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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.

Prize-Winning Pacific Pickle Works Expands Production

By Lorrie Baumann

pacific-pickle-works-brad-in-the-kitchenAway out West where the sun sets over the ocean, Bradley Bennett is a pickle-packing pro. He’s the founder of Pacific Pickle Works, which is making a name for itself as a maker of some of the zippiest garnishes you can plunk into a cocktail.
Last year Pacific Pickle Works’ Jalabeaos won a Good Food Award, and this year, Brussizzle Sprouts won the Specialty Food Association’s sofi Award for the best appetizer and Asparagusto! won a Best of Show award from the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition. “That run of victories was kind of fun!” commented Bennett, Pacific Pickle Works’ Principal Pickle. Those are on top of awards for the company’s Bloody Mary Elixir from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and the SIP Awards, an international spirits competition in which consumers are enlisted to judge.

pacific-pickle-worksBennett defines the Pacific Pickle Works product line as a West Coast take on pickles. “So much of the pickle tradition in the U.S. is an old East Coast, New York kind of a thing that came mostly from European immigrants who brought their tradition over,” he said. “We saw that as an opportunity to do something a little different.” The West Coast influence gave the Pacific Pickle Works products their Latin flavors inspired by the cuisine to be found in the local taquerias and Asian-inspired flavor fusions like Fenn Shui, for instance, which is a fennel root pickled in a rice vinegar blend spiced with citrus zest, ginger and Thai chili. The Asian-influenced ingredients make a nice complement to the fennel root, which doesn’t work with a traditional savory treatment, Bennett said. “We’re just sort of paying homage to those kinds of things – using chiles, keeping everything very fresh and crisp,” he added.

Pacific Pickle Works also relies heavily on southern California’s bounty of produce. Bennett buys much of his produce from local organic farmers the day after it’s picked, and then it’s in the jar soon afterwards. The speed of that transition from field to pickle jar produces a product with both extra crispness and fresh taste, he said.

Bennett’s been playing with combinations of local produce and spices for about a decade, making batches of pickles and handing them out as gifts to friends and family before he started selling them to a few local Santa Barbara retailers in 2011. The pickle packing continued to be a small side project for the next few years, but then more retailers started spotting his pickles on their competitors’ shelves and began coming to him. By late 2012, Bennett realized he had a full-time business on his hands and started looking for ways to increase his production with the construction of a new facility to take the place of the shared space in which he’d been working, trading his pickles for the use of a kitchen. He found an old warehouse and built a kitchen into it, leaving the rest of the space as storage for his pallets of jars and the product that’s waiting to be shipped. The new facility opened in September, 2015, and the increased capacity has meant that Bennett was able to team up with a distributor and expand the distribution of his products outside southern California. “We make everything here, by hand. No outsourcing, no copacking of anything,” Bennett said. “It has really changed things for us – allowing us to scale our business to these new demands.”

Retail prices for Pacific Pickle Works products range from $8.99 to $10.99 depending on variety. For more information, visit

CHEVOO: Convenience and Flavor in a Cube

By Lorrie Baumann

Cheese has always been a very convenient, very versatile food, but CHEVOO is upping the convenience factor with a product that offers both trendy flavors and enough versatility to make it an attractive option through the entire day.

chevoo-sea-salt-rosemary-ingredientsCHEVOO is cubed fresh goat cheese marinated in an infused olive oil and packed in a 7.1-ounce glass jar. Service as a snack can be as easy as dipping into the jar and spearing out a cube of the cheese, but CHEVOO is also useful as a convenient ingredient to toss over a salad or into an omelet pan. “When I was importing and distributing artisan cheese in Australia, 50 percent of our customers were chefs. They’d buy a lot of different cheeses for their menus, but they would typically not use any one cheese on breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Marinated cheeses, because they’re flavorful, crumble, spread and melt well, could be stirred through a dish or crumbled on top of a dish, so chefs were using them throughout the day on all three menus. Foodies saw that trend and followed suit,” said Gerard Tuck, who founded CHEVOO together with his wife Susan.

