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Domestic Balsamic in the Heart of New Mexico

By Micah Cheek

“May third, we had a serious freeze. We lost about a quarter of the grapes,” says Steve Darland of The Darland Company. “One year we had a family of bears.” Darland’s farm is located in Monticello, New Mexico, a former ghost town just north of Truth Or Consequences. This arid environment, though sometimes unforgiving, is an ideal place to age balsamic vinegar. Darland personally inspects and prunes his grapevines throughout the growing season. Every grape counts; it will take 200 pounds of fruit and at least 12 years to make each bottle of Traditional Organic Balsamic of Monticello.

Grapes that make it to harvest are crushed and heated over a wood fire. After being reduced and fermented, the grape must is poured off into handmade barrels. These casks are crafted by Francesco Renzi, whose family has been making them in the same building for 500 years, long before balsamic vinegar was considered a viable mass market product. The grape will spend 12 years circulating through casks made of oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, acacia and ash, drawing volatile compounds from each to develop its snappy, resinous flavor. Darland says, “Periods of intense work are followed by long periods of time where grapes are growing or vinegar is aging in its casks.”

Monticello is a hub for organic farmers, despite the spring frosts and animals. They all meet in Truth Or Consequences for a farmer’s market, which the Darlands helped start after their first grape harvest. The revenue for their first batch of balsamic was over a decade away, so other sources of income came from the farm. “A great way to fill the time is to grow unique, but potentially popular, healthy, delicious organic crops which thrive in this environment,” says Darland. The farm produced shishito peppers, pomegranates, and other organic products. “My wife, Jane, became the Johnny Appleseed of Sierra County by helping other growers choose, then order and plant the right fruit trees to survive and thrive in our climate – thousands of trees,” he adds.

The more you learn about Darland’s process, the farther removed it is from the balsamic vinegars readily available on shelves. These products, known as industrial vinegars, are generally aged for as little as hours or days before being thickened with sugar, molasses or mosto cotto, a sweet grape syrup. This thick and sweet vinegar is made to mimic the traditional balsamic flavor, because demand for the product has long ago outstripped supply. This demand has fueled a massive market for the sweetened balsamic. “It may be a polite fake, but with an estimated quarter billion dollars of annual US sales, it is a much, much better business than it is a gourmet food item,” says Darland. For him, these products do not even fit into the category of real balsamic vinegar. “The key thing for people to learn: when you read the ingredient list on the label and it has more than one, it is industrial balsamic. Like it or not.”

The Darlands devote their down time to travel. They conduct tastings at stores and restaurants to highlight the differences between their balsamic and the less expensive industrial alternatives. “We take nearly every opportunity to visit islands of foodies, wherever we can sample and talk about the real thing, since ours is the only American commercial balsamic and probably the only organic version in the world,” says Darland. Surprisingly, one of the most difficult groups to convince is chefs. “Chefs are challenged with being fashionable, and making a profit. In culinary school or other training, chefs are shown how to make faux balsamic,” says Darland. Many chefs will cook down inexpensive industrial vinegars with sugar to make a facsimile of a rich, aged balsamic to use for plate presentation. They end up with a sweet product that clings to the tongue, but has had all the subtle flavors and volatile compounds cooked out of it. “It’s a hoax on the menu. It makes everyone the fool – the wait help, the kitchen staff, the chef and the diner all get the wrong lesson without ever tasting balsamic.” says Darland. “There’s a cruel humor in it.”

While cost-conscious chefs are reticent to pick up a bottle of Monticello vinegar, Darland has had to turn away many retailers trying purchase his product. Producing a maximum of 1000 bottles per year makes relationships with retailers a delicate balancing act. Each new retailer thins out the number of bottles that go to all the rest. “We sell online and through very special retailers, and have to be judicious with supply. We sold everything we bottled last year, and we were down to just two bottles when the year ended,” says Darland. “So, we want retail allies with smart retail staff who we can rely on for sales. In turn they can rely on us for supply.” In addition to the 1000 4.5-ounce bottles, limited batches of one ounce bottles are released, as well as a condiment balsamic version made from the same grape must, but aged for less than 12 years.

