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Locavore Trend Drives Grocery Sales

By Lorrie Baumann

Coached by a generation of chefs with television shows, consumers have learned to ask for fresh, local and organic products. Grocers are now teaching them to look for those at the grocery store as well as the farmers market.

“I think people are buying local now more than ever,” said Pat Brown, CEO of the Natural Markets Food Group, which includes Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, Planet Organic Market and Richtree Natural Market restaurants in New York, the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago and Canada. Consumers are asking more questions now about where their food comes from, Brown said. “It forces the hand of the retailer to go out and get that product…. Organic sales are growing at a high rate as well, but the consumer is interested in buying food in their neighborhood from people who grow it in their neighborhood.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total local food sales last year amounted to $6.1 billion, of which only $1.31 billion in sales occurred directly from farmers to consumers through farmers markets, u-pick farms and farm stands. Sales from farms that passed through the hands of intermediates – restaurants, distributors and retailers – grew from $2.7 billion in 2008 to $3.35 billion in 2012.

In the nationally representative 2011 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, more than four out of five of the surveyed grocery store shoppers reported that they purchased local foods occasionally, while almost one out of 10 says they purchased local foods whenever possible. The Specialty Food Association reported in its “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2015” report that, according to specialty food manufacturers, “Local and all-natural products continue to be the most interesting to consumers. More than half of the manufacturers cited ‘local’ as a claim that interests consumers most today, with almost half of them expecting growth in local products over the next three years. “

Those who buy local foods are doing it because they want food that’s fresher and tastes better, and they want to support their local economy rather than because they’re concerned for the environmental impacts of transporting food long distances. In a 2012 study, scientists found that grocery shoppers were more willing to pay extra for food labeled “local” than they were for foods labeled “certified organic,” “certified fair trade” or with a note about the food’s carbon footprint.

Some of those shoppers, particularly those who are white, upper to middle class and convinced that their buying habits can “make a difference,” are looking to farmers markets to supply their desires for fresh, local food – mainly produce – driving growth in the number of farmers markets across the country by 180 percent between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, the USDA counted 8,268 in the United States. State and local governments are encouraging the trend too. As of 2014, 26 states had state farmers’ market associations designed to provide the markets with technical assistance, and there were 65 state and regional or local Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters in 21 states organizing outreach events and local food guides to promote locally produced food and farmers.

Grocers Respond
Grocers have taken notice. Almost three quarters of the retailers surveyed by the Specialty Food Association said that “local” is of great interest to consumers today, with more than half of them saying that they expect growth in that segment over the next three years. “Over the past five to six years, the focus on local, natural and organic has really taken hold among food retailers,” said Jim Hertel, Managing Partner for food retail consultants Willard Bishop.

Natural Markets Food Group has begun contracting directly with local farmers to provide produce to its markets in the Northeastern U.S. “At the peak of the season in the Northeast, we will be 65 or 70 percent local produce. That farmer used to sell produce in farmers markets… It’s exactly why we’re growing, that we’re able to create relationships with local farmers and bring their product in,” Brown said. “Other markets are doing the same thing.”

The Rising Tide Floats All Boats
While not necessarily local, sales of organic products are following the consumer preference for fresh, trustworthy products. “That’s true both of natural foods retailers as well as more traditional mainstream food retailers, whether it’s Walmart, which has significantly ramped up emphasis on organics, especially value-priced organics,” said Hertel. “There’s been a recognition by retailers that consumers are interested and also that it’s an area where the margins are greater, so profits are greater.”

Sales of organic food in the United States totaled $35.9 billion in 2014, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest data from the Organic Trade Association, which reported that total U.S. sales for organic products amounted to more than $39 billion in 2014, breaking previous industry records.

Sales research by the OTA shows sales trends for organic products growing at double digit rates for several years, compared to about a 1.5 percent projected growth rate for other foods. “The growth rates of traditional product lines are much smaller,” Hertel said. “The Millennial generation is very interested in healthy eating, and to them, that means natural and organic as well as less processed food.”

The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic products a part of their supermarket and retail purchases, according to the new research from the Organic Trade Association.

Retailers report that the demand for organic produce that prompted entry into the market by Walmart and Kroger is causing stress on the supply chain and making it harder for smaller retailers who have less buying power to compete for supplies that are limited by the amount of acreage that farmers have dedicated to certified organic growing methods and the length of time it takes to obtain organic certification on new fields. “The supply chain for organic product has become difficult at best because the bigger chains are getting into the market. The demand is causing outages and shortages occasionally,” said Brown. “Bigger growers are pleased because it’s easier and cost-effective to contract out an entire crop to a large buyer. The buying power of a big company like that impacts those who’ve been selling product for a long time.”

