It was wonderful to see the trends emerging from the ECRM programs for Deli, Dairy, Bakery, Frozen Foods, and Private Label. Ethnic flavors and offerings are expanding in the fresh areas of the store as well as plant-based, and flexitarian options. Sarah Davidson, Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage at ECRM, says buyers are also drilling in on private label offerings, capabilities and sustainability. “Sustainability is another one we hear about across store and core to retailer initiatives today,” Davidson shares. “Seeing more suppliers highlight what they are doing to make a positive impact on the environment.”
5 Areas of Growth
1) Clean Ingredients
There has been a growth in organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free items, according to Stephen Shamy, Vice President of Sales at Cavalcanti & Vertamatti Foods LLC (Gusto Brazil). “There has been an 11% growth in the frozen gluten-free category,” says Shamy. His brand is one of many in the gluten-free category. His products are a delicious, multi-purpose dough for tortillas, pancakes and pizza. “We do not compromise on flavor, and we bring good tasting gluten free dough to any meal,” says Shamy. He is confident that his brand will be on every grocery shelf in the next five years.
2) Healthy Grab-and-Go Foods
Founder and CEO of Gardencup, Brad Savage, says if there’s one trend that’s been a sure thing since the beginning of time, it’s that humans want things to be easier and easier. “Technology is the means by which we accomplish that – what can we invent to make life easier in this way,” says Savage. “Consumer demand for food is no different. In fact, it may be the pinnacle of this concept. We want the healthiest, best-tasting, highest quality food, wherever we are, the moment we become hungry. Who has time to wait on DoorDash anymore, or even the microwave (much less COOK!)?”
Savage has also seen the prepared foods category blast off, as well as phrases like on-demand, ready-to-eat, and grab-and-go. Other terms that, historically, have been mutually exclusive from “convenience,” like minimally processed, healthy, fresh, better-for-you, are equally popular.
Savage adds, “Shelf-stable and frozen foods have long been the only options here, but at the compromise of the cool, crisp taste of fresh, unprocessed produce. With garden-fresh finally meeting on-demand, it’s time for the rise of a new category, a unicorn category, dare I say, the ‘gardencup’ category. We humans, constantly in search of immediate gratification, want take-anywhere, fresh, healthy, and delicious meals in the fridge that are literally ready when we are. That’s why we at Gardencup are hyper-focused on hyper-convenient real-food meals. Every retailer we spoke with, from convenience to grocery, shared our vision and enthusiasm for making better-for-you, fresh and ready meals more available.”
It’s no secret why this hasn’t quite happened at scale yet. Fresh produce is incredibly fragile and short-lived. However, if the people want it, then brands like Gardencup will find a way to give it to them. They are on a mission to bring that unicorn to life. Gardencup’s goal is to make garden-fresh food portable, on-demand, and omnipresent, so they intend to be available in grocery stores, convenience stores, airports, and anywhere else one might find themselves in need of a good, clean meal.
3) Better-for-You Sweets & Treats
Lisa Protter, President and Co-Founder of Organic Nectars, Inc., spotted trends in the frozen area, candy, and sweets. Her company is in the ice cream business. They made cashew milk ice cream from scratch.
4) International and Authentic Flavors
We have also seen the consumer appetite for ethnic and authentic flavors continue to grow. “Consumers are looking for the restaurant experience in their homes and are discovering that experience in the Deli,” says Todd Martin, Co-Founder of Tucson Tamale. “Consumers see the Deli as fresher and higher quality.”
As a Premium Mexican Food Brand, Tucson Tamale’s mission is to bring great-tasting celebration foods to the masses using only traditional clean, natural, and healthier ingredients. “First and foremost, your food must taste great to gain consumers trust and loyalty,” says Martin. “We believe our tamales are the best-tasting tamales out there. We also care deeply about the ingredients we use. People trust that we will make our tamales with premium ingredients and incredible flavors. We are our own manufacturer, which means we know each and every person involved in the tamale making process. Real People making real food.”
