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Phoenicia Specialty Foods Brings International Flavors to Houston

By Lorrie Baumann

STOREFRONT MEDITCO_DSC1496In a society that’s deeply conflicted about much that’s happening in the Middle East and its potential repercussions for the American homeland, Houston grocer Phoenicia Specialty Foods offers a yummy reminder that we’re all on this planet together and our respective cultures have much to offer each other. Phoenicia Specialty Foods operates in two Houston locations, a 90,000 -square-foot west side location that’s like a warehouse for international foods, and the newer 28,000-square-foot location in downtown Houston.

MOM & DADThe family behind the two stores (retail and wholesale operation), and the original restaurant: parents Zohrab and Arpi Tcholakian, who started the business by opening the Phoenicia Deli in 1983, brother Raffi, who oversees the company’s wholesale business and much of its import operation at the Phoenicia Foods Westside location, brother Haig, who curates the stores’ beer and wine offering and is half the marketing team along with sister Ann-Marie, who also manages the downtown store, also still operate the original restaurant that’s the particular province of the matriarch of the family. “It’s in our blood, and we are cut from the same cloth in regards to our work ethic, passion and detail-oriented nature. Mom is the matriarch of the restaurant, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli restaurant, which is where it all began. She’s definitely the most famous out of all of us. Everybody recognizes her because she’s always in the restaurant,” says Ann-Marie. “My parents don’t want to retire; they love the business; they love the energy. They really enjoy providing these services and these hard to find specialty items to the community, and also having the opportunity to interact with friendly faces. Dad is always in the store teaching employees and customers about the products’ cooking techniques and origins.”

The stores’ product mix includes more than 50,000 SKUs representing products from more than 50 countries and is focused on international specialty items, especially Middle Eastern, Eastern European and European specialties. Many of the bakery items and prepared foods are produced in house, with some commissaried over from the West Side location to the downtown store.

Ann-Marie“There are other stores who sell some of the same products, like olive oils and cheeses, and they call it gourmet, but these were staples that we grew up with and were always in our home… So, we try to keep the prices reasonable on these quality selections. We work to transfer cost saving to our customers through the economies of scale provided by our import buying power at our west side Houston headquarters,” says Ann-Marie.

The Tcholakian family are ethnic Armenians who were living in Lebanon when civil war broke out there. As the war intensified, the family began looking for a way out in 1979, particularly since Arpi was eight months pregnant with her youngest and wanted a safe place to raise her children. The family had a cousin in Houston who lived next to a hospital, so when flight became a matter of survival, Houston it was.

Zohrab, an architectural engineer, got a job in the oil industry, and things were going fine until the oil industry collapsed in the early 1980s. Zohrab decided that the time was right to leave the industry and start his own business, following the example of his father, who had owned a neighborhood store in Beirut. “He didn’t want to wait for his pink slip, so he convinced my mom,” Ann-Marie says. In 1983, he and Arpi opened a little cafe on the west side of Houston where they offered deli items and shawarmas, which Arpi described to her customers as a sandwich that resembled “a Middle Eastern burrito.”

“Back when my parents started, they had to educate people. They always wanted to make it international because they had a mix of culinary influences being Armenians born in cosmopolitan, European-influenced Lebanon,” says Ann-Marie. “Back then, when my parents started, not many knew what hummus dip was in Texas. Now everybody knows what hummus is.”

As the cafe’s following grew, the Tcholakians added more and more grocery to the business. “It was a struggle in the ’80s for my parents to keep the business open. It just took a lot of work and dedication to keep the business alive in the 1980s in a collapsed economy,” Ann-Marie says. “My brothers and I used to do our homework and watch TV in the back of the store. People knew our lives.” The downtown store opened five years ago after the developer of the building in which the store is now located offered them a space on the ground floor of a residential tower in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen a grocery store for 40 years. “We were very attracted to what the city was doing and what the Downtown District was doing. There is a lovely park next door called Discovery Green with lots of programming and culture, catering to Houston’s diversity. It was a natural fit for Phoenicia,” Ann-Marie says. “We’ve always felt very connected to the Houston’s growth, and it was really exciting to be part of the revitalization of downtown.”

