One question commonly posed by consumers starting to eat fermented products: How do I incorporate fermentation into my daily meals?
Alana Holloway, founder of Fermented By Lab, provides a great overview on how she uses fermented food and drinks. Hollaway’s food diary illustrates that it’s possible to include fermentation as a key element to every meal. Her simple meals are easy, delicious and highlight ways the average consumer can pair fermented food and drink with their regular food. Her dairy is also a great example of creative marketing fermented food brands can use to showcase ways to use their food.
Here’s Alana’s food diary, showcasing what she eats to keep her gut in good health.
Approach to food: I love to eat intuitively, according to the seasons… not only that, but according to the weather and how I’m feeling on any given day. After a lifelong battle with eczema, I have now found the key to managing it with the right foods for my body, and a complimentary lifestyle, too. I like to maintain a balanced, healthy gut and so eat/drink ferments every day… just as well I run a company that makes them!
DAY 1 – FRIDAY
I tend to start day with about a pint of warm water. I really find it gives me immediate energy following sleep. I’m really not a lover of cold water, so will always drink it at room temperature or warm/hot.
I usually have breakfast about 10.30 as I struggle to eat too early in the morning. I like to allow my body time to build up a good hunger! Now that Spring is here, I’ve swapped my porridge for smoothies. This morning’s is organic cooked beetroot (I cook up a batch and then freeze it for smoothies), organic frozen strawberries from last Summer, a green banana, which is a great source of prebiotic fibre, coconut yoghurt, goats milk Kefir for the all-important probiotics, Plenish cashew milk (my favourite) and a little raw honey for a some more prebiotic love! I also take an omega 3 supplement; generally speaking, I’m not a massive supplement advocate and prefer to get what I need from my diet, but as I am prone to really dry skin, I find this one helps.
I grab a small handful of Brazil nuts as I head out the door.
At 1pm I have a chunk of goats Gouda and another pint on warm water whilst waiting for my lunch to cook. I can tell it’s going to be a hungry day for me today!
At 1.30, I have a lunch of sliced avocado roasted chickpeas with nigella seeds, soft boiled egg, roasted sweet potato, Fennel + Lemon Kraut from the Fermented by LAB Spring Collection, steamed broccoli & kale.
3.30 small glass of Kombucha as I need a bit of a kick!
At 7pm I have dinner – it’s lentil Dahl with Carrot + Coriander Kraut from last year’s Autumn Box (one of my favourite things about fermenting foods is getting to eat them months later!)
I drink a Golden Mylk before bed and soak some oats for tomorrow morning’s porridge… I mentioned Spring too early and hear it’s due to snow tomorrow!
DAY 2 – SATURDAY
10am – I start the day with two huge mugs of warm/hot water again and follow it with the porridge I soaked last night. I always soak my grains/pulses/legumes to make them easier on my digestive system. My porridge toppings are roasted rhubarb, coconut yoghurt, a little raw honey and some chopped Brazil’s.
3pm – Lunch is a chunk of goat’s milk Gouda (I can’t get enough of it!) and roasted broccoli, carrot, fennel, sweet potato and nigella seeds with a soft-boiled egg (again!) Despite it being the weekend, I’m working and need something easy to cook which doesn’t require too much thought!
5pm – I have a bottle of Red Grapefruit + Rosemary Kefir from the Spring Box. I’m lucky enough to be able to delve into a good selection of seasonal ferments… it means I don’t get bored with eating the same Kraut all the time!
7pm – I try to stop eating by 8pm so that I can give my digestive system a break overnight. As I had a late lunch, I’m not overly hungry so make a beetroot, carrot (both cooked and frozen), blackcurrant, green banana and goats kefir smoothie and have a mug of chicken bone broth.
I drink a small Golden Milk just before bed. They really relax me and as I have a history of eczema, find they really help keep my inflammation at bay.
Best piece of advice about health + wellbeing?
Don’t search for all the answers in one place. Every day, I try to remind myself that it’s not just about a healthy diet, a good exercise regimen, good quality sleep or daily meditation practice, for example, it’s a combination of all of them that allows you to live your healthiest and happiest life.
Who is enjoying some sauerkraut at their July 4th BBQs? Pacific Sun magazine featured three Northern California sauerkraut makers — Sonoma Brinery, Wildbrine and Wild West Ferments. The article highlights the different fermenting techniques of the three brands and features this fascinating insight from David Ehreth, president and managing partner at Sonoma Brinery:
“If I can go nerd on you for a moment,” Ehreth warns, before diving into a synopsis about the lactobacillus bacteria that exist on the surface of all fresh vegetables. “You can’t remove them by washing.” What’s more, they immediately begin to feed and reproduce — but not in a bad way, unless they’re a bad actor, he insists.
“Those bacteria will really stake out their turf,” says Ehreth. “They’re very territorial. They go to war with each other.” The incredible part of it is that the four horsemen of the food industry — listeria, E. Coli, botulinum, and salmonella—are on lactobacilli’s hit list. None survive. Five bacteria enter — one bacterium leaves.
Quoting the Food and Drug Administration, Ehreth states, “There has been no documented transmission of pathogens by fermented vegetables.”
Read more (Pacific Sun)
Ask Lauren Mones for business advice and the founder of Fermenting Fairy will say “go grassroots.” In less than two years, Mones has grown her home-based business selling bottles of kefir outside a yoga studio to a USDA certified organic brand sold in dozens of Los Angeles health food stores and online.
