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Organic

American Demand for Organic Food Outstrips U.S. Production

 

By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released figures that tell us how well organic farmers are doing in the marketplace. The big surprise? While U.S. sales of organic food products broke records this year, the number of acres of farmland devoted to organic agriculture in this country declined between 2008 and 2014. The USDA found 14,540 organic farms in the U.S. in 2008, compared to 14,093 in 2014. The number of acres devoted to organic production declined from just over 4 million in 2008 to 3.67 million in 2014.

The figures come from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which gathered information on all known certified organic, exempt and transitioning organic farms throughout the U.S. in the first few months of this year. “Exempt” refers to farms that follow national organic standards but have less than $5,000 in annual sales. These farms are allowed to use the term “organic;” they just can’t use the USDA Organic seal. Transitioning farms are those that are converting acreage to organic production but haven’t reached the three-year period under organic management that’s required before produce raised on that acreage can be certified as organic.

While the acreage devoted to organic agriculture in this country has fallen, purchases of organic food have been growing. In the U.S. last year, consumers spent $35.9 billion on organic food, representing 4 percent of total food sales, and an 11 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association. The majority of American households in all regions of the country now purchase organic food, from 68 to almost 80 percent of households in southern states to nearly 90 percent on the West Coast and in New England, the OTA says.

The total market value of organic agricultural products sold by American farmers in 2014 was $5.5 billion, of which $3.3 billion was for crops, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, grain, hay and soybeans, and $2.2 billion was livestock, poultry and products like milk and eggs. Milk is by far the most important organic livestock and poultry product in the U.S. market.

American farmers have also become global suppliers of fresh organic produce, with more than $550 million worth of organic products exported from the U.S. in 2014, according to an OTA study released in April. The top five organic products exported from the U.S. in 2014 were apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries. However, imports of organic product outpaced those exports, amounting to nearly $1.3 billion in 2014. The top five organic imported products are coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine. “At the rate that organic is growing, organic will double in size in six years. The current theory that my company is using is that by 2020 we [organic producers] will be at least 10 percent of the U.S. food market. How are we going to do that if we lack the raw materials? We are importing more soybeans than we produce, significantly more than we produce,” said Lynn Clarkson, President of Clarkson Grain.

He noted that in 2013, U.S. imports of organic corn went up by 67 percent, with much of that coming from Romania. India is an important source of the soybeans imported into the U.S., according to Clarkson. “We are turning over our best markets to other countries,” he said. “When you can’t find supply, you go to countries that are organic by default. Until we can tell American farmers that there’s a secure market, we need to convince them that it’s good enough that they can step in…. Every small town has a ‘table of wisdom,’ and many of those tables are extraordinarily adverse to organic farming. With the downturn in corn prices, farmers are starting to pay more attention to the possibility, and that’s making cultural concerns less important as economic concerns grow.”

Also from the USDA report, 10 states account for 78 percent of all organic sales in the U.S. California alone produced $2.2 billion worth of organic products in 2014 from 2,805 certified and exempt organic farms and a total of 687,168 acres devoted to organic production, up from 470,903 in 2008. California farmers accounted for half of all organic crops produced in the U.S. in 2014. Washington, in second place, produced 12 percent of organic crops in the U.S. and totaled up $515 million in organic sales. In order, the top 10 states in organic sales were California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas, New York, Colorado, Michigan and Iowa.

California also leads the nation in organic livestock and poultry sales, with $271 million, or 41 percent of all organic livestock sales in the U.S. and $301 million in livestock and poultry products – milk and eggs. Pennsylvania came in second in livestock and poultry sales with $112 million, or 17 percent of all organic livestock sales. Wisconsin came in second in organic livestock and poultry product sales, with $127 million or 8 percent of the U.S. total.

 

The happy egg co. Expands Product Line with Organic Free-Range Eggs

The happy egg co. has announced the launch of its organic free-range eggs available in select California retail locations including Costco, Gelson’s and Bristol Farms. The organic line extension complements the happy egg co.’s 12- and six-pack carton offerings currently sold in 6,500 stores nationwide. Expanding its product line to include organic free-range eggs provides the happy egg co., already the gold standard in animal welfare, with an even stronger foothold in the specialty egg market.