DSC_3455In addition to the grocery, downtown Phoenicia Foods has an in-house beer and wine bar called MKT BAR. This gastropub concept offers comfort food with an international twist, artisan beers, boutique wines, music and art programming and has become a hub for locals and visitors alike. Monday nights are Fun and Games Nights with retro board games, ping pong and more. Wednesdays are Vinyl and Vino Nights with guest disc jockeys playing their favorite vinyl records on stage. Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular MKT Steak Nights, “offering a nice steak for a minimal amount of money, which draws people from the neighborhood,” Ann-Marie says. Cartoons & Cereal is a new event on Saturday mornings, with retro cartoons on the televisions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “People are always gravitating to the TVs,” Ann-Marie says. “It’s always been our goal to make Phoenicia Specialty Foods and MKT BAR down-to-earth and fun.”

“For the downtown location, we work hard to create events that attract attention, to gain a clientele. In the urban market space, you have to do a little more to capture people’s attention and to create a neighborhood destination and feel,” Ann-Marie says. “Downtown Houston is still emerging, and so we had to put a lot of energy in from the beginning to grow the business. That’s the reason why MKT BAR exists today.”

“A lot of people come to MKT BAR for a music performance for example, and then they buy their feta cheese to take home. It’s a symbiotic relationship between MKT BAR and the grocery,” she continues. “There are other customers who come for the groceries and discover MKT BAR and are amazed. They work hand in hand very well.”

Retail Foodservice Offers a Gold Mine for Grocers

By Lorrie Baumann

American consumers have decided that they want good food on their schedule, and they’ll eat it wherever they can get it. Their grocers are eager and increasingly able to provide that for them, and their customers are loving them for it.

So says Wade Hanson, a Principal at Technomic, who presented the company’s market research on this subject during a “Foodservice at Retail” conference presented during the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in May. Technomic has 50 years of experience tracking market trends for the restaurant industry, but over the past decade or two, the organization has directed its attention to foodservice wherever it occurs and has been in the ideal position to observe the phenomenon as American consumers began looking for new avenues for their food as the Great Recession put previous options out of their financial reach. It was at that time that the grab and go case at local grocery stores became top of mind as an alternative to fast food restaurants, which were increasingly seen as both unhealthy and unappetizing choices. “We’re in a very different world right now as far as retail and foodservice are happening,” Hanson said.

For grocers, the Great Recession has changed the market landscape as well: center store sales are declining, convenience stores have become more vigorous competitors for Americans’ food dollars and the grocery retail industry is consolidating through mergers and acquisition activity. “Retail foodservice has been the major beneficiary of these changes,” Hanson said. “Retail foodservice is really in transition, but poised to be in a very good position.”

For purposes of their analyses, Hanson and Technomic divide supermarkets into three basic tiers: the foodservice specialists, destination supermarkets and supermarkets with prepared food departments that may consist of extended deli counters offering sliced meats and cheeses. About 10 percent of supermarkets fit into the foodservice specialist category, which offer warm ambiance for in-store diners, an extensive array of cuisine and perhaps a checkout area that’s dedicated to foodservice. About 25 percent of supermarkets fall into the destination supermarket category in which the stores are positioned as full-line grocers with good foodservice options. About half of today’s supermarkets fall into the tier that Technomic defines with prepared food departments, and many or most of them are currently looking at moving up a tier to the destination supermarket category, according to Hanson.