Success, Mones says, did not come because she implemented scaling tactics or hired a sales manager. Instead, Mones did everything in the beginning – producing, packing, selling, inventory, money management – so she quickly learned how to troubleshoot.
“You as the founder should do everything for the business in the beginning,” She said. “When you start expanding and hiring on people, you know the pitfalls and blackholes. It’s harder. You’re going to put in a lot of work. But the payoff is big.”
In an increasingly corporate world where consumers want to support local brands, staying grassroots has been key to Fermenting Fairy’s success. Forming relationships with customers and retailers has been key for Mones to sell her coconut milk kefir, probiotic lemonade and unpasteurized sauerkraut. She still answers the company email, handles in-store demos and pitches retailers.
“What I see a lot of companies doing is they start hiring out really quickly and then they don’t see where things can go wrong, they don’t know where to create solutions,” she says. “Nowadays, customers want to support the little guys. They want artisans. They want to know who they’re buying from. And my customers know me because I answer their questions, I handle the social media account. And, if you do that, customers will go to bat for you.”
Read below for our Q&A with Mones, whose business tagline is: “A simple solution that works hard for your health.”
Q: You are open about your diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease. Tell me how that first got you interested in fermented foods.
About 5 years ago, I was actually the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. Then, out of the blue, I was the sickest I had ever been. It was one extreme to the next. I was working full-time as an occupational therapist, racing 3-4 triathlons a year, training 20-30 hours a week plus, I was engaged to a man I loved at the time. Everything was seemingly great.
Then I started showing signs of really bad gut health. I was having bowel movements 20 times a day; I was afraid to leave the house because I never knew when I had to go. Then my bowel movements became super urgent. I was in my mid-30s and pretty much incontinent. I wasn’t absorbing any nutrients, I was losing so much weight, I could barely walk two stairs before felt like my heart was leaping out of my chest.
I finally had a colonoscopy and I was diagnosed with Chron’s. I didn’t even know what that was. The doctors told me food was irrelevant, that it had nothing to do with my disease. They said “Go eat ice cream and bread, gain your weight back.” I knew that wasn’t true. From years and years of taking part in natural, homeopathic medicine, I knew food had a lot to do with how I felt.
I went to Barnes and Noble in the cooking section and came across the book “Paleo approach.” It had a little paragraph that fermented foods might be a good idea for autoimmune diseases. I bought my first jar of good sauerkraut. I had never had good, raw sauerkraut before, just the sauerkraut you’d get at like a New York hot dog stand. I took my first bite, and it was magical. I felt this surge of energy. I felt something shift in me. I knew it was a good sign, so I started adding it 2-3 times a day to my diet. It changed my bowel movements; I was going less and less and finally had formed stools.
That really opened my eyes to fermented foods. I started making my own kefir, making my own kombucha. I was transforming my physical body. I got off all my medications after 4 months. Now fermented foods are my medicine, I don’t go a day without one of them at least.
Q: Why did you turn to live, raw fermented foods instead of a probiotic pill?
I was taking probiotic pills way before they were even a pill, starting about 25 years ago. I was getting colonics and taking probiotics before gut health was even something. I was really into natural forms of healing and optimal health. I was still taking probiotics everyday when I was diagnosed, but it occurred to me that they weren’t helping. If they were, I wouldn’t have had such a serious diagnosis. And Chrons is a serious disease.
I stopped taking the probiotic pills and turned to fermented foods because I realized, in food form, the body absorbs it better. I also really appreciated the diversity I was getting in the food, not in the pill. And it was just better for me. I loved the taste of fermented foods. Adding it to everything I ate was way easier than taking a pill. I was done with putting foreign things in my body.
Q: When did you first start Fermenting Fairy? And how?
I started in September 2017, so it’s been about 2 years. I started in this yoga studio in Santa Monica, Calif., Bhakti Yoga Shala. I had never intended to have a food company; it was never on my radar. I have always been in the health field, I’m a certified yoga teacher, but I’ve never been a foodie. When I started fermenting at home and creating these incredible recipes, I was giving food to friends, including the owner of the yoga studio. He would come back to me and say “I feel so good eating your food, why don’t you start a food company?” and I said “No way, I don’t even know how to do that.”
One day, I took a yoga class with him and I had given him this kefir. This was a big class, and he told me at the beginning in front of the class “You have to sell this, it’s so good.” About 50 people came up to me after class and asked where they could buy my food. And I thought “OK, I’ve got to start this company.”
My friend offered to have me setup a stand outside of these yoga classes. Back then, I was selling pickles and my almond kefir. I had really good responses, so I took a shot at getting into a farmers market. It happened to be one of the best farmers market — the Brentwood Farmers Market. It was serendipitous, it’s hard to get in there. And within a month I had a lot of return customers, I was selling out of products. It happened very quickly, we were doing very well off the start.
In December, I decided to fill out the Erewhon intake form online. I knew nothing about selling products in stores, I just thought “Let me try. I knew it took people 1-2 years to get into Erewhon. And then, a couple hours after I sent in the intake form, the buyer said “Wow, these look amazing — can you bring in a sample?” By February, we were in three Erehwhon stores. It was in record breaking time to get in the stores.
Eventually we pulled out of all the farmers markets and focused on wholesale. In September 2018, we started online sales so people could order from our website. And in June 2019, we received our USDA Organic certification
Q: Why do you think your products were so popular, so fast?