The Tucks were living in Australia, with Gerard working with an importer and distributor of artisan cheese, when they decided that they’d like to strike out for themselves in the United States. “We just decided to pack our bags and move to California and start the process of seeing whether it was something we could do,” Gerard said. “Having worked for the largest importer and distributor of artisan cheese in Australia, with marinated cheeses being our biggest category, it was a telling sign that this category had potential in the U.S.”

Gerard spent the first year in the U.S. attending Stanford’s graduate business school, living on campus with his wife and three children. “As an international person wanting to move to the U.S. and start a business, it’s a bit tricky to get a visa,” Gerard said. “Going to school was a shortcut to getting the visa; you get a 12-month honeymoon after graduating to get established.”

After 15 months developing the recipes for CHEVOO, which is now offered in three varieties: Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon, California Dill Pollen & Garlic and Smoked Sea Salt & Rosemary, the product was launched onto grocery store shelves in September 2015.

CHEVOO is made from goat curd sourced from local goat dairies in northern California. Then, a flavoring is blended through the goat curd. Olive oil is infused with a botanical that’s crushed and steeped into the olive oil over four to eight weeks. “It’s a very slow and natural process to get the flavor into the olive oil,” Gerard said. “Our most popular blend has smoked sea salt and cracked pepper blended through the goat curd. We then pair that with a rosemary-infused olive oil. It works nicely in that you get one flavor that pops out from the goat curd and one that pops out from the oil.”

The product, selling for $9.99 for the 7.1-ounce jar, has been in stores up and down the West Coast for about 12 months now, and it’s been enough of a hit that the Tucks are moving their operation out of a shared space in southern Oregon and into a new facility in Healdsburg, California, that’s currently under construction. “We’re absolutely planning to stay in the U.S. We love it here. It has a mix of cultural elements that are very familiar to us, and some that are quite different, quite exciting,” Gerard said. “The depth to which the U.S. culture embraces entrepreneurship and innovation is unique and really attractive.”

For more information, visit

BJ’s Wholesale Club Surpasses 50 Million Pounds of Food Donated in Local Communities

BJ’s Wholesale Club has donated more than 50 million pounds of food through its BJ’s Feeding Communities Program®. BJ’s has contributed items to 45 food banks, including fresh produce, frozen meats and fish, baked goods and dairy items.

In partnership with Feeding America®, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, BJ’s clubs have donated unsold fresh foods to network member food banks since 2011.

To celebrate the 50 million pound milestone, BJ’s is donating $50,000 to local food banks, with 10 donations of $5,000 each made to local Feeding America member food banks. These funds will be used to support the food bank’s holiday meal programs.

Meijer Commitment to Local Craft Breweries Creates More Than $100 Million in Economic Impact

Meijer began carrying its first craft brew more than 20 years ago. Today, Meijer remains committed to the growing industry and the up-and-coming local breweries across the Midwest.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based retailer’s commitment to local craft breweries represents an annual economic impact of more than $100 million across the Midwest. Meijer expects to stay on par with its projected double-digit volume growth in craft beer sales, as the retailer has experienced over the past three years. With respect to Michigan-based craft beer alone, Meijer reports it has seen a 20 percent increase across its six-state footprint so far this year, said Rich O’Keefe, Meijer Senior Buyer, during a recent exclusive roundtable gathering of some of the best craft beer breweries in southeast Michigan.

“We attribute this growth to establishing a great dialogue with craft beer breweries throughout Michigan and cultivating their popularity across our retail foot print,” said O’Keefe at Atwater Brewery in Detroit. “The consumer response has been tremendous. It proves that the thirst for Michigan craft beer is apparent throughout our retail markets. We are proud of the great products Michigan-based breweries produce and look forward to expanding the availability and building the popularity of other great regional breweries.”

Meijer gathered together several Detroit and Michigan-based brewery owners and founders at Atwater Brewery to discuss product trends and the state of the local craft beer industry. The event kicked off local in-store tasting events with area craft “brewlebrities” on site at select Meijer stores.