“Our move into the organic market has now given the organic consumer a truly humanely raised egg offering, providing affordable, free-range eggs from Organic hens that have been treated with the highest quality of care,” said David Wagstaff, Chief Operating Officer at the happy egg co. “Our product strategy has always included an organic free-range line extension and we’re currently expanding our footprint of organic and non-organic happy egg farms to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for food that is organic and humanely-produced with transparency through the supply chain.”

Consumer demand for organic foods has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s, with sales increasing from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $39 billion in 2014. According to Mintel’s “Report on Organic Food and Beverage Shoppers,” sales of natural, organic and better-for-you products are expected to grow 8.1 percent annually to $226 billion by 2018. The happy egg co. will continue its explosive growth trajectory by expanding production into organic farms.

The happy egg co. provides its hens with organic, non-GMO feed and is the only 100 percent free-range egg brand with an animal welfare program that covers everything from living conditions to feed to expertise of caregivers. Additionally, the happy egg co. is the first commercial egg producer in the U.S. to be designated American Humane Certified™, which requires achieving rigorous animal welfare standards. The happy egg co.’s organic free-range eggs are certified by Quality Assurance International.

The happy egg co. organic free-range 18-pack eggs are currently available at select Bay Area Costco locations. The happy egg co. organic free-range eggs will also be sold in 12-packs at select Gelson’s and Bristol Farms locations across southern California. As the only national free range brand in the market, following the launch of its organic free-range eggs at California retailers, the happy egg co. plans for coast to coast distribution to complement its regular free range eggs.

The Italian Sauces for Consumers Who Don’t Trust Processed Foods

 

By Lorrie Baumann

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it proposes to require that nutrition fact labels on packaged foods include a declaration of added sugars “to provide consumers with information that is necessary to meet the dietary recommendation to reduce caloric intake from solid fats and added sugars,” according to the agency’s announcement published in the Federal Register in March, 2014. If and when that proposal becomes a federal requirement, the labels on Uncle Steve’s Italian sauces will report that the sauces contain the same amount of added sugars they always have – zero.

The recipes for the sauces came from Steve Schirrippa, actor, author and creator of the sauces, who’s better known as his character, Bobby Baccalieri on the hit television show “The Sopranos.” He got the recipe from his mother, who has since passed away, Scarpinito says. “Steve wanted to pay a tribute to his mother. Abundant home cooked Sunday family meals were very important to her. Steve honored her by producing products he got from her recipes to keep the Sunday tradition alive.”

None of the three varieties of Uncle Steve’s sauces: Marinara, Tomato with Basil and Arrabiata, contain any added sugar, a common ingredient in other prepared pasta sauces. They also contain no GMOs or gluten, and they’re organic. That’s at the insistence of Schirripa’s wife Laura, who’s a marathon runner conscious of healthy eating and who told her husband that if he wanted to make and sell tomato sauce, he needed to be sure that it would be good for people as well as enjoyable, says Uncle Steve’s Italian Specialties Chief Operating Officer Joseph Scarpinito, Jr.:“If you were to line up all of the popular tomato sauces and then remove the ones with pesticides, tomato paste, puree, and added sweetener, you’d be left with only one—Uncle Steve’s.”

Uncle Steve’s is simmered on our stove for six hours. The only sugar in our sauce comes from organic tomatoes imported from Italy and organic onions. Quality is of the utmost important to us,” he added.

The sauces were launched just last year on the company’s website and quickly picked up by Whole Foods Northeast. Other markets along the East Coast followed.

This year, Scarpinito is concentrating on expanding distribution of the sauces to the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast. “That expansion has already started – the sauce has been picked up by the Albertson’s Boise division and by Gelson’s in Los Angeles,” he said. “The sauce is also available from several distributors servicing large independent retailers.”

New products are also under development, including olive oil, pasta and other flavored pasta sauces. Scarpinito is naturally a little coy about pinning them down with any more detail than that, but he did offer a hint: we can expect to see an Uncle Steve’s vodka sauce early next year.

Once the FDA’s proposal is finalized, the FDA wants to give the food industry two years to switch to the new labels. In addition to requiring a declaration for added sugars, the FDA is also proposing a new format for the label that would make calories, serving sizes, and percent daily value figures more prominent. Serving sizes would be changed to reflect the amounts reasonably consumed in one eating occasion. “People are generally eating more today than 20 years ago, so some of the current serving sizes, and the amount of calories and nutrients that go with them, are out of date,” according to the FDA.