Because there was a major hole in the beverage sector that we fulfilled. And I honestly didn’t know that at the time. I was creating these products and these recipes for myself; it was a personal thing to heal my body. I love kefir and was playing around with non-dairy forms. I didn’t realize at the time that there was no vegan milk kefir on the market. Now the dairy industry is collapsing, more people want vegan alternatives. The other thing is our lemonade, it’s a probiotic health drink. It’s something that spans all generations that people love. We made it in a very healthy, healing way with no added sugar. I think that’s why Fermenting Fairy really took off — we fulfilled these holes that were left in the beverage industry.
Q: I love the name and logo. Tell me where the idea came from?
When I was really sick and started fermenting, I realized there was an unseen world that is working really hard in my benefit: the microorganisms, the probiotics. To me, it completely changed my life in a spiritual way. When I was really sick and in pain and constantly going to the bathroom and hating my life, those microorganisms gave me hope. It gave me hope that this reality right in front of me wasn’t it for me. There were these beings working on my behalf that brought safety and goodness to my life — like fairies. Fairies are mystical beings that bring joy and goodness to people’s lives, and I really feel that’s the energy we put into my products.
Q: Tell me about your future, where do you see Fermenting Fairy expanding?
Right now, we’re really local. We’re Los Angeles-based. we want to expand nationally and then internationally. Health stores, and then conventional stores. I would love for the entire world to get a hold of my products.
But my true, honest hope and for me the ultimate goal is to penetrate Western medicine. To get the Western doctors on board, to see my drinks on the food tray of patients at a hospital, that’s when I will really feel like I’ve done my part in shifting the world. I also see my products getting into clinical trials for cancer, autoimmune disease, researching how our products can help healing and preventing those diseases. I see a lot of research into mental health possibilities.
Q: Using fermented foods as a healing tool is very common in other countries. Why do you think the U.S. is behind in that science?
Our FDA considers fermented foods risky. Even when California passed the Cottage Food Law, which allows you to start a food company at home, the law still won’t allow you to start a fermented food company at home because they consider fermented foods a dangerous food. Things are not going to shift quickly until we realize eating fermented foods is safer than eating a salad. The U.S. is a ways behind in realizing how safe and healing fermented foods are. Europe is way ahead of us on that.
Q: What myths do you think the public believes about fermented foods?
One, that they’re dangerous. Eating raw vegetables are more dangerous than fermented foods. When done right, fermented foods actually prevent any kind of Listeria or E.coli infection.
Another myth people tell me is “I tried kombucha and didn’t like it, so I don’t like fermented foods.” To people that say that, I ask well do you like yogurt? The biome of the ocean is the same as the biome of the forest. It couldn’t be more different. If one fermented food didn’t work for you, then try some others because they’re all different.
Q: How can we as an industry do a better job educating the public about fermented foods?
Before fermented foods really exploded — because we’re right on that cusp of explosion — there needs to be a ton of education. I think having more organizations like The Fermentation Association is really amazing. You bring light to things that are happening, highlighting great companies where great things are happening.
I don’t see a lot of fermented food companies doing a lot of social media education. I’d like to see more of that, I’m diving into it myself, doing educational videos on Instagram. I’m all about education on social media.
I think it’s important for all these companies creating these ferments to try and talk to the people that are so closed off to it. I’m friends with a lot of doctors because of my job history. They have so much power and influence, but they are the most closed off people to fermented foods that I know. Penetrating that medical community will be huge for us. That education piece will unleash a whole new set of people that we can really help.
Q: Do you think consumer awareness of fermented foods is increasing?
Oh yeah, for sure. It’s definitely on the increase. I think, as gut health becomes more relevant to all health, I think fermented foods will just ride that opening. I think consumers are definitely getting more savvy in that awareness of fermented foods. But there’s still a lot of fear around it. All the time still, when I’m doing in store demos, and I say “Do you want to try a sip of kefir?” still there are people who respond “Oh my god, no.” I get that reaction all the time still and it’s so heartbreaking. Awareness is increasing, but fear is still a major factor.
Q: From your Cardamom Rose Coconut Milk Kefir to Apple Cinnamon Sauerkraut, tell me about your unique flavors. Where do you draw flavor inspiration?
Nowhere special. I love plants, I love flowers, I love herbs, I love studying the synergistic qualities of them. I know about the healing properties of plants. I’ve picked plants and herbs that not only have major healing qualities but they work well together. I don’t really get my inspiration from anyone else. It comes to me and I study what works.
I can’t think too much out of the box because it doesn’t work for people. If it’s too strange for people, it won’t sell. We had a cacao basil kefir and it was delicious, but it didn’t sell. It was an odd combination for people. They have to work together synergistically for people, and spin it so it’s right outside the box but not too far out. On July 4th, we’re launching our newest flavor kefir, a turmeric chai spice.
Q: Where do you see the future of the fermented food industry going?
I think it’s only going to go up from here. I see it really booming in a big way. I see a lot of activity happening in the future with new companies coming up on the horizon. I also am excited for the gut-brain connection, how ferments can really affect mental health disorders, like depression and bipolar and anxiety. I think that’s a field that were not even breaking into at all and it’s coming.
I think we’re pretty far from this but I think fermented foods can be incredibly potent in preventative medicine as well, like preventing certain diseases that are on the rise, like diabetes and cancer. I don’t want to make health claims, but i think that’s where we’re going with the industry.
Q: What challenges do fermented food producers face?
