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    Denise Purcell
    “People who are saying restaurants are dead and everyone is going to cook at home are giving consumers way too much credit.” I second that quote from a member of our SFA Trendspotter Panel, Jonathan Deutsch of Drexel University, speaking at our recent webinar, Trends from Specialty Food LIVE!, our digital marketplace event held in January.
    Pre-COVID, aka the Before Time, dining out socially was a way of life for many—from grabbing quick fast-casual lunches to dinners out a few times a week. And after a year of hunkering down at home, many are eager to emerge from their bubbles, ready to enjoy.
    As vaccine rollouts increase and indoor dining restrictions become more lenient, recovery predictions are rolling in. A recent story in Bloomberg, Bars and Restaurants Are About to Go on an Epic Post-COVID Hiring Spree, quoted foodservice operators across the U.S. heartened by a noticeable uptick in business as weather warmed up, and the pandemic showed signs of receding. According to Labor Department data, bars and restaurants added almost 300,000 jobs across the country in February, the first substantial increase in four months.
    High hopes aside, the pace of foodservice’s return is still dependent on a number of variables influencing consumers’ comfort levels. In our spring issue of Specialty Food magazine, we look at Foodservice in Crisis: How the Channel Can Recover. There is no question that foodservice has been devastated. More than 110,000 restaurants—about 17 percent of all locations—are gone, according to National Restaurant Association data. Some segments, especially small immigrant-owned mom-and-pop restaurants, were severely hit, as you can read about in the issue. Hope to prevent more closings has come in the form of the recently passed Restaurant Revitalization Fund, part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. But clearly, recovery is going to take years for the channel to return to pre-COVID sales.
    While in survival mode this past year, some of the new avenues of business operators turned to are expected to continue as key to recovery, including:
    •  Ghost kitchens.  Consumers have gotten used to and comfortable with restaurant quality food at home and it will remain part of their dining habits even as they begin to branch outside more. With ghost or dark kitchens,  restaurants  can  operate  for  delivery without incurring high overhead costs.
    •  Off-premise dining. Delivery was rising even before the pandemic and is certainly part of the norm now. Many operators plan to make this a priority and ongoing investment.
    •  Specialty retail products.  Several restaurants and food trucks began packaging their proprietary sauces and condiments, making them available for sale via e-commerce or in brick-and-mortar retail.
    You can read more about the trends and changes that are going to help pave foodservice’s way back in the spring issue. Like many things post-COVID, all signs point to a comeback shaped by a new normal. 

