Monday, December 22, 2014

Dietitian Resolutions

1. When talking to customers/clients don't automatically "dis" that fad diet that eliminates gluten/wheat/sugar/salt/white foods etc.
Why? Mostly because people are seldom fanatically following it anyway so the risk to their health is minimal.  Also it may just turn your customers or clients off if you demean what seems to be working for them. 
Instead: Ask a few questions that will help you to find out what they like about this diet and you may discover why it's working for them.  It may be more about what they are adding to their diet than what they've eliminated.

 2. Don't say "only shop the perimeter" 
Why?
- Supermarkets  now merchandise items throughout the store -  cheese near apples in produce....cookies and donuts near milk.....bananas near cereal.
-All supermarkets aren't the same and their floor plans may be different, e.g.  beer/wine and cakes on the perimeter, produce in the center of the store, frozen fruits and vegetables in the middle - so do you still want to say "only shop the perimeter"?

-Frozen and canned vegetables are economical,useful AND nutritious and should not be ignored - the same as canned and bagged beans, dried grains, brown rice and cooking staples - all of them on the "infamous" middle aisles.
Instead:
Recommend reading labels and shopping for the best buys both economically and for nutrition THROUGHOUT the supermarket. 

3. Avoid saying "processed" in a pejorative way.
Why?
-Many foods and beverages have to be processed in order to be transported or to be safe or edible some examples include milk, rice, and yogurt.
-Processing an item doesn't automatically mean it is bad or has had more sugar/salt/fat added.
-Just because it is processed and put into a bag or box doesn't mean it is a negative- just means it may be easier to transport and store!
Instead:
Teach and advise that customers/clients read labels, the nutrition facts panel and check ingredients. Avoid items that have been processed to include unnecessary or high amounts of fats, salts or sugar.

3. Avoid saying - "Shop only at farmers markets and tailgate markets."
Why?
-This is may not practical or economical for most consumers. Supermarkets allow the average consumer to make one trip to purchase fresh, frozen, canned, paper goods, beauty aids etc without having to make multiple or special trips by car or public transportation to a number of farmer or tailgate markets.
-Supporting local farmers is important, but many supermarkets do purchase produce, milk,eggs, meat, chicken etc from local farmers and vendors. This is often a more efficient and sustainable way for the farmer/vendor to sell their products rather than having to "man"
-Many farmers markets and tailgate markets are seasonal and cannot supply customers year around.
 
a stall at a farmers market or tailgate markets or transport their products to numerous locations which takes more time and fuel.

Instead:  If you have a farmers market or tailgate market that is convenient to you, support it but also look for local products in season at your supermarket. Vote with your pocketbook if it is important for you to buy local.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Repeatability - The Power of the Flower

You could say the Van Wingerden family is to the floral business as the Kennedy's are to politics or the Hilton's are to hotels.  The Van Wingerden name is synonymous with the growing and distribution of flowering plants, not just in North Carolina but around the world.   

 Aart Van Wingerden (left) patriarch of the the Van Wingerden family and his wife Cora.
 I was astounded to read the Van Wingerden family history ( http://www.growerdirectfarms.com/about/family), how they'd gotten their start in the Netherlands in the late 19th century and become accomplished farmers there before Aart Van Wingerden moved his family to New Jersey in the 1940's.  In the 1950's he began
 
 began cultivating and selling flowering plants.  From there the Van Wingerden's and their large family, ultimately 16 children,  criss-crossed the globe and the United States literally and figuratively growing their business...the Netherlands, California, Indonesia, Ohio,  Indiana, Virginia... taking the same model and repeating it in each location.  Today there are some 14 greenhouse businesses throughout the United States that were started by a Van Wingerden family member.   
In the early 1970's a chance encounter led  Aart to sit next to North Carolina Agricultural Extension agent, Harley Blackwell, on a plane flight.  Aart was scouting for an area for another operation and Blackwell told him about Fletcher, North Carolina and sent him information on the climate.  Soon "Mr. Van", as his son-in-law and the Vice-President of Van Wingerden International, Kelly Cantrell, referred to him, came to town and began knocking on doors asking to buy land. 
Currently Van Wingerden International has 37 acres of greenhouses and open fields in Mills River, North Carolina.  Van Wingerden has been supplying Ingles Markets with flowering and ornamental plants and hanging baskets for close to 20 years and Ingles now accounts for about 30% of their business.  I asked how the relationship began and Kelly took a few minutes to try and recall and then said that "...one of our managers went to church with someone in the Corporate office at Ingles and they got to talking and the next thing you know we were supplying Ingles!". 
Original Van Wingerden Intn'l Greenhouse on Jeffress Rd. in Mills River

