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Mainstreaming of Specialty Products Provides Opportunities for Grocery Retailers


By Lorrie Baumann

Joe_Falvey for webAmerican consumers are putting a more diverse array of products into their market baskets than ever before, including ethnic foods, gourmet food products and natural foods, and today’s independent grocery retailers are racing to catch up with the mainstreaming of what used to be considered specialty products. This is according to Joe Falvey, President of Market Centre, the specialty subsidiary of Unified Grocers, a cooperative distributor owned by about 400 independent grocers with more than 1,300 stores in the western United States.

Market Centre is Unified Grocers’ banner for a separate operating company, formed a decade ago by combining four smaller distribution companies into a subsidiary of the distributor. It is now focused on sourcing and distributing natural, gourmet, ethnic and health-beauty-wellness products, as well as confections to Unified’s member stores. Market Centre also serves more than 1,600 smaller, non-member stores through its Neighborhood Markets program.

In addition to serving as President of Market Centre, Joe Falvey is also the Senior Vice President of Unified Grocers. Falvey is currently spearheading the expansion of the company’s natural products offerings into California from its base in the Pacific Northwest, where Market Centre has offered a full range of natural products since 2011. Market Centre currently offers its retailers about 59,000 SKUs in its five product categories, not including those products that are carried in the center store freezer and deli cases.

Along the way, Market Centre is finding ways to expand independent grocers’ wellness centers by integrating natural homeopathic medicines and dietary supplements alongside over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. That requires some care to create displays that will accommodate these new products without making it harder for consumers to find the products they are accustomed to buying or causing them a mild degree of culture shock when they notice products on the shelf with which they are not familiar. “We’re introducing it without alienating some of the customers who still want to buy mainstream products,” Falvey says.

Market Centre is encouraging the Unified Grocers retailers in California to replace some of the gondolas in their health-beauty-wellness stores with custom-built islands and four-foot refrigeration units in which to display probiotic products. That careful merchandising helps to create an atmosphere that is less intimidating to customers who do not like change. It also eschews a model that is perhaps a little too similar to that employed by Whole Foods and which may be discomforting to more conservative consumers.

Falvey noted that grocers today have a unique opportunity to reach out to millennial generation customers who are gravitating to the wellness centers in their independent grocery stores as they ignore the brands that appealed to their parents in favor of products they find more interesting. “They’re looking for something different than the standard grocery item,” Falvey says. “They think, ‘I don’t want to buy what Mom bought. I want to try something different.’”

Along with reaching out to millenials, Falvey also sees opportunities for retailers to expand their ethnic food offerings, pointing out that although the grocery retailers traditionally saw Asian foods as products desired primarily by consumers of Asian ancestry and Latin foods as products purchased exclusively by Hispanic consumers, that is no longer the case. “Asian food’s become a behavioral change, not necessarily a demographic change,” he says. “Everybody eats sriracha sauce now … Everyone’s buying Asian. Everyone’s buying Hispanic foods … I don’t know anybody who doesn’t go to a Mexican restaurant.”

More Americans are reading nutrition labels on the products they are buying in their grocery stores as well, and, according to Falvey, consumers are increasingly seeking out products that contain fewer ingredients. “We see it in the data, but more importantly, we’re hearing it from our retailers, and they’re hearing it from their customers,” he said. “If you’re ahead of the curve, you probably learned it by talking to people.”

As specialty products become part of the mainstream, and curious customers venture out of their accustomed pathways in their neighborhood stores, there are opportunities for retailers to drive sales if they find ways to engage consumers, keeping them in the store longer. Falvey points out that retailers can create a “treasure hunt” experience that keeps shoppers interested and having fun. Falvey noted that millenial generation shoppers in particular are more curious about a lot more things than their parents were, and catering to curiosity is something that independent retailers can do well, particularly in these specialty categories where Falvey feels that it is easier for a retailer to be creative than it is with more mainstream product categories. “There’s a lot of opportunity to provide impulse buy opportunities that have been walked away from,” he said. “The retailers and the consumers are starving for it.”