Participants included:

Joe Short: Founder/Owner of Short’s Brewing Company
Mark Reith: Owner of Atwater Brewery
Eric Briggeman: Vice President/General Manager of Rochester Mills Brewery
Kyle VanDeventer: Sales Manager of Griffin Claw
John Leone: Owner/President of ROAK Brewing Company
Tony Grant: Owner of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, North Peak Brewing Company and Northern United Brewing Company
Chase Kushak: Co-Founder/CEO of Founders Brewing Company
Matt Moberly: Director of Business Insights of Bells Brewery
“The concept of craft beer – especially in Detroit – has grown quickly from a garage hobby to a viable economic engine for Detroit and Michigan,” said Peter Whitsett, executive vice president of merchandising and marketing for Meijer. “We are proud to celebrate the craft masters who drove this industry to where it is today in Detroit. Their commitment to quality and craftsmanship is fueling demand for craft beer in and around Detroit.”

Meijer began carrying its first craft brew – Bell’s Oberon – 20 years ago at a single Kalamazoo store, and today sells more than 550 different craft beers from 220 local breweries across the retailer’s six-state footprint. Of those, 40 are produced by Detroit or southeast Michigan breweries. Meijer continues to partner with local craft brewers to expand their distribution. In fact, Michigan craft beer sales account for 31 percent of the retailer’s craft beer sales and 10 percent of the retailer’s total beer sales.

“Being in the same room with this group of craft brewlebrities – knowing their histories and the how far they’ve come is truly amazing,” said Shannon Long, Producer and Co-host of “Pure Brews America,” who moderated the roundtable discussion. “I think what makes them great is that they are focused on their core and not the next hot thing. They don’t need to follow a trend because they are the trend. “

Your Brand Tells a Story About You and Your Customer

By Lorrie Baumann

Your store’s brand, encapsulated by the stories you tell about yourself and your business, can be a powerful tool for connecting with customers, according to design and branding consultant Debbie Millman. “Take your branding seriously. People see branding as devil’s work, that you’re creating a false image in the market, that it’s based on lowest common denominator and lies, and that is not the case,” she said during a presentation at this year’s Natural Products Expo East, held September 22-24 in Baltimore, Maryland. “You want to uncover your origins and share that in a way that is authentic and compelling…. You have to capture the imagination of your consumer in a very quick way.”

Millman is also the host of the “Design Matters” podcast, the first and longest running podcast about design. Over the past 11 years, the podcast has garnered a million downloads a year and a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. iTunes named it one of the best podcasts of 2015.

The concept of branding first became legally recognized with the passage of trademark legislation in 1876. Bass Ale was the very first trademarked brand. “I love what this says about us as a species,” Millman said. Bass Ale’s trademark application was rather quickly followed by what may be the first example of product placement: the painting “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” by Edouard Manet. Painted in 1882, the work includes depictions of a couple of ale bottles with their Bass Ale labels clearly visible.
Brands as we know them are late 19th-century products of the Industrial Revolution, with mass manufacturing of goods that began to be distributed beyond face-to-face transactions between the individuals who made them and the individuals who used them. Brands were what guaranteed the purchasers that they were getting an identifiable, distinguishable product, even though they didn’t know personally the individuals who made it. “Stories about brands were meant to inform us, to describe what it is we were receiving,” Millman said. “Part of it was a sort of guarantee that the things we were buying were safe and unadulterated. We were supposed to be able to have the security of knowing that we were interacting with a product that would keep us safe.” Early brand leaders were Ivory Soap, Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola.

In about 1920, products started coming onto the market that looked very much like other products already on the market. Pepsi followed Coca-Cola; Quaker Oats was followed by other breakfast cereals. Since some of these new products’ appearance or performance weren’t easily distinguishable from their forerunners, marketers began finding other ways to distinguish their products from others, and they started creating characters that would entertain and create relationships with consumers. Betty Crocker was a complete fabrication; Uncle Ben wasn’t a real person, and yet consumers developed real relationships with brands based on the way they understood these characters. “You could relate to and project onto a character, and these stories about brands engaged us,” Millman said.