The No. 1 challenge is global warming. It’s harder and harder for farmers to produce the quality and quantity that we as small fermented food companies need because of the extreme weather patterns. So one day in California that’s 115 -120 degrees can completely fry all the fruit trees. Then what happens to us is we try to get this organic produce and either the prices are extremely high because of that heat or there’s no good quality produce anymore. I think it’s only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it. I see that as the No. 1 challenge for small — and even the big ones — fermented food companies in general. We have to be a part of that solution, we can’t let that go.
I am adamant about getting certified organic. And if you’re not getting organic, at least using it. A lot of fermented food companies are getting the cheap ingredients and they’re adding to the problem of global warming and poor soil health. I highly disagree with it. It’s only going to make it worse for them in the future. We’re part of the solution, if you’re not doing it for the life of your company, at least do it for the life of yourself and your customers.
Q: What unique strengths do fermented producers bring to the food industry?
I think most of us are probably nature-loving people. I think we see a connection between nature and human health, so we can be really passionate about that and passionate about elevating the quality of food that’s out there. Because now it’s poor quality food that’s out there, but artisanal, handcrafted fermented food companies can change that. Here’s really high-quality, fermented foods. The more people that catch on to that, the more people that will move away from the cheap food and to more boutique food that provide health benefits.
The strengths are loving and respecting nature, respecting the tie between human health and nature and also being super passionate about creating more quality in the food world.
Put down the Gatorade, athletes — the best performance-enhancing substance is fermented food and drinks. An article in sports magazine STACK says athletes are overlooking fermented products for workout nutrition. Fermented products — like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir — heal the body with beneficial bacteria and combat gut imbalances. “The better our digestion, the better we utilize the food we are putting into our body, leading to even better improvements in our strength and health,” the article states. Though there is little research in the field, the article points to one study which found probiotics helped female college athletes improve body composition and deadlift performance.
Read more (STACK)
Jared Schwartz was in art school when the quality of the American food culture struck a nerve in him. He worked in restaurant kitchens while studying photography in Boston and was disturbed by the mindlessness of the food industry. No one was paying attention to the food they were eating, from the ingredients they were consuming to the source of the food.
“I started looking at the most traditional aspects in the food world, the way Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese people eat. Everything comes back to salt and fermentation,” says Jared. “It creatively made me think what can we do in fermentation that’s not around the standard. We have this standard – but what’s the future of it?”
Jared moved to update New York and began fermenting full-time. Heavily involved in multiple businesses, Jared is growing five local food brands – and adding more. Today, he is the director of operations and innovation at Farm Ferments (a fermentation hub in New York’s Hudson Valley), Hawthorne Valley Ferments (the fermented vegetable line of Hawthorne Valley biodynamic farm), Poor Devil Pepper Co. (the fermented hot sauce company started by Jared and wife Laura Webster) and Sauerkraut Seth’s (a raw sauerkraut). Hawthorne Valley Ferments, Poor Devil Pepper Co. and Sauerkraut Seth’s source almost all ingredients from organic, regenerative farms in New York state and the northeast.
“With Farm Ferments, we’re trying to create that middle ground for fermentation processors instead of becoming a monster powerhouse. We want to include smaller brands in that,” Jared says.
“With Whitethorne, we’re trying to create that middle ground for fermentation processors instead of becoming a monster powerhouse. We want to include smaller brands in that,” Jared says.
Though he began Poor Devil Pepper Co., he loves seeing more fermented sauce and dressing labels join the industry. More brands means more customers learning about fermentation. He adds: “If there’s only one fermented hot sauce or one fermented salad dressing in a case, people are like ‘Why buy it?’ It’s not going to move. There’s strength in community.”
Below Jared, a board member of the Fermentation Association, discusses successfully launching multiple fermented food brands, the importance of collaboration in the fermentation industry and how brands can support the farmers that source their food.
Q: Tell me about Hawthorne Valley Ferments, you’ve helped triple production.
When I started about 7 years ago, I started pushing the envelope in terms of production capabilities and sort of recipe fine-tuning, and we’ve started to grow progressively.
Q: What do you mean by pushing the envelope?
In terms of getting to the nitty-gritty of ferment time, turn overs, the farms were working with and sort of diving into the effective quality of different salt types. We’re finding the sweet spot that kind of creates a smoother cog of the fermentation system because I feel like every company is doing the same thing, but they all kind of have their own twists on it that takes a bit to come into.
Q: What are some of the twists?
Trade secrets. But like their own salt types, their own weight systems, their own ferment times. And a lot of it is environmentally related. Out west, they’re going to do things different than what we’re doing out east because of yeasts in the air. Northern California wine country is going to be battling yeasts off grapes where we’re dealing with different frost times on the east coast.
Q: When did you and your wife start Poor Devil Pepper Company?
A: Poor Devil started in 2014 working after hours at Hawthorne Valley Ferments. I started making sauerkraut and ferments at Hawthorne Valley and, at the same time, started taking the logic of basic sauerkrauts and kimchis and turning it into salad dressings, hot sauces, everything under the sun. We started in 5-gallon buckets and just grew it. We distribute on the east coast and down to about North Carolina currently. We’re mostly with eastern distributors.
Q: Is fermentation a growing industry?
Oh, 10,000 percent. It’s an interesting time because no one has ever really studied the good benefits of bacteria until the last five years. Now, every few months, you start hearing about these scientists all over the world that are actually taking the time to study gut bacteria. I saw something recently about a connection between gut biome and autism. There are all these amazing studies. The more focus that can go to that, the money, the time, that’s what truly keeps probiotics alive. There was never really money behind that before, because that’s really what it comes down to as much as people could do pro bono scientific research on it.
