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Top Note Tonics Revive European Flavor Profile

What originally began as a homebrew quest to develop an herbal beer instead led to the birth of Top Note Tonics. Mary Pellettieri, a chemist, botanist and craft beer veteran who spent a number of years in product development at Goose Island Brewery, was experimenting with botanicals when she produced an herbal concentrate that intrigued her. It was a flavor profile that paired bitter, sour and sweet and was reminiscent of the curative tonics used in Europe in the early 1800s.

Over the course of several years, Pellettieri and her partner, Noah Swanson, refined her original recipe and in 2014 debuted Top Note Tonics – a classic line of complex herbal concentrates that create an amaro soft beverage or sophisticated hard drink when mixed with seltzer water and spirits.

“There’s a certain elegance to assembling a cocktail that’s purposely built with refreshing flavors and not overpowered by sweet. Top Note Tonics are simple to use and provide flavor complexity without extra steps,” says Pellettieri.

The tonics are available in five concentrates – Bitter Orange, Bitter Lemon, Gentian Lime, Indian Tonic and Ginger Beer. Each is made from carefully sourced whole roots, barks, fruits, herbs, spices and real cane sugar. No artificial colors or preservatives are used and all varieties are gluten free, made with non-GMO ingredients and contain half the sugar of standard mixers.

Top Note Tonics are available in 10- and 25-ounce bottles. They retail for approximately $10 and $22 and can be purchased online and Amazon or at select grocery and spirit stores.

Bellucci Extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil Fights Fraud

As consumers seek ways to determine authentic extra virgin olive oil from the fake, Bellucci, headquartered in Grosseto, Italy, is offering a multi-pronged solution: traceability and sophisticated tasting skills. The company offers precise, detailed information to empower customers in choosing true EVOO products, while ensuring the authenticity of Bellucci EVOO at all levels of production.

Bellucci keeps digital track of each olive grower’s contribution throughout the cooperative milling and bottling process, so any bottle of Bellucci EVOO can be traced to its origin in rural Italy. In addition to its traceability function, the Bellucci App teaches users how to evaluate for freshness and taste for flavors unique to EVOO. Advanced instruction in discerning flavor nuances based on harvests, regions and olive cultivars offers an experience of EVOO as an expression of terroir.

The value of the Bellucci App in communicating with consumers was recognized at the 2015 Anuga International Food Show. Bellucci has also received several awards for its line of EVOO. The Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition awarded silver medals to both the 2016 Toscano PGI Organic and the 2015 100% Italian Organic, and the 2016 harvest of 100% Italian won a gold medal at this year’s New York International Olive Oil Competition. A brand less than three years old, Bellucci is already being widely recognized for its flavor and contribution to the industry.

CEO Gerard Jara said, “Our trace-to-source technology allows us to fulfill consumer demand for authentic, fresh, healthy, and honest EVOO at a time when integrity is what matters. The app enables us to connect our customers to the source of their EVOO in small family groves in rural Italy and gives users the skill they need to taste for freshness and flavors distinct to genuine EVOO. They’ll learn how to authenticate EVOO.”

September Issue Now Available

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Proper Meats + Provisions Embraces Local Meats

By Robert Boumis

Proper Meats + Provisions has burst on to food scene in Flagstaff, Arizona as a whole animal butcher shop and deli. The new butcher shop is distinguishing itself with a philosophy of sustainability and a connection to local farms.

propermeats%2bprovisionslow-3640402413-oAccording to Owner Paul Moir, Proper Meats + Provisions embraces the concept of a whole animal butcher shop. “It means we literally buy animals direct from the ranchers, bring them into the shop whole and push nose-to-tail utilization. We sell stock and broth, we sell bones, we sell tallow. We even make dog food out of the parts that aren’t necessarily not fit for human consumption, but people aren’t willing to buy, which has become quite popular–particularly with my dog,” jokes Moir.