    Leo Squatrito
    The future of the specialty food supply chain has arrived! SFA’s new Infinite Aisle will give retailers access to more specialty food products, and provide our SFA maker members access to more sales than ever before through thousands of new retail buyers who will be coming online over the next three months. The SFA Infinite Aisle is an online platform where retailers can order products, makers receive the orders and print prepaid labels supplied to them and ship the product directly to the stores. It's all facilitated and tracked from our online e-commerce platform. This new member benefit program is FREE to SFA Maker Members whose products have undergone the SFA product qualification process.
    We are onboarding our amazing SFA members and their products and are waiting until we have what feels like an “Infinite” number of products available within the Infinite Aisle for the retail buyers to search and find exactly what they are looking for within the platform. So, we like to use this analogy, we are building a large mall. We have the building done but are still filling the space with the stores and products. Once we have filled the space with enough stores and their products to make shoppers happy and want to keep coming back week after week, we will open it to shoppers (buyers). At the current onboarding rate, we will be able to start inviting the retail buyers into the Infinite Aisle within the next few months. Once we officially open Infinite Aisle we will expand makers’ distribution network and sell through some of the largest distributor networks in the U.S.! Retailers will order maker products in their distributor’s marketplace and you, the maker, will ship your products directly to stores using your SFA Infinite Aisle account.
    Maker Member Benefits:
    Simplify your selling process with easy onboarding into the SFA Infinite Aisle. Set up only once. Make your products available to multiple distributors in your Infinite Aisle account without having to repeat setup for each one. SFA Product Marketplace and Specialty Food LIVE! events will now be populated with your Infinite Aisle account information and updated when you make updates. Upload your information. Your information is reviewed and upon approval, made available to partner distributors and their retail customers to purchase your products. Single point of contact. Your Infinite Aisle account keeps track of all your sales, order history, and shipping information. The new industry standard. Top distributors and retailers will use the Infinite Aisle to purchase wholesale specialty food products.
    Amplify Your Marketing and Promos
    Highlight POS. Buyers love to see any retail ready marketing materials that come with your products; show them off by uploading them into your SFA Infinite Aisle account. Promotions Tools. Easily offer deals and promotions in your SFA Infinite Aisle account to engage with new buyers.   Tell your story! Customize your SFA Infinite Aisle storefront with product highlights, background information, personal connection to what you do, and more. SFA sofi winner? Highlight your sofi winning products and the ability for buyers to search by sofi winners. Buyers will know your products have been SFA Product Qualified as Specialty Food. Make More Sales
    No more barriers. Retailers can easily order your products without their distributor having to carry inventory. Supercharge your broker. Sales materials customized for distributors and retailers powered by the SFA Infinite Aisle. You ship, we pay! We pay to ship your products directly to stores and distributors who have ordered products through the SFA Infinite Aisle.
    Easily manage your orders. Everything you need from active sales, new product additions, and order history is easily managed in your Infinite Aisle dashboard.
    Distributor Benefits:
    A private online specialty marketplace for you and your retail customers. The Infinite Aisle lets your customers purchase from the SFA Collection of Makers - natural, organic, specialty, and award-winning sofi products never before available in a single catalog, without operational expense or shrink risk.
    A private branded online marketplace for you and your retail customers.  Give your retail customers access to thousands of natural, organic, and specialty products through the SFA Infinite Aisle.
    Make the sale without touching the product. Increase the number of saleable items for your retail customers [grocery, foodservice, c-store] customers without holding inventory.
    SFA products ordered by customers in your marketplace are direct shipped to their stores. Intuitive search for all products in the Infinite Aisle. Items you already carry in your warehouse are removed from the catalog. Customers are invoiced for purchases on their normal billing statement. Infinite Aisle handles invoicing and payment to the makers. Decrease shrink by not holding inventory on thousands of new products or non-movers. Infinite Aisle makes your warehouse operations more efficient
    Your marketplace requires no EDI or integration - branded login for you and your customers. EDI and API Integrations are available to connect to your main system if wanted or needed. Supercharge your sales teams with unique specialty products your customers are asking for. Orders placed in your Infinite Aisle account by your sales team or retail customers are shipped directly to stores, cutting down on shrink. Marketing support for you and your retail customers
    We create branded materials to support your sales efforts in your private marketplace. Operational support for your private marketplace
    Branded onboarding materials to support activation of your customers. Store onboarding process customized for your private marketplace. Branded tutorials and FAQs for your customers. Phone, live chat, and email support for your marketplace. All SFA Infinite Aisle products have been product qualified as specialty food by the SFA.
    Easily request samples from select makers in the Infinite Aisle.
    Retailer [self-distributing retailer, independent retail] Benefits:
    Easily purchase from new SFA brands and products in the Infinite Aisle. Delight more shoppers and give customers another reason to visit your store. Personalize selections for your customers with access to the Infinite Aisle - natural, organic, specialty, and award-winning Sofi products, never before available in a single turn-key catalog.
    Easy access for your category managers, buyers, and corporate. 
    Intuitive search for all products in the SFA Infinite Aisle. Items you already carry from your distributor are removed from your Infinite Aisle account so you are only seeing new products. Infinite Aisle handles the invoicing and payment with makers - ‘stop spending 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of your products.’ Easily request samples from select makers in the Infinite Aisle.
    Infinite Aisle makes your operations more efficient: Our technology platform connects your organization with sale-ready SFA Maker Members in the Infinite Aisle.
    Infinite Aisle requires no EDI or integration. EDI and API integrations are available if preferred. Empower your buyers and managers with unique products your customers want. Try new products faster and curate assortments for your customers. Orders placed in your Infinite Aisle account are shipped directly to your stores or DC. Marketing support provided for you and your team.
    We create branded materials to support sales programs. Infinite Aisle provides operational support for your private marketplace.
    Branded training materials and FAQs. Phone, live chat, and email support for your account for all users. All SFA Infinite Aisle products are product qualified as specialty food by the SFA.
    Please be sure to get signed up for this amazing new free SFA member program. It costs you nothing to participate but offers you another way to get your products seen and sold to potentially thousands of new retail customers who in many cases may have never seen your products before. If you have any questions or would like to get setup today, please go HERE or contact your Membership or Member Development Representative.