Cutting-Edge Craft and Creative Cuisine Come Together at D.C.-Area’s Urban Butcher


By Lucas Witman

UrbanButcher2-RNWhen a guest walks into Urban Butcher, a co-located restaurant and specialty meats shop in Silver Springs, Md., he or she is greeted by a giant glass wall revealing the store’s expansive meat cellar. Customers marvel at loins of pork, sides of beef, salamis and more, all hanging prominently, begging to be admired. It is immediately clear that the owners of any shop where aging meat is displayed as if it were fine art are deeply passionate about the craft of butchery. And listening to Head Butcher Matt Levere discuss his love of the craft, it is impossible not to become infected with a similar appreciation for the skill and creativity that go into producing gourmet specialty meats.

“It’s so much fun as a butcher and as a chef – learning and creating,” said Levere. “When you’re putting these things out to customers and coming up with brand new items, it’s an experience for them as well.”

Started just a few short months ago in December 2013, Urban Butcher has quickly made a name for itself as the place to go in the Washington, D.C.-area for expertly crafted raw meat and charcuterie. However, it is the fact that Urban Butcher operates simultaneously as a butcher shop, a retail space and a full-service restaurant, that makes this space particularly unique.

In terms of drawing in customers, Urban Butcher benefits from the fact that it brings in both restaurant guests and grocery shoppers. However, very often, guests who come in to eat at the restaurant end up leaving with a filled grocery bag. And those who come in to pick up a steak end up sticking around for a gourmet meal. This is because, as the restaurant utilizes the meats directly from the butcher case, impressed dinner guests are encouraged to take the product home to experiment with in their own kitchens. And for shoppers seen marveling at the butcher shop offerings, the store offers to take the product into the restaurant’s kitchen where it can be immediately cooked up and served for dinner.

From a logistical standpoint, Levere argues that there is a unique benefit to operating a retail shop in conjunction with a restaurant. At Urban Butcher, product moves fast and is continually replenished. “It’s awesome, because we can sell our products in the retail case and also in the restaurant. Everything we butcher goes right into the menu,” Levere said. “Everything is always fresh … It’s nice to see that aspect of it. It helps move product.”

For Levere, who has worked in restaurant kitchens and grocery store meat departments, he finds his work at Urban Butcher, which combines elements of both positions, as particularly rewarding. This is because, for him, when a chef and a butcher work together, they can create magic. “I think it’s a great relationship between the chef and I, because I know how to butcher so well. I know meat like the back of my hand and that’s what I specialize in. Here’s a guy that has been cooking for his entire life. And he knows that like the back of his hand,” he said. For Levere, butchery is truly an artform. And by combining his technical expertise with the chef’s creative vision, Urban Butcher is able to offer its customers something they would never find anywhere else.

The specialty meats offered at Urban Butcher are endless, and the store is constantly adding innovative new products to its meat cases. There is hickory-smoked bacon, handmade salami, pâté, prosciutto, sausage and marinated chicken. The store produces a broad selection of authentic European charcuterie, including lomo, bresola, filleto and more. And the shop’s 30-day aged beef short loin and aged ribeyes are cut to order, allowing the customer to choose the precise thickness that best meets his or her needs.

One standout among Urban Butcher’s offerings is a unique Greek sausage called loukanika. Levere argues that if one is to try only a single product from the store’s meat case, it is that one. “The loukanika is outstanding,” he said. “It’s a spicy lamb salami with flavors of fennel and orange zest. You get the fennel and then you get the orange immediately. And then right at the end the cayenne pepper hits your tongue. It’s a really nice experience.”

Urban Butcher focuses on sourcing all of its meat from local farms, including Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia, Creek View Farms in West Virginia, Piemonte Farms in Maryland and Shenandoah Meat Co-op in the Shenandoah Valley. For Levere, the quality of the animals is immediately apparent in the butchered product. “The quality is incredibly better than anything we can get anywhere else. The supermarket does not compare. The flavor is so much better. The customer can really tell the difference between the massively bred animals compared to the small batch animals,” he said. In addition, because the animals are all pasture-raised by small farmers, customers can feel confident that the salamis they are snacking on are made from animals that led stress-free lives.