In addition to using every bit of the cow that they can, Proper also works around locally-sourced meats. In fact, the idea of promoting the local meat industry was a big part of the impetus behind the founding of Proper Meats + Provisions. Before opening Proper, Moir’s company already owned several Arizona restaurants built around the local food movement. While Moir found plenty of locally-sourced vegetables, he had a hard time finding local meat, despite a thriving beef industry in the state that produces hundreds of thousands of heads of beef a year. “Arizona creates an amazing amount of meat, exports it out of the state, and then imports meat back in, which doesn’t make a lot of sense,” explained Moir. To remedy this, Moir created Proper in order to try and promote local use of Arizona meats.

Proper’s nose-to-tail philosophy extends to products like pork. “We know the ranchers, the owners of the ranches, the farmers,” Findach said. We know where we’re getting everything from and we have a personal relationship with the farmers and ranchers.”

KeHE to Open Distribution Center in Colorado

KeHE is opening its newest distribution center in Aurora, Colorado, a Denver suburb, on August 31. The 270,000 square-foot LEED Gold-certified facility employs energy-efficient practices, including its HVAC system, lighting and 80,000-square-foot freezer and cooler space.

Following the ribbon-cutting and tours of the facility, guests will have an opportunity to participate in a “pick & pack” activity to help local families in need. One thousand boxes of food, including soup packets provided by Women’s Bean Project, will be distributed to Children’s Hunger Fund agencies and Food Bank of the Rockies.


Foster Farms Names ConAgra Foods Alum as its New President and CEO

Foster Farms’ board of directors has appointed Laura Flanagan President and Chief Executive Officer effective August 29, 2016.

Laura FlanaganFlanagan, 48, most recently served as president of the ConAgra Foods Snacks Division, one of North America’s leading suppliers of packaged foods. She will succeed Ron Foster, grandson of company founders Max and Verda Foster, as Foster Farms’ president and CEO. Foster previously announced his plans to step down. He will remain a Foster Farms Owner and Member of the board of directors.

“The board unanimously selected Laura Flanagan as the ideal executive to guide Foster Farms during a time of significant growth,” said Foster. “She has an impressive record of transforming and growing household consumer brands across an ever-shifting landscape. We are confident that her strategic approach will lead Foster Farms to new heights within the U.S. meat and poultry industry.”

Before taking leadership of the Snacks Division, Flanagan served as president of ConAgra’s Convenient Meals Division from 2008 to 2011, revitalizing and expanding key brands. She also led initiatives to promote diversity, develop internal talent, and build skills and capabilities throughout ConAgra.

“Foster Farms is a strong competitor in the national poultry landscape in large part because of its family-owned roots and its steadfast commitment to truly locally grown, fresh poultry,” said Flanagan. “I intend to honor the Foster family’s legacy for excellence while growing the business, guiding our dedicated employees and maintaining the trust of a new generation of consumers who care deeply about the food they feed their families, especially organic and antibiotic-free poultry choices.”

Before joining ConAgra, Flanagan served as vice president and chief marketing officer of Tropicana Shelf Stable Juices at PepsiCo and, from 1996 to 2005, held brand-management positions at General Mills and PepsiCo. Earlier, she was a manufacturing engineer at Saturn Corporation. She earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1996.

Flanagan currently serves on the board of directors at Core-Mark International, one of North America’s largest marketers of fresh and broad-line supply solutions to the convenience retail industry.

Under Ron Foster’s leadership, the company grew by 70 percent and became the nation’s first major poultry producer to be certified by the American Humane Association. In June, Foster Farms was selected as the 2016 Processor of the Year by The National Provisioner for industry-leading achievements in food safety, water conservation and product diversity. While Ron Foster led the company, it raised the National Thanksgiving Turkey for the White House on two occasions, became the No. 1 brand of frozen cooked chicken in the western U.S., and became the largest producer of organic and antibiotic-free fresh chicken on the West Coast.

Good Health Launches Downright Dippable Organic Black Bean & Rice Tortilla Chips

Good Health®is launching Organic Black Bean & Rice Tortillas, the first tortilla chips to join the brand’s portfolio of savory snacks. USDA-certified organic and gluten-free, Good Health Organic Black Bean & Rice Tortillas pack a distinctly crisp texture and south of the border flavors for a seriously dippable chip. The new product is available at leading natural and grocery retailers nationwide.