Around 1965, brands began to say more about the consumers who bought them than about the products behind them. Brands like Levi’s, Nike and Marlboro didn’t say as much about the pants, shoes and cigarettes as they did the consumers who were wearing the Levi’s jeans and the Nike sneakers and smoking the Marlboro cigarettes. “Stories about brands reflected us, what we wanted other people to believe about us,” Millman said.

Then around 1985, brands like Disney, Apple and Starbucks began to stand for an experience rather than a specific product, and consumers began responding, not just to the specific item that carried the brand but to the way that having that item made them feel. “This is when brand zealots were born,” Millman said. “Stories about brands emotionally transformed us.”

“Why as a species are we so compelled by this?” Millman asked. “Why do we form tribes of our own around brands?”

She noted that nearly every species of animals on the planet prefers to congregate, organizing into some kind of pack for safety and comfort. Humans are not different in this respect, Millman said, pointing to scientific studies that have shown that given the choice between being held by his mother and not fed or being fed but not held, a baby will choose the connection with his mother. “If the baby has to choose between starving to death and being held, the baby will always choose to be held,” Millman said. “We feel happiest and most secure when our brains resonate with others.” Our symbols, including our brands, have been ways to facilitate this congregation – before there were military uniforms, flags identified that place on the battlefield where our fellows could be found, just as today, a product bearing the Apple brand identifies its owner as a member of a particular tribe.

Beginning in about 2005, the leading brands were no longer just identifying concrete, physical products and had begun to be about the ways we connect with each other. Think Facebook, Twitter. They’re means by which we tell each other our stories, regardless of the physical devices through with we do that these days. “The more popular brands of the moment are all around stories,” Millman said. “Now we’re being inundated with reality stories in everything we watch.”

That being the case, Millman advises that we make sure that we’re telling the authentic stories that will help others connect with us and that will help them feel that they are accepted as they are rather than judged for their flaws. “To create brands, help people feel connected and accepted and okay as is,” she said. “If you can capture that acceptance, you will likely grow your brands really quickly. I see a huge social shift about accepting as is.”

“Communicate something in your brand that will help consumers make a difference in their lives,” she added. “You must be absolutely, positively authentic. You can’t make these stories up. Consumers today have a very strong BS meter, and they know when they’re not being told the truth.”

Wixon Donates to Help Build Meat Science Laboratory

Wixon, a manufacturer of seasonings, flavors, and technologies for the food and beverage industry, has made a five-year commitment to donate $250,000 to the construction of the new University of Wisconsin-Madison Meat Science Laboratory.

Ground was recently broken on the 67,540-square-foot building, with occupancy expected in spring 2018. The current meat laboratory, built in 1931 with additions in the 1950s and 1970s, did not have the space or facilities to meet current industry and research demands.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Meat Science Laboratory website, the mission of the new facility is four-fold:

  • Train the next generation of meat industry leaders with cutting edge insightfulness and technologies;
  • Support innovative research interests through interdisciplinary collaborative efforts;
  • Provide outreach education to foster the production of wholesome meat products for the consuming public and;
  • Economic development of the meat industry.

A lecture/demonstration suite, a biosafety lab suite, teaching and research offices, and an expanded retail space will be included in the building. The retail shop will be in the entry atrium of the new building and will be open daily, providing the public an opportunity to buy meat and poultry products, plus learn about meat.

“We are very excited to play a role in championing pioneering research, providing outreach instruction, supporting the economic development of the meat industry, and educating future meat industry leaders,” Wixon President Peter Gottsacker. “As a provider of spices and seasonings to the meat industry for more than 100 years, Wixon and all of its employees are proud to join other companies and individuals in helping to keep UW-Madison at the forefront of meat science, which will provide benefits now and for generations to come.”

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