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Barney Butter Appoints Vice President of Marketing

Barney Butter has hired Mark Olivieri as the company’s new Vice President of Marketing. Olivieri brings his past marketing experience for several national food brands to his new role in orchestrating strategies for the growing California-based company. That work includes his most recent position as marketing director of sports nutrition for The Nature’s Bounty Company, as well as past executive marketing roles for PepsiCo – Frito Lay, Hain Celestial and Pepperidge Farm.

Olivieri’s work in meeting the demands of major food brands, along with his passion for fostering the growth of emerging natural foods stars, grants him a unique position from which to help nurture Barney Butter’s next growth stage. “Mark’s past leadership of product innovation, brand development, and consumer marketing represents the full chain of brand evolution we’ve engineered to make Barney Butter the perfect fit for our core customers,” says Dawn Kelley, Barney Butter’s President and CEO. “We’re sure that experience, coupled with Mark’s insight on the unique value of our all-natural products, will make him a key player in our continued growth.”

Olivieri has definite ideas on how to spur Barney Butter’s increasing share of the national $449 million specialty nut butter market. “Barney Butter has a huge advantage with peanut-allergy consumers, but the protocols we use in our peanut-free facility are really just another reflection of a company-wide obsession for putting a product into our customers’ hands that they can trust,” Olivieri says. “I’m excited to be part of a team working to sharpen that vision for our brand.”

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board Names Suzanne Fanning VP, National Product Communications

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) has named Suzanne Fanning its new Vice President, National Product Communications.

Fanning, immediate past president of The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), has achieved record level results in sales, public relations, social media and consumer/influencer engagement for several global brands, including Spectrum Brands and Fiskars. Her innovative social business strategies have been featured in Advertising Age Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes Magazine, Entrepreneur and on the cover of PR Week, as well as in many best selling marketing books. Most recently, The Chicago Tribune featured her in its business section, and Forbes identified her as “one of social media’s top movers and shakers.”

“Suzanne comes to WMMB with a wealth of communications knowledge and experience that will help us expand the number of people across the country with whom we share the Wisconsin dairy message,” said Patrick Geoghegan, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at WMMB. “We are excited to welcome her to our team.”

In her new role, Fanning will work with national media and develop programs for influencers, bloggers, retailers and culinary experts to drive awareness and conversations about Wisconsin cheese to keep it in the news, on the menu and in stores. She will manage the websites, the publications, and events and serve as a national spokesperson for Wisconsin’s dairy promotion organization.

For information about Wisconsin Cheese, visit EatWisconsinCheese.com or connect with the company on Facebook and Twitter.

A Serious Foodie Delivers a World of Peppers

By Lorrie Baumann

Jim Pachence takes peppers more seriously than most. He’s the entrepreneur behind Serious Foodie, which offers a line of cooking and finishing sauces that feature fusion flavors, most of which celebrate the flavors of peppers grown around the world. His idea was to focus on the unique flavors of the peppers, rather than relying solely on their burn.

Pachence, who has a Ph.D. in biophysics, started Serious Foodie in 2015 after a 40-year career as a serial entrepreneur in the medical devices industry, followed by culinary training in the U.S. and Europe. He and his family then worked for a few years to develop recipes based on the peppers and flavors he’d discovered during his world travels.

“I started off as a very serious amateur cook,” he said. “While phasing out my biotech career, I wanted to do something around the culinary business. We had thought of wanting to do something in culinary art, and I had an interest in – not necessarily hot – peppers. I wanted to know why the world has so many peppers. Why and how do peppers taste different when they’re grown in different places?”

“Some chilies are very harsh and are bred simply to be hot, not to be flavorful, sometimes painful,” he continued. “We started to look at the opposite: What are the species that are bred to be flavorful? Why are there a thousand Mexican varietals?”

The answer to those questions, he decided, is that different varieties of peppers are cultivated around the world to complement the various flavors that typify their cuisines as a whole. For instance, the aji panca pepper from Peru is used in just about every Peruvian dish in one way or another, Pachence said. It’s used both fresh and dried, sometimes in a paste.

