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  1. The humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is the latest example of food industry support. Since Russia launched its invasion, chefs, food organizations, foodservice operators, and grocers have hosted events, mobilized resources, and pledged funds on both widescale levels for large chains and local efforts by restaurants and independents. Below you’ll find a summary of some efforts to support the impact of the devastation. Chef José Andrés’ nonprofit food relief organization World Central Kitchen has volunteers in Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary, serving over one million meals to Ukrainians as they flee the country. The organization has more than 330 distribution points in 55 cities. WCK is also working with dozens of chefs and restaurant partners in 12 cities within Ukraine to serve those who remain in the country. Within Ukraine, Ievgen Klopotenko, winner of MasterChef Ukraine in 2015, has turned his restaurant into a bomb shelter for feeding civilians and Ukrainian fighters. The Fresh Market is running a fundraising campaign through April 12 in which proceeds from register donations and through the sale of special bouquets made with sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower, will be given to World Central Kitchen. Bake for Ukraine is a worldwide bake sale launched on Feb. 26 that allows independent bakers to raise money for organizations like World Central Kitchen, International Rescue Committee, and Sunflower of Peace. Aldi company Aldi Sud, headquartered in Essen, Germany, about 1,100 miles from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, has donated 5 million Euros for immediate and long-term humanitarian aid. Aldi UK, part of Aldi Sud, is offering jobs to Ukrainian refugees. Kroger is sending emergency food assistance to refugees through a monetary grant from The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation to the United Nations World Food Program’s Ukraine Emergency Fund. Kroger will match all gifts made by its associates and customers, up to $250,000. Restaurants across the U.S. hosted fundraisers to donate proceeds. In Chicago, Wherewithall, operated by Johnny Clark, a Ukrainian-American chef, and Beverly Kim, launched a Ukrainian menu and donated a portion of proceeds to Razom for Ukraine, a pro-democracy nonprofit. Brooklyn’s pierogi restaurant Pierozek ran a similar event to support Ukrainian Armed Forces. In Portland, Kachka restaurant donated all proceeds from its Chervona Wine Cocktail to the Red Cross’ humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Southeastern Grocers, parent company of WinnDixie grocery stores, Harveys Supermarket, and Fresco y Más, donated 100 percent of proceeds from its private-label Ukrainian vodka in the month of March to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Shoppers at Publix can add donations to register totals and all funds will go toward the Red Cross’ work to distribute food, medicine, and medical supplies to Ukrainians impacted by the war. Grocery distributor and retailer SpartanNash enlisted its military division to send supplies like baby formula, energy drinks, and over-the-counter medications to Poland. The company has pledged $1 million to support the humanitarian disaster. This is just a small sample of activities going on throughout the food world. If you know of more that should be highlighted, want to share what you are doing in your own businesses and communities, or have an idea about how to help, please join our conversation here on the specialtyfood.com Community Hub.
  2. “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.
  3. 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.
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