Imports of organic produce from Mexico are helping to ease the shortages and meet the demands of American consumers who’ve been long trained to expect their grocers to supply whatever food they want whenever they want it. “There’s a lot more organic farming in Mexico now than even five years ago,” Brown said. “There are gaps in some products, but generally, you can get organic produce year-round now because there’s so much organic production in Mexico now.”

Expert Says Genetically Engineered Foods Pose No Danger

By Lorrie Baumann

Genetically engineered crops pose no current danger to the American Food Supply, according to Gregory Jaffe, Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That’s not to say that genetic engineering poses no threat for the future, so CSPI is urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to require pre-approval before new genetically engineered crops are allowed to enter the nation’s food supply.

The Chairman of Just Label It! says that a possible link between glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and cancer coupled with scientific findings of the presence of glyphosate in soil and water samples taken from areas where the chemical is heavily sprayed should be enough reason to require the labeling of GMOs on food products. Read more here.

CSPI, often called “The Food Police,” is the non-profit consumer group that’s been very vocal over the past several years in campaigns urging less super-sizing of fast food menu items, less consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and more labeling of trans fat content in foods. The organization receives no money from the food industry, Jaffe said.

Genetically engineered foods are currently regulated under Food and Drug Administration rules for substances “Generally Recognized As Safe.” Under those rules, food manufacturers are not required to obtain prior approval from the FDA before including them in food products. According to the FDA, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excluded from the definition of a food additive.” CSPI and other organizations are asking the FDA to exercise tighter control over GRAS designations and to require a safety assessment for any food ingredient produced with new science or technology before it is placed on the market.
There are only eight crops for which genetically engineered varieties are currently grown commercially: corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, papaya and squash, according to Jaffe. These genetically engineered crops are currently grown in 28 countries around the world by more than 18 million farmers. Japan and China each have more than 7 million farmers growing genetically engineered crops, he said. More than 90 percent of the corn, cotton, sugar beets and soybeans currently grown in the United States has been genetically engineered.

Although wheat is widely rumored to have been genetically modified, and that’s frequently proffered as an explanation for growing rates of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, that’s a myth. While wheat has been genetically engineered and field tested, the modified seed was never been sold to farmers for commercial crops, simply because farmers weren’t interested in growing it, so it was abandoned in 2004. There is currently no genetically modified wheat approved for release anywhere in the world. “There is no commercial variety of genetically engineered wheat,” Jaffe said. “There is no genetically engineered wheat on the market…. Gluten comes from wheat, so the information out there that gluten-intolerance is related to genetic engineering is not true.”

Genetic engineering works by moving beneficial traits from one organism to another in a very precise way. For instance, Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly known as Bt, is a naturally occurring bacterium that lives in soil and that’s routinely used by organic farmers as a natural insecticide. It works by infecting and killing particular insects, such as European corn borers, Colorado potato beetles and cotton bollworms. Each strain of the bacterium acts on specific insects but is harmless to other insects and to humans, other mammals, birds and fish.

Scientists have figured out how to extract from the bacterium’s DNA the gene that produces the protein that kills insects infected by Bt and insert that gene into plants. When those plants make seeds, the seeds carry the Bt gene, inheriting that in the same way they inherit other traits of their parent plants. Both corn and cotton have now been engineered to produce the Bt protein, which means that farmers who grow that seed don’t have to spray their fields with Bt to kill the targeted insects because the plants are able to produce the insect killing protein themselves. “It’s almost like vaccinating the crop,” Jaffe said.
When people eat those genetically engineered plants, the plants’ altered DNA doesn’t become part of the human bodies that ate it, just as humans who eat a salad don’t incorporate that DNA into their genes and turn into lettuces. “There is no harm from foods made from those crops. There’s international consensus that there is no harm,” Jaffe said. “We don’t know about future crops because we have to look at that on a case by case basis, but for now, there is no harm.”

Jeni’s Ice Cream Still Recovering from Listeria Contamination

By Richard Thompson

Jeni’s Ice Cream reopened with fanfare after a voluntary recall and temporary closure of its shops following the discovery of Listeria in a couple of pints of its ice cream. Then the company shut down again on June 12 after finding Listeria in its plant through routine monitoring. This time, the company is confident that the new contamination did not affect any of its ice cream. There is at this time no date for a resumption of production, and if you visited the Jeni’s Ice Cream booth during the Summer Fancy Food Show, you noticed that there wasn’t any ice cream there anywhere.