My tour started in the original Van Wingerden facility on Jeffress Road, known as the "JR house"  about a mile from the new Mills River Ingles Market. 
Van Wingerden employs 200 full time workers and hires up to about 150 more seasonal or part-time workers in the Spring.
Vibrant red pointsettias in Van Wingerden International greenhouse

Starting in mid-November until mid-December it's all about the poinsettia and on this visit  the greenhouses were full of the bright and beautiful bracts, the different poinsettia leaf colors,  and with workers busy packing them up. 
Van Wingerden International's Vice-President, Kelly Cantrell, showing what a cutting of a poinsettia looks like. 

The poinsettias and other  plants come to them as un-rooted cuttings  and are then grown in the greenhouses until they are ready to be shipped out to customers throughout the Southeast.
The flower of the poinsettia is the cyathia in the middle of the brightly colored leaves.

Before my visit to Van Wingerden I didn't realize that the poinsettia is a tropical plant and that the flower is actually not the colorful leaves but the small yellow blossoms in the middle of every leaf bunch called the cyathia. Each year plant geneticists and breeders work on new varieties and colors of poinsettia and then ship  these new varieties to Van Wingerden to decide if they meet the needs of their clientele. 
Jeff Lilly, showing the "white" poinsettia
 
Cantrell and Jeff Lilly, Director of Market Analysis,  showed me a variety of colors from traditional deep reds to hot pink, peach and even a white which was more like a pale gold.
After the poinsettias are shipped out the greenhouses fill up with other flowering plants like these pansies.

As I walked through the greenhouses talking with Cantrell and Lilly I was also struck with how many similarities their operation had with the fruit and vegetable farmers I've spoken with.  Uppermost on their minds, just like the tomato farmer or the apple grower, are two words...sustainability and repeatability.  They work to save money and conserve valuable resources like energy by using double walled plastic on the greenhouses as insulation and save water by using ebb and flood water collection tanks to recycle water.  Cantrell credits  Mr. Van as being a visionary when it came to these efforts.  Although the majority of their operation are indoors they still have to worry about insects, as Cantrell laughingly explained, "Especially when it starts getting cold outside, those bugs love to come inside to our greenhouses to get warm."
One of the methods used to check for harmful insects in the greenhouse.

Workers check regularly for harmful insects and will treat as needed with pesticides or use beneficial insects to combat the pests.  Cantrell emphasized that it is vital to sell healthy plants,  ".. the main thing we have to be able to do is to assure repeatability so the look and quality of our plants is consistent."
I asked Jeff and Kelly how the business had changed over the years and they said that busy consumers want more finished products.  Jeff noted, "It used to be that shoppers would buy plants and make up their own pots but now they want decorative pots or hanging baskets with the ivy or the sweet potato vines and the flowering plants ready to go.   We also see that certain color preferences change so we have to react to that."
 When we think about local farmers that supply Ingles Markets  many probably don't  think of flower farmers like Van Wingerden, or that they have some of the same challenges as risks as the tomato farmer down the road in Mills River.   As we finished up the tour I marveled that Van Wingerden had ended up in Western North Carolina and just like a one of those poinsettia cuttings,  had taken root to become such a successful local operation. 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Milk?

Milkco Plant - West Asheville
Milk storage silos

What you mostly hear about the history of  MILKCO, the milk processing plant on Deaverview Road in West Asheville, are a terse few sentences that go something like this:  "In 1982, after 17 years in fluid milk operation, the  Sealtest plant in Asheville was being phased out with others in the Sealtest organization. Robert Ingle, founder of Ingles Markets,  purchased the plant and it became a new operation named Milkco, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ingles Markets." 
This doesn't really capture how devastating the closure of this milk  processing plant would have been to area dairy farmers. Not all supermarkets own their own milk processing plants,  and this purchase by Mr. Ingle not only benefited dairy farmers but also the future growth of Ingles Markets. 
Currently Milkco occupies 17 acres in West Asheville and employs 260 full-time workers.  The first thing you see when you approach Milkco is the gleaming silver silos that hold the milk and a large sign directing trucks for "Raw Milk" delivery.