When it’s fresh, it has a sweet, slightly smoky, fruity flavor that inspired Pachence to experiment with how it could be used in sauces that would complement the vegetables and proteins that comprise the American culinary lexicon. “It’s slightly spicy, has multiple levels of flavor, is truly unique to the cooking of that country,” he said. “The taste is used everywhere. The Peruvians use it on their vegetables, so we played with that. Meaty fish, incorporated into a ceviche – those are some of the examples where we reflect how the sauce is used in the U.S. versus how it’s used in Peru. We made a Blood Orange and Aji Panca sauce, which reflects the bracing acidity that you see in the Peruvian dishes, but using our own fusion twist.”

BloodOrange_IMG_0683The Blood Orange and Aji Panca Cooking Sauce is one of seven different sauces in the line that started three years ago with Roasted Hatch Chile Cooking Sauce, which was the result of a friend’s invitation to visit him in New Mexico and take in the Hatch Chile Festival, an annual Labor Day weekend celebration of southern New Mexico’s most famous crop. “As I started to do my culinary experiences, I was interested in the local cuisines of semi-exotic places around the world,” Pachence says as he explains how a visit to a small-town harvest festival evolved into a family business that employs his son, Paul, as its marketing executive and his daughter Lisa as a part-time sales executive, with the occasional assistance of his wife, who’s still a practicing physician. “I wanted to teach my children what it meant to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I’m just very strong on the entrepreneurial spirit and how that helps people around the community. It helps create jobs. It helps improve the local community. I like to connect the community – that whole idea of thinking globally but acting locally.”

“The science geek in me went about creating the sauces systematically, trying to find the flavors in the chile that would match with flavor profiles,” he said. He ordered himself a supply of Hatch chiles and started playing with different combinations of fruits and herbs with the peppers, and ended up with a blend of the peppers with passionfruit juice and herbs. “We created something that people really liked and wanted to buy,” he said.

From there, the line grew to seven different sauces targeted at consumers from 25 to 55 with discretionary income, who are really interested in both gourmet food and healthy eating, but who don’t necessarily have a lot of time to experiment with flavors in their own cooking. The sauces are all natural with no artificial preservatives or genetically modified organisms. They have low salt and low sugar. “We approach cooking as a holistic, healthy, flavor-packed experience,” he said. “We show people how you can make a gourmet meal without using a lot of fat that adds extraneous calories.”

The sauces are also gluten-free, and while a couple of them include anchovies, the others are vegan. They’re made in small test market batches at a commercial kitchen in St. Petersburg, Florida, and by a co-packer based in Albany, New York, who’s familiar with the demands of artisanal food production, according to Pachence. “We try to keep the flavor profile medium or lower, as far as the spiciness is concerned,” he said. “Most people can tolerate the sauce. We always say that you can always add hot back into it, but you can’t take it away.”

The sauces are currently sold in 150 stores around the country and perform best for medium-size gourmet shops that also have meat and cheese departments, Pachence said. “Almost every sauce we have has a personal travel experience associated with it,” he added. “We’d tasted something like this somewhere else that we wanted to recreate.”

Kroger and Murray’s Cheese Announce Merger

The Kroger Co. has purchased the equity of Murray’s Cheese, as well as its flagship location on Bleecker Street in New York City, to form a merger of the two companies.

“For cheese lovers and connoisseurs, it doesn’t get more authentic than Murray’s,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s Chairman and CEO. “Our customers are excited to buy the unique offerings of Murray’s Cheese right in our stores, and we’re excited to ensure this iconic cheese shop will remain a part of the Kroger family for many years to come.”

New York’s most iconic cheese shop, opened in 1940, Murray’s has been delivering the finest selection of cheese, meat and specialty food items to New Yorkers, chefs and cheese lovers nationwide through a robust online business. Since the two companies formed a unique partnership in 2008, Murray’s has offered the same fine foods and cheese expertise to the Kroger family of stores.

