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Virginia Diner: a Passion for Peanuts

By Lorrie Baumann

picture-042The original Virginia Diner, a roadside family diner along the main highway route across Virginia towards the beaches, Williamsburg and Jamestown, has an 87-year history as that place where you stop if you’re making one of those road trips, and while you’re waiting for your meal and letting the vibrations of the road work their way out of your bones, you get some free peanuts to nibble on. “In Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic, people know the restaurant. They have a fond memory of going to the beach on vacation, and we’re part of that experience. It gives people a fond memory of what they’ve done,” says Scott Stephens, Virginia Diner’s Director of Sales. “People have been coming here since the Depression and all through World War II. It’s the longest-running roadside diner in the state.” Customers loved it. Then they started asking if they could take a piece of that experience home with them, and suddenly, Virginia Diner was in the peanut business. “The mail-order business grew from people coming into the restaurant, picking up peanuts while they were eating, and asking if we could send them some,” Stephens says.

Those peanuts were locally grown – they’re a major crop for southeastern Virginia. “What we grow in this area is the Virginia-type peanut, and we only buy the super extra-large size,” Stephens says. “There are a lot of peanut companies in this area, but the Diner is the most well-known of all the regional brands because of the restaurant.”

Today, Virginia Diner has turned a passion for peanuts, especially the super extra-large peanuts, a bit of nostalgia and home team pride into a product line comprising peanuts and cashews with multiple added flavorings or chocolate covering packaged in cans with art that honors the team mascots for colleges around the country and the artistic vision of Norman Rockwell. “We started licensing in 2007,” Stephens says.“Licensing really took off for us, and it became dominant.”

pac-12-collection-lowSalted Peanuts are the company’s best sellers, along with Chocolate-Covered Peanuts and Old Bay-Seasoned Peanuts. They do well in both gift shops and in specialty food markets. All of the company’s salted and unsalted peanut products are non-GMO Project Verified, kosher and certified by the American Heart Association.

Products packaged in college colors do especially well during back-to-school season, while the Norman Rockwell-themed packaging moves a lot of nuts during the winter holiday season.

Virginia Diner is currently exploring other licensing partnerships to expand the products’ appeal throughout the year as well as continuing to develop the existing line of interesting flavors. “All of it’s for the purpose of giving someone a reason to pick up the can, compelling them to buy peanuts,” Stephens says. “We have some year-round licensing opportunities that we’re creating to pull the product off the shelf and into the shopping basket.”

Study Looks at Millennials’ Eating Habits

How can supermarkets attract the newest generation of grocery shoppers, the much-publicized Millennials, and turn them into loyal customers? That’s probably the biggest strategic question facing retailers today and new research suggests that the answer may be found in the fresh departments along the store perimeter.

A nationwide survey of more than 1,800 shoppers age 20-29 by the Private Label Manufacturers Association reveals that Millennials love food but want food done their way. Fresh and healthy foods are at the top of their shopping lists, while prepared and portable foods are also very popular.

These food choices reflect a distinctive way of eating. For Millennials, eating is largely unscheduled. They incorporate food consumption—whether meals, snacks or bites—into a range of everyday activities, ranging from work and play to exercise and commuting, according to the research in PLMA’s latest report “How America’s Eating Habits Are Changing.”

While Millennials purchase from many different sources, they frequently shop at supermarkets. And once inside the store they often head to the fresh dairy, deli and bakery departments. The study found that three-quarters of shoppers buy deli items in the supermarket where they do their regular grocery shopping, 77 percent buy dairy items and 59 percent buy bakery items.
Reflecting their on-the-go eating habits, one third “always or frequently” purchase heat-and-eat food from the supermarket, 29 percent pick up prepared or ready-to-eat food, and 27 percent buy grab-and-go prepared food items from a source such as a supermarket or convenience store. Millennials are a generation of nibblers and experimenters, so in-store sampling and demonstrations are popular.

