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    Denise Purcell
    COVID has impacted the specialty food industry for a full year. In the SFA’s newly released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition, members of the supply chain were candid on the ways the pandemic has positively and negatively affected their businesses.
    Here is some of what they had to say about in person versus virtual meetings, the challenges of staying connected, and keeping on top of what’s moving as well as new product discovery:
    “In some ways things have gotten busier because, rather than getting to talk to everyone at a one-day show, I have to talk to all of those people individually. I don’t have to travel to see them anymore, but I still have to connect with them.”
    -regional sales manager at a specialty dairy brand
    “We’ve kept on a pretty good track [with promotions and retailer meetings], but we have a lot of retailer buyers that are still not seeing people face to face. We have some that I don’t believe are ever going to go back to face to face. I think they’re going to remain either in a virtual environment or they’re going to do some sort of controlled category management presentations with dedicated periods of time. Because it’s easier in the virtual environment to stay on schedule and on time.  
         There’s been a lot of outsourcing, roles that used to be done at retailer X are now done by the main distributor for that retailer such as the actual physical entering of promotions, printing of tags, and making sure that the pricing is right.”
    -SVP, business development at a specialty food and beverage broker
    “Something that retail buyers have missed during COVID relates to the trends, and they’re asking, ‘What’s the next CBD, or the next plant-based category that’s going to explode?’ They’ve been able to survive with talking to their trusted brokers, advisors, distributors, and brands, but they still miss that experience of talking to new brands, especially those that need education. It’s hard to do that via Zoom.”
    -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand
    “Supply chain sourcing stabilized pretty quickly. We did not have the same experiences that a lot of box stores did, because of the diversity of who we buy from. We began leveraging our foodservice supply chain, which plummeted as restaurants and hotels closed. We had no problem taking 50-pound bags of flour and putting them in to 5–10-pound bags and selling them.
         Our guests appreciated the fact that they could get most of what they wanted. They might not have been the same brands or same sizes that they normally were used to, but they still had access to what they needed. We’ve got a long history of being restaurant-type operators and so we were able to be a little bit more nimble than the typical supermarket that’s super reliant on a particular SKU that fits in a particular slot that’s already entered in a system.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator
    “For these younger brands, virtual meetings level the playing field, since you don’t have to fly somewhere, pay for hotel and dining expenses, etc. All of that makes it so much more affordable to pitch to retail accounts for these emerging brands, and I think that that is a welcome change. I don’t think the virtual pitch is going to go away, simply because it’s easier for the buyers and it’s more equitable for the brands.”
    -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy
    “For us it’s a matter of staying on top of what’s moving. We’re constantly rotating and moving things and that’s why our customers like coming in. We’re never going to have a store that’s more than 1,000 square feet, because it’s too big. [At big stores], it’s almost information overload. How do you discover new things if you’re overloaded by different products and brands? It’s a nice conversation that you have with your customers in this small format because you’re listening to them, but you’re also educating them more than ever.”
    -founder of a specialty c-store concept
    “It’s hard to get the same level of dialog with our retailers when we’re doing things on Zoom. It’s less personal and hard to make a connection. The food business is so much about the passion and enthusiasm of tasting it, and you either couldn’t send product to people or the companies had different rules on what they could receive. It would have been much harder if we were still a young company that needed to make new personal connections.”
    -CEO of a specialty chocolate brand
    “We launched a new and emerging brand program just before the pandemic hit, which turned out to be lucky because the demand bounced back so fast that we ended up onboarding more new suppliers in 2020 than ever before. 
          We’ll do fewer in-person meetings going forward, which is causing us to think about how our offices are laid out, and our retailers are doing the same thing. We previously traveled to do category reviews with our retail partners, those are now done virtually. We’ll still go back to in-person meetings, just not as frequently.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor
    “I don’t plan to go back to my office much at all, and a lot of my staff is the same way. Retailers want the samples of food and to see the product, but they have also gotten accustomed to the succinctness of an online meeting. They have found they can be a lot more productive when there is less time taken up by the in-person discussions that go in many directions. We send a lot more samples, which tends to give us smaller opportunities with each client but ones that are more likely to succeed.”
    -national sales director at a specialty importer and distributor
    “All relationships are being maintained with buyers via Zoom, and the same with our vendor meetings. I’ll bet that is going to stick – not 100 percent because you still need that human interaction. But for a supplier especially, it’s a lot easier to do it virtually rather than get on a plane to visit our offices. For our partners, there aren’t any relationships that we’re walking away from. Our relationships strengthened because of the need to do these repeated meetings and discuss service levels. As far as large CPG vendors go, we had to work with them more than usual and it helped us work through those relationships that have been a challenge in the past.”
    -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub. 

    Denise Purcell
    The SFA’s newly released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition, digs into a business environment still adjusting from COVID’s impact over the past year. A burgeoning ecommerce channel has been one of the shifts the industry has experienced and here, members of the supply chain share their opinions on its growth, challenges in discoverability for small or emerging brands, and the future.
    “For specialty brands, a lot of the ecommerce platforms for retailers are very not friendly to browsing, not nearly as much as old-school shopping trips where you’re walking through a store, and you say ‘I’ll try that.’
    Retailers need to level the playing field a little bit for specialty because you need that browsing ability for specialty for somebody to stumble onto your [brand]. That’s my biggest concern right now for long-term growth for specialty.”
    -SVP, business development at a specialty food and beverage broker
    “When we added the online ordering platform that came along with DoorDash, it was like having an additional outlet to give people food. We just had the discussion this week where a store manager asked when we’re getting rid of curbside and our response was ‘probably never.’ It’s probably going to be an element of our service model going forward. This will allow us to curate those relationships with frequent customers and do special rewards for them.”
    -CEO of a specialty retail and foodservice group
    “Brands are discovered in a variety of ways and you have to be relevant in every way that your consumer would discover and buy your brand. And maybe online is a very saturated platform, it’s hard to compete as a small brand. I know for us online was pretty small [pre-COVID], and now it’s a huge chunk of our business. And [by] online I mean our own DTC, but also online retailers like Imperfect Foods, Fresh Direct, Good Eggs, and Amazon Fresh.”
    -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand
    “We saw a lot of emerging brands do more paid advertising themselves to location-specific audiences, driving traffic back to particular retail stores rather than driving traffic to their own websites. Especially brands in cold distribution since they simply don’t ship direct to consumer. They do paid ad spending, which you have to dial in, but once you get it, it’s relatively affordable, and there should be a positive return on investment. It’s win-win. The brand wins and the stores love it.”
    -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy
    “One of our biggest challenges has always been that people love sweets and they believe that something with low sugar can’t taste good. Demos and getting people to try the product for their first time has gone away, so we’ve been focusing more on how to engage with people digitally. The challenge is how to get taste cues across, so we’ve been using recipes a lot to help them understand what it will taste like. And we’re also starting to use coupons more than before.”
    -CEO of a specialty chocolate brand
    “Jet, Walmart, Amazon—basically all of the major retail platforms out there … bias the large incumbent players, which makes sense. That’s where the mass demand is, that’s where the dollars are. So, what does that mean for small and emerging brands out there?
     It’s really interesting to see great things that small brands are doing, truly innovating, and offering a lot more value to stand out versus the big incumbent players in the space.”
    -CEO, co-founder of a specialty e-commerce retailer
    “We launched in October 2020 and think the timing was ideal in many ways. Of course, with COVID forcing people to change their patterns, it unlocked some behaviors that were previously closed off. We’re pretty big believers that [ecommerce] is only going in one direction. This is not a trend. This is a permanent shift in consumer behavior that’s here to stay.”
    -CEO, co-founder of a specialty ecommerce retailer
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub.