Did you know?:  Raw milk is delivered to Milkco 7 days a week and 365 days per year for processing.   Keith Collins, President of Milkco, told me that every day, they get deliveries of milk from 200 dairy farmers.

Did you know?:  About 80% of the  milk delivered to Milkco is from farms within 150 miles of Asheville. "The reason it's not 100% is because we've lost dairy farmers, it's hard work and sometimes the families decide to get out of the business and the land is sold off to developers." explained Mr. Collins. 


Did you know?: Several years ago Milkco began processing organic milk. (At Ingles it bears the Harvest Farm label.)
Initially there were almost no local organic dairy farmers and there are still few local organic dairy operations. About 50% of the organic milk delivered to Milkco comes from these local farmers.

Did you know?: Each week Milkco bottles about 1 million gallons of milk in their 140,000 square foot facility, but it's not only milk that they produce.

Milkco President, Keith Collins watching computer tracking of milk.
 Mr. Collins and I donned spotless white lab coats and hair nets to walk through the plant.  As I walked around the labyrinth that is Milkco,  Mr. Collins showed me their high tech computer tracking system and  pointed out production lines used for  buttermilk, juices, ice tea and more recently iced coffee.

 
Did you know?: The milk you buy at another grocery store might also be from Ingles? Milkco also bottles milk and organic milk that sport the labels of  many other supermarkets and grocers in the Southeast - not just Laura Lynn or Harvest Farm. Milkco's clients also include hotels, hospitals, universities and food service.

Did you know?: The USDA sets a monthly maximum milk price and then retailers can choose to price their milk at that rate or lower.  A low milk price is often called a "loss leader", as Mr. Collins explained this is "...to get customers in the door so they buy other products." 
If antibiotics are detected a food coloring is added to the raw milk and it is returned to the farmer.

Did you know?: When milk is received at Milkco each load is tested for the presence of antibiotics.  If antibiotics are detected in the milk a food coloring is added to the entire shipment so it cannot be sold for human consumption and it is returned to the farmer.  Mr. Collins told me that it is very rare that this happens.  "Maybe 3 or 4 times a year do we have to send milk back.  Considering we receiving thousands of pounds of milk per day and deliveries daily ...it's a very small amount that we ever have a problem with. It ends up costing the farmer so they are very careful about their dairy cows."
Did you know? All dairy farmers that supply Milkco certify that they do not administer artificial growth hormones (rBgh or Rbst) to increase milk
supply.
Did you know?: The reason milk is put into opaque containers is to lessen vitamin loss due to UV light. 

Did you know?:  Milkco pays a monthly premium to farmers to encourage them to supply the best quality milk,  Keith Collins emphasized that this is important for farmers and for Milkco, "...if we start with good quality milk we supply good quality milk to our customers."
Did you know?: Ingles stores and districts have a "Snow Plan" that is initiated by our district managers when snow is forecast so extra supplies of milk are immediately sent out to stores. 


Boxes of Laura Lynn milk on their way to the loading dock.
Ingles truck awaiting load of Laura Lynn milk and other products from Milkco.

 

Did you know? The cardboard boxes for Laura Lynn milk are made from recycled material and that Milkco takes many other measures to reduce their environmental impact. As we walked through the plant Mr. Collins pointed out several pieces of equipment to improve efficiency and reduce the end cost of their products.  One he is particularly proud of performs reverse osmosis to capture milk remnants on tanks and reduce liquid waste.
  
 
Reverse osmosis machine to reduce waste water.
 
Did you know?: The top selling milk is Laura Lynn 2% - it used to be whole milk.  The chocolate milk is the next best seller.