Jeni’s reopened in late May after a month of reorganizing after the federal Food and Drug Administration determined a pint of ice cream for sale in Lincoln, Nebraska was contaminated with Listeria, prompting further investigation into the company’s practices. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium usually found in soil or water, but can be found in unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, causing serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy adults can experience symptoms such as fever, stiff neck, confusion, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Jeni’s immediately voluntarily recalled over half a million pounds of ice cream – about $2.5 million dollars worth – and shuttered its 20 shops while the company cooperated with the FDA and outside experts. “After the finding of Listeria, the FDA and our team took a fresh look at everything we were doing,” said John Lowe, CEO of Jeni’s Ice Cream.

The FDA told Jeni’s that between April 20 and April 30, the agency observed protocol issues, sanitary violations and a lack of contamination prevention oversight by the company. The closure gave Jeni’s staff and outside experts time to reevaluate its practices and locate the source of the Listeria outbreak. Jeni’s broad testing found a second pint to be contaminated, and the company isolated the source to a single piece of equipment. “When we found the ‘smoking gun’ we were than able to institute a plan based on recommendations from outside experts,” Lowe said.

The company spent $200,000 to overhaul its facilities and modify everyday procedures. “We installed new walls, new operating procedures, and we introduced new testing protocols,” said Lowe, “We want to put ourselves in the best position possible to never have this happen again.”

Jeni’s now requires that all equipment must be cleaned overnight by a third party operator. “Every morning now, we protein test all of the equipment before putting it back together. If it comes back all green, it’s all good. If it comes up red, then the equipment needs to be cleaned again,” Lowe said.
The processing of fruits and vegetables was also modified. Prior to the inspection, fruits and vegetables were processed in the same kitchen as the ice cream. “We won’t bring in fresh fruit directly into the facility anymore. Now there is an intermediate step. Fruits will be cleaned and processed before being brought into the facility,” Lowe said.

From the voluntary recall through the reopening on May 22, Jeni’s used its website and social media to communicate with customers in an effort to maintain consumer confidence. “We have always been an open company. We want to be transparent with customers and consumers. We sought to keep the public informed about what we knew,” said Lowe.

Jeni’s says that the time during the closure was its darkest hour and that community support and the welcome reception made its comeback particularly special. The company attributes its renewed success from its transparency during the closure. “We feel the love from the people that stood with us. We are in communication with all retailers and don’t believe we’ll have lost a single shelf slot,” Lowe said.

Gluten Free Mixes and Blends Offer Unexpected Options

By Micah Cheek

With gluten free diets making headlines, food companies are putting more focus than ever on their wheat free alternative products. Irene Gottesman, Director of Marketing and Sales at Blends by Orly, credits the shift to the new availability of gluten allergy testing, which has led to children being tested earlier in life. She adds, “When one child is gluten free, often the whole family becomes gluten free.” Parents will start consuming gluten free products make sure their child doesn’t have to eat a different meal than the rest of the family. An added benefit to this is a greater ease in meal planning. This increased consumption has placed gluten free breads, cookies and pastas side by side with their wheat filled counterparts in grocery aisles.

The pre-made foods being produced are a great help to people with gluten sensitivities or allergies, but they still suffer some significant shortfalls. The shelf life of unfrozen gluten free baked goods is generally shorter than baked goods with wheat. This causes many baked goods to come out of their package already stale. Some companies have to resort to using more preservatives to maintain shelf stability. Flavor and texture issues have also cast a bad light on the gluten free market, and discriminating consumers are now driving demand for products that match or exceed the palatability of wheat based baked goods.

Rivaling wheat products is where baking mixes most stand out from other gluten free products. Janine Somers, Director of Marketing at Stonewall Kitchen, says, “Using high quality ingredients and never sacrificing on taste, we develop our gluten free products with the same standards we use for every other Stonewall Kitchen product. Quality and flavor are never compromised.” Due to the popularity of these mixes, gluten free recipes from pizza crust to doughnuts are now being offered. The homemade aspect of these products offers a greater sense of quality and freshness. “Since everything at Stonewall Kitchen starts and ends with quality, we believe the rise in this category for us in particular is due to the fact that our gluten free products are just as tasty and satisfying as our traditional mixes,” Somers says.