    Arielle Feger
    The food industry has a specific lingo with which startups should become familiar. Here is a glossary of shipping and freight terms from The Basics: The Business of Specialty Food, SFA’s intensive workshop where a team of veteran makers help new companies learn the fundamentals of the market and best practices to get their business off the ground.
    COD: Cash on delivery; a payment agreement where payment for a product is given at time of delivery.
    Fill Rate: The comparison between the amount of goods ordered versus the amount actually delivered. Usually stated in percentage. Used to evaluate performance of sellers as seen from the buyers’ perspective.
    FOB: Literal translation – freight on board. When quoting a price, a supplier will identify if the price includes delivery (freight) to the buyer’s warehouse or store – i.e. Delivered Price. If freight is paid by buyer, that is called FOB, but is usually specific to location (e.g.: FOB Public Warehouse-Newark, NJ).
    Lead Time: The amount of time, usually in days, that it takes for a manufacturer to receive, process, and ship an order. This time should also include the actual shipping time.
    Less Than Truckload (LTL): Designates a shipment that does not meet the weight or cube requirement of a full truckload.
    Lumper Fees: Billback for cost of unloading product.
    Minimum Order: A vendor’s terms of sale frequently require a purchase of a specific amount for commercial buyers.
    O.O.S.: Out of stock; Not available for sale either from the retailer or from a distributor, wholesaler, chain warehouse, importer, or producer.
    Pallet Fees: Billback for shipping on pallets that do not meet specifications.
    Pallet Pattern: Describes the number of cases on a single layer, and the number of layers on a pallet.
    Short Shipped: An order shipped or delivered without some of the items ordered.
    The SFA’s upcoming Basics online course is taking place October 6-7. Find more information about the event here.

    Gretchen VanEsselstyn
    Why do people go to business school? It’s the lectures and the homework, the research and the capstone projects. It’s the opportunity to focus on developing new skills. And for many students, it’s the connections they make with their professors and classmates that propel them toward success and serve as supports during the entrepreneurial journey.
    It’s the same with SFA's The Basics online workshop, taking place on October 6 & 7. 
    In about ten hours over two days, you’ll hear talks on pricing, selling, the latest consumer research, freight and logistics, best practices in trade promotions, ecommerce, and more. You’ll get slides you can hang on to and use as reference and recorded lectures that are yours to review any time.
    You’ll spend time with eight incredible teachers and learn from their experience. Our instructors include founders and principals from some of the most iconic brands in specialty food, including Marich Confectionery. Renfro Foods and Dave’s Gourmet, plus exciting new brands including Hella Cocktail Co., Rumi Spice and TBJ (The Bacon Jam) Gourmet, plus our resident Amazon expert Betsy McGinn of McGinn Ecommerce Consulting.
    You’ll also make connections to your classmates. You’ll meet at the evening chat on Day 1 – then you’ll have your own dedicated space to chat and share stories, and stay in touch after the class is over in our SFA Community Hub.
    Come see what it’s like in our specialty food “business school” – and reap the rewards as your brand grows. It's just $99 for SFA members and $199 for non-members.
    Wonder if The Basics is right for you? Email us education@specialtyfood.com and we’re happy to talk with you.

    Gretchen VanEsselstyn
    Why do people go to business school? It’s the lectures and the homework, the research and the capstone projects. It’s the opportunity to focus on developing new skills. And for many students, it’s the connections they make with their professors and classmates that propel them toward success and serve as supports during the entrepreneurial journey.
    It’s the same with The Basics!
    In about ten hours over two days, you’ll hear talks on pricing, selling, the latest consumer research, freight and logistics, best practices in trade promotions, ecommerce, and more. You’ll get slides you can hang on to and use as reference and recorded lectures that are yours to review any time.
    You’ll spend time with eight incredible teachers and learn from their experience. Our instructors include founders and principals from some of the most iconic brands in specialty food, including Marich Confectionery. Renfro Foods and Dave’s Gourmet, plus exciting new brands including Hella Cocktail Co., Rumi Spice and TBJ (The Bacon Jam) Gourmet, plus our resident Amazon expert Betsy McGinn of McGinn Ecommerce Consulting.
    You’ll also make connections to your classmates. You’ll meet at the evening chat on Day 1 – then you’ll have your own dedicated space to chat and share stories, and stay in touch after the class is over in our SFA Community Hub.
    Come see what it’s like in our specialty food “business school” – and reap the rewards as your brand grows. It's just $99 for SFA members and $199 for non-members. Wonder if The Basics is right for you? Email us education@specialtyfood.com and we’re happy to talk with you.