 

 
 We returned to Mr. Collins' office and as I took off my lab coat and hairnet I asked him if there is anything else he'd like shoppers to know about Milkco milk.  He thought for a moment and then said, "I have a grandson now so when we produce this milk I'm thinking of him...I want our milk to be perfect for the families that buy it,  but I also want it to be perfect for my grandson to drink so we will go that extra mile to ensure that."


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Food Donations? Hold the Pickles

Recently I was asked to judge a chili and cornbread cooking contest at Swannanoa United Methodist Church, a small, modest church in the Swannanoa Valley just off of Highway 70 and about 2 miles from Ingles corporate offices and distribution center.  Their  former minister proudly escorted me upstairs to the Sanctuary to see their stained glass windows designed by an Asheville artist. 














The area around the church has been depressed since the Beacon blanket plant across the street closed in 2002.   In 2003 an arsonist's work resulted in the plant structure being burnt to the ground. 
Each Wednesday,  Swannanoa United Methodist church,  in cooperation with other local churches and volunteers hosts and serves a Welcome Table for the community providing a free, hot, luncheon meal for those in need.  Typically they serve 75-125 people and rely on donations and food from Manna Food Bank to make the meals.   As fellow judge and Welcome Table volunteer Jackie Kitchen pointed out, "Sometimes this is the only hot meal these people get all week."
We did our judging for the contest in the kitchen seated at colorfully painted stools.  As I glanced around the room I saw the shelves of canned and jarred products lining the opposite wall.  Chuck Werle, one of the volunteers, pointed out that these donated supplies are used to make the meals.  I couldn't help but notice two shelves full of black olives in all different sized jars from industrial sized  to small jars and another  shelf  full of all sorts of
 
pickles.  As a dietitian my first thought was, "What the heck will they ever do with all those olives and pickles?"
 So this is what prompted me to write this blog. 

When you are donating to food banks and for food drives please "Hold the pickles"...and the olives.  Make sure your donations can help these caring and dedicated volunteers prepare healthy and nutritious meals. Please don't donate items that you don't want just to clean out your pantry.  
Here are some tips:
1. Check with the food bank/pantry or shelter and find out what they need most. Do not donate perishable items without checking first.
2. Don't donate items in glass jars as they can break.
3. Items that are usually always welcome are: canned proteins (meat, fish, chicken), hearty canned stews, nut butters in plastic jars, canned vegetables and fruits, enriched white rice or brown rice, beans, coffee, tea bags, 100% juice. 

It was very inspirational to see what this modest church with a small congregation comprised of many senior citizens was doing to help their community and their friends and neighbors. It was a good reminder that even the smallest church can help those in need. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Biltmore Wines - A Trip to the Vines

Since I live in Asheville, North Carolina,  I am frequently reminded that one of our neighbors is the largest home in the United States.  Some one million visitors per year tour Biltmore House and visit its 8,000 acre estate.  One of the key attractions on the Estate is the winery, which garners its own superlative, "most visited winery in the United States".
 

Biltmore Winery

 The winery, housed in a former dairy, has been open to the public since 1985 and produces 1.2-1.4 million bottles of wine per year, sold there at the winery, and at restaurants and retailers throughout the United States like Ingles Markets.
Sharon Fenchak (winemaker) and Bernard Delille (wine master) of Biltmore Wines

 About seven years ago I interviewed Sharon Fenchak, Biltmore's winemaker, on the "Ingles Information Aisle" radio show (Saturday mornings on WWNC 570am at 8:05amET) and we subsequently became good friends. Sharon and I both have a nutrition education background, but while I went into dietetics and human nutrition; she pursued food science.  Sharon started her wine making career at wineries in Georgia and has been a wine maker at Biltmore since 1999.  Sharon's boss is wine master of  Biltmore Winery, Bernard Delille.

