Specialty Food Magazine


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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Page 95 of 139

with their sticky rice because it's naturally bright orange, which is a lucky color in Asian culture." According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the oil from Gac fruit is a rich source of lycopene, beta- carotene, vitamins A and E, and essential fatty acids, all of which are beneficial to the body, especially for skincare. After doing considerable research on her own, Tran became excited about the science behind ingestible skincare and notes that eating sources of lycopene can help protect skin from sun damage. From a sustainability standpoint, the Gac fruit also has much going for it. It grows easily on a vine like grapes, and can be grown with plants that need less sun expo- sure underneath. The skin is compostable, and is used as fertilizer by farmers. Gac fruit has a low growing cost, and while it doesn't naturally grow everywhere in Vietnam, it can f lourish in many locations. "Production has increased over the years, with competi- tors popping up in other parts of Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore," she explains. The Path from Farm to Juice In 2015, while living in Boston, Tran decid- ed to get involved and make the connection between the growers in Vietnam and buyers, such as producers of beverages as well as supplements. While Tran's initial intention was to act like a non-profit to connect the suppliers directly to the buyer, the compli- cated bureaucracy in Vietnam prohibited her from doing this, which led her to form XOI, a for-profit company that would buy from the farmers in Vietnam directly. Tran pays the farmers to grow and har- vest the Gac fruit, giving them a price which is significantly higher than the market price in Vietnam as well as an additional percent- age depending on f luctuations of the market price over the year. "We are here to support the farmers and their families. We give the farmers a contract that says we will buy the product from them exclusively. We help them with growing, harvesting, and training to work as a co-op, so the farmers are always helping each other." In addition to keep- ing them happy, the farmers have a representative that speaks for them, negotiates pricing with us, and works with the farmers and their families to ensure they are happy with the agreement. After the fruit is harvested, the seed and skin are removed, and the pulp is turned into a freeze-dried powder in Vietnam, which is then imported to the U.S. The juice production is all done in Boston, where XOI has partnered with CommonWealth Kitchen to make the juice and do the bottling. XOI juice comes in Apple Chamomile Cider, Beets & Berries, and Ginger Rosemary Pear. It is high in a variety of micronutrients, uses quality ingredients, and is low in sugar compared to other juices, making it more like a func- tional beverage, says Tran. The Consumer Connection With a small marketing budget, XOI has been focusing on in-store demos to educate the consumer about Gac fruit, as well as its work with Vietnamese farmers. Relying on organic marketing and free press, it is using social media and partnerships to build its brand recognition. "Feedback from consumers has been good, but it's hard to educate them because of all the components of the product, including concerns over food allergies, pushback from people who aren't familiar with Gac, and the confusion from people about ingestible skin care," says Tran. But they are gaining traction with the con- sumer. "Our target audience doesn't want to drink soda after a workout. They care about their bodies and their skin health, and they want to spend money on this drink because they believe in it, so that fanbase is really excited about us." What's Next Tran is experimenting with other skin- health ingredients such as activated charcoal and rosewater for a future product line addition, as well as taking a deeper dive into making Gac fruit an important part of a daily skin regimen. Currently, Tran sells a line of Gac fruit oil masks, using the oil directly from the fruit that has been cleaned and made safe for use as a cosmetic. Expansion will depend on having the capacity and money to support more distribution, so for now, XOI will remain in the New England area and ideally grow its business in more natural and organic stores and independent grocers, in addition to Whole Foods. The farmers in Vietnam are also a crit- ical part of the future of the business. "What I would love to do when we have the money, is to incorporate farmers into the process- ing, packaging, and exporting, rather than use a third party. They would get extra income and more job opportunities, and we get full ownership of the supply chain," says Tran. "My vision is to support these farmers and give them more opportunities. There are so many applications for this fruit, from topical cosmetics to vitamin supplements, and it only makes sense to think beyond food and drink." @ specialtyfood.com To read about more companies making a difference visit specialtyfood.com/givingback Sara Kay is editorial and education content associate for the Specialty Food Association. WINTER 2018 93

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