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Welcome to Fancy Food & Culinary Products' blog, your place to read reviews of the great fancy and gourmet products we find in the marketplace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Editor's Pick: Little's Specialty Foods

It’s not hard to spot a customer’s longing for comfort food as the seasons change. The proof is in the grocery and specialty food store purchases: hearty vegetables, broths and stews, heavier meat and game choices, spices that bring depth to cooking. It’s all part of this comfort food kick that happens to be a result of changing weather. And let’s face it, is there a meal more substantial and hearty than chili? It’s the cover poster for the season, and Little’s Specialty Foods helps you turn the dial up on that subpar homemade chili you’ve been making for years—and in my case, saves me prep time and stress time.

A mild chili mix with a major kick of flavor, the Chili Pepper Chili Seasoning Mix is Little’s signature mix. Not too spicy, it uses the right blend of seasonings and a heap of chili peppers to really amplify the ingredients that have already become a staple of your chili—for me that’s ground turkey, white beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, tomato paste and a few others depending on the day of the week. Incorporate the mix, and it’s convenient, easy to prepare and ready in just 20 minutes—though you can imagine, the longer it stews the better.

If you like a red hot kick, the Chili Pepper Chili Hot Seasoning Mix was not created to set your mouth on fire, but instead provide a constant heat to your food. Little’s slow-releasing blend of spices was actually created for the Chili Pepper Chili & Dogs restaurant in 1994 using a balance of chili peppers and secret spices to transform ground beef, turkey or vegetarian dishes. Little’s is a family owned and operated company with a flagship product line of mixes established in 1980. All of their products are free from artificial ingredients, gluten, and contain no added MSG.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Editor's Pick: Parmigiano Reggiano

I have a weakness for cheese. I decided long ago that when I didn’t have three roommates, I would make space for one shelf or drawer in the fridge specifically for cheese. Now that I live alone, I have plenty of space to keep many varieties of cheese. Right now, I happen to have three different aged cheeses from Parmigiano Reggiano.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a tasting at La Scuola di Eataly where attendees gathered to learn how to give taste tests and what sets Parmigiano Reggiano apart from other cheese brands.
Parmigiano Reggiano is only made in Italy and each block of cheese has a number on it, allowing the consumer to track the location and find out where it was made. Flavors between each location slightly vary due to the diet of the cows which is impacted by terrain. However, Parmigiano Reggiano has very strict standards in place that assure the consumer that their cheese is high-quality.
At the tasting, we tried cheese that was aged 14 months, 24 months and 36 months. The 14-month-old cheese was very young, didn’t crumble as well and wasn’t very oily. The 36-month-old cheese was much more crumbly and oily. Everyone was instructed to smell the aromas and the flavors and textures of the different ages were noticeable.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Editor's Pick: Date Lady

I eat red meat, chicken and eggs. I enjoy trying foods considered delicacies in other countries. Since I don't typically go for vegan options, I was surprised how quickly I jumped at the chance to try Date Lady's chocolate spread. And I wasn't disappointed. It was heavenly. I used it in the same way I would Nutella—on toast, then on toast with peanut butter, then on apples, apples with peanut butter—you get the idea. I became inspired and started seeing what else I could include in my smorgasbord of health-conscious, chocolate-covered, goodness. Turns out, it's a very versatile spread, and at the very least, it goes well with just a spoon too!
Date Lady's products are all organic, and the chocolate spread itself is vegan, containing no nuts, dairy, or processed oils or sugar. The coconut oil and cocoa butter give it a much smoother texture than other chocolate nut spreads. Date syrup is what gives this delicious treat it's sweetness, and while I don't have much of a sweet tooth, when I get a craving, I won't feel bad about how much I eat. 