This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.

 

New Survey Shows Store Brands Offer Savings on Organic, Gluten-Free, and Special Needs Products

Consumers trying to maintain or improve their health are increasingly seeking specialty food and non-food alternatives. Whether they are organic, gluten-free, dye-free or lactose-free, these products can be costly, but a new survey of special needs store brands items shows significant savings for consumers.

The research, conducted by the Private Label Manufacturers Association, assembled a market basket consisting of 27 typical specialty products that consumers might purchase as healthy alternatives or for special dietary needs. These products include gluten-free items like pancake mix and chicken broth; organics such as milk and pasta; even non-food allergy-free items like dye and perfume-free laundry detergent.

For every category in the study, a leading national brand product was compared to a similar store brand product when available and prices were adjusted to account for all known discounts, coupons and promotions available for each of the four shopping visits in the study.

The PLMA survey discovered that many organic products on the shelves had a private label product but sometimes did not have a national brand counterpart. However, when a national brand was available for comparison, private label products saved consumers 15 percent.  When comparing gluten-free products, the PLMA market basket study found the private label products cost 17 percent less on average when compared to their national brand counterparts, while some store brand products saved shoppers as much as 41 percent.

Millions in the U.S. who are suffering from food allergies, and those with special dietary needs can also save with store brands. Consumers who choose to buy soy burgers, lactose-free milk and low-salt chicken broth, among other specialty food products, would save almost 30 percent when compared to national brand products.

Organic food sales overall continue to grow. Presently they represent a $26 billion market, but sales are projected to reach $60 billion by 2020, according to a report from Packaged Facts. A recent Gallup survey found 45 percent of consumers actively try to include organic products into their diet, and for consumers under the age of 29, that jumps to 53 percent.

The opportunity for private label is evident for a growing number of retailers. In a consumer survey, Walmart found 91 percent of people would buy organic products if they were more affordable. Kroger’s Simple Truth Organic has become a billion dollar brand for the retailer, while other retailers like Costco and Target are expecting billions of dollars in organic food sales this coming year.

The growth of gluten-free products in the U.S. is also widespread. According to Mintel, gluten-free sales have grown 63 percent since 2011 and gluten free sales will top $8 billion this year. Mintel also projects sales are expected to reach $14 billion by 2017 as their popularity and their availability on the shelves continue to grow.

Looking beyond organics and gluten, the Food Allergy Network reports 15 million U.S. adults and children suffer from food allergies, while another five million are allergic to various chemical products. In a recent survey by Datamonitor, 20 percent of consumers said that they avoid certain foods due to an allergy or intolerance most or all of the time.

The Italian Sauces for Consumers Who Don’t Trust Processed Foods

 

By Lorrie Baumann

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it proposes to require that nutrition fact labels on packaged foods include a declaration of added sugars “to provide consumers with information that is necessary to meet the dietary recommendation to reduce caloric intake from solid fats and added sugars,” according to the agency’s announcement published in the Federal Register in March, 2014. If and when that proposal becomes a federal requirement, the labels on Uncle Steve’s Italian sauces will report that the sauces contain the same amount of added sugars they always have – zero.

The recipes for the sauces came from Steve Schirrippa, actor, author and creator of the sauces, who’s better known as his character, Bobby Baccalieri on the hit television show “The Sopranos.” He got the recipe from his mother, who has since passed away, Scarpinito says. “Steve wanted to pay a tribute to his mother. Abundant home cooked Sunday family meals were very important to her. Steve honored her by producing products he got from her recipes to keep the Sunday tradition alive.”

None of the three varieties of Uncle Steve’s sauces: Marinara, Tomato with Basil and Arrabiata, contain any added sugar, a common ingredient in other prepared pasta sauces. They also contain no GMOs or gluten, and they’re organic. That’s at the insistence of Schirripa’s wife Laura, who’s a marathon runner conscious of healthy eating and who told her husband that if he wanted to make and sell tomato sauce, he needed to be sure that it would be good for people as well as enjoyable, says Uncle Steve’s Italian Specialties Chief Operating Officer Joseph Scarpinito, Jr.:“If you were to line up all of the popular tomato sauces and then remove the ones with pesticides, tomato paste, puree, and added sweetener, you’d be left with only one—Uncle Steve’s.”

