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Foodie Newsletter

Enroll in Avo University

Avocados From Mexico launched Avo University, the avocado industry’s first educational guide and certification program designed specifically for retail and foodservice professionals.

Online, free of charge and easily accessible, Avo University takes just about half an hour. Among the topics included is information on blooms, how to receive and store avocados, sizing, ripening, proper temperature levels, and product merchandising strategies. The curriculum also helps dispel common misperceptions about avocados and offers tips and techniques to maximize avocado sales and reduce shrinkage. Full Story


Panera Combines Two Fan Favorite Menu Items

Panera is marrying two classic menu items into an entirely new creation: Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese.

Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese was developed by combining two distinct cheddar cheese sauces into a singular velvety blend, simmered with a burst of seasoned broccoli florets and julienned carrots. Guests can now order Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese in Panera bakery-cafes nationwide, starting at $5.79 or as part of a You Pick 2 order. Panera Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese is also available in the refrigerated deli area at select grocery retailers nationwide as the newest addition to Panera’s line of cafe-inspired grocery products. Full Story


Sweet and Savory Breakfast from Cinnabon

Cinnabon is launching the first-ever Cinnabon frozen breakfast creations line.

Now available in the breakfast freezer section retailers nationwide are six new frozen breakfast creations featuring three sweet and three savory dishes. Options include Caramel Pecan Ooey-Gooey Rolls, the Frosting Filled CinnaPastry, Frosted CinnaSweet Swirls, the CinnaBiscuit Chicken Sandwich, Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage Bites, and the CheddarRoll Sausage & Egg Sandwich. The line expands on a lineup of sweet grocery products inspired by the classic flavors of Cinnabon, including Breyers Cinnabon, Pillsbury Grands! Cinnamon Rolls, Keurig Cinnabon K-Cup Pods, and International Delight Cinnabon Creamer. Full Story


Sip MTN Dew Cocktails at Red Lobster

Red Lobster and PepsiCo are teaming up for a variety of new menu items, starting with the DEW Garita—the first official MTN DEW cocktail.

Made using a top-secret recipe, the new cocktail will begin rolling out to select Red Lobster restaurants in September and will be available nationwide by the end of 2020. The Red Lobster and PepsiCo innovation teams are also working together to leverage PepsiCo brands across the Frito-Lay and Quaker range of products to co-create tasty menu items. Full Story


Chick-fil-A Adds New Dessert and Coffee Drinks to Menu

Chick-fil-A added a new Chocolate Fudge Brownie and a new blend of specialty grade THRIVE Farmers Hot Coffee to the menu.

A seasonal Mocha Cream Cold Brew beverage—which includes a swirl of cold-brewed coffee, sweetened cream, and chocolate flavored syrup over ice—will also be available at participating locations for a limited time. The new brownie features rich semi-sweet chocolate melted into the batter as well as fudgy chunks. Each treat comes individually wrapped and can be purchased separately or by the tray. Full Story


Guilt-Free Keto-Friendly Ice Cream for the Holidays

Enlightened is getting in the holiday spirit early with the launch of two new seasonal Keto Collection ice cream flavors in a licensing partnership with Delish.

The Enlightened + Delish Fall Collection takes the nostalgic, festive flavors of the holidays and turns them into a duo of keto ice creams with only 1 gram of net carbs per serving with no added sugar. The Pumpkin Cheesecake flavor includes a pint of pumpkin ice cream with a rich cream cheese swirl, while Peppermint Brownie features a swirl of green and red peppermint ice cream packed with fudgy brownie bites and chocolate chips. Full Story


Put Plant-Based Pizzas in Your Freezer

American Flatbread is selling a new line of plant-based, flash-frozen pizzas called Meatless Evolution.

