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Culinary Collective Celebrates 15 Years of Spanish, Peruvian Imports

By Jazmine Woodberry

CulinaryCollective-SDGourmet importer Culinary Collective celebrated its 15th anniversary in September, marking a decade and a half of importing goods from Spain and bringing them to the taste buds of eaters stateside.
The business started as a hobby for Betsy Power and her business partner, Pere Selles, after relocating from Spain to Seattle so Power could attend graduate school.
“We moved and realized there wasn’t any good food from Spain in the Northwest,” Power said. “And we ended up starting at the right time. The commercial offices from Spain were really promoting wines from Spain then, and people were asking, ‘Well, what do I eat with those wines?’” That’s where Culinary Collective came in.
First a small business with a couple vendors, Culinary Collective now works with more than 30 vendors distributing more than 140 different products, many of which fall under the Matiz España line, which focuses on traditional Spanish ingredients like olive oil, paella rice and spices.
The Matiz España line launched in 2003 as a Culinary Collective brand used to promote and showcase the vendors behind the products. “Having one brand made a lot of sense from a marketing and financial standpoint, while allowing us to highlight the vendors and connect them to the consumers,” Power said.
After the bump in the exchange rate in 2006 and 2007, Culinary Collective pushed to incorporate Latin American items into its offerings. “When the exchange rate started going crazy, we expanded into Latin America using our same model—small producers, native foods. We weren’t looking to replace items from Spain but to use our same model in a new region,” Power said. “We bounced around and landed on Peru because there’s so much food diversity in Peru. It’s one of the most diverse food cultures in the world next to Mexico.”
This push brought to light the Zócalo Gourmet line, which marks the company’s expansion to South America. Zócalo Gourmet features Peruvian vendors powering a collection of all-natural foods such as grains, flours, beans and chili pastes.
“When we turned to Peru, we wanted to have a completely different brand and a different division,” To the delight of both Power, who suffers from celiac disease, and others with gluten sensitivity, the line contains only naturally gluten-free items.
Culinary Collective uses strict sourcing criteria to ensure that their products are all-natural and that their producers are rooted in their communities and operate under a fair trade model.
However, Power said what truly sets Culinary Collective apart from others is focusing on foods native to the countries from which they are importing. “A lot of importers bring in such things as piquillo peppers and white asparagus from Peru and it’s had an impact on Spanish vendors,” she said. “We wanted to focus on such items as kañiwa, purple corn, and aji or chili peppers—items that are native to Peru.”
The company’s expansion has spread to Culinary Collective customers as well, as the importer has branched out from importing select products to Seattle to serving customers throughout the United States and Canada. Through September 2014, Culinary Collective will be highlighting and promoting different vendors monthly to commemorate this milestone. Providing foods through both direct sales to retailers and through distributors, Culinary Collective will be going over each region’s vendors with a fine tooth comb and allowing retailers and consumers to access a passport-style voyage through Spain and Peru via Culinary Collective foods.
“The hard part is getting the products into the American market,” Power said. “Our resources are very limited, and competition is very high. I would like to let our customers know about our mission and why we’ve chosen each vendor and product and why they should purchase it. Consumers are really ready for that message and we could do a better job of making that known and getting customers on board, [as well as] working with the sales staff at the retail level to help promote these products.”

Online Markets Changing the Way Consumers Shop for Groceries

By Jazmine Woodberry

An increasing number of consumers across the country are ordering their groceries online, both from dedicated web outlets and from the digital iterations of brick and mortar stores, simply having these groceries delivered to them at home. Now, specialty foods companies are looking to adapt to this new retail climate in a $1 trillion grocery retail industry where more than $4 billion are spent by companies on online ads each year.
Working with more than 140 grocery brands, including Kroger, Shoprite and Albertsons, as well as more than 200 Consumer Packaged Goods brands, MyWebGrocer provides a suite of leading-edge eCommerce and eMarketing solutions to the grocery and CPG industries, with products for every digital touch point. Grocers can utilize MyWebGrocer’s software platform where shoppers can head online and do a range of things—from creating shopping lists, acquiring coupons and pulling up digital promotionals, to purchasing goods online for home delivery. Consumer packaged goods companies have the ability to follow a different path, with digital marketing campaigns for grocery websites, as well as ways to measure the effectiveness of those digital advertising efforts.
“Changing consumer behavior is pressuring grocers and CPGs to adopt digital solutions,” said Hudson Smith, Principal at HGGC, a MyWebGrocer investor in a release. Smith said he thinks “new eCommerce-focused entrants seeking to take share from traditional grocers” can look to online grocers both to shop online and enrich brick and mortar experiences via digital offerings.
MyWebGrocer is not alone in the push to move the grocery industry online. Founded in 1989, online grocery ordering and delivery service Peapod now serves customers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Peapod offers a unique online grocery shopping option that fits into consumers’ busy lives.
“In a time when schedules are more demanding than ever, Peapod offers more than an online shopping service—it’s a lifestyle solution,” said Bradley Porter, Peapod’s Director of Marketing. “And it’s evolving to help people knock out their grocery shopping wherever and whenever they’d like via a Peapod mobile app, virtual stores, and more.”
Peapod is expanding convenience with home delivery or drive-through-style pick-up. Same day, next day and advance scheduling are available, accommodating “anytime, anywhere” grocery shopping with a handy mobile app and virtual stores. Peapod also adds value with built-in sorting features for nutritional requirements and a ‘checkout counter’ that helps manage spending as you go. In a Consumer Reports study from fall 2012 on how online grocery shopping eases grocery bills, topped the list as a money-saving site where shoppers can spend less and get more.
In addition to dedicated online grocery services like Peapod, food retailers are also utilizing other online venues, not usually known for their edible offerings. This includes online megastore Amazon.
Daphna Havkin-Frenkel’s business, Bakto Flavors, started in 2006 with a few options but has since expanded to several dozen gourmet spice and flavoring options that move far past the company’s initial vanilla starting point. The growth of Bakto Flavors has been in part due to the availability of Bakto Flavors’ products on Amazon. With Amazon behind the company’s sales, the former small shop now has global customers.
According to Havkin-Frenkel, Bakto Flavors still utilizes brick and mortar stores in the New York City area to reach consumers, but the company’s proprietary website sales, partnered with the sales it makes on Amazon have made the Internet the company’s biggest overall sales forum.
Of course, despite the growing trend of online grocery sales, experts are quick to point out that time honored physical trips to the grocery store are not going away any time soon. Still, retailers and CPG companies that are not yet online would be wise to consider this as an important venue for future sales. “While weekly trips to the grocery store are a time-honored tradition, consumers in 24 markets across the country are eating up the idea of online shopping…where hand-picked, hand-delivered groceries are always just a click away,” Porter said.

