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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.

 

U.S. Food Producers, Retailers, Consumers Brace for Impact of Russian Import Ban

By Lucas Witman

 

In a meeting of the Russian Cabinet in August, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that his country will henceforth ban imports of all meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, dairy and fresh prepared foods produced in the United States, Canada, EU, Australia and Norway for a period of one year. The move was ostensibly made in an effort to give the Russian agriculture sector an opportunity to better compete with foreign farmers and food producers and increase its global market share. However, the import ban implicitly serves as retaliation against these countries for the sanctions that were imposed against Russia following the country’s annexation earlier this year of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

Only a few months old, the Russian import ban is already yielding negative effects for many European farmers. According to the European commission, exports by companies in EU member countries to Russia of food and agricultural products were worth 5.1 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in 2013. This represents 4.2 percent of total agricultural exports from the EU. From German cabbage to Dutch pears to Italian tomatoes, agricultural products that were once destined for Moscow or St. Petersburg are now without a home, and farmers are left struggling, wondering what to do with their goods.

The good news for European farmers is that the EU has already stepped in to offer assistance to those who have been negatively impacted by the Russian import ban. Almost immediately following Medvedev’s announcement, the European Commission stated that it would provide 125 million euros in support to European farmers saddled with a glut of produce that they cannot export to its original target. Shortly thereafter, the European Commission expanded its support, pledging to help European dairy farmers defer the costs of storing surplus butter, cheese and milk powder. On September 30, the European Commission stated that it would increase its support to farmers by an additional 165 million euros.

It is as yet unclear how deeply the Russian import ban will negatively impact U.S. farmers and food producers. In 2013, U.S. exports of agricultural products to Russia totaled $1.3 billion. Key U.S. exports to Russia include poultry ($310 million), pork ($18 million), tree nuts ($172 million), fruit ($34 million), seafood ($83 million) and prepared foods ($84 million). U.S. producers of these commodities are now being forced to seek out new markets for their products.

The California almond industry has long relied on Russia as a key trading partner, and thus this is one group of U.S. producers who are bracing for an economic hit this year. “Year-to-date, shipments to Russia represent about 3 percent of total California almond exports. Russian imports of almonds from the U.S. in calendar 2013 were approximately 23,500 tons, with a value of $126 million,” said Julie Adams, Vice President of the Almond Board of California.

Although Adams regrets the negative impact that California almond producers may face as a result of their inability to export products to Russia, she is equally concerned that Russian consumers will no longer have access to a product they love to eat. “The sanctions are particularly disruptive to consumers and manufacturers in Russia, who recognize the nutritional benefits of almonds,” she said. “We look forward to working again with our customers in Russia, once the market is reopened. The Almond Board will continue to monitor the situation, working closely with the U.S. government.”

The U.S. poultry industry is also expected to be impacted by the ban on exports to Russia, although industry insiders anticipate that impact to be relatively minimal. “At one point we were exporting 42 percent of our exports to Russia. That was in 1997. That has declined through the years,” said Jim Sumner, President of USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. “In 2013, we exported 7.5 percent of our exports to Russia. Fortunately, this situation didn’t happen ten or 15 years ago. It would have been catastrophic for our industry. Today it is unfortunate. We don’t want to lose a market anywhere, but thanks to the diversification of our industry it’s but a blip on the radar.”

“We’re in a pretty tight market situation here in the United States – the highest beef prices we’ve ever seen, higher pork prices,” Sumner continued. “The timing really couldn’t have been better for our industry if it was going to happen than now.”

Miami-based Russian specialty product superstore Marky’s does a brisk business exporting U.S.-produced Eastern European specialty goods, including caviar, seafood, foie gras, truffles, mushrooms, cheeses, oils and vinegars to Russia. “In relation to the market and our business as it relates to Russia, we do not function as a Russian business,” said Chris Hlubb, President and COO of Marky’s Group Inc. “However, we do export from the U.S. to Russia and Ukraine and ex-Soviet republics and have been adversely affected from our ability to continue to export certain products due to recent bans from the Russian side.” Still, in this case as well, the impact may be felt more severely by Russian consumers who now have diminished access to specialty goods and are forced to pay higher prices.