When asked how he is planning on expanding, Darland states, “I’m not.” While some nationwide retailers have tried to bring Traditional Organic Balsamic of Monticello to their shelves, Darland doesn’t have enough stock, and more importantly, doesn’t like the way they do business. “If we had done that, we would have done it 23 years ago,” says Darland. “The retailers we have are really smart and really know what they’ve got.” Though making organic and artisan products is more involved, Darland steadfastly believes that small production of quality ingredients has a growing place in the market. “These days, everything is monetized. But with true balsamic, there is no short term fiscal shortcut. Rather than repeating the classics, people have settled for fakes. Still, there is room for real, and things made with great care,” says Darland. “Handcrafted, organic, small production is a lively segment for balsamic and many gourmet products.”

Mario Battaglia Appointed International Managing Director for Global ID Group

Global ID Group, Inc., a U.S.-based provider of integrated food safety and food quality services, announced today that Mario Battaglia has joined the company as managing director, international. Mr. Battaglia will oversee the company’s global certification business as well as its international offices in Brazil, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Global ID, through its CERT ID business units, is accredited across a broad range of Global Food Safety Industry (GFSI) certification standards, including British Retail Consortium, Safe Quality Foods Program, ISO 22000 and GlobalG.A.P. The company is also a global leader in the certification of sustainable and responsible agriculture under the ProTerra, Bonsucro and ISCC standards.

Battaglia joins Global ID having spent over 13 years within the testing, inspection & certification industry, most recently with SAI Global as director of global business development. Previously Battaglia held various national and international management positions within Philips. He will be based in the U.K., working out of the company’s CERT ID office in Sutton Coldfield.

Attendees of the March 10-12 Natural Products Expo West 2016 trade show in Anaheim, Calif. are invited to learn more about this and other developments at Global ID Group by visiting the company’s booth.

On the Frontier in the Land of Gluten-Free

 

What’s in a name? For Against The Grain, a lot. It’s gluten-free and grain-free, but it has always had a slightly different way of navigating the food landscape. Now in its tenth year, it has been on the frontier of gluten-free since the beginning. Long before it was fashionable, it sought out high quality, simple ingredients, and rejected industrial formulations. Now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. It has always made everything in its own dedicated gluten-free and nut-free facility, right down to its unique nut-free pesto sauce. Innovation at Against The Grain doesn’t come from food scientists and focus groups; it comes from a whole company of foodies eating every day what we make. For Against The Grain, taste is paramount, and it all begins with the finest ingredients and a staff that cares deeply about its real-food mission.

Against The Grain has talked with too many gluten intolerant consumers to ever believe the gluten-free diet is a fad. Yes, it has been through phases. Gluten-Free 1.0 was all about dry, rice flour-based formulations. These products served a need, but only for those on a restricted diet. Increased interest in a gluten-free diet came with Gluten Free 2.0, but so did the addition of all kinds of engineered ingredients to make products taste better and last longer, like gums, stabilizers, anti-molding agents and enzymes. Now there’s Gluten Free 3.0: not only are consumers looking for transparent ingredients, but vegetable-based “free from” products as well. The trick is to make foods without an ingredient deck of industrial formulations like protein isolates, methylcellulose and gelling agents one can neither spell nor pronounce. Against The Grain is sticking with its “real food” mission, so look to it later in 2016 to be pushing the boundaries of the free-from, vegetable-based, no funky ingredients frontier.

At Expo West this year, it is introducing its new single-serve flatbread pizza/wrap. Baked, it is a grain-free pizza; warmed and folded it’s a hand-held wrap. Initially available in Classic (tomato and cheese) and Fiesta (black bean, sour cream, lime and spices) flavors, it’s a great healthy snack or an ideal platform for any meal. The crust features light buckwheat, sourced directly from a farmer who grows and mills this naturally pesticide-free, amazingly smooth and neutral-tasting flour. Against The Grain doesn’t care that ancient grains are trending; it believes in the merits of a grain-free diet, and light buckwheat flour, from the seed of a plant in the rhubarb family, that is nutritious, highly versatile and great tasting. As always, it is consumer-driven rather than investor- and shareholder-driven. It will continue to go against the grain, including ancient ones.

 

 

Milkmakers Lactation Cookies & Lactation Teas Support Breastfeeding Moms – Naturally

 

While increasing numbers of new mothers begin their journey into motherhood breastfeeding, more than 30 percent stop before six months and nearly 50 percent abandon breastfeeding completely before one year. Research has shown that nearly half of moms stop breastfeeding before they want to because of insufficient milk supply. Milkmakers Lactation Cookies – as well as a brand new line of Lactation Teas – offer moms delicious lactation support that are a sweet solution for her busy, breastfeeding life.

