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Coco Polo Chocolate Now in Your Dekalb Farmers Market

 

Coco Polo is now offered for sale in Your Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia. Your Dekalb Farmers Market is a pioneer in fresh food distribution; receiving direct shipments of unique products from around the globe, without costly warehousing and distribution delays. The result is a collection of the highest quality, lowest cost, and largest variety of fresh and organic food products currently available.

“If you have not heard of them, they have quite a story of their growth….this family business was literally built by the hands of the community. Up to 100,000 customers per week have supported the store for over 40 years. It’s an honor to be included in their family of products,” says Diane Yamate, Co-Founder of Coco Polo. “They do all the things that we would like to see done in the natural community: simplicity, responsibility, and a commitment to health.”

Coco PoloCoco Polo offers a unique and healthy addition to the chocolate shelf. Unlike standard chocolates in dark colored packages, Coco Polo features bright, exciting packaging contrasted with gold that catches the eye while scanning the store aisle. These rich chocolate bars come in both Milk and Dark flavors with 13 rich varieties. Coco Polo’s seven dark chocolate bars are all vegan and include: 70% Dark, Elderberry, Cherry, Cocoa Nibs, Almond, Ginger, and Toasted Coconut Chia. Coco Polo also offers milk chocolate in the following varieties: 39% Milk, Almond, Cherry, Elderberry, Hazelnut, and Mango.

Already in Whole Foods Market, Mom’s Organic Market, Sprouts Farmer’s Market, and The Fresh Markets, Coco Polo aims to offer the most delicious, sugar-free, real chocolate available in traditional and brand new flavors.

 

Writing Effective Fancy Food Show Marketing Copy

 

By Lorrie Baumann, Editorial Director, Oser Communications Group

Here are some quick tips for writing marketing copy that will start your sales conversation with prospective buyers even before they reach your Fancy Food Show booth.

 

  1. Remember whom you’re writing for! When you’re writing marketing copy to place in Gourmet News or a flyer to hand out at your booth, you’re writing for your customers, not for the general public. That means that you can use jargon or terms of art that you wouldn’t expect members of the general public to understand. However, you should also keep in mind that even your customers might not be familiar with abbreviations and acronyms that are specific to your company. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you mean when you shorten or abbreviate your company name, for instance.

 

  1. But also remember that the ubiquity of the Internet means that anything you write might ultimately be seen by anyone. That means that you shouldn’t put anything in your marketing copy that could embarrass you or your company if it’s seen online.

 

  1. Keep in mind that your marketing copy for your Fancy Food Show exhibit should reflect your goals for the show. There are many ways to focus your article, but you should start by picking one point to focus on and sticking with that through your entire article.
    • If you’re there to sell a specific product or to introduce a new product or product line, keep your focus on that. Be sure to mention how your product is distinguishable from the many others on the market. If your product has certifications or verified dietary attributes, mention all of them.
    • If you’re there to introduce your company to prospective customers who may not know anything about you, consider making your article a profile of one of your company leaders, either your CEO or someone who will be physically present in your booth during the trade show. Keep in mind that specialty food retailers want to know the story behind your products so they can share that with their customers.
    • If you’re there to remind your customers that you value your relationship with them, consider making your article a case study about how you solved a problem for one of your customers. That’ll remind your other customers that you’ve been there for them too.

 

  1. Don’t forget to include a call for action. That means making sure that your article includes an invitation to stop by your Fancy Food Show booth during the show as well as contact information for how you can be reached after the show.

 

Finally, if you’re writing an article for insertion into Gourmet News, remember that Oser Communications Group has an experienced editorial staff ready to help you out. Whether you get stuck and need a friendly suggestion about how to get started or you’d like to have someone glance over your draft and give you suggestions about how to smooth out your article’s flow, a five-minute phone call to our editorial staff might save you hours of stress. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 520.721.1300 and ask for the editorial department.

 

Gourmet News is a publication of Oser Communications Group, and it’s not affiliated with either the Fancy Food Shows or the Specialty Food Association.

