Specialty Food Magazine

Spring 2019

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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71 Specialty Sustenance HelloFresh takes it a step further. " We include a lot of snacks and samples in our boxes, that people can try while they're cooking the meal kit," says Matt Fitzgerald, senior vice president of marketing. "At HelloFresh we love finding new vendors and it leads to a fun experience for the customer." Working with specialty food companies benefits everyone. By showcasing them, Adler says Blue Apron gains customer trust through its savvy sourcing; the brand's image and reputation are boosted; and customers get to eat well. "These niche companies bring an integrity to our products," Adler says. New York City-based Marley Spoon, which distributes Martha + Marley Spoon and Dinnerly meal kits in the U.S., prefers working with specialty food manufacturers because "they're more nimble, f lexible, and can do something more custom," says Tom O'Brien, head of U.S. procurement. "It means we're often talking directly to the decision maker. They can make things happen, often quickly." Plus, it ref lects the quality that Marley Spoon provides, though O'Brien admits the company soft-sells these small purveyors "because we don't do it for marketing reasons." He's always on the lookout for specialty food companies, and typically finds them, he says, through trade shows and trade publications, but many come through cold calls to the company. It can take a while to onboard a new company—up to 90 days, according to O'Brien. Agrawal says it took around a year to have her achaar introduced to Blue Apron's kits but as part of her arrange- ment, Blue Apron took care of everything. "They're a really dialed in group," she says. Blue Apron tends to recognize its small suppliers on packages. Most feature the name of the company "to highlight our artisanal suppliers whenever possible." Marley Spoon does most of its recog- nition via its website. The biggest challenge with the small suppliers is whether they can provide product in the volume needed, Adler says. It's the same at Marley Spoon. "It's a problem if they can't keep up with our demand," says O'Brien, adding that if they can't, the company might make them a regional supplier instead of national. Blue Apron did extensive R&D testing of Sun Noodle's prod- ucts, and in the end, asked the company to create a bespoke noodle. "It's much more manageable for them," Uki says, and worth it for him, given the volume the meal kit company purchases. The custom- made noodle is versatile enough for brothy and brothless dishes. The Zen of Slow Cooking is another specialty food business that has gotten involved with meal kits. In 2016, Chicago-based Peapod approached Meg Barnhart, the company's owner, because it was interested in using her spice blend products in meal kits. "They loved that we're small and local and have clean products. And we love them—Peapod really took the time to figure out how to work with us," Barnhart says. Recipe Development The Zen of Slow Cooking just launched its third spice blend with Peapod. The specialty food maker does all its own recipe develop- ment, then Peapod tests the recipes in its kitchens "to make sure they can follow them and that they come out the same," says Barnhart. The partnership has been so beneficial to Barnhart that she needed to outsource production. She ran a successful Kickstarter cam- paign, then started working with a co-packer. In 2018, Peapod meal kits contributed 8 percent to Barnhart's bottom line. She doesn't see expanding to other meal kit companies any time soon because most have low budgets for seasonings and her high- quality products are not cheap. Working with small, specialty food companies is essential, says John Adler, vice president of culinary with Blue Apron. Not only does Blue Apron want to provide great meal kits, but also wants to introduce its customers to new, niche companies with excellent products. "Our No. 1 goal and mission is to make home cooking accessible for everyone and that means you start with incredible ingredients," he points out. Other important factors to Blue Apron when considering specialty companies to work with, are food safety and the ability to provide portioned amounts. "We aim to partner with suppliers that have the highest level of certification and all documentation in order. Additionally, their ability to pack in small prepackaged amounts, and showcase this, is always attractive to us," Adler says. Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer based in Anacortes, Wash. FALL 2017 article bug 71 SPRING 2019 specialty food maker

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