Uncle Steve’s is simmered on our stove for six hours. The only sugar in our sauce comes from organic tomatoes imported from Italy and organic onions. Quality is of the utmost important to us,” he added.

The sauces were launched just last year on the company’s website and quickly picked up by Whole Foods Northeast. Other markets along the East Coast followed.

This year, Scarpinito is concentrating on expanding distribution of the sauces to the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast. “That expansion has already started – the sauce has been picked up by the Albertson’s Boise division and by Gelson’s in Los Angeles,” he said. “The sauce is also available from several distributors servicing large independent retailers.”

New products are also under development, including olive oil, pasta and other flavored pasta sauces. Scarpinito is naturally a little coy about pinning them down with any more detail than that, but he did offer a hint: we can expect to see an Uncle Steve’s vodka sauce early next year.

Once the FDA’s proposal is finalized, the FDA wants to give the food industry two years to switch to the new labels. In addition to requiring a declaration for added sugars, the FDA is also proposing a new format for the label that would make calories, serving sizes, and percent daily value figures more prominent. Serving sizes would be changed to reflect the amounts reasonably consumed in one eating occasion. “People are generally eating more today than 20 years ago, so some of the current serving sizes, and the amount of calories and nutrients that go with them, are out of date,” according to the FDA.

 

Locavore Trend Drives Grocery Sales

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 Respond
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.”

New Tahini Flavors from Sunshine International Foods

Sunshine International Foods just announced the addition of five new flavors to its existing line of pasteurized flavored Sesame King Tahini pastes. The new flavors include Olive Oil, Honey, Garlic, Cajun and Chocolate. Each flavor is rich in proteins and vitamins, made with no additives or preservatives, peanut free, trans fat free, gluten free, kosher certified and non-GMO.

Sunshine International Foods is the only manufacturer to pasteurize its tahini to ensure a clean, healthy and safe product for consumer usage. The new flavors are the direct result of the success and consumer acceptances of the company’s Sesame King Roasted and Light Roast flavored tahini.

Sesame King Tahini pastes are made from 100 percent pure ground sesame seeds. The sesame seeds are shipped directly from the farms to the Sunshine International Foods facility and are sifted, hulled, roasted and ground to perfection. Each Sesame King Tahini is all natural, with a subtle, delightful aroma, rich with texture and delicious taste. Sunshine International Foods mechanically hulls its sesame seeds, meaning no chemicals or hulling agents are used during the manufacturing process.

“We are very excited to be introducing our new five flavors of Sesame King Tahini pastes to retailers and consumers across the United States,” said Emile Maroun of Sunshine International Foods. “Consumers and retailers are looking for safe, new, exciting and innovated healthy products, and we believe that our Sesame King Tahini pastes meet and exceed those expectations.”

Sesame King Tahini pastes provide consumers with a powerful nutritional food choice that packs a kaleidoscope of superior flavors and the following healthier inclusions:

  • Tahini is richer in protein than milk, yogurt, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, soy, sunflower, wheat germ and pecan nuts.
  • Tahini contains natural lecithin, which reduces blood fat levels and provides protection from environmental pollutants such as nicotine.
  • Tahini provides substantial amounts of many vitamins including Vitamin E, which slows the aging of body cells and helps maintain proper focusing of the eyes.
  • Tahini is also one of the best sources of Vitamin T (very few foods are). Vitamin T improves memory and concentration in combination with phosphorous also present in Tahini, providing a potent brain and nerve food.

“As a leading manufacturer of tahini, our never-ending goal is to produce tahini products that taste great and provide consumers with a healthy food choice. Healthy is good. Healthy and tasty is fantastic,” added Maroun.

Sesame King Tahini pastes come in 16-ounce plastic jars and are available in the following seven delicious flavors:

Sesame King Roasted Tahini – This tahini flavor can be used for a variety of savory and sweet recipes. It’s the perfect complement for hummus, sauces, dressings and can really enhance the taste of any type of seafood, chicken or lamb dish. Eat straight from the jar for a healthy alternative to peanut butter.

Sesame King Light Roast Tahini – This tahini flavor is a fan favorite. Just the right amount of roasted flavor that is perfect for mixed green salads, cold noodle salads, as a marinade or as a mix for coleslaw.