“Combining exceptional taste and high-quality ingredients is our biggest priority to give Good Health fans snacks without guilt,” said Mary Schulman, Vice President of Strategy at Good Health. “Made with Extra Goodness!™, which is our unique blend of vitamins and the same nutrients found in veggies, our new USDA-organic Black Bean & Rice Tortillas are downright delicious chips. They have just the right amount of flavor allowing for munching right from the bag or dipping in everything from salsa, guacamole, hummus – the list is endless. From back-to-school snacks to game day parties, these tortillas give everyone the goodness of a better-for-you chip with the satisfaction of an enjoyable snack.”

Organic Black Bean & Rice Tortillas deliver powerful nutrition in each serving, including: 2.5 cups broccoli (25 percent vitamin A); 3.5 beets (25 percent vitamin C); five tomatoes (15 percent vitamin E); seven cups spinach (20 percent vitamin B6); two carrots (20 percent vitamin K). Each whole grain chip is crafted with trendy ingredients like brown rice flour and black beans, and topped with Himalayan salt for a full-bodied flavor that pairs with sweet to subtle and spicy to savory dips for every occasion. Free of hydrogenated oils, preservatives, trans fat and artificial colors, each serving contains 130 calories and two grams of fiber and protein. Organic Black Bean & Rice Tortillas will retail for $3.49/5-ounce bag.

Good Health also offers a robust portfolio of veggie, potato and sweet potato kettle style chips, Veggie Stix® and straws, popcorn, pretzels and apple chips.

All Good Health products are available nationwide in natural and grocery stores including Safeway and Kroger, as well as national retailers such as Target, Walmart and CVS Pharmacy.

Organic Trade Association to Honor Pioneers of Movement

A Canadian entrepreneur and hemp foods pioneer will be honored as a “Rising Star” in the organic sector at the 2016 Organic Leadership Awards dinner in September hosted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Selected to receive the Organic Rising Star Award, Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods first became involved in the organic industry in his twenties shortly after he helped legalize industrial hemp in Canada and started Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods. Partnering directly with Canadian farmers, he has advocated for more organic acres for over a decade. As CEO of Manitoba Harvest, he has insisted on organic options and helped bring organic to mainstream markets in North America and around the world.

“Advocating for organic is advocating for a larger change in our world. It is a change that involves a movement of enlightened people. Being recognized as a rising star within the movement is a tremendous honor,” said Mike Fata, CEO and Co-Founder of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods. “I’m proud to share this honor with my entire team at Manitoba Harvest who aspire to continue growing the organics industry.”

Fata is committed to continue learning, educating and working with farmers to encourage transitioning land to become certified organic, and stressing the importance of organic certification at retail and consumer trainings. A long-time member of the Organic Trade Association, he currently sits on the board of directors of the Canada Organic Trade Association. Fata also sits on the Canadian Health Food Association Board, where he helps advocate for organic options across the entire industry.

“Mike takes a hands-on approach, actively involved in the day-to-day promotion of the organic industry. Whether dealing with suppliers, customers or consumers, he ensures organic is part of the conversation,” says Marci Zaroff, Founder of Under the Canopy and a member of the Board of Directors of the Organic Trade Association.

Just in Canada, research shows that 98 percent of consumers expect to increase their purchases of organic food next year. Demand for certified organic food exceeds current supply. This year, Mike and Manitoba Harvest’s Farm Services team increased their contracted organic hemp acreage by 60 percent. The plan is to continue increasing organic hemp acres and educating on organic farming practices overall.

OTA has also announced that the farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative will receive the prestigious Organic Farmer of the Year award. All honorees will be recognized at the Organic Trade Association’s Annual Awards Celebration Wednesday, September 21, in ceremonies at the Columbus Center Baltimore, Maryland, as the kick-off event for Natural Products Expo East. Celebrate with your colleagues and honor these organic collaborators who lead.

Boulder Organic! Souping It Up in Colorado

By Lorrie Baumann

Boulder Organic Foods is a fast-growing maker of fresh soups that are sold out of grocers’ refrigerated cases. “We started here locally in Boulder [Colorado] in a handful of stores, and today we’re in more than 2,000 stores nationwide in pretty much every major market in the country,” said CEO Greg Powers. “We are a dedicated organic, gluten free and non-GMO company. Everything we produce reflects those three attributes.”

