Bourbon Barrels & Bees; That's Nuts!

By Rochelle Rizzi

I’m a couple weeks out now from the National Restaurant Association Show. It’s always a whirlwind-y event in Chicago (pun intended). From receptions to walking the miles of aisles on the trade show floor, attendees file into the show to find inspiration in the latest and greatest new food and equipment products. Eyes wide and bellies full, we tasted and observed the hottest new trends on the market.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite findings at the show. I had the opportunity to walk the show floor and one of the most interesting facts I found was that Kentucky is known for its soy sauce. (huh?!) I had a wonderful conversation with Bourbon Barrel Foods, who use reclaimed barrels straight from Kentucky’s finest bourbon distilleries as both a smoking and aging agent. Living in the midwest and traveling down I-75, I’ve passed hundreds of beautifully plush soybean fields. A picturesque scene, and while a commodity, it’s finding new footholds in the foothills of Kentucky. From their website they say, “Our signature product, Bluegrass Soy Sauce, is the only micro brewed soy sauce made in the United States and the ONLY soy sauce in the world fermented and aged in bourbon barrels.”

I think about the increase in all soy and plant-based protein foods as it has continually made an impact on the hot food trends lists. But, I hadn’t thought about soy sauce, nor about the multitude of uses and origins. The variety and the process of this gourmet treat was really something that opened my eyes to how innovative this company has become—really filling a niche in the market with boutique-style offerings, broadening the taste pallet for us all. And, well, you had me at bourbon.

Photo credit: California Walnuts

Speaking of plant proteins, here’s another innovative product: California Walnut “Chorizo” Crumble. Move over Waldorf salad, here comes something meatier. (You’ll get that if you lived through the 80s.) As a mom of four, I’m always looking for on-the-go snacks and quick, healthy meals—for the four growing boys and myself! From the effective California Walnut foodservice marketing efforts, the company Azar Nuts took notice and recently launched a new plant-based walnut product at the Show in May. The new meat-alternative product is a brand called It’s Nature. The new California Walnut Crumbles are now available to foodservice operators in two amazing flavors: Chorizo and Italian. Yum.

Fun facts:

  • California Walnuts are the only tree nut with a significant source of ALA (the plant-based form of Omega 3’s) at 2.5 per 1 ounce.

  • In late 2017 California walnuts conducted an Attitude and Usage study, and found that 92% of consumers surveyed viewed walnuts as heart-healthy and nutritious, and that 72% of consumers would outright purchase a food or menu item because it contains walnuts!

I want to give a shout out to all commodity boards, who offer incredible research, education, and product development and promotion. I especially enjoyed the Michigan Pavilion at the Show, which opened my eyes to the agriculture in my own back yard--from potatoes to honey to berries. They offer so much to the public, and are a needed resource for amazing food data and photography for so many of us writers. I have the pleasure of running into many of the national boards through my involvement with the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC), the group for all established and up-and-coming food publicists and editors. We connect on our love of food and hospitality and bring together some of the greatest food-related companies and publications on the planet.

Take for example, the National Honey Board. If your recipe calls for a little sweetness, help it be all that it can bee. I enjoy a drizzle of honey on my berries and cheese, in my coffee, and on a good blue cheese burger. Inside tidbit: honey mustard is my favorite condiment. In addition to producing pure, all-natural honey from the nectar of flowers, honey bees are responsible for 80 percent of the pollination activity that ensures one in three bites of food consumed in the U.S.

I’m so glad to see such advocacy for these delicate creatures who help pollinate the earth and bring such delightful treats and wax products to society. I didn’t know until recently that honey bee health is the number two food-related cause among U.S. consumers today, according to a new Nielsen report. It is topped only by "local" as a consumer concern impacting food purchases.

"Honey menuing continues to grow, thanks in large part to honey's remarkable versatility, as well as its appeal as a wholesome, all-natural sweetener," according to Catherine Barry, NHB Director of Marketing.

Fun facts:

  • Honey continues to trend on U.S. menus, with 59.4 percent of restaurants featuring honey as of 2018. This marks a double-digit (11 percent) increase since 2012.

  • Honey mentions grew across all menu and day parts in 2018.

  • Honey-inspired non-alcoholic beverages were up 23 percent for the year (2017 - 2018).

  • Both honey-inspired cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages were up a whopping 45 percent for the four-year period, 2014 - 2018.

I’m looking forward to next year’s show!

About Rochelle Rizzi:

I’ve just begun a new venture, Le Vrai Nord, LLC, French for The True North. I’m passionate about food and hospitality, and more than anything the spirit of entrepreneurship and company culture. Clients in the food industry come to me to help tell their stories, while creating a sense of team and creating effective systems, technology, and marketing efforts. I’m creative and data-driven, and I understand the “big picture” of life. Let’s not call it work, let’s call it: showcasing our talents.

Innovation comes from inspiration.

I’m a foodie, Francophile, and mom of four beautiful boys. I decided at age 9, I’d be a writer. So, naturally, I earned my B.S. in pre-med and psychology, an A.A.A. in graphic design, and an executive M.B.A. Beginning to come full circle, I started a marketing agency in 2004 and ran that for twelve years. In 2015, I accepted a position as the in-house director of marketing and communications and the editor-in-chief of Campus Dining Today for the National Association of College & University Food Services and tenured nearly 4 years (collegiate dining is a mecca for innovation, y’all). I’m coming full circle and am incredibly passionate about the people behind the food. Thank you to all who have fed and served me, creating experiences one bite, one sip, at a time. A special thanks to sommeliers everywhere, because I dig a good pairing.

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