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Dairy Farmers in Step with Local Food Movement

By Jorge Gonzalez-Garcia

Two California dairy farmers are finding a new way to turn the fluid milk they produce from a product they can sell at commodity prices into a gourmet product that commands a premium price from consumers eager to enhance their experience of food.

Noel Rosa and his brother, Rolland, own and operate Rosa Brothers Milk Co., based in Tulare, in the heart of the nation’s richest agricultural area. Rosa Brothers is very much a family operation, with seven members actively involved. The farm employs 35 workers, covers 600 acres, and manages a herd of about 1,000 Holstein dairy cows.

The Rosa family connection to this rich farmland goes back seven decades. “The farm was started by my grandfather in 1953, continued by my father, and now by my brother and I,” says the 47-year-old Rosa. “That’s a span of more than three generations that our family has been here working the farm and producing dairy products.”

In the fall of 2012, Noel and his brother took a big chance and built a creamery to produce and distribute specialty products like whole milk and flavored milk in glass, and premium ice cream. The idea was to distribute the products to local retailers. A small store was added next to the creamery for local visibility and direct sales.

The brothers made the move for a couple of reasons. One was in response to severe swings in commodity prices in 2009. “They can be very tough financially for a medium-sized dairy farm like ours,” Noel explains. “We needed to create more stability in terms of product, pricing and sales revenue.”

The other reason was the growth of the local food movement in his area. Rosa saw that it was picking up steam. “Our research showed that consumers preferred milk in glass bottles,” Rosa says. “They love the taste, they like that it comes from a local farm, and they support bottle recycling. What we’re doing is a natural extension of the growth of the farm to table movement right in our own area.”

A hundred miles to the northwest, in a small valley next to the river Merced near the town of Winton, lies PH Ranch, home of Top Line Milk Company. It used to be a working cattle ranch. Now it’s the dairy farm owned and operated by Paul van Warmerdam and his wife Sonya. They farm 860 acres, have 55 employees, and manage a herd of about 2,500 Holstein cows.
Top Line Milk is brand new to the specialty milk products business, having launched at the recent Natural Products West Expo 2016 show in Anaheim this past March. “I can’t really point to our specialty milk sales because we’re just starting out,” says the 51-year-old van Warmerdam. “But people at the show loved our milk, and our low and slow pasteurization method. They told us it reminded them of the taste of milk when they were kids, and milk came right off a local farm.”

Van Warmerdam and his wife had talked about expanding into premium dairy products in years past. Then came 2009, with wild swings in commodity prices. “2009 was a bad year,” he says. “We had record low milk prices and high feed prices, and a lot of people left the business.” That experience reinforced their goal of building a successful dairy business that could withstand fluctuations in the commodity market, and that they could leave to their children. Moving into specialty milk seemed like a creative way to do that.

They also considered glass bottles for their milk, but opted instead for white plastic bottles to reduce ultraviolet light exposure and extend shelf life. “We made that decision for a number of reasons,” says van Warmerdam. “We didn’t want to be the third or fourth glass milk bottle company. Also, we wanted to be able to sell into smaller convenience stores. The extra space needed to handle glass returns can be an issue. So those were all factors.”

Top Line Milk emphasizes its low and slow pasteurization process. “Low and slow is our slogan,” says van Warmerdam. “The milk comes out of our cow, we add the minimum of heat to meet pasteurization standards, and it goes into the bottle. It cannot be any fresher or tastier than that. And that was our goal from the beginning.”

Van Warmerdam is now looking to build out his distribution network. “We would like to grow regionally to the Bay Area, and then Sacramento and Fresno,” he says. “We’re in a niche market, so our rollout will be slow and strategic.” Closer to home, he plans to take advantage of traffic passing by his place by setting up a drive-through window for a couple of hours a day so customers can buy directly.

For Noel Rosa, wholesale growth has been solid. “In our first full year of creamery operations, we grew from zero to 70 retail outlets,” he says. “And we won new product of the year in 2013 at the Fresno Food Expo. That gave our sales a boost.” This year Rosa Brothers is selling product in 225 stores in its area.

Industry insiders do not see explosive growth for the specialty milk market, and they caution against unrealistic expectations. “We project slow, steady growth for this segment of the market,” says Murray Bain, Vice-President for Marketing at Stanpac, the large Canadian container manufacturer which supplies bottles to premium milk producers. A California Dairy Advisory Board report for 2015 shows that milk in glass bottles amounted to less than two percent of total sales for the entire state.

