State dinner

Attendees got the royal treatment at the Summer Fancy Food Show’s new venue in Washington, D.C.

By Richard Turcsik

Judging from the crowds, it looked like the only ones in Washington not attending the Summer Fancy Food Show were famed White House gatecrashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

But who knows, the Salahis may have been on the show floor, blending in with the Motown divas, other Real Housewives and President Barack Obama impersonators. In mid-July there were thousands of supermarket, restaurant, gourmet, gift shop, hotel and specialty store buyers roaming the 60 aisles of the cavernous Washington Convention Center, where the show was held while its usual home at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York undergoes renovations.

Buyers were drawn to the nation’s capital in search of the latest, greatest, most decadent and unique in gourmet and specialty foods. That’s exactly what Marygrace Sexton, chief executive officer of Fort Pierce, Fla.-based Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co., was promising with each glass of 100% fresh-squeezed orange, grapefruit, honey tangerine, hand-crafted lemonade and Blackberry Limeade she handed to passersby.

“Our company is the only juice company that uses all Florida oranges year-round and that is very important,” she said, noting that all of the national brands now also use oranges imported from Brazil.

She pointed out that her brand is the first U.S. juice manufacturer to be granted permission to use the “Product of USA” certified seal. “We squeeze everyday and offer both a raw and a gourmet pasteurized product, which is very unique because it’s only pasteurized for four seconds at a very low temperature. Our gourmet pasteurized product actually acts like a live product because there are enzymes alive in it. It has won five national taste tests.”

Directly across from the Natalie’s Orchid Island booth, there was some drama unfolding. Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Caroline Manzo and her sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita—camera crew in tow—were doling out samples of blk., billed as “the most innovative premium water.”

“We are filming here all day for Season 4,” said Albie Manzo, vice president of marketing and sales for New York-based blk. Beverages and son of Caroline Manzo.

Jet black in color, blk. contains fulvic acid, a derivative of plant matter, which is mined from a 70 million-year-old source in Canada. It naturally binds to the pure spring mineral water. “Our water contains no artificial coloring or flavors and has a very high pH. The minerals and electrolytes are all molecularly structured so they’re smaller so the body absorbs them quicker. It’s like a carb-free and sugar-free Gatorade or coconut water,” Manzo said. “We’re really excited because A&P just picked it up, as did Wakefern, Kings/Balducci’s and Earth Fare and Whole Foods on the West Coast will have it in September.”

Meanwhile, two rows down, a line of food mavens, fans and autograph hounds was forming. Cameras and cell phones in hand, they were there to see Miss Patti LaBelle, who was scheduled to be at the Patti LaBelle Foods booth from noon to 3 p.m. She was there to promote her new line of Lady Marmalade brand of hot sauces, seasonings, barbecue sauces and marinades that are handcrafted in Lancaster, Pa.

In true diva fashion, Miss LaBelle was a half-hour late and by 12:30 the line stretched all the way down to the Sanders Fine Chocolates booth, where those at the tail end of the line were able to sample the 136-year-old Clinton Township, Mich.-based firm’s famous ice cream toppings and new deep-dish brownies.

“We wanted to create a product that fit our brand and used a lot of our ingredients, so we came up with this idea of a deep-dish brownie,” said Brian Jefferson, chairman. “Working with one of our suppliers, we make a brownie, bake in our chocolate pieces, put a streusel and then finish it off with our famous topping. By doing that we have four layers. It has been a wonderful addition to our line and we are seeing success from the East Coast to the West Coast.”

Retailing for $9.95, the brownies are available in Caramel Pecan, Chocolate Fudge and Peanut Butter and are shipped frozen to be retailed either frozen or thaw-and-sell.

After filling up on brownies and sampling Patti LaBelle’s sauces, show-goers worked their way to the head of the aisle where they washed it all down with samples of Gehl’s Yogurt Smoothies. Available in Peach, Strawberry and Mixed Berry flavors, the smoothies are packaged in 11-ounce bottles and are shelf stable. “We are really one of the only yogurt smoothies out there that are shelf-stable,” explained Steve Ward, national account manager for Germantown, Wis.-based Gehl Foods. “Most people are going to consume it cold, so most stores sell it in the open-air coolers in the deli, but it can also be merchandised in the breakfast aisle with the Carnation Instant Breakfast. Because it is shelf stable, you can merchandise it anywhere in the store.”

Think Greek

Due to better-than-expected booth sales, more than 10 aisles of the show were housed on the convention center’s upper level. That’s where officials from Astoria, N.Y.-based Olympus Dairy USA had a booth. They explained to attendees why their Olympus brand Greek yogurt—actually imported from Greece—is better than the other Greek yogurts flooding the shelves.

