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    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

    5 New Norms

    By Denise Purcell, in SFA Blog,

    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  
     

    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. 
     

    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: 

    The continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record number of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, are driving the food trends that will dominate in the new year, says the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter panel. In Top Food Trends for 2021, Trendspotters Wendy Robinson, senior buyer, Market Hall Foods, and Clara Park, corporate chef of Culinary Innovations for Chelten House Brands, and Denise Purcell, SFA’s director of content, discussed the top trend predictions for 2021.

    Consistently delicious products create brand loyalty. In Own Your Flavor Profile: Get the Specs Straight, product quality expert Nancy Jo Seaton explained the importance of clear product specifications to guarantee consistent quality. This webinar also highlighted the importance of holistic descriptions and clear communication with co-manufacturers.

    With the massive growth of DTC and Amazon combined with the growth of click and collect and delivery on the retail side of our business, you need to figure out your digital spend. How can you efficiently find your consumer when, where, and how they want to buy your product? Steve Gaither, CMO at CA Fortune explained how in Understanding Shoppable Content: DTC, Amazon, Click & Brick, and Brick & Mortar.

    Building a successful Amazon business can feel like a full-time job. In Keys to Successful Sales on Amazon with Brand Force Digital, former grocery Amazon vendor manager, Clint George of Brand Focus Digital, provided strategies that can help propel an Amazon business to the next level. George shared how to create attractive Amazon listings, use Amazon Advertising to increase your ROAS, and much more.

    Visit the Learning Center to download these and many other webinars in the series.

    Denise Purcell
    The continuing coronavirus pandemic keeping record number of people close to home, growing social awareness affecting purchasing decisions, and a maturing Gen Z population, are driving the food trends that will dominate in the new year, says the Specialty Food Association Trendspotter panel. This group of retailers, chefs, food writers and educators, and market analysts, has weighed in on the top trends for the next 12 months. Here's some of what you can expect to see:

