Category: Bakery

An Art in Defining “Artisan”

It might sound peculiar to draw a line of comparison between the food industry and the fashion industry, but the fact is they both follow trends. This isn’t a huge secret. What is always of interest to food industry players in this process is to follow the changing palate of the American public, and to see which of these “trends” become new standards in American tastes. One trend (and really one amorphous term) is: “artisan.” The word has been used a lot in the past few years in the food industry. Artisan breads, artisan candies, artisan cheese, and even for our four-legged friends…artisan dog food, are all products, among many others, offered in the market today.  What does all of this mean?

Defining “Artisan” is sort of like defining “Art.”  In a recent report in Cheese Market News, for instance, concern was voiced that as “more companies label a wider range of products ‘artisan,’” there is some “worry that the significance of the term has been diminished.” Part of the problem, according to the article is that, “When it comes to drafting hard and fast standards for what constitutes artisan products or restricting the term’s use, though, opinions across the industry vary.”

Case in point, an article in the Phoenix New Times reported that local perspectives amongst vendors in the Phoenix area varied greatly. One respondent defined “artisan” in the following way: “A food stops being artisan when the concern for profit supersedes the love of what pure, honest, natural ingredients offer. Making a decent living at artisanal food is possible, but it cannot follow the ‘logic’ of traditional business.” Another individual saw it more in the following light, “Food stops being artisan when it is mass-produced and more machines are creating the food than actual skilled hands,” They continue, “Food loses its soul when this happens — and you can always taste that disconnect.”

For the food industry and for the consumer, “artisan” can carry a great deal of meaning or can be an empty term. As the food industry continues to follow the trend, the term continues to amass numerous definitions, linked by an overarching interest in craft and perhaps a search for authenticity. What standardization, if any, might occur is not yet apparent, or as one interviewee stated, “It could be that ‘artisan’ is a term that is hot now, but there will be other words or terms that come along for dairies to describe themselves.” Until some common ground is reached, the art of defining “artisan” will continue to develop and exist in many forms.

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The Furious Fight Over Fruitcake

A light snow falls on a cold December afternoon. Up pulls the delivery person with a parcel for you.  As you eagerly await them to make their way up to the entryway, you can’t help but wonder what kind of treasure may rest inside.  After feigning indifference to the whole excitement at the door, you quickly make your way to the kitchen table and open it up. Inside, your favorite aunt has dutifully and carefully wrapped…a fruitcake. You do which of the following:

A.     Excitedly reach for a plate and a nearby knife.
B.      Sob uncontrollably in disappointment and throw it.
C.      Rewrap it and go visit your sister and her kids.
D.      Hide it away only for your consumption (along with those boxes of chocolate covered cherries).

Perhaps the answer is obvious to you…perhaps not. No holiday dessert has drawn in such debate like the fruitcake. As The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake (yes, indeed) stated, fruitcake has been “the butt of many jokes and practical jokes-and yet” fruitcake is “esteemed by many, and an important part of many folks’ holiday.” This is certainly true, perhaps even within families: with the pro-fruitcake consortium on one side and the fruitcake defamation league on the other side.

Johnny Carson once famously launched a thousand fruitcakes out of the front door when he quipped, “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” The amount of energy that has been put into picking on the fruitcake has been met on the other side with a passion for promoting this cake, often filled with nuts and fruit, and sometimes soaked in liquor or wine.  For instance, “Isabelle” is the author of the blog, “Mondo Fruitcake.” The blog is meant to be a means of sorting through her frustration with “the state of this nation’s attitude toward fruitcake.”  It features a year-round look into the world of fruitcakes.

Made in monasteries, bakeries, home ovens, and in many other places, the fruitcake pulls in some heavy support from a diverse crowd of consumers, just as it draws its detractors. Wherever your passions may rest, we can all appreciate that the fruitcake is a standard for the holidays in the United States.  Its long history (dating back to ancient Rome!) and its ability to draw in such passion and detachment is a pretty impressive mark on American culture during the holidays. So, grab a knife and a cup of coffee, or package it back up and send it off…no matter, the fruitcake will persevere.

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“Hot” Foods for 2012

Growing up in the Midwest in a food-industry family, I’ve had the opportunity to befriend an unusual amount of people that work for large food companies in varying capacities. Many of the people that I’ve met post-college work for the headquarters of our customers and competitors.

Competitors aside, I find that most of these people willingly offer me information regarding sales, potential problems, new products and upcoming food trends. Their perspective and insider-view is invaluable to helping me understand our customers’ needs and wants. More specifically, the awareness of future food trends can help our Company to anticipate what our customers will be producing in the years to come, and help us to tailor our product offerings to their future needs.

As such, I thought I’d share some of the food trends:
• Butter (Margarine is trending out)
• Sea Salt (Lower in sodium than Table Salt)
• Kefir (The success of our customer Lifeway Foods has largely driven this trend)
• Greek Yogurt Products (The success of the Chobani company in upstate New York has largely driven this trend)
• Healthy Fats (Oils, Fish, Nuts, Olives, Avocados, Soy, etc)
• Stevia (on-caloric sugar-substitute derived from a plant)
• Artisan Cheeses from small producers
• Artisanal Heirloom Meats from small producers
• Local “superfruits” (Cherries, Blueberries, etc)
• Dark, Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Mustard Greens, etc)
• Eggs (Cage-free, Organic, etc)

The same company that’s monitoring the above food ingredients and product opportunities is also carefully considering what they believe to be the three most influential lifestyle dietary trends for 2012:
• Portion Control
• Food Allergies (especially Gluten)
• A return to the traditional “Family Dinner”

While reading the above lists, I’m sure most of you immediately thought of products/services that Nelson-Jameson sells/provides that are specific to some of these trends. And, that’s exactly my point. By maintaining a general awareness of the direction in which our customers are heading, we can better understand our customers’ unique perspectives and continue to maintain Nelson-Jameson’s identity as a knowledgeable, comprehensive food-processing supplier through proactively anticipating customer needs.