California denotes many things, from culture to commerce to technology to agriculture. Concerning the latter, which includes the state’s rich abundance of resources and farm-fresh food, “Made in California” has an undeniable connotation: excellence. This emphasis on all natural products with exceptional ingredients gives companies headquartered in California a major advantage, when dealing with food retailers and consumers. For, while people outside the state may associate this or that trend with California, nearly everyone acknowledges that food originating from California is part of a rich tradition with ties to immigrant families, community and entrepreneurs who uphold these values.
These principles are not another form of marketing, as if consumers are unable to distinguish between authenticity and some artificially manufactured story that attempts to give a lackluster brand some added mythology or cachet. (Working with two companies with their own respective roots in California, I know that nothing can duplicate the personal strength a business enjoys. Which is to say, the families responsible for the pasta we consume or the Asian noodles we enjoy are genuine individuals; a big corporation, no matter how much advertising resources at its disposal, cannot reinvent history.)
This California connection resonates with consumers worldwide, too, because the state’s image as a land of healthy food and personal fitness appeals to individuals of all ages. In fact, there is almost an expectation — not an unreasonable one — that food produced in California is, by definition, fresher and more delicious than similar items elsewhere. Hence the premium retailers and consumers attach to food from California: pasta, produce, fruit and vegetables — all of these foods have a reserved section (or at least some form of designation) as “Made in California” or “California Fresh” among retailers nationwide.
At the same time, California’s strong immigrant communities — particularly among Asian-Americans and Italian-Americans — continue to make formerly “ethnic” or “niche” or “regional” cuisine a mainstream staple. For example: an estimated 15.2 million residents say they are Asian — primarily Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese. This group accounts for nearly five percent of the total U.S. population, with corresponding purchasing power among independent grocers and major retailers nationwide.
The numbers for Italian foods are even more impressive, with projections for the world market for pasta approaching 17.9 million tons by 2015, driven by a growing number of nuclear families and the need for more convenient meals. According to Global Industry Analysts, Inc., a market research firm: “Factors such as high nutritional content, easy-to-prepare, longer life, and versatility are resulting in increased consumption of pasta across the globe, even in the Middle Eastern and African regions.” The research firm also says the United States and Europe “dominate” the world pasta market, accounting for 60 percent of consumption. Americans had per capita pasta consumption of 8.9 kg in 2008, which compared with 1.8 kg for Japan and 28.6 kg for Italy.
These statistics underscore the growth in Asian- and Italian-inspired foods, but the bigger variable — which has long-term benefits, economically and culturally — involves the Made in California connection. (The state’s reputation for excellent, fresh cuisine even extends, ironically, to fast food where In-N-Out Burger, to cite just one example, has an established reputation — and extreme loyalty among consumers — for top quality and attentive service.) Indeed, the popularization of sushi — and the subsequently inspired “California roll” — is one of many culinary trends with roots in the Golden State.
This fusion, in California, between Asian and Italian cuisine complements a national hunger for new and inventive foods. Indeed, the mainstream appeal of Asian noodles — noodle houses are a fixture throughout California — complements various lines of pasta already in development. Indeed, the symmetry between noodles (and other Asian foods) and pasta (with its own roots among Italian immigrants in California) is already a trend with strong acceptance far beyond California.
With its longstanding reputation for cultural and culinary diversity, California is both a place and an ideal. For consumers and retailers, accessing that ideal — and experiencing the delicious food from the state — has benefits for farmers, families, distributors, retailers and consumers. As a catchphrase, Made in California encapsulates these principles accurately and effectively. The state’s wonderful and inventive food is, in the end, the world’s bounty to enjoy.
Dave Abrams is president of Passport Food Group, Inc.