At the same time, convenience stores are also aggressively moving toward more premium foodservice options, he noted.
Consumers are embracing these foodservice options offered by supermarkets. In the decade between 2006 and 2015, the annual growth rate for retail foodservice was 10.4 percent, compared to a 2.1 percent growth rate for conventional restaurants. On a dollar basis, the money that consumers spent for supermarket foodservice during that period went from $12.5 billion to $28 billion. Today, supermarket foodservice is a bigger business in the U.S. than K-12 school foodservice, college foodservice or all health care foodservice. “Consumers are seeing more and more value in what they’re experiencing with retail foodservice,” Hanson said. In particular, consumers say that what they spend on a meal in a grocer’s foodservice department is comparable to what it would cost them to prepare the same meal at home, while the price of the same meal in a restaurant is perceived to be more expensive.

Technomic expects that supermarket foodservice will continue to grow at an annual growth rate of about 9 percent over the next 10 years, far exceeding the growth that’s expected for restaurant foodservice, and Hanson predicts that retail foodservice will continue to steal market share from restaurants over the foreseeable future, presenting grocers with a lot of opportunity for profit.

In particular, Hanson anticipates that the line between retail foodservice and restaurants will continue to blur, that younger consumers will drive more widespread use of retail foodservice, and that improving technology such as mobile payments and mobile ordering software will allow more more market segments to compete for the retail foodservice dollar. He suggests that self-serve and made-to-order formats will proliferate in preference to grab and go options. “Grab and go is still doing well, but consumers are gravitating to the idea of customizing their food,” he said.

Ready-to-heat foods will gain traction, with more ethnic entrees that require reheating, he predicted. This is not the same as a ready-to-bake option; it’s the entree that requires just a couple of minutes of reheating in the customer’s home kitchen, he explained.

Transparency in preparation, branding and labeling will help improve consumers’ quality perceptions, and the demand for better-for-you prepared meals will continue to grow, which advantages grocery stores over convenience stores, Hanson predicts. “Consumers are becoming more interested in what’s in it rather than what’s not in it,” he said.

“Consumer acceptance is on the rise, but so are expectations. Everybody is on a level playing field when it comes to meeting consumer expectations,” he said. “Prepared foods gives you an opportunity to differentiate. He noted that some stores are already doing 20 percent of their business in prepared foods. “It’s a gold mine if it’s done right.”

Meijer Opens New Supercenter in Flat Rock, Michigan

Meijer opened a new 150,000-square-foot supercenter in Flat Rock, Michigan, on August 11. The new store is the last of nine new Meijer supercenters to open this year, creating 3,000 new jobs. The new store is built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards and will be open 24 hours a day.

“We always strive to find locations that will bring a fresher retail approach to communities, so we are pleased to provide our new neighbors with an incredible combination of selection and quality at lower prices,” CEO Hank Meijer said. “We’re very excited to offer a one-stop shopping experience and do our part to help this community continue to grow and thrive.”

The grocery options that Meijer offers include more than 600 varieties of farm-fresh produce and a full-service meat department that features fresh seafood, Certified Angus Beef and custom cuts of meat. The bakery specializes in custom-decorated cakes and fresh bread baked four times daily.

Opening celebrations began with a ribbon-cutting event, followed by remarks from Meijer leadership and local officials. The store also demonstrated its commitment to the community by making donations to a local organization. Store Director Jack Schubert presented $25,000 to Flat Rock Community Schools.

As part of its ongoing community support, Meijer donates more than 7 percent of its net profit to charitable organizations annually, and each of its stores works with local food pantries and banks to help fight hunger at the local level. Since 2008, the retailer’s Simply Give program has generated nearly $24 million for its food pantry partners throughout the Midwest. This year’s fall Simply Give campaign will run through September 24, and all proceeds from the Flat Rock Meijer will benefit the Helping Hands Food Pantry.

Kroger Fighting Flu and Hunger

The Kroger Co. has announced a new health and wellness campaign in partnership with The Little Clinic and Feeding America®, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. From August 15, 2016 through April 1, 2017 Kroger will donate one meal through the Feeding America network of food banks for every flu shot administered at all Kroger family of pharmacies or The Little Clinic locations.