The ability to replicate the texture and flavor of wheat based products is determined by the careful mixing of different flours. As the market for gluten free flour blends and baking mixes grows, producers are trying new combinations of grains and starches in an effort to more accurately replicate wheat’s behaviors. Somers says, “While most mixes use potato, rice and tapioca flours, developers are looking at oats which also offer a nutritional quality. Another trend in mix development is the use of bean flours and other grains such as sorghum, chia and millet, which are being used in a combination with other gluten free flours.” Blends by Orly has a collection of flour blends which are designed as one to one wheat flour substitutes in any recipe, rather than a single product mix. “The reason we’re able to say it rivals wheat products,” says Gottesman, “Is because we tested them against wheat recipes.” Blends by Orly baked classic recipes with their flours, taste testing them on people who regularly ate gluten. This helped to eventually match the familiar qualities of the original product.

The emotional motivator for making gluten-free products at home comes from how customers feel they are perceived personally. Buying gluten free products can make consumers feel like their eating habits or restrictions are on display. Gluten free packaging is often distinct from other packages, and is marketed primarily for health rather than flavor. Gottesman says, “When you’re buying something for a dietary issue, you don’t want to feel like you’re in a pharmacy all the time.”

All-American Mustard Girl Cutting the Mustard

By Lorrie Baumann

The Real Mustard GirlJennifer Connor isn’t one of those little girls who grew up always knowing exactly what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, and whatever her passing dreams were, they didn’t include becoming the Founder, President and Chief Mustard Officer of Mustard Girl All-American Mustards. “I never thought I would ever get into mustard. Nevertheless, when I was little, I always loved the color yellow. I also always loved cooking and loved mustard, growing up and so the seeds were planted,” she says. “I knew there was something out there for me. I always knew that if you follow your heart and believe in it, you’ll end up somewhere.”

Then she tasted Mr. Rendall’s mustard while she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s not too much to say she fell in love with it. At the time, she was an art history major thinking about pursuing a career in advertising. She graduated from college, and she did that for a while, but then she heard that Rendall was planning to retire, taking his recipes with him.

Connor tracked him down and begged him to sell her his recipes as she couldn’t imagine the world without them. “I asked him if I could help him grow his company. He said no, you’re just an art history major. They’ll eat you alive out there; it’s too competitive,” she says. She asked him for a week to gather her resources and figure out how to run a mustard company before he made his final decision. Then she drove up to her family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin to think. “I was looking for a sign, if this was the right thing to do- so asked my higher power for a rainbow or a shooting star,” she says. “But to my dismay, It rained all weekend.”

On Sunday morning, she attended the little countryside church nearby still looking for a final sign. “I thought to myself if the father says yellow during the sermon, than that would be my sign. If not, then maybe this mustard journey was not meant to be.” The father didn’t mention the color yellow; however, he did say that we all have times of doubt in our lives, and when we doubt, we just have to remember the parable about the faith of the mustard seed. “I almost fell off my pew,” Connor says. “I’d never heard the parable. There was a nice lady in church who held my hand and told me the story of the mustard seed. I cried and hugged her, and everyone left the church, and I thanked my Higher Power for the best sign I could ever get, and at that moment made a promise to spread ‘mustard sunshine’ across America and inspire and help others along the way too.”

Connor called Rendall immediately and told him the story. “He said that, ‘I don’t want to be struck by lightning,’ but he was just waiting for someone who’d have enough love to stick with it, and I did. He told me that I’d probably lose my shirt three times, which I did, but I never gave up,” she says. “It changed my whole life. It’s all about believing in yourself. I wanted the whole world to have the opportunity to have that goodness.”

Rendell agreed to spend five days with Connor teaching her everything he could about the business in that length of time. The two met in a Starbucks coffee shop from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and finally, Rendell turned over the yellow pieces of paper that contained his mustard recipes and his sales records for the customers who’d been buying from him. “He gave me the building blocks to help me get started to where I am today,” she says.

That was in 2006, and Connor spent the next two years trying to practice everything Rendell had taught her while she improved the recipes and found a co-packer who could attend to production while she made the sales. When she moved production to the co-packer in 2008, just in time for the American economy to take a nosedive, she decided to change the name of her company to Mustard Girl. “I decided that since I had evolved the recipes and made them my own, we could have a real-life mascot who could be a role model for girls,” she says. “People were calling me Mustard Girl, so I had someone draw a picture of me for the labels and decided to call the mustard, Mustard Girl.”