    Arielle Feger
    The Specialty Food Association is continuing its weekly webinar series to support and educate the specialty food industry. Webinars are held live with recorded versions available for download in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center. Webinars are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members.
    Here are highlights from some of the latest webinars:
    In The CARES Act’s ERTC: Retaining More Cash for Employers Who Retain Their Employees, Jeffrey Tate, tax partner at Arent Fox LLP, discussed the Employee Retention Tax Credit, which provides fully refundable tax credits to employers affected by COVID-19 business disruptions. Jeff walked through the ins and outs of the ERTC, addressing how SFA members can obtain immediate and substantial benefits from the ERTC, enabling them to maintain focus on delivering innovative products in the specialty food space.
    In Co-Packing Agreements: The Key Elements, attorney Jeni Lamb Rogers discussed the basic elements of a co-packing agreement, including confidentiality, intellectual property, setting expectations, food safety, and recall responsibility.
    Peter Guyer, CEO and founder, and Bob Jones, vice president of international sales, at Athena Marketing spoke about Increasing Your Sales in High-Growth Export Markets in this sponsored webinar. The speakers went over what you need to do to become export-ready, how to use data to make smarter export decisions, the importance of website localization and social media, and much more.
    Visit the Learning Center to download these and many other webinars in the series.

    Arielle Feger
    As a member in good standing, you’re entitled to use the SFA logo on your website and/or in your marketing materials and packaging. 

    Promoting your affiliation with the SFA notifies those visiting your website or seeing your marketing or packaging materials that you are a business sharing our common passion to Shape the Future of Food.
    The SFA logo was updated about a year ago. The pandemic threw a lot of plans into disarray – including our full logo roll-out, slated for the 2020 Summer Fancy Food Show. With that show canceled, you might have missed our re-branding news.

    If you’re already using the SFA logo on your materials, check to see that you are indeed using the new branding. If you’re not yet using our logo, jump on in! 

    Use these links for helpful tips:
    SFA Logo: What Not to Do
    Logo Variations: What to Use

    Downloadable versions for your use can be found online. You will need to log onto the membership section of our website to access the logos.

    Arielle Feger
    The Specialty Food Association is continuing both its Ask the Experts and Rise to the COVID-19 challenge webinar series as the pandemic continues to impact the specialty food industry. Webinars are held weekly with recorded versions available for download in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center. Webinars are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members.
    Here are highlights from some of the latest webinars:
    In Tackling Your E-Commerce Trifecta, Lou Nicolaides, president of Ludwig Marketing & Sales, shared best practices to help you launch, optimize, and grow on today’s key online e-commerce platforms: Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, and your company website.
    PPP Forgiveness is not granted automatically. It is the borrower’s responsibility to submit the correct form with the accurate calculation and information with all required documentation to your PPP lenders. In PPP Forgiveness: Round Two Update, Man-Li Lin, economic development specialist, Small Business Administration, spoke about PPP Forgiveness if you have received the first PPP or will be applying for the PPP2 First Draw PPP/Second Draw loans.
    Consumers have become increasingly interested in the environmental, health, and social implications of the foods they buy. In Launching a Sustainable Food Brand: Combing Business and Impact, Linda Appel Lipsius, co-founder Teatulia Organic Teas, as she explains the “why” and “why nots” behind launching a sustainable food brand.
    The coronavirus has shaken up all segments of the specialty food industry – where people are eating, how they are cooking, what new ingredients they are using, and the powerful social consciousness driving brand choices. In Talking Trends in ’21, SFA Trendspotter Panel members Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel, and Jonathan Deutsch Ph.D., CHE, CRC, professor, Drexel University and director, Drexel Food Lab, discussed the reverberations of these changes and the trends that will dominate 2021 and beyond.
    Visit the Learning Center to download these and many other webinars in the series.

    Russell Kolody
    2021 sofi Awards 
    Welcome to the 2021 sofi Awards! 
    Some important dates to remember: 
    Online entries ($95 per entry) for the 2021 Awards begin on March 1 and will remain open until March 31. 
    Product entries will be accepted at Rutgers Food Innovation Center from March 1 until April 8. 
    Judging for the 2021 sofi Awards will begin on April 12 and run through May 7. 
    Key member and product eligibility rules to keep in mind: 
    You must be a member in good standing of the Specialty Food Association.  2021 membership dues must be paid in full.  Entries in the New Product category must have been introduced to the U.S. market after March 1, 2020 and before October 1, 2020.  Products competing in all categories must be selling in the U.S. market no later than October 1, 2020; (for a minimum of six months).  All product entries must be ready for sale. Mock-ups and products still in R&D phase will not be accepted.   
    If you’ve been on the sofi website recently (https://www.specialtyfood.com/awards/sofi/) , you may have noticed that we’ve made a few significant changes this year. In an effort to keep the program competitive and a sofi win even more prestigious, we have eliminated the Bronze statue from this year’s awards. Entries in the general categories will now be vying for Gold and Silver Awards and as always, there will be a New Product Award for each general category as well. 
    As the judging criteria for general entries differs somewhat from that of New Product entries, the 2021 sofi Awards will be introducing a second Product of the Year Award for New Products!  In addition to a Product of the Year Award being presented to the product scoring the highest in the general categories,  this second Product of the Year Award will be given to the highest scoring new product. 
    You may remember there being a postponement last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Not this year…The SFA has partnered with Rutgers Food Innovation Center for logistics management and judging, bringing additional depth in food industry expertise to the competition.  The entire process will be housed at Rutgers FIC, assuring there will be no postponement this year.  As they say, the show must go on! 
    If you have any additional questions or need further assistance, please reach out to us at sofiawards@specialtyfood.com  