    Denise Purcell
    The specialty food supply chain shared opinions and observations on pandemic-influenced pricing strategies, consumer behavior around trading up and down, and private label. More insights can be found in the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry report. 
    “I was looking at [a big retailer account] today, and the condiment set. Based on the trends you’d think with condiments, cooking sauces, etc., that the retailers would go into specialty because of the cooking at home thing. And instead, they went really commodity, really warehouse, away from the distributor business, and put in a lot of restaurant brand name stuff. But then the same buyer, for pasta and pasta sauce, went more specialty. I can’t really understand why.
          Consumer behavior in general varied wildly by category. With pasta, it almost didn’t matter what brand. If it was on the shelf, people bought it. Pasta sauce in the $7.99 to $10.99 range did better than it ever does. People also traded up on coffee.”
    -SVP, business development at a specialty food and beverage broker
    “As far as private label, we’ve made the decision to stay committed to our makers and not compete directly against them. To support them and help amplify the greatness of their products, and their stories, and their voices, so in contrast to a lot of other players out there we don’t have a need or interest to get into private label.” 
    -CEO, co-founder of a specialty ecommerce retailer
    “We have seen competition from private labels, especially in baking chocolate. But a good thing about a good private-label brand is that it can help by getting more exposure to a category.
    We had the opportunity to expand into a club store, but in the rest of retail we didn’t need to upsize any of our packaging. We got feedback from customers at the onset of COVID that they would like to stock up, but we knew it would take a while to develop that packaging, so we took a wait and see attitude and didn’t jump into it.”
    -CEO of a specialty chocolate brand
    “In the beginning of the pandemic, retailers didn’t put promotional tags on the shelf because they had to simply keep up with the increased volume. Then we saw a huge bounce back in promotions. While a lot of consumers lost their jobs, I haven’t seen an overall change in pricing strategy. It was more around the promotional piece of it – EDLP (everyday low price) versus a hi-lo strategy, a shift in when they promote, or the depth of the deal.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition.  
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub.

    Arielle Feger
    The food industry has a specific lingo with which startups should become familiar. Here is a glossary of terms related to promotional activities.
    Promotions are activities that encourage the trade and consumers to purchase products. Trade promotions, specifically, are offers made by suppliers to encourage their customers to help increase sales velocity. Trade promotions are designed to influence consumers, obtain initial distribution, stimulate the market on a regular basis, or support specific activity.
    The following glossary is excerpted from The Basics: The Business of Specialty Foods, SFA’s intensive workshop where a team of veteran makers help new companies learn the fundamentals of the market and best practices to get their business off the ground.
    Advertising Allowance: A trade promotion offering agreed-upon payment (a fixed amount or percentage of sales) in return for a fixed or specific amount of retailer advertising activity.
    BOGO: The retailer is going to offer the consumer the chance to Buy One and Get One Free; this offer is almost always funded by the supplier, usually by a payment method that takes the agreed upon discount off invoice.
    Buy-Out: A trade promotion that pays for the removal of goods to clear shelf space for your products. Typically offered in addition to other introductory allowances.
    Coupon: A printed offer from the producer to the consumer for a reduced price when presented at the time of purchase. Delivered to the consumer though publications, direct mail, on packages, retailer ads, internet, etc. Retailer receives reimbursement (plus handling) by submitting to producer through clearinghouse.
    Demonstrations (Demos): Sampling conducted by suppliers to encourage consumer trial. Often conducted in high-traffic areas. When conducted within a retail store, referred to as In Store Demonstration. In-store sampling usually conducted with supplier support. Personnel offer samples to encourage consumer purchases. Some retailers have in-house or preferred demonstrators for this purpose.
    Free Goods: A trade promotion offering a specific number of cases supplied to the purchaser at no cost to secure initial authorization and/or shelf stocking. This practice has been generally replaced by a Free-Fill allowance.
    Free-Fill: Trade promotion usually offered by a supplier during new product introduction or if a retailer is not stocking a particular item. Supplier agrees to provide a specific amount of product free (usually offered at a rate of one free case per store). Mostly used when a product will be serviced through a distributor. When the item will be sold through the chain’s own warehouse the term “slotting allowance” is used, paying for the creation of a slot in the chain’s warehouse and the amounts involved are larger/paid for in cash, not free goods.
    Loyalty Card: Promotional program aimed at encouraging repeat sales by rewarding customers who buy frequently or on a regular basis. The device is used by retailers to identify customers, record their purchases, create target consumer offers, and produce data to assist in operating decisions.
    Manufacturer Coupon: A printed offer by the brand owner allowing the consumer a specified discount at the retail point of sale. All expenses, including fee from coupon handling house, will be charged to the brand owner.
    Performance Allowance: A trade promotion offer requiring the retailer and/or distributor to undertake one or more specific activities, such as Temporary Price Reduction, ad support, display, in-ad coupon, retailer coupon, scan down, etc. The amount earned is based on product purchased during the offer period and requires the purchaser to submit proof of performance.
    Retailer Coupon: A retailer agrees to insert a coupon for a supplier’s product in the retailer’s normal print advertising media. To be self-redeemed by the retailer but supported by an offer from the supplier.
    Sampling Allowance: A trade promotion offering an allowance (specific amount of free product) to retailers for sampling the product.
    Sampling: Activities allowing consumers to experience product without purchasing. Can be delivered via mail, publication inserts, and inside packages of other consumable products. Also occurs via store sampling stations (with or without supplier participation), and during demonstrations arranged and supported by supplier payments.
    Scan Down: A trade promotion offering retailers a specific amount per consumer unit sold during a specified time period based on movement, as recorded from the checkout scanner reports. Retailer is required to reduce the regular shelf price by an agreed upon amount. Retailer and distributor may also receive a handling allowance. Also viewed as a consumer promotion, as it influences the purchasing decision at point of sale.
    Shipper Display Allowances: A trade promotion allowance offered on shipper displays. Besides the promotional allowance, an additional amount is offered as a handling allowance to cover costs to the retailer or distributor as it relates to the special shipping unit.
    Shipper Display: A combined shipping and in-store display piece usually containing a higher unit count than the standard case pack, sometimes containing a mix of different items. Comes with a sales message and compelling graphics. Intended to be placed on the floor or counter away from the usual shelf location.
    Show Participation Allowance: Amount a brand owner would pay to a distributor to be displayed in the distributor’s booth at a trade show.
    Temporary Price Reduction (TPR): A temporary shelf price reduction offered to consumers. Usually funded by the manufacturer.
    The SFA’s upcoming Basics online course is taking place October 6-7. Find more information about the event here.

