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Specialty Food Ad Contest Winner Announced

Vanda Asapahu, founder of Ayara Thai Sauces, is the winner of the Specialty Food Association’s second annual advertising contest for specialty food professionals to tell a compelling story about their passion for specialty food.

Asapahu’s story was selected from 142 inspiring entries about family businesses, culinary breakthroughs, childhood memories, career changes, and more. The prize is a professional ad that will be part of the Association’s national advertising and marketing campaign. The ad will be featured in leading specialty food trade magazines, online, and at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. The show takes place Jan. 11-13, 2015.

More than 12,000 votes were cast in the not-for-profit trade association’s second annual “My Story, My Ad” contest. The 10 entries with the most votes went on to a final round of judging by a panel of advertising and specialty food professionals. The contest was open to members of the Specialty Food Association.

Ayara Thai Sauces was born out of requests from loyal fans of Asapahu’s family-owned restaurant, Ayara Thai Cuisine in Los Angeles, for takeout containers of its distinctive sauces. This company’s Ayara Thai Peanut Sauce was a finalist in the Specialty Food Association’s sofi™ Awards contest for the outstanding products of 2014.

“As our restaurant grew, visitors came to love not only the food we prepared, but also the sauces served with them,” says Asapahu. She adds that customers would return with “amazing stories of how they creatively used our sauces to impress their friends and share in the joy of cooking.”

The contest also included a People’s Choice Winner, based on a popular vote. The trio of women behind Simply Panache, maker of Mango Mango mango preserves, emerged as winners. They are Tanecia Willis, Lakesha Brown-Renfro, a military spouse, and Nzinga Teule-Hekima, a family physician. The company is based in Hampton, Virginia. The prize is an iPad.

For the winning entries, click here.

The contest spotlights the Association’s brand for the industry, “Specialty Food. Craft. Care. Joy.” It is designed to highlight the people behind the small businesses that fuel the $88.3 billion specialty food industry and the innovative foods and beverages they create and bring to market.

“This year’s entries showed how much passion and care our members bring to their work,” says Association President Ann Daw.

The panel of judges included Katherine Alford, Senior Vice President, Culinary Productions, Food Network; Tom Cook, Executive Creative Director, York & Chapel; Tracy Nieporent, Partner and Director of Marketing, Myriad Restaurant Group; Beth Snyder Bulik, freelance writer for Advertising Age; and Denise Purcell, editor of Specialty Food Media.

Let Them Eat Cake: Robert Rothschild Farm Celebrates 30th Anniversary

 

RobertRothschildFarm2-SBRobert Rothschild Farm celebrated its 30th anniversary at the Summer Fancy Food Show with a cake, as well as with the introduction of a new certified organic product line.

We are extremely excited to launch our new organic product line,” said Jim Gordon, President and CEO of Robert Rothschild Farm. “During our extensive research, we determined that great-tasting organic sauces are challenging to find. Consumers are seeking healthy choices, and we felt compelled to create outstanding sauces with on-trend flavors. Our sauces are an easy way to add distinct flavor to organic proteins or vegetables.”

The Robert Rothschild Farm product line now includes several new organic sauces, including Blueberry Balsamic Sauce, Citrus Chardonnay Sauce, Pineapple Habanero BBQ Sauce, Sriracha Teriyaki Sauce, Whiskey Pepper Cream Sauce and White Wine Creole Sauce.

In Robert Rothschild Farm’s Blueberry Balsamic Sauce, sweet blueberries are complemented by balsamic vinegar with flavorful notes from shallots, basil and black pepper. The organic Citrus Chardonnay Sauce pairs fennel with the sweetness of honey and bursts of flavor from oranges and chardonnay. The popular Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Dip inspired the company’s organic Pineapple Habanero BBQ Sauce. Sweet pineapples, honey, spicy habanero peppers and ginger make this sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Classic teriyaki sauce with sriracha and a hint of orange are blended to create the company’s new organic Sriracha Teriyaki Sauce. The company’s organic Whiskey Pepper Cream Sauce has a medley of flavors, including Dijon mustard, rich cream, garlic and black pepper – all accented by a touch of whiskey and white miso to create a creamy sauce with a kick of heat. Finally, the organic White Wine Creole Sauce is started with a spicy tomato base, adding a splash of white wine to the classic trinity of celery, bell peppers, and onions to create a Southern-inspired sauce.