Noel Rosa understands the challenge of operating profitably in a niche market. And he takes the long view that as long as there are customers who prefer milk in glass, support the farm to table movement, and are willing to pay a little more for premium quality, he will have buyers for his products.

Lee Delaney Appointed Executive Vice President, Chief Growth Officer for BJ’s Wholesale Club

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. announced that Lee Delaney has been appointed Executive Vice President, Chief Growth Officer effective May 9, 2016. Delaney will be responsible for the company’s merchandising and supply chain organization, and will report directly to BJ’s President and CEO Chris Baldwin.

“I am very excited to welcome Lee to the BJ’s team,” said Chris Baldwin, President and CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club. “Lee’s strategic capability, extensive experience and high credibility in the industry make him a perfect fit for our team. With a talented merchant organization already in place, adding Lee to our team will ensure that we will not only maintain but accelerate our progress.”

Prior to joining BJ’s, Delaney was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company, and a leader in the firm’s consumer products practice. While at Bain, Delaney advised clients on corporate strategy, created new market entry plans, supported client acquisitions, and advised on large cost reduction programs. Prior to joining Bain in 1996, Delaney worked for Electronic Data Systems and Deloitte Consulting advising clients on a variety of engagements.

“I am delighted and feel privileged to have the opportunity to join the BJ’s team,” Delaney said. “BJ’s holds a unique position in the wholesale club retail channel. I look forward to working with BJ’s executives, merchants, and all of BJ’s team members to unlock the tremendous value I see in this segment of the market.”

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Announces $10 Million Share Repurchase Program

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Inc.’s board of directors has authorized a new two-year program to repurchase up to $10 million in shares of the company’s common stock.

Repurchases under the company’s new program will be made from time to time at management’s discretion on the open market or through privately negotiated transactions in compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-18, subject to market conditions, applicable legal requirements and other relevant factors. Repurchases of common stock may also be made under a Rule 10b5-1 plan, which would permit common stock to be repurchased when the company might otherwise be precluded from doing so under insider trading laws. The share repurchase program does not obligate the company to purchase any particular amount of common stock and may be suspended, modified or discontinued by the company without prior notice.

“We are pleased that our strong balance sheet and cash flow enable us to return value to stockholders through this new share repurchase program, while at the same time continuing to invest in the company’s long-term growth,” said Kemper Isely, the company’s Co-President. “Our board of directors and the senior management team strongly believe that the company’s growth prospects are not fully reflected in the company’s current stock price. The share repurchase program demonstrates our confidence in the strength of our business and our commitment to delivering shareholder value.”

The company had approximately 22.5 million shares of common stock outstanding as of May 5, 2016. The company expects to finance the share repurchase program through borrowings under its revolving credit facility.

Nonprofit Center Takes Fresh Local Food into Washington DC’s Food Deserts

By Lorrie Baumann

In Washington D.C.’s urban center, a restaurant-inspired nonprofit organization is planting seeds for a new generation of healthy eaters. Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture is bringing fresh, local produce to low-income neighborhoods at regular weekly mobile farmers markets so that the residents of these food deserts can shop for local fresh vegetables, eggs, organic milk and grass-fed and pastured beef and pork. At the same time, the organization is paying the farmers from whom it sources the food a fair market price, and providing government food relief agencies with data they need to develop new tools to encourage their low-income clients to eat a healthier diet. “Just because somebody has a low income doesn’t mean that they don’t want to participate in the joyful process of buying food at a farmers market. They get to participate in this beautiful aspect of food, which is to pick what they want and talk with the people about it,” said Arcadia Center Executive Director Pamela Hess. “If we could get more people spending more SNAP at farmers markets, we would remove a significant portion of hunger, because the hunger problem in this country is not about getting enough calories; it’s about getting enough nutrition. We could have a really powerful influence on public health.”

SNAP is an acronym for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s the largest of the federal government’s food assistance programs. Commonly known as food stamps, SNAP currently provides $75 billion per year in food assistance, according to Rich Lucas, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Deputy Administrator for Policy Support. “With that increased purchasing power, the intention is to allow people to be able to purchase almost anything that’s able to be consumed at home,” he said. “But we all know that all consumers need to improve their diet. SNAP is paying about $400 million a year to teach people how to eat better.”

Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture was started in 2010 by Washington D.C. restaurateur Michael Babin, a co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, an award-winning collection of independent businesses devoted to the culinary arts in Washington D.C. and Virginia. Babin started the organization, a 501(c)3 charity, after he found himself unable to supply his restaurants with high-quality local produce in sufficient quantity and at an affordable price and reasoned that if he couldn’t find that affordable produce, it stood to reason that low-income residents of the city around him couldn’t do it either, Hess said. The mobile farmers market program, one of four major programs for the Arcadia Center, was launched in 2012 and now makes regular weekly stops in neighborhoods where the closest food access is often at small convenience stores that don’t stock much in the way of perishable produce.

Johns Hopkins University public health nutritionist Joel Gittelsohn has been studying how corner stores in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, serve their SNAP customers. He says that, “When you talk to the customers, they say that, ‘I would love to buy healthy foods, but they are too expensive, not available or are of poor quality in the stores I shop in. Retailers said, ‘I would love to stock them, but no one buys them, and the last time I stocked it, it just sat on the shelves.’”

The USDA is trying to change that situation by proposing new eligibility standards for retailers participating in the SNAP program. Under the new rule, those retailers would be required to stock a wider array of food choices. “USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon when he announced the proposed rule in February. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”

The new standards are being fought by NACS, the national trade association of convenience store operators, which says the new rule seems designed to push small convenience stores out of the SNAP program. “Small businesses will be harmed and SNAP beneficiaries, who rely on these small stores in both urban and rural environments, will lose options they need to feed their families,” NACS wrote in its letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

The Arcadia Center’s program aims to attack the same problem of access to healthy food at its roots. Its Mobile Market rolling farm stands make regular weekly stops in low-income neighborhoods around Washington that typically have high SNAP usage, low car ownership and are a mile or more from a conventional grocery store. The program prices the food at fair market value but also matches the face value of benefits from federal food programs. “If you pay $10 for food, what you get is $20 worth,” Hess said. About 70 percent of transactions involve some sort of food assistance, which can be applied to proteins as well as fruits and vegetables. “Customers love the idea of grass-fed meats and organic foods because they know it’s better for their children – they just can’t afford it [at the grocery store],” Hess said. The Mobile Market took in $22,000 in SNAP business in 2015, compared to a total of about $75,000 in SNAP sales at farmers markets throughout the city. The program matched the face amount of those SNAP benefits, so that those customers went home with $44,000 worth of food. “People are using SNAP with us to buy local, high-quality food – they’re eschewing the chance to buy cheap at a convenience store,” Hess said. “They are voting with the resources they have.”

Arcadia Center also has a farm on which much of the produce it sells is grown. The center is partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to transform the 126-acre Woodlawn-Pope-Leighey estate, once a part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, into a true Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture.

Other food offered at the Mobile Markets is sourced from local farmers who grow responsibly but don’t bring their produce into these neighborhoods themselves because they can’t sell enough there to make it worth their while. “They can’t take that much time from their fields to sell a couple hundred dollars of food,” Hess said. “The numbers are small, but we put an additional $130,000 in the pockets of local farmers that they wouldn’t have had because they don’t have access to our markets. It helps them diversify their revenue. One of the things that’s very important is that we do not feed poor people on the backs of farmers. Our philosophy is that we have to pay our farmers a fair price. Farmers don’t make much money, and they cannot be expected to shoulder the weight of paying our poor people.”

“Handling hunger might not be just about putting more money into SNAP,” she continued. “I think it’s about helping people make good choices about using their SNAP, making choices that will nourish them – possibly eating less calories, but eating more nutrient-dense food.”

FMI Responds to FDA Surprise Release of “Final” Menu Labeling Guidance

Food Marketing Institute (FMI) President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin offered the following statement regarding the surprising late Friday afternoon release of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) purported “final guidance” related to the agency’s December 2014 final rule. The rule requires menu labeling at chain restaurants and “similar retail food establishments,” determined by FDA to include grocery stores, notwithstanding the inherent distinction between the operations of grocery stores and those of chain restaurants.

Sarasin said, “The guidance is largely a reprint of the draft guidance the agency released in September 2015 and did not incorporate the critical flexibility requested by the supermarket industry to make chain restaurant menu labeling regulations more practical in a grocery store setting for key areas, including signage at the salad bar or hot foods bar.

“While we are pleased to have any type of guidance to assist with our challenging efforts to comply with a rule and a structure written for chain restaurants – as opposed to one that contemplates the operations of supermarkets with large and varied produce departments evolving to salad bars or seafood departments evolving to hot foods bars – the supermarket industry still seeks flexibility from FDA. Specifically, food retailers wish to preserve their opportunity to sell locally produced foods that are sold at only one or two locations as well as their ability to use one sign/menu/menu board in a prepared foods area or next to a salad bar.