She put every dime she had into the business, and in the absence of anyone else to advise her about the mustard business, she thought back to what Rendell had told her about how competitive the business was. There were weeks when she didn’t eat much besides rice, beans and mustard. She called on family and friends to help out, a humbling experience that she says has brought her closer to them too. “Going into this, I was very naive. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be and how fierce it was going to be. I got into this at a time when people weren’t spending money on new products, banks weren’t lending and little did I know I was competing in one of the toughest food categories. I was chewed up a lot, but I always knew that my destiny in life was to have faith in the mustard seed. I really needed to believe that. I’m a big fan of Vince Lombardi, and I’ve always remembered what he said about what it takes to be Number 1. I am going to go until I can’t possibly go any more but not never up,” she says. “I also didn’t have the billions of dollars that the other big companies have. I did a lot of guerrilla marketing, a lot of festivals and food shows and demonstrations in grocery stores. I just worked really hard and had a lot of sleepless nights, but never gave up on the faith of the mustard seed or Mustard Girl.”

Mustard Girl assorted bottles hi resToday, Mustard Girl All-American Mustards are still made from ingredients sourced in the Midwest. Mustard seeds come from Wisconsin and from Canada. All the other spices and ingredients come from the Midwest. The honey that’s in some of the mustards is also from Wisconsin. Mustard Girl All-American Mustards are sold in all Super Targets across the U.S., Publix stores in the South, Whole Foods in the Midwest region, expanding to other territories in the next year. Mustard Girl is the official mustard for the burger bars on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Mustard Girl mustards are also being adopted by leading chefs, including the Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants and Tom & Eddie’s. “Kids love the Sweet ‘N’ Fancy Yellow. Men love the Zesty Horseradish. Women love the American Dijon, and children love the Mustard Girl Sweet N Fancy Yellow. Everyone loves the Mustard Girl Sweet n Spicy Honey Mustard and Mustard Girl Stoneground Deli too- a range of flavors for the whole family that taste like a beautiful symphony upon your taste-buds.” Connor says. “I was asked to participate in Aspen Food & Wine Show this June which was a great honor. This is my first Aspen show, which I’m really looking forward to, and did the NRA Show last year, which was a huge success.” The mustards are also medal winners in the World Wide Mustard competition. These mustards are packed with mustard seed, turmeric and spices; they are all natural, gluten free and kosher, with no fat and no preservatives. She’s currently developing new mustards and also some salad dressings that she hopes to bring to the market in 2016 along with a cookbook. “I’m still looking for my ketchup boy too,” she says. “I’ve just been too busy cutting the mustard.”

In addition to running the company, Connor has a busy schedule of community involvement, including a number of projects aimed at improving life for women and children. She works with the Women’s Health Foundation in Madison and with the Ivory Coast Women’s and Children’s Clinic started by a friend of hers. She has volunteered with Common Threads organization started by Chef Art Smith, owner of TABLE Fifty-Two and other restaurants. The organization helps inner-city kids learn to cook and teach them about nutrition in hopes of preventing obesity, and take better care of themselves so they can longer, healthier lives. Make a Wish Foundation of Wisconsin gets donations from her. Madison Children’s Museum too. “I also like going to schools to help inspire children. I go to any class that would like to have me,” she says. “I come in dressed up as Mustard Girl and tell them my story, and we talk about what everybody wants to be when they grow up and make some yummy mustard inspired recipes. The children are our future mustard seeds of tomorrow…. Spreading the sunshine the best you can, inspiring others to believe in their own mustard seeds, and to not give up out there no matter how hard it is, makes life worth it in the end, what a better way to do this than through mustard!”


Restaurateurs Ratchet Up Competition for Food Dollars

By Lorrie Baumann

Supermarkets in general aren’t getting a lot of loyalty from their shoppers these days, and restaurateurs are starting to think that if consumers are happy to buy ready-prepared food in supermarkets, they might also be willing to buy fresh, uncooked items in restaurants. Taking that business away from grocers might be an important new revenue stream for restaurateurs in the future, said Hudson Reihle, Senior Vice President of the National Restaurant Association’s Research and Knowledge Group.

More than 30 percent of consumers say that they shop for their groceries in four or more stores, and almost half of all adults who took part in a recent survey by the restaurant association say they would buy fresh, uncooked food items from restaurants. Young adults are even more likely than their seniors to consider their favorite restaurant as a source for uncooked food, with more than six out of ten 18- to 34-year olds saying that they would do that, Riehle said.

Restaurateurs used to figure that their competition came from other restaurants within their neighborhood. These days, they’re competing, not just with other restaurants nearby but also with grocery stores, convenience stores and anyone else who wants a piece of the 13 percent of the average person’ income that gets spent for food. The restaurant industry’s share of the average consumer’s food dollar is now 47 percent, up from 25 percent in 1955. That proportion will continue to edge up over the decade ahead, according to Riehle, as employment growth means more people with less time to prepare meals at home and more spending power as well.