    Denise Purcell
    The Specialty Food Association’s January Specialty Food Live! virtual marketplace event showcased more that 10,000 new products and created nearly 16,000 connections between makers and buyers over four days, as well as featured 13 sessions to inform about the latest research insights, trends, and innovations; recognize leadership; and provide industry roundtable discussions.
    Here are some takeaways from the information-packed sessions. 
    “An act of kindness of strangers may not solve every problem we have, but it gives us hope and that’s a lot and the impact of the kindness will affect future generations. I’m feeling blessed that Angkor Cambodian is able to give back.”
    Channy Laux, CEO of Angkor Cambodian Food, who survived the Cambodian genocide and labor camps before coming to the U.S., on winning an SFA 2021 Leadership Award for Citizenship. Read more.
    “How are you able to react faster to trends that change? You have to have more options. I think you’ll see a lot of bigger retailers broaden their supplier base to have more options.”
    Greg Sarley, SVP of merchandising revenue at Harry & David, on identifying the right supply chain partners, and having backups for issues that arise. Full session.
    “Finding out what ‘real’ meant was the biggest project. We made it our mission to define what that actually meant, and we recognized how important it is to know where your food really comes from.”
    Dan Wise, founder and CEO of ready-to-eat meal delivery service RealEats America Inc., on working to improve the food system. Full session.
    “People who are saying restaurants are dead and everyone is going to cook at home are giving consumers way too much credit. We love to travel and love to eat and can’t unlearn those behaviors.”
    Jonathan Deutsch, professor of culinary arts and science at Drexel University and director of the Drexel Food Core Lab, on the balance of cooking at home trends post-COVID. Full session.
    “A lot of people are looking for more transparency in their food. We try to make it easy for people to know what type of systems they are supporting.”
    Alita Kelly, founder of South East Market, which emphasizes sourcing local farms and businesses that are led by women and minorities, as well as those that are actively supporting environmental sustainability. Full session.
    “Quantifying the impact [a company] is having may be something that continues to emerge as a differentiating point.”
    Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst for Mintel,  on the trend of companies showing how the money from their ethical business practices are supporting communities. Full session.
    You can download full sessions from Specialty Food Live where the links are provided. Sessions are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members.

    Laura Lozada
    Calling All SFA Members!
    First, let me introduce myself … I’m Laura Lozada and I recently joined an already vibrant and service-minded group of membership staffers at SFA as the VP of Membership. 
    I might be a new face to some of you, but I’ve been around the SFA block a few times. I’ve been happily employed here for 20+ years providing member services and support activities; usually found behind the scenes, running events, education and way back when – finance. Now, I’ve shifted efforts to focus more specifically on the heart of our organization – you guys, the members!  And I couldn’t be happier.
    That’s why I couldn’t let this moment slip past without giving a Community Hub shout out and call for nominations for the next group of intrepid members willing to volunteer time and help govern the SFA.
    Want to join us as a volunteer leader... Act now!
    Sounds like an infomercial, right?  “ACT NOW!”  But seriously, we need to hear from you via the nomination form online by the end of this month if you want to be a volunteer and be considered for any of the four exciting opportunities we have.  This opportunity is open to all members in good standing (this means dues paid!)  Speaking of dues – we are abuzz at SFA about your positive response to the most recent member benefits, including Specialty Food Live!, Infinite Aisle, and the Virtual Tasting Experience. And we rely heavily on member dues to fund program development just like this. 
    Back to volunteering. You may have noticed that we’ve changed the process some in recent history, so we now hold elections annually. This means you have this opportunity for one solid month a year to get your name into the running to volunteer as someone to tackle a position on the Association or Foundation Board of Directors or the Association Committees and Industry Work Groups. 
    You can find out more about each of these opportunities as well and submit your own nomination online here.  Even if this isn’t the year for you, keep us in mind if you want to do it next year and you can expect the exact same process each year moving forward.
    We are here if you have questions throughout the application process. We’ve been tweaking that too – and hope to have made it easier as well.  Let us know how we are doing or ask questions at volunteer@specialtyfood.com Deadline to submit a nomination is February 28, 2021