The line, which includes vegetarian and vegan options, has been one of the most highly requested items by American Flatbread consumers. There are four varieties: Vegan Pepperoni, Vegan Meat Lovers, Plant-Based Pepperoni, and Plant-based Supreme. Each 10-inch pizza in the Meatless Evolution line contains three servings per container and will retail for $8.99. They can be purchased starting mid-September at select Harris Teeter locations as well as on the brand’s website. The pizzas will also be available to purchase via the brand’s Amazon storefront page starting in October. Full Story


Captain Morgan Puts a Twist on Classic Fall Fruit

Diageo is launching Captain Morgan Sliced Apple Spiced Rum.

The company took the flavor of Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Rum and added a subtle hint of ginger and fused it together with the taste of fresh cut apples. The beverage can be enjoyed on its own or be used to add variety to signature cocktails like Captain Morgan Apple Crisp or Captain Morgan Apple Mule. It is available nationwide in a 750 mL bottle with an ABV of 35%, and the suggested retail price is $15.99. Full Story


Pringles Delves into Pop Culture with Rick and Morty

Kellogg’s is expanding its collection of limited-edition Pringles flavors inspired by Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty.

In addition to the popular Pickle Rick crisps, the two newest flavors include Honey Mustard Morty and Look at Me! I’m Cheddar & Sour Cream. Honey Mustard Morty has a sweet flavor profile designed to embody Morty Smith’s “well-mannered and blissfully ignorant nature,” while the hint of tanginess reflects the “risky adventures he’s unwillingly roped into by his Grandpa Rick.” Look at Me! I’m Cheddar & Sour Cream captures “Mr. Meeseeks tall, powder-blue figure,” which is naturally emulated in the narrow can. The limited-edition cans will be available at Walmart and on Walmart.com while supplies last. Full Story


Jelly Belly Goes Gourmet

Jelly Belly is introducing gourmet chocolate truffles and bars featuring its iconic shape and flavors.

Jelly Belly Gourmet Milk Chocolate Truffles will combine milk chocolate with one of the nine featured flavors including Chocolate, Orange, Very Cherry, Coconut, Strawberry Cheesecake, Mint, French Vanilla, Lemon Meringue Pie, and Blueberry. The truffle flavors are available in a 16-piece gift box. The chocolate bars include bean shaped centers encased in meltaway milk chocolate. The bars are available in Very Cherry and Mint and have six break-apart squares. Full Story


Boost Immunity with Elderberry Sparkling Water

Weller, provider of functional and wellness-focus beverages, is introducing its first non-CBD product, Sparkling Immunity.

The latest fizzy innovation was motivated by increased consumer interest in immune-boosting products due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Freshly squeezed elderberry juice is the sparkling water’s main ingredient, filling each can with natural immune-boosting power from antioxidants and vitamins, while secondary fruit flavors like peach, strawberry and lemon-lime round out the palate. Its core nutrient profile consists of vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, and magnesium. In conjunction with the product launch, Weller will donate beverages to frontline workers and organizations. Full Story

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Making Veggies Accessible for Everyone

During the week of March 8, The Food Institute was scheduled to head to Natural Products Expo West for on-the-ground reporting on the companies, products, and major trends impacting the food industry. However, the illustrious conference was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the inconvenient setback, we decided to do our own local reporting and connect with Ark Foods of Brooklyn, NY, which was scheduled to be an Expo West exhibitor. Ark Foods represents a new breed of young companies impacting the food industry through plant-based products.

In this interview, we spoke with founder and CEO Noah Robbins on the company’s humble beginnings, its mission, its products, and what the company is doing to change the way people eat vegetables.

Q: Please share a little bit about your background and how you created Ark Foods.

A: I grew up around commercial agriculture. My father was a citrus farmer, providing companies like Tropicana with some of its supplies. When I graduated, I saw that the average age of a farmer was about 58-years-old, and I thought about what opportunities there would be for someone like me in the agricultural industry. I observed farmers markets and found that the vegetables sold at these markets were not commercially accessible. I decided to take these farmers market vegetables and apply commercial growing techniques to them.

The first popular vegetable product of ours was a vegetable called the shishito pepper.

