Press & Media
Kevin Deighan, Shore Gourmet General Manager, and Stephen McHenry, MARBIDCO Executive Director, stand by the refrigeration truck purchased with assistance from a Local Government Ag/RBI Project Cost Share Grant. The MARBIDCO grant served as a partial match to MAERDAF and USDA-Rural Development grants.
SHORE GOURMET HELPS LOCAL PRODUCERS
Orginal: Star Democrat, Friday, February 17, 2012
By CAROLYN SWIFT LASAKO
"Buy fresh, buy local," the familiar movement that has sparked a surge in farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations and farm-to-school programs across the country, now is making its way into the restaurant industry.
And Shore Gourmet, a local nonprofit that supports a growing number of the Delmarva Peninsula's value-added producers, is taking full advantage of the trend.
"Restaurants are now our best customers," said Kevin Deighan, general manager of Shore Gourmet, which is based out of Easton, but offers its consulting, marketing, distribution and promotional services to value-added producers across the entire Delmarva Peninsula. "And we only see that portion of the business picking up."
Established as a nonprofit in 2009, Shore Gourmet initially focused its marketing and distribution services on independently owned small shops and markets on the Mid-Shore, offering them everything from sauces to cheeses to bison meat to specialty cakes all from local producers.
"We found out very quickly there was a need more than anything else for a means with which to help people market their value-added products or their concepts for their value-added products," said Brad Powers, president of the board of Shore Gourmet. "You had farmers, for instance, who grew peppers and wanted to turn them into a relish, but didn't have a clue how to go about doing that."
So Shore Gourmet's strategy was to first lead the producers who needed it through the product development phase, assisting them with everything from recipe to label design, and then tackle marketing and distribution to small area retailers, all free of charge.
As time went on and the economy continued to struggle, however, Powers and Deighan were finding that many of the independently owned smaller markets they were targeting were going out of business, which required them to rethink their marketing approach.
"As we started exploring things, we found that for some of our products, not all of them, there is a demand in the restaurant trade," Powers said.
One of the reasons for that, Deighan said, is today's chefs are much more receptive to the "buy local" movement.
"The neat part about the restaurant trade right now is these chefs are looking for fresh, local products," Deighan said. "It used to be about the best price; it didn't matter where it came from."
Some of the more popular products among local chefs include bison meat from S.B. Farms in Hurlock, cheeses from Chapel's Country Creamery in Easton and a variety of sauces, including chef Mark Salter's Pub Sauce, Deighan said.
A Shore Gourmet affiliate since the beginning, Holly Foster of Chapel's Country Creamery credits two things for her business' continued growth Shore Gourmet and the "buy local" movement.
"I need to keep my focus on the farm and managing things with production," she said. "I don't have time to distribute the products around. And I do no marketing. I feel stupid saying that, but I don't have time. That's why we need help. And Shore Gourmet gives us that help."
Foster's cheeses have been extremely sought after by local chefs, some of whom list the business' name on the menu, showing customers exactly where the cheeses are from.
"I've been amazed at how much (the restaurants) are buying, especially since our cheese is a bit more expensive," Foster said. "But they really like local products. The 'buy fresh, buy local' movement has really caught on."
Another popular item among local restaurants, bison from S.B. Farms in Hurlock is selling faster than owner Bill Edwards can produce it.
"The chefs love the bison," said Deighan, who in addition to marketing and distributing the meat, worked with S.B. Farms' processor to put together portion controls so restaurants could receive uniform cuts. "Basically, there's not enough bison for me. I'm limited on who I can sell it to."
While Edwards has been selling all kinds of bison cuts which are all the same as beef cuts at farmers markets and from his farm's retail shop for years, he said having the product in a restaurant gives consumers the chance to try the meat after being professionally prepared.
"That's the best way to try it," he said. "Because it's so low in fat, it cooks a lot faster than other meats, so you have to be careful. If you cook it like you would a beef burger, it's going to be like a hockey puck."
Although Edwards also acknowledged the "buy local" movement as contributing to his success, he said another trend has helped, as well people are becoming more health conscious.
"Bison is an extremely healthy product," he said while showing off a brochure that compared it to more traditional meats. Bison has more protein and vitamin B-12 than beef, pork, chicken or salmon, but significantly less fat grams, calories and cholesterol, according to the brochure from the National Bison Association.