    Julie Gallagher
    The Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Food 24/7, taking place Sept. 27 through Oct. 8, will feature educational sessions and a wide range of product showcases from domestic and international brands.  
    Since many exhibiting food makers are active on the Infinite Aisle platform, which is free to members, buyer attendees who create an account can use the service to order product directly from these exhibitors. What’s more is that in advance of the show, on September 13, buyers will be able to preview showrooms, order samples, and schedule meetings with companies that are set up on Infinite Aisle.  
    Following is a sample of Fancy Food 24/7 exhibitors who are transactional on Infinite Aisle: 
    2 Sisters' Salsa Company – A family business rooted in family tradition, its salsa is handcrafted in Louisiana and made from authentic Cajun recipes. 
    Amarumayu LLC - Maker of superfruit juices from the Amazon by indigenous communities using sustainable harvesting practices that help mitigate climate change.
    Firehook Bakery – Firehook Bakery began baking its authentic, whole grain, artisan breads locally 20 years ago. Everything is made from scratch, by hand, using all-natural ingredients.  
    Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co - A second-generation, family-owned bakery that makes high quality crackers, cookies, and other baked goods using real, honest ingredients.
    Pretzel Pete - A family-owned company that makes clean label, value-added pretzel products with locally sourced ingredients and allergen-safe production.
    PS Seasoning - PS Seasoning carries on the old-world flavors and traditions of the past, while creating new products and blends to meet modern day demands. It has more than 3,000 seasoning blends with 30 million units of products made annually.
    Square One Organic Spirits - Founded by spirits and cocktail lover Allison Evanow, Square One Organic Spirits is a female-owned, boutique, organic spirits company founded with the mission of creating innovative, organic spirits and cocktails with an eco-conscious mindset.
    Unisoy Vegan Jerky – Maker of vegan jerky packed with 100 percent plant protein with 21 grams per bag, Unisoy Vegan Jerky is free of saturated fat, cholesterol, and has significantly less sodium. 
     

    Adri
    Fancy Food 24/7 is just a few weeks out and the PR and social team is excited to help exhibitors communicate their stories to press and buyers. Here is a checklist for how to put your best digital foot forward:
    Join us for our  Fancy Food 24/7 PR 101 Bootcamp: How to Engage Media for the Show with Cision today at 1 p.m. EST. The webinar will be recorded and the slides will be available to review at your leisure.
    Update your company profile on specialtyfood.com, including boilerplate, logo, and current company contacts. Be sure to include things that press - and buyers - may search for, i.e. Black-owned, woman/women-owned, veteran-owned (see the Product Marketplace for Company Diversity), sofi Award, B Corp, non-GMO, organic. Need your login information? Contact membership@specialtyfood.com.
    Upload all of your products to the Product Marketplace - press and buyers search the SFA site year round so make it easy for them to find you!
    Infinite Aisle - are you signed up and are you transactional? Business press are covering this free SFA member benefit, and buyers - and fellow SFA members - are signing up! Questions about Infinite Aisle? Contact MemberDevTeam@specialtyfood.com.
    Update us on product launches, milestones, celebrity connections, showroom events, and more by filling out this quick SFA PR: Company+Product Questionnaire. This survey is also used to gather information for On the Radar Trends, which is the show preview information shared with press.
    Inform the press that you’ll be exhibiting at Fancy Food 24/7 using the 2020-21 Press Lists: SFA Members. A brief email with bullet points highlighting what you’ll be featuring, company news, and your boilerplate, social media handles, and website, will suffice. Always bcc if you are sending to more than one journalist, and don’t follow up excessively. Curious about how best to interact with the press? Check out today's Fancy Food 24/7 PR 101 Bootcamp: How to Engage Media for the Show!
    RSVP by “liking” Fancy Food 24/7 on SFA’s Facebook event page and LinkedIn event page for show information. 
    Share the event page with your network and start making connections!
    Announce you are exhibiting on your social accounts with graphic assets and hashtag your posts with #FancyFood247 #ShapetheFutureofFood 
    Email apirone@specialtyfood.com for link to exhibitor graphic assets
    We will miss seeing you in person on the show floor and in the press office, however we are just an email away, and look forward to “seeing you” at Fancy Food 24/7!
    Jennifer Lea Cohan (press @specialtyfood.com) and Adrianna Pirone (apirone@specialtyfood.com)

