In this exclusive interview with Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Foods Association (SFA) and Denise Purcell, director of content, we talk about the next edition of the association’s trade-only event, as well as about the trends and challenges associated with specialty foods.
By Dan Orehov
FFE: What are some of the main challenges associated with specialty foodstuffs and how do the SFA members address them?
Phil Kafarakis (P.K.): Many specialty food producers in the U.S. are relatively small, especially when they first go into business. It can be difficult to gain a solid distribution network when you are starting out. Attracting the capital needed to meet your growth goals can also be a problem. Building a solid supply chain, setting competitive prices, and developing packaging and advertising that will appeal to consumers all has to be handled before you get off the ground. We know that specialty food producers often come to the Specialty Food Association for help. That’s what we’re here for! We offer research, education, best practices, and networking opportunities for start-ups as well as established companies. And, when you’re ready, our Fancy Food Shows offer access to the widest range of buyers in the marketplace.
FFE: How does the SFA contribute to the promotion of specialty products?
P.K Serving as a champion of the industry is an important part of our mission. Our more than 35-year-old sofi Awards program, highlighting new product innovation in 39 product categories, is a major highlight of our shows and media platform. We also serve as a champion through research – covering the industry as a whole, the consumers of specialty products, and the trends we see emerging in product lines. We publish a quarterly magazine, maintain a very informative website, and offer educational opportunities online and in-person. We also partner with some remarkable organizations to promote the U.S. specialty food market globally. Recently, we’ve taken sofi Award winners and featured our education and research platforms at SIAL Paris, SIAL China, Gulf Goods Show Dubai, Seeds&Chips – Milano, and Cibus Food Expo Parma. We plan to attend a variety of other international events in 2019. All of our efforts, naturally, are brought to life at our own Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows. Qualified buyers across multiple supply-chain channels of the food industry are the primary attendees of the shows. They truly come from all segments, with representatives from all the major U.S. grocery chains as well as independent retailers and foodservice. We have hundreds of producers and importers from the international community exhibiting at our shows, along with American producers. The shows highlight doing business, but our education platform and SFA Live media interviews also promote the industry to the exhibitors and attendees.
FFE: What are the upcoming initiatives that the SFA has planned for its members and for the industry in the coming year?
P.K At our shows, we’ll be launching “Speak Ups” where we’ll convene members from across the industry – producers, buyers, distributors, etc. – to talk with us and one another about the challenges they face and the opportunities they see on the horizon for their businesses. These events and the creation of Working Groups made up of industry insiders will help us plan our association policies and prioritize our programs. We’re expanding our education platform – for example, we’re very excited to launch a special certification program for food buyers in 2019. We developed it with the Cornell Institute for Food Studies and E-Cornell to prepare buyers for all the aspects of the food purchasing business. We expect that, in addition to industry buyers, many of our maker, distributor, and broker members will also be taking the course to hone their skills. We’re hosting a Business Summit in April where attendees will learn from leading experts in strategic selling, marketing, branding, management, logistics, and profit-building. The Summit is also a great opportunity to network with hundreds of industry professionals. Our mission is to champion, nurture and connect the industry – events like the Summit are designed to do that.
FFE: Please discuss the Strategic Plan: “Forward 2022” and its role.
P.K: Creating the five-year strategic plan Forward2022 really enabled us to redefine our goals and confirm our direction for supporting the industry. Our new vision statement: “Shaping the Future of Food,” informs all of our decisions. Naturally, being founded in 1952 gives us a strong foundation. We have a legacy of being the place where iconic specialty food brands launch in the U.S. The Fancy Food shows were the starting place for Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn, Jelly Belly jellybeans, Chobani Greek yogurt, and hundreds of other brands. Our work is based on three main imperatives: to understand and grow the industry; build our authority as the specialty food expert; and enhance engagement across the industry, serving as a gathering place for peer-to-peer connections. It’s our privilege to serve the fastest growing segment of food in the United States.
You can read the entire article in the Nov-Dec print issue of Frozen Food Europe.