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How 88 Artisanal Food Startups Are Gunning for the Big Leagues

Artisanal food made by crafters, as opposed to corporations, tends to have a story and the secret to selling that story, is to get in the right room.
07/14/2015 04:45pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Brian Fredericksen, owner of Ames Farm in Watertown, MN, produces and jars more than sixteen varietals of honey. His dedication to pinpointing the exact flower and season is so extreme that each jar is marked with an individual flower, hive and harvesting time.

"I'm a real beekeeper. I came up with my own way of making single source honey. It's a little complicated, but the idea is that a hive in a geographic location is unique so you're taking a floral snapshot." said Fredericksen.

It's the kind of concept that gets chefs and food nerds excited, but it's a hard story to tell to grocery stores and retailers. Fredericksen joined 88 artisanal food vendors at the first annual New York Good Food Mercantile at Pioneer Works in Red Hook on June 27. The event took place just one day before the opening of the Specialty Food Association's annual Summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javits Center. At the Fancy Food Show, thousands of vendors and international delegations gather en masse to present their wares and hopefully, do big business. Exhibiting space costs thousands of dollars and the business environment isn't always ideal for small vendors.

For Fredericksen, the Fancy Food Show has never made sense due to the specificity of his product, but he also indicated that any event of that size wouldn't be his cup of tea.

Said Fredericksen, "I would rather be with my bees."

The Good Food Mercantile offered an alternative for many local makers like Steve's Ice Cream, Brooklyn Delhi relishes, Mama O's Kimchi, Kelvin Slush Company, but the majority of vendors came from all over the country. Spirits, granola, cheese, charcuterie, chocolate, jarred goods, beer, oil, coffee and ice cream vendors came from as far as California and Washington State. Artisanal food made by crafters, as opposed to corporations, tends to have a story and the secret to selling that story, is to get in the right room.

Sarah Weiner, director of Seedling Projects and her team sought to provide that room. It was a simple set-up with craft paper draped over simple tables, but its is the screening and standards that go into the event that make it remarkable. Sarah oversees the Good Food Awards and the Good Food Merchants Guild.

All vendors exhibiting were guild members, meaning they have all been screened and admitted based on their ingredients and their social and environmental sustainability values. The standards of the guild attract a very specific retailer, which makes this event, though smaller, often equally beneficial to the vendors and retailers.

Photo Credit: Mark Weinberg