Sesame King Garlic Tahini – This tahini flavor is the perfect complement to an array of dishes and takes fish, chicken or lamb into the next stratosphere.

Sesame King Olive Oil Tahini – This tahini flavor is perfect for those unique salads and sauces and is a true enhancer for roasted potatoes and vegetables.

Sesame King Cajun Tahini – This tahini flavor packs a powerful punch of pungent flavor and aroma that takes seafood, chicken or lamb to the next level. Try it as a topping or dip and see where its lands on your dipping meter.

Sesame King Honey Tahini – This tahini flavor delivers an irresistible flavor that is sure to tame the biggest sweet tooth and is the perfect healthy alternative to halvah.

Sesame King Chocolate Tahini – This tahini flavor is so versatile and delicious it can be used as a dip, as a spread on toast, drizzle it on your favorite vegetables, or eat straight from the jar.

Sesame King Tahini can be found at such fine retailers as Whole Food Markets, Market Basket, Restaurant Depots and many other fine markets and specialty health food stores or order online at www.sesameking.com.

It’s a Scoop! Clover Launches New Cowlifornia-Made Organic Ice Cream Line

Dairy producer Clover Stornetta Farms is launching a new line of premium ice cream made from fresh organic Clover milk and cream. These 12 new, decadent flavors will debut as a six-month exclusive placement in local independent grocers and Whole Foods Market®.

“Giving Whole Foods Market and our independent stores an exclusive, serves our mission to support businesses with like-minded philosophies,” says Clover President & CEO Marcus Benedetti. “Craft ice cream is booming. The farming principles behind our nutritious milk coupled with interesting ice cream flavors and partnerships will put Clover’s best dairy foot forward.”

Each quart is made with organic milk from happy, humane-certified Clover cows living on family-owned dairy farms. Every scoop is blended with the best quality local ingredients to create these new flavors: Chocolate Nirvana (made with fair trade Organic TCHO Chocolate in Berkeley), Straight Up Vanilla, Mint to Be, Hoppy Hour (using Bear Republic Brewing Company’s Racer 5 IPA® from Cloverdale), Cowlifornia Sweet Cream, French Press, Eat Your Milk & Cookies, Strawberry Shindig, Creamy PB&C, Pistachio Perfecto, Petaluma Pothole (in honor of our hometown’s roads) and Tempt Me Toffee (made with San Francisco’s Charles Chocolates English Toffee).

The reveal of Clover premium organic craft ice creams will kick off with in-store samples, signage and a strategic radio campaign with social media messaging, and PR that reflects Clover’s core values of farm-fresh, sustainability, family, animal welfare and superior quality.

Polska Foods Serves up Tradition in Pierogi

By Lorrie Baumann

Polska Foods is bringing a traditional pre-Soviet Polish culinary staple to American grocers’ freezer cases. The young California company goes to great lengths to make its Organic Potato Cheese Pierogi, Mushroom Cabbage Vegan Pierogi with Sauerkraut, Organic Spinach & Feta Pierogi and Savory Beef & Pork Pierogi from high-quality organic ingredients and time- and labor-intensive methods to produce products that honor the culinary traditions of Chief Operations Officer Tomasz Piszczek’s Polish grandmother, says Bridget McQueen-Piszczek, the company’s CEO.

McQueen-Piszczek discovered pierogi when her new husband, Tomasz Piszczek, took her to Poland to meet his family in 2010. “Everything we ate at his parent’s farm was from the garden, the fields, or wild-picked from the neighboring forest – even the meat we ate was from a neighbor,” she says. “When I had their pierogi with all the fresh ingredients, I thought, this is incredible.” Piszczek’s parents and grandmother didn’t speak any English, and McQueen-Piszczek didn’t speak any Polish. “We ended up communicating through the food,” she said. “Good food allowed us to share a moment of love and appreciation when the language barrier prevented us from connecting.”