“Unfortunately, FDA has been unable to address these issues through its guidance process, so we repeat the supermarket industry’s support for legislation that does address our concerns, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017/S. 2217), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February and is pending in the U.S. Senate.”

Beaverton Foods Expands Co-packing, Private Label Business with New Brand Manager

Industry pro, Cindy Sitton, joins Oregon’s 87-year-old specialty condiment manufacturer to help build an area of the business that represents more than 120 co-packing partners at Beaverton Foods.

Sitton has been hired as Beaverton Foods’ Co-Packing and Private Label Brand Manager. She is responsible for managing current customers as well as recruiting new business. Additionally, she will help co-packers with their sales efforts, which will include the e-commerce sector such as working with Amazon and other digital businesses. “Everyone wants to do business with Amazon, but they don’t know how to navigate through the process,” Sitton explained. “I bring a lot to the table for both mass market and in the independent natural and specialty trade at the retail level.”

Most recently, Sitton worked at Advantage Sales & Marketing, based in Irvine, California, for eight years as Customer Development Manager. Prior to that she owned a brokerage business for five years; specializing in the natural and specialty foods industry.

Domonic Biggi, CEO of Beaverton Foods, said he’s pleased to welcome a seasoned pro to the sales team. “I’ve known Cindy for a long time and she brings more than two decades of key experience to an area of the business we want to streamline,” Biggi said. “This is a part of the business I’ve wanted to give more emphasis to for a while now.”

Beaverton Foods’ Beaver Brand and Inglehoffer are the leading shelf-stable horseradish and award-winning specialty mustards in the US, and it is the largest Safe Quality Food (SQF) certified processor of authentic wasabi products in North America. The company also offers a wide variety of best-selling gourmet sauces, garlic, spices, and other unique specialty condiments packaged under these labels: Beaver, Inglehoffer, Napa Valley, Tulelake and Pacific Farms. In addition to its own brands, the company develops, produces and co-packs a broad range of products for companies in the U.S. and abroad.

Hangtown Oysters Now Available

Hangtown Oysters, grown in the tidelands of a natural glacier-carved fjord in the Kitsap Peninsula of Puget Sound, are now available exclusively through Fortune Fish & Gourmet. A member of the Crassostrea gigas species, commonly known as the Pacific Oyster, Hangtown Oysters are farmed exclusively for the seafood purveyor. Grown near the fresh water outflow from Harding Creek Estuary, Hangtown Oysters feature a well-balanced combination of sweetness at the start, with a buttery soft brine finish. The flavor profile is a unique taste of fresh rain and low salinity.

“We had the idea to create Hangtown Oyster a couple of years ago,” explains Sean J. O’Scannlain, President and CEO, Fortune Fish & Gourmet. “Our team really enjoys bringing a little history into our brands, similar to our East Coast offering, the Old 1871 Oysters. We’re thrilled with how fantastic they taste. The farm we work with is producing an incredible oyster, and we are excited for people to try them.”

Hangtown Oysters are named after a unique folktale, dating back to California’s Gold Rush. During this boom time, Hangtown was one of the first towns settlers encountered while in search of the area’s riches. The town earned its name due to the vigilante justice dished out to those who ran afoul of local law enforcement. One particularly crafty swindler had a special request for his last meal: an oyster omelet. Knowing that the oysters would have to be brought from waters over a hundred miles away by steamship and then from port over rough roads, the swindler was able to delay his hanging at least two weeks. Locally, the oyster omelet was renamed the “Hangtown Fry,” known for “extending” one’s life by two weeks.

The May Issue of Gourmet News is Now Available

Click the image above or click here to be among the first to read the May issue of Gourmet News. Check back soon to read Sweets & Treats, a Gourmet News special supplement covering the 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Feeding America Names Hunger’s Hope Winners For 2016

Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, presented the 2016 Hunger’s Hope Awards at its recent annual conference.

Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks that provides food and groceries to more than 46 million people each year through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across America.

The 2016 Hunger’s Hope Award Winners are:

2016 Member of the Year
Alameda County Community Food Bank (Oakland, California) was recognized for its nutrition policies, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach, innovative partnerships and its commitment to advocacy and community engagement.

The food bank’s advocacy team has been named to the Feeding America Advocacy Hall of Fame for three consecutive years, due to its efforts to protect federal nutrition programs.