 In the past I'd  visited the winery tasting room to sample wines and even been shown around the production areas by Sharon. Walk from the winery up the steep sloping path to the Inn on the Biltmore Estate and you can see  a few rows of grape vines but I had heard about more acreage of vines on another part of the Estate. 
Each time I drive onto the Biltmore Estate it feels like I am going back in time, a century and hundreds of miles from downtown Asheville. The speed limit and winding roads forces me to slow down and I find myself taking a deep breath and relaxing to notice bright green fields and slight changes in the color of the vegetation, signaling that fall is coming to Western North Carolina.   I parked in the parking lots adjacent to Antler Hill Village and the winery.  In the distance, across the fields, I can almost see a bridge that crosses the French Broad River.
Bridge at Biltmore Estate

 If you were to walk along the walking and biking trail that runs alongside the French Broad River you'd see that bridge is protected by high locked gates at either ends.  A prominently displayed sign warns "No Guest Beyond This Point". It reminds  me a bit of the movie "Jurassic Park". What little you can see of the other side of the river, across the bridge,  looks to be dark, heavily wooded and slightly forbidding. This,  I learned was the way to the vineyards.
 The  "Vine to Wine"  tour provided me with access to this part of the Estate, lots of great information about the process of producing Biltmore wines, a behind the scenes tour of the winery, and generous wine sampling at each stop and at the conclusion of the winery tour.   After boarding the small van at the winery, our group is driven down a gravel road.  We stopped at the bridge while the gate is unlocked and then firmly closed behind us.  Once across the bridge we took a left on a gravel road to parallel the river.   We are now surrounded by woods and then slowly the van climbed a hill, until we began to see fields of grape vines, but no Jurassic Park dinosaurs.   This is the more agricultural part of the Estate, some 4000 acres, where most of the grape vines are located.  Our tour guide, Laura Morgan, explained that the sandy loam characteristics of the soil (terroir) of this part of the estate is very reminiscent of soil quality in the Bordeaux region of France so often they can grow the same types of grapes.    
Chardonnay grape vines at Biltmore Estate vineyard - lake helps moderate temperatures and protect vines from freezing temperatures. 


The first stop is at a rise overlooking 40 acres of Chardonnay vines that slope down to a lake.  Our guide explained that if the air drops to freezing in early Spring when the new buds on the grapes wines are especially vulnerable, wind blowing across the warmer water in the lake can act to moderate the temperatures and protect new buds."...even 1 or 2 degrees can make a difference." The Chardonnay grapes have all been harvested but Laura found some bunches on the ground and passed them around for us to sample.
Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes at Biltmore Estate vineyards
Back on the van we drove a short distance up the hill. Here the vines were heavy with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Laura told us that the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes love the wet Western North Carolina weather.We learned that optimal vines will have 50 clusters of grapes per vine, that on the Estate they prefer to use minimal spraying and all spraying is stopped well before harvest.    On the hillsides  there are several turbines, that can move the air and prevent freezing of the budding grapes during an early Spring frost.   Like all crops, grapes need specific weather and soil conditions.  While, as Laura said, "... grape vines are hard to kill..." the Biltmore vineyards have had their struggles with flooding.  Last year they lost the majority of their viognier grapes. 
In order to supply their customers and the many visitors to the winery and as insurance against weather and disease, the Cecil family and the wine master decided in the 1980's to have partner vineyards where they could purchase grapes or the pressed juice of the grapes suitable for making wine.  Those relationships continue to this day and Bernard and Sharon regularly visit their partner vineyards in North Carolina, Washington, Oregon and California to check on harvests and purchase additional grapes or varieties that they cannot grow on the Estate. These grapes or the juice of the grapes are transported to the Biltmore winery for bottling under the carefully and expertly trained eyes and palate of Sharon and Bernard.  It's a relatively small staff that cares for the vineyard, harvests the wine and operates the winery and bottles the wide selection of Biltmore wines including the Reserve and Antler Hill wines that you can buy at Ingles Markets. 
(Note:  A special thanks to Biltmore Company/Biltmore Wines for complimentary tickets to the "Vine to Wine" tour for the purpose of writing this blog.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Highland Brewing: Finding the Balance in Beer

Front doors to Highland Brewing of Asheville - "just a wee bit different"