“At Kroger, receiving the flu shot this year will do more than protect you and your families’ health. Throughout this flu season, we’ll provide a meal for a neighbor struggling with hunger for every flu shot administered in our pharmacies or The Little Clinic locations nationwide,” said Philecia Avery, Kroger’s Vice President of Pharmacy. “Kroger has a long history of bringing help and hope to our neighbors in need in the communities we serve. We’re proud to continue that tradition by bringing health and wellness to our local communities, as well.”

Every year in the United States more than 200,000 individuals are hospitalized by influenza. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly vaccination for everyone 6 months and older by the end of October. Flu shots can reduce the risk of more serious symptoms and outcomes, including hospitalizations.

“Our goal is to provide quality and affordable healthcare for our customers,” said Colleen Lindholz, President of The Little Clinic. “Healthcare experts recommend a yearly vaccination as the best protection from the flu. This campaign allows us to address two community needs simultaneously.”

“Kroger is a true visionary partner committed to our mission to feed people facing hunger in America,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America. “This new health and wellness campaign is invaluable not only for Kroger customers, but also for the 46 million food-insecure Americans who receive food and groceries from our network of food banks.”

Natural Grocers to Host Midland Strong 5K Run to Support Community

Registration is now open for the highly anticipated Midland Strong 5K Run, an event inspired by the oil downturn that caused the loss of thousands of oil and gas jobs in the Midland-Odessa (Texas) community. The run will take place on Saturday, September 24 at 7:30 a.m. and will be immediately followed by a community celebration, which will include snacks, music, prizes, a bouncy house, and activities for the entire family.

The whole community is invited to come and be part of this fun and inspirational event.  To register for the 5K, visit  Early bird registration is open now through September 19.  Adults can sign up for $18, teens for $10 and kids under 10 are free!  All registration dollars will be donated directly to Midland Need to Read.

What is Midland Strong?
The Midland Strong program is a six month-long series of fundraisers and community events coordinated by Natural Grocers to directly benefit local organizations that contribute to empowering, educating and connecting with the community.

The program was developed as a response to the recent oil downturn impacting jobs in the Permian Basin.

Midland Need to Read is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower and educate the community by offering adult literacy and G.E.D preparation programs. This organization directly contributes to helping those impacted by oil field layoffs to qualify for and secure new career opportunities, tying in perfectly to the goals of the Midland Strong campaign.

Additional Sponsors
In additional to Natural Grocers’ commitment to coordinating and leading the Midland Strong 5K Run, several sponsors have committed funds that will directly benefit Midland Need Read.

Sponsoring organizations include Yoga Works, Four Seasons Health & Wellness, My Sol to Soul Nutrition, Midland YMCA, and Lacy J Pilates. Together, these sponsors have already raised a total of $1,100 in donations.

New Snacks Appeal to Nutrition-Hungry Americans

By Lorrie Baumann

Hungry Americans are snacking more than ever before, but for many, the between-meal food is a guilt-ridden, sometimes furtive attempt to stave off hunger and boost energy long enough to get them through the day to their next meals. Snack food manufacturers are making a wealth of products to meet precisely these needs.

These are trends found by market research firm Canadean, which conducts three consumer surveys annually of more than 50,000 consumers in 47 countries. The research was presented in Chicago by Canadean Innovation Insights Director Tom Vierhile at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo in May. The surveys found that snacking behavior is nearly universal in the U.S., with 96 percent of Americans saying that they snack at least occasionally. Among people between the ages of 18 and 44, almost everyone is snacking between main meals, with 97 percent of 18-24-year-olds, 98 percent of those aged 25 to 34 and 97 percent of those between 35 and 44 saying that they snack. Snacking tends to skew towards young and male consumers, with young and middle-aged men much more likely to snack regularly than any other group, according to the surveys.

Most of this snacking takes place after lunch, with 55 percent of U.S. consumers saying that they snack between lunch and dinner and 39 percent saying that they snack between dinner and bedtime, and most of it happens at home. While hunger is the obvious motivation for snacking, treating or rewarding oneself, boosting energy and relieving boredom are also top drivers.