Home or away, meals or snacks, this age group is drawn to all things fresh. On occasions when they eat at home, including meals and snacks, 57 percent of them “always or frequently” opt for fresh fruits, 35 percent for fresh baked bread products, 30 percent for fresh prepared meals and 30 percent for fresh and chilled deli salads.

The PLMA study indicates there is likely to be a big payoff for supermarkets who successfully adapt to the new eating habits of the Millennials. Contrary to expectations, these shoppers are more loyal to their favorite stores than their parents. Nine of 10 do their regular grocery shopping in only one or two stores. This represents a dramatic departure from recent PLMA studies that saw consumers spreading their shopping among a multiplicity of stores.

This loyalty has important implications for store brands. As they select products, Millennials are well informed about brands, including store brands, and where foods come from. Nine of 10 say they are aware of the ingredients in the food products they eat and three of four read the nutritional labels on products. Their awareness of store brands and national brands is virtually the same at 84 percent, compared to 86 percent, respectively.

Commenting on these findings, Brian Sharoff, President of PLMA, said, “Store brands remain the retailer’s most potent weapon in developing strategies for this age group. It offers flexibility and opportunities to be creative with product assortment and concept without waiting for national brands. But it requires an understanding of what this age group likes and will buy.”

Animal Welfare Rules at Stake for Organic Livestock

By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is getting ready to release new regulations intended to ensure that consumers who buy organic meat, eggs and dairy products are getting products that came from animals that were treated humanely. At stake is possible adverse reaction from consumers who believe that organic certification already includes animal welfare rules – which it does – but who might be disappointed in the way that the rule is interpreted and applied by various organic producers. “This whole question of animal care and animal welfare is really important,” said Organic Trade Association Executive Director Laura Batcha, who cited a recent study funded by OTA which found that among the randomly selected consumer families with children in the home who were surveyed, the Millennial generation takes into consideration, not just possible pesticide contamination, but also animal welfare, environmental benefits and possible exposure to antibiotics as criteria for their decisions to buy organic items.

The organic industry wants to get ahead of that potential backlash by clarifying the existing standards so that the rules mean the same thing to all organic farmers and can be enforced consistently and fairly across the nation. “What we’ve heard from the National Organic Program was that they’re intending to finalize the rule by the end of the year,” said Nate Lewis, the Organic Trade Association’s Farm Policy Director.

The proposed rule is opposed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, which argue that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 doesn’t give the USDA the authority to prescribe practices to promote animal welfare. “With regard to livestock, the National Organic Program’s coverage should be limited to feeding and medication practices,” Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition wrote in its comment on the proposed rule. “Animal welfare standards not relating to feeding and mediation are not within the scope of the [Organic Food Production] Act and should be removed from this proposed rule.” Organic industry advocates are anticipating that once the final rule is issued, its opponents may sponsor a Congressional lobbying effort to attach riders onto next year’s national budget and appropriations bills that could prohibit the USDA from spending money to enforce the rule.

Lewis anticipates that under the final rule, farmers will have one year to comply with most of its provisions, three years to comply with the rules for outdoor space requirements and five years to comply with the rules about indoor stocking densities. The three-year delay for the outdoor space requirement will give farmers who need to add land to their operations enough time to meet the three-year requirement for organic certification, and the five-year delay for indoor stocking densities will give poultry farmers enough time to get their money’s worth out of the barns they’ve already built, which are, on average, seven years old. They have a depreciation life of 12 years, so a five-year delay in the requirement that they provide more space will mean that they get the full 12 years of life that are allowed by depreciation rules.

The regulations for organic livestock already require that the animals must be raised in an environment that allows animals to express natural behaviors such as spreading their wings and having the space to lie down naturally. They must be provided with adequate health care and protection from conditions that can jeopardize the animals’ wellbeing, such as predators and blizzards. The proposed rule is designed to clarify those existing requirements so they’re enforceable and transparent, “bolstering consumer confidence and strengthening the market for organic products,” according to the USDA, which published the proposed rule in April of this year.