Today’s new mom thinks organic and natural. She prefers real foods and healthy snacks. She breastfeeds because she knows it is best for her baby. She’s busy taking care of everyone in her life but may forget to take care of herself, leaving herself vulnerable to milk supply issues. “Breastfeeding can be challenging,” said Emily Kane, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Milkmakers. “Our Milkmakers Lactation Cookies and our new Milkmakers Lactation Teas offer something to make life easier for mom at a very important time in her life and her baby’s life.”

The new Milkmakers Lactation Teas contain key ingredients that help to boost milk production, and are available in two flavors: original and coconut. Likewise, Milkmakers Lactation Cookies contain natural key ingredients that help boost breast milk supply. Oats, brewer’s yeast and flax seed – traditional remedies used to support breastfeeding moms – are baked into every cookie, along with a custom blend of vitamins and minerals that will help moms replenish, revitalize and rebalance.

Kane actually created Milkmakers because she needed them. After the birth of her first daughter, she returned to work and found herself in a new situation: trying to manage work life, home life and fitting in the time to pump during an already busy day. As her milk supply decreased, she worried she wouldn’t be able to provide enough milk for her baby. A lactation consultant suggested lactation cookies and to her surprise, she saw an immediate boost in her milk production. A skilled baker, Kane experimented with recipes until she developed one that was absolutely delicious. She then went on to start Milkmakers because she realized the powerful support that lactation cookies could provide for breastfeeding moms.

The first line of Milkmakers Lactation Cookies became an instant success online and within a few years, was in mommy boutiques, hospitals and birthing centers across the United States. Today, Milkmakers products can be found in major retail stores, including Babies “R” Us, Buy Buy Baby, Whole Foods, Central Market, Wegmans and Sprouts.

Milkmakers Lactation Cookies are sold by the bag as well as in grab-and-go bakery boxes and are available in three delicious flavors: Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin and Lemon Zest. The Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin are also available in a traditional baking mix as well as a gluten-free baking mix.

Milkmakers has a finger on the pulse of today’s breastfeeding mom and supports her during a precious time of life when mom gets to nourish and bond with baby. “It’s hard to juggle work, kids and everything else that life throws at you,” said Kane. “My hope is that Milkmakers will make mom’s lives more fun and convenient – and less stressful.”

 

 

A Salmon Called Frankenfish

By Micah Cheek

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale of genetically modified salmon in the US, sparking conflict in seafood circles and setting a new precedent for genetically modified foods in the US market. Aqua Bounty, the company producing salmon modified to grow at a faster rate, was approved to sell their product, AquAdvantage Salmon, after data from their organization was analyzed along with data from other peer reviewed sources, determining that the health and environmental risks to the fish’s production are low, and that the genetically modified salmon is not nutritionally different than its conventionally-bred alternative.

Various environmental groups and seafood organizations have spoken out against the FDA’s decision, contending that the animal has the potential to cause serious damage if it escaped into the wild. Concerns over environmental damage and risks to human health have vocalized consumers and pushed many retailers to publicly announce their refusal to sell Aqua Bounty’s salmon. Aqua Bounty has declined an interview request for this story.

Dana Perls, Food and Technology Campaigner with Friends of the Earth, an environmental reform group, says that public concern is based in a lack of consensus in the scientific community over genetically modified foods. “Consumers have strongly vocalized that they don’t want to eat GMO seafood or meat,” says Perls. “There are far too many risks for consumers to feel that this is sustainable or healthy; in fact, scientific studies point to the opposite.”

Critics of the FDA approval contend that using studies that Aqua Bounty itself conducted is unacceptable, as Aqua Bounty has a stake in the results of the findings. One document used to counter the FDA’s decision is a draft risk assessment of the environmental and human health risks of Aqua Bounty’s salmon conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Information in the assessment suggests that the genetic modification to the salmon can produce fish with inconsistent growth rates. This, groups suggest, indicates that the genetic modification process is not well-controlled or predictable. While the assessment does state that the salmon’s accelerated growth rates are highly variable based on environment, a summary of the assessment released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada goes on to indicate that AquAdvantage salmon pose a low risk to both the Canadian environment and human health.