Martin believes Premium Mexican Food will continue to grow. Tucson Tamale sees opportunities in Premium Mexican Food, and they are expanding the brand footprint to “Tucson Foods,” so they can bring a wider variety of Premium Mexican Foods to consumers.
5) Convenient Comfort Foods
In New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and South Africa, Meat Pies are the #1 easy to heat and eat option. They are a quick, yet a quality meal option packed with protein to keep you going all day. And they are the speciality of Pie-O-Neer Pies. Janna Bell, Partner at Pie-O-Neer Pies, says, “Our New Zealand Style, made in Idaho, meat pies are ready to heat and eat in one touch, with hold time in hot case of 4 hours. This is all done in the same package it is shipped in as well. That makes the Deli department happy, as the product takes time, labor and packaging costs out of the mix.
“We pride ourselves on making sure all our pies are made using all natural, no artificial ingredients,” adds Bell. “No Fillers. Ever. Period.” They hope to be the #1 brand in a the new category of Handheld Savory Pies.
Vagif Ziyadov, COO of Delicious Dumplings, is producing a trend of their own through dumplings. He notes there is a difference in shape and filling between Asian and European dumplings. “The European dumplings are usually filled with meat and onion while the Asian dumplings are usually filled with more vegetables,” says Ziyadov. The brand is woman-owned and their products are made with their family recipe. They also have vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Although, their most popular one is the chicken dumpling. Their dumplings are even fast and convenient to cook. Says Ziyadov, “Our brand is skyrocketing and we believe our products will be on all shelves in the next five years.”
6) Elevated Frozen
Frozen food also made a big comeback early in the pandemic. Tucson Tamale did not have the deep supply chain issues that many companies experienced so they were able to ship all their PO’s. “We got a lot of trial in frozen, especially for the single serve. Like many brands, we had a ‘COVID bump,’ however, because of trial, we were able to see an upward trend in velocities as people fell in love with our tamales,” explains Martin. In any case, people are eager to get back to normal and shop.
Meeting Consumers’ Varied Needs
Brands are realizing that consumers want delicious items that are also better for you. However, better for you has a different meaning for everyone. “Not everything that is plant based is better for you, i.e. Cheetos are plant based,” says Protter of Organic Nectars. ”There is a lot of misrepresentation in health foods, and everyone has a different challenge depending on your make up. We work with a lot of nutritionists so that better for you is what you actually need.”
It’s important for brands to have a strong support and consistent growth to achieve success with buyers and retailers. Shamy has regular promos, demos, sampling, and depending on the retail price, everyday low prices to drive trial. He is trying to take a Brazilian tradition and turn it into an Americanized passion. Protter is making sure she produces the highest quality product she can and reach out to customer prospects in the vicinit. Ziyadov is doing more advertising on social media like Facebook, Google, and Tik Tok.
As a new brand developing a new category, Pie-O-Neer Pies has been testing and learning. Their most important marketing goal is to get people to try then buy. Bell explains, “We focus on sampling options, events, and community word of mouth. We also have a very engaging online following that we touch at least once a day.”
Gardencup is engaging with consumers organically via social, within their local community, and website inquiries. They’re building awareness around this new concept of packaged, restaurant-quality salads. “We stress the single most important factor to achieving the critical goal of clean eating is to make it as easy and accessible as possible!” Savage says. “If your fridge is always stocked with ready-to-eat, produce-packed meals, your chances of sticking to a healthy diet are 10x better. More practically, we’re selling into grocers and convenience stores. The margins will be incredibly thin there until we’re at a larger scale, but we believe that ‘marketing’ expense will ultimately add more value to the market than paid ads.”
Trial has been the key for Tucson Tamale. Martin says, “We continue to run strong promotions to get consumers to try that first tamale, and after that we have a customer for life. In January of this year, we opened a second manufacturing facility which will allow us to 5X our output.”