This snacking isn’t necessarily guilt-free; younger consumers in particular, those between 25 and 34, say that they’re judgy about people who eat junk foods. A fair number of Americans are getting around that by eating snacks that contain “a healthy ingredient.” About a third of all Americans and more than half of 25-34-year-olds say that they feel less guilty about consuming unhealthy foods or drinks if they contain a healthy ingredient.

The Sweets & Snacks Expo exhibit hall provided a wealth of evidence that Vierhile knew what he was talking about and that many snack food manufacturers had already figured most of it out for themselves. The market is seeing a proliferation of snack foods that offer protein rather than added sugar for that between-meal energy boost, and many of them are offering front-of-the-package claims of some kind of nutritional benefit, even if it’s just an offset for a product that might otherwise be considered an indulgent treat rather than a component of a nutrition plan.

Stoneridge Orchards‘ line of all-natural dried fruits is Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, free of preservatives and sulfites and contain no hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or colors. They’re high in Vitamin C and free of common allergens. The fruit is grown in family-owned orchards in central Washington by third-generation family farmers. Organic Cranberries enrobed in dark chocolate join an organic product line that now includes four items, together with Organic Blueberries, Organic Montmorency Cherries and Organic Mixed Berries. The 4-ounce package retails for $4.99 to $5.99.

Country Prime Meats’ Country Bites Naturals are meat snacks available in four flavors, including Hamalyan Inspired, flavored with tandoori spice, and Tuscan Inspired, flavored with tomato and pepper, cooked, smoked and dried turkey sausages. They’re gluten free and lactose free, with no added nitrites and no lactose. Turkey for the snacks was raised without antibiotics, and the snacks are bite-sized to aid in portion control. The 4.4-ounce bag retails for $7.99.

Simply Smart 1Simply Smart and Smart Kids snack bars are targeted directly at the nutrition-conscious, with Smart Kids bars formulated to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for school lunch programs. Simply Smart is the adult version, targeted at the consumer aged 16 and older who wants a healthy snack bar. Simply Smart bars contain no added refined sugar and contain 190 to 200 calories and 10 grams of protein per bar. “Everything we do is all-natural, Non-GMO Project Verified and certified gluten free,” said Chief Operating Officer Rob Zelickman. Simply Smart bars are packaged for individual sale at retail and sell for $1.99 each. The Smart Kids bars sell for $1.30.

AWAKE Bar 1AWAKE Energy Granola Bars offer caffeine along with B vitamins and some added sugar for that late afternoon energy boost. Each bar contains as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee plus B vitamins. Each bar contains 5 grams of protein and 150 calories or less. They come in four flavors: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate Caramel, Coconut Apricot and Cinnamon Bun. They contain no artificial flavors or colors and are gluten free.

Peeled Snacks are designed to appeal to the consumer who looks for a clean ingredient deck with no added sugar. Peas Please are the newest item in the product line, which also includes Gently Dried Fruit and Apple Clusters. Made with 70 percent peas, brown rice, sunflower oil and salt, these crunchy snacks are all organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and gluten free. They come in four flavors, with White Cheddar the newest. Other flavors are Sea Salt, Garden Herb and Southwest Spice. Peas Please are made by a certified B Corporation started in 2005. A 3.3-ounce bag that provides 3-1/2 servings of vegetables per bag sells for $2.99.

Snack pastries from Bakerly are for those who start their snacking with breakfast. Four product lines of bakery products include authentic French crepes filled with strawberry or chocolate, mini brioche, and a chocolate croissant. They’re made with real eggs and real butter, individually wrapped and delivered frozen to stores for a 30-day shelf life after thawing. “We are the only brioche to go available in the market,” said Damien Callery, the company’s Vice President of Sales. The products are made in France with clean recipes and no genetically modified ingredients. The newest in the line is a chocolate filled petit cake – something like a standard American-style snack cake but without all the artificial ingredients, Callery said. “We want America to go back to an American tradition, but with clean ingredients and better quality,” he added.