Although currently enjoying its first year in operation, Urban Butcher has big plans for its future life. The store is currently expanding into local farmers markets, bringing its products to shoppers all over the D.C. area. In addition, Levere said the store also has plans to expand physically, eventually opening up a new, larger butcher production area.

For those who think a steak is a steak and a salami is a salami, Urban Butcher works to show its customers that a great deal of craft is involved in producing these items. When a skilled butcher and a skilled chef are involved, an animal can be transformed in any number of ways. According to Levere, “If you really understand the animal and what it has to offer, the possibilities are endless.”



Vermont Creamery Brings 7 Awards Home from ACS

Vermont Creamery products earned seven awards at the 2014 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition this week, including first place for Bijou and Feta. This is the second award for Bijou this summer, which also earned a gold sofi at the Fancy Food Show in June.

Vermont Creamery joined 16 other Vermont cheesemakers who together took home 34 awards for the Green Mountain State, including Best of Show for Farm’s For City Kids’ Tarentaise Reserve. The annual competition is considered one of the world’s most influential and prestigious in the artisanal and specialty cheese industry. Vermont Creamery’s Bijou and Feta both earned first place in their respective categories, with Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Cultured Butter with Sea Salt & Maple taking second place awards. The Creamery’s Crème Fraîche and Unsalted Cultured Butter placed third. In addition, Torus, a cheese made by Vermont Creamery and aged in New York by Murray’s Cheese, earned second place.

Vermont Creamery was one of only five cheesemakers out of 248 to earn seven or more awards at this year’s competition. “Four awards for our geotricum rinded cheeses is tremendously exciting,” said Allison Hooper, Co-owner and Co-founder of Vermont Creamery. “These are very special cheeses that were once unique to European cheesemakers and are now gaining popularity and recognition in the United States.”

The American Cheese Society Competition is held annually during the organization’s conference. This year’s winners were chosen from 1685 entries representing 248 companies from the United States, Canada, and Columbia. Combining the European tradition of cheesemaking with Vermont’s terroir, Vermont Creamery’s line of fresh and aged goat cheeses, cultured butter, and crème fraîche have won over 100 national and international awards.

In its 30th year of business, Vermont Creamery supports a network of more than 15 family farms, promoting sustainable agriculture in the region. B Corp Certified in 2014, Vermont Creamery is the founder of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, the country’s first demonstration goat dairy. For more information, visit

Farms for City Kids Foundation Takes Best of Show at ACS Judging

Tarentaise Reserve from Farms for City Kids Foundation in Vermont was named “Best of Show” among 1,685 entries at the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) 2014 Judging & Competition. The results were announced in a ceremony on Thursday, July 31, at the 31st Annual ACS Conference in Sacramento. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company from California was awarded second place overall for its Point Reyes Bay Blue.  In a tie for third place overall are Oakdale Cheese & Specialties’ Aged Gouda from California and Sprout Creek Farm’s Eden from New York.

Jeremy Stephenson, Cheese Program Director of Farms for City Kids Foundation, said of the Best of Show win, “The more I’m involved in this work, the more it becomes clear to me that what we’re doing is so much a part of agriculture and working to develop a new sustainable food system. We’re a small part of that. When we do this work we have to remember we’re part of something much bigger than an individual or individual farm, we’re a part of a community. The people that buy our cheese are supporting something very important for the future.”

The 2014 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,685 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 248 companies. Entering companies represented 39 U.S. states, 4 Canadian provinces, and Colombia. 325 ribbons were awarded: 89 first place ribbons, 109 second place ribbons, and 127 third place ribbons.