The positive news for Russian consumers is that as companies in North America, Europe and Australia are being inhibited from exporting goods to their country, producers in other countries are stepping in to fill the void. Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Egypt, China and Belarus are just a few of the countries stepping in provide much-needed agricultural goods to Russian consumers. The organizers of Russia’s largest food trade show, WorldFood Moscow, held in September, were thrilled by the increased global turnout at this year’s show, arguing that the food bans have been responsible for bringing companies from new countries to the show and the Russian market.

“The changes in Russia’s food regulations has meant that interest from non-EU countries entering this market has increased, and subsequently we received an influx of last minute bookings from those countries that are not affected by the ban,” said Tony Higginson, Sales Director for WorldFood Moscow. “We are also pleased to confirm that Russia’s ban had little effect on the event’s exhibitor list.”

American consumers respond to Russian import ban

As the United States gets further embroiled in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, anti-American sentiment is growing among many in Russia. Some Russian consumers are turning away from American staples like McDonald’s (12 locations were recently closed by Russian officials over dubious food safety concerns) and Kentucky bourbon (health officials have similarly threatened to ban the potable). And American expats in the country report experiencing hostility from Russian nationals.

Anti-Russian sentiment in the United States is also on the rise. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans surveyed stated that they view Russia unfavorably – the highest number since 2005 and a 16 percent spike since 2012. With Americans’ perception of Russia turning sour, U.S. retailers and food companies specializing in Eastern European products are being forced to confront the possibility of a backlash.

Unlike what happened in the early years of the Iraq War when anti-French sentiment in the United States compelled some to dump bottles of French wine and members of Congress to chow down on “freedom fries,” the good news for Russian specialty companies today is that they have yet to experience a similar backlash from American consumers as a result of ongoing global tensions. However, this may have less to do with Americans’ devotion to Russian food or indifference to global politics and more to do with the fact that the market for European specialty goods in this country is made up almost entirely of Eastern European immigrants and their descendants – a group not likely to ditch their affinity for these items.

“We have not seen any such public backlash, as customers for Russian products tend to be uniquely Russian or from Eastern Europe,” said Hlubb of the bustling business Marky’s continues to do both online and at its retail space in Miami. “And due to limited cuisine expansion into Europe and the U.S., we see little to no effect from our customers.”

“Most of our customers are Russian, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Georgian, Bulgarian or from other Eastern European countries,” said Zourab Tsiskaridze President of Russian Gourmet, a chain of five Russian specialty stores in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. “Of course, we have American customers too, but it’s not a majority. It’s a minority.”

According to Tsiskaridze, Russian expatriates and others with Eastern European heritage continue to flock to his store, seeking out the products that remind them of their families and their youth. The most popular items people pick up at Russian Gourmet include sausages, cheeses, caviar, smoked fish, dairy products and prepared foods. This clientele is not likely to abandon these products simply out of a sense of American patriotism. “People who live somewhere in different countries, of course they remember taste, how the food was when they were young or something. They remember this and they want to eat. They can live without Russian food but they have some kind of fondness, some kind of remembrance,” he said.

Although he has not yet observed any backlash by American consumers against his store’s largely Russian product selection, one thing Tsiskaridze has observed among his store’s Eastern European clientele is the occasional rejection of Russian products by Ukrainian nationals and vice versa. For Tsiskaridze, an immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, this reminds him of the hostility he experienced from Russian shoppers when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. He recounts a recent instance of a Ukrainian woman rejecting an item at his store after realizing it was produced in Russia.

“One woman was Ukrainian, and we had the same product from two different countries – one from Ukraine and one from Russia. The Ukrainian was a little more expensive than the Russian,” he said, “She said, ‘I don’t want to buy Russian products.’ I don’t think this was smart.”

Still, although Russian Gourmet, Marky’s and other Russian specialty retailers continue to weather whatever storm of anti-Russian sentiment currently exists in this country with relative ease, as the global tensions between the two countries continue to build, there is no certainty that a larger public backlash will not eventually emerge. The potential threat to purveyors of Russian goods was made apparent during preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi when several gay rights organizations urged a boycott of Stolichnaya vodka and other Russian-produced goods in light of the country’s alleged human rights violations.

In the meantime, however, the added exposure Russia is receiving on the global stage may actually be a positive thing for those selling Eastern European foods in this country. This has been the case for Russian Gourmet, where profits are actually up in recent months. Tsiskaridze says that his stores have become an important meeting place for immigrants coming to share news of their homeland and debate the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. “People from Soviet Union, they are very political people. They might not understand, but they like to talk,” he said. “In my store, I have a Russian kitchen. The sales person is Ukrainian. I am Georgian. Yesterday we talked for two hours about this situation, going back in history. We like to talk. What else can we do?”