The USDA received more than 6,000 public comments on the proposed rule, which would apply only to animals for which farmers receive organic certification, a voluntary program – it wouldn’t set up a mandatory standard for other livestock operations. According to the USDA, “the proposal aims to clarify how organic producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout life, including transport and slaughter.” It addresses the areas of the animals’ living conditions, health care, transport and slaughter. Among other things, it would clarify the existing regulation that organic livestock must have year-round access to the outdoors. This proposed rule specifies that “outdoors” means that the animals have to be allowed to go out into areas where they can see and feel the sun overhead and the soil beneath their feet – access to an open-air shelter or a porch with a concrete floor and a roof overhead wouldn’t qualify. Other provisions would set minimum standards for how much space is required for each chicken or turkey in a poultry barn, would require that organic pigs have dirt to root around in and would prohibit the transportation of sick, injured or lame animals for sale or slaughter and the use of cattle prods on sensitive parts of the animal.

The proposed rule follows recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee of 15 citizens appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture that includes representation from the various stakeholders involved in the organic industry, including farmers, handlers, a retailer, a certifier, scientists, a natural resource conservationist and a consumer. The Board has been working on development of animal welfare standards for 10 years, Lewis said. “It’s all very transparent.”

The rule’s supporters include the OTA, which represents organic businesses, including growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations and others involved in producing and selling organic products across the 50 states, and by The Humane Society of the United States, the country’s largest animal protection organization, which said in its comments on the proposed rule that “The HSUS supports higher animal welfare standards for the National Organic Program (NOP) and supports finalization of the proposed rule. In some areas, however, we advocate for stronger changes or wording clarification.”

Perdue Farms, which is the largest provider of organic-certified broiler chickens in the U.S., also supports the proposed rule, except that the company would prefer that the USDA lengthen the amount of time it would give broiler operations to reduce their indoor stocking rate from the 6 pounds (of poultry) per square foot that Perdue says is the current industry standard recognized by the animal welfare certifier Global Animal Partnership to the proposed rule’s level of 5 pounds per square feet to three years instead of the one-year timeframe specified in the rule. To adjust to the 5 pounds per square foot rule, the family farmers who supply Perdue Farms’ chickens will need to add at least the equivalent of 65 additional barns at a cost of more than $25 million to their operations. They won’t be able to do that with only one year’s notice, so if the rule goes into effect with the one year timeframe, they’d have to reduce their flocks, which would effectively reduce the country’s supply of organic broiler chicken by 20 percent, according to Perdue.

Nevertheless, “Perdue supports the NOP’s desire to strengthen what it means to carry the Organic seal. These proposed standards will significantly differentiate organic growing practices from conventional operations and meet consumer expectations that Organic production meet a uniform and verifiable animal welfare standard. We are with you; we need the 3 year timeframe to make it happen,” Perdue said in its comments to the USDA.

Vegetarian Food Producer Raises the Bar for its Employees

By Lorrie Baumann

The new minimum wage at Atlantic Natural Foods and its parent company AFT Holdings is now $10 an hour, after Owner and Principal Doug Hines got tired of waiting for improvements in government support for small businesses and decided he was just going to take things into his own hands to improve working conditions for his 100 or so employees. “The only way to take the future into our hands for ourselves and our employees was to act ourselves,” he said.

The company’s plant is located in Nashville, North Carolina, and it also operates a distribution facility in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The state’s minimum wage is $7.25, and the local economy is in transition away from its historic base of tobacco agriculture. Small businesses have been leaving the county, taking local jobs with them. The region’s unemployment rate and its rate of food insecurity rose and haven’t come back down as the nation’s overall economy has improved after the Great Recession, Hines said. “You go down the road now, and nobody’s left,” he said. “These are blue collar people who need places to work.”