For tie full list of this year’s winners and judges’ bios, visit

The 32nd Annual ACS Conference & Competition will take place July 29 – Aug. 1, 2015, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kingdom Organic Cheddar Captures Three Gold Medals at International Cheese Competition

2933_Kingdom_Winepairings_(USA-A4).inddKingdom Organic Cheddar, one of the newest entries into the U.S. cheese market, captured three top honors this week at the prestigious International Cheese Awards competition held in Nantwich, England.

In competition featuring 4,443 cheeses from 26 countries, Kingdom Organic Cheddar won Gold Awards for Farmhouse/Traditional Mature Cheddar, Export Award, and Cheddar/Cheddar Style.

“The judges at the International Cheese Awards validated what we have known all along: Kingdom isn’t just the only organic European cheese in the U.S. Market, it is the top cheddar in the world,” said Nicola Turner, Export Director at the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo,) the organic dairy farmers’ co-op that manages the production of Kingdom Cheese.

Kingdom is a traditionally handcrafted cheddar, made exclusively with milk from a small number of organic family farms located in Devon, in the Southwest of England. The temperate climate and ample moisture in this region creates pastures of lush grasses which impart a unique flavor to the milk.

“Our cows are kept on a simple grass based system with little or no stress, giving us beautiful, natural milk,” said Geoff Thorne, one of the farmers who produces milk for Kingdom Cheddar. “Our cows are on pasture more than 10 months each year with green grass comprising more than 80 percent of their diets.”

The International Cheese Awards is considered one of the most rigorous competitions for cheese makers around the world. More than 200 judges spend two days selecting the world’s top cheeses.

Kingdom Organic Cheddar is available in many Whole Foods Markets, HyVee Markets, select Costco stores, and other natural and specialty retailers. A listing of retailers carrying Kingdom Organic Cheddar is available at:

Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Ever

Stonewall Kitchen’s Maple Bacon Aioli adds a delicious fillip to a grilled cheese sandwich. Just spread the aioli on the outside of the bread, in place of the usual butter, and grill the sandwich as usual. The bread browns beautifully with a crispy surface texture, and the maple flavor adds a long finish that’s just fantastic. Glorious!

– Lorrie Baumann

Gustus Vitae Adds Spice to Life

Gustus VitaeGustus Vitae Condiments is a new line of sea salts and spice blends created created from high quality local and international ingredients and then hand-packed into tins in a Los Angeles facility. Unlike many spices and salts available today, Gustus Vitae products are never irradiated, not treated with EtO (Ethylene Oxide) gas, and are free from gluten, soy, MSG, and artificial colors and flavors. Gustus Vitae’s products retail from $8 for individual tins to $159 for gift sets and collections, and are currently available at select Whole Foods Markets, Albertsons, Southern Season and online at

Gustus Vitae’s gourmet spice blends are crafted to taste like places, allowing delicious meals authentic to different cuisines to be quickly and simply created. It’s easy to create fabulous, fresh dishes like Thai chicken, Jamaican rice, or Tuscan roast potatoes with just a pinch or a rub of seasonings and spice blends.  The Gustus Vitae gourmet sea salts are wonderful finishing touches, naturally adding bursts of flavor and vibrant color to your meals, transforming simple plates into signature dishes.

Naturipe Farms Blueberry Grower Honored as “Champion of Change”

Naturipe for webKristin Fritz Kubiszak of Brookside Farms, a grower for MBG Marketing – The Blueberry People, was one of only 15 national honorees named as a Champion of Change this year by the White House and the United States Department of Agriculture. The award honors agriculture leaders from across the country who are taking innovative approaches to support American farming and ranching—both now and in the future, by showcasing their actions that ensure and advance the future of agriculture.

Kubiszak is the retail manager for Brookside Farms located in Paw Paw, Michigan; and is a fifth-generation member of her family to operate a farm that distributes fresh blueberries through MBG’s cooperative marketing network under the Naturipe® brand. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social work from Cornerstone University, Kubiszak returned home to her family farm, which focuses on growing and packing top quality blueberries. Kubiszak’s involvement in the agriculture industry doesn’t stop with just her family farm; she also sits on the board of directors for the Van Buren County Farm Bureau as Chair of the Promotion and Education Committee. With this position she has dedicated her time to educating the community with trips to local schools, the Ag Venture tent at the local Youth Fair and other youth and consumer education programs. “Kristin is another member of the Fritz family farming operation that makes us proud that they are part of our MBG and Naturipe families.” said Bob Hawk, President and CEO of MBG Marketing.

