As the coronavirus outbreak continues to put health on the forefront of consumer’s minds, the sales of probiotic products are rising. GlobalData, an analytics company tracking grocery sales, notes that natto (fermented soybeans) were out of stock in Japan consistently since the outbreak. Sales of yogurt are also increasing.
“Consumers are more actively buying probiotic products. There will not be natto panic buying in Europe, but probiotic products claiming to improve the immune system are likely to grab consumers’ eye,” said Mitsue Konishi, senior innovation analyst at GlobalData.
When Keenan Smith made his first batch of water kefir, it was for his kids. He wanted something more nutritious for his young daughters, avid sparkling water drinkers.
Tangy, bubbly and packed with probiotics, water kefir hit all the right notes. The next year was full of home kitchen experiments, creating enticing flavors and perfecting the four-core formulation — purified water, kefir cultures, cane sugar and mission figs.
“My daughters are my best taste testers,” Smith says. “We used to be big kombucha drinkers, but water kefir is providing a different alternative. Water kefir is lighter, less sour and it has no caffeine. The kombucha flavor doesn’t work for some people, and water kefir is a perfect entry into the probiotic drink space. It’s a bridge between kombucha and sparkling water. People can still have a yummy, probiotic drink with water kefir.”
Smith is hardly a kombucha hater, though. He’s a big fan of the fermented tea. Smith was a sales broker for many natural brands for almost two decades — including Health-Ade Kombucha, one of the nation’s leading kombucha brands.
“When I was their broker, they majorly grew their company. But they’re still fermenting in individual glass vessels,” Smith says. “I look to that model because they’ve been so successful without sacrificing the fermentation process.”
By November 2016, Smith rented a commercial kitchen near his home in Portland, Ore. and began brewing kegs of water kefir under his label: Goodwolf Feeding Company. His first customer was Airbnb’s corporate offices. By late 2017, Goodwolf opened their own manufacturing facility, scaling up without sacrificing small batch fermentation. Even now as Goodwolf expands from a Pacific Northwest brand to the West Coast, Goodwolf continues to ferment in 50 gallon stainless fermentation vessels, cultivating additional kefir cultures as the business grows.
“Production is moving very quickly. It feels like we’re in a rocket ship,” Smith says. “It’s a great time for water kefir.”
A few months after his big win as the Expo East Pitch Slam winner, Smith shares how he responsibly built a fermented drink brand.
The Fermentation Association: You were formerly a sales broker for natural food and drink brands. How did your background help you launch Goodwolf water kefir?
Keenan Smith: Knowing the industry, understanding how retailers and distributors work, knowing the cost of doing business upfront. That’s why it’s taken so long for us to grow — we didn’t raise venture capital out of the box. We’ve been slow and steady. We haven’t taken on much investment at all.
A lot of brands will start selling at farmers markets, then pitch to stores, but I had the connections to the retailers. We went right to the retailers.
It’s been a blessing and a curse. The blessing is we’ve been able to get into a lot of the retailers, but where we’ve been short-sighted is the on-premise channels. We haven’t done much with food service and the alternative channel side — like local offices, beer distributors and bars, they’re wanting non-alcoholic options. We’ve missed out on that keg business. These were things I didn’t think about when I focused on the retail challenge.
TFA: Functional beverages are shaking up the drink industry. How do you stand apart from other functional drinks?
Smith: Our best IP (intellectual property) is definitely our recipes, our flavor. We have really good recipes because we really came into it, that was our main goal, to create a very good tasting and nicely packaged product. We announced our social mission at Expo East around mental health. We didn’t want to lead with that though, we wanted to make sure the product and the branding was dialed in.
And also our packaging and position stands out. If you look at the kombucha case, there’s a lot of yoga, spiritual, Hindu vector art. Everything screams yoga. It’s a lot of white. And our packaging is black. We are trying to be a challenger brand. We don’t want anything that’s superfluous in there. We want to position ourselves as a challenger brand to the industry norms. We’re trying to stand out that way — with our marketing and positioning that we’re a little different.
TFA: Tell me about the genesis of the name, Goodwolf.
