more nutrients and antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. The Not Ketchup brand adds a paleo-friendly option to the mix with its fruit ketchups, available in specialty flavors like Blueberry White Pepper and Tangerine Hatch Chile. The winner of the free-from badge contest might have to go to Primal Kitchen for its take on mayonnaise, made with avocado oil. This gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, canola-free, non-GMO spread made with cage-free eggs is packed with healthy fats and is paleo-friendly. Hampton Creek’s spread, Just Mayo, is also Non-GMO Project Verified, but brings mayo back to the vegan crowd by taking the eggs out entirely — in four specialty flavors, too. And consumers who want flavorful ribs without the sugar rush might try Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering Sauce. It’s a gluten-free and all-natural take on the tangy-sweet stuff, with only 154mg of sodium and 5 grams of sugar per serving. It’s not alone on the shelf, either. Tessemae’s All Natural BBQ Sauce contains only 2 grams of sugar and 125mg of sodium. It’s also gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and paleo-friendly.

“People are reading more ingredient labels these days to see if it’s just simple,” said Weiss. “Used to be a long time ago, we wanted everything fat free.” But these days, consumers know good fats are essential to a healthy diet, and can even lower cholesterol. Culinary Collective’s gluten-free Matiz Catalan All I Oli Garlic Spread, made from sunflower oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt, is high in good fats but dairy-free, low in sodium and sugar. Salsas, guacamole, hot sauces and low-sugar chutneys also make nutritious additions to healthy meals.

“A lot of people believe traditional foods made from scratch, made from high-quality ingredients, can be helpful,” said Weiss, adding that this attitude has been a given in the specialty food industry from the get-go. “We’ll be part of the solution, not the problem.… There’s a lot of products out there that are, honestly, just junk. They don’t add anything to consumers’ diets, and producers are starting to wake up to that. We’ll definitely see this continue.”

California Olive Ranch Growing Americans’ Taste for Olive Oil

By Lorrie Baumann

Silicon Valley technocrat Gregg Kelley had a nice little career going for himself in 2006. He’d taken two dot-coms public and settled into a consulting career in which he could choose the clients he wanted to advise on how to succeed the way he had. He ditched it all when the owners of California Olive Ranch came to him and said they’d learned how to make a good product and wanted his help to scale up their operation to compete in the national market. Eight years later, he has no regrets.

“It was just the right time. The owners of the company had learned what they needed to learn and were looking for a CFO [chief financial officer]. I was interested in their approach to the industry,” he said. “I really liked the people who owned the company, liked the opportunity. It checked that box for me. I took a pretty significant pay cut to join the company. It was a leap of faith. It was right place, right people, right time.”

“It’s been a great opportunity. A change of direction. I wanted to lead a life where I could look at myself in the mirror,” he adds. “There were two things I wanted to do: be a good husband and a good father and have a positive impact on the world. I get to do that now…. Those are the simple rules to live my life by.”

Kelley is now California Olive Ranch’s Chief Executive Officer, and the company has been registering sales growth rates of 30 to 50 percent per year for a compound annual growth rate exceeding 45 percent over the past eight years. California Olive Ranch has become the U.S.’s largest domestic olive oil producer: in terms of consumer sales, it’s the #4 brand in the grocery channel, the #1 brand in the specialty/gourmet channel and the #3 brand in the natural channel, according to SPINS. With just under 15,000 acres planted with olive trees now, Kelley is actively looking for another 3,000 more acres to plant this year to feed rapidly growing consumer demand for extra virgin olive oils from California.

A few factors have combined to drive that growth, according to Kelley. Americans are becoming more aware of the virtues of high-quality olive oils, and improved technology has allowed California Olive Ranch to provide a better product at an accessible price point. “California has had an olive industry for hundreds of years, but it stayed small until technology got better. The ability to hit a price point that makes it accessible is what accelerates that learning curve,” Kelley said. “You break this barrier of accessibility for a larger number of people. California has made the norm become a much higher quality product. The American consumer, time and time again, has a proven preference for higher-quality products. Wine was an example of that. We’re seeing it in cheese, in chocolate…. We are participating in the same evolution.”

Kelley is determined to propel Americans along the learning curve by putting the taste of California Olive Ranch oil on as many tongues as possible. He says that letting people smell the aroma of a freshly opened bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and then letting them taste the oil and feel the warmth of it in their throats is all it takes to inspire them to want that experience again, especially if they can have it for a price premium of just a few dollars a bottle. “What makes us different is the ability to provide a much higher quality experience regularly,” he said. “The vast majority of the oil we produce would win awards around the world.”