 

Authentic Dijon Mustard Flavored With Napa Valley Wine

mustardEdmond Fallot is adding a new mustard to its condiments line with its Napa Valley Pinot Noir Dijon Mustard. Grape must, mustard seeds mainly from Burgundy’s Terroir and Napa Pinot Noir are finely blended into a vividly-hued crimson purple paste. The flavor is delicate and will exquisitely enhance red meat, game, fish, sandwiches, pasta and sauces.

Wine and mustard are historically entwined: back in the day, the Romans consumed a fiery mixture comprised of wild mustard seeds and grape must – this famous “mustum ardere” (mustum, fermenting grape juice and ardere, to burn, blazing, from which the word mustard is derived).

Although Pinot Noir has been known for a very long time in Burgundy (apparently brought to France by the Romans), its history subsequently became mixed up with that of monasteries, which played a key role in the reputation of Burgundy vineyards. Well vinified, it produces wines characterized by great subtlety and a wide range of aromas (fruit, wood undergrowth).

Emmi Roth USA Honored with Six Medals at 2014 World Cheese Awards

Emmi Roth USA took home six medals at this year’s World Cheese Awards in the United Kingdom, a record for the company at this competition. These wins bring the total number of awards for the company’s U.S.-produced cheeses to 23 in 2014.

The company’s flagship cheese, Roth® Grand Cru® Surchoix, received a “Super Gold” award, earning the title of one of the 62 Best Cheeses in the World. This best-in-class distinction is the bookend in a banner year for Grand Cru — the line of Grand Cru cheeses has taken home a total of 10 awards in 2014.

It’s a journey that began 4,000 miles away, among the rolling hills of Wisconsin. There, the flavors of this perfect land, climate and fresh milk go into each wheel of Roth Grand Cru. This Alpine-style cheese is crafted in traditional copper vats and carefully cured by Roth cellar masters to reflect the distinct terroir of America’s Dairyland. Grand Cru Surchoix, hand-selected as “the best of the best,” cures for a minimum of nine months to create a firm texture and complex flavors of caramel, fruit and mushroom.

“This is truly our life’s passion,” said Linda Duwve, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Emmi Roth USA. “The quality of the milk, the cheesemaking traditions, the dedication and expertise of our cheesemakers and cellar masters—you can taste all of that in each wheel. We don’t do all of this for the awards, but it’s humbling and an honor to have our flagship variety recognized among the top cheeses in the world.”

In addition, team Emmi Roth USA received the following honors at this year’s World Cheese Awards:

The Gold award for Grand Cru Reserve was also an extremely prestigious win for Emmi Roth. Grand Cru Reserve was competing in class 5514 against cheeses that had previously been awarded Supreme Champion, or the equivalent, in a national or international cheese awards competition in any country. Grand Cru Reserve earned the right to compete in this elite category after being named Grand Champion at the 2014 World Dairy Expo.

Emmi Roth’s parent company, Emmi of Switzerland, took home 11 medals, including three Gold awards for Piz Bever Extra, Kaltbach™ Cave-aged Le Gruyère AOP and Kaltbach Cave-aged Emmentaler AOP. Kaltbach Cave-aged Le Gruyère AOP was also named Best Le Gruyère AOP cheese in the sponsored trophy awards.

Hosted by the U.K.’s Guild of Fine Food, the World Cheese Awards is the world’s largest cheese event and the most respected competition of its type. This year, more than 250 judges scored nearly 2,600 cheeses from 33 countries.

Read more here and here about Emmi Roth USA and its 2014 cheese contest results.

Paso Robles Wine Country to Celebrate Inaugural BlendFest on the Coast

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA), in conjunction with the Cambria Tourism Board, San Simeon Tourism Board and Wine Coast Country announced a new partnership to bring a Paso Robles wine event to the north coast of San Luis Obispo County. On February 21, 2015 the 1st Annual Paso BlendFest on the Coast will showcase the best characteristics of each partner, combining the scenic beauty of the coast with Paso Robles Wine Country, only miles away. Held during off season, BlendFest is sure to become an annual marquee event helping to promote stays at the area’s lodging properties and celebrate Paso Robles Wine Country in a beautiful setting.