The bakerly petit cakes contain no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup and no palm oil. They’re non-GMO. They come in three flavors: chocolate, apricot and strawberry, with all-natural fruit fillings. A package of five individually-wrapped cakes has a three-month shelf life and retails for $3.49.

Summer Fancy Food Show Largest Ever

By Lorrie Baumann

If you came home exhausted from this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show, there’s a reason for that. The 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show occupied the largest show floor since the show was started in 1954. More than 47,000 specialty food professionals, including 2,670 exhibitors, filled the six football fields’ worth of space in the halls of Javits Center in New York with the latest in specialty food and beverages from across the U.S. and 55 countries.

“The show is the place to be to discover the latest in specialty food and what’s next for stores and restaurants,” said Laura Santella-Saccone, the Specialty Food Association’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Record sales for specialty food have contributed to the strength of our show.”

Ariston Specialties used the show as an opportunity to debut its My Dressing Center to the industry. My Dressing Center, shown in prototype and expected to be available to the market in the coming months, is an automatic dispensing station that allows users to customize their own blends of salad dressings and marinades to suit their own tastes. The machine stocks 18 products, including any of the Ariston Specialties olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Consumers choose a bottle size – either 8.5 ounces or 17 ounces – and use a touch screen to custom-blend their mixtures, which can include four to six items in a blend that’s selected by adjusting sliders on the screen. “You can do your own. You can say, ‘No, I feel creative today. I want to do my own,’” said Tom Doukas, Ariston Specialties’ Founder.

The dispenser provides entertainment and engagement value for consumers together with a gourmet experience. “It is not a dressing created in a lab with flavor enhancers and additives,” Doukas said. “This is totally fresh and totally natural. It’s totally yours – you created it.”
Any mixture will sell for the same price – about $6 to $9 for the 8.5-ounce bottle and about $12 for the 17-ounce bottle. “We want to be inexpensive because our dressings are competing with the larger brands, but these are better because they’re all natural, award-winning products at a reasonable price with a fun way to buy them,” Doukas said.

LaClare Farms introduced new goat milk yogurts in blueberry, strawberry, vanilla and plain flavors. Fondy Jack from LaClare Farms is a goat milk version of Monterey Jack – the name is a play on Fond du Lac – that shares Monterey Jack’s excellent melting characteristics. Fondy Jack is also available in pepper jack and tomato-basil flavors.

Laurie & Sons, the winner of the 2015 sofi Award for the Best Chocolate for Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee, was at the show this year with Single Origin Ginger Toffee, which won a silver award at the International Chocolate Awards. It’s made with four different types of ginger, including the raw powder, ginger syrup and ginger crystals on top to give the confection a distinctive, but not overpowering, hit of ginger flavor.

Propelled by the 2015 sofi Award win, Laurie & Sons’ founder Laurie Pauker’s creative approach to quality snack foods has found a place in the market, and we can look forward to future expansions of the product line to include some savory options, according to Andrew Pauker, Laurie’s son. “It’s been taking off over the past two years, and the Fancy Food Show has been important to that,” he said.

The Brooklyn Brew Shop came to the show with a new line of Farm Steady do-it-yourself kits for making gourmet foods at home, including kits for making four fresh Italian cheeses and pretzels with beer cheese. The kits are sold in a variety of specialty shops representing the home goods, gift and brew supply industries.

Chuao Chocolatier announced the launch of its Fair Trade, organic chocolate bar line, the Enamored Collection. An ode to women with a mission of celebrating who they are inside and out, the brand has partnered with Girls Inc. and for every seven Enamored Collection bars that are sold, $1 will be donated.

The line was created by the brand’s Master Chef and Co-Founder, Michael Antonorsi, as an ode to all women: “With the Enamored Collection, we wanted to create a product that celebrated ‘you,’ because who you are is enough,” said Antonorsi. “Spreading joy is the intention behind everything we do, and with this new collection we hope to bring a moment of joy to every person who experiences it.”