“When I came back to California, I said that we had to get some of these pierogi,” she continued. “We tried everywhere, even went to the East Coast, to delis where there were lines out the door.” But none of those pierogi compared to the ones made by her grandmother-in-law in Poland with thin delicate dough and stuffed with savory fillings. So finally, the Piszczeks decided that they were just going to have to learn how to make their own. They asked Piszczek’s grandmother for her recipes. “We started out making it just for ourselves, but when you make pierogi, you make a lot and you want to share them,” McQueen-Piszczek says. Dinner parties with friends turned into requests from friends and family members for a chance to buy the pierogi for their own tables, and then that turned into sales at local farmers markets and then a sale to the local Whole Foods market. “We just kept taking one step after the other, and then one day you wake up and think, Wow, we’ve got a whole company,” McQueen-Piszczek says.

It took a year after the Piszczeks decided to make the pierogi for the farmers market to find the right ingredients. “We visited the farms and the plants of all ingredient providers to guarantee quality and authenticity. Some of the ingredients, such as the cheese, had to be custom made to mimic the quality you find in Poland,” McQueen-Piszczek says. “Today we work with one of the only local organic mills in the Bay Area. Starting with exceptional ingredients is essential to gourmet pierogi, and all our pierogi are made fresh and flash frozen to preserve the flavor, texture, and nutrients.”

The Potato Cheese and Mushroom Cabbage Sauerkraut Pierogi were the first on the market. The Savory Beef & Pork Pierogi were added later because customers were asking for it, and the Organic Spinach & Feta Pierogi were added to the line as a more Americanized version of the traditional dish. “You see Spinach Feta pierogi in Poland today, but it’s not a flavor from many generations ago,” McQueen-Piszczek says.

The Potato Cheese Pierogi are certified organic and use handcrafted farmers cheese. The filling includes organic potatoes, organic caramelized onions, whole grain organic millet, roasted garlic, and fresh herbs. McQueen-Piszczek says that she occasionally gets questions about whether the inclusion of millet in the pierogi filling is quite authentic, but it’s true to the traditional Old World recipes from past generations. “The millet gives it more fiber and also has a nutty flavor. It’s a very old, ancient grain, and a lot of pierogi just had millet in them. It was used before potatoes,” she says. There’s a whole-wheat version and one made with unbleached, organic wheat flour.

Mushroom Cabbage Pierogi with Sauerkraut are made with a recipe that’s several centuries old and is the kind of pierogi that Poles eat during the Wigilia Christmas Eve vigil, when traditionally, people didn’t eat meat while they waited for Christmas Day. “It’s the tradition of giving something up in order to gain. Religious tradition has changed, but this flavor is still very popular year round,” McQueen-Piszczek says. “This recipe is from our family in Poland, from many generations of eating at Christmas-time. When Polish natives try this flavor for the first time, you can see in their facial expressions that this is the way their grandmother made it, and many tell us they haven’t had it for 20-plus years. We get that a lot.”

They’re vegan, and raw, fermented gourmet sauerkraut is the key ingredient, McQueen-Piszczek says. “ The second key is a slow cooking process where you caramelize the onions, and slowly cook all the herbs and vegetables together for hours, creating a complex, well-balanced flavor. We make pierogi just like home – no short cuts in our processing.”

The Organic Spinach Feta Pierogi are award-winning and vegetarian, made from organic spinach, organic caramelized onions, portabello mushrooms, roasted red bell peppers and feta cheese in a whole-wheat organic dough. They offer 16 grams of whole grains per serving. Savory Beef & Pork Pierogi are made with organic white flour, hormone- and antibiotic-free minimally processed beef round and pork along with caramelized onions, whole-grain organic buckwheat, crimini mushrooms, roasted garlic, smoky paprika, spicy peppers and herbs in a tomato base. “You almost don’t need a topping on the beef and pork ones,” McQueen-Piszczek says. “We used the best-sourced meats and ingredients that you can get.”

Spaghetti Without the Gluten from Explore-Asian

By Richard Thompson

For those who have to avoid their favorite pasta meals comes Edamame Spaghetti from Explore-Asian, a new spin on pasta that’s not only good, but healthier too. Gluten free, organic, vegan, kosher, non-GMO and approved by the American Heart Association, it’s not just ridiculously delicious but it’s sure to appeal to a wide range of health-conscious shoppers.

Retailing from 3.99 to 4.79, Edamame Spaghetti is made simply from organic beans and water. One serving has 24 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber, packaged and ready to eat in just a few minutes. Add a little pesto for a delectable treat, but any sauce is the perfect complement. This is pasta reinvented.

For further information visit them at www.explore-asian.com.

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