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

 

Revel in the Bounty of Central Oregon at Bend’s Newport Avenue Market

By Lucas Witman

Newport Avenue Market - Feb. 2013Finding success as a specialty food retailer can be a difficult proposition even under the best of circumstances, but in a market as competitive as Bend, Oregon, it takes something truly exceptional to draw food shoppers into a retail space. The city of just over 76,000 residents contains at least 15 full-service grocery stores, as well as a bevy of specialty markets. With so many available shopping options for the local populace to turn to, it is clear that any store that has survived – and in fact thrived – for nearly 40 years, experiencing double digit sales growth for the past three years, is doing something right. Case-in-point: Bend’s Newport Avenue Market.

“For us, it’s all about the experience. Anybody can shop online. It really comes down to being a food hub for our neighborhood and going after [the shoppers], whether it’s the weekend visitors to Bend or the everyday European-style shoppers,” said Lauren Johnson, COO of Newport Avenue Market. (Her honorary title is “Leader of the Pack.”) “Being that food hub and creating a sense of excitement and a sense of fun is really what the experience is.”

For the team at Newport Avenue Market, it is the elevated experience of shopping at the store more than anything else that brings shoppers through its doors. The market not only offers an opportunity for hungry shoppers to pick up a few groceries, but it also serves as a meeting place where people in the community can come together to catch up on one another’s lives. And for visitors to Bend, the store serves as a regional showcase for Central Oregon’s farmers, specialty food craftspeople and artists.

Of course, Newport Avenue Market would not be as successful as it is if it did not offer an expansive selection of high-quality, in-demand food and beverage items. The aisles of mainstream groceries at the store as well as its gourmet offerings make this a place where one can go to do a big weekly grocery shop or simply stop in for a bottle of imported olive oil or a few farmstead cheeses. Newport Avenue Market offers meat, seafood, baked goods, deli, cheese,
produce, beer, wine, sushi, housewares and more.

In stocking the market’s shelves, the team at Newport Avenue Market focuses on highlighting the regional bounty that Central Oregon has to offer. From meat to seafood to cheese, every section at the store features an array of local and regional products. When the local Copper River King Salmon return to Oregon’s waters each spring, Newport Avenue Market is proud to be among the first retailers in the state to carry it. The market also sells local non-commodity beef from Country Natural Beef. The butter, milk and cultured dairy products from Eberhard’s Dairy are a Bend favorite. And area residents anxiously wait for local produce to come into season, heading to Newport Avenue Market to pick up everything from asparagus in spring to Opal apples in fall.

In addition, customers will also find products on the store’s shelves from a number of specialty food companies that are based in the region, including Willamette Valley Fruit Company, Red Plate Foods and O’Hana Salsa.

One of the real highlights at Newport Avenue Market is the store’s immense selection of wine and beer. The store offers over 500 distinct beers and over 3,000 wines. In a state that is equally well known as a producer of fine wine and craft beer, the market does not have to look far when sourcing products for these sections. “In Deschutes County, we have over 25 craft brewers and we’re also home to Deschutes Brewery, which is number six in the country. And we carry national brand beer as well. We continue to grow both in the craft beer and cider,” said Johnson. “With wine, we do a tremendous job as well. We have so many resources both regionally and internationally.”

Newport Avenue Market is always looking to expand its product offerings and searches far and wide to find the hottest new products to bring to Central Oregon. The store sends teams of buyers to upwards of a dozen different trade shows each year, scouting out goods for the store. However, it is ultimately the customers themselves that have the most influence over the store’s product selection. “We really take great pride in carrying what our customers want to buy as opposed to telling them what they should buy. If our customers request a product, we guide them to that,” said Johnson.

Newport Avenue Market’s devotion to Central Oregon spreads beyond simply featuring regionally produced products on its shelves. The market prides itself on being a valuable member of its community. As an employer, the store has become home to over 100 dedicated employees, ten of which have been with Newport Avenue Market for over 15 years. In addition, the store engages in a great deal of philanthropic activity within Central Oregon. This year, a charity golf tournament organized by Newport Avenue Market raised $50,000 for The Hunger Prevention Coalition. And Johnson expects a planned charity drive in December will raise another $50,000 for Bend food bank Family Kitchen. “I’m a fifth generation Oregonian,” said Johnson. “I live in this area as do my parents. With Oregon being one of the top hungriest states in the nation, this is something we can do to make a difference.”