“When the Kroger and Murray’s relationship started in 2008, we wanted to figure out how to bring the finest cheese and charcuterie to more people,” said Daniel Hammer, Kroger’s Vice President of Culinary Development and Deli/Bakery Merchandising. “Today, we have more than 350 Murray’s Cheese shops in Kroger locations from coast to coast – and that is thanks to the incredible passion and commitment of the team at Murray’s to empower associates to share their love of cheese with customers. We look forward to learning from the very talented team at Murray’s and working together to grow the business and build the iconic Murray’s brand.”

Murray’s former Owner and President, Rob Kaufelt, will remain affiliated with the business as a strategic adviser. Nick Tranchina will continue to lead the Murray’s Cheese team in New York and will report to Daniel Hammer at Kroger.

“Rob’s dedication to his craft has placed Murray’s on the map among the culinary elite while also making specialty cheese more accessible to mainstream consumers,” said McMullen. “We look forward to Rob’s continued influence on the business, helping to tell the Murray’s Cheese story and building its brand.”

“It has been my honor and privilege to work with so many tremendous, talented people over the course of my 45-year career in food retail, especially the last 25 years at Murray’s here in New York City,” said Kaufelt. “When I set out on this journey, my goal was simply to run the best cheese shop in Greenwich Village. I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain the spirit and service of a mom-and-pop neighborhood shop amidst our growth into the national market. I am pleased to pass the torch to our able staff, who will carry Murray’s into the future.”

Murray’s Cheese shops in Kroger stores replicate the same experience customers enjoy at its Greenwich Village flagship store. Each shop carries hundreds of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, crackers and specialty food items from all over the world. Murray’s is deeply involved with product selection, staff training and development, merchandising and promotions.

Other highlights of the special partnership between Murray’s Cheese and Kroger include:

  • In December 2016, Kroger and Murray’s Cheese opened their 350th store location in Bloomington, Indiana. At the time, Kaufelt said, “This is an exciting milestone for Murray’s and the specialty cheese industry. In 2008, we pioneered a store-within-a-store concept at a handful of Kroger stores. Between 2008 and 2012, we opened 38 stores, and in 2016 we opened nearly 100. This partnership has exceeded our wildest expectations.”
  • Murray’s staff has trained thousands of Cheese Mongers and Certified Cheese Professionals through its relationship with Kroger. Between the two companies, the American Cheese Society named as Certified Cheese Professionals 29 team members in 2016, 20 in 2015, and 13 in 2014.

Financial terms of the merger were not disclosed.

ALDI Unveils $1.6 Billion Nationwide Store Remodel Plan

With more people shopping its grocery stores than ever before, ALDI is making an aggressive $1.6 billion investment in its stores, with an extensive plan to remodel and expand more than 1,300 U.S. stores by 2020.

The new ALDI store look strengthens the stores’ periphery with a focus on fresh items, including more robust produce, dairy and bakery sections. Remodeled stores will also feature a modern design, open ceilings, natural lighting and environmentally friendly building materials – such as recycled materials, energy-saving refrigeration and LED lighting.

“With this significant investment in our stores, what we’re really doing is continuing to invest in ALDI customers,” said Jason Hart, CEO, ALDI. “We’re continuing to expand our fresh offerings, which means we need to provide more space for produce, meat, and bakery items. We’ve also made a number of improvements to our products – such as removing added MSG, certified synthetic colors and partially hydrogenated oils from all of our ALDI exclusive brand foods. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that our customers still save money on the groceries they buy the most.”

More shoppers than ever are making ALDI their grocery destination. Today, ALDI serves more than 40 million customers each month, which is a nearly 60 percent increase since 2013. Customer feedback shows they’re thrilled about the enhancements ALDI has made to its premium-quality products and the additions to its everyday lineup.

“ALDI customers know we stand out from our competitors for a reason: we offer high-quality, affordable food that they can feel good about serving their families,” added Hart. “Our unmatched combination of exceptional quality and everyday low prices is why we’re one of the fastest growing retailers in the U.S., currently operating in 35 states.”