Hines, who acquired Atlantic Natural Foods from the Kellogg Company in 2014 and who just made the final payment to purchase the 101-year-old plant-based protein brand, including the Loma Linda® and Worthington Foods labels, had been talking to his Congressional representatives about how the federal government could help his small business, so that he could afford to offer more to his employees. He got some vague promises, but nothing ever really happened. “Government hasn’t been able to deliver economic progress for an agriculture community that needs better jobs,” he said. “We’re one of the larger employers in the town of Nashville.”

Finally, he decided that if he was going to move his company forward to produce the new expanded range of products he had in mind for the company, he was going to need to keep his work force on the job, which meant that he was going to have to make sure they were making a living wage. “I’m a capitalist, but you have to have social responsibility if you’re going to be a company that’s going to grow in the future,” he said. “You have to produce safe, high-quality products, and to do that, you have to have the people.”

He called his staff together on September 17 to make the announcement that the company’s minimum wage would henceforth be $10 an hour. Workers who’d gotten promotions over the years that took their paychecks above the previous minimum wage also got raises to keep them ahead of this new wage. In addition, Atlantic Natural Foods will retain a complete benefit program, including comprehensive health insurance, paid vacation and holidays and a 401k retirement plan that’s available to all employees. In all, about 75 percent of his work force ended up getting raises, and Hines is hoping that will keep them on the job as he moves the company towards developing new product lines within the company’s range of shelf-stable plant protein-based meal solutions. “It’s a value alternative. It’s shelf-stable,” he said. “We’re looking to create products that are microwaveable and don’t have to be sold from the freezer case.”

The new line, to be announced in 2017 will offer vegetarian meal options for consumers who want healthy products without genetically modified ingredients that deliver flavors similar to beef, pork, chicken or tuna that will help them live long and healthy lives. “We felt that it’s critical that we have an associate base that will be able to participate in developing these products,” Hines said. “We’re going to be able to put this protein into a heat-and-eat meal that you’ll be able to take to work with you.”

“Small business doesn’t get a lot of attention out here, but we want to deliver the message that it’s good for all of us,” he added.
Since 2014, AFT Holdings subsidiary Atlantic Natural Foods has successfully managed the Loma Linda and Worthington shelf stable business along with Kaffree Roma™, a coffee alternative, and neat®, a gluten and soy-free nut-based protein meat alternative and the neat line of vegan egg substitutes, integrating the business into a diverse portfolio that includes a tuna fleet in the western Pacific, a tuna vessel support service group, a specialty food processor in Maine and other businesses across the globe.

Maple Hill Creamery Debuts New Grass-fed Dairy Products

A stampede of new flavors is coming out of Maple Hill Creamery’s award-winning 100 percent grass-fed organic dairy milk shed. The new products unveiled at Natural Products Expo East included Maple Whole Milk Kefir, Strawberry Banana and Apple Cinnamon Cream on Top Yogurt and Coffee, Strawberry and Mango Peach Whole Milk Drinkable Yogurt as well as the new Fiore Di Latte Whole Milk Fresh Mozzarella crafted by the artisans at Antonio Mozzarella with Maple Hill Creamery’s 100 percent grass-fed milk. This whole milk fresh mozzarella tastes more complex than most brands, solely due to the unique flavor characteristics of the grass-fed milk.

“Our product development process is a little different than most companies, because we use only the highest-quality organic fruit and real flavor extracts, and don’t add any coloring, artificial flavors, gums, or thickeners. We rely on real ingredients to flavor our products, not ‘natural’ flavors, which we think taste quite artificial, and mask the unique flavor of our 100 percent whole grass-fed milk,” said Pete Meck, Maple Hill Creamery’s Founding Partner and Vice President of Operations and Product Innovation. “Using real food ingredients to subtly flavor our yogurt and kefir products also means that we have more added fruit than most brands do. And, like always, our amount of added cane sure is about half of that for identical flavors of other organic brands.”