Smith: Before I started Goodwolf, I was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety. I was working on eating better and exercising. I was running one day and listening to a podcast and heard the popular good wolf legend story — the classic story on the good wolf, bad wolf. The good wolf is full of joy and love, you feed it by eating healthy. The bad wolf is angry and succumbs to fear, and you feed it a box of donuts. The one that wins is the one you feed. So I had this idea of the Goodwolf origin story.
TFA: What’s your most popular flavor.
Smith: Ginger. But our Gold is creeping up there. It’s cold pressed organic ginger, lemon, lime, pineapple and spices like turmeric and a little bit of black pepper. Our newest flavor is Habanero Fire, it’s our 5th flavor. It’s a nice addition because most brands don’t think about habanero, there’s a lot of cayenne cleanse, but no habanero. I tasted a habanero-infused cider and it had more of a round flavor, while cayenne is more of a single note of heat. Habanero is more well-rounded. We add cayenne, but the habanero really comes through. And it’s cold-pressed with ginger and apple cider vinegar.
TFA: It sounds like a lot of work goes into crafting your flavors.
Smith: Yes. There’s a lot of R and D. Our No. 2 ranked SKU is called Bloom. That was originally called Wolf Berry because Wolf Berry was another name for goji berry, which we were fermenting with in the beginning. The way we use figs now, figs are used to culture the wild yeast out of the air, they float to the top of the water when fermenting, then you throw them out. We were doing the same thing with goji berries. But something happened in fermentation that made it very foamy with goji berries. So we stopped using the goji berries and now we’re using figs.
TFA: You announced a social mission at Expo East. Tell me more about your social mission.
Smith: Coming from a broker world, I worked with a lot of brands that were social mission first. “Buy our product and we’ll give our product to someone that doesn’t have this product!” But this doesn’t always work. Maybe this product isn’t something needed, or it’s not as good as something else on the market so it didn’t make sense. We didn’t want to lead with that social mission.
We could slap 1% for the planet on the bottle, that would be easy. But I struggled with anxiety, I have family members who have struggled with depression. I can really get behind that interest because I relate to it. This felt unique. It’s part of the challenger brand position. And it’s feeding the good wolf, making the right choices.
We’re trying to do something harder, align our brand with mental health awareness. We can’t just donate our money to it because we don’t have money yet, all our money is going back in the business. You can’t really volunteer unless you have a degree, they don’t just want anyone off the street working with people suffering with mental health issues. A friend who is a doctor is consulting with us on how we can best use it. Maybe profits go to the National Association On Mental Illness. Right now it’s an intention versus a full fledged mission. It will be baked into the company as we grow.
TFA: How can brands effectively advertise the health benefits of their product?
Smith: I personally think you have to be crafty. You don’t want to scream health at the customer because you alienate people who think it won’t taste good because it’s healthy. Or you’re preaching to the choir because the healthy people know it’s healthy. You need to be able to imply the benefit without being too forward.
TFA: What challenges do fermented food and drink producers face?
Smith: Education. Even though we’ve made strides, there’s still so much education to be done. One of the big challenges is how do we stay true as smaller brands that are doing traditionally fermented products against larger brands with tons of venture capital and are adding probiotics. It’s apples and oranges when you’re talking about products sitting on a shelf together. Are they a brand funded by Coke? We have to tell our story. It’s advantageous when you’re going into retailers and say we’re small, we’re traditionally fermented. If you can tell that story to your buyers and convey it to your customers. We pushed the traditional fermented aspect.
TFA: What are the fermented food and drink industry strengths?
Smith: Well look, there’s a global pandemic happening and I think that ultimately, you will begin to understand that health is your only wealth. Health and your family are the only things that matter. When people understand that, your product is like gold because you’re providing health to people. And that’s the most important thing we have.
TFA: What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs starting a fermentation brand?
Smith: My advice is some advice I heard recently: Find a space that isn’t already crowded. Maybe we don’t need more sauerkraut and kombucha brands or water kefir, frankly. But try to focus on how you can expand to your maximum potential locally and regionally. Don’t just look at national chains and distributors, but look at on-premise sales. How can you get your product into universities, schools, tech campuses? Think outside the box, find something truly unique that the markets are not flooded with. Or else we’re all just cannibalizing each other.