Jacqueline Claudia, CEO of Love The Wild and formerly the Chief Strategy Officer of Kanpachi Farms, says that the risks involved in adding GMO fish to the menu have been overblown. It should be noted that Love The Wild will not be using genetically modified seafood in its products. “From a scientific perspective, a lot of issues in the media are just not true,” Claudia says. For instance, there have been concerns that escaped genetically modified fish could wreak environmental havoc if they escape. “In order to produce this gene[the genetic modification that makes the salmon grow faster], what happens is you get all females. And only 1.1 percent of those fish are capable of reproducing,” says Claudia. While the FDA’s draft risk assessment says that Aqua Bounty’s methods have been 99.8 percent effective at inducing sterility, the assessment by Fisheries and Oceans Canada says that Aqua Bounty only ensured an effectiveness of at least 95 percent. Claudia continues, “Let’s just say the stars align and it lands in the right gravel bed and finds a male salmon. The chances of them reproducing are really ridiculously small.” Claudia adds that part of the reason the genetically modified salmon grow so fast is because they have to eat all through the year, rather than hibernating as conventional salmon do. This, plus the fact that the modified fish have smaller fins than conventional varieties, suggests that any progeny of an escaped modified salmon would be unfit to live in the wild and pass along their genes.
Claudia believes that increasing yields with genetic modification has the potential to help feed the world in a less expensive and more environmentally responsible way. In addition, she believes that in the future, organisms could be modified to be disease resistant, reducing the need for antibiotics. “If people were to understand the science, we could increase the welfare of the animals.” While she believes the potential benefits of genetically modified fish are high, she believes fisheries should focus on selective breeding methods first, as the limits of that kind of growth optimization have not been fully reached.

While argument in the environmental and scientific communities continues, public opinion has already begun to turn the tide economically. In a 2013 New York Times poll, three-quarters of respondents said they would not eat genetically modified fish. A Friends of the Earth petition urging retailers to publicly refuse to sell genetically modified salmon has been signed by some heavy hitters in grocery retail. ”Customers have spoken, and we have seen companies such as Kroger and Costco stand up as leaders in seafood sustainability,” says Perl. “Fishing communities around the world are also rejecting GMO salmon because of environmental risks and the economic impacts it could have.” With such a strong public reaction, it is difficult to see where AquAdvantage salmon’s place would be in the US market. “We’ve had pretty much every grocery chain refuse to sell it; I struggle to see how anyone will sell it,” adds Claudia. “I don’t think we’ll see a lot more GMO fish if the first one in the market is just flatly rejected.”

Natural by Every Name at 2016 Natural Products Expo West

by Greg Gonzales

Consumers aren’t lone wanderers seeking sustenance and flavor in supermarket wastelands full of bland junk. Just look at the list of products at this year’s Natural Products Expo West to see why. Those attending have the chance to sample some of the best in natural products, with exhibitors debuting tasty, affordable and nutrition-packed products that fit every diet. In addition to product launches, attendees will have a chance to attend educational sessions about the industry.

Author and consumer strategist Martha Rogers will be speaking on consumer influence Thursday, March 10, to help company teams cultivate and maintain a reputation as a trustworthy brand. Attendees can also turn on, tune in and chill out in the morning at a yoga session on the Grand Plaza before hitting the show floor. Bust some myths about organic and learn how “Organic Will Feed the World” on March 9 in the Marriott Grand Ballroom. “The Business Case for Going Organic” session will answer questions anyone has about making the switch for their business, too, on March 10 in Grand Ballroom F. And on the very definition of natural, Jason Sapsin, former Associate Chief of Counsel to the FDA, will be speaking about public commentary to the FDA, on March 9 in Marriott Grand Ballroom G/H.

On the show floor, Shire City Herbals will exhibit the powerful Fire Cider brand. They’ll be introducing their new, fully-organic, African Bronze Fire Cider. It looks like something out of grandma’s medicine cabinet, in 8-ounce apothecary-style bottles, and tastes like it, too. Sweetened with raw honey and flavored with organic, whole, raw orange, lemon, onion, ginger, horseradish, habenero pepper, garlic and tumeric, this stuff has one hellacious, invigorating kick. Mix an ounce into a Bloody Mary, add some fire to a salad dressing and get creative with the eclectic blend of tangy, spicy and sweet. Email info@firecider.com for more information or stop by Hot Products.

Coffee drinkers who seek transparency, organic certification, social good and a morning jolt in a single cup might look to Ethical Bean’s booth. This certified B Corporation will be cupping its fair-trade, organic, kosher coffee to NPEW this year, including their new pre-ground Sweet Espresso blend. The team will have show-goers anticipating the perfect cup from a Ratio coffee maker, which brews machine-precision pour-over style java. And come prepared with a QR reader app: Ethical Bean packaging features a QR code that’s unique to each product, and takes people on a journey from crop to cup. Take your own journey in Hall E or call 604.431.3834 to learn more.