The Maple Whole Milk Kefir is packed with belly friendly probiotics, is super creamy, mildly tart and refreshing. This variety is sweetened and flavored using only organic maple syrup and a touch of organic vanilla extract. Maple Hill Creamery also offers Whole Milk Kefir in Plain, Vanilla and Strawberry varieties.

Maple Hill Creamery is expecting its new Strawberry Banana and Apple Cinnamon Cream on Top Yogurt to inspire consumers who haven’t yet tried this artisanal-style yogurt, also available in Plain, Vanilla, Maple, Orange Crème, Wild Blueberry and Lemon, to give the line a try. The Coffee, Strawberry and Mango Peach Whole Milk Drinkable Yogurt offers a 12-ounce meal in a bottle and joins a line that also offers Plain, Vanilla, Maple, Orange Crème, Wild Blueberry and Lemon varieties.

All the new flavors are available nationally beginning in November, 2016. The Maple Hill Creamery milkshed now numbers over 85 small farms, and is looking to transition at least several dozen more farms to certified 100 percent grass-fed in 2016. Maple Hill Creamery products are available nationwide in more than 6,000 retailers, including many specialty and independent retailers.

2016 Organic Leadership Award Honors Organic Mentor

Nebraska farmer David Vetter of Grain Place Foods is often described by his friends as quiet and humble—a typical low key and unassuming Midwesterner. But as a mentor to others in the organic industry, he has been an inspiring and tireless giant.

Selected to receive the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Organic Leadership Award for Growing the Organic Industry, Vetter has unselfishly mentored and shared information about organic to countless numbers of farmers transitioning to organic production, from Canada to Central America, from Europe to Australia.

“It is our honor to recognize David for his significant contributions to growing the organic industry through his collaborative leadership and action,” says Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). “We have been recognizing organic leaders who inspire and innovate for 20 years, and David definitely deserves to take his seat among these inspirational honorees.”

Vetter grew up working on his family’s farm in central Nebraska. In the 1950s, his father began questioning the ethics and science behind emerging agricultural practices that were part of the Green Revolution, and the family farm began to adopt organic farming methods. Vetter left the farm and went to college to earn a bachelors degree in agronomy and soil science and a masters degree in divinity. He returned to the farm in 1975 and helped achieve organic certification.

“Taking care of the environment and our natural resources is one of my core values, and something I have always strived to do,” says Vetter. “Organic agriculture is an integral part of that mission, and it’s been especially fulfilling to help other farmers adopt organic and see organic agricultural practices become more common.”

Over the years, the farm has grown into Grain Place Foods, employing three generations of Vetters, and helping steward other farms into making the transition to organic. It has been certified organic since 1978. In 1987, the family operation took the next step of processing its own grains into value-added products onsite. Today, it employs almost 25 people, several of whom have worked there for more than 15 years. The farm produces organic heirloom barley, soybeans, popcorn, corn and grass-finished beef in a nine-year rotation.

Today, Grain Place Foods also sources organic grain to supplement what is grown on the Vetter farm because the family business has expanded so much. The company purchases organic grains from 128 organic farm families, including 46 neighboring farms.

Vetter also shares the family’s strong land stewardship ethic through working to develop sound and sustainable farm policy. Grain Place Foods emphasizes fair trade practices in addition to requiring organic when sourcing ingredients that it cannot grow on its farm.

“One of Dave’s greatest strengths is developing and maintaining long-term relationships. He is known for his honesty, information sharing, and the way he honors his commitments. He is a man of deep ethics and faith,” says Kelly Shea of WhiteWave Foods and a member of the Organic Trade Association’s board of directors. “I believe it was the influence of a few men such as Dave Vetter and his father that led to what is now USDA certified organic.”

Vetter was honored at OTA’s 2016 Organic Leadership Awards dinner, along with the farmers of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative who received the Organic Leadership Farmer of the Year Award, and organic hemp entrepreneur Mike Fata of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods who received the Organic Rising Star Award.

