An annual trade show in Anaheim is The Place to go each year for artisan food makers. But this year one pack of attendees will be jointly touting where they’re coming from: Sonoma County.
Two dozen of the county’s food and natural products makers this week are heading to the Natural Products Expo West with a plan to collaborate. The businesses will add signs to their floor show booths that feature the hashtag, #SavorSonomaCounty.
Their plans include encouraging attendees to post photos of the local booths to Instagram as part of a scavenger hunt. The attendees also can rub elbows Saturday at a social mixer that features some of the county’s artisan food pioneers and next generation of producers.
“People really want to know where their food comes from and how it’s made,” said Helen Lentze, director of communications at goat cheese maker Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery. The local businesses wanted to “promote the fact that we’re from Sonoma County.”
The trade expo began in 1981 and now draws more than 70,000 attendees. Local food makers describe the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, as the biggest of its kind in the United States.
“You can’t be in this industry and not go to that show,” said Sean Lovett, owner and CEO of beverage maker Revive Kombucha.
Those heading to Anaheim this week include leaders of such longtime North Bay businesses as Clover-Stornetta Farms, Straus Family Creamery, La Tortilla Factory, Amy’s Kitchen and Alvarado St. Bakery. Those companies and others are credited with taking the region’s longtime agricultural heritage and helping build a reputation for tasty, wholesome food.
“To me it’s so inspiring what has been done here and what continues to be done,” said Serafina Palandech, president of Hip Chick Farms, which sells organic chicken fingers and other poultry products. “I want Sonoma to be known as the organic, natural foods county.”
Federal economists estimate that the combined wine, beverage and food industry amounts to about 5 percent of the local economy, said Sonoma State University economics professor Robert Eyler.
And the farm-to-table nature of many local food and restaurant businesses involves a vertical integration of processing steps that isn’t so concentrated in many other industries.
“It’s sort of like a dirt-to-mouth relationship,” Eyler said.
About three years ago, Sonoma County BEST, an economic development organization, helped local food makers form their own Food Industry Group. Lentze, the chair of the group’s marketing committee, last fall led a meeting to explore possible collaboration at the Anaheim trade show. More than two dozen people showed up to learn more, and the group’s efforts soon began in earnest.
Plans include a social media scavenger hunt where the winner will receive a $500 gift card and county “care package.” And Saturday’s social hour gathering, to be held at the booth of specialty tea maker Traditional Medicinals, will feature a “meet and greet” with such local food pioneers as Albert Straus of Straus Family Creamery and Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill.
Participants said the local companies are trying to change the food industry and make it more healthy and environmentally sustainable.
“Not only are we saying we’re from the same area but we share the same values,” said Janae Lloyd, organizational development manager for World Centric, a Petaluma company that sells compostable food containers.