The food bank was also cited for its innovative partnerships with the city of Oakland, local school districts, libraries and county social service agencies. New programs developed by the food bank have been embraced as state-wide tactics to expand meal programs.

“The Alameda County Community Food Bank is a highly collaborative organization that shares best practices, tactics and ideas with the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks. They actively participate in committees at the national office, present at our conferences throughout the year, and generously mentor other food banks,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America.

2016 Network Leader of the Year
Michelle L. Riley, CEO of The Foodbank, Inc. (Dayton, Ohio), was recognized for extraordinary and exemplary leadership and service by an executive director/CEO in the Feeding America network.

Under Michelle’s leadership, distribution of food to people in the food bank’s service area has increased by 58 percent in the past five years. The distribution of fresh produce increased by 215 percent during the same time period.

“Michelle has accomplished much by placing people at the center of her work. She has built a strong team that will continue to make an impact. She was also a major voice in the Feeding America Contract Task Force team, working to ensure that the voices of food banks across the country were heard, and keeping the member contract in line with core values of the Feeding America network,” said Aviv.

2016 John van Hengel Fellowship
Jaynee K. Day, President & CEO, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, (Nashville) is this year’s recipient of the John van Hengel Fellowship. The award honors the ideals of the late John van Hengel, who developed the concept of food banking in the 1960s. It recognizes an executive director of a member food bank for his or her excellence in leadership, local impact and national influence, and commitment and entrepreneurial spirit in the area of hunger relief.

Day has served the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee for 28 years.

Her visionary spirit are best exemplified through various innovations that demonstrate her creativity and boldness in how she approaches problems and barriers to achieve success.

“Jaynee is a network veteran with a caring heart and great vision. Her work has been vital to both Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and the Feeding America network. In her community, she has played a founding role in SNAP outreach, advocacy efforts and reclamation partnerships. At the network level, Jaynee has served on the National Advisory Council, our Board of Directors and numerous national committees,” Aviv said.

American Heart Association and Aramark Launch Community Health Program

The American Heart Association and Aramark are launching a new community engagement program in three key cities — Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston — as part of their Healthy for Life® 20 By 20 initiative to improve the diet and health of millions of Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020. The pilot program, taking place throughout the spring, will track and measure the impact of attitudes and behaviors of primarily single mothers or single heads of households responsible for food and meal decisions for their families.

“Less than two percent of all Americans meet the AHA’s definition of ideal cardiovascular health due primarily to poor diet. By bringing this high impact program to underserved communities and educating people to make healthier food and lifestyle choices, we hope to watch alarming statistics like this one eventually fade away,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, an American Heart Association volunteer, and a world-renowned cardiovascular nutrition expert.

“We continue to make measurable progress with Healthy for Life 20 By 20 and are excited to launch this next important phase of the initiative to help build a culture of health at the individual, community and national levels,” said Eric J. Foss, Aramark Chairman, President and CEO. “Our goal is to use the learnings from this pilot program to impact the health and well-being of tens of thousands of families in underserved communities across the country.”

The program is designed to help people make better food and lifestyle choices through culturally relevant and family-centric cooking, as well as curriculum based nutrition education focused on teaching easy ways to make healthy and affordable meals.

“The most exciting part of this pilot program is our opportunity to impact and measure the change in attitudes and behaviors with heads of households who make the food and meal decisions for their families,” said Kim Stitzel, Senior Vice President of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation, American Heart Association. “We have created measurement criteria that will chart the knowledge and behaviors of participants, allowing us to then use this information to replicate the most successful aspects of the program and scale it nationwide.”

The teaching methods include lesson plans, hands-on activities, take home resources and questions, group discussions and progress reports centered on successes and struggles. Participants will learn how to budget, shop and prepare healthy meals, and increase their level of comfort and knowledge of healthy ingredients, cooking skills and recipes.

Five long-time Aramark Building Community partners will play a vital role in the implementation and overall success of this 12-week pilot: Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc., Episcopal Community Services, and Federation of Neighborhood Centers in Philadelphia; Casa Central in Chicago; and Neighborhood Centers in Houston. Following the pilot period, successful solutions will be replicated for broader impact across the country in partnership with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a network of more than 500 community-based social service organizations.

The Healthy for Life 20 By 20 initiative, which was launched last August, builds on existing work by both organizations and underscores the American Heart Association’s focus on its healthy living and prevention goals for 2020. In addition to activating community engagement programs, the initiative continues to grow and expand through healthy menu commitments across Aramark’s businesses, consumer health awareness and education initiatives, as well as thought leadership and research.


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