We started growing the pepper on 3 acres of farmland and expanded that program by using chefs to be “brand ambassadors.” Distributors carried the shishito and chefs put them on their menu. We had a consistent supply and good food safety practices—two of the factors typical of commercial farms. From there, I used the restaurant menu data to get into retailers, pointing out younger consumers want these vegetables to be accessible—that they are looking for new experiences and not just the normal varieties. No other company was innovating this space, so in comes our brand and it’s been explosive growth ever since. Our growing operations are completely vertically integrated. We have red Fresno peppers and honeynut squash, which is sweeter than a butternut squash but is the size of a Coke can. The skin is also edible. Our focus is on vegetables that people already know and providing them at accessible price points.When the meal kit industry started to take off, we wanted to make our own version of the meal kit or “heat-and-eat” experience, so about year ago we opened our own fresh cut facility, which is how our veggie bowl line came into fruition.

We realized our bowls needed to have “clean” ingredients, so we made our own sauces. The veggie bowl line is basically a meal where a core vegetable, like cauliflower or rutabaga, is paired with our own clean ingredient sauce. As an aside, the rutabaga was popular in the 1970s, and we consider it to be the underdog vegetable of today. It’s also, in my opinion, the best veggie to make veggie spaghetti. The meal kit also comes in a microwavable bowl that’s industrially compostable. Throw it in the microwave for 3 min., mix in the sauce, and you’re done. Since we are vertically integrated, we strive to make these products more accessible. Depending on the retailer right now, the clean ingredient veggie bowl line is retailing anywhere from $4.99 to $5.99 per kit, and we aim to bring that down even more through scale. We’ve managed to stay true to our mantra of making vegetables as accessible as humanly possible and getting people to eat more vegetables in different formats.

Q: Looking at the products and the company website, it seems the product line caters to Millennials and Gen Z. Is that the target market? How has the consumer adoption been?

A: We have a lot of different SKUs. The shishito pepper is geared more towards the foodie who wants a new experience. We always try to check as many boxes as possible to make our products as accessible to as wide an audience as possible so that can drive sales. For example, our veggie bowl lines have clean ingredients, industrially compostable packaging, it’s a vegetable people are familiar with, and it’s a healthy variation of a dish that people know. We originally thought the target market for the veggie bowls would the young person looking for convenience in the grab-and-go section, but the customer base has been much broader than expected. The older generations are familiar with what a heat-and-eat dinner is, so they buy our meal kits as an alternative. Sometimes older generations will purchase our veggie bowls and add a protein to it. Also, celebrities like Beyoncé are eating plant-based now, and parents are buying it for their kids to take to school because the schools have microwaves. We create products that are flexible with peoples’ daily lives.

Q: Where can people buy these products? Is it primarily in the Northeast or can people on the West Coast get your items?

A: Because it’s a fresh cut item, we’re focusing on geographies east of Texas as our facilities are in New Jersey. We are in retailers like Whole Foods and Giant. Since the shishito has been around longer, it’s available in Wal-Mart, Costco, and Whole Foods. We hope to build a facility on the West Coast and eventually be a national brand. Because we don’t have large capital infusion, we are focused on customer experience and growing the right way.

Q: I wasn’t expecting a startup company like yours to have 28 employees. Tell me about the evolution of your staff and where you envision Ark Foods will be in three years.

A: When I started the company, it was just me. And then Ed Mestre, my brother-in-law, joined as our COO. Everyone who joined the team is super passionate about making these vegetables accessible in different formats. Our team is based in New York because we want employees who view agriculture in non-traditional ways. We want many different types of minds who are interested in agriculture. We view the dirt as a blank canvas. We throw anything at it, and that mantra enabled us to attract a lot of creative people in the industry. In three years, our company will still be viewing the vegetable as the North Star. We intend to create this dynamic web of different SKUs and various eating formats through the vegetable.What I really love about the vegetable is it’s the start of the process. You can create a million different dishes out of it. We have our clean ingredient sauces that are plant-based. We also have veggie bowls, honeynut squash, Jimmy Nardello peppers, and purple bell peppers. We are always exploring ways to expand the way people eat vegetables, and it’s only the beginning.