All of Robert Rothschild Farm’s new sauces are packaged in bottles that resemble old-timey milk bottles for a retro look that underscores the tradition behind them.

Chef Steve Constantine showcased the company’s new Citrus Chardonnay Sauce during the Summer Fancy Food Show by incorporating it into a citrus slaw that he used to top shrimp tacos. The tacos were served to an eager crowd at the Robert Rothschild Farm booth.

Robert Rothschild Farm is also reintroducing its Raspberry Thunder Sauce, back by popular demand. “Our consumers continually asked if we could make the Raspberry Thunder Sauce,” said Jim Gordon. “We listened to our consumers and are relaunching the spicy hot sauce with a new look but the same great taste.”

 

Explore Amish Cuisine at Central Ohio’s Walnut Creek Cheese

By Lucas Witman KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

You may feel like you have stepped back in time when you park your car next to a horse and buggy and step into a store that offers many of the same foods that your great-grandparents might have purchased, but that is the experience visitors have when they step into Walnut Creek Cheese, a unique fresh food market tucked away in the idyllic landscape of Central Ohio’s Amish country. Catering to the area’s abundant Amish and Mennonite communities, Walnut Creek Cheese has become a destination retail store for those looking to taste a little bit of the simple life.

Walnut Creek Cheese was founded in 1977 by 21-year-old entrepreneur (and current company President) Mark Coblentz. The company had decidedly humble beginnings as little more than a pickup truck from which Coblentz dispensed deli meats and cheeses to no more than 60 clients on his delivery route. Over time, however, Coblentz managed to grow the business, eventually building a warehouse, as well as the Walnut Creek Cheese retail store itself in 1984. Today, Walnut Creek Cheese operates two stores, the original location in Walnut Creek and a newer store in nearby Berlin, as well as a 60,000-square-foot wholesale distribution center. The company currently employs 220 associates.

Today, the original Walnut Creek Cheese is an Ohio institution, a store that operates both as a destination retail experience and an everyday grocery store to those in the local community. The 55,000-square-foot store offers bakery items, whole foods, meats, cheeses, canned goods, bulk foods, kitchenwares, home décor items and more. In terms of population, Ohio’s Holmes County (where Walnut Creek is located) is home to the single largest Amish population in the world, and as such, Walnut Creek Cheese has made it its business to cater to this particular clientele. However, in serving the Amish and Mennonite communities, the store has developed a unique identity with broad appeal among food-conscious shoppers more generally.

“Our philosophy is that we take care of our local customers first. Everything we do is centered on our local customers, and we do have a large customer base here that are Amish or Mennonite,” said Jeff Conn, Marketing Director for Walnut Creek Cheese. “Our philosophy is if we take care of our local customer, others are going to benefit from that as well.” Walnut Creek Cheese has developed its loyal consumer following in part because of its extensive selection of Amish-made delicacies. For those looking for a taste of Amish cuisine, there is perhaps no better place to shop than Walnut Creek.

“Pretty much everything we manufacture is considered a homemade Amish-manufactured product – all of our jams and jellies, homestyle old fashioned fudge, pickles, all of our baked goods (including) cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, bread, cupcakes, and ice cream,” said Conn. “The majority of the meats and cheeses are manufactured locally [as well].”

According to Conn, tourists travel hours from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and even further afield to visit Walnut Creek Cheese and partake in its singular product selection. For those who do not have the ability to make the trip to Amish Country, the company distributes its meats, cheeses and other branded products throughout the eastern United States, from Illinois to the Carolinas. In addition, online shoppers can have Walnut Creek products shipped nationwide.

The team at Walnut Creek Cheese organizes promotions and in-store events throughout the year to bring new customers in and delight existing ones. From in-store events with door prizes and giveaways to weekend product sampling, there is always something going on at Walnut Creek. The store’s test kitchen is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, cooking up Walnut Creek products and sharing the recipes with shoppers. And the in-store Mudd Valley Café & Creamery serves house-made frozen custards, sandwiches, wraps, salads and more.