In this dog-eat-dog marketplace, restaurateurs are responding by offering more healthful options on their menus, particularly their children’s menus, which are getting a lot of attention from chefs this year, said Annika Stensson, Director of Research Communications for the National Restaurant Association. She cited research showing that about 80 percent of consumers say that they’re finding more healthful options on restaurant menus now than they did two years ago. About three quarters of consumers say that they’d be more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options, she said, and seven out of 10 consumers say that they’re ordering more healthy items when they dine out than they did two years ago.

They’re also offering more local food options, since seven out of 10 consumers say that they’re more likely to visit a restaurant that offers local food, Stensson said, adding that more than half of consumers also say that they’d be more likely to visit a restaurant that offers organic or otherwise eco-friendly options.

Restaurant operators agree that they’re hearing more of their customers asking for locally-produced food, and the industry’s top menu trends for 2015 among restaurants that provide table service include more locally-sourced meats, seafood and produce. Both table service restaurants and limited-service restaurants also say that they’re already changing their menus to offer healthier options on their children’s menus. Over the next five years, we can expect restaurants to be paying even more attention to offering healthier options and sustainably-produced, locally-sourced food on their menus as Americans continue to demand those things, Stensson said.

Wegmans Supports Children’s Exhibit at Smithsonian


The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History will open Wegmans Wonderplace December 9 as the first exhibition on the National Mall designed for the learning needs of children 6 and under. Made possible by a $1.5 million gift and in-kind donations from Wegmans Food Markets, this space will allow curious kids to “cook” in a kitchen inspired by Julia Child’s; plant and harvest pretend vegetables and run the farm stand; find the owls hiding in a miniature replica of the Smithsonian’s Castle building; and captain a tugboat based on a model in the museum’s collection.

“Wonderplace,” a 1,700-square-foot children’s center located in the new Innovation Wing, will provide the youngest historians with age-appropriate activities and experiences over the next 20 years.

“We know that play is an integral part of sparking invention and innovation, and Wegmans Wonderplace will ignite that innate curiosity in children and help guide them on a path to lifetime learning at the Smithsonian,” said John Gray, Director of the museum.

Wegmans is also supporting the museum’s new demonstration kitchen in the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza. Part of the museum’s Food History Project, the kitchen will host a diverse menu of programs and demonstrations that bring visitors together for relevant discussions that start with history and expand to the present and future of American food. Known as “Food Fridays,” a weekly series of cooking demonstrations will showcase a guest chef and a Smithsonian staff host as they make a dish, talk about the traditions in preparing and eating that dish, and explore a related theme in American food history. Wegmans is stocking the kitchen pantry every week with fresh produce and will provide culinary experts for demonstrations once each month.

“Wegmans’ mission is to help our customers live healthier, better lives, and that begins with children,” said Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman. “Having fun through play is the best way to inspire children to learn.” According to the company, the opening of Wegmans Wonderplace at the end of this year will also help to usher in Wegmans’ 100th Anniversary in 2016.

Wegmans Wonderplace will feature six sections, each with hands-on, play-based interdisciplinary activities. The sections include: the Farm, the Kitchen, the Port, the Construction Site, the Gallery and the Smithsonian Castle. Each area combines artifact displays with fun hands-on activities to engage young children and their families. Activities such as the 12 different kinds of blocks in the Construction Site will help promote creativity and advance motor skills.

More than 100 objects will be displayed around Wonderplace to stimulate early learners’ interest in museums and American history. These artifacts from the museum’s collections will be presented in fun ways to get families excited about what they are seeing. In the Castle section, children will get to look at objects from all angles as they climb around—and even under—them. In the Farm section, kids will “find the animals” among the weathervanes, milk bottles, farm toys and lunch boxes.

So that every age group can get the most out of Wonderplace, signs will guide parents and caregivers on how to help their children engage in the activities. The center will also contain family-friendly amenities to create a more comfortable environment for visitors. These amenities include family bathrooms with diaper-changing stations, parking areas for strollers and a quiet nook in the rear of the space where parents can feed and take care of infants.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. For more information, visit The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th Streets N.W. Admission is free.



Produce Association United Fresh Supports Trade Agreement

By a vote of 60 to 38 the United States Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) yesterday. This legislation, which will allow the President to send a completed trade agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote and no amendments, will now be sent to White House where the President is expected to sign this into law today. Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, every president has had authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements that open up new market opportunities for the U.S. Congress last enacted TPA legislation in 2002, and it lapsed in 2007.

