When we think of New York and food, most likely our minds turn first to the fancy restaurants and funky joints that serve New York City’s diverse cuisines, but there’s another, equally vibrant culinary side to the Empire State. The state’s artisan food-makers have reached some kind of critical mass in recent years, a trend that has spurred more entrepreneurs to jump in.

In 2011, the state launched Taste NY, a program aimed at marketing New York’s artisan food and agricultural businesses, and this month Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to substantially expand the program and help producers triple their sales.

“We like the trend we are seeing, we like the efforts launched by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. We haven’t seen that kind of effort before and it’s gaining a lot of momentum,” said Barkeater co-founder and Head Chocolatier Deb Morris.

Similar programs that have succeeded in other states have helped foodie communities gain momentum, Morris said. (read more…)

Digital technology in the food world isn’t just about putting tablets on tables and giving smartphone users new ordering and payment options. It’s also about digital employee training programs that teach proper procedures, provide insights for human resource departments, boost sales and give employees a way to fit classes into their schedules without disrupting business.

“The biggest thing technology has brought is standardization,” said author and consultant Allan Barmak, whose firm creates custom training programs for businesses including restaurants. Typically, a new hire will train under an experienced employee, who will be working a shift while also trying to teach the trainee how the job is done, Barmak said. “The challenge is that the company has to trust that the person is teaching the right things and the company-approved message.”

Online courses that new employees take before they start give each new hire the same introduction to the job and the way the company wants things done, and with video-based training and webinars, the company controls the training session from beginning to end, he said. (read more…)

As online shopping, and increasingly, online grocery shopping, has become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers everywhere, supermarkets and grocery stores are jumping in line to serve the needs of today’s busy consumer. From Webvan to Amazon Fresh, online grocery shopping sites have come and gone over the past 10-plus years. Still, Zach Buckner, CEO of Charlottesville, Va.-based Relay Foods, saw a need to feed consumers’ growing hunger for convenience, and started the online food marketplace focused on delivering groceries, local and organic produce, and specialty items in 2009.

Now, with five years under its belt, Relay Foods is looking to the future with new priorities including investing in tools, products and enhancements to its website in order to streamline and simplify customers’ efforts to incorporate high-quality foods into their lives, Buckner told SmartBrief.

We talked to Buckner about his journey in starting Relay Foods, the lessons it’s taught him and what he looks for in potential leaders. (read more…)

Tight economic times, trends toward healthier dining and new seasonal flavors may drive us to change our dessert habits at times, but Americans still want to indulge in after-dinner sweets and, when they do, it’s most likely they’ll be having something chocolate. More than two-thirds of restaurant menus boast at least one chocolate dessert, with vanilla a far-off second at about 40%, according to Datassential, and many restaurants are seeing that old classics with new twists, as well as desserts that offer guests a different way of dining, are trending with consumers today.

There’s evidence that eateries are innovating in the area of chocolate, even as they downsize the menu. Restaurant menus were 2% smaller in the third-quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year, and dessert menus shrank 3%, according to Technomic.

“The overall trend of downsizing menus means restaurants are focusing on the highest-reward items, the ones with the highest margins or the biggest sellers or the ones with the biggest buzz, and that’s certainly true with desserts,” said Technomic restaurant industry watcher Mary Chapman. (read more…)

Mayor Bloomberg’s push to outlaw over-sized sugary drinks in New York City didn’t succeed, but that and other efforts, including upcoming “soda tax” ballot measures in San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., have kept the debate going about the health consequences associated with the drinks we consume, and helped fuel a shift toward healthy beverages.

Last month, the American Beverage Association and major soda companies joined with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in a voluntary effort to reduce beverage calories consumed by 20% by 2025. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group will invest in local and national initiatives, including making and marketing smaller-sized sodas, bottled water and new lower-calorie calorie drinks.

The measures come amid changing consumer habits. U.S. soda consumption has been falling since hitting a high in 1998 and calories from soda fell 23% from 2000 and 2013, according to Beverage Digest. Meanwhile, a new generation of soft drinks is growing up to quench the thirst of health-conscious consumers. (read more…)