Monday, July 27, 2009

Minnesota Flavored Almonds

Darned good Almonds. Darned good marketer. Barbara had a recipe for smoked almonds she’d tinkered with over the years. Family and friends looked forward to getting them for Christmas. We won’t say the big gun’s name, but Barbara’s have a meatier taste, almost bacony (they are entirely vegetarian, vegan even).

Co-worker Jason and she decided to try selling them at the LinkMidtown Farmer’s Market in the spring of 2008, and they were a hit. Over the course of the season, they developed three new recipes, “Sweeties” (chai or “pumpkin pie” flavored), “Naughties” (cocoa and cinnamon, with a snap of cayenne), and “Hotties” (cayenne and chilli, with molasses, vinegar, and smoke giving them a lot of depth). Meanwhile, they found retail outlets (Seward Co-op, East Side Co-op, Mississippi Market Co-op, Anoka Lakewinds Co-op, Kiki's Simple Abundance in Red Wing, The Golden Fig, with more on the way). This year they’ve expanded to three other farmer’s markets (Kingfield, North East, and New Hope).

The flavors are all complex, and a little on the adult side. They’ve made it to Iraq, and Barbara and Jason proudly display a photograph of a squad of GIs eating Barsy’s Almonds in front of a Baghdad palace.

Barbara and Jason are engaging sales people, and like to play and flirt with customers and prospects. They have regulars who seem like friends, and Barbara and Jason are popular with the other sellers. When one of them has a conflict or they get triple-booked, I step in as baker or seller. Baking is fast-paced and engaging, but selling is a gas.

The next recipe will probably be “Babies,” and will use hazlenuts, aka “filberts.” The idea is to diversify, but also to use a local product (there ain’t no Minnesota almonds). Most of our filberts come from Turkey, but the trees grow like weeds out in the country here. There is the beginning of a hazlenut industry, with local arborealistas tinkering with processing machinery, and marketing networks.

Barsy’s has a website, but mail order is pretty ad hoc still. At current scale, what would be nice would be somebody else whose business would be mail order fulfillment source for artisan-food start-ups.

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