When Tucson Tamale went into business, they did not set out to model themselves after any one business. They liked what Red’s and Amy’s were delivering as a premium frozen brand as well as how they were producing high-quality, better ethnic items. Martin says, “We are proud that we are the #3 brand in the Natural Handheld Burrito Category, behind only Red’s and Amy’s. Another brand we love is Kings Hawaiian. They are a family brand like us. Their customers also have a strong sense of loyalty and are connection.”
Evolving through COVID
Companies went through a lot during the pandemic. Businesses were forced to close, and it was unfortunate that brands lost momentum in stores. Gusto Brazil is one of many companies that experienced the deceleration in production. Shamy feels that time was lost during the pandemic when they could have showcased new items.
However, some good came out of the pandemic. Many brands came to the realization that people had time to think about health and what they are eating. Savage also realized that the concept of stay-at-home demand of fresh-prepped meal delivery was cemented in many Americans’ minds. Those who are now not only comfortable ordering fresh food in a FedEx box, but also purchasing it from the Deli / grab-and-go section at the store. “I believe the pandemic, in general, accelerated the demand for technology, convenience, instant gratification, and personal customization,” explains Savage.
During the pandemic, Pie-O-Neer Pies missed the chance to watch their customers bite into their first Pie-O-Neer Pie, but they are starting to be able to get into more sampling opportunities. They had to shift, change, and be brave to keep on the mission of Pie-O-Neering Meat pies in the USA. “Having to shut down the restaurant was difficult but gave the team more time to focus on becoming a strong CPG partner and brand,” says Bell.
Spotlights on Emerging Brands
Clean Eating Made Easy
Gardencup makes fresh meals accessible, effortless and enjoyable. This Dallas, TX-based manufacturer offers premium fresh prepped salads in a Grab & Go format with a reusable cup. Their growth is driven by consumers who want fresh healthy food that is accessible, affordable, tastes good, and convenient. Their production is also efficient because they reduce labor and food waste while increasing profitability, and their product is 100% reusable and recyclable.
Sunny Bowls offers a line of premium refrigerated soups. They have a mix of staple and seasonal options. In addition to soup, they have developed a line of spreads to compliment the soups. Every soup is dairy-free and gluten-free, with many vegan options. Sunny Bowls is making this much-deserved Souper Food the star of the show.
Al Safa Halal offers halal, guilt-free convenience foods. They believe in bringing Muslims together to strengthen the Muslim community. A portion of every purchase is donated to charitable organizations.
Righteous Gelato is Canada’s preeminent gelato producer and is a Best for the World Certified B Corporation. They deliver on this by putting people and purpose first. Their products contain no artificial colors or flavors, are Non GMO, Gluten Free, and Kosher Certified. The company offers vegan and plant based options. Consumers love the quality of their products, their sustainable business practices, deep community investment, and award-winning corporate culture.
Heinlein Foods USA Inc‘s mission: to be the first Argentinian brand to offer frozen berries at the local supermarkets. In January 2020, they began operations in South Florida. In March 2021, they introduced Karinat frozen yogurt to the U.S. market, where their unique product is being made. Today, Karinat produces more than 40 retail SKUs for Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Ecuador. This includes, frozen fruit, frozen yogurt, vegan ice cream, frozen dessert, frozen berries covered in chocolate, and appetizers.
Farmers Imports has more than 30 years of experience in produce, fresh and frozen. They are dedicated to the marketing and sales of fruits and vegetables from South and Central America. Their products are recognized for their freshness, delicious flavor and natural properties. With their deep knowledge of the production process, they have a direct link to the production facilities in Costa Rica and Colombia.
The Mexican gastronomy is one of four recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO. It has won international awards as the best cuisine and is the fourth largest producer of organic foods produced by PYMES (small and medium companies). These facts were the fundamentals to create Cosecha Real / Mexican Flavours, a country brand concept to market Mexican gastronomy: its culinary art and its line of natural, fresh and organic products. With more than 20 years of experience exporting food to other countries, they offer their clients the peace of mind of one stop shop, delivery in time and supply all year around.