The company was started just seven years ago by Kate Brown, a single mom who was looking for healthier fresh soup options. She made several shopping trips to local stores looking for a gluten-free soup brand that would meet her own dietary needs and that would also meet her goals for the food she wanted to give her daughter. When she didn’t find any, she decided to make her own.

Boulder Organic Green Chile Corn ChowderAfter she began serving her soups to friends and family, one of those friends referred her products to the local Whole Foods store, which asked her to make the soup for sale there. At that point, she put together a business plan and spent a year or two coming up with recipes for commercial quantities of her soups and launched her new food business in early 2009. Powers joined the company several months later. “I joined her having a background in business, and between the two of us, with her passion and talent for cooking and her skills at coming up with new recipes, and my background in business, we built this company,” he said. “We’ve doubled our size every year since we began. It’s fast growth, but it’s also thoughtful growth. We’ve been very sure to keep the same quality, working with many of the same suppliers we worked with when we started years ago.”

Today, the company makes eight to 12 different soups at any given time – a core set that includes Roasted Tomato Basil, Garden Minestrone, Potato Leek, Red Lentil Dahl and Golden Quinoa and Kale soups, along with a rotating list of seasonal offerings in its SQF level 3 plant in Boulder, Colorado. Three new soups – Tomato Bisque, Broccoli Cheddar and Bacon Potato Corn Chowder – are launching early this month in Target stores.

Boulder Organic! packages most of its soups in 24-ounce containers. The serving size is identified as eight ounces, which works when it’s served as a side dish, but most people will want a bit more than that if they’re eating it as an entree, so in practice, most consumers will regard the 24-ounce container as enough to feed two people, Powers said. For club stores, the 24-ounce containers are bundled into a 2-pack, and Target carries a 16-ounce container.

While some of the Boulder Organic! soups are mostly vegetables with chicken stock in the base, many are vegetarian and a few include animal protein along with the vegetables. The heavy emphasis on vegetables in the ingredient deck is partly a response to the local market in Boulder, Powers said. “We have a very active vegetarian community in Boulder. For our little market, it was a good fit. It was a good way to start the company and produce products that would fit with our community.”

The company maintains its commitment to being a socially responsible woman-owned business, and 2 percent of its production is donated to a local food bank. “We try to treat all of our employees fairly and we have a very flat organizational structure,” Powers said. Employees are paid a living wage, and the company’s operations are zero waste, with everything that isn’t used up being composted or recycled. “We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint further,” Powers said. “We also take food safety very seriously.”

Phoenicia Specialty Foods Brings International Flavors to Houston

By Lorrie Baumann

STOREFRONT MEDITCO_DSC1496In a society that’s deeply conflicted about much that’s happening in the Middle East and its potential repercussions for the American homeland, Houston grocer Phoenicia Specialty Foods offers a yummy reminder that we’re all on this planet together and our respective cultures have much to offer each other. Phoenicia Specialty Foods operates in two Houston locations, a 90,000 -square-foot west side location that’s like a warehouse for international foods, and the newer 28,000-square-foot location in downtown Houston.

MOM & DADThe family behind the two stores (retail and wholesale operation), and the original restaurant: parents Zohrab and Arpi Tcholakian, who started the business by opening the Phoenicia Deli in 1983, brother Raffi, who oversees the company’s wholesale business and much of its import operation at the Phoenicia Foods Westside location, brother Haig, who curates the stores’ beer and wine offering and is half the marketing team along with sister Ann-Marie, who also manages the downtown store, also still operate the original restaurant that’s the particular province of the matriarch of the family. “It’s in our blood, and we are cut from the same cloth in regards to our work ethic, passion and detail-oriented nature. Mom is the matriarch of the restaurant, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli restaurant, which is where it all began. She’s definitely the most famous out of all of us. Everybody recognizes her because she’s always in the restaurant,” says Ann-Marie. “My parents don’t want to retire; they love the business; they love the energy. They really enjoy providing these services and these hard to find specialty items to the community, and also having the opportunity to interact with friendly faces. Dad is always in the store teaching employees and customers about the products’ cooking techniques and origins.”