For Johnson, Newport Avenue Market is not just a retailer. It is a friend to the community and to the region which it calls home. Johnson prides herself on being a good neighbor to those who she meets and does business with every day. “The relationship that we have with our customers is a friendship, and it’s absolutely experience-based. They come there to see their neighbors,” said Johnson. “It’s important for us to recognize that we are a food hub … We look forward to seeing our customers on a daily basis, and really getting to know their lives. [We love] seeing all of our neighbors – literally our neighbors (I live a few blocks away) – and catching up on their lives.”

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

West Coast Kate and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix

Frontier Soups WestCoastKaleQuinoaVegSoupEMThe new West Coast Kale and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix from Frontier Soups is a vegetarian and certified gluten-free soup that’s part of Frontier Soups’ Homemade-In-Minutes™ line. The soup has a hearty mix of white quinoa and flakes of kale and butternut squash that are freeze-dried to preserve nutrition. Home cooks add canned tomatoes, cubed butternut squash and chicken or vegetable broth and simmer for 25 minutes to make soup for the family. Everything else is in the soup mix, including onions and carrots and a savory seasoning that combines garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary and a peppercorn blend.

This soup mix answers consumer requests for more vegetarian options and for soups that offer an easy way to incorporate popular superfoods into their diet. West Coast Kale and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix is available in 4.5-ounce clear cellophane packages that display the colorful ingredients at a suggested retail price of $5.95 to $6.49. Frontier Soups’ 34 varieties are all natural with no added salt, preservatives or MSG.

Create a Delicious Holiday Tradition With a Gift of Ethel M Chocolates

Infuse your holidays with the delicious nostalgia of the season by sharing Ethel M® Chocolates. These affordable gourmet confections — with seasonal flavors meticulously crafted of the finest, preservative-free ingredients -– will evoke warm family traditions of the holidays, handed down through generations.

“Confections that infuse seasonal flavors and aromas like pumpkin spice, egg nog, butter rum and peppermint have the power to evoke warm memories, which is why they’re especially popular around the holidays,” said Bernard Pacyniak, editor-in-chief of Candy Industry magazine. “The holidays are truly a time to come together, to celebrate and to create lasting memories with friends and families.”

Based on family recipes, Ethel M Chocolates are handcrafted in small batches and made with fresh, quality ingredients. For example, the buttery filling inside the Satin Cremes® is stirred by hand in special cream beaters and flavored with real chocolate, vanilla, raspberry and lemon. Quality is paramount in every step.

“Today, we use some of Ethel Mars’ 100-year-old recipes to deliver an affordable luxury experience that’s authentic and delicious for chocolate lovers, especially those who appreciate family tradition, uncompromising quality and unparalleled taste,” said Oren Young, General Manager of Ethel M Chocolates. “We’re passionate about continuing Ethel Mars’ legacy of fresh crafted chocolates. It’s a passion you can taste in every bite of Ethel M Chocolates.”

This season, the chocolate artisans at Ethel M Chocolates have prepared special assortments, sure to make your holidays merry and bright. To sweeten the deal, enter the code BFRIDAY14 to receive a 20 percent discount on orders of $50 or more from November 25 to December 3.

A thoughtful gift of Ethel M® Chocolates will transport friends and family back to the fragrant kitchen of Ethel Mars, as she lovingly made kettles of rich holiday chocolates in the early 1900s. Inspired by his mother’s sumptuous creations, Forrest Mars Sr. joined his father, Frank C. Mars, in founding world-renowned Mars, Incorporated, manufacturer of iconic brands like M&M’S® Brand Candies, SNICKERS® Bar and DOVE® Chocolate. In 1981, Forrest established Ethel M Chocolates as a tribute to his mother’s fine art of chocolate making.

Today, Ethel M Chocolates spread holiday cheer by delivering a true gift for the culinary senses. Give the gift of good taste with these seasonal suggestions:

Peppermint Bark ($22) is a beloved holiday tradition. This handmade delicacy features crushed peppermint candies drenched in creamy white chocolate and covered with a layer of premium dark chocolate.          

The Holiday Deluxe Collection ($34) offers variety with the mouthwatering flavors of the season all wrapped up. Each 24-piece box includes limited edition pieces of Peppermint Silk, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Egg Nog, plus Satin Crèmes®, Almond Butter Krisps®, chewy and creamy caramels and Almond Crunch.