ALDI offers customers the very best of their weekly must-haves, such as fresh produce, organic foods, fresh dairy and bakery items, gluten-free foods, USDA Choice beef and household products, while saving them up to 50 percent on their grocery bill. Its simple approach to retailing means ALDI customers only pay for freshness and quality without the hidden costs that other grocery retailers are known for. This approach, coupled with the ALDI-exclusive brands that comprise 90 percent of the products, allows customers to save money on premium-quality groceries.

Whole Foods Market Selects dunnhumby to Help Lead Merchandise Strategy

dunnhumby has announced that Whole Foods Market, Inc. has selected the company to provide customer data and insights to help evolve Whole Foods Market’s category management and merchandising.

dunnhumby is working with Whole Foods Market to apply its customer data models to make store-level merchandising decisions based on specific customer needs. Data-driven, customer-led insights will enable Whole Foods Market to create the shopping experiences customers want. As product choices and preferences change and vary by location, the dunnhumby data will provide customers with the most relevant shopping experience, according to the company.

“dunnhumby has the ability to understand customers and turn that into action,” said Don Clark, Global Vice President of Purchasing for Non-Perishables at Whole Foods Market. “This partnership allows us to keep innovating our shopping experience for the customer in a way that’s most relevant to them and reflects how they want to shop in each local community.”

“Whole Foods Market is renowned for delighting customers with extraordinary shopping experiences and customer service, which makes them an ideal partner,” said Andrew Hill, Managing Director North America at dunnhumby. “We’re thrilled to be working with a retailer as respected and innovative as Whole Foods Market, helping them continue to improve shopping experiences for their loyal and passionate customers.

13th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival March 18 -19 2017 @ Rogue Creamery

Oregon-inspired culinary events, including a farmer’s market-style artisan food, beer, cider and wine festival, will kick off with the Meet the Cheesemakers and Winemakers Dinner. The Oregon Cheese Festival will be open to the public Saturday, March 18 and Sunday March 19 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Rogue Creamery, 311 North Front St. (Hwy. 99), Central Point, Oregon. Held under two large heated tents, (15,000 square feet of space!), at Rogue Creamery’s Central Point facility, the thirteenth annual festival invites guests to shake hands with cheesemakers and other artisans. There will be baby cows on site to showcase the beginnings of great milk producers!  Activities will also be provided for children, including games, activity sheets, coloring, face painting and more.

“The farmer’s market format will present an interactive experience between makers and visitors, giving everyone an opportunity to talk about the product, the process and learn each individual cheesemaker’s story,” says David Gremmels, President of Rogue Creamery. “It’s a way to truly be connected with the source of the cheese being presented.”

At the festival thousands of visitors will sample cow, goat and sheep cheese from Oregon creameries, including: Pholia Farm, Ancient Heritage Dairy, Oregon State University, Ochoa’s Queseria, Tillamook County Creamery, Willamette Valley Cheese Co., Oak Leaf Creamery, Briar Rose Creamery, La Mariposa, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, Goldin Artisan Goat Cheese, Crushpad Creamery, By George Farm, Face Rock Creamery, Portland Creamery, Rogue Creamery, and many others.

Southern Oregon and other local culinary artisans and beverage providers who are expected to participate include: Lillie Belle Farms, Gary West Meats, Applegate Valley Artisan Breads, Ledger David Cellars, Jaxon Vineyards, South Stage Cellars, Serra Vineyards, Caprice Vineyards, EdenVale Winery, RoxyAnn Winery, La Brasseur Vineyard, 30 Brix Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Wandering Aengus Ciders, Hot Lips Soda, Clear Creek Distillery, Bend Distillery, Wild River Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Rogue Ales.

A $15 entry fee includes tastings and demonstrations; tickets purchased at the door will be $20. Entry tickets can be purchased in advance at http://oregoncheesefestival.com. In addition, a $10 wine, cider, beer and spirit tasting fee is available and includes a commemorative glass with the Oregon Cheese Guild logo.