BlendFest will invite visitors to San Simeon and Cambria to Grow Wild beyond a glass of everyday wine and will feature 25-30 of Paso Robles’ renowned wineries, each featuring two distinct blends! Held at The Cavalier Resort in San Simeon, guests will be able to enjoy spectacular wines, only surpassed by the stunning coastal views.

“As evidenced by Paso’s recent honor as Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, the region has become known for rule breaking, unconventional blends,” said Jennifer Porter, Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “It is now time those blends got their own dedicated festival!”

Read the rest of this story at Food & Food Equipment News, another publication of Oser Communications Group. You might also be interested in this story about Mollydooker wines.

Evolving U.S. Caviar Market Stocked with International and Domestic Products

 

By David Bernard

SONY DSCTime was, when you wanted to experience top-quality caviar, there was one game in town (or rather one sea in town): the Caspian Sea. The Soviet Union and Iran, with Caspian shoreline, had sole access to the species of sturgeon that provided the worlds most delicious caviar, which retailed for hundreds of dollars per ounce. However, today, retailers wanting to procure some of the best Russian caviar available, may take their shopping trip far and wide – to China and Uruguay, for example.

With exports of wild caviar from the Caspian Sea and other locations banned or mostly banned since 2006 due to poaching, overfishing, pollution and shrinking habitat, American caviar importers have turned to a growing global aquafarm industry. This is yielding some delicious results.

The key to sourcing the best caviar is to keep your eye not so much on the fish, but on the farm. While most aquafarms started their operations with the prized Caspian Sturgeon, Russian Osetra or Siberian Sturgeon (chosen for its rapid rate of maturation), it is the individual farms processes and practices that determine whether the fish turn out world-class Russian caviar or an also-ran product. While feed is not typically a distinguishing factor in product quality – there are only a few large-scale feed producers worldwide – aspects such as how much and what kind of vitamins are given and the strength of a countrys regulatory practices play important roles in ultimately determining caviar quality.

My job is to go to visit every single farm to see if they have close to a natural situation, said Max Moghaddam, President and owner of Bemka House of Caviar & Fine Foods, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based importer and distributor. The quality of the water is most important. If a farm is landlocked and water is a limited resource – maybe theyre using only 10 percent fresh water and recycling the rest – thats not really a farm we want to work with.

In addition to China and Uruguay, countries producing farmed caviar include Italy, the world leader in the production and export of such caviar, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Israel, Canada, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran and a number of former Soviet Republics. Russia produces a significant amount of caviar, but most is consumed by the country’s large domestic market.

Today, the main varieties of caviar imported into the United States continue to be Russian Osetra and Siberian Sturgeon. Some hybrids are sold as well, for example Bester, which is a hybrid of the Caspian native Beluga and the smaller Sterlet Sturgeon. Beluga caviar itself is banned from import or sale in this country, because the Beluga Sturgeon is an endangered species.

Markys, based in Miami, sources its top-selling Osetra from an Israeli aquafarm that uses a continuous flow of mountain stream water. The Karat Osetra caviar is sold in Black, Amber and Gold varieties. The Amber is a particular hit, juicy but with a firm grain and distinctive nutty clean taste.

While foreign aquafarms are turning out quality caviar, domestic production has grown as well, thanks to both lower pricing and increased demand. With the overall dip in world production that occurred between the banning of much wild caviar and the growth of the farmed caviar industry, domestic producers were able to fill part of the supply void.The caviar from California White Sturgeon, similar to Russian Osetra in size and taste, if a bit more fishy, now makes up more than 70 percent of authentic domestic caviar production and provides consumers with a gourmet product at a somewhat lower price.

We find that White Sturgeon is a very good middle ground, said Christopher Hlubb, President and COO of Markys. It does not usually compete with products at the top such as Russian Osetra. Like most products, it depends on grade, but it positions itself as a very good product, although the price has risen and is nearing that of Russian Osetra.

For retailers looking to offer consumers fish roe at an even lower price, there are a number of non-sturgeon American caviar products available (note: this term is also often used to refer to the authentic caviar from California White Sturgeon). Paddlefish roe, the cousin of caviar, comes from fish native to the Yellowstone River and Mississippi River system. Salmon and whitefish roe are also lower price-point options.