18 Rabbits is making gluten-free granola products everyone can enjoy. The company recently made changes to ensure all of their products are gluten-free, and that goal continues with their expanded granola line. The team at 18 Rabbits says the particulars are still a secret, but the new granola will be at the show. These all-organic, non-GMO granola products are sweetened with maple syrup and honey, no added sugar. Hop like a bunny down to Hall C to sample the secret for yourself. Stop by for more information or email customerservice@18rabbits.com.

You are what you eat, and in some cases, you can wear what you eat — for health benefits. La Tourangelle’s full line of 20 different oils includes its Special Reserve Hazelnut Oil, which just won the Good Food Award in January. Get a taste of France with all-new infused oils, made with fresh herbs including basil, garlic and herb de provence from a family-owned French farm. The propellant-free Sun Coco Spray has a high enough smoke point for grilling, and so does the propellant-free Avocado Oil Spray. And get vital antioxidants, vitamin E and omega 3 with the Organic Amazonian NutriBlend Oil, made from sacha inchi. Follow the savory scents around Hall E to see for yourself, and learn more from sales@latourangelle.com.

Savory and specialty desserts are going to be a hit this year with Taza Chocolate’s fresh additions to the Amaze Bar line. Taza has expanded the line to include a permanent addition of its Maple Pecan bar, and its seasonal bars will have attendees longing for a cabin in the woods. The 70 percent dark chocolate Cranberry Pumpkin Spice bar actually contains pumpkin seeds. And the 60 percent dark chocolate Gingerbread Cookie bar, with gingerbread spices and organic, gluten-free, vegan ginger snaps is sure to be a hit. Taza’s stone milled chocolate products are all certified gluten free, organic, non-GMO verified, direct trade certified, dairy free, soy free and vegan. The bars retail for $5. See how this chocolate gets you closer to the cocoa bean in Hall E or email press@tazachocolate.com.

Ancient Harvest is also looking at a big year, offering NPEW attendees a sneak peak at their new packaging and products. The new protein pasta meal kits are complete, nutritious meals with lentil and quinoa protein pasta as the base, that come in two flavors, Il Italiano and Cubanitos. Then there’s the new savory ancient grain bars, which pack 10 grams of plant-based protein and 7 grams of fiber into one bar. Try all three flavors, including Garden Vegetable, Garlic & Herb and Roasted Jalapeno. Ancient Harvest combines ancient grains and quinoa with beans and lentils to create gluten-free foods that provide the same taste, texture and valuable nutrition consumers expect from any other meal. The ancient grain bars retail for $1.89 and the meal kits go for $5.89. See how food can be easy and delicious in Hall D, and visit ancientharvest.com to learn more.

The Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA, runs March 9–12 at the Anaheim Hilton and also March 11–13 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Commission Recommends Solutions for Hunger

By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. doesn’t have a shortage of food or a shortage of food assistance programs. Despite that, in 2014, 5.6 percent of American households – that’s about 7 million households – had experienced hunger in the past year, for an average of about seven months, according to a new report from the National Commission on Hunger titled “Freedom from Hunger: An Achievable Goal for the United States of America.” The commission was created by Congress to recommend ways to use existing USDA funds to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity.

Hunger in the United States isn’t a result of famine; it comes from many factors that mean that, while there’s food available, many people can’t afford enough of it. The percent of households facing hunger rose from 4.1 percent in 2007, before the Great Recession, to 5.4 percent in 2010, and it’s been holding steady around 5.6 percent ever since, despite six years of economic recovery.

Some of that’s because not enough Americans are working or are underemployed. Labor force participation has been declining since its peak in 2000, which means that many people who could work aren’t doing so. Structural changes in the American economy, away from manufacturing and toward more service jobs, have meant that there are fewer job opportunities for people who don’t have a college education. If you graduated from high school and went right to work, you’re more likely to hold a job that pays low wages and is part-time, unstable or seasonal. The job may not have much opportunity for career advancement and may not offer benefits such as sick leave and family leave. These jobs are also associated with major income instability, and these are the kinds of conditions that can cause a household to experience hunger, according to the report. “We hear every day loud and clear from all areas of the state that people can’t support their families,” said Donna Yellen, Chief Program Officer from Preble Street, which operates eight local soup kitchens in Maine, in her testimony before the Commission. “They can’t get food because they can’t find decent jobs.”