CNBC “Suddenly Obsessed” explores how kombucha went from a niche beverage to a massive fermented drink category reaching $500 million in sales. Once only popular among hardcore health enthusiasts, CNBC notes kombucha’s appeal is because of a growing consumer preference for healthier drinks. Bigger brands are entering the kombucha space, though, manipulating the brewing process. Pepsi Co. acquired Kevita kombucha, for example, and now Kevita pasteurizes their kombucha for a longer shelf life.
Read more (CNBC)
Julie O’Brien of Firefly Kitchens in Seattle wants to “put the sexy in sauerkraut.” She says: “It’s everyone’s goal to make their meals look beautiful and taste beautiful, but wouldn’t it be great if somebody also felt good after eating what they make? By tossing in a dash of kraut, you’re getting that digestive boost and support, so you’re not hung up on the couch in sweatpants after eating a big meal.” O’Brien began fermenting 14 years ago after fermentation piqued her interest during a nutrition program. The high density of micronutrients in fermented foods originally appealed to her. She’s survived the unstable Seattle food scene by championing the traditional food craft.
Read more (Seattle Pi)
BBC Travel “Comeback Cities” series explores Gwangju, South Korea’s 6th largest city that is considered the birthplace of kimchi. Kimchi sauces are different by store in Gwangju, differing between seasoning levels and even experience of the kimchi maker. Hooni Kim runs the New York restaurant Danji , which became the world’s first Michelin-starred Korean restaurant in 2012. He shares “the secret ingredient to Gwangu’s culinary depth:” a regional version of jeotgal, which is a fermented seafood. Kim calls it “natural MSG,” a sauce made of “shrimp, squid, oyster, any kind of fish.” Jeotgal is a key ingredient in kimchi.
Read more (BBC Travel)
Staff at TFA were getting ready to head to Anaheim for Natural Products Expo West, the enormous spring trade show, when, Monday night, the show’s producers announced it would be postponed because of mounting concerns about the coronavirus. New Hope Network, a division of Informa PLC, said they plan to announce by mid-April a new date for the conference.
In a statement on their website, New Hope wrote that the “natural products community has made it clear it doesn’t want the show to go on.” Reports indicated attendance — forecast to approach 85,000 at Expo West, the largest natural products show in the world — would be down by up to 60% this year. It’s been reported that more than 200 exhibitors had pulled out of the show over the last few days.
Multiple members of the TFA advisory board traveled to Anaheim this week for Expo West.
“I was surprised they postponed considering how much money this makes for them. But it makes sense,” says Kheedim Oh, founder of Mama O’s Kimchi. “I assumed it would still be on after finding out many buyers were pulling out because I doubted they would cancel.”
Oh estimates he lost $3,000 on Expo West. Though he was able to get a last-minute refund from his Airbnb host, flights, car rentals and shipping of product were all non-refundable.
Matt Reynolds, brand manager for Bubbies Fine Foods and Cook’s All Natural Pantry, said it’s not just money lost, but time, too. Expos are resource intensive. And “it’s hard to quantify that lost lead that could’ve been a game changer.”
“This Expo’s postponement seems to be somewhat unprecedented and is still unfolding on all sides,” Reynolds says. “Expos can be great for sales leads, vendor leads, as well as for customer and broker feedback and face time. Expos can also great for identifying trends and featuring new products. At best, postponing Expo West postpones these opportunities. At worst, we lose them.”
Fred Linder, Group President of New Hope Network, said: “As with all our events, it was the intention here at Expo West in Anaheim, to follow official guidance from local authorities and to listen to the voices of the community we serve and support, in order to maximize the health of the industry.”
“Today, it is clear the majority of those voices are saying they want Expo West but not this week. And so we are being guided by that majority in postponing the show.”
The statement continues that New Hope was planning to continue with the conference this week, at the advice of local government and health authorities from the City of Anaheim. Many brands were already setting up booths on the various trade show floors Monday.
But, notes New Hope Network: “In the particular case of New Hope’s Natural Products Expo, the situation has been very different in that the show was in-flight, with production underway, when the views of the community started to diverge. Some of our partners strongly advocated continuing with the show as planned. Some of our partners wanted the show, but not now, and some just wanted a straight-forward cancellation.”