I personally don’t like the idea of taking an extract or like a powderized version of something. But, especially in the organic environment, people are well-informed and know where their food is coming from. The more light that is shed on fermentation, the bigger it can be.
Q: You have a generation coming up that’s caring about GMO and they care about clean eating. Do you see more consumers educating themselves about where their food is coming from?
Oh yeah. The only yang to that is that I fear in some ways every certification under the sun is dumbing down consumers too much. There should never be a need to have a non-GMO seal and an organic seal next to each other. But we take it because it’s all good in the long run. But in some ways, you feel extorted. I’ve gotten so many calls because our labels saw raw so we don’t say unpasteurized and we get calls saying “It says raw – but is it unpasteurized?” You can’t walk both those roads. It’s back to that sort of what people are told to eat. If someone says “Eat unpasteurized sauerkraut,” they say “But it says raw sauerkraut, I don’t know what to eat.” It’s confusing people.
Q: Tell me why Poor Devil is so unique compared to other sauces?
It’s down to that umami flavor. You’re able to take the natural fermentation and unpasteurization and you’re instantly tasting more flavor. In some cases, it brings out more heat because you’re not cooking it. It’s true sauce work. Like making a true gravy. There are layers to it. Fermentation allows you to keep levels of flavor in a sauce and not combine them.
Q: How did Farm Ferments start?
It started at Hawthorne Valley, which a is a nonprofit biodynamic farm. It started out of there. We were looking for a means to grow the fermentation movement and our food access program and looking at the supply chain in a different way. We still source 98 percent of everything we make from New York state, and probably 80 percent from our county. We started look at the supply chain from a different angle. We thought, instead of these farmers growing for a CSA or a farmers market, let’s give them the backdrop of a wholesale producer and work with some other producers in the area. That’s a guaranteed outlet. And so it kind of grew out of that. We were in a 2,500 square foot basement on a farm making krauts and hot sauces, then this past year we moved 10 minutes away to a fully renovated, building that is soon to be a state-of-the-art production facility for all things fermented vegetables.
Q: So Hawthorne Valley helps brands find farmers they can work with?
Yeah, that was definitely a big piece to it, creating social impact of more jobs in the area. Part of Hawthorne Valley itself, there’s a biodynamic farm, there’s dairy that’s part of it, there’s a bakery, a farm store and a Waldorf School that are part of the nonprofit. The hope taking Farm Ferments is growing that Hawthorne Valley name to create more education about biodynamic farming and regenerative, sustainable agriculture.
Q: Where are you hoping to expand Farm Ferments? How do you scale?
There’s always growth for it, and I feel that’s where the Fermentation Association is helpful to all brands. How to create a competitive brand in the fermentation industry from my experience is competitive, but it’s also collaborative. The true growth of it as a whole, there’s a place for everybody. To me personally, no one on the west coast should have a predominantly stronghold on the east coast on ferments. At this point, there’s so many people doing it. There’s room for them. You walk into a Whole Foods in New York City, I’d rather see five local brands taking up the shelf than your high performance SKUs from the west coast. But I think there’s room for everybody. The same products are going to be different because of the production process.
Q: So you see the fermentation industry as a community of collaborates rather than competitors.
Yeah. I think that set will only expand. Especially as the research and science behind the industry growth finds new ways to naturally produce probiotics through fermentation or finds a way to extract them. The greatest thing I could see would be larger ferment sets over the board, whether its krauts or kombuchas, yogurts, less in the vitamin set in terms of probiotics.
Q: You’d rather see ferments growing naturally through food than probiotics through a pill?
Q: You recently added Seth’s Sauerkraut to Farm Ferments. Are you actively looking for more brands on the east coast?
Off and on. We’re reaching a point of automation that’s kind of unique to the field. We’re actively looking to be a stepping stone for helping other brands grow in a collaborative effort. We’re not there yet, but it’s a goal in terms of our capacity.
Q: I love how in tune you are to local farmers in your area. How do you think fermentation brands can connect with and support farmers?
The biggest question I’ve learned to ask farmers what are their strengths. Every farmer will always tell you they can grow you everything you need. But to really work with farms and invest in them, let them supply you with what you need and work with them with what they grow best. Not every farmer can grow the best cabbage, but maybe they can grow the best carrots or garlic. Not every farmer has the same equipment either, see if they’re hand cutting or mechanically doing it. See what they’re setup to do. Find a system that works for everybody, work on communication between those farms.
Also, it’s kind of always hard knowing in terms of nature what’s going to happen to the crop. But the biggest thing brands can do is to still support local farmers even if someone has a bad crop one year. Still go back to them. In terms of working with them, get to know them. Get your fingers in the dirt, learn about how they’re growing things.
Q: Tell me more about working on communication between brands and farmers
The food system as a whole, there are too many people at this point all trying to grow 70 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for the same audience. This is a scary thought, but a lot of farmers are dying off or retiring and it’s the younger generation that’s only focusing on heirlooms, focusing on what’s trending. They’ve become these specialty fancy vegetable farmers. We’re seeing it in upstate New York. But who am I going to be buying cabbage from in the next 10 years? People want to be growing those heirloom tomatoes even though there isn’t a full market for it, but at the same time, they don’t want to be a cabbage farmer. That’s the mentality we’re seeing with the newer farmers. How does the next generation of farmers fit into the current and next generation of fermentation folks?