The costs of hunger include greater health care expenditures, reduced worker productivity and greater rates of worker absenteeism. Senior adults are among the most vulnerable to hunger, and the number of older adults is expected to rive over the next few decades. Compared to seniors who don’t experience hunger, those who are hungry are three times as likely to suffer from depression, 50 percent more likely to have diabetes and 60 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure or a heart attack.

Hunger also has indirect costs, including impairment of childhood health and development, which exacts a price in their academic achievement and even their mental health. About 4.4 million of people in households that include children under 6 are in households that report hunger, and households headed by single parents are particularly vulnerable. Adults in these households frequently go without food so they can feed their children, but that affects their ability to juggle parenting, work and self-care, according to the report. Hungry adults have higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

While the government can’t solve the problem of hunger within our borders alone, improvements in government programs can play a part. The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the program formerly known as Food Stamps) needs to get better, as do child assistance programs. Those programs are neither as effective, cooperative or as efficient as they should be, according to the Commission.

The U. S. spent $103.6 billion on food and nutrition assistance programs in 2014, with one in four Americans having participated in at least one of the government’s 15 food assistance programs at some point during the year. The largest of these government programs are SNAP, WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

WIC provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant or post-partum women and to infants and children under five who are at nutritional risk. In 2014, more than half of all newborn children in the United States participated in the WIC program, which has been credited with a 68 percent reduction in hunger among families with young children. WIC is associated with healthier births, more nutritious diets and improved cognitive development as well as a greater likelihood that children will be immunized, according to Kate Breslin, President and CEO of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, who testified before the Commission.

SNAP is the country’s largest food assistance program. It works by giving low-income individuals and households additional income to buy groceries. SNAP provided assistance to 46.5 million people in an average month in 2014 and is credited with decreasing the percentage of households experiencing hunger by 12 percent to 19 percent. In households participating in SNAP, children are 16 percent less likely to be at risk of developmental delays, and they have lower rates of hospitalization compared to children in similar households that don’t participate in SNAP.

The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs operate in more than 100,000 schools and residential institutions and served more than 30 million students in the 2014 fiscal year. In 2014, nearly 22 million school children received a free or reduced price school lunch.

In addition to these government programs, a variety of individuals, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and corporations are engaged in hunger relief efforts in their communities. These include Feeding America, the largest umbrella organization for food banks and food rescue organizations. In 2010, Feeding America-affiliated agencies distributed food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. More recently, in 2015, the Specialty Food Association donated more than 97,000 pounds of food at last Summer’s Fancy Food Show with the help of 324 City Harvest volunteers and another 100,000 pounds of food at the 2015 Winter Fancy Food Show in conjunction with Feed the Hungry. “Stonewall Kitchen, like a lot of other companies here at the Fancy Food Show, is a small company. We’re not a faceless corporation. We know the people in our communities. We donate food, and we work at our local soup kitchens in Maine and New Hampshire, so donating our food here at the show is just a logical extension of that,” said John Stiker, CEO of Stonewall Kitchen.

Most of the Commission’s recommendations for improving government food assistance programs without additional spending relate to improvements in either SNAP or child nutrition programs. For SNAP, the Commission recommendations are intended to promote work, improve nutrition and enhance well-being. In particular, the Commission recommends that Congress and the USDA should require states to encourage SNAP applicants who are able to work to do so by supporting them in their efforts to seek employment or participate in work-related activities that might realistically lead to available jobs. The Commission also recommended that individual states should have more flexibility in how they use employment and training funding tied to SNAP, so that, for instance, a state might use some of its SNAP money to provide substance abuse and mental health treatment if that’s what will help a SNAP recipient get back to work.

The Commission also recommends that Congress and the USDA should find ways to encourage SNAP recipients to purchase fruits, vegetables, high-quality proteins, whole grains and other healthy foods and to disallow the use of SNAP benefits for purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages. These might include requiring grocery stores and other stores that qualify as SNAP vendors to devote more prominent shelf space for healthier foods and vegetables.

27 Complete Chocolate Boot Camp

RCI Chocolate Boot Camp Class of 2016

RCI Chocolate Boot Camp Class of 2016

Twenty-seven chocolatiers participated in Retail Confectioners International’s Chocolate Boot Camp® held February 22 through 25 at Fascia’s Chocolates in Waterbury, Connecticut. Students in the course varied in age and experience, yet each of them graduated with a better understanding of working with chocolate.