“It is now clear…that the majority of our Community want the show, but they do not want it now.”
Last week, New Hope Network sent an “Update on Coronavirus” to attendees that the show would continue. They said: “The majority of our Chinese exhibitors are unable to participate in this year’s event and a small number of companies are reducing their presence due to corporate travel policies.”
Over the last few days, though, many brand leaders and industry professionals shared please on social media for the conference to be cancelled. Food Business News said, out of 3,600 exhibitors, 200 pulled out of the conference because of fears of the virus spreading or company travel restrictions.
John Foraker, co-founder and chief executive officer of Once Upon a Farm, told Food Business News that attending Expo West “makes no business sense” as retail buyers from such companies as Amazon, Kroger, Whole Foods Market and Target have cancelled attendance.
“The retailer cancellations have been so significant for us that there is little point to go,” Foraker said. “That combined with no less reason to be concerned about the (COVID-19) health risks for employees given news this weekend. The point of Expo is to sell and build our brand. We think that is not possible now, certainly relative to all the other considerations.”
There were an estimated 85,000 attendees at this year’s Expo West, and sampling food from different brands is a major part of the trade floor experience. Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of Kind Healthy Snacks, posted an open letter on LinkedIn as to why his company would be pulling out of the conference:
“While we are hoping that (COVID-19) will not be as damaging as the fear it is fomenting, we decided that gathering with 30,000 people from across the world inside closed quarters to try tons of food samples was probably not the most prudent path forward this week, particularly as we don’t have enough information about (COVID-19). Our team members’ health is our paramount priority.”
Sagan Schultz, CEO at plant-based functional beverage brand WellWell, shared his views as a medical doctor in an open letter on LinkedIn:
“Over the last few weeks, COVID-19 has started behaving like the once-in-a-century pandemic academics have feared,” wrote Schultz, who is also a doctor. “It has the ability to kill healthy adults at a 1-2% case fatality rate making it similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu, and it has proven to spread quite efficiently and exponentially — each infected person on average can infect 2-3 others. So far COVID-19 has caused 10x more cases than SARS in a quarter of the time.”
Bread sales continue to flatline as consumers grow leary of gluten and chemical preservatives. But there’s one bright spot in the market: sourdough. Preservative-free, clean ingredient, fermented sourdough bread is growing increasingly popular.
Read more (CNBC)
We asked three fermentation experts if recent popularity of fermented foods is a fading trend or a new food movement. These industry professionals weigh in on their predictions for fermentation’s future. The fermenters include: Bri Warner (CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, a commercially viable seaweed farm that makes kelp kraut and kimchi), Nicholas Gregory (owner of Pulp Hot Sauce, an Atlanta-based fermented condiment brand), Joshua Rood (co-founder and CEO Dr Hops Kombucha beer, a health-conscious alcohol).
Do you think the surge of fermented food and drinks is a trend will disappear or a new food movement here to stay?
Bri Warner, CEO Atlantic Sea Farms: “Now that we have a robust understanding of how good gut health effects overall health, I think fermentation is here to stay. I do think the category will continue to innovate to remain relevant, with a stronger focus on quality ingredients that are good for people, planet, and, in our case, oceans!”
Nicholas Gregory, owner Pulp Hot Sauce: “I think the current fermented food movement is here to stay. We are at an intersection of technology, science and health further than we have ever seen in human history. The internet, television, several seminal books and air travel have given us unprecedented exposure and access to information. This exposure and access to food and world cultures is more in depth than ever before. Including the food history and traditions of those cultures. Combine that awareness with a relatively intelligent and sophisticated medical system; an understanding of healthy lifestyles, a willingness to make healthy decisions, an understanding of the benefits of a healthy gut biome and how it all correlates to a longer, happier, healthier life. Along with a craving for umami and fermented funky flavors for a growing number of the population. I believe we are in the middle of a movement that shows no signs of slowing down or going away anytime soon. In fact, I see it only becoming more popular, more normal, more accepted, more diverse, more creative and more exciting in the decades to come.”