    video-20210824-195248-f1672889.mp4  
     

    Julie Gallagher
    By Sophia Castillo, partner, Downey Brand and Patrick Veasey, senior associate, Downey Brand
    The alleged acrylamide content of various foods has been the subject of much litigation seeking to enforce California’s Proposition 65.  Prop. 65 requires “clear and reasonable warnings” on products sold in California if use of the products causes exposure to chemicals on the Prop. 65 List.  (See Title 27, California Code of Regulations, §§ 25600 et seq.)  Prop. 65 also gives interested citizen plaintiffs a private right of action to enforce these claims and recover their attorneys’ fees if they are successful.
    The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added acrylamide to the Prop. 65 list in 1990.  Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in certain types of food when exposed to high-temperature cooking such as frying, roasting, or baking.  Acrylamide is found mainly in foods made from plants, such as potato and grain products.  OEHHA has set the safe harbor limit for cancer for acrylamide at 0.2 (µg/day) and reproductive toxicity for acrylamide at 140 (µg/day). This low safe harbor limit has invited a host of Prop. 65 notices and corresponding, and expensive, litigation in California courts alleging that Prop. 65 warning labels are required for certain foods that are fried, roasted and/or baked.
    Acrylamide Litigation – California Chamber of Commerce v. Bonta
    In October 2019, the California Chamber of Commerce initiated litigation in federal court in the Eastern District of California alleging that Prop. 65’s warning requirements that acrylamide cause cancer violated the First Amendment because the State does not “know” that consuming food containing acrylamide causes cancer in humans.  The Cal. Chamber initiated this litigation against the State of California, and a citizen plaintiff group called Council for Education and Research On Toxics intervened in the case.  CERT has litigated various acrylamide citizen suits in the past.
    On March 30, 2021, the Cal. Chamber prevailed on a motion it filed asking the Court to bar the California Attorney General and anyone else from filing new lawsuits against businesses that do not display a Prop. 65 warning for acrylamide, which the district court granted via a preliminary injunction.  (See Cal. Chamber of Commerce v. Becerra, Case No. 2:19-cv-02019 (E.D. Cal. March 30, 2021).)  In its ruling granting the preliminary injunction, the Court pointed to the dozens of epidemiological studies that failed to establish a link between consumption of acrylamide in food and cancer in humans.  The Court determined that the “State has not shown that the cancer warnings it requires are purely factual and uncontroversial.”  The Court further determined that the Cal. Chamber successfully demonstrated that it would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction was not granted given the steep rise of Prop. 65 litigation involving acrylamide in the last several years.
    Shortly thereafter, on April 21, 2021, CERT appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, alleging that the preliminary injunction violated CERT’s right under the First Amendment to petition the government for the redress of grievances.  (See Cal. Chamber of Commerce v. Bonta, Case No. 21-15745 (9th Cir.).)  The State of California has not taken a position on the appeal.  The Ninth Circuit stayed the preliminary injunction pending a decision on the merits of CERT’s appeal.  Although the parties have filed several procedural motions before the Ninth Circuit, including a motion to dismiss the appeal, on August 11, 2021, the Ninth Circuit denied the motion to dismiss, but reserved the right to address these and other related  issues when it reviews the merits of the case.  Oral argument in the Ninth Circuit is now expected to take place in December 2021 or early next year.
    Summary
    The pending litigation before the Ninth Circuit may ultimately provide a respite for food and beverage producers and suppliers from the Prop. 65 acrylamide litigation that has become so common in the last several years.  And if the Cal. Chamber is successful in its challenge, Prop. 65 notices and litigation for acrylamide may cease altogether.  For the time being, however, Prop. 65 claims and notices by citizen plaintiff’s groups continue because the Ninth Circuit stayed the preliminary injunction entered by the lower court pending its formal evaluation of the issues on appeal.  The California Attorney General’s website provides a discussion regarding the status of the acrylamide litigation.

    Sophia Castillo is a partner in the San Francisco office of Downey Brand.  She specializes in Proposition 65 and toxics law, and publishes an overview of Prop. 65 claims and trends each month with her colleague Patrick Veasy.  Sophia can be reached at scastillo@downeybrand.com, or via her LinkedIn page.

    Patrick Veasy is a senior associate in Downey Brand’s Sacramento office.  Patrick routinely works on matters involving water quality, environmental site remediation issues, and toxic tort litigation, including under Proposition 65.  Patrick can be reached at pveasy@downeybrand.com, or via his LinkedIn page.

    Denise Purcell
    Plant-based, brain health, stress support, and foods from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) makers are among the trends seen by the supply chain in this year’s State of the Specialty Food Industry report. Here is some of what they had to say:
    “Some of the macro trends that we’ve seen with COVID are going to last. Indulgence, taste exploration, restaurant quality, and having our type of item for retailers is a way to [show consumers that they] have the option for [them] to stay here. 
         For a meeting I had with Target [recently], indulgence was something that they focused on. In August it was SKU rationalization, now it’s ‘we need to play on indulgence. Better-for-you is important but we do want to cater more to like something that’s delicious and indulgent.’”
    -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand
    “Probably six months to a year ago it was all about why categories, brands, and products are relevant during COVID, and now it’s [buyers saying] ‘show that its relevant with COVID, but show that it’s relevant beyond COVID, and if you need to adjust the product, be ready to address it.’
         It’s kind of the horizon of the next 12-18 months, what those big categories and trends are, and how they’re going to surface, and how are customers going to adjust back to eating more away from home. Are they going to change their eating habits? How sensitive or not will they be to promotions, because obviously you didn’t have to promote a lot [during the height of COVID] and products would sell.”
    -head of sales for a specialty food maker
    “I’m hyper-focused on trying to figure out how the workplace, the office space, is going to function. We had a large B2B business selling to local firms, feeding their staff and that evaporated overnight. All of our events business evaporated overnight also, and I firmly believe that the quality of our food is going to get us back into the door when people step back in. I’m just trying to think of ways to improve upon the experience and improve upon the flexibility that they have with the experience, and the safety around it, so that we’re top of mind for them when they do return.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator
    “What I’m seeing through sales is a lot of interest in exploring flavors, and in plant-based. We do a lot of cheese in the northwest U.S., and our marketing person in that area recently held up a plant-based cheese and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it tastes great.’ Also, the impact of cooking at home is evident in our numbers. The traditional categories of baking and grains and all related scratch cooking areas.”
    -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor
    “When people are excited about doing the actual cooking, then they get excited about the quality of the ingredient that they’re using, and that’s the defining factor. That’s what is differentiating the products that we sell. Why go to [our stores] and not go to [big supermarket chains]? These are the reasons. We tell people how to actually make a Roman pizza dough and talk them through it. And those people can take those experiences home and share them with their children, the rest of their family, and that’s what people want.”
    -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer
    “The majority of [my clients] who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) founders are so proud and really leaning into it, rightfully so, and seeing good responses from retailers. We’re seeing more of a call for diversity from all across the supply chain. They’re essentially sending BIPOC and female founders to the front. 
    And then the other side is that I have founders who are hesitant to do that. They’re in more conservative areas of the country … and they question if the retailers and consumers would respond to [BIPOC founders announcing themselves.]”
    -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy
    “Natural and specialty products will continue to gain share because of trends related to active lifestyle, stress support, brain health, gut health, and how to use food as medicine. Conventional retailers will continue to offer up space for those products.
         Brain health and stress support will emerge as strong categories, including things that feed into those like mood, sleep, and immunity. Other strong drivers are healthy fats, alternative sweeteners, and the Keto lifestyle—if not Keto specifically then the three  factors behind it: low carb, low sugar, and healthy fat.
         While family meals will continue, I do think people are getting worn out from scratch cooking, so baking sales have subsided slightly. Frozen or simmer sauces that can make at-home cooking easier will also continue to do well.”
    -SVP, category management and growth solutions for a specialty distributor
    “Private labels are continually being added by the retailers whom we work with and that volume continues to grow. I’m a big believer in private labels, both conventional and specialty food.”
    -VP vendor relations at a specialty distributor
    “Meat, produce, and baking items all continue to trend year-over-year at a higher rate than we would have normally expected. We’ve also seen an increase in our prepared foods. Not in our full-service deli prepared foods, but all the packaged foods, probably for the convenience of being grab-and-go versus having to wait, and maybe just the allure of it being packaged and being safer than something that’s on a platter and open.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think are the pandemic-influenced consumer and food trends in our discussion in the Community Hub. 