    Eating/Cooking at Home. The reality of at-home meal preparation and consumption will stay with us in 2021, but has also brought about several subtrends. "At-home eating will be the name of the game in 2021,” says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at Mintel and member of the Trendspotter Panel. “We will see consumers looking to brighten and enliven the monotony of preparing so many meals in a row."
    Restaurant Food in the Home Kitchen. With economic concerns not easing and the potential for more lockdowns during the upcoming winter, consumers are looking to replicate restaurant experiences in the home kitchen. We’ll see more restaurant-quality condiments, cooking sauces, and cocktail mixes, say the Trendspotters. Examples include smoked watermelon salt for use on fruits and vegetables; a sauce that combined the seven toppings of the classic Chicago Hot Dog into one condiment; sliced Calabrian chiles; and cocktail mixes like a smoked maple old-fashioned syrup for at-home bartending.
    Twists on Classics. Reimagining traditional recipes and products will keep consumers from becoming bored with their meals and snacks in the coming year. Examples include products like vodka and tomato ketchup, a twist on vodka sauce; aged cheddar granola; everything bagel broccoli bites; sheep’s milk chocolate; mint-flavored pasta; and beetroot-flavored drinking chocolate powder.
    Eatertainment. The events of 2020 left no one unscathed. “These are serious times and with some areas still experiencing closures in theaters, stadiums, concert halls, and other entertainment venues, we are looking to have fun at home,” says Trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch of The Drexel Food Lab at Drexel University. Novelty products are bringing some whimsy and entertainment to the home kitchen. Trendspotters point to maple syrup with edible glitter; pretzel bread mix; a unicorn s'mores skillet kit; hot chocolate on a stick; edible spoons in sweet and savory flavors; and reusable lunch box packaging with llamas and unicorns.
    Values-Based Buying. Consumers are becoming more conscious shoppers when choosing which brands to support with their food dollars. They are seeking out companies owned by women, Black people, people of color, B Corps, sustainability-focused brands, and those with ethical labor practices. "For me, 2020 highlighted topics amongst all brands: cultural appropriation, community impact, ethical practices. More than ever, brands are focused on these three categories and trying to align their messaging with this,” says Chef Tu David Phu, a Trendspotter Panel member. “Movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have empowered consumers to voice their opinions on what they expect from their favorite brands. This pivot/shift is mainly due to Generation Z coming into the consumer marketplace as adults. Food brands need to shift now as this new demographic is taking over the marketplace."
    Global Travels at Home. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors offer culinary adventure in lieu of traveling, especially from less-familiar countries and regions. "I'm seeing more prominence and appreciation of regional ingredients from parts of the world often overlooked—specifically, an interest in West African ingredients and cuisine,” says Dawn Padmore, vice president of culinary marketing and events, Karlitz and Company. Products and flavors from Scandinavia, Cambodia, and Senegal are trending with ingredients like sea buckthorn; Cambodian chile pastes; fonio, an ancient grain from Senegal that continues to gain attention; Caribbean and Latin-American flavored pre-made beans; and spices that focus specifically on herbs or plants native to regions such as West Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.
    Functional Ingredients. The pandemic also has put health concerns front and center and they will seek functional ingredients and benefits in their foods and beverages. Products that boost immunity and manage stress will particularly be in demand. Examples include functional ghees to promote women’s health, restful sleep, and cardiovascular health; fermented honey sauce; and prebiotic-laced snacks for digestive health with reported immunity-boosting functionality. “These have been huge for years, the difference is the hot functional ingredients change every couple of years. Right now mushroom powders (reishii, lions mane, etc.) are still rising, turmeric is already mainstream (golden lattes), CBD is huge—and deserves its own category,” says Andrew Freeman, founder of af&co./co-founder of Carbonate.
    Plant-Based Continuing Revolution. More a movement than a trend, plant-based earns a spot on this year’s list for its burgeoning growth during COVID-19 and for new formats that continue to transform the food and beverage market. During surge shopping in the spring, plant-based enjoyed a boost in most categories, especially milk and other dairy and meat alternatives. According to the SFA’s State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2020-2021 Edition, the segment has huge runway for growth, increasing 10-20 percent annually through 2024. New products and applications include meatless mixes for at-home cooking; dairy-free queso made with aquafaba; cashew cheesy sauce; plant-based tzatziki; oat milk chocolate; and cactus-based tortilla chips. Trendspotter Chris Styler, culinary producer/product development chef and head of Freelance Food, LLC, also observes trends in “the rebranding of foods as 'plant-based' including beverages; more options for plant-based foods including plant-based protein to use for chili, soups, tomato sauce.”
    Less Sugar and Natural Sugar. Tied to attention to health, consumers are counterbalancing their desires to treat themselves with products that offer low sugar or natural sugar, or sugar alternatives.  “We will continue to see a decline in the levels of sugar in foods and drinks and an increase in the availability and popularity of alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, keto-friendly sugars and coconut sugar,” says Clara Park, corporate chef of Culinary Innovation for Chelten House Products. Trendspotters noted hot sauces sweetened with peaches; jams that relied on natural sugars from carrots and jaggery, a cane sugar consumed in Asia; traditional Carolina BBQ sauce in a sugar-free variety; and a proliferation of sauces sweetened with dates.
    Halva. Following consumers’ growing interest over the past few years in tahini sauce, then black sesame flavoring ice creams and lattes, halva is re-emerging in the spotlight. This 3000-year-old, sesame seed-based Middle Eastern confection was touted in 2020 by Ruth Reichl as good-for-you candy, thanks to its abundance of iron. Product examples include halva butter made from sesame paste to spread on toast, crackers, or in ice cream, and shelf-stable halva slices in flavors like toasted coconut and triple chocolate. Naturally vegan, halva also has plant-based appeal.

    Read more and see a full list of the 2020 SFA Trendspotters.
    Download a recording of a recent webinar on the 2021 Trends.