We talk to customers and ask them what their need is, said Dale Sherrow, Vice President of Seattle Caviar Company, which sells American caviar as well as a full range of imported caviar. If its an event, what kind of event, how many people, whats their budget. And for some customers, salmon roe is the perfect choice. You get that strong salmon flavor. It has a larger bead. Its just delicious.

While there are a number of tasty non-sturgeon roe products available, these are not necessarily a steppingstone for consumers to move into imported caviar. We find a lot of customers have their preference, their budget, and they stay with it,” said Sherrow. “They get great tasting American caviar that can be used most ways.”

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

 

Today’s “Cooking from Scratch” Starts from a Mix

 

By Lorrie Baumann

 

For many home bakers today, “made from scratch” means using a mix that is convenient, economical and includes the same quality ingredients they would use themselves if they just had the time, energy and a real urge to buy flour in bulk. This is according to Donna Cook, owner of Rabbit Creek Products, which makes an extensive line of “scratch baking for today” baking mixes.

“In the old days, you measured out your flour and your sugar. Now it’s become convenient, and when people ask if that’s homemade, you can say, ‘Yes, it’s homemade.’” she says. “Most people do not have all these ingredients on hand, so you’d have to buy five pounds of flour and five pounds of sugar to make something, when maybe all you need is a half a cup. So using a mix instead is economical and convenient.”

“This saves so much time, and it’s easier just to buy a mix, hurry up and have the cookies or the cake done, and you’re ready to go,” Cook continues. “This is still considered a homemade product.”

Part of the time-saving convenience comes from a quicker clean-up: using the mixes saves utensils – there’s no flour sifter or separate mixing bowls for wet and dry ingredients to wash. “Basically, you have a spoon and a bowl, maybe a measuring cup for the butter to clean up,” Cook says. “They’re delicious, and they’re convenient and easy. Beer Bread takes one can of beer, and the Mudd Brownie takes butter and eggs, and most people have those in their refrigerator.”

The holiday season is home baking season too, and Rabbit Creek has a whole range of products to bring to the feast, including Brownie for the Reindeer Mix, with chocolate, peanut butter and white chips; Santa’s “Naughty” Brownie Mix; Jolly Old Saint Nick’s Cinnamon Apple Quick Bread mix and Merry Moose Holiday Cinnamon Pull Apart Quick Bread, among other treats to take to a party, add to a holiday gift basket or contribute to the family celebration. There is even a mix for Peppermint Hot Chocolate to offer the carolers when they come a’wassailing.

For home cooks who are more likely to have wine in the rack than beer in the refrigerator, Rabbit Creek Products offers a whole line of mixes that call for the addition of wine to make treats like Raspberry with Cabernet Wine Brownies, Drunken Cherry Wine Brownies, Red Red Wine Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. For everybody’s favorite character at a New Year’s Eve party, there is even The Intoxicated Nut Brownie.

“Since we’re from Kansas, we have a whole Land of Oz category of mixes for breads and brownies,” Cook adds.

These products all represent Rabbit Creek’s creative twist on classic recipes, and it is Cook’s keen attention to current food trends that sparks the company’s innovation. “Once I have in my mind what I want to do, then product development happens very quickly. If I’ve been out to a restaurant and had something that made me say, ‘Oh, this is great,’ then I’ll take those flavors and put them into a bread,” she says.

Right now, foodies are embracing coffee flavors. “We’re seeing coffee with chocolate, coffee dribbled on things, coffee-infused meat rubs,” said Cook.

Very hot peppers and pepper sauces, including sriracha, are trending as well, and Rabbit Creek’s recent addition to its line of dip mixes is called “Damn!! That’s Hot!! Vegetable Dip Mix.” As Cook tells it, the name came from a taste-tester’s reaction to a dip that gets its heat from jalapeño and a dose of cayenne.

For the foodies who are following the locavore, clean-eating or Farm to Table movements or who are just trying to find more creative ways to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into a healthier diet, Rabbit Creek Products offers Farm Fresh Creations, a mix that calls for the addition of fresh vegetables and another that requires fresh fruit. The home cook just sautés four cups of fresh vegetables from the farmers market or the backyard garden, adds the Rabbit Creek topping and bakes it.