John Lyda, Vice President and  head brewer for Highland Brewing, is a thoughtful guy and if you read his bio on the Highland Brewing website (www.highlandbrewing.com)  he claims that he wants to be "sagacious" when he grows up, if that's the case  I would say that John has made it to adulthood.   John is certainly wise and knowledgeable when it comes to beers.   Since John's  a "low talker", I found myself leaning  in as I sat down to talk with him and Leah Wong  Ashburn, Vice President of Highland Brewing, to make sure I didn't miss anything important.  Highland Brewing got it's start in 1994 when Highland's President and founder, Oscar Wong, brewed  beer in the basement of Barley's on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville and John Lyda has been a part of the company since those early years.    Ingles Markets was the first supermarket to sell  Highland's beers and is still a major retail account for them.
Highland Brewing has come a long way in the past twenty years and now their beers can be found in nine states throughout the  southeast as well as southern Ohio.  I asked if they aspire to expand more and Leah replied that their plan is "...to go deeper in the Southeast"  to have more accounts, not to increase their distribution distance from Asheville.  John agreed  and added, "If you grow too big it's a strain on the equipment and the people.  When Oscar started this company it was about the lifestyle, not about the money,  and that's still the case."   Highland Brewing seems to have been successful in finding that balance of work and play.  Seven years ago they moved into a building in East Asheville.  Currently the  facility is undergoing an expansion that will give them a total of about 90,000 square feet and also double their production capacity.  Their complex houses some of their 53 employees who work in the brewery and operations offices.

Outdoor seating area at Highland Brewing
 The space also offers a large  event and tasting room with a bar and gift area and an outdoor deck and seating area as well as a lawn area outside. Leah credits the employees for wanting the event space which also gives Highland the ability to host bands and musicians for events that benefit different charities and causes.
Leah Wong Ashburn, Oscar's daughter, has only been working in her father's beer company for the past three years, having come from a career in sales with the publishing industry.  She is still learning the ins and outs of the beer business and one of the things that suprises her when she talks to people about brewing beer and Highland Brewing is  "...that people in Asheville don't know where we are and when they do come out here they expect it to be a small business, all about the creative aspects and the romance of brewing.  Many people don't know how much science is involved in brewing beer."  John concurred , "You can make good beer without it being all about the science -  but if you want to consistently make good beer you have to be regimented and keep records."  This is the key to beer making success, the balance between creativity and science.
 I asked John about his background and he told me that he started out as a genetic engineering major at Elon University, "...but I got tired of being in the flatlands ....and then I had to take Organic Chemistry." We commiserated for a few minutes about the rigors of Organic Chemistry and then he continued, "...so I transferred to UNCA and got a degree in business and finance."  Leah mentioned  that  "John attended Siebel in Chicago".   An internet search after our interview revealed that Siebel Institute of Technology is basically the Harvard University of brewing schools.

The world of brewing beer revolves around ingredients and the chief ingredient in beer  is hops, specifically the flower of the hop plant.  With some 3000 breweries in the United States, competition for hops can be fierce and the supply can be limited by crop yields affected by weather and also by farmers who choose to plant other crops that can generate more income.
Highland produces five "flagship" beers:  St. Terese's Pale Ale, Gaelic Ale, Black Mocha Stout, Kashmir English-style IPA and Oatmeal Porter.  They also have one seasonal beer that is always in production.  Perhaps the most famous of their seasonals is Cold Mountain Ale.  I remarked on the fact that there is such a rabid enthusiasm for Cold Mountain when it arrives in stores in the winter.  Leah finds it amazing  that there's even a twitter handle (@ColdMtnTracker) to quickly alert fans to available supplies of the ale. 

Small batch brewing tanks at Highland Brewing
I'm always fascinated by flavors of beer and John gestured to the nearby small batch tanks that they use for training, to experiment with new seasonal blends and also to make up custom blends for clients.  John recalled that a recently brewed batch was Habanero Brownie which he claimed was delicious. I asked if there was a flavor that a customer suggested that just wouldn't work and John laughed and said, "That would have to be butter beer".  My thoughts instantly turn to Harry Potter and John told me that a buttery flavor is not usually a positive characteristic in beer and often indicates a problem with the brewing process.  
As we wrap up our chat I  questioned Leah and John about their favorite Highland beers.  John is quick to say, "Mocha Stout and the Thunderstruck". (The Thunderstruck Coffee Porter is one of the small batch beers.)  Leah paused for a moment and then asked if it's okay if she just says that her beer choice is based on her mood.  The two move behind the bar so I can snap a quick photo and each pour themselves a beer from the tap.  John picked the  Black Mocha Stout and Leah hesitated for a moment and then poured herself a Gaelic Ale, the very first Highland's beer that gave Highland its start, a beer described on their website as " ...exceptionally balanced between malty sweetness and delicate hop bitterness."
John Lyda and Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Roots: Doing the Right Thing