One particularly special way that Walnut Creek Cheese chooses to reach out to its customers is with its weekly ad. Unlike most retailers’ ads, which include little more than store specials for the week, Walnut Creek emails its ad subscribers a selection of seasonal, often Amish-inspired recipes that can be made from the store’s products. A recent ad featured recipes for easy summertime treats, including homemade frozen pops, fresh fruit milkshakes and “Like Wendy’s Frosties.”

“We want to provide something to customers that is of value,” said Conn. “[With the recipes,] we want to match the promotions that we’re running in store.” Although perhaps best known for its private label cheeses and deli meats, Walnut Creek Cheese prides itself on being a go-to store, fulfilling all the shopping needs of its customers. Planning to entertain friends and family at a summer barbecue? Stop into Walnut Creek to pick up everything you will need – all without leaving the store. According to Conn, the team at Walnut Creek proudly proclaims, “We have everything from the dinner to the dinner bell!” The original Walnut Creek Cheese is located at 2641 State Route 39 in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

For more information, call 877.852.2888, or email customerservice@walnutcreekcheese.com. Visit the company’s website www.walnutcreekcheese.com to subscribe to the company’s weekly ad.

This story was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.

Mainstreaming of Specialty Products Provides Opportunities for Grocery Retailers

 

By Lorrie Baumann

Joe_Falvey for webAmerican consumers are putting a more diverse array of products into their market baskets than ever before, including ethnic foods, gourmet food products and natural foods, and today’s independent grocery retailers are racing to catch up with the mainstreaming of what used to be considered specialty products. This is according to Joe Falvey, President of Market Centre, the specialty subsidiary of Unified Grocers, a cooperative distributor owned by about 400 independent grocers with more than 1,300 stores in the western United States.

Market Centre is Unified Grocers’ banner for a separate operating company, formed a decade ago by combining four smaller distribution companies into a subsidiary of the distributor. It is now focused on sourcing and distributing natural, gourmet, ethnic and health-beauty-wellness products, as well as confections to Unified’s member stores. Market Centre also serves more than 1,600 smaller, non-member stores through its Neighborhood Markets program.

In addition to serving as President of Market Centre, Joe Falvey is also the Senior Vice President of Unified Grocers. Falvey is currently spearheading the expansion of the company’s natural products offerings into California from its base in the Pacific Northwest, where Market Centre has offered a full range of natural products since 2011. Market Centre currently offers its retailers about 59,000 SKUs in its five product categories, not including those products that are carried in the center store freezer and deli cases.

Along the way, Market Centre is finding ways to expand independent grocers’ wellness centers by integrating natural homeopathic medicines and dietary supplements alongside over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. That requires some care to create displays that will accommodate these new products without making it harder for consumers to find the products they are accustomed to buying or causing them a mild degree of culture shock when they notice products on the shelf with which they are not familiar. “We’re introducing it without alienating some of the customers who still want to buy mainstream products,” Falvey says.

Market Centre is encouraging the Unified Grocers retailers in California to replace some of the gondolas in their health-beauty-wellness stores with custom-built islands and four-foot refrigeration units in which to display probiotic products. That careful merchandising helps to create an atmosphere that is less intimidating to customers who do not like change. It also eschews a model that is perhaps a little too similar to that employed by Whole Foods and which may be discomforting to more conservative consumers.

Falvey noted that grocers today have a unique opportunity to reach out to millennial generation customers who are gravitating to the wellness centers in their independent grocery stores as they ignore the brands that appealed to their parents in favor of products they find more interesting. “They’re looking for something different than the standard grocery item,” Falvey says. “They think, ‘I don’t want to buy what Mom bought. I want to try something different.’”

Along with reaching out to millenials, Falvey also sees opportunities for retailers to expand their ethnic food offerings, pointing out that although the grocery retailers traditionally saw Asian foods as products desired primarily by consumers of Asian ancestry and Latin foods as products purchased exclusively by Hispanic consumers, that is no longer the case. “Asian food’s become a behavioral change, not necessarily a demographic change,” he says. “Everybody eats sriracha sauce now … Everyone’s buying Asian. Everyone’s buying Hispanic foods … I don’t know anybody who doesn’t go to a Mexican restaurant.”