“There’s also a fruit one that lets people pop out a dessert from their farmers market fruit. As long as you have four cups of fruit, you can use anything you want,” Cook says. “It’s a great use for leftovers. If you have four cups of anything, you can use it. Once I had an apple I had to use, and I had some blackberries and some strawberries. You sauté those and then add the topping, bake it, and flip it upside down, so it’s like an upside down dessert. If it’s warm, it’s wonderful with ice cream on top.”

For further information and a look at other offerings from Rabbit Creek Products, visit www.rabbitcreekgourmet.com.

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

 

Simply Panache Supplies “A Party in a Jar” with Versatile Mango Mango Preserve

By David Bernard

When developing a successful specialty food company, usually you work hard to create a product, market that product and build the business. Then you have some fun after success hits. The team at Hampton, Virginia-based Simply Panache, maker of Mango Mango preserve, took the opposite route.
Simply Panache’s three co-owners, Lakesha Brown-Renfro, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tanecia Willis started out having quite a bit of fun as corporate and special event planners. While organizing these events, the trio wanted to give guests something special to remember the occasion, and that turned out to be a signature mango preserve. They had their chef add the preserve to everything from mimosas and lemonade to cream cheese dip and ginger shrimp. And the preserve simply took off from there.

“Our event clients always wanted to know, what was in the shrimp, what was in the punch,” said Brown-Renfro, co-owner and Product Executive at Simply Panache. “They started asking if they could buy what was in all of these things we made. We looked at each other and said, ‘We think we have something here.’”

Immediately a hit, the preserve actually landed its co-owners a coveted spot on the television show Shark Tank. While the owners did not end up partnering with the Shark, they did field 15,000 new orders in the 48 hours after the show aired. “We have people who order from all over the world now,” said Brown-Renfro. In the year ending in September, the company sold more than 60,000 jars, a whopping 300 percent increase over the previous year’s sales.

Simply Panache’s Mango Mango preserve is an all-natural, four-ingredient preserve that just two and a half years after its debut is now sold in all Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores, and in gourmet and other specialty stores nationwide. When creating the preserve, Brown-Renfro and her colleagues had all-natural and less sugar in mind. Mango Mango contains no preservatives and uses less sugar than most commercially available preserves.

“It’s a very distinctive taste,” said Brown-Renfro. “It’s the blend that does it. You don’t really see commercial preserves with lime juice and vanilla. The blend is what sets it apart from other mango products and other preserves. And with no fillers, you get more of the mango fruit.”

Simply Panache will open a new production facility and bistro in Hampton, early next year. The company has several new products in the works, including two vinaigrettes – one with red wine, olive oil and vinegar and one with mango and Dijon mustard – a mimosa mixer, lemonade and cocktail sauce. If all goes to plan, these products will start rolling out next spring.

For three friends who were happily operating an event planning business, this fruity turn has been a pleasant surprise. “This was an accidental business,” said Brown-Renfro. “But once we started making the preserve, with our event clients requesting it, and then the positive early feedback we got, we thought it would be successful. And we’re hoping that it will be a lot more successful. We’d love for it to be a household product, because it just has so many uses.”

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

Food Shopping in America 2014 Study to Analyze Consumer Habits

 

By David Bernard

Stocking the pantry is so old school. After decades of making up a shopping list and piling up the grocery cart with a two-week supply of food, American consumers have shifted gears and are presenting retailers with a moving target that shops in smaller amounts, on more days and at a wider category range of retailers. These trends and others, documented previously by leading consumer research company, The Hartman Group, will get a fresh look when the company launches its “Food Shopping in America 2014” project in the coming weeks. The company performs the study every two years, which has proven plenty of time for new trends to emerge in the continually advancing technological environment that affects shoppers today.

With the online marketplace bringing shopping opportunities to consumers on a continuous basis and with the increasing variety of brick-and-mortar food retailers available, consumers today carry more power than ever. (The Hartman Group refers to the explosion of food availability as the “Roadside Pantry” effect.) As a result, retailers are constantly looking for ways to anticipate and meet the unique demands of today’s consumer.