    Gretchen VanEsselstyn
    Breaking into the U.S. market has never been easy – and the FSMA and FSVP regulations passed in recent years have made it even tougher. As you begin to think about selling in the U.S., you’ll need to make some key decisions about whether to work with an importer, start your own entity, or get in business another way. And once you’re in the market, you’ll need to understand how business is done here. SFA can help you get started down the path that’s best for you and your products.
    In our online seminar Passport to Success taking place September 1 and 2, you’ll learn from Ron Tanner and Michael Sas, two seasoned experts with deep knowledge of how to help brands succeed. Over the 6 hours of interactive sessions, they’ll cover how to sell and distribute products in the U.S. how to market and promote your brand, including trade shows like the Fancy Food Show; and how to ensure that you’re in compliance with U.S. law and import regulations. You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions as well.
    You’ll also have the opportunity to meet and interact with your classmates right here in our SFA Community Hub. We’ll have a private group where you can continue the conversation and follow one another as you continue your journey to success in the United States.
    If you have any questions about whether Passport is right for you, please email us at education@specialtyfood.com.

    Denise Purcell
    From online shopping, to the reinvigoration of stalled categories, to in-store changes that may be here to stay, the specialty food supply chain offered insights into the pandemic’s influence on consumer behavior. Here is some of what they had to say, excerpted from the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition. 
    “Home cooking trends that will stick include baking, pastas, grains, beans, and snacks. Online grocery shopping will continue growing because of the convenience factor of not having to spend an hour or three hours getting to and from the grocery store. And even if you are going to the store to get produce and dairy, you’ll supplement with online.”
    -chief merchandising officer of a specialty ecommerce retailer
    “All that difficulty that we saw during the initial impact had less to do with a trade-down mentality, or a size-up mentality and more to do with just ‘what can I get?’ So, we saw a lot of consumers just buying whatever they could find on the shelf, and thankfully our supply team did a lot of amazing work quickly changing procedures to be able to keep up largely with demand, which allowed us to be that sort of regular option on shelf for people to choose.”
    -regional sales manager at a specialty dairy brand
    “The one thing that changed drastically from the start of COVID was that people didn’t want any prepared foods. They didn’t want to eat anything that we touched. In the beginning, that was our one weak link. But they bought fruits and vegetables like crazy, which of course we had to put on the shelf. The prepared foods business has already come back very strongly. That business is now much bigger than it was originally because of the new customers that we’ve picked up.”
    -CEO of a specialty retail and foodservice outlet
    “Once you’re in the store there’s a relationship there, and that relationship is one where people have enough confidence and trust that they are willing to spend the time and energy in continuing to nurture it. That was the beautiful part of what happened this year.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator
    “[Early on], people wanted more guidance on how to cook [meat] cuts that they weren’t familiar with that they might have experienced in a restaurant. We saw items like scallops increase in sales. We saw finer cuts of meat increasing in sales. Items that need a little bit more finesse. Caviar sales increased. People still wanted to experience those little pleasures that they would get when they would go out and then found ways to find that pleasure at home. It was cool to see how people adapted. They were still trying to find joy in the day-to-day.”
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator
    “A lot of people are acting under the assumption that the world has changed permanently, but I’m more of the view that most people are going to be anxious to get back to life as it was. Yet, some of our businesses, like coffee shops, might not come back.”
    -CEO of a specialty retail and foodservice group
    “There were a couple of changes that we made back in September to some of the flow in the retail store. We took on an extra space to allow for curbside pickup and the addition of outside seating.
         Our whole mentality is ‘eat, shop, learn,’ so we have a bar in there where you can eat great foods. Our cheese and charcuterie selection, and the wines and beers are from small artisanal producers around the world, and we have to tell their stories. We’re highlighting special producers like that.
        People weren’t spending in the beginning to discover new products, but by September or October I think they were feeling like ‘we’re stuck in the house too long, and we should treat ourselves,’ and so the economy started to change a little bit in our retail.”
    -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer
    “We made small changes to the retail flow of the new store because it’s about playing to the customers’ new behaviors; making it easier for them, making their experience still great, because shopping [at our stores] is an experience and that’s what we need to and want to deliver on. People don’t just come in and say, ‘Oh, I know that olive oil, let me buy it.’”
    -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer
    “[Because of] the pandemic, we have such a mix of consumers now. We were the only store open during the [height of the] pandemic within our block radius for hot coffee. So now we’re getting the MTA bus drivers, were getting the incredible blue-collar workers, and the construction workers that were still working that didn’t have hot coffee. But [guests] are also discovering new things, and since we make sure we’re properly pricing things, they’re able to try different things. So, we’re curating based on this, too, thinking that average person wants to spend $5-7 or less.”
    -founder of a specialty c-store concept
    “The things you read about in the trend charts: its maximizing value, its comfort foods. Shockingly, though, it’s not hitting the high end [adversely] the way we thought it would. [Shoppers are] willing to spend on quality goods but they’re budgeting more, so when they do it, it might be an in-between treat or it’s really something special.”
    -national sales director at a specialty importer and distributor
    “We brought in essentials for guests. We wound up selling a whole lot more eggs, milk, butter, beans, and things like that. They’re back to cooking and they’re buying canned tomatoes, yeast, and flour. We used to sell a lot of it, and then we didn’t, and now everybody’s making pizza and bread at home, so we had to buy flour by the pallets, and we used to buy it by the cases. So, that’s the switch. We’re still selling a whole lot of those ingredients. Fresh meat and seafood is blowing up like crazy. Deli went wild. Sandwiches, bread, outrageous. So, we took on more local bread bakers.”
    -owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think are the pandemic-influenced consumer trends in our discussion in the Community Hub. 

    Denise Purcell
    The SFA’s newly released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition, digs into a business environment still adjusting to and recovering from the pandemic’s impact. Following are four insights and takeaways from this year’s research.
     