Study Finds Family Meals Forgotten

A recent consumer survey of American grocery shoppers, conducted by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Rodale Inc., underscores the infrequency of family meals in the U.S. and the critical need for more. The findings revealed that only 57 percent of parents eat dinner with their children every night.

“We already know the many benefits of family meals,” said Sue Borra, RD, Executive Director of the FMI Foundation. “Just as notebooks and art supplies prepare our children for school, so does the family meal. Academic research shows that kids and teens who eat meals with their family four or more times a week earn better test scores and perform better in school.”

However, 71 percent of parents in the survey say in their “ideal” world they would want to eat with their children every night. Borra added, “With such busy lives, it’s easy to understand how American households struggle to make family meals a reality.”
The good news is that the survey also identified solutions. For parents who did not eat dinner with their children nightly, the top-two recommendations were not surprising: 1) Serve more meals their kids enjoy (47 percent); 2) Ensure that everyone is home at dinner time (42 percent).

Parents also are looking to their grocery stores to provide solutions. The top three requests were: 1) Provide more kid-friendly recipes in store; 2) Display foods together than can be combined for an easy meal; 3) Provide more ready-to-eat foods that kids like.

Food retailers are responding – not only with individual offerings at a local level, but as an industry too. To help American families achieve the goal of one more meal at home each week, the food retailer industry has developed a website, It is filled with tools, tips, and meal-planning ideas to make it easier for families to have one more meal together per week. The website also includes links to numerous partners – primarily food retailers and manufacturers – also committed to helping consumers achieve their increased family meals goal.

Absolutely Gluten-Free Introduces Organic Superseed Crunch

After two years in the making, Absolutely Gluten-Free is introducing Organic Superseed Crunch, a light, sweet and crispy snack packed with a powerhouse of important nutrients.

According to Charles Herzog, Vice President, Absolutely Gluten-Free, “We have developed an innovative and proprietary new manufacturing process to create a uniquely healthy, gourmet snack that tastes so delicious, it’s addictive. More importantly, it provides a powerful nutrition boost from organic, whole superseeds including flax, chia and sesame.

“These nutrition dense superfoods provide a whopping 2000 mg of Omega 3 ALA per serving, gut friendly prebiotic fiber, and powerful antioxidants and lignans from the seeds in a convenient snack. And, these nutrients flex some muscle – they are associated with everything from healthy brain, gut and heart, to supple skin. There’s really nothing else quite like it on the market today.”

Absolutely Gluten-Free Organic Superseed Crunch is available in three varieties: Original, Toasted Coconut, and Cinnamon. Each variety is made with organic seeds: whole sesame, whole golden flax, and whole chia, and provides an excellent source of essential fatty acids and important minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. It is the sixth new product among the company’s unique Absolutely Gluten-Free line.

“Absolutely Superseed Crunch is perfect for kids and adults as a snack or in recipes, on top of salads, yogurt and ice cream. Kids won’t know they are getting important nutrients, and moms need not worry if they eat the entire bag,” adds Herzog.

Absolutely Gluten-Free Organic Superseed Crunch is packaged in convenient 4.5-ounce re-sealable bags (six to a case) and will retail for $4.99 – $5.99 per bag. It is all-natural, certified gluten-free, OU kosher, non-GMO, vegan, dairy and soy-free, low in sodium and USDA Organic.

The Absolutely Gluten-Free brand product line currently includes: flatbreads, crackers, blondie and brownie crunch, cauliflower crust pizza and crepes, available in stores nationwide. All products in the Absolutely Gluten-Free line are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU).

Whole Grains Are Among Friends in These Baking Mixes

By Lorrie Baumann

The founders of Among Friends are unabashedly advocates for whole grains, as is today’s CEO Darcy Zbinovec, who joined the company in 2014. Among Friends, founded by Suzie Miller and Lizann Anderson, makes a whole line of gluten-free baking mixes based on whole grains. The company started several years ago as a local enterprise, but began expanding nationally in 2013 after the products had built a fan base.