More Americans are reading nutrition labels on the products they are buying in their grocery stores as well, and, according to Falvey, consumers are increasingly seeking out products that contain fewer ingredients. “We see it in the data, but more importantly, we’re hearing it from our retailers, and they’re hearing it from their customers,” he said. “If you’re ahead of the curve, you probably learned it by talking to people.”

As specialty products become part of the mainstream, and curious customers venture out of their accustomed pathways in their neighborhood stores, there are opportunities for retailers to drive sales if they find ways to engage consumers, keeping them in the store longer. Falvey points out that retailers can create a “treasure hunt” experience that keeps shoppers interested and having fun. Falvey noted that millenial generation shoppers in particular are more curious about a lot more things than their parents were, and catering to curiosity is something that independent retailers can do well, particularly in these specialty categories where Falvey feels that it is easier for a retailer to be creative than it is with more mainstream product categories. “There’s a lot of opportunity to provide impulse buy opportunities that have been walked away from,” he said. “The retailers and the consumers are starving for it.”

 

Cutting-Edge Craft and Creative Cuisine Come Together at D.C.-Area’s Urban Butcher

 

By Lucas Witman

UrbanButcher2-RNWhen a guest walks into Urban Butcher, a co-located restaurant and specialty meats shop in Silver Springs, Md., he or she is greeted by a giant glass wall revealing the store’s expansive meat cellar. Customers marvel at loins of pork, sides of beef, salamis and more, all hanging prominently, begging to be admired. It is immediately clear that the owners of any shop where aging meat is displayed as if it were fine art are deeply passionate about the craft of butchery. And listening to Head Butcher Matt Levere discuss his love of the craft, it is impossible not to become infected with a similar appreciation for the skill and creativity that go into producing gourmet specialty meats.

“It’s so much fun as a butcher and as a chef – learning and creating,” said Levere. “When you’re putting these things out to customers and coming up with brand new items, it’s an experience for them as well.”

Started just a few short months ago in December 2013, Urban Butcher has quickly made a name for itself as the place to go in the Washington, D.C.-area for expertly crafted raw meat and charcuterie. However, it is the fact that Urban Butcher operates simultaneously as a butcher shop, a retail space and a full-service restaurant, that makes this space particularly unique.

In terms of drawing in customers, Urban Butcher benefits from the fact that it brings in both restaurant guests and grocery shoppers. However, very often, guests who come in to eat at the restaurant end up leaving with a filled grocery bag. And those who come in to pick up a steak end up sticking around for a gourmet meal. This is because, as the restaurant utilizes the meats directly from the butcher case, impressed dinner guests are encouraged to take the product home to experiment with in their own kitchens. And for shoppers seen marveling at the butcher shop offerings, the store offers to take the product into the restaurant’s kitchen where it can be immediately cooked up and served for dinner.

From a logistical standpoint, Levere argues that there is a unique benefit to operating a retail shop in conjunction with a restaurant. At Urban Butcher, product moves fast and is continually replenished. “It’s awesome, because we can sell our products in the retail case and also in the restaurant. Everything we butcher goes right into the menu,” Levere said. “Everything is always fresh … It’s nice to see that aspect of it. It helps move product.”

For Levere, who has worked in restaurant kitchens and grocery store meat departments, he finds his work at Urban Butcher, which combines elements of both positions, as particularly rewarding. This is because, for him, when a chef and a butcher work together, they can create magic. “I think it’s a great relationship between the chef and I, because I know how to butcher so well. I know meat like the back of my hand and that’s what I specialize in. Here’s a guy that has been cooking for his entire life. And he knows that like the back of his hand,” he said. For Levere, butchery is truly an artform. And by combining his technical expertise with the chef’s creative vision, Urban Butcher is able to offer its customers something they would never find anywhere else.