Regardless if you’re a consumer or a producer, looking at the future, there are a lot of good food things that are happening. But there’s got to be this the full circle connection for it to make sense.
Q: If farmers just focus on growing what’s popular right now, where does that leave fermented product producers?
As the fermentation industry grows, it will be interesting to see how that affects the farming industry. As messed up as our food system currently is, where everyone one way or another is going to make something cheaper, the farmers are the ones who are getting the short end of the stick. How that gets solved, I have no clue. But we need to keep doing what we can to support each other, the fermentation folks and farmers.
Q: What changes do you think are needed to propel the fermentation industry.
The industry is going up and up. It’s almost like a defined set. If you go into any grocery store, kombucha is established already, they have a defined section. But every other fermented food product is this whirlwind between fresh produce, cheese, meat. Categories for fermented products need to be outlined. Especially as there’s more exposure for fermented products.
Q: Fermentation is in the news a lot lately as a trend. Do you think its trending or a movement?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s always trending depending on what the crowd is. It’s big with the DIY foodie crowd, fermentation has a type. It’s really big w chefs right now, everyone is starting to pickle their own things, test the water, and I think Rene Redezpi and the folks at NOMA are championing a lot of great stuff, opening their ferment lab. That’s the energy that keeps the trend bubbling. For such a traditional, ancient thing, there are so many unknowns to it. And the more energy behind it is going to keep the next wave of it moving.
When Drew Anderson was ready to sell sauerkraut he homemade with brother-in-law Luke Visnic, Drew knew just where to start — the farmers market. His mother started farmers markets all over Northeastern Ohio, markets where Drew and his little brother Mac spent their weekends working as kids.
“We saw how small food businesses would start. Farmers markets a great way to test your products, to pitch, to get direct feedback on what’s working and what’s not. You’re getting paid for market research,” says Drew, who started Cleveland Kraut with Luke and Mac (chief marketing officer) over six years ago. “Farmers markets are going to be some of your most honest customers, and those original farmers market customers are still some of our best customers to this day. We raised our first capital at farmers markets.”
Sage advice from the fastest growing brand in the fermented foods industry. Cleveland Kraut continues to grow since its humble beginnings in 2013 as a side hobby of three brothers. Back then, when Cleveland Kraut was ready to expand to retail, Drew liquidated his savings to buy equipment, slept in the warehouse and drove truckloads of kraut himself to avoid shipping costs. Today, Cleveland Kraut will produce 4 million pounds of sauerkraut this year, thrives on capital from backers like NBA star George Hill, employs a growing staff of 20 full-time employees and will expand internationally later this year.
Check out our Q&A with Drew, a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree and board member of The Fermentation Association.
Q: What is your advice for other fermented food producers who want to sell in retail stores?
Honestly, you have to grind. It’s a category that buyers are just now waking up to, so getting in the door is difficult. Especially when you have established players who are doing really well. You have to go in and say “How am I going to compliment the competition? How am I going to add these other flavors?” It takes time. It’s a lot of grind, you’re going to lose some sleep.
Q: Where do you see the future of the industry for fermented products?
Obviously, you have a lot of beverages out there that really paved the way, kombucha has been a huge success story. But fermented vegetables I think are, one, you’re getting a ton of free press from dietitians and doctors who are saying you need to eat this stuff, the rest of the world eats this every day, Americans need to eat it, too. Second, gut health is tied into everything, and that’s pushing fermented product sales. There are studies proving gut health is linked to your mental well-being, its liked to weight managements, its linked to your skin health. Then third, exciting flavors and new and exciting brands. Fermented products need to be approachable products for the American palate, and I’m proud to say that we’re a big driver of that. We’re showing what can be done with a simple product.
Q: What problems do you see facing the fermentation industry?
It’s not a huge category right now. The challenge is continuing to push consumers. We have to taste test, teach consumers what is this, what are the benefits, we need to get the mass market to understand what real fermented foods are and to test them out. We need to expand the category by showing people how good fermented foods are and how good they are for you. That’s going to be a big challenge.
I also think, the challenge on the retail side, buyers are continuing to expand the set. I think there’s room for a lot of different brands in one fermented set. When we go in to the market, we have a lot of competition. But competition brings the whole category up. It’s less cannibalization, it’s opening up a category and growing it.
Q: What about strengths, do fermented producers have unique strengths for the food industry?
There are not many co-manufacturers that make a quality product. So you have young companies who are still manufacturing their product. It’s not just a brand with a manufacturing facility miles and miles away. These young companies are putting really quality products out there. And I think that’s a real strong suit. The product is the same as everybody else when you have co-manufacturers involved. Brands that own their manufacturing, I think you get more interesting, higher-quality products.
Another strength is fermented foods can be something that’s delicious and exciting but also super beneficial for you. This is true health food, this is not fake healthy. This directly impacts people. If more people were eating fermented food products every day, our country would be a lot healthier. I think that’s a huge strength for us and we’re going to lean on that hard.
Q: Tell me about Cleveland kraut. What makes it so unique?
We are a manufacturer but we’re culinary branded. We really care about taste, texture and health. If you’re doing fermentation right, then its always going to be healthy. But we want the crunchiest, most vibrant sauerkraut. We’re the taste leader, we’re the fastest growing brand in fermented foods. We’re about flavor. You go to Asia and they eat fermented foods every day. For us, we’re creating the fermented foods that Americans will eat every day. And we’re seeing that with our customers. They’re eating it with their eggs for breakfast, they’re putting it on their salads for lunch, they’re making it traditionally and eating it with meat and sauerkraut for dinner. It’s fast, quick meals, throwing it on rice bowls, soups, burgers.