    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:

    Foodservice can be a profitable channel for specialty food makers and the current state of the U.S. market has opened up new opportunities. In Breaking into Specialty Gourmet Foodservice, Arn Grashoff of Innovative Food Holdings, talked about the best products and formats for foodservice and how to get visibility and distribution.

    C-stores are a hot channel for specialty products, with particular appeal for consumers in the 18–23-year-old range. Max Weiner, Burdette Beckmann Inc., has sold premium products into convenience for more than 20 years. In Selling to Convenience Stores, Weiner provided tips and insights into the best products for C-stores, and how to make the channel work for your business.

    While CBD for edible products is not legal in the U.S., many companies are developing hemp-based products in anticipation of possible clearance by the FDA. In CBD in Food and Beverage: Trends and Innovation, Kay Tamillow, research director at Brightfield Group, provided insight into new product developments in the CBD and cannabis markets.

    Selling to supermarkets is a big step, and Art Papazian of ACP Management & Consulting Co. has spent his career guiding businesses through the process. In his session, Papazian discussed the importance of research, planning, and making the right connections. He also covered review schedules, forms, and budgeting.

    Max Kaniger, founder of Kanbe’s Markets, is Fixing the Food System, One Corner Store at a Time. Issues with hunger, food waste, and availability have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaniger discussed how his organization is working to bring food to communities while sharing revenue with small businesses, and how grocers and makers can help solve the issues we’re all facing right now.

    Denise Purcell
    Specialty Food Live!, the SFA’s first virtual marketplace event, took place Sept. 21 - 25, with hundreds of buyers exploring thousands of products in SFA’s maker members’ showrooms. The event was originally slated for four days, but the exhibit portion was extended to five at the request of participants. 

    In addition to the exhibits, the event included virtual tastings and education panels. Here are some food and category trend takeaways from the sessions.
    The trend lifecycle. Trends can be mapped from inception, to adoption, to proliferation, to ubiquity, explained Mark Brandau and Carly Levin from Datassential. Kale is a good example. At inception, it’s a really early-stage trend that “consumers may be a little scared of,” said Brandau, and is found mostly at fine dining restaurants, specialty retailers, or farmers markets. Next comes the adoption stage. “This is when your obnoxious foodie friend says, ‘oh my gosh, you have to try this!’” Such foods can be found at gastropubs, fast-casual operators, and retailers such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. “When a trend hits proliferation, and this is where kale is right now, you’ll start to find it in chains since it’s been adapted for mass consumption,” said Levin. “But the difference between proliferation and ubiquity, the last stage, is that in proliferation you can’t expect to pull a random stranger off the street who knows what it is, but in ubiquity you can.” Such foods can be found at family restaurants, K-12 foodservice, drug stores, and dollar stores. Read more. Center store is center stage. “It’s the year of essentials,” said David Lockwood of Mintel, referring to an array of categories meant for at-home consumption and meal preparation. According to Lockwood, their gains contributed to the overall growth of specialty food this year. The segment totaled $29 billion in 2019 sales, comprising 41 percent of the total brick-and-mortar specialty market. The COVID-19 boost was undeniable for essentials, in particular baking mixes, frozen entrees, oils, vinegars, and sauces as consumers faced stay-at-home mandates and turned to cooking and baking. Mintel predicts the growth rate for sales of food at home in 2021 will be roughly twice what it would have been without the pandemic. Read more. Immunity-boosting foods are on the rise. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on food as medicine, with functional food and beverages that deliver immunity and mental well-being benefits being most relevant, said Shelley Balanko of The Hartman Group. “Consumers have focused on immunity, such as the link between healthy digestion and reducing overall systemic inflammation in the body,” she said. “They are thinking more about high-quality sleep and effective stress-management techniques.” Many have been trying to eat and drink more immune-supporting ingredients such as vitamin C in citrus, green tea, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. More experimental and trend-forward consumers are trying things like prebiotic fiber from resistant starches, adaptogens, and medicinal mushrooms. Read more. CBD opportunity. Tied with the rise in functional foods and beverages, customers are increasingly seeking CBD as an ingredient. Food or beverage products that aim to fill a need state (like boosted immunity or sleep enhancement) are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Before deciding to add CBD to a food or beverage product, experts advise makers to take the time to understand the regulatory repercussions and the trends of the category. Read more. Global and regional American “travel” through food. With consumers sticking closer to home, global flavors are of strong interest. Scandinavian or Nordic cuisine has been on the radar, said Melanie Bartelme of Mintel, one of the SFA Trendspotters at Specialty Food Live!, who noted ingredients at the event including sea buckthorn and birch crystals. Cambodian chile pastes and fonio, an ancient grain from Senegal, were other global flavors noted by the Trendspotters. “There is an effort to preserve culture through food and have that taste at home,” noted V. Sheree Williams of Cuisine Noir Magazine, a member of the Trendspotter panel. The trend extends to regional American as well, said Bartelme. The concept of road trips and discovering what’s here in your backyard is increasingly appealing in the wake of COVID-19. Read more. Integrating plant-based. “The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the shift from consumer demand of animal-based products to plant-based ones,” said Jans Tuider of ProVeg, who shared best practices for plant-based food makers, including categorizing plant-based products based on usage, not ingredients. ProVeg believes that the store of the future will shift towards a “protein aisle” rather than a specific aisle for meat and a separate one for plant-based offerings. Read more. Recordings of the Specialty Food Live! sessions will be available at learning.specialtyfood.com within the next month.