The specialty meats offered at Urban Butcher are endless, and the store is constantly adding innovative new products to its meat cases. There is hickory-smoked bacon, handmade salami, pâté, prosciutto, sausage and marinated chicken. The store produces a broad selection of authentic European charcuterie, including lomo, bresola, filleto and more. And the shop’s 30-day aged beef short loin and aged ribeyes are cut to order, allowing the customer to choose the precise thickness that best meets his or her needs.

One standout among Urban Butcher’s offerings is a unique Greek sausage called loukanika. Levere argues that if one is to try only a single product from the store’s meat case, it is that one. “The loukanika is outstanding,” he said. “It’s a spicy lamb salami with flavors of fennel and orange zest. You get the fennel and then you get the orange immediately. And then right at the end the cayenne pepper hits your tongue. It’s a really nice experience.”

Urban Butcher focuses on sourcing all of its meat from local farms, including Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia, Creek View Farms in West Virginia, Piemonte Farms in Maryland and Shenandoah Meat Co-op in the Shenandoah Valley. For Levere, the quality of the animals is immediately apparent in the butchered product. “The quality is incredibly better than anything we can get anywhere else. The supermarket does not compare. The flavor is so much better. The customer can really tell the difference between the massively bred animals compared to the small batch animals,” he said. In addition, because the animals are all pasture-raised by small farmers, customers can feel confident that the salamis they are snacking on are made from animals that led stress-free lives.

Although currently enjoying its first year in operation, Urban Butcher has big plans for its future life. The store is currently expanding into local farmers markets, bringing its products to shoppers all over the D.C. area. In addition, Levere said the store also has plans to expand physically, eventually opening up a new, larger butcher production area.

For those who think a steak is a steak and a salami is a salami, Urban Butcher works to show its customers that a great deal of craft is involved in producing these items. When a skilled butcher and a skilled chef are involved, an animal can be transformed in any number of ways. According to Levere, “If you really understand the animal and what it has to offer, the possibilities are endless.”

 

 

Vermont Creamery Brings 7 Awards Home from ACS

Vermont Creamery products earned seven awards at the 2014 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition this week, including first place for Bijou and Feta. This is the second award for Bijou this summer, which also earned a gold sofi at the Fancy Food Show in June.

Vermont Creamery joined 16 other Vermont cheesemakers who together took home 34 awards for the Green Mountain State, including Best of Show for Farm’s For City Kids’ Tarentaise Reserve. The annual competition is considered one of the world’s most influential and prestigious in the artisanal and specialty cheese industry. Vermont Creamery’s Bijou and Feta both earned first place in their respective categories, with Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Cultured Butter with Sea Salt & Maple taking second place awards. The Creamery’s Crème Fraîche and Unsalted Cultured Butter placed third. In addition, Torus, a cheese made by Vermont Creamery and aged in New York by Murray’s Cheese, earned second place.

Vermont Creamery was one of only five cheesemakers out of 248 to earn seven or more awards at this year’s competition. “Four awards for our geotricum rinded cheeses is tremendously exciting,” said Allison Hooper, Co-owner and Co-founder of Vermont Creamery. “These are very special cheeses that were once unique to European cheesemakers and are now gaining popularity and recognition in the United States.”

The American Cheese Society Competition is held annually during the organization’s conference. This year’s winners were chosen from 1685 entries representing 248 companies from the United States, Canada, and Columbia. Combining the European tradition of cheesemaking with Vermont’s terroir, Vermont Creamery’s line of fresh and aged goat cheeses, cultured butter, and crème fraîche have won over 100 national and international awards.

In its 30th year of business, Vermont Creamery supports a network of more than 15 family farms, promoting sustainable agriculture in the region. B Corp Certified in 2014, Vermont Creamery is the founder of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, the country’s first demonstration goat dairy. For more information, visit www.vermontcreamery.com.

Farms for City Kids Foundation Takes Best of Show at ACS Judging

Tarentaise Reserve from Farms for City Kids Foundation in Vermont was named “Best of Show” among 1,685 entries at the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) 2014 Judging & Competition. The results were announced in a ceremony on Thursday, July 31, at the 31st Annual ACS Conference in Sacramento. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company from California was awarded second place overall for its Point Reyes Bay Blue.  In a tie for third place overall are Oakdale Cheese & Specialties’ Aged Gouda from California and Sprout Creek Farm’s Eden from New York.