“People can get food anywhere now, and that’s what this idea of the Roadside Pantry represents,” said Blaine Becker, Senior Director of Marketing at The Hartman Group. “For example, convenience stores have always been a place where you can hop in and hop out with a quick snack, but now these stores are offering higher-quality, healthier snacks, which make them more attractive to consumers. And even drug stores now have these huge food sections, some even with prepared foods … Food is everywhere.”

In addition to the shifting landscape of where consumers food purchases are occurring, the demographics of precisely who is doing the shopping is also changing. While women had traditionally been thought of as the primary shoppers in most households, The Hartman Group’s 2012 study actually found that 47 percent of primary shoppers were male. This result proved valuable to retailers, since men and women display different shopping patterns and respond to different marketing strategies. The upcoming study, whether it repeats, accentuates or reverses the 2012 results, could provide valuable insight as well.

Previous research from The Hartman Group has helped retailers tailor their in-store and extra-store messages to match shoppers’ mindsets, and this new study aims to provide retailers with even more insights on consumer behavior. In its 2012 study, the company, for example, uncovered that a full 50 percent of shopping trips involved stops at two or more stores. A typical trip, then, might mean picking up a broiled chicken at the supermarket, followed by a quick dash to Trader Joe’s for a couple of microwavable ethnic sides with a few additional need-to-stock-up-on items gathered at each store as well. Retailers are anxious to see how this trend has progressed in the past two years.

Another important finding from The Hartman Group’s 2012 study concerns the continued use shopping “plans” by consumers to help them plot out their shopping trips. This revelation was a particularly surprising one to retailers who had long believed most consumers shopped in their stores without a plan. “There had been a longheld belief that most decisions happened in the store,” said Becker. “We found that just wasn’t true. The vast majority of consumers’ planning and decision-making is done before they head to the store. It happens primarily at home, and now because we’re so mobile, also at work.”

For retailers anxious to see how consumer shopping patterns have evolved over the past two years, The Hartman Group’s Food Shopping in America 2014 Study will surely offer an eye-opening glimpse into today’s food retail landscape. “We help retailers and consumer packaged good companies understand how people are making decisions of not only what to buy but where they’re going to buy it,” said Becker. “Is it going to be club store vs. grocery store vs. specialty food or natural food store vs. any other number of channels? And once you understand why consumers do what they do, then you can begin to formulate marketing strategy plans and things like that.”

For more information on the Food Shopping in America 2014 study, visit www.hartman-group.com/upcoming-studies/food-shopping-in-america-2014.

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

Consumers React with Concern to News that General Mills Acquiring Annie’s; Companies Pledge to Maintain Status Quo

 

By Lucas Witman

 

On September 8, General Mills made the announcement that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Annie’s Inc., the California-based natural and organic product manufacturer. A leading natural foods brand, Annie’s had net sales of $204 million in the past fiscal year. The Board of Directors of Annie’s has unanimously recommended that the company’s stockholders accept the acquisition offer.

“This acquisition will significantly expand our presence in the U.S. branded organic and natural foods industry, where sales have been growing at a 12 percent compound rate over the last 10 years,” said Jeff Harmening, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for General Mills. “Annie’s competes in a number of attractive food categories, with particular strength in convenient meals and snacks – two of General Mills’ priority platforms. Consumers know and trust Annie’s purpose-driven culture and authentic brand. We believe that combining the Annie’s product portfolio and go-to-market capabilities with General Mills’ supply chain, sales and marketing resources will accelerate the growth of our organic and natural foods business.”

Co-founded in 1989 by Annie Withey and Andrew Martin, Annie’s is well-known among specialty food shoppers for its line of natural, good-for-you mixes and snacks, as well as for its iconic bunny rabbit logo. The company offers macaroni and cheese mixes, meal mixes, canned pastas, frozen snacks and entrees, dressings, condiments, crackers, pretzels, granola bars and more – all manufactured without artificial flavors, colors, GMOs, growth hormones or persistent pesticides.

“Annie’s will remain dedicated to our mission: to cultivate a healthier and happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet,” said John Foraker, Chief Executive Officer of Annie’s. “Authentic roots, great tasting products, high quality organic and natural ingredients and sustainable business practices will continue to be the cornerstones of the Annie’s brand.”