The Enamored Collection will be available in three varieties, all featuring luscious fruit and a hint of floral in organic, Fair Trade certified 72 percent dark chocolate: Raspberry Rose, made with radiant raspberries sugared with rose petals; Blueberry Lavender, made with juicy blueberries lightly infused with luxurious lavender; and Coconut Hibiscus, made with creamy coconut and a hint of sweet hibiscus.

“For us, it’s more about delivering a message – chocolate is the bonus,” said Chuao Communications Director Brooke Feldman. “It’s been fun to be able to have those conversations with people…. Traffic’s been really good. There’s been a great response to the whole line and the new collection.”

The company is also bringing out a pair of holiday seasonal bars: for the love of peppermint and hope, joy & gingerbread. The 2.8-ounce bars will retail for $4.99. “Our intention is to spread joy. Sometimes we do that with nostalgic flavors. Sometimes we do that with new ingredients,” Feldman said. “If we can make people smile, we’ve done our job.”

Lilly’s Hummus made its Fancy Food Show debut this year with handmade hummus made from organic garbanzo beans. The company, in business since 2003, started when CEO Michael Miscoe’s wife whipped up a quick hummus recipe for a barbecue the couple was hosting at home. “People went crazy for it,” Miscoe said. Lilly’s Hummus now offers 12 varieties in 12-ounce packages and just launched this year a single-serve snack pack with crackers on top and hummus on the bottom that retails for about $3.59. The high protein lowfat snack in its single serving package appeals to mothers, kids, Millennials and anyone who’s taking lunch to the office, he said. “It’s been great. People love it,” he added.

Droga Chocolates won the sofi Award in the Confections category this year for Money on Honey, a salted caramel that incorporates honey as its sweetener. It’s covered with Guittard dark chocolate and topped with a sprinkling of French sea salt. “It’s been our best seller for the past five years,” said Droga Founder and President Michelle Crochet. The Money on Honey product line now includes four SKUs, each made of the same caramel but with different mix-ins, including sea salt, crispy rice or roasted peanuts. This year, the company introduced the products with Fair Trade chocolate and will also be donating a portion of the profits to support the health of honey bees.

This is Droga’s fifth year at the Fancy Food Show and its first sofi Award. “It’s made a big difference,” Crochet said. “It’s drawn people in to taste this product. They’re really curious about it.”

Money on Honey started with a recipe that Crochet’s mother used to make. Then Crochet adapted it to substitute in honey instead of the high fructose corn syrup that’s the sweetener for many of the caramel candies on the commercial market, and the product was an instant hit. “In my own life, I’m always looking to eat clean foods,” she said. “Once I started sharing it with people, I knew it was a winner. Everybody seemed to like the product.”

Emmi Roth USA Wins Best of Show at Wisconsin State Fair

Marc Druart named Grand Master Cheesemaker

Emmi Roth USA continues its winning ways with a best of show win for its Roth’s Private Reserve at the Wisconsin State Fair Cheese & Butter Contest. In addition, Emmi Roth’s Marc Druart was named the contest’s Grand Master Cheesemaker.

Roth’s Private reserve, which took first place in the smear ripened category beat out 340 other cheeses in 28 classes to win best of show.

Druart, who has been with Emmi Roth USA for five years said, “Seeing our Roth’s Private Reserve be recognized as best in show at the State Fair is a source of pride for all of us at Emmi Roth. We are all passionate about making great cheese and the quality of Roth’s Private Reserve is the result of that passion.”

Roth’s Private Reserve is made in small batches with raw milk in traditional copper kettles. It is aged at least six months in Emmi Roth USA’s cellars where it is washed, brushed, flipped and cared for throughout the aging process. It has won several previous awards including a first place in its category and a 2nd place best of show at the 2015 American Cheese Society.

Pavino cheese, from Emmi Roth USA, also won second place in the smear ripened category.