“United Fresh applauds the Senate for renewing Trade Promotion Authorization (TPA). Trade deals that break down market access barriers and create new economic opportunities benefit the industry at home and abroad, expanding consumption of America’s abundant supply of fruits and vegetables in rapidly developing regions of the world. We look forward to the President signing this legislation and working with his Administration to finalize the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.

Guenther testified before the U. S. House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committee in March supporting TPA and encouraging Congress to pass this much needed tool for our trade negotiators. In addition, Guenther told Congress that export and import levels need to be put back on an even keel and urged Congress to ensure that future trade deals create new ways to break down these artificial barriers using sound science and the creation of a dispute settlement process that resolves non-tariff trade issues in a timely manner.

Trade agreements are critical to the livelihoods of U.S. fruit and vegetable producers. For example, in 2013, trade agreements resulted in $4.3 million of fresh peach and nectarine exports and $40 million of table grape exports to Australia, alone. Overall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts fresh fruit and vegetable exports for Fiscal Year 2015 with a value of nearly $8 billion. Exports to key markets such as Canada, Europe and Japan are expected to continue expanding. However, while fruit and vegetable exports have doubled since the mid-1990s, fruit and vegetable imports in that same time period have nearly tripled. “TPA, as well as other potential trade partnerships, will open markets, create economic opportunities at home and abroad and promote trade balance for the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry,” Guenther stated.

With TPA being sent to the President, the Administration can now focus on finalizing trade negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which the U.S. is looking to enter with 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. It would be the largest trade deal in history, opening markets and expanding access to U.S. agriculture exports to more than 800 million people.

New York City Immigrant Entrepreneurs to Exhibit at SFFS

The 2015 winners of the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Taste of NYC: Fancy Food Fellowship, a New York City-sponsored competition designed to send New York City-based specialty foods manufacturers to an internationally recognized trade show this summer in New York city, connecting small business owners to a global audience. The four winners of this year’s competition, which focused on immigrant entrepreneurs in the city—Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, City Saucery, Port Morris Distillery and Spoonable— each won an NYCEDC sponsored booth at the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) Summer Fancy Food Show, which is being held at the Jacob Javits Center from June 28-30.

“These four businesses exemplify the diversity, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of New York City’s unique and vibrant food industry,” said NYCEDC Chief Strategy Officer Benjamin Branham. “The specialty food industry is experiencing tremendous growth and it is important that we help connect immigrant entrepreneurs to new economic opportunities by helping them build their brand, increase production and expand into new markets. Congratulations to Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, Port Morris Distillery, Spoonable and City Saucery. I look forward to seeing them continue to thrive and grow.”

“Two-thirds of New York City small business owners are immigrants and initiatives such as the Fancy Food Fellowship, which celebrate and nurture immigrant entrepreneurs, are of the utmost importance to creating opportunities in our communities,” said Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal. “New Yorkers are very proud of their diverse food offerings, and this program wonderfully showcases our rich cuisine. I congratulate the winners and look forward to sampling their wares.”

“Specialty food sales are at an all-time high, and New York City food manufacturers are at the forefront of innovation,” said Ann Daw, President of the Specialty Food Association. “We have been helping food entrepreneurs succeed in the marketplace since we were founded in 1952, and share the same goal as NYCEDC to help foster growth in this important city sector.”

In addition to NYCEDC sponsored exhibit space, the fellows will receive promotional services and expert marketing and technical assistance to help them refine their sales pitch, product display and business plan to get the most out of their show experience and land important new contracts.

The four winners of the 2015 Taste of NYC: Fancy Food Fellowship, are:

Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen: Auria Abraham was born and raised in Seremban, Malaysia. Her company, Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, is based in Flatbush, Brooklyn and specializes in helping people discover Malaysian cuisine. Her signature products: a traditional condiment called ‘Hot Chilli Sambal.’ Learn more about Auria’s journey here.
“It’s such an honor to be picked by NYCEDC for this Fellowship,” said Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen Founder Auria Abraham. “New York City is such a wonderful place to build a food business for so many reasons, and this is the icing on the cake. With this opportunity, we hope to reach a wider audience, build the business and be able to return the love and support that this great city has shown us.”

City Saucery: Co-founders Michael Marino, a Brooklyn native, Jorge Moret of Venezuela and Nonna Carolina, who emigrated from Italy to the United States in the 1970s, started their Staten Island-based artisanal tomato sauce company using regionally sourced ingredients to create unique, delicious and healthy sauces for the discerning palate. Learn more about the secret to a perfect tomato sauce here.
“I don’t have many words to explain what this means to me but I do know that this opportunity tells me all my efforts to put good and clean food on the American table has been recognized,” said City Saucery co-Founder Nonna Carolina. “It’s a wonderful feeling! I’m so grateful for this amazing opportunity. Buon appetito!”