The Springfield, Mo.-based company started when a wife and mother of two heard about a honey-like syrup that came from dates. She brought some home to put on pancakes and waffles, and eventually started using it in place of sugar. 
The website includes some recipes that utilize the lines of five products developed: Date Syrup, Caramel Sauce, Organic Dates, Date Balsamic Vinegar and, of course, Chocolate Spread. The recipes range from truffles, to apple cider, to barbeque sauce and a selection of muffins. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Editor's Pick: Frontier Soups West Coast Kale and Quinoa

Homemade-In-Minutes. That’s Frontier Soup’s effort to make the culinary process simpler for those looking for a flavorful, healthy meal without the hassle. With little time to prepare meals this week, I was looking for something that would last, leftovers included. I needed something light, but with enough depth in flavor and substance so I could feel full—it is a soup after all.

The West Coast Kale and Quinoa Vegetable Soup Mix that I prepared did just that. It gains its hunger-satisfying substance from white quinoa and flakes of kale and butternut squash that are freeze dried to preserve nutrition. A vegetarian and certified gluten-free soup, it gratifies consumers' desires for delicious and easy ways to incorporate nutrient-rich ancient grains and kale into diets.

I baked a few boneless chicken breasts in the oven as the soup simmered, tore each apart, and added it into the soup mix with about ten minutes left. Although the mix has a bounty of vegetables, I added some tomatoes and a bit more fresh, in-season squash, and the savory seasoning already included—think garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and a peppercorn blend—provided a counterpoint to the sweetness of the squash.
These soup mixes were formulated as a response to consumer’s need for vegetarian soup options, along with an easy way to prepare them. As fall sweeps in and winter gets set to show its face, be sure to stock your shelves with these types of hearty, homemade-in-minutes soups.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Editor’s Pick: Marich Milk and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn

Sweet and salty is always a promising combination but it’s especially a winning one with Marich Premium Chocolate’s Milk and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn.

Each kernel of light and fluffy popcorn is covered in a rich, caramel glaze, topped with sea salt and encased in a layer of high-quality milk or dark chocolate.

With the holidays coming up, you could suggest that your customers buy one bag of each, and combine them in glass dishes for holiday parties. The contrasting chocolates look nice next to each other and pair well with a full-bodied red wine such as Malbec.

The candy comes in a heavy brown paper bag emblazoned with the Marich label. It’s a great adult stocking stuffer or gift for holiday office parties.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Editor's Pick: Cosmos Creations

The following is a true statement: I've never before had anything sriracha. Cosmos Spicy Sriracha puffed corn was my first experience with the wildly popular hot sauce. I once saw a card that read "You're the Sriracha to my everything," so I figured I had to give it a shot.

Cosmos Creations launched their new flavor in September, which joined their already exciting line of seven flavors, Sea Salt Butter, Salted Caramel, Cinnamon Crunch, Sea Salt and Vinegar, Coconut Crunch, Caramel and Aged Cheddar & Cracked Pepper. “Spicy flavors like Sriracha are a huge trend at the moment and here at Cosmos Creations, we like to keep up with what’s popular in the snack food industry,” says Jerid Strasheim, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Cosmos Creations. “Our goal is to always listen to the consumer and provide them the types of flavors they enjoy.”

Cosmos Creations started out in Oregon in 2004 as Cosmos Caramel Corn, and exploded onto the scene after it became a local sensation. They developed over a dozen flavors and showcased them at trade shows and consumer events, helping develop their devoted following.
4 Him Food Group purchased Cosmos in mid-2011 and has since moved the company into a new production facility, allowing plenty of space to set themselves up for success on a national level.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Who is Today’s Specialty Food Consumer?

With the specialty food market approaching 100 billion dollars (it’s expected to reach that number in 2016) this gourmet-centric universe is growing roughly three times as fast as the regular food market. In 2014, 145 million people—that’s 59 percent of U.S. consumers—purchased specialty foods, according to this year’s Today’s Specialty Food Consumer Report produced by the Specialty Food Association and Mintel International. These two organizations have been conducting research together for 10 years now, and this year they’ve produced some highly detailed, top-level statistics on just who is purchasing specialty foods, how they’re using these products, as well as their attitudes, interests and concerns.