Q: A lot of Americans are still scared to eat a fermented food. They’re unsure of trying the food, they don’t know what it is. Do you think that’s starting to change?
Oh yeah. One of our taglines here is “People try it, they like it.” You walk into a room and ask 100 people “Do you like sauerkraut?” and 75 percent of them are going to say no. We flip that after they try it. They try our product, they go “Wow, I never knew that was what sauerkraut tasted like.” It’s a natural fermentation, its crunchy, its vibrant, its bright, its fresh – that’s real sauerkraut. We change minds.
Q: You have a business background and were an analyst in finance industry. What made you decide to move over to the food industry?
Our mother started farmers markets in Northeastern Ohio. She was a chef, she had a degree in biology and she was super into where food comes from and what she’s feeding her kids. We grew up running farmers markets on the weekends, cooking in the kitchen, everything was central around food. We learned early on how to cook, how to prepare our own food and how to identify good products. It kind of helps you see why we’re so tall, we ate really well.
Fast forward, I went to school at Cleveland State University. I have a degree in statistics, so I was hired by a bank to build models and forecast. I moved to Virginia on the east coast where I couldn’t really get authentic, Eastern European fermented food, the sauerkraut and sausages which we grew up with in the Midwest. I started fermenting my own sauerkraut and making my own sausages. I got hired by a bank, moved back to Cleveland, and I found out my brother-in-law (COO Luke Visnic) was also making sauerkraut. He has a history – his grandmother is from Germany and they always had a crock bubbling away. One night over a beer in 2013, we’re eating some really fresh sauerkraut right out of a Mason jar. We’d been reading about this huge movement of fermented foods and probiotics. So we said “Let’s take it to the farmers markets.”
For a couple years, we would work our day jobs – Luke’s an architect, me in finance and my brother Mac who had just graduated college and was working in finance. We were teaching Mac how to ferment while he was in college. So all three of us, we’d work our day jobs and then come to the commercial kitchen in suits and start making sauerkraut until 2 in the morning, packing, processing. And then on the weekends we’d sell it at the farmers markets and to restaurants.
Q: When did you finally decide Cleveland Kraut was big enough to make the switch from your day jobs to working on Cleveland Kraut full-time?
In the second half of 2015, when we launched retail. We built a new commercial kitchen in this big factory, this old warehouse, that we cleaned out and made a nice fermentation space. I slept in an office way above the floor. There were no showers, so I joined the Y up the road, and I would shower there and then go into work and sleep in the office at night. It was great.
Q: Tell me about your unique flavors.
We have the traditional Classic Carraway that’s very Bavarian style. We have a Whiskey Dill where we add a little bit of whiskey, it gives it a subtle sweetness on the back end and a lot of dill up front. Roasted Garlic is probably our best seller besides the classic. It’s made of raw garlic, black pepper, its fantastic, super savory, people put that on everything. Beet Red is huge for us – it’s red cabbage, beets, carrots. This is the really fresh, super healthy sauerkraut that people are throwing on salads. Think of like an arugula salad with a little bit of spice, a goat cheese, almonds and then a light vinaigrette then with a Beet Red sauerkraut on there. Oh, its beautiful. Curry Kraut, that’s definitely going to be our healthiest. You have turmeric in there, ginger, garlic, it’s got a little bit of zip to it, a beautiful yellow color.
But our game changer, our conversion kraut is the Gnar Gnar. This one’s interesting. We knew we had to make a spicy kraut because our favorite is to eat a spicy sauerkraut like a kimchi. When we were first testing out flavors in my mother’s cellar, we had this spicy concoction going and this super, super potent smell and we were like “Man, this is going to be so gnarly!” and my mom starts saying “What’s that gnar gnar down there?” So we had to name it Gnar Gnar. That’s the one chefs are using. Iron chef Michael Symon, he’s got a BBQ restaurant at the Palms in Vegas, every plate serves Gnar Gnar.
We’re bringing excitement and life with our flavors, our crunch, our branding. We’re really brightening up this category and bringing a lot of new consumers.
When we go in to the market, we have a lot of competition. But brings the whole category up. It’s less cannibalization, it’s opening up a category and growing it.
Q: Your brand name, you wanted to true to the Cleveland area?
For us, fermented foods really come from the Midwest. It’s a lot of Eastern European roots, it’s a working-class food that comes from farmers. It’s a blue-collar food, its simple food, cabbage is cheap. It’s a way to preserve foods when you didn’t have refrigeration. People have been surviving on cabbage for thousands of years.
For us, growing up, sauerkraut was a food that was local. It comes from the Midwest. We have glacial till soil here, super nutrient-rich soil. All our cabbage is hearty, it’s delicious, you eat the raw cabbage and it has a spice to it, it’s fantastic. We’re super proud of where we are in the Midwest. Building a factory and putting our city on the front of the package has been key to us. Honestly, it creates a local vibe wherever you go. People in Southern California are buying us at Lazy Acres and Gelson’s and Bristol Farms and they’re saying “I like the Cleveland stuff. They know what they’re doing in the Midwest. They know how to ferment things.”
Q: Tell me about the Cleveland food scene.
The Cleveland food scene is growing. We have a lot of good chefs, we get a lot of ex-New York chefs who want to open their own spot and they come to Cleveland because there is a lot of wealth there so it can support the fine dining and experimental restaurants.