“Great olive oils add to the experience of a good meal,” he said. “That was the ‘Aha!’ for me that was the final hook that got me involved in the industry and got me into California Olive Ranch.”

American Farmers to Feel Some Economic Pain in 2016

By Lorrie Baumann

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said February 25 that he’s optimistic about America’s farm economy. “It’s easy to look at things in a pessimistic view because of softening commodity prices and decreasing farm income, but I don’t share that pessimistic view,” he said.

Vilsack was speaking at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, which is intended as a discussion of novel and innovative ways to expand opportunity and provide support for America’s farming families. He noted that among his reasons for optimism is that the unemployment rate is falling in rural America, and rural America’s poverty rate is also falling. “We’ve lent a hand in making sure that rural America continues to thrive,” he said.

Vilsack’s sunny outlook is in dramatic contrast to the more dismal forecast offered by the department’s Economic Research Service, which is forecasting a $9.6 billion drop in cash receipts for the country’s farm sector. ‘The expected drop in 2016 cash receipts is led by declines in nearly all major animal/product categories (including dairy, meat animals, and poultry/eggs), as well as vegetables and melons,” according to the USDA’s farm income forecast for 2016. Those drops in farm income are driven by falling commodity prices that reflect higher production. While farmers have tightened their belts on expenses, commodity prices are falling faster, which means that farmers are likely to have to borrow more money to stay in business, according to USDA Agricultural Economist Ryan Kuhns. Farmers will also offset some of the decline in their revenues through federal subsidies, which are dependent on commodity prices. Direct government farm program payments are forecast to rise by 31.4 percent in 2016 to $13.9 billion, according to the USDA.

Strong export sales of American agricultural commodities over the past seven years as well as increased numbers of acres enrolled in conservation programs are bright spots for American agriculture, Vilsack said. He added that the USDA has invested to provide additional jobs in rural America so that more jobs will be available to farmers who need off-farm income to keep their family farms afloat. “Because of the investments and hard work of folks in rural America, I’m optimistic about the welfare of farm communities,” he said. “I’m extraordinarily optimistic about he future because I see the potential for expanded exports.”

He noted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which would reduce or eliminate tariffs on American exports to member countries – which can be as high as 700 percent for American agricultural products – would provide extra opportunities in countries with which the U.S. does almost half of its trade and which have expanding middle classes. “They are expanding middle classes and they are interested in our agricultural products – our quality is the best, and our safety is the best,” Vilsack said. “Our expanding efficiency will keep us competitive on the world market.” Through expanded trade with countries like Japan and China, TPP can increase annual net farm income by $4.4 billion, compared to not approving the pact, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

American farmers are growing more efficient and more productive, and 95 percent of the world’s consumers of products, services and goods living outside the U.S., said Vilsack, who noted that there’s an opportunity cost to delays in approving TPP because American food producers are missing out on those new markets in the meantime. Vilsack noted that the Cuban market presents an opportunity for American food exporters. “We should be dominating the Cuban market. There’s tremendous demand in Cuba, which imports about 80 percent of what they need to feed their people. We have the logistics capability to dominate that market.” He added that before that can happen, the U.S. will need to lift its current embargo against Cuba. That embargo currently forbids the USDA to use any of its programs for Cuban trade.

Merchandising Your Store’s Brand the Beekman 1802 Way

By Lorrie Baumann

Merchandising your store’s brand as well as your products can go a long way towards making your store a destination, according to Beekman 1802 Founders Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The duo operates a retail store in their hometown of Sharon Springs, New York, as well as an online store, seasonal popup stores and the farm that supplies nearly everything they eat as well as ingredients for some of the products in their Beekman 1802 line of food, personal care and home décor products. The Beekman 1802 line has been called the fastest-growing lifestyle brand in the country, with food products in Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie and home décor products in stores around the country. “A lot of lifestyle brands say they’re storytellers. Our brand is actually our life,” Kilmer-Purcell said in January during a presentation at the Las Vegas Winter Market.