    Denise Purcell
    The annual 12 Under 35: Breakout Talent to Watch individuals are just what I needed right now.

    We’re all navigating a reality of business uncertainty, likely COVID-19 resurgence, brutal political division and social unrest, and discovering
    people who are making a positive contribution despite—and sometimes in response to—the tumult is even more inspiring in the calamity that’s been 2020.

    Among these enterprising young entrepreneurs you’ll read about, are a 16-year-old chef who challenged racial inequality in culinary reporting, a cultural preservationist whose CSA distributes products from Black-owned farms in North Carolina, a chef who turned his restaurant into a food bank in the early days of COVID-19, and a fifth-generation coffee farmer who is providing a more reliable income for Colombian growers. They and the rest of the members of this year’s list are a lesson in turning hurdles into opportunities.

    So, too, are the makers we highlight throughout this issue. In this Q&A Managing Editor Julie Gallagher talks with three companies who are shifting strategy in the age of COVID-19. Whether launching new items to gel with changing consumer buying habits or pushing through with initial product plans, these companies displayed agility during disruption.

    If you need more inspiration, peruse the list of 2020 sofi winners. As Ron Tanner, SFA’s vice president of education, content, and advocacy, points out, “The pandemic has challenged the supply chain, but specialty food entrepreneurs continue to show creativity in their kitchens.”

    These examples show an industry moving ahead, seizing opportunity, and innovating in ways large and small to keep competitive amid ambiguity. We have our own examples of the same here at SFA. I hope by now you’ve heard about and downloaded our new app, SFA Feed. It compiles all the useful content you are used to from us in one convenient platform. You’ll find the day’s news stories, features, Q&As, trends, the latest new product introductions from our online Product Marketplace, videos with industry leaders, SFA updates on programs and events, and the digital edition of Specialty Food magazine—all in one place to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening in our industry. And we continue to distribute our industry newsletter—renamed SFA News Daily—to showcase each day’s top news from the app.

    Our team is excited about growing this resource with even more original content, including an upcoming new podcast, to serve our audience. If you haven’t yet checked out SFA Feed, download it in the iOS App Store or in GooglePlay. It’s evolving into our main content platform for
    delivering the news, trends, products, and updates you need to know about, and the Association is proud to be innovating to bring you new and useful tools to help keep you informed.