Kubiszak’s primary goal is to educate, not only about agriculture, but also how families impact agriculture and how important it is to continue family farms. Brookside Farms started as a dairy farm in 1876 and Kubiszak’s grandfather planted his first blueberry bush in 1956. That was the same year the family joined Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, a grower-owned cooperative, and the year Kubiszak’s father, Bill Fritz, was born. Like his farming predecessors, he has continued the family tradition of active agricultural leadership, by serving on the boards of both MBG Marketing and Naturipe Farms of which MBG is an owner/ partner. “We were absolutely delighted when we learned that Kristin was selected for this program” said Bill. “She is a wonderful representative of the next generation that has the desire and drive to continue our commitment to family farming and the broader agricultural community”.

Kubiszak and the other honorees were congratulated by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of the USDA and recognized at a ceremony in the White House by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden and Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz. They were given a tour of the First Lady’s Garden at The White House by Sam Kass, who is President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy and Let’s Move Executive Director. “It was a true privilege to represent the blueberry industry as a Champion of Change. Since we grow blueberries, which are known for their great flavor and incredible health attributes, I was especially pleased to learn first-hand about some of the efforts by the First Lady to encourage children to eat a healthy, brighter array of fresh fruits and vegetables” said Kubiszak. “It was great to share the story our family blueberry farm. It has always been a passion of mine to educate others about what we do, and this was another great opportunity”.

To learn more about Kubiszak and the other “Champions of Change” visit


Morningside Farmer’s Market to Host Harald Wusthof Demonstration

Mary S. Moore, Owner and CEO of The Cook’s Warehouse, will be the guest chef this Saturday morning, August 2, at the Morningside Farmer’s Market, the only all-organic farmers market in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her special sous chef will be Harald Wüsthof, scion of the German knife-making family and managing partner of the worldwide firm. This year is Wüsthof’s 200th anniversary. Chef Moore will be cooking with okra from Crystal Organic Farm. Her recipes will be available at the demonstration, which begins at 9 a.m.

An extra-special front-row guest is Lee Wiggins, who has attended the farmers market’s cooking demonstrations for many years. She will be celebrating her 95th birthday this weekend. Wüsthof will present Lee with a special autographed knife set commemorating the company’s 200th anniversary.


Bridor to Expand U.S. Bakery Plant

BridorBridor Inc., which makes authentic European breads and Viennese pastry for the retail and foodservice industry, is expanding its U.S. facility at Vineland, New Jersey. The plant will continue to produce Bridor’s broad line of baguettes, breads and rolls that reflect the company’s 30 years of European heritage and baking mastery. The $32 million expansion will enhance its laminated pastry dough and signature flaky croissant capacity. The enlarged facility will increase from 136,000 square feet to 183,000 square feet, and its employee count will grow from 132 to 177 employees.

“This expansion represents our deep commitment to our U.S. customers and significantly enhances what we can offer them,” said Jean-François Duquesne, CEO, Bridor Inc. and Bridor USA Inc. “We pride ourselves on being an industrial baking company that combines advanced manufacturing technology with traditional European baking techniques. This enables us to produce on a large scale the highest quality, authentic European pastry and breads in the world.”

The pastry line that Bridor will manufacture in its expanded Vineland facility will cater to the taste and other preferences of the U.S. customer. It will include a wide variety of croissants and Viennese pastries with distinctive homemade fillings that incorporate locally-sourced, high quality ingredients. Bridor’s research and development department of master bakers travels the world to stay ahead of consumer trends and baking innovations. The company continuously adapts and makes new bread and pastry products to meet its customers’ evolving needs.

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