“As part of a 102 year-old business, the last thing we want to do is become complacent,” said Michael Crudden, Vice President of Operations for Rosalind Candy Castle in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. “Through my experience at Chocolate Boot Camp, I am able to take back new knowledge and ideas that will help us grow as a company.”

The four-day course incorporated both lecture and hands-on lab sessions, so that students could apply what they were learning. For example, they learned about the science of tempering chocolate in the lecture portion and then were able to see and be involved in the process through the lab sessions. Many students came in with a basic understanding of tempering and walked away with a comprehensive knowledge of not only what tempering is, but also the different methods to temper chocolate and how that affects the end product.

Chocolate Boot Camp was taught by five confectionery and chocolate experts who have more than 150 years of combined industry experience. Lead instructor Randy Hofberger, with R&D Candy Consultants, has been an instructor at RCI’s Chocolate Boot Camp since the first course was offered in 2003. “Everyone feels like they’ve learned something they can take back to their business and that is the best part for us.”

Retail Confectioners International provides educational opportunities across the country for confectionery retailers. For information about upcoming courses and events, visit retailconfectioners.org.

Meijer Craft Beer Sales Result in Big Business for Local Breweries

Twenty years after carrying its first craft brew at a single Kalamazoo store, Meijer is selling more than 34 locally-brewed craft beers each minute in Michigan while continuing to add up-and-coming local breweries to an extensive selection that rivals specialty stores across the Midwest.

Meijer says it expects to continue five years of double-digit volume growth in craft beer sales and plans to sell more than $90 million in craft beer in 2016, including $30 million in local and hyper-local craft beers produced by breweries in Michigan. Building on the popularity of local breweries that account for 44 percent of all craft beer sold in Michigan, Meijer will carry IPAs, amber ales, stouts, and porters from 50 Michigan breweries and also expand the reach of six of the most popular local brands in the state at stores across its Midwestern footprint this year.

“What’s happening here in Michigan is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Midwest and across the country – the state of craft beer is thriving,” said Peter Whitsett, Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing for Meijer, who notes that since 2010 the number of craft breweries Meijer carries and the space it provides for its selection has more than doubled. “Since carrying our first six packs of Bell’s Oberon in 1995, the culture of exploration in the craft beer community has continued to seek new tastes and flavors from locally-made brands. The craft partnerships we’ve forged over the last two decades are indicative of what is considered some of the best beers available in the country.”

The six breweries that will be featured in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin in 2016 include Bell’s Brewery, Founders Brewing Company, Short’s Brewing Company, New Holland Brewing Company, Atwater Brewery and Arcadia Brewing Company.

“It used to be that craft beer was only sold at small, independent stores,” said Dave Engbers, Co-founder of Founder’s Brewery, which started its partnership with Meijer in 2006 and sold more than 200,000 cases of its beer at Meijer stores this year. “Meijer took the opportunity to welcome craft beer enthusiasts and has done a great job engaging customers and listening to what they are demanding.”

“I remember coming to Meijer to start talking about distribution beyond our Bellaire brewery in 2006, and not yet having a production and packaging facility,” said Joe Short, Founder of Short’s Brewing Company. “The only way we could bring a sample was in a growler. They took a chance on us based on our experimental brews and that relationship not only helped build anticipation for our brand, but was pivotal in laying the foundation for our continued growth.”

Whitsett said Meijer customers can expect to see craft ciders, hard soda-flavored beers and distilled craft spirits to increase in popularity this year and that brewers will be aggressive with new innovations in barrel-aged brewing and techniques to improve consistency in each bottle or can of their brews. Whitsett also believes the popularity of hyper-localized breweries will continue to gain traction, and Michigan breweries like Perrin Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse Brewery and Griffin Claw Brewing Company will continue attracting craft beer enthusiasts.

“One of the most exciting things about the craft beer world is its constant evolution, and we’re seeing more enthusiasts and casual beer drinkers shopping our aisles in their quest to find new brews and tastes from Michigan and beyond,” Whitsett said. “Being a retailer that calls Beer City U.S.A. home, it’s always been about community for us, and we’re thrilled we can help breweries expand beyond their local boundaries while providing customers across the Midwest with the craft beers they are most excited about.”