Given all of the costs associated with processing the meat, though, bison sells at about twice the price of beef. But that doesn't seem to be deterring anyone from buying it, Edwards said, as customers across income levels are returning time and time again.
"You would think that only a certain income class would be buying it, but that's not the case," he said. "It's not just a product for the well-to-do."
The price would most likely come down, however, if Edwards didn't have to send the bison out of state for processing a problem Shore Gourmet hopes to resolve soon.
"There is no specialty meat processing facility in Maryland," Powers said. "Producers have to take it to Pennsylvania. So one of the things we want to do is establish a facility somewhere on the Eastern Shore."
Although a location has yet to be found, Powers said he is exploring the former animal health lab in Centreville and an already built processing facility at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore that has never been used.
"They built a large animal slaughtering and meat processing facility and never used it," Powers said of the UMES facility. "I'd love to see that get opened."
Other Shore Gourmet initiatives include the implementation of buying clubs, in which employees of businesses or members of communities can place an order through Shore Gourmet from a list of products.
"I believe the buying club concept is going to make a huge difference in the kinds of thing we can handle," Powers said. "It will allow for a much wider variety of products and it also will make life easier for Kevin because he can deliver to one place."
Powers hopes the combination of the buying clubs and a push for more restaurant sales will help Shore Gourmet meet its goal of more than $100,000 in products sold for 2012, which is nearly double what was sold in 2011.
"We think we can get there," Deighan said.
SHORE GOURMET LAUNCHES PRODUCERS’ FORUM
Following the first Board of Directors’ meeting for 2011, the Directors of Shore Gourmet launched the Producers’ Forum. Shore Gourmet, operating under the auspices of the Mid-Shore Regional Council (MSRC), serves as a non-profit entity dedicated to assisting local farmers and other producers of value-added food products with business development, promotion, marketing and distribution of high quality local products. Among the mix of products are cheeses, yogurt, meat rubs, sauces, pastries (mini-Smith Island Cake, pumpkin roll, cookies, etc.) , beaten biscuits, honey, flavored nuts, bison meat products, beef and pork products. New for 2011 will be an array of locally produced seafood products from crab meat and oyster pies to fish filets and shellfish along with fresh tomatoes, herbs and other seasonal fruits and vegetables.
The Producers’ Forum is a new concept wherein Shore Gourmet producers have an opportunity to meet each other, share ideas and concerns and hear presentations important to the future of their businesses. The first program was given by Mike Thielke, Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC), a 501c(3) corporation created by the MSRC.
Highlighting comments made by the producers. Holly Foster, Chapel’s Country Creamery, as well as Lawson Krotsen and Amy Ewell of Pecan Yummies stressed the value of working with high school interns in their respective operations. Both companies had interns working for credit and felt that the students not only learned a great deal about operating a business but they also contributed to the way we work. “In some cases, interns continued to work for the businesses long after their internships ended” commented Foster. Vicki Sump, Sump’s Greenhouses in Cordova, highlighted the value of business development information provided by Shore Gourmet. She stated, “Farmers can grow, but there is so much more they need to know to get their products to market and Shore Gourmet provides that full package”. Bill Edwards of SB Bison Farms in Hurlock let everyone know that he is considering expanding his operation to meet the demand created by Shore Gourmet.
Shore Gourmet plans to offer the Producers’ Forum twice a year, in January and July and hopes to offer a similar opportunity for retailers through which Shore Gourmet products are sold to consumers.
“Shore Gourmet is unique”, says Brad Powers, President of the Board of Directors, “in that we not only offer marketing and distribution for local producers but also free advice relative to business development, product development, packaging, labeling, quality and expert opinions about all products from a panel of professional chefs that volunteer their time.”
Powers and Shore Gourmet General Manager Kevin Deighan encourage anyone on the Eastern Shore who either has a value-added product or an idea for one to contact the office at 410-770-4454 or visit our web site at www.shoregourmet.com . Deighan also stressed that he is looking for new outlets for the products at either retail stores or restaurants. He added, “now that we have our distribution center completed we welcome retailers to call for an appointment to see the full array of products we offer. We also want to know what new products you are looking for.”