At The Core
Core specialty food consumers defined by Mintel are aged 18 to 44; affluent, earning more than $75,000 annually; more likely to buy specialty foods from a broader range of retailers; the biggest weekly spenders on grocery and restaurant food; and ones who spend a larger percentage of their food dollars on specialty products each week. Within this group, 18-24s and 35-44s are most likely to purchase the largest range of specialty food categories. 

Infographics and images courtesy
of the Specialty Food Association
“Specialty foods are considered foods that are premium quality,” says David Lockwood of Mintel. “These may be made by small or local manufacturers, they may have the very best ingredients available, they may be premium, fancy or gourmet, and they’re often, but not always, more expensive.” The difference in definition this year is noticeable—by fine-tuning the examples and narrowing the definition, the Association is able to better illustrate the premium status of the foods. Food once considered niche has actually moved into the mainstream—for instance, Greek Yogurt has been replaced by chutneys in this year’s survey. And while the figures represent a drop from 74 percent of consumers purchasing specialty foods in 2013 to 59 percent this year, the difference is a matter of redefinition rather than a decline in purchases.

The top ten categories that these specialty food consumers are buying range from chocolate (1) and olive oil (2) to cheeses (3), coffee (4), beverages (8), and tea (10). Much of the top ten categories are consistent with 2013, but tea has most noticeably moved up the ladder. 

When surveying popular categories by age group, research found that 18-24s tend to gravitate towards on-the-go items. Snacks, condiments, cookies and chocolates were all prominent purchases for early Millennials who bought these products for guests, gifts and the office. Ready-to-eat prepared foods as well as cooking sauces, rice, quinoa and others were popular among 25-34 year olds. Baking mixes, cooking sauces, and products that offer short cuts in home cooking got the attention of 35-44 year olds who might be time pressed juggling families and careers. Additionally, since 2006, women, younger adults, affluent households, and Hispanics have been the most likely purchasers of specialty foods.

These specialty food consumers value food tremendously and make that known with their wallets. They’re the biggest weekly spenders on both groceries and restaurants, and they’re most likely to spend a larger percent of their food dollars on specialty items. The research has put a spotlight on spending habits, and these consumers are happy to pay more for better quality food—be it beer, cheese, meat, or farmer’s market produce.

Sustainability is Key
According to the 2014 Consumer Report, 84 percent of specialty food consumers believe it’s important to buy sustainably produced food, and retailers can benefit by attracting the subset of specialty food consumers who purchased products with sustainable and ethical claims in the past six months. Grocers should stock an array of ethically produced food and beverages and clearly call out their claims. The most commonly purchased food and beverage product claims are all-natural (62 percent), organic (56 percent) and locally sourced (47 percent). What’s more important to comprehend is that nearly ¾ of specialty food consumers support companies that practice sustainability as a whole.

Digitally Native
The digital niche (within the specialty food market niche) is growing, and almost half of specialty food consumers said that they had bought gourmet products online. These consumers are more active on social media to talk and learn about food than ever before, and Millennials, the most dominant buying group, are leading the pack. It’s their second nature to purchase online and give recommendations online. For specialty food consumers, the sheer number of time online exceeds two hours per day outside of work—they’re engaged in the gourmet food universe and they’re using these platforms for the purpose of connecting and sharing products, ideas, brands and retailers online.

Piece of the Socioeconomic Pie
The aging U.S. population (over-55’s) are actually the fastest-growing age group, but they are the lightest users of specialty products. Retailers and wholesalers must also take into account the delayed maturation of Millennials (they’re getting married, starting families, and buying houses later than any generation prior). The combination of both means that the industry is vulnerable to a slower market growth going forward. To combat this, companies and retailers must either begin marketing to an over-55 crowd, or push for the quicker maturation of Millennials’ purchasing decisions—the latter seeming more effective.

Additionally, brands must take into account that the industry’s greatest consumers are ones that bring in more than 75K annually—however, this is only 30 percent of the U.S. population. Find ways to market to buyers who don’t make exceptional incomes.

For more information and to check out the full 2014 Consumer Report, visit the Specialty Food Association.