New Hope Natural Media Announces 57 Finalists for the 2016 NEXTY Awards

New Hope Natural Media announces the finalists of its NEXTY Awards. The twice-annual award, which is connected to New Hope’s Natural Products Expo shows, is bestowed upon products that display true innovation, inspiration and integrity with the purpose of bringing more health to more people. From delicious sauces, snacks and desserts to revolutionary supplements and green products for the home, pets, kids and body, the vast field of finalists displayed high standards in transparency, sustainability, packaging, use of ingredients and give-back missions.

“The NEXTYs were created to recognize the most game-changing and inspiring products in the CPG market today, and our 2016 Expo West NEXTY finalists all fit that bill,” says Carlotta Mast, Executive Director of Content and Insights at New Hope. “Picking the winners in each category was a tough task for our judging panel of industry experts.”

To determine the winners, New Hope’s content and standards team narrowed the field of more than 500 submissions down to three finalists each in 19 categories. Next, seven esteemed industry judges were brought in to select the winning product in each category, which will be revealed on March 12 at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California.

The 2016 NEXTY Award finalists are:

  • Best New Mission-Based Product: Back to the Roots Organic Stoneground Flakes; Frontier Co-op Saffron; HimalaSalt
  • Best New Transparently Sourced Product: Ethical Bean Coffee Ground Sweet Espresso; Gaia Herbs Maca Powder; Health Warrior Chia Bars
  • Best New Natural Kid’s Product: California Kids #superclear Zit Balm; Oilogic Essential Oil Roll-­Ons; Zellee Organic Fruit Gel
  • Best New Beauty Product: Mother Dirt AO+ Mist; Radico Colour Me Organic; RADIUS USDA Organic Toothpaste
  • Best New Snack or Convenience Food: Bitty Foods Chiridos Cricket Flour Snack Chips; Karma Nuts Wrapped Cashews; The Naked Edge Veggie-Go’s Strawberry Chia Bites
  • Best New Sweet or Dessert: Heavenly Organics Chocolate Honey Patties; Torie & Howard Chewie Fruities; Vixen Kitchen Paleo Vegan Gelato
  • Best New Condiment: Burma Superstar Burma Love Laphet (Fermented Tea Leaves); EPIC Provisions Duck Fat Cooking Oil; Victoria’s Garden Grown Spicy Red Bell Pepper Dressing
  • Best New Organic Food or Beverage: Kamut International Kracklin’ KAMUT; Maple Hill Creamery 100% Grass-Fed Whole Milk Kefir; Rishi Tea Turmeric Ginger Chai Concentrate
  • Best New Special Diet Food: EPIC Provisions Turkey Cranberry Sage Bone Broth; Follow Your Heart VeganEgg; Miyoko’s Kitchen European Style Cultured VeganButter
  • Best Packaging: Alter Eco Compostable Quinoa Pouch; Back to the Roots Organic Stoneground Flakes; Dear North Alaska Smoked Sockeye Salmon
  • Best New Ingredient: DDW, The Color House Purple Corn Concentrate for Color; Glanbia Nutritionals HarvestPro Pea Protein 83E; Sioux Natural Veggan
  • Best New Beverage: Global Family Farms Sherpa Power; Global Gardens Group Inc.Veggemo; Pok Pok Som Soda Turmeric
  • Best New Supplement: Gaia Herbs Daily Wellbeing: Men’s & Daily Wellbeing: Women’s; Natural Factors BioSil On Your Game; Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega 2X
  • Best New Organic or Non-GMO Supplement: Natural Factors Whole Earth & Sea product line; Nature’s Dynamics Vegan Garden Gummy line; SOTRU Medicinal Mushroom Drink Mix (Organic, Fermented)
  • Best New Frozen Product: EatPops; Salty Girl Seafood Coho Salmon with Lemon Pepper & Garlic; The Jackfruit Company Jackfruit Nuggets
  • Best New Meat, Seafood or Meat Alternative Product: Dear North Alaska Salmon Bites; Good Seed Good Seed Patties; Pure Traditions Mountain Sticks
  • Best New Supplement Delivery Format: NeoCell Joint Bursts; Premama Fertility Reproductive Support Powdered Supplement; UAS Laboratories UP4 ADULT CUBES
  • Best New Pet Product: Joyful Bath Co. Bathday Natural Dog Soap, Lavender & Oats; The Honest Kitchen Bone Broth; Vibrant Companions Joint + Hip
  • Best New Natural Living Product: Back to the Roots Water Garden; bamboobies Bamboo Reusable Nursing Pads; New Wave Enviro Alkaline Pitcher Filter

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