    Denise Purcell
    Shifting channel strategy generated many comments from the supply chain during interviews SFA’s research partner Mintel conducted as part of the recently released State of the Specialty Food Industry research, 2020-2021 Edition. The interviews are included in the 125+-page full report to add insight and context into today’s market. 

    Among comments about channel evolution, companies noted that specialty brands are scaling faster than ever thanks to e-commerce and are using that channel to test the water before migrating to brick-and-mortar. Conventional retailers continue gaining ground and embracing better-for-you and specialty trends. And alternative channels are increasingly a focus among emerging specialty producers that aren’t winning traditional retail accounts at the pace they’d like or need. 

    Here are highlights of the supply chain’s responses:

    “We’ve seen huge growth in conventional stores like Kroger, Walmart, and Target. The natural category is exploding. … What we’ve seen over the last year or year and a half is that the natural world is becoming more of the conventional world.”
    —marketing coordinator for a 20-year-old, family-owned specialty food brand

    “[It used to be] that we have to get our numbers up in natural before tipping our toe into conventional grocery. Now you go everywhere. You pick the right grocery retailers, such as Safeway NorCal or Giant/Martin’s, that are much more forward thinking in the natural and organic space than other banners are. You don’t have to incubate for 3-4 years before you start leaping into grocery. Now, Walmart’s talking to every small brand, and Kroger [is too]. So the speed at which a brand could potentially scale is a lot faster now than what it used to be, if the brand has money.” 
    –co-founder of a 2-year-old sales consulting group

    “The [specialty/natural] food channel is a difficult place to make a profit in the beverage business. It’s a great place to get proof of concept and build a brand with cachet, but in the long term [focus] has to be more mainstream in most categories. I’m finding that mainstream retailers want specialty products like ours. Category managers want to have that kind of image enhancer for their categories.” 
    –owner of a 5-year-old specialty beverage company

    “It’s about not saying, “Hey, we’re going to launch in Target in 1,000 stores.” It’s actually being a little bit more restrictive with the buyer, saying “while we want to be in all Target stores, we think our strength is in [our home geographic] market right now. We’re not there yet to be in all of your locations in [another distant geography]”, for example. Our goal is to go from 50 to 100 to 500 to 1,000 stores, but I need to show proof of concept. If [the retailer] puts me in my home market, or the one I want [that’s] in the right [location]…at least if I don’t succeed, my investment is only 50 or 100 stores, not 1,000."  
    –director of growth and category management for an 11-year-old specialty dessert brand

    “In terms of getting our products launched and established, the first thing we always do is put them on Amazon, for a whole host of reasons. For one thing, it provides us with a test bed, so certain products we’ve had on Amazon long-term while we decide when the appropriate time is to launch them into [brick-and-mortar] retail. We’ve discovered things like, ”Are these pantry staples and are people repurchasing them? Do they need to be tweaked? What are the reviews like? Are these [products] fully functional?” We can use Amazon and direct e-commerce as a test bed with consumers before we go to retail.”
    –founder of a multi-brand specialty food and beverage portfolio

    “The focus right now is on alternative channels and impact. That’s been a focus for our brands for quite some time, and even more so now. What’s been on our minds a lot is just creating opportunities and connecting the brands to the right distribution channels, which are outside of the typical retailer and distribution systems. I think that’s really positive in a way, because they’re not having to jump through all of these hoops, they are able to act quickly, and form creative partnerships. Agile brands, like those we support, will be able to succeed through these challenging times.”
    –partnerships manager for a shared kitchen operator and specialty brand incubator

    You can purchase the 125-page State of the Specialty Food Industry Full Report and 10-Year Category Tracking and Forecasts (available at a discounted price for SFA members). And, download a recording of the recent webinar The State of the Specialty Food Industry + COVID-19 Impact here.

    What do you see as the channel evolution in the specialty food industry? Weigh in in the Q&A Forum.

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