“We’re known for having a quality product and using the best raw materials,” said Nickolas Nicolaou, operations and sales manager. “We mix our fruit in the cup and use the best Greek honey, not unknown Chinese honey. We are providing the American consumer with the best yogurt that there is.  Our biggest difference is that our milk is non-GMO. None of the U.S. plants can claim that except for organic. The sun and the climate in Greece are very different than in the U.S. That gives you a different raw material.”

Featuring a 30-day shelf life, Olympus yogurt is shipped on ships via Holland and arrives in the U.S. nine days after production. “It is secure, safe and the best way to deliver this yogurt in the best condition,” Nicolaou said.

Downstairs, fellow Greek company and first time exhibitor Greek Land Foods was debuting its Esti Greek olive oil in the U.S.

“Our olive oil comes from Kalamata, in southern Greece, one of the best olive oil areas in the world,” said Sotiris A. Plemmenos, purchase & production manager at the Kifissia, Greece-based company. “We also make Kalamata olives and balsamic vinegar made from Greek grapes. We also have a line of organic olive oil, Kalamata olives and balsamic vinegar. Because these are premium quality we are looking to get into high-end markets,” he said of the oils, which are available in glass bottles and stylish-designed tins.

David Neuman, president of Miami-based Lucini Italia, noted that olive oil is very versatile. “People, even retailers, still fear using extra virgin olive oil in high heat. It is an enigma that I can’t figure out. If you go to Italy, everything is cooked and fried in extra virgin olive oil. We are trying to interpolate Italian culture here,” he said, handing out a paper cone of popcorn.

“We are using our Lucini Estate Select and cooking it at 200 degrees in a popcorn popper and seasoning it with our infused extra virgin, instead of butter,” Neuman said. “We’ve had retailers say to us they’ve never thought about sampling olive oil on popcorn, but it is a low-calorie food that transfers the flavor well. [Executives from] Fresh Market came up and said ‘We should be doing demos with popcorn and extra virgin olive oil. We want you to spearhead that with us.’ Our whole booth is about using extra virgin olive oil every day in your life.”

Vermont Cheddar

Over at Grafton, Vt.-based Grafton Village Cheese Co.’s booth, officials were explaining what sets their cheeses apart from the competition. “Grafton is really the real McCoy in terms of being the oldest Vermont artisan cheesemaker because the company was started in 1892 when the farmers in the Grafton region banded together and started a cheese plant,” said David I. Rachlin, president and CEO. He was showcasing Grafton’s new Tavern Select line. “These cheeses are the best of the best. They are cut in wedges, while our traditional Grafton products are cut in bars. Wedges are the much more upscale way and are classier looking on a cheese platter.”

Also being showcased was the Grafton Cave-Aged line of four cheeses: Barn Dance, Bismarck, Leyden and Truffle Bismarck. “The Truffle Bismarck is made with real truffles and truffle-infused oil,” said Dane Huebner, master artisan cheesemaker. “They are cave-aged in open air where humidity and temperature play a role, as well as the microbes in the environment.”

In addition to cheese, candy was among the most popular items being sampled. Executives for Buffalo, N.Y.-based SweetWorks were showcasing the company’s latest cake decorations, Sixlets and pearls. “These are used mostly for baking, for wedding cakes and cupcake decorating, which is really big right now,” explained Mariah Kerwin, brand manager. “We have our new Shimmer Colors, which are iridescent. We are the only ones who can really pull it off that nicely.”

The Native American booth on the second floor, sponsored by the Inter Tribal Ag Council, was also drawing crowds. Red Lake Nation Foods, run by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Red Lake, Minn. was showcasing its Minnesota products. “We market wild rice; wild rice blends; hand-picked, native-harvested wild jellies, jams and syrups; and we have our pancake batters and fish batter mix,” said Joel Rohde, program director. “Our purpose here is to provide jobs and market our products.”

Jack Astacio was manning a booth that marketed products from the Dominican Republic, including Kalemb? Mamajauna. “This is the typical drink of the Dominican Republic. It has always been homemade and that is because our ancestors, the natives of the island, would take twigs, leaves and roots and mix it with rum and honey to take the sour taste away from it and add a little bit of red wine,” Astacio, co-founder of J&J Spirits, based in Hato Nuevo, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic explained. “We have developed Mamajuana and are making it industrially and exporting it to New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and other places and we are looking forward for people to taste it, because it is herbal, but not too sweet.”

Typically Mamajuana is drunk straight as a shot. “Rum you can find on any island, beer the same, but Mamajuana is considered the real typical Dominican drink. The problem was that it was never industrialized for export.”   

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