    Arielle Feger
    The Specialty Food Association is continuing both its Ask the Experts and Rise to the COVID-19 challenge webinar series as the pandemic continues to impact the specialty food industry. Webinars are held weekly with recorded versions available for download in the specialtyfood.com Learning Center. Webinars are free for SFA members and $19 for non-members.
    Here are highlights from some of the latest webinars:
    Every retailer has faced challenges during the pandemic. In Culture Will Carry Us Through, Matt Caputo of Caputo’s in Salt Lake City shared how the retailer has adapted while supporting artisanal brands and preserving the elements that made it succeed in the first place—culture, crew, and community.
    The pandemic may still be here, but so is the Small Business Administration. In Relief During COVID-19: SBA Programs that Can Help, Peter Fehnel, supervisory economic development specialist & veteran business outreach officer, summarized SBA’s activity over the past nine months and provided an update on current activities including the Economic Injury Disaster Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program.
    PPP Forgiveness is not granted automatically; it is the borrower’s responsibility to submit the required paperwork to PPP lenders. In this webinar about PPP Forgiveness Application and EIDL Reconsideration Requests, Man-Li Lin, economic development specialist at SBA’s New York District Office, shared information about qualifications and instructions for PPP Forgiveness Forms, and the documents you’ll need to submit and maintain.
    With a shrinking center store, SKU rationalization, and space increasingly at a premium in perishable categories, getting item acceptance and making it to the shelf is becoming more difficult than ever before. Case Pack Optimization: A Hidden Growth Opportunity takes fresh look at the Specialty Food Association study on case pack optimization. Jim Wisner of Wisner Marketing, who authored the original study, shared new market dynamics that make this issue more important than ever before.
    Buyers want to do business with certified women- and minority-owned businesses. During this webinar, Demystifying Certification, LaKesha White, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and Constance Jones, National Minority Supplier Development Council, shared valuable information about their organizations, the certifications they offer, and certification criteria and process.
    Visit the Learning Center to download these and many other webinars in the series.

    Denise Purcell
    The winter issue of Specialty Food magazine is typically where we look at the trends expected to influence the industry for the next 12 months, be it flavors and ingredients, or developments in how and where consumers are shopping.
    Unfortunately, waves of COVID-19 are still rampant and sticking close to home will continue for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has caused major shifts in food preparation and consumption, evident in most of the trends we discuss in this issue.
    Several of the SFA Trendspotter panel’s picks for the top trends of 2021 revolve around COVID-19 and its implications. The new normal means preparing meals and snacks at home, often as the whole family continues to navigate school and work under the same roof day after day. Not only are many center-store pantry categories experiencing the COVID boom but experimentation and engagement in food prep may be one of the few bright spots of this bleak time.
    Excitement and discovery consumers once found in restaurants or through travel has been curtailed because of lockdowns and economic concerns. The home kitchen is the new place to seek out ingredients and recipes that will stave off meal monotony. Restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes are in demand as are ingredients that will bring global flavors to everyday dishes. According to Acosta data in our feature, Pandemic Trends Carry Into 2021, sales of premium and super-premium packaged foods are up across households of varying income levels as consumers look to replace some of their restaurant dining at home. On top of that, several products are coming to market that are selling whimsy, from maple syrup with edible glitter to hot chocolate bombs, adding what the Trendspotters’ dubbed “eatertainment” to mealtime.
    In fact, food has been a point of connection throughout these long months. Social media has become part entertainment, part resource with everything from Zoom dinner parties, to Instagram quarantine-meal shots, to YouTube breadmaking lessons. This is true across age groups: Emerging platforms like Twitch, a live video streaming service, and TikTok, a short-form video sharing app, both skew toward Gen Z and younger, and food-related videos are surging in both. Case in point: Chile Gushers, something I only know about because my 11-year-old niece saw it on TikTok and informed me it was a trend we should write about. You can read more in Trends & Happenings but in short, these chile candies are a take on traditional Mexican confections that are finding new life in the U.S. thanks to a post gone viral.
    As we head into 2021, it’s looking very much like a significant number of consumers will continue to cook at home, at least until restrictions on restaurant operations have ended. Products that keep meals interesting, video and recipe content, and meal kits sold at retail or by restaurants depending on off-premise sales can all help them have some fun while doing so. 

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