NEW Seasonal Chocolate Bars ($20-$70are the perfect gift for the connoisseur who appreciates blending rich, premium chocolate with indulgent seasonal flavors: Milk Chocolate Buttered Rum, Dark Chocolate Pumpkin and White Chocolate Peppermint.

NEW Creamy Caramels in a Keepsake Box ($12-$95are ready to give in a decorative box topped with a red acrylic bow. These indulgent treats are filled with creamy caramel and wrapped in milk and dark chocolate. Plus — along with several Ethel M Chocolate varieties — they’re kosher and make a thoughtful Hanukkah gift.

The Nut & Caramel Collection ($28-$34), encased in an attractive Snowflake Box, features toffee crisps, pecans, almonds and caramels, each drenched in dark or milk chocolate.

The Classic Collection ($28-$42is a welcome addition to any festive gathering, offering a selection of sweet caramels, nuts, milk and dark Satin Crèmes® and Almond Butter Krisps®.

The Holiday Cocktail Collection ($28)with retro designs that evoke the 1960s, gives chocolate lovers a new way to toast the holidays. Each of the 16 pieces is filled with real spirits combined in a creme center: Champagne Cocktail and Mucha Margarita in milk chocolate or Lemon Drop and Chocopolitan in dark chocolate. (Some state laws prohibit shipment of alcoholic products directly to consumers. See website for details.)

Ethel M Chocolates are sold online at www.EthelM.com, by phone at 800.438.4356 and in six locations throughout Las Vegas, including a pop-up store in Summerlin’s Tivoli Village.

Ralphs Grocery Company to Hire 1,200 New Employees Across Southern California

Ralphs Grocery Company has announced that it is hiring to fill an estimated 1,200 permanent positions at its stores in southern California.

Ralphs currently employs more than 19,000 associates at its stores in southern California.

“Ralphs is committed to creating job opportunities for our current and future associates,” said Donna Giordano, President of Ralphs. “Working for Ralphs offers our associates great benefits, flexible schedules and a great place to grow a career.”

Ralphs is hiring for a variety of positions including front end, deli, bakery and store clerks. Ralphs is also looking to fill cake decorator positions and openings in its Murray’s Cheese and Starbucks shops that are located in many of its supermarkets. These positions and more are available at Ralphs supermarkets in each of thesSouthern California counties served by the supermarket company, which include Los AngelesOrangeRiversideSan BernardinoSan DiegoSanta Barbara and Ventura counties.

Ralphs invites interested applicants to visit www.ralphs.com/careers between November 17 and November 24 where they can join Ralphs’ talent network, sign up to receive job alerts and apply for jobs.

Click here to read more supermarkets news on GourmetNews.com.

MOM’s Organic Market Opens in Washington, D.C.

MOM’s Organic Market first Washington, D.C. store is opening at the Hecht Warehouse District. The new store features:

  • Free car charging stations
  • Naked Lunch, an all organic vegetarian eatery
  • Craft beer and organic wine
  • Daily deliveries of Bethesda-based Spring Mill bread
  • Sustainable local farm-raised trout (Friday and Saturday only)
  • Only the highest quality 100% certified organic produce

“We’re excited to finally be in DC,” says founder, Scott Nash. “We have 10 stores in the DC suburbs where I grew up, but I’ve wanted MOM’s to be part of the city community for years. We found a great first location - NoMa and surrounding communities lack sufficient choices for organic groceries.  I support DC’s 2016 $12.50 minimum wage increase and we will be paying that wage in DC effective immediately.”

MOM’s Grand Opening will feature direct-trade oysters from MOM’s Chesapeake Bay Oyster Farm, local vendor samples, environmental advocacy groups, and Naked Lunch tastings.

MOM’s is donating 5 percent of Grand Opening sales to Sasha Bruce Youthwork (SBY), a local services provider for DC youth. SBY is the only 24-hour, open access, youth-specific shelter in the District. Over its 40-year history, SBY has reunited over 13,000 homeless youth with their families. SBY offers counseling, life skills, and job training (http://sashabruce.org/).

Customers can drop off light bulbs, shoes, batteries, cell phones, and more at MOM’s for recycling. To learn about MOM’s, check out Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/momsorganicmarket) and Twitter! (https://twitter.com/MOMsOrganicMrkt).