Despite Foraker’s insistence that Annie’s will not waver in its commitment to natural and organic principles, many consumers are reacting with concern to the news that one of their favorite brands will now fall under General Mills’ purview. When the Organic Consumers Association sent out an initial action alert to its base urging consumers to boycott Annie’s, for example, it received 22,000 signatures on the first day, an indication of potential widespread consumer dissatisfaction with the move.

“Initial reaction was based on what historically happens,” said Katherine Paul, Associate Director at the Organic Consumers Association. “On the one hand, it’s further evidence of the growth of organics. The fact that these large corporations want to get in on the action is just further proof that the organic food sector is growing. Consumer demand is growing, and that’s a good thing. But typically what happens when a company like General Mills acquires one of these brands, we see the quality of the product over time deteriorate as lower quality ingredients are substituted for higher quality ingredients. That often happens unbeknownst to the consumer unless it’s a dramatic enough change that the flavor is affected. It’s the beginning of the decline of the quality of the brand. From that perspective, it’s not such a good thing.”

The lion’s share of the criticism being directed at Annie’s surrounds the company’s choice to be acquired by a brand that actively fights against GMO labeling laws. Whereas Annie’s has made the decision to source all of its ingredients from non-GMO suppliers and supports mandatory GMO labeling, General Mills regularly donates money to the fight against GMO labeling laws. This seems a clear conflict of interest to those consumers who seek to put their money where their mouth is and support companies that echo their personal values.

“We were very public and very vocal about the fact that here we have a company like General Mills that spends millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws and then buys up a brand like Annie’s. This is a quandary for the consumer that was loyal to that organic brand,” said Paul. “In this case, Annie’s contributed money to GMO labeling campaigns to support labeling laws. But General Mills is a big contributor to campaigns to defeat those laws, in addition to being a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which sued the state of Vermont for passing a GMO labeling law earlier this year. Conscious consumers don’t really want to support a brand whose parent company is spending millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws.”

Another concern consumers have surrounding General Mills’ purchase of Annie’s is whether or not the acquisition could lead to the erosion of organic standards. “Often when a large corporation buys up organic brands, the corporation works behind the scenes in Washington D.C. to influence, and weaken organic standards in order to allow them to substitute cheaper ingredients and increase their profits,” said Paul. “The more organic brands they buy out, the more motivation they have to do this.”

For their part, leaders at General Mills have pledged that they have no intention of changing Annie’s or redirecting the way the company sources the ingredients that go into its products. In an earnings call to shareholders, General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell said that the plan was to continue to allow the team at Annie’s to “do their thing.”

Of course, Annie’s is not the first niche natural products company to come under the purview of a larger corporation, and most major food companies have at least a few organic products brands in their portfolio. Kellogg’s, for example, successfully operates vegetarian brands Morningstar Farms and Gardenburger, as well as natural foods scion Kashi. Coca Cola owns Honest Tea, odwalla and smartwater. And General Mills itself already has a strong organic presence, operating a number of brands in the natural products sector, including Lärabar, Cascadian Farm Organic, Food Should Taste Good and Muir Glen.

If General Mills is to successfully migrate the Annie’s business to its portfolio without alienating the brand’s loyal consumer base, it will be the company’s responsibility to prove that nothing is changed with the way Annie’s products are made or with the way its ingredients are sourced. This could be an uphill battle, however.

“You really can’t know if you can rely on the company,” said Paul. “You can read the ingredients to see if there are any actual changes in ingredients, but you will never know if there are changes to the sourcing for those ingredients and if fair trade practices are still valued.”

For consumers seeking out alternative sources for natural and organic products, there are a number of resources at their disposal. Online resource eatlocalgrown recently published a list of 21 alternative companies that shoppers should check out. The list includes Simply 7, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Follow Your Heart, Drew’s Organic and more. You can read the entire list at http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/13460-alternatives-to-annies-mac-and-cheese.html. Concerned consumers might also want to download the smartphone Buycott App that organizes everyday spending so consumers can support companies that follow their chosen principles and avoid those that do not. You can download the app at http://buycott.com/.

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

 

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