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Matt Parris (L) and Lowell Parris (R) of Roots Hummus

In talking with brothers Matt and Lowell Parris of Roots Hummus the words and theme of "doing the right thing" just kept coming up.  Matt Parris is the founder and CEO and Lowell, Matt's older brother, the Chief Brand Officer(CBO), or as he laughingly said, the Chief Bean Officer.
Roots sign in River Arts District Asheville

Since 2007 Roots  has been housed in a former art studio, an easy to find 2-story brick building in the River Arts District of Asheville with additional warehouse space nearby. It's only a short walk from their parking lot, across a set of railroad tracks to White Duck Taco, however, discovering how Roots Hummus came into being is a much more circuitous tale. Roots hummus was born after previous ventures and companies that including a cafĂ©, wholesale food and catering companies and much trial and error of food production of  everything from salsa to salads.   "Finally," Matt said, "a few years ago we looked at what was selling, and the majority was the hummus, so we decided to just focus on that."


Madison Maxwell, Brand and Media Mgr at Roots with Roots "swag"
Roots has 20 full-time workers and Lowell remarked proudly that they are all paid a certified living wage and get a week of paid vacation every quarter, "...because it's the right thing to do."
Matt Parris cites his involvement on the board of the Asheville non-profit FEAST (Fast, Easy, Affordable, Sustainable and Tasty) as especially important to him personally and as a business owner. "Because they're  teaching kids  how to cook and work together and hopefully this teaches them the economics of food and will ultimately help fix our food supply."

Roots currently sources their garbanzo beans (chickpeas) from a farmer in Walla Walla ,Washington, Matt qualified this by saying , "He's not an organic farmer but he uses many organic practices and we feel really good about the quality of the product."  I asked about why not an organic farm and Matt responded that this is often a question he gets, "...people often don't understand that food and farming isn't a black and white issue, it's much more nuanced..." Lowell agreed and explained that trying to source organic can be very expensive because then you have to compete with the "big guys".  Matt elaborated,"We could have started buying organic garbanzo beans from Turkey but we just weren't happy with the quality so it didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Currently Roots produces 14,000-15,000 pounds of hummus a week and ships it to Ingles markets and retailers throughout the U.S. It was about three years ago when Roots hummus started being sold at Ingles. You can currently find it in the Deli section near gourmet cheeses in about 50 Ingles Markets.  It took a lot of persistence on Matt's part and his conviction that being in Ingles Markets was the right place for Roots Hummus, "Ingles is THE original Asheville grocery store."   Lowell spoke with excitement about the fact that soon their hummus will be at Dean and DeLuca (a gourmet grocer) in New York City.

Production room with Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas)
 
We walked downstairs into the production facility and stop at a room with two workers and an enormous pile of garbanzo beans.  Matt apologized that there wasn't more to see, "Most of our production is done Mondays through Thursdays."  
Roots newest flavor - Mango Sriracha
We sat down to talk in their break room and the brothers ask if I had tried their newest flavor, Mango Sriracha (should be in Ingles stores soon!). When I told them I hadn't,  Matt immediately jumped up to get a container and a wooden spoon.  It's a delicious hummus, a little sweet and tropical but with a subtle kick of the sriracha.  Developing the flavor was no easy feat.  They found a local source for the dried mango, organically grown in Costa Rica,  but the sriracha proved more problematic.  Many of the commercial srirachas contained sugar or just didn't produce the flavor profile they were looking for.  "So we decided to make our own sriracha and let the dried mango become the sweet component.". 
Roots is already getting "love letters", that's what Matt calls them, from customers happy with this new flavor. 

 

 

On each and every container of Roots hummus there's a quote, "Every batch is sacred".   Both Matt and Lowell have a passion to supply a pure product, "...one that's simple, fresh....like you might make at home" because caring about the ingredients and the finished product is the right thing to do.