Sonoma Brands Launches SMASHMALLOW

SMASHMALLOWSonoma Brands, a consumer products incubator and venture fund founded by Jon Sebastiani, the founder of KRAVE Jerky, is now launching SMASHMALLOW, a premium ‘snackable’ marshmallow brand that will make its exclusive retail launch at Sprouts stores nationwide and is now available on the website. A broader West Coast launch in other retailers throughout the Pacific Northwest, northern and southern California is slated for November 2016.

Sonoma Brands launched in January 2016 as Sebastiani’s next entrepreneurial endeavor following the acquisition of KRAVE Jerky by The Hershey Company. “At Sonoma Brands, we seek to adapt to ever-changing consumer needs and cravings by invigorating sleepy categories, such as the $36 billion confectionery space,” said Founder of Sonoma Brands, Jon Sebastiani. “As an avid marathon-runner, I’ve often found myself indulging in a marshmallow or two from my cupboard when I needed a sweet fix, as a ‘better-for-you’ and fat-free option. Then on a trip to Paris, I was struck by the fact that bakeries in Europe have decadent marshmallows on display, alongside macarons and other gourmet treats. I knew then that we, at Sonoma Brands, could reintroduce the classic American marshmallow in a fun, delicious and healthier way, taking it far beyond traditional s’mores.”

SMASHMALLOW delivers taste and wow-factor beyond an ordinary marshmallow. The premium on-the-go treat marshmallows are made with organic sugar and all natural ingredients; nothing artificial. SMASHMALLOW ranges from 70-90 calories per servings and is a gluten-free, clean-label indulgence.

SMASHMALLOW comes in seven flavors, including Cinnamon Churro, Strawberries & Cream, Espresso Bean, Mint Chocolate Chip, Toasted Coconut Pineapple, Meyer Lemon Chia Seed and Root Beer Float.

Coming soon to Sprouts stores nationwide, 4.5-ounce SMASHMALLOW bags will be available for a suggested retail price of $3.99.

BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella Wins Best in Class

Expert judges at the 2016 American Cheese Society Contest awarded BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella with a first place, best in class blue ribbon at a blind judging in Des Moines, Iowa last week. Touted as the yearly “Cheese Oscars,” the contest drew a total of 1,843 entries, with the highly coveted awards handed out to a packed room of artisan cheesemakers.

“This recognition from the ACS is greatly appreciated and our Cheesemakers will use this award as a reminder to keep their teams focused on quality,” said Gaetano Auricchio, Vice President. “We are the leader in the fresh mozzarella category and work diligently to deliver a consistently fresh and delicious cheese for our customers.”

Along with the first place award, BelGioioso also received a second place ribbon for Burrata in the burrata category. “The fresh, local Wisconsin milk we use is key to our quality,” said Sean Moran, Vice President of Sales. “Our Fresh Mozzarella and Burrata have a delicate, clean flavor and soft, milky texture, the finest available in the market. Along with quality, we also offer options,
from 1-ounce snacking cheeses to 1-pound pre-sliced logs and 2-ounce, 4-ounce and 8-ounce Burrata. Chefs and consumers both enjoy the variety and convenience of BelGioioso.”

  • BelGioioso Cheesemakers were recognized with a total of four awards in the contest.
    • 1st Place Best of Class – Fresh Mozzarella – Fresh Mozzarella Category – Cheesemaker Byron Hall – This soft cheese has a delicate, milky flavor and is perfect in fresh salads, sandwiches and on pizzas.
    • 2nd Place – Burrata – Burrata Category – Cheesemaker Jason Radke – This ball of fresh mozzarella is filled with shreds of mozzarella soaked in cream. Its delicate texture and flavor is best enjoyed fresh on bread as an appetizer.
    • 3rd Place – Mascarpone– Mascarpone Category – Cheesemaker Bill Codr – This fresh, soft cheese has a sweet, creamy flavor and is versatile in both sweet and savory recipes.
    • 3rd Place – Fontina – Traditional Regional Italian Cheeses Category – Cheesemaker Jonathan Stender – This soft cheese has a sweet, buttery flavor, perfect for snacking or melted on pizzas or into sauces.


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