The pair started their business as a way to pay off a million-dollar mortgage on the farm they bought in 2006, just before losing their New York jobs during the Recession. Beekman 1802 was originally just going to be an online business, but when business grew to the point at which they could no longer package and ship all their orders in the hallway at their house, they found an abandoned hotel building in Sharon Springs to use as a warehouse. It had an 8-foot by 12-foot room in it that they thought they could use as a retail shop. “That’s how our very first shop, 1802 Mercantile, happened,” Ridge said. “In a town of 547 people three and a half hours north of New York City, there’s not a lot of foot traffic.” The two of them decided to take cues from L.L. Bean and Stonewall Kitchen, both of which operate retail stores. “If you’re anywhere within two hours of them, you make a detour,” Ridge said.

That’s part of the reason for merchandising to tell a story about your store – it helps to make your store, not your products, the destination. “What we try to do throughout the store – and this is a trick we took from Disney. You know how when you’re in Disney, there are all these signs of Mickey that you just kind of happen on. Not everyone is going to notice it, but to the people who do notice it, it means everything,” Ridge said. “The whole philosophy of our brand is where the city meets the country. What we think is the future of retail is to make the store a gathering place for people to get a whole experience of retail. You really do have to offer that sense of theater, of discovery, to the people who come into the store.… If you can give them the moments of delight every time they come into the store, they’re going to keep coming into the store to see what you’re going to do next.”

Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell take an intensely seasonal approach to merchandising their store. Displays are themed for each of the four seasons plus the holiday season, and themes are decided and content is planned a year in advance. For instance, one winter the theme was “Cozy,” and all of the displays and featured products were organized around that theme. “Gardening” was a theme for one season, and “The Alchemy of Christmas” was a theme for one holiday season. Last year the theme was Christmas at Beekman Place, which was where Auntie Mame lived,” said Ridge. To make the Christmas tree, they found antique trunks and stacked them into the shape of a Christmas tree. To make the ornaments, they found old luggage tags online, copied them and hung them on the “tree.” We never spend a lot of money making any kind of display,” Ridge said. “It’s just about the creative energy that you put into putting it together.”

As they build displays, they make sure that their Beekman 1802 brand is included. “Think about your story and tell that story when you display the product,” Ridge said. “When they walk up to the display, they should get most of the story just from the display.”

That kind of storytelling approach to merchandising not only helps bring customers into the store and keep them there longer, it gives them a reason to take out their cell phones and photograph the display to post on their social media, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell said. When that happens, you want your brand to be included in those photos.

“You can make a buying trip an opportunity to create content. ‘Joanne is at the show curating products for you.’ Give them a teaser about how you’re creating what will be in the store in three months,” Ridge said. “It takes so little time. You just have to think about what you want to present to your customer.”

This story was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Kitchenware News.

Kroger & Lucky’s Market Announce Strategic Partnership

The Kroger Co. announced a strategic partnership with Lucky’s Market, a specialty grocery store chain focused on natural, organic and locally-grown products. Kroger has made a meaningful investment in Lucky’s, which will significantly accelerate Lucky’s Market’s growth in new and existing markets.  The financial terms of the transaction, which closed on April 1, were not disclosed.

This strategic partnership is designed to further enhance the best products, practices and techniques Lucky’s Market has to offer. These strengths, combined with Kroger’s scale and experience, will in turn create benefits for customers and help Lucky’s Market grow over time. This alliance also demonstrates Kroger’s deep ongoing commitment to providing customers with affordable fresh organic and natural foods as a part of its “Customer 1st” strategy. Kroger’s affiliate Main & Vine also recently launched a community-focused grocery store concept in Gig Harbor, Washington, that mixes local, specialty and everyday products, all at affordable prices.

Founded in 2003 and based near Boulder, Colorado, Lucky’s Market and its affiliates employ more than 1,800 associates and operate 17 stores in 13 states throughout the Midwest and Southeast United States. Lucky’s “Organic for the 99%” store format emphasizes its expansive selection of natural and organic food, including fresh produce, meat and seafood, prepared foods and baked goods, as well as wine and beer and personal care goods. With stores averaging approximately 30,000 square feet, Lucky’s layout resembles an indoor farmers market, with “garage door” entrances, field bins, barrels and wooden crates. Its culinary department showcases great-tasting, restaurant-quality prepared foods made from recipes that include those developed by Chief Executive Officer and former chef Bo Sharon and his wife Trish. Through its “L” private label, Lucky’s provides a broad range of grocery items at great value that have no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and 10 percent of profits from its private label are reinvested in the communities it serves.

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