All good food tells a story. In today's growing market of regionally driven, artisan products, consumers want to be able to relate to their food; whether it be through a personal connection with the producer or an association with a particular time or place. These are what I like to call "emotional calories": products that fill a larger need than just sustenance, satisfying both the physical and psychological appetites.
In the 1990's and early 2000's, culinary trends were influenced primarily by chefs who sparked an influx of creativity and interest in local goods; there are now farmers markets in every town and local artisans creating innovative cakes, sauces, jerky, juices and more that evoke regional pride through flavors, packaging and the sheer impact of having a distinct and recognizable face to a brand. Now, retailers are looking to mimic this trend by offering more artisan and locally focused products to which consumers have a personal connection. Take a stroll through your typical supermarket today and you will notice products that boast key terms such as "hand-crafted" and "family recipe" to appeal to the same nostalgia that small producing artisans inherently have.
On my new Lifetime show Supermarket Superstar, contestants have the opportunity to showcase their food products with the hopes of winning the grand prize: a multi-million dollar deal with a national supermarket chain. The show is a first of its kind for entrepreneurs in the highly competitive food retail industry; artisans like Latrice Pace, a baker from Atlanta who uses Georgia's famously delicious peaches to make her quirky cobbler cupcakes, and Patricia Kiernan with an incredible traditional sweet pepper jelly recipe, are given a platform to share their passion and hard work with millions of Americans, while consulting with industry experts like Debbie Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies, branding expert and food product visionary Chris Cornyn and myself, a seasoned chef and veteran in the specialty foods market. We help them perfect the taste, nutrition, price and image of the product before the items are presented to focus groups of consumers and, ultimately, the top supermarket buyers. Conversely, the show also allows one of America's most prominent food retailers, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), to launch a product with instant brand recognition. It's a win-win.
Supermarket Superstar also challenges us mentors, the contestants and the consumers to think about future food trends and ask ourselves important questions about what we are going to eat; what will replace the cupcake fad; is there room for another brand of frozen dinners in the freezer section?
One contestant that really got me thinking was John Hayland from Canyon, California, a participant on the natural foods episode. Looking to create a sustainable and efficient product, John founded Chirp Chomps, a protein bar made with crickets. It's widely known and scientifically proven that insects are a great source of alternative protein, but the idea of eating bugs has not yet caught on with the American public. Some of the mentors and our host Stacy Kiebler were slightly dismayed by the notion, but as they learned about the nutritional value & the soft footprint on the planet and tasted the product's surprisingly great flavor, they were more open to the idea. I am a firm believer in the benefits of introducing people to foods that they might not be entirely comfortable with, and feel that this is a prime example of the effect Supermarket Superstar will have on culinary trends. If we can get Stacy Kiebler to eat crickets, we surely can convince our viewers to at least listen to the debate. My goal has always been not to dictate the outcome, but to start the conversation.