    1.    Center store rebirth. COVID recalibrated several grocery categories. Some are forecast to grow more than they would have otherwise, and some have new life after being stalled for years. A year of home cooking has led to consumers rediscovering the usefulness and necessity of a home pantry. While cooking-at-home habits will eventually strike a balance with dining out as more foodservice opens, at-home cooks are now more resourceful, willing to experiment, and enjoying (some of) what the pandemic forced them to learn. 
    2.    Improving discovery. Online meetings have been solving an immediate need for retail buyers and makers, and this has proved to be a more efficient way of getting business done that will become a fixture going forward. However, buyers and makers acknowledge that it comes at the cost of hurting new product discovery. Combined with limited in-store sampling, fewer demos, and the decimation of foodservice, 2020 was a rough year for innovation discovery. This will be one of the key issues for the specialty industry in 2021 and beyond.    
    3.    Specialty’s ecommerce visibility issue. Related to diminishing discovery, specialty is facing challenges with the growth of online shopping as it allows fewer opportunities for impulse buys.  Industry data shows nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of consumers say they miss finding items not on their list when shopping online. In fact, impulse sales account for 20 percent of in-store purchases, meaning 2020 was likely a year of “safe bets” with essentials and known brands from a consumer purchase standpoint in ecommerce. Rising ecommerce retailers such as Thrive Market, Hive, and Good Eggs are addressing the visibility issue by working harder at showcasing specialty. 
    4.    Channel shifting. Almost every online e-grocery market saw phenomenal growth in 2020, while drug stores gained new customers by adding grab-and-go and refrigerated aisles. Dollar stores continued pulling people from all other channels, and in 2021 are projected to account for 50 percent of all newly opened stores. Consumers shopped in stores for groceries that they may have rarely visited much in prior years. Most pronounced through spring and into summer of 2020 because shoppers were desperate to try to find everything from toilet paper to commodity foods, this channel shifting led them to discover that some of these channels and chains were good enough that they would visit again. Expect a behavioral shift to continue for the foreseeable future. 
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub. 
     
     

    Denise Purcell
    COVID continues to impact the specialty food trade. Members of the supply chain spoke out in the SFA’s newly released State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2021-2022 edition, to elaborate on what ways the is affecting their businesses. Here is some of what they had to say about channel evolution, price/value shifts, food and beverage trends, and a return to normalcy for buyer-maker relations:
     
    “One of the things that came up repeatedly was ‘how deep are your relationships?’, and those suppliers who had longstanding relationships with their co-packers, their distributors, and their retail partners were in a better situation. With COVID, everything went out the window. From the co-packer level, small brands were being pushed aside as bigger brands were doing larger production runs and needed all that time in the production facility. 
         At distributors, a lot of smaller brands got overlooked, and wouldn’t get picked for the pallet. It was frustrating because [small] brands would find out that they were out-of-stock from either their consumers or from the store level [buyers], who’d say ‘Hey, we’re reordering every Tuesday and Thursday from [the distributor] and we’re not getting [your] product.’ These small brands [knew] the products were in the warehouse but not on the truck. 
         Some brands who had a great relationship with a store and store buyer would pick up the phone or email them and [look into options to] ship direct, self-deliver, or circumvent distribution, but obviously you can only do that where you have the logistics to do it regionally.”
    -owner, founder of a specialty brand consultancy 
    “In some ways, the execution of the supply chain is more important than the quality of the product right now … In an old environment, a brand manager would probably be expected to know that manufacturer X has a big promotion running at [a specific retailer]. Now, this is less of a priority than knowing whether or not manufacturer X has a long term out-of-stock on an imported item because the container is stuck at the port, or they can't get a container to ship it over [to the US].” 
    -senior vice president, business development at a specialty food and beverage broker 
     
    “We have strong relationships with our farmers, co-packers, and everyone right up to our website, and those relationships worked well. It was the ripple effect from seemingly random elements of product production, like bottle caps or plastic film being out.” 
    -chief merchandising officer of a specialty e-commerce retailer 
    “We saw a lot fewer retailers bring on new items, and that’s probably a long-term impact of this; retailers looking to do more sales with fewer SKUs.” 
    -regional sales manager at a specialty dairy brand 
    “Some retailers preemptively planned for a recession, and they went really commodity, really private label, high velocity, less margin. Other retailers leaned in [to specialty, knowing consumers] aren’t going to restaurants, and eating at home, which was great for business. It was just interesting to see the retailers’ reactions over time. But it's too early to tell, because consumption's been so high, who made the right decision.” 
    -specialty food broker 
     
    “One of the worst things that’s happened is [the loss of] those discovery moments when you walk into a store and those opportunities to meet a vendor or a producer or maker to hear their stories directly. Some companies are experimenting with pre-packaged samples, but COVID is going to have massive long-term effects on how new products launch, how people discover new products, how they take chances with new products.” 
    -founder, owner of a multi-store specialty food retailer and foodservice operator 
     
    “In some cases, we had to turn away new business, which is heartbreaking, but [we did so] to do right by the customers that we already have. We were able to work proactively … and had direct forward-looking conversations with distributors and retailers where we could say ‘we can’t ship you this, but we have this instead.’”
    -regional sales manager at a specialty dairy brand
    “As an e-commerce business, we were trying to balance out a surge in new consumers with making sure that the people who have been loyal customers for several years were getting served. We had to have site hours that we allowed people to shop during the early months, as well as maximum order quantities to help manage that impact. In the end, the pandemic accelerated our business pretty dramatically.”
    -chief merchandising officer of a specialty e-commerce retailer
    “Because we manufacture everything in house, we do have a little bit more flexibility. We’re not [challenged] because of a co-packer who is at their limits. That would have been a nightmare.”
    -head of sales at a specialty dessert brand
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub. 
     