Friday, March 17 – Dinner

To commence the festival, a sumptuous meal introducing guests to participating guild cheesemakers will be held Friday night at the Inn at the Commons in Medford, Oregon on March 17 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The dinner is held for the benefit of the non-profit 501(c)(6) Oregon Cheesemakers Guild. Each course will spotlight a cheese made by one of the festival’s artisans, paired with a local wine, beer or cider. Tickets available for purchase at http://oregoncheesefestival.com.

Special Guest for the dinner and festival will be Brian Keyser, Founder of Casellula Cheese & Wine Café, a tiny restaurant with a huge cheese selection. He opened the restaurant in New York City in 2007 and Casellula at Alphabet City in Pittsburgh in 2016.  Together with Chef Leigh Friend he is the co-author of “Composing the Cheese Plate,” a book of easy recipes and creative ideas for fun and inventive cheese plates (Running Press, 2016). Keyser is a co-Chair of the 2017 (ACS) American Cheese Society Annual Conference and Competition in Denver, Chair of the ACS Scholarship Committee, and a board member of the American Cheese Education Foundation.

The festival would not be possible without the generous support of the City of Central Point, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Rogue Ales, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Face Rock Creamery, Oregon Economic & Community Development Department, Culture Magazine, Travel Medford, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, Umpqua Bank, Rogue Credit Union, and the members of the Oregon Cheese Guild.

For more information, visit www.oregoncheeseguild.org or www.roguecreamery.com

Las Vegas Market Names Global Goodness Award Winners

Four exhibitors at the 2017 Winter Las Vegas Market – Anji Mountain, The Cottage Potters, Dunitz & Company and Quilling Card – are winners of its sixth Global Goodness Awards, recognizing furniture, home decor and gift companies for environmentally-friendly, sustainable and socially responsible activities. The 2017 Global Goodness Awards were presented at the Winter Market.

“Las Vegas Market is pleased to recognize companies whose production and business practices are making positive impacts not only on the industry, but also to communities around the world in the course of sourcing and manufacturing their products,” said Dorothy Belshaw, President of Gift Leasing and Chief Marketing Officer, International Market Centers. “As the leading furniture, home decor and gift destination in the western United States, Las Vegas Market is proud to support these corporate “good citizens” who are dedicated to are doing well by doing good.”

Read more at KitchenwareNews.com.

Entries Now Open for San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition

The third annual San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC) is now accepting entries from all olive oil producers in the state of California. To qualify for the opportunity to showcase their flavorful products, olive oil must be made from the most recent olive harvest; deadline to enter is March 24, 2017.

“Giving olive oil producers within California the opportunity and place to showcase their quality products has had a tremendous response,” said Stacy Rianda, Deputy Manager at The Big Fresno Fair. “After a very successful first two years, we look forward to drawing even more producers from even more corners of California.”

There are two classes for entries: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Flavored Olive Oil. Competition categories in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil class include: Spanish Blends (arbequina, arbosana, etc.); Spanish Singles; Italian Blends (ascolano, etc.); Italian Singles; Other Blends (picholine, barouni, etc.); Other Singles. Competition categories in the Flavored Olive Oil class include: Citrus; Herbal (rosemary; basil, etc.); and Other Flavors (chile, jalapeno, garlic, etc.).

Awards will be given out for gold and silver medals in each category, as well as one overall “Best of Show” in both the Extra Virgin Olive Oil category and the Flavored Oil category. Judging will be evaluated and scored as follows:

Gold Medal: Awarded to an olive oil that demonstrates its type and/or varietal character, balance, structure and complexities to the highest standards. Gold medals will be awarded to those oils receiving scores between 86 – 100 points.
Silver Medal: Awarded to an olive oil reflecting the correct distribution of balance and character of its type or variety; an oil deemed to be well crafted and of excellent quality. Silver medals will be awarded to those oils receiving scores between 76- 85 points.
Best of Show: Awarded to an olive oil recognized to possess special characteristics of the highest quality overall.