Jeremy Stephenson, Cheese Program Director of Farms for City Kids Foundation, said of the Best of Show win, “The more I’m involved in this work, the more it becomes clear to me that what we’re doing is so much a part of agriculture and working to develop a new sustainable food system. We’re a small part of that. When we do this work we have to remember we’re part of something much bigger than an individual or individual farm, we’re a part of a community. The people that buy our cheese are supporting something very important for the future.”

The 2014 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,685 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 248 companies. Entering companies represented 39 U.S. states, 4 Canadian provinces, and Colombia. 325 ribbons were awarded: 89 first place ribbons, 109 second place ribbons, and 127 third place ribbons.

For tie full list of this year’s winners and judges’ bios, visit www.cheesejudging.org.

The 32nd Annual ACS Conference & Competition will take place July 29 – Aug. 1, 2015, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kingdom Organic Cheddar Captures Three Gold Medals at International Cheese Competition

2933_Kingdom_Winepairings_(USA-A4).inddKingdom Organic Cheddar, one of the newest entries into the U.S. cheese market, captured three top honors this week at the prestigious International Cheese Awards competition held in Nantwich, England.

In competition featuring 4,443 cheeses from 26 countries, Kingdom Organic Cheddar won Gold Awards for Farmhouse/Traditional Mature Cheddar, Export Award, and Cheddar/Cheddar Style.

“The judges at the International Cheese Awards validated what we have known all along: Kingdom isn’t just the only organic European cheese in the U.S. Market, it is the top cheddar in the world,” said Nicola Turner, Export Director at the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo,) the organic dairy farmers’ co-op that manages the production of Kingdom Cheese.

Kingdom is a traditionally handcrafted cheddar, made exclusively with milk from a small number of organic family farms located in Devon, in the Southwest of England. The temperate climate and ample moisture in this region creates pastures of lush grasses which impart a unique flavor to the milk.

“Our cows are kept on a simple grass based system with little or no stress, giving us beautiful, natural milk,” said Geoff Thorne, one of the farmers who produces milk for Kingdom Cheddar. “Our cows are on pasture more than 10 months each year with green grass comprising more than 80 percent of their diets.”

The International Cheese Awards is considered one of the most rigorous competitions for cheese makers around the world. More than 200 judges spend two days selecting the world’s top cheeses.

Kingdom Organic Cheddar is available in many Whole Foods Markets, HyVee Markets, select Costco stores, and other natural and specialty retailers. A listing of retailers carrying Kingdom Organic Cheddar is available at: http://www.kingdomcheddar.com/contact-us/stockists/.

Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Ever

Stonewall Kitchen’s Maple Bacon Aioli adds a delicious fillip to a grilled cheese sandwich. Just spread the aioli on the outside of the bread, in place of the usual butter, and grill the sandwich as usual. The bread browns beautifully with a crispy surface texture, and the maple flavor adds a long finish that’s just fantastic. Glorious!

– Lorrie Baumann

Gustus Vitae Adds Spice to Life

Gustus VitaeGustus Vitae Condiments is a new line of sea salts and spice blends created created from high quality local and international ingredients and then hand-packed into tins in a Los Angeles facility. Unlike many spices and salts available today, Gustus Vitae products are never irradiated, not treated with EtO (Ethylene Oxide) gas, and are free from gluten, soy, MSG, and artificial colors and flavors. Gustus Vitae’s products retail from $8 for individual tins to $159 for gift sets and collections, and are currently available at select Whole Foods Markets, Albertsons, Southern Season and online at www.gustusvitae.com

Gustus Vitae’s gourmet spice blends are crafted to taste like places, allowing delicious meals authentic to different cuisines to be quickly and simply created. It’s easy to create fabulous, fresh dishes like Thai chicken, Jamaican rice, or Tuscan roast potatoes with just a pinch or a rub of seasonings and spice blends.  The Gustus Vitae gourmet sea salts are wonderful finishing touches, naturally adding bursts of flavor and vibrant color to your meals, transforming simple plates into signature dishes.

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