Joshua Rood, co-founder and CEO Dr Hops Kombucha beer: “As co-founder and CEO of Dr Hops Kombucha Beer, I appreciate that there is currently a powerful trend towards living, fermented foods. But answering the question of whether or not that will continue is repugnant. We here at Dr Hops are driving that trend! We are not playing the game of hoping that it will simply continue. We are committing ourselves, each day, to the life-enhancing awesomeness of fresh, authentic, fermented foods and beverages. Please join us in that! Join us in leading the health-conscious food and beverage revolution!”
Cheese making is a craft steeped in tradition. But as industry-altering trends emerge — like innovative ingredients, plant-based dairy, sustainable operations — how can cheese creameries compete?
At the Winter Fancy Food Show, heads of two specialty cheese companies in Northern California shared their insight about innovations and trends in specialty cheese.
Consumers are shunning processed cheese for specialty, small-scale, fermented, farmstead brands. Research from Winsight Grocery Business shows that specialty cheese sales are growing. Though sales of dairy-based cheese dipped in 2019, specialty cheese sales are up 2%.
Using Innovative Ingredients
“In cheese, the great thing is that tradition is always up-to-date,” says Manon Servouse, brand manager for Marin French Cheese. Founded in 1865, Marin French Cheese still uses the traditional art of French cheese making, but “we add innovation with inspiration from our local area” in Marin County, California, where Marin’s operations are located.
Marin’s new ingredients include adding jalapeno, truffle and ash coating.
Laura Chenel cheese, meanwhile, is also experimenting with new flavors. The goat cheese brand based in Sonoma County, California adds bacterial cultures to their goat milk, a fermentation process that produces a distinct flavor. Laura Chenel’s newest cheese won a Good Food Award this year. The aged goat cheese, called Crottin, develops a specific rind on the cheese, which aids the cheese’s flavor.
Competing with Plant-Based Cheese
Eric Barthome, CEO of Laura Chenel, says though plant-based cheese is becoming a force in the food industry, plant-based is not their audience.
“The real cheese lovers like cheese made with milk,” Barthome says. “And that’s what we want to do. We’ve been working on the quality of the milk for so long that, yes, there’s room for new products and new cheese made with plant-based products. However, our credo is really to continue to make the best milk to make the best…real goat cheese we can make.”
Plant-based foods are becoming mainstream. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 11% the past year, according to research by the the Plant Based Food Association and Good Food Institute. Sales of the total plant-based market was $4.5 billion. That figure goes beyond cheese, and includes plant-based milks, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and meat. Plant-based meats are the leading sales driver for plant-based products.
Though plant-based cheese sales are growing, milk-based cheese topped $18 billion in sales in 2019, with specialty cheese sales growing the fastest.
Manon says people are turning to plant-based products because they’re concerned about animal welfare. She noted, at Marin French Cheese, they work with two small creameries to get their milk to monitor the health of the animals. They run small-scale to produce high-quality milk.
Importance of Sustainability
Running an environmentally sustainable creamery is key to successfully operating a modern cheese creamery.
Laura Chenel was sold to the French Triballat family in 2006, and the new leaders decided to build a new creamery in Sonoma County. The new facility reduced the use of natural resources by using water more efficiently, utilizing solar energy, implementing natural lighting and retooling waste management. The new creamery is the only LEED gold certified cheese creamery in the world.
“Very important to us is respect for the environment, respect for tradition and respect for the animals,” Barthome says.
Fermented foods are spiking in popularity in the deli section. A cover story in Deli Business magazine features fermented food offerings in the deli case — from meat, cheese, olives and pickles. Representatives from The Fermentation Association were quoted in the piece, highlighting the unique flavors and health benefits of fermented foods that drive the category. Van Holten’s pickles has seen 13 years of sales growth, with the past two years as their strongest sales growth. Eric Girard, vice president of sales and marketing at Van Holten’s: “Consumers continue to turn away from salty snacks to easy grab and go items that are healthier. Pickles were often a spear at the side of a sandwich, which it still is, but can be a snack. Fermented foods will garner more shelf space in delis in the future, but companies will need to innovate with flavors to keep it fresh and top of mind.”
Read more (Deli Business magazine)