Producers may submit multiple entries under one category but may not submit a particular entry to more than one category. All entries must be available for commercial sale at the time of entry. Entries are due by March 24, 2017 by 4:30 p.m. Judging will be held on April 4, 2017 and winners will be announced on April 13, 2017 by 5:00 p.m.

Gold medal and Best of Show winners will have the opportunity to have a booth in the Wells Fargo Agricultural Building on one day during a weekend of the 2017 Big Fresno Fair where they can taste, display and sell their award-winning product. Additionally, educational information will be set up so that fair attendees can learn more about the art of making olive oil, its health benefits, recipes and more.

Each submission must include an entry form, at least two 250 ml bottles of the olive oil with retail labels attached and a $60 non-refundable fee per entry. Entries can be dropped off at The Big Fresno Fair Administration Office or can be shipped to SJVOOC – The Big Fresno Fair, 1121 S. Chance Ave. Fresno, CA 93702 no later than 4:30 p.m. on March 24, 2017. Any entry delivered by mail, freight or express must be prepaid. The administration office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for drop offs.

Last year, 61 entries from all throughout California were received. Below is a list of the Gold medal Winners and Best of Show. For a complete 2016 winners list, go to: https://www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition.

Extra Virgin Olive Oils – Gold Medal Winners

Spanish Blends
Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Tyler Florence Test Kitchen EVOO (Clovis)
Rosenthal Olive Ranch’s Arbosana (Madera)
Spanish Singles
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Premium EVOO (Lodi)
Calolea Olive Ranch’s Calolea Mission (Marysville)
The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma)
Italian Blends
Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Winter Creek Olive Oil (Winter Creek)
Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Ruscello d’Inverno (Winter Creek)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Growers Blend (Lodi)
The Olive Press’ Italian Blend (Sonoma)
Coppetti Olive Oil’s Harvest Blend (Modesto)
Bava Family Grove’s Bava Monticelli Estate Napa Valley (Escalon)
San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Nectar of the Gods (San Miguel)
San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Gold (San Miguel)
Italian Singles
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Oil Ascolano (Lodi)
Other Blends
Bozzano Olive Ranch’s A2 (Stockton)

Flavored Olive Oils – Gold Medal Winners

Citrus
The Olive Press’ Lime (Sonoma)
The Olive Press’ Limonata (Sonoma)
Herbal
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi)

Other Flavors
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Jalapeno Garlic (Lodi)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Extreme Heat Serrano (Lodi)

Best Of Show

The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi)

For more information about the new San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC), including downloadable entry forms and deadlines, visit www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition, email questions to srianda@fresnofair.com or call The Big Fresno Fair office at (559) 650-FAIR.

Registration for Fresno Food Expo Now Open

Exhibitor and buyer registration for the 2017 Fresno Food Expo is now underway. The seventh annual event will include expanded exhibitor and buyer platforms aimed at building greater opportunities for central California food and beverage companies to connect and do business with retail and foodservice buyers. These efforts will continue to forge a path that will bring together the region’s food industry leaders to demonstrate, and bring recognition to, the depth and strength the region carries in the global food industry. Nearly 50 percent of the Expo show floor is already filled with returning exhibitors with more than 150 exhibitors and 950 key pre-qualified domestic and international buyers expected to participate.

Kicking off in the spring as part of an expanded exhibitor platform, the Expo will host an exclusive exhibitor gathering that will invite all central California food and beverage companies who have participated, or plan to participate in the Expo, to share in the value of a nationally-recognized business seminar. This first-time event will feature a keynote speaker that will address the needs of businesses throughout the region including topics such as professional leadership, training and motivation. Furthermore, the Expo will continue to include educational training opportunities for current exhibitors throughout the year on varying topics.