The baking mixes are based on whole grains, but also include low added sugar and no added fillers or high-glycemic starches for a clean-label appeal that draws consumers who are seeking to eat foods made only with ingredients their grandmothers would have recognized. “We continue to see gluten free growing, and as it grows, we see consumers looking for better quality – not just that it’s gluten-free anymore, but that it’s got some positive aspects,” Zbinovec said. “Even people who aren’t looking for gluten free are looking for clean labels, and we’ve got really clean labels.”

High-glycemic starches like tapioca and potato starch as well as fillers like xanthan gum are often added to other gluten-free products to hold them together in place of gluten, which creates the structure in conventional baked goods, said Zbinovec. The result is an end product that doesn’t have the traditional texture associated with traditional home-baked goods. “The typical products that use these ingredients have a very fine crumb with a very smooth texture caused by the starches and the gum,” she said.

Among Friends, by contrast, has found ways to use whole grains and other clean ingredients to produce mixes that turn into baked goods whose texture more closely resembles that of the cookies and muffins that grandma might have turned out. “We’re using whole-grains oats, brown rice, sorghum. These whole ingredients rather than a processed starch give a more natural-tasting texture – more like the kind of texture that homemade products that are not gluten free have,” Zbinovec said. “We get a lot of consumers who write to us and tell us that they passed it off as their own. We love reading this because that’s kind of our intent.”

The Among Friends baking mixes are all certified gluten free, non GMO, and each package is labeled on the front of the package to let consumers know how much whole grain they’re getting per serving. “It’s really about nutrition,” Zbinovec said. “Whole grains contain both probiotics and prebiotics. They’re just better for the body.”

The baking mixes are designed to allow consumers either to bake them exactly according to the package directions or to customize them with add-ins that turn the end product into something that is customized to their taste. Among Friends helps with recipes and ideas on the company’s web site. A box of Shane’s Sweet n Spicy Molasses Ginger Cookie Mix, for instance, can turn into Bananas About Pie, a banana cream pie with a sassy ginger-molasses crust. Cora’s Honey Cornbread Mix might get a pop of heat with the addition of some jalapenos or show up for brunch with some blueberries stirred in. Blueberry Lemon Muffins might start with a box of Francie’s Make it Your Own Cinnamon Sugar Muffin Mix. “There’s a lot of different things you can do with the product. We just had a contest and someone made a bundt cake with the muffin mix, and it was delicious,” Zbinovec said. “People do like to try new things. It depends on how venturesome they are,” she added. “A lot of times what we’ll see is people tweaking the recipe a little bit – adding nuts, maybe a glaze. It gives the consumer a chance to play with it a little bit and make it the flavors that their family likes, whatever it might be.”

Among Friends baking mixes are distributed nationwide. They retail for $4.99 to $5.99.

Sartori Wins Best USA Cheese, Gold Medals at the Global Cheese Awards

Sartori® stood out in an international crowd at the Global Cheese Awards, receiving 11 accolades at the highly regarded annual contest. SarVecchio® Parmesan, Sartori’s most decorated cheese, was crowned Best USA Cheese and Best Non-European Cheese. BellaVitano® Gold and Classic Parmesan were also honored, receiving gold medals in their respective categories. Sartori’s newest release, the south-of-the-border inspired Chipotle BellaVitano, continued its 2016 winning streak with a silver medal.
Each of the award-winning wheels sent to the Global Cheese Awards began with Sartori family farms and the finest Wisconsin milk, which was then handcrafted into first-class cheese by master cheesemakers.
“Since 1939, we’ve relied on talented people and hard work to achieve success,” said Jim Sartori, CEO and Owner of Sartori. “There are no shortcuts when you’re crafting a premium, artisan product and we’re humbled to see the work of our team members and family farms pay off.”
A time-honored tradition since 1861, The Global Cheese Awards are an opportunity for the world’s best cheesemakers to showcase their talents. The 2016 contest included more than 1,000 entries spanning from countries across the globe.

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