British Specialty Food Companies Queuing Up to Enter U.S. Market

By Lucas Witman

Less than a decade ago, many Anglophiles and British expatriates living in the United States were compelled to seek out niche specialty retailers and online food stores when looking for their favorite U.K. brands. Today, however, nearly every major grocery store contains at least a small section of British imports, and picking up a package of PG Tips or a Cadbury Flake bar can be as simple as heading to the local market. For a country that once viewed British cuisine with a collective air of disdain, the recent explosion in popularity of U.K. imports in this country may have come as a surprise to some. However, for those involved in the burgeoning British specialty food industry, this trend has been a long time coming.

British culture has perhaps never been more omnipresent in the United States than it is today. One cannot navigate contemporary American popular culture without a proper education in Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, Simon Cowell and Adele. Recently, the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and the royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton have put Great Britain at the epicenter of international attention. It was perhaps somewhat inevitable that British cuisine would follow as the logical next trend to emerge from the British Isles

“I think British products have got a real sort of cache here,” said U.K. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson. “Obviously there is a very longstanding close relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. The Olympics gave, I think, a huge shove in this great campaign of British culture, British history, British fashion, British music—and I think British food is part of that. There’s a real interest.”

According to Paterson, it is the British specialty food industry’s emphasis on family-run companies producing artisanal products in small batches using high quality, locally sourced ingredients that particularly appeals to a 21st century U.S. clientele.

“I think that probably the attraction for U.S. consumers is that they know that these are made by small niche family businesses working in small rural areas where you will have completely impeccable traceability of raw material and very reliable systems of production,” Paterson said. “You’re not buying anonymous meat products washing around the world commodities circuit in gray frozen blocks. These are local materials converted very rapidly into top class products and sold by the people who bought the material, who converted them into a food product and who actually shipped them and marketed them. I think that’s really attractive to many American consumers.”

Nina Uppal, Owner of New York Delhi, a British snack company most famous for its ViP Nuts brand, echoes Paterson’s sentiments. “There is such a desire for good food, for quality food and for innovation in food as well. You get all of that in the U.K.,” Uppal said. “The British brand alone draws so much attention from around the world, and that’s the impression we get wherever we go…People want to know what the Brits are doing next. That’s what we see. We not only offer the quality, but it’s also the innovation. Those are really the two things that you need when it comes to great food.”

Unfortunately, for British companies anxious to enter the U.S. market and reach out to a brand new consumer base that is increasingly hungry for U.K. imports, there are potential roadblocks as well. Navigating U.S. regulations, getting FDA approval and filling out necessary paperwork can be serious challenges to small food companies hoping to introduce their products to the United States. However, Paterson emphasizes that his office and the U.K. government are committed to helping small companies overcome these obstacles, and he sees nothing that is truly insurmountable for companies that are committed to navigating the process.

For Paterson, the biggest challenge British food companies will face is finding the right American partners to help them get their products into the hands of consumers.

“I think the challenge is finding a good distributor and a good agent who they can work with,” he said. Uppal cites the same issue, saying her biggest concern is “getting a credible importer, somebody that understands your product, who is passionate about your product, and can get the right sort of distribution for it as well.”

Looking to the future, U.S. specialty food retailers are anxious to predict what might be the next major food trend to emerge from Great Britain. Both Paterson and Uppal have their own predictions for what foods, flavors and fashions are sure to show up next in the international aisles of grocery stores across the United States.

For Paterson, the one trend really dominating the British food scene today is the use of particularly strong, bold flavors. He joked, “With deepest respect to American chocolate…It does tend to be a bit bland compared to our chocolate. And I think bland might be another adjective one could apply to American cheese.” Taking a more serious tone, Paterson continued, “I think there is interest in quite strong flavored products. [British] chocolate is really strong. There’s [also] quite a lot of hot products, chili products.”

Uppal points to the growing interest among British consumers in eating healthier, cleaner foods. “The huge emphasis is on natural and non-GMO. People are very specific about what they’re eating. They’re very aware of what they’re eating and what goes into their food,” she said. “So I think the cleaner the ingredient, the better…It’s not so much the organic thing, though I believe that’s still popular, people just need to be reassured that what they’re getting, it’s nutritious. It’s good. It’s clean. That’s what they’re looking for.”

Paterson hopes to be able to promote increased trade between the United States and the United Kingdom, recently meeting with officials in Washington D.C. in an effort to promote a potential free trade agreement between the two nations. Ensuring that the recent successes experienced by British specialty food companies in this country are not merely the evidence of a fleeting fad but rather represent the beginnings of a long and fruitful relationship will require sustained work on the part of government officials and industry leaders alike.

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