    Megan Rooney
    SFA’s Regulatory Update webinar series is designed to educate and inform companies about the latest legal and regulatory updates around food production and distribution. In this ongoing series, you will hear from legal experts like Jeni Lamb Rogers, attorney, PSL Law Group, LLC and Sophia Castillo, attorney, Downey Brand, LLP on topics ranging from laws for influencers to updates on President Biden’s new pick for FDA commissioner.
    Each session will include an easy-to-digest presentation and Q&A session, along with access to slides and recordings. SFA takes pride in keeping you up to date on a wide range of topics that can have a significant impact on your business and the specialty food industry as a whole.
    Our comprehensive library of recorded regulatory and legislative content may be accessed here.
    Recently, we held a series of webinars on Proposition 65:
    ·        California’s Prop 65 and Toasted, Roasted and Crunchy Foods – All About Acrylamide
    ·        California’s Prop. 65 and Fruits and Vegetables – All About the Recent Claims of Lead and Other Metals
    ·        Proposition 65 Risk and Liability
    Other popular webinars include:
    ·        Not So Vanilla – Ways to Protect Your Brand Against the Vanilla Flavor Litigation Trend
    ·        Legal and Practical Considerations for Making Your Website Accessible
    ·        Compliant Consumer and Expert Marketing on your Website and Social Media
    You may now register for our next Regulatory Update webinar on Thursday, July 15 at 1 p.m. eastern, which will focus on Influencer Marketing.
    As a reminder, all webinars are free to SFA members and $19 for non-members.
    If you have any questions or want to learn more, please email us at education@specialtyfood.com. We look forward to seeing you at our next Regulatory Update webinar!
    You can read more about other webinar tracks we are running as well, including those for startup companies and established and mature companies.

    Gretchen VanEsselstyn
    The specialty food industry is always changing—and it’s vital to keep up. Whether it’s consumer trends, innovative marketing techniques, or new sales channels, even the most successful companies need education and resources. With that in mind, SFA's In The Know webinars are designed to educate and inform established and mature companies in the specialty food community.
    In this ongoing series, we will bring in experts to cover the topics that are important to you as your company matures such as logistics and sourcing, export opportunities, and succession planning to name a few. Each webinar includes a Q&A session, and we also provide extra resources to keep you informed. Our webinars can be viewed live on the day they happen, or you can watch the recording any time. And you can continue the conversation with your peers and industry experts here in our Community Hub.
    Upcoming In the Know webinars include:
    Legal and Practical Considerations for Making Your Website Accessible – July 22 Place Your Products in Film and TV – August 5
    Scaling Your Innovative Food Products – September 8 All webinars are free to SFA members and $19 for non-members.
    If you have any questions or want to learn more, please email us at education@specialtyfood.com. We look forward to seeing you at our next In the Know webinars.
    You can read more about other webinar tracks we are running as well, including our new series for startup companies and newcomers to the specialty food industry. 

    Denise Purcell
    Where do we go from here is the question on everyone’s mind as we start to approach the post-pandemic new normal.
    That same question is integrated into this year’s newly released SFA State of the Specialty Food Industry research. As you can see in report highlights we published in the summer issue of Specialty Food magazine, food sales fared well in a year of stay-at-home mandates. Brick-and-mortar and online grocery sales boomed across the board, more than offsetting foodservice’s unfortunate plummet as restaurants limited seated dining or closed for good. 
    How these new norms will shake out is still unknown but based on the research and supply chain interviews, here are five shifts we expect to stay in place.
    Cooking-at-home habits. The research indicates that most people who gave extra home food preparation a serious try in the past year have created some lasting habits, at least for a few specific tasks. Whether it’s baking bread, making from-scratch soup, or using the slow cooker, home cooking will remain prevalent to a higher degree than it would have without the pandemic.  
    New foodservice business models. Supply chain interviews show foodservice operators are planning new business models that include commissaries or partnerships, outdoor dining, new recipes/menus, and delivery as part of the segment’s comeback. Increased takeout and delivery, especially, will remain elevated, in part because older adults and those with young children may be slower to return to on-premise dining and partly because many consumers now more regularly incorporate some takeout dishes into their at-home meals.
    Better ecommerce opportunities for small brands. Several industry conversations centered around improved ways to discover new products online. Retailers and makers are both looking for ways to showcase on-trend and new products in a way that is enjoyable for shoppers to browse, including reliable ways to surface local and regional products, and increase visibility for brands that support social, economic, and environmental justice causes, areas of high consumer interest.  
    Virtual sales meetings between retail buyers and makers. From what we have learned, both parties believe that the new style of meeting will be the norm going forward, though some in-person meetings will resume. Makers tell us that meetings are more efficient, and while there is less time to talk about multiple SKUs, there is a higher success with a maker’s leading SKU.
    Tighter SKU management. The one thing that major retailers want from specialty manufacturers is “your very best product.” Total SKUs have been reduced as the pandemic uncovered supply chain weakness, and 2020 results suggest that scaling back on SKUs did not harm sales. Most of the reductions have come from “me too” brands and under-performing line extensions. The new challenge for makers is how to successfully get to market all their SKUs that aren’t number-one. If a brand’s best product does well, a targeted new product that attracts many of the same users might get strong consideration. 
    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition. 
    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub.
     

    Gretchen VanEsselstyn
    At SFA, we take preparedness seriously. Providing new makers with the tools they need to be ready to do business and succeed in a tough industry is our passion. With that in mind, we’ve launched Maker Prep, an educational program that will provide the most important building blocks for new makers.
    In this ongoing series, we will bring in industry experts and veterans to cover the topics new makers need to know about. Each topical package will include two or more webinars, complete with Q&A sessions, plus extra resources to help you get to the next level. Our webinars can be viewed live on the day they happen, or you can watch the recording any time. And you can continue the conversation with your peers and industry experts here in our Community Hub.
    Our first package, Funding Your Business, debuts in early July:
    The First Key Steps – July 8 Working with Investors – August 12 Working with Lenders – September 9 And our second package, Working With Distributors, debuts at the end of July:
    The First Key Steps –  July 29 Building the Relationship – August 19 Strategies for Success – September 16 All webinars are free for SFA members. If you’re a non-member, you can purchase the 3-webinar series for $50 or buy a la carte for $19 each.
    If you’re already a fan of our Basics program, never fear – we will continue to run The Basics: The Business of Specialty Food as our premier introduction to the industry. The next dates are October 6-7, 2021 – you can sign up now or recommend it to a friend.
    Have questions or want to learn more? Drop us a line: education@specialtyfood.com. And stand by for more information on other preparedness tracks we are running, including those for more established companies, and regulatory and legislative updates.

    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  
     

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