And the business food scene, the manufacturing, its growing. There’s a popsicle company from Cleveland that’s taking off, Chill Pop. Nooma is an organic electrolyte beverage that is taking off nationwide, they’re in stores like Walmart and Whole Foods. There’s a lot of us, we’re paving the way. Then the Akron, Canton, Cleveland areas, there’s a lot of big, big manufacturers that are behind the scenes, you’ve never heard about them, but there’s a lot of food being made here. Cleveland is young – we’re not a Boulder, we’re not a San Francisco, but its popping up. We’re going to give Brooklyn a run for their money in 10 years.
Q: Last year, you started putting your kraut in new packaging, you switched from glass jars to resealable pouches. Tell me about that.
The issues with glass jars is you’re putting in a live product. When you’re at natural stores, a Whole Foods, and you have early adopters buying it, they understand that when you twist that lid, it might bubble it, it is still alive. But when you get into a place like Walmart, Giant Eagle, Target, these people are later on the adoption curve, they may not know so much about what a fermented live product is, so when they open it up and see a bubble, they think “Whoa, something’s wrong.”
The other thing is we couldn’t fully automate the jar the way we wanted too. Our demand was so high, we were in there packing jars, and we couldn’t find the right equipment to automate it. We searched for years. And so the pouch solved the issue, because it has a vent and allows the kraut to breath, to exhale. And it can be automated.
We’re cutting down our carbon footprint significantly. A full truckload of glass takes so much diesel because it’s so heavy. Pouches can fit on a single palate and they’re fully recyclable. We have a great customer base, so I trust people are going out and recycling.
Q: What’s next for Cleveland Kraut.
We’ve got a lot of new products coming out. We’re going to really take hold of the fermented space, the fermented category, were going to drive a ton of growth. I’m excited for the next year and a half, you’re going to see some exciting things out of us, we’re going to keep pushing the brand.
We don’t just play in natural stores anymore. We love those stores, that’s where we started, we’re always going to be there, that’s where our best relationships are. But were pushing into conventional heavily. That means mass market people are getting the experience. On the back of our products, it says “Fermented foods for all.” This is not just a high-end product that only wealthy people who are super focused on health need. This is going to sell at Walmart, this is going to sell at Whole Foods. We’re going to get fermented foods everywhere. We’re going to push it very hard. In five years, people are really going to be eating fermented foods every week, every day, and were going to be a big driver of this.
Blending ancestral kitchen traditions and new scientific research will allow fermentation to change our diet — and our planet.
In a TEDx Talk, Mara King, co-founder of fermented food store Ozukè, shares why she is proudly releasing trillions of good bacteria into the population. Her food philosophy rubs against everything the Food and Drug Administration and state health departments practice. While government agencies enforce strict sanitation standards in the name of protecting American’s food, King preaches that it’s wiping out good bacteria and dumping more toxins into the environment.
When King and co-founder Willow King (no relation) opened their Colorado-based food business, a food scientist from the Denver office of the Health & Human Services Department performed a safety inspection. The food expert was confused by Ozukè’s live, fermented pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. King: “He said ‘Your product is so weird. We follow all these FDA guidelines in food manufacturing in order to diminish bacteria and here you are making it on purpose.’”
“The food we make is actually super, super, super safe, unlike mots processed packaged fresh foods,” King says. “The reason this food is so safe is not because I’m better at this antimicrobial Macarena than anybody else. It’s because the bacteria are doing the work of making the fermented foods pretty much bomb proof.”
Though numerous cultures have been fermenting for generations (“It’s how humans have been eating raw, crunchy vegetables all through hard winters.”), King notes it’s only in the last 10 years that scientists have been able to map the complex fermentation process. By letting bacteria thrive in its own ecosystem, it “creates a food that’s no longer harmful to humans” and makes a more nutritious product.
“Nature does not operate in a vacuum and neither should we,” King says. “We need to understand the complexity of the world in which we live, then we can start to come up with solutions that do honor our heritage.”
King, who great up in Hong Kong, says older Chinese women store an impressive knowledge of food and medicine. Merging ancient tradition with new science is what will create the living solutions needed to continue living on our planet.
“In fermentation, we have a little trick that we use which is called using a started culture or a mother. I believe that our starter culture…is our human cultural history,” King says. “Once we start tapping this information…we’ll start to come up with amazing solutions, solutions that grow, solutions that rot, solutions that breath.”
Today Ozuke (which means “the best pickled things” in Japanese) still makes pickled veggies, but also teaches fermentation workshops. For more information, visit their webpage.
Fermented food and drink bar GYST is expanding locations, workshops — and research. The Minneapolis-based company is teaming up with University of Minnesota Food Science and Nutrition Department to study the health benefits of a consistent diet of lacto-fermented foods. GYST will study topics like: will the health of soil produce better fermented foods, does organic produce create better fermentation and do different vegetables produce different bacteria.
Read more (City Pages)
Fermentation is dominating 2019 food prediction lists. The New York Times says fermented foods and fermented drinks will rule in 2019. The year’s flavor profile will be “Sour and funky, with shades of heat,” melding fermented ingredients with millennial taste buds. Probiotics and prebiotics will continue to reign as consumers focus on gut health. “As the obsession with digestive health dovetails with the fascination for fermenting, kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled things will work their way into new territory. Smoothies with kefir will be popular, and kombucha will show up in unexpected places like salad dressings,” the article continues. What will you be eating in 2019?
Read more (New York Times)