Through the Expo’s own awards programs, the region’s innovation will continue to be celebrated and recognized through the New Product Awards presented by Baker Peterson Franklin CPA, LLP, which has debuted over 160 new products from Valley-based companies since the showcase began in 2013. Most recent awards include the 2016 winners, Aubrey’s Jerky, made with real beef heart, who took home first place buyer’s choice award category, and ARO Gourmet Pistachio’s, made with Himalayan Pink Salt, who took home the people’s choice award.

Also returning to the Expo will be the Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award. Named in honor of Fred Ruiz, founder of Ruiz Food Products, Inc., this award recognizes companies who have the same vision and qualities that took Ruiz Foods from a small, family start-up to the largest frozen Mexican food manufacturer in the United States. Lanna Coffee Co., a Fresno-based coffee company who sources its beans from Thailand to support economic stability in the villages where the beans are grown, was named the 2016 winner.

These award-winning exhibitors who represent some of the very best food and beverage companies in the nation, in addition to innovative, start-up companies that utilize the Fresno Food Expo platform to launch their businesses, continue to draw in buyers from around the world. Buyer participation is now five times more than the original participation number when the Expo began in 2011 – with the 2016 Fresno Food Expo drawing in over 900 local, national and international buyers, 77 percent of which had decision-making authority. Major retailers attending the show include ALDI, Costco Wholesale, Grocery Outlet, Safeway, Save Mart Supermarkets, Vallarta Supermarkets, Walmart and Whole Foods Market, along with international buyers hosted by the Center for International Trade Development, State Center Community College District as part of an organized buying mission tied to the regional food show.

As part of an effort to continue drawing in these types of decision-making buyers, the Expo touts an expanded buyer platform and will be bringing in a buyer-focused keynote speaker on July 26, the day prior to the tradeshow, who will discuss topics relevant to the retail, foodservice and distributor buying channels – another first-time initiative announced as part of this year’s event.

This year’s Buyer Agenda also includes exhibitor-hosted site tours and the Expo’s opening reception, Pairings, which offers an exclusive opportunity to make meaningful connections with our region’s leading food producers and attending buyers, complete with live cooking stations that will put a spotlight on the region’s most celebrated chefs.

“Now in its seventh year, the Fresno Food Expo has helped elevate public perception of the award-winning Central California food region and put a spotlight on our diverse food industry companies who have been recognized by their peers on state, national and international platforms,” said David Nalchajian, General Manager of the Fresno Food Expo. “To further support and create new pathways for our region’s food industry companies to become recognized leaders and innovators within the food industry, the Expo is excited to launch, and further develop a year-round network that fosters business growth opportunities for companies both big and small.”

In order to further highlight the award-winning region and tell the story behind the region’s food companies, the Expo will begin hosting its own blog and develop a voice representative of central California’s thriving food industry.

A collaborative group of top food industry leaders will continue to lead the Fresno Food Expo as a board of directors serving in various advisory capacities including Chairwoman of the Board Ashley Swearengin, President and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation; Vice Chairwoman of the Board, Agnes Saghatelian, President of Valley Lahvosh Baking Company; Board Secretary, Vincent Ricchiuti, Director of Operations for Enzo Olive Oil Company; Board Treasurer, Denver Schutz, Technical Services Manager of Gerawan Farming; Mark Ford, President of JD Food; Mike Grazier, President of Busseto Foods; Helen Chavez-Hansen, Owner and President of La Tapatia Tortilleria, Inc.; Jimmy Maxey, Chairman of Certified Meat Products; Chuck Nichols, President of Nichols Farms; Rod Noll, Vice President of the Western Region for US Cold Storage; Justin Parnagian, Sales Director for Fowler Packing Company; Fred Ruiz, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Ruiz Foods; and Bill Smittcamp, President and CEO of Wawona Frozen Foods.

The trade show portion of the Expo will take place during the day on Thursday, July 27, followed by the public celebration, Expolicious, filled with sampling and discovery taking place that evening. Registration forms and additional information for exhibitors and buyers are available at www.FresnoFoodExpo.com. Exhibitors can take advantage of early bird discounts, a 30 percent savings available through February 1, with tickets for Expolicious going on sale in May.

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