Mondelez International to Expand Tassimo Beverage Capsule Production

Mondelez International has announced plans to invest $50 million (£30 million) in its Banbury, UK factory to build two new lines that will manufacture Tassimo beverage capsules. Tassimo is Europe’s fastest growing single-serve system, brewing a wide variety of beverages including Jacobs and Costa coffees and Cadbury hot chocolate.

The decision is part of Mondelez International’s multi-year investment in European manufacturing, under which $1.5 billion has been invested since 2010. The planned investment will create close to 80 roles and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Banbury factory, which produces coffee brands such as Kenco, Carte Noire and Maxwell House. The Tassimo capsules produced in Banbury will be exported to Western European coffee markets in France and Spain as well as distributed in the UK.

“Tassimo is a key driver of growth for our European coffee business, so this $50 million opportunity is a great one for Banbury,” said Phil Hodges, Senior Vice President, Integrated Supply Chain, Mondelez Europe.  “Over the past 18 months, we’ve made similar investments in Bournville and Sheffield, underscoring our commitment to UK manufacturing. The proposed investment is part of our vision to manufacture our products on state-of-the-art lines that will enable us to meet growing demand while increasing our competitiveness.”

Click here to read more Gourmet News stories about coffee.

Continued investment in the plant has created an efficient and modern factory capable of producing both instant and capsule coffees for Mondelez International’s brands. The $50 million investment, conditional on commitments to flexibility and cost competitiveness, will fund two new Tassimo coffee production lines to be installed in 2015.

The Tassimo beverage system, which was developed in Banbury prior to its launch in Europe in 2004, uses barcode technology to calculate the right amount of water, brewing time, and temperature for the specific beverage. Over the past five years, Tassimo achieved strong double-digit growth in Europe through a winning formula of convenience, an unrivalled brand portfolio and quality coffee.

“The proposed investment opportunity demonstrates that, in an increasingly competitive environment, the UK continues to be a prime location for large-scale manufacturing,” said Paul Sinclair, Head of Manufacturing at the Mondelez International Banbury site.  “We’re committed to securing this investment for Banbury by increasing flexibility and competitiveness, and we’re excited about showcasing the quality we can deliver to coffee drinkers in the UK and abroad by producing Tassimo in our factory.”

“This investment opportunity in Banbury is part of our ongoing supply chain reinvention plan,” said Hodges. “We’re implementing several such initiatives around the world to capitalize on growing demand, while also reducing costs and improving productivity.”

Mondelez International’s supply chain reinvention plan is expected to deliver $3 billion in gross-productivity savings, $1.5 billion in net savings and $1 billion in incremental cash over the next three years.  The investment follows Mondelez Europe’s announced $100 million commitment to build a state-of-the-art biscuit factory in Czech Republic earlier this year, as well as the potential new investment of approximately $100 million for the Bournville chocolate manufacturing site in Birmingham, UK.

Specialty Food Association Unveils Picks for Holiday Gifts for Food Fans

The Specialty Food Association kicks off the 2014 holiday shopping season with a tempting selection of sweet and savory treats for the food lover on your list.

From chocolate cayenne cookies with bacon to classic buttery shortbread, this year’s gift picks reflect the innovation and high standards that specialty foodmakers bring to the products they create. Each pick is from a recipient of a sofi™ Award, which honors the best of the best in specialty food from members of the Specialty Food Association.

This year’s list includes nine sweet and nine spicy gifts, plus a can’t-resist goat cheese.

Sweet Gifts:

Spicy Gifts:

Mollydooker 2012 Carnival of Love Shiraz Named #1 Wine and #1 Shiraz in Australia and New Zealand for 2014

South Australia wine producer, Mollydooker Wines from McLaren Vale has just been honored by Winestate magazine at the 2014 Australasian Winestate Awards, held on  November 14, 2014 at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

The Mollydooker 2012 Carnival of Love Shiraz was awarded twice as the 2014 Wine of the Year for Australia and New Zealand and the 2014 Shiraz Wine of the Year for Australia and New Zealand.

Owners and winemakers, Sarah and Sparky Marquis, have been wine industry innovators and have triumphed over moments of near disasters in the competitive, global wine marketplace for over 20 years in Australia.

Winestate, the prestigious and oldest wine publication of Australia, awarded Mollydooker Wines and their 2012 Carnival of Love Shiraz from over 2,400 Australian and New Zealand wine producers and over 11,000 wine entries.

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