Port Morris Distillery: Rafael Barbosa and Billy Valentin, of Puerto Rican heritage, were both raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the Frederick Douglass Houses. The duo produces spirits based on the heritage, traditions and family recipes of Guayama, Puerto Rico at their distillery in the Port Morris neighborhood of the Bronx. Learn more about the “moonshine” of Puerto Rico here.
“It is an honor to be selected as a Taste of NYC Fancy Food Fellow, and we are thrilled that we will be participating in the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show,” said Port Morris Distillery co-Founder Rafael Barbosa. “This program provides our business with an opportunity to showcase our products for important industry leaders and take major steps forward in growing our businesses. Never in our minds would we have thought or imagined that we would receive this great opportunity, and I’d like to thank NYCEDC for making this possible.”

Spoonable LLC: Michelle Lewis spent much of her life oversees and pulls from her French-Moroccan heritage to create her confectionary caramel sauces, including ‘Spicy Chili Caramel’ and ‘Brooklyn Butterscotch.’ Based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Spoonable’s story begins with leftover caramel sauce turned into a gift to friends, proving the entrepreneurial spirit can strike at any time. Learn more about Spoonable’s ‘saucy’ inspiration here.
“Spoonable is so excited to have our own booth at the Summer Fancy Food Show this year,” said Spoonable Founder Michelle Lewis. “For the first time, thanks to the NYCEDC, we’ll have the space to feature our bulk and private label business and our wholesale business, as well as showcase the companies we partner with. All in all, we look forward to many more sales opportunities.”

This year’s runners-up will receive a year-long membership to the Specialty Food Association to help them grow their business through marketing assistance, special discounts, networking opportunities, educational workshops, advice from experts and a free consultation with Specialty Food Association’s legal or trademark advisor.

These three companies are:

Hungry Bars: Vlad Harkovski, a Bulgarian-born outdoor and fitness enthusiast decided to turn his hobby into a business when he opened Hungry Bars in Astoria, Queens. The company specializes in small batch granola bars using only organic, natural ingredients.

Pierre’s Spicy: Pierre Henry infuses a Haitian twist into his small batch premium almond and peanut butters. Based in East Harlem, Henry spends most of his time cooking and recreating the tastes that tantalized his palate as a child.

Xilli: For over 17 years, Mexico City-born chef Nacxitl Gaxiola has brought his extensive knowledge of authentic Mexican cuisine to some of New York City’s most prestigious restaurants. Gaxiola, based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is known for its handmade salsas, moles, escabeches and adobos using only the freshest ingredients and the most conscientious methods.

Over the last decade, there has been an 11 percent growth in employment in the City’s food and beverage manufacturing subsector. Today, there are nearly 1,000 of these businesses across the five boroughs, many of which are minority or women-owned business enterprises. The subsector supplies approximately 20 percent of total manufacturing jobs in New York City, and has been recognized for some of the most innovative, diverse and in-demand artisanal culinary products in the country.

The Fancy Food Fellowship is one of a suite of New York-led initiatives designed to support the artisanal and specialty food and beverage industry. Other programs include:

In March, NYCEDC announced the selection of Dinner Lab, Inc. to construct and operate Brooklyn FoodWorks, a 10,000 square foot shared kitchen and culinary incubator in Central Brooklyn designed to provide affordable space to burgeoning local food entrepreneurs as they prototype, launch and develop their businesses.

, NYCEDC has also partnered with the New York City Housing Authority, New York City Department of Small Business Services, Citi Community Development, Hot Bread Kitchen, and others to launch the NYCHA Food Business Pathways, a 10 week intensive business course to empower NYCHA residents to start and grow their own food-related businesses.

IDFA Applauds Bipartisan Senate Passage of Trade Promotion Authority

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) today commended the Senate for passing “The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015,” the TPA-2015 bill.

“We commend the Senate for its bipartisan collaboration in passing the TPA-2015 bill,” said Connie Tipton, President and CEO of IDFA. “We thank all the senators and representatives who supported TPA and look forward to the president signing this important legislation into law as soon as possible.

“The U.S. dairy industry will continue to grow and prosper with increased trade opportunities, and TPA is critical to ensuring that U.S. dairy companies receive the best deal in future trade agreements,” Tipton said.

IDFA is seeking comprehensive and significant market access for U.S. dairy exports from the two trade agreements currently under negotiation – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

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