Specialty Food Magazine

JAN-FEB 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 120 of 159

BRAND SPOTLIGHT Lotus Foods: Changing the World One Grain of Rice at a Time The owners' introduction to black rice in China led them to develop a specialty food business that helps revolutionize the way small family farms grow exotic and heirloom varieties. BY DENISE SHOUKAS I t began with a literal journey: Embarking on an effort to start their own business, in 1993 Caryl Levine and Ken Lee left their home in Berkeley, Calif., for a two-month market-research trip to China. Among dozens of concepts they uncovered, one stood out from the beginning. "We tried black rice very early," Levine recalls. "It had a roast- ed-nutty taste with hints of fruit and an exotic plate presentation." It also had a bevy of nutritional benefits, which were legend- ary in China. In every village, says Levine, "everybody would tell versions of the same story: During the days of the Ching and Ming dynasties, black rice was reserved exclusively for the emperors, and it was called longevity rice, or tribute rice, as the tribute to the longev- ity of the emperor." From that initial experience emerged Lotus Foods, a specialty food business co-owned by Levine and Lee that imports almost 600 tons of rice annually and carries a dozen individual rice products. But the company's mission goes beyond providing consumers with high-quality rice. Lotus Foods has established relationships with small family farms committed to growing heirloom rice in countries such as China, Bhutan, Indonesia, Cambodia and Madagascar, help- ing farmers improve their livelihoods—and changing the way rice is grown. Along the way, the co-owners have learned the intricacies of international sourcing and effective branding. A Name with Meaning The pair found inspiration for branding the product during the initial trip to China. While walking through Beijing's Forbidden City before returning to the states, Lee, who had worked in finan- cial planning and insurance sales, came up with the idea of calling the crop Forbidden Rice: The Emperor's Forbidden Grain. Levine, whose background was in fundraising and higher education, loved it. They returned to California, trademarked the name and spent the next year setting up the business and establishing their supply chain. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 119

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