The stores’ product mix includes more than 50,000 SKUs representing products from more than 50 countries and is focused on international specialty items, especially Middle Eastern, Eastern European and European specialties. Many of the bakery items and prepared foods are produced in house, with some commissaried over from the West Side location to the downtown store.

Ann-Marie“There are other stores who sell some of the same products, like olive oils and cheeses, and they call it gourmet, but these were staples that we grew up with and were always in our home… So, we try to keep the prices reasonable on these quality selections. We work to transfer cost saving to our customers through the economies of scale provided by our import buying power at our west side Houston headquarters,” says Ann-Marie.

The Tcholakian family are ethnic Armenians who were living in Lebanon when civil war broke out there. As the war intensified, the family began looking for a way out in 1979, particularly since Arpi was eight months pregnant with her youngest and wanted a safe place to raise her children. The family had a cousin in Houston who lived next to a hospital, so when flight became a matter of survival, Houston it was.

Zohrab, an architectural engineer, got a job in the oil industry, and things were going fine until the oil industry collapsed in the early 1980s. Zohrab decided that the time was right to leave the industry and start his own business, following the example of his father, who had owned a neighborhood store in Beirut. “He didn’t want to wait for his pink slip, so he convinced my mom,” Ann-Marie says. In 1983, he and Arpi opened a little cafe on the west side of Houston where they offered deli items and shawarmas, which Arpi described to her customers as a sandwich that resembled “a Middle Eastern burrito.”

“Back when my parents started, they had to educate people. They always wanted to make it international because they had a mix of culinary influences being Armenians born in cosmopolitan, European-influenced Lebanon,” says Ann-Marie. “Back then, when my parents started, not many knew what hummus dip was in Texas. Now everybody knows what hummus is.”

As the cafe’s following grew, the Tcholakians added more and more grocery to the business. “It was a struggle in the ’80s for my parents to keep the business open. It just took a lot of work and dedication to keep the business alive in the 1980s in a collapsed economy,” Ann-Marie says. “My brothers and I used to do our homework and watch TV in the back of the store. People knew our lives.” The downtown store opened five years ago after the developer of the building in which the store is now located offered them a space on the ground floor of a residential tower in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen a grocery store for 40 years. “We were very attracted to what the city was doing and what the Downtown District was doing. There is a lovely park next door called Discovery Green with lots of programming and culture, catering to Houston’s diversity. It was a natural fit for Phoenicia,” Ann-Marie says. “We’ve always felt very connected to the Houston’s growth, and it was really exciting to be part of the revitalization of downtown.”

DSC_3455In addition to the grocery, downtown Phoenicia Foods has an in-house beer and wine bar called MKT BAR. This gastropub concept offers comfort food with an international twist, artisan beers, boutique wines, music and art programming and has become a hub for locals and visitors alike. Monday nights are Fun and Games Nights with retro board games, ping pong and more. Wednesdays are Vinyl and Vino Nights with guest disc jockeys playing their favorite vinyl records on stage. Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular MKT Steak Nights, “offering a nice steak for a minimal amount of money, which draws people from the neighborhood,” Ann-Marie says. Cartoons & Cereal is a new event on Saturday mornings, with retro cartoons on the televisions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “People are always gravitating to the TVs,” Ann-Marie says. “It’s always been our goal to make Phoenicia Specialty Foods and MKT BAR down-to-earth and fun.”

“For the downtown location, we work hard to create events that attract attention, to gain a clientele. In the urban market space, you have to do a little more to capture people’s attention and to create a neighborhood destination and feel,” Ann-Marie says. “Downtown Houston is still emerging, and so we had to put a lot of energy in from the beginning to grow the business. That’s the reason why MKT BAR exists today.”

“A lot of people come to MKT BAR for a music performance for example, and then they buy their feta cheese to take home. It’s a symbiotic relationship between MKT BAR and the grocery,” she continues. “There are other customers who come for the groceries and discover MKT BAR and are amazed. They work hand in hand very well.”

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