Next Meats Co., Ltd. is a Tokyo-based food-tech company specializing in Japanese-style alternative meat products. Their key ingredient is Non-GMO soy, but they have a product team consistently making upgrades and changes to meet the needs of plant-based demands.
Women And Minority Owned
Kiwinesting LLC / Pie-O-Neer Pies began in 2018 with Chris and Katie Munro from Queenstown, New Zealand. They sold off their roofing company to pursue their American dream after many years of visiting to bring New Zealand style meat pies to the U.S. They moved to Boise, ID, bringing an award-winning pie baker with them to help. After months of working on perfecting the “pie”fect pie requiring sourcing baking butter and the pie machine from New Zealand, they opened a restaurant, Kiwi Shake & Bake. The restaurant ran for two years, where they met Janna Bell. Now in partnership with Bell who has 20 years of retail experience, they are focusing on the bigger dream of taking meat pies to retail in the U.S.
Delicious Dumplings is a woman-owned company founded in 2016 by mother and daughter. The two blended their knowledge of restaurant management, food manufacturing, nutrition and recipe development. They specialize in manufacturing of frozen dumplings, Eastern European style, mostly known as Pelmeni and Pierogi. They see dumplings as an exciting venue for creating the tastes of today and tomorrow, from fusion cuisine borrowing flavors from across the border to fresh, innovative renditions of time-honored classics.
Clean Label & Non-GMO
Elbro Foods Inc. is a third-generation family business dedicated to the development, production, and distribution of value-added meat products. From their cooked meats to their growing frozen taquito line, it is their goal to provide customers with the highest quality meat products at the best price for their clients. They prioritize clean label, all natural & non-GMO ingredients.
Organic Nectars, INC was founded in 2005 by Lisa Protter and Steve Treccase. After being frustrated by not being able to find delicious sweets that were organic, vegan and free of refined sugar, they developed some unique products and set up the Hudson Valley’s first all-organic, all-vegan, all-gluten-free production facility.
Tucson Tamale Company was founded in 2008. Their tamales were inspired by recipes that were handed down. They transformed these recipes into tamales with healthier and cleaner ingredients, for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Their tamales are frozen, versatile, gluten free, with organic ingredients, hormone free meats and cheeses.
Since 2016, Cavalcanti & Vertamatti Foods LLC (Gusto Brazil) is providing Brazilian Cheese Bread to restaurant chains and retail stores in the U.S. They have a unique product, naturally gluten-free, made with tapioca flour and real cheese: mozzarella and parmesan. Also, it’s non-GMO, sugar-free, trans fat-free, all natural, and low carbs. Their dough is versatile, enabling consumers to make tortillas, waffles, and delicious mini-pizzas out of rolls, without the addition of any ingredient.
What began in 2005 as a company focused solely on processing pomegranates for juice and concentrate, Stiebs, LLC now offers everything from locally grown Californian fruit to citrus and vegetable products from Europe and exotic fruits from all over the world. Their frozen, organic crush cubes can be made with fruits or vegetables to make smoothie cubes, sauces or portion-controlled ingredients. They are also the largest importer of acai products in the United States. Their acai products are wild harvested, produced and frozen in Brazil then shipped into our storage facilities in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The company says this ensures the product has high nutrients, healthy omega fats, and delicious flavor of any acai products on the market. They can also do private labels for these products.
All the partners at Vesar Foods LLC, D’Gusto Foods products come from the food industry: restaurants owners, dairy products manufacturers. They have a very strong commitment to quality and flavor, offering customers an outstanding product that is also gluten-free with no artificial flavorings. From the beginning they were concerned about waste and food safety in the process of manufacturing their food products, all made with convenience as a top priority to accommodate the busy lives of you and your family, with flavorful products for home, food establishments, special events and party solutions.