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 123 of 159

BRAND SPOTLIGHT Together, they would promote the System Rice Intensification (SRI) method, a process of growing rice that teaches some of the poorest farmers—many who are earning less than $1 or $2 a day—how to grow it more sustainably using 50 percent less water, 90 percent less seed and no agrichemicals. To date, an estimated one million farm- ers in more than 30 countries have adopted SRI, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing water use by 50 percent. "This was a way to help them have more food security, alleviate poverty and offer so many social and environmental benefits as well," Levine adds. The CIIFAD partnership helped evolve Lotus Foods' business from Levine and Lee's early grassroots efforts. "Now we have this world-class university doing the agronomy, the non-governmental organization on the ground in the countries offering support and technical assistance and the farmer cooperatives in the countries of origin," she says. This growth has allowed Levine and Lee to head straight to the farms and work directly with growers. "Not only do we observe and taste their rice, we set them up," Levine says. Often farmers don't have the proper milling or storing facilities or know how to prepare rice for export, so the couple helps them get proper organic and fair- trade certifications, educates them, and most important, creates a relationship that will endure the thousands of miles of distance between Lotus Foods' office in California and the farmers. "When it comes to sourcing, it's all about relationship," Levine asserts. The company's product line doubled as a result of the Cornell partnership, Levine says. The introduction of new products was determined by which farmers Cornell felt were ready to enter the market and were able to feed themselves and their communities and grow rice according to SRI standards. Lotus Foods wanted to roll out at least three SRI rices for the new line, and three countries were ready at the time the partnership began. The first SRI rice in the line was Madagascar Pink Rice, followed by Organic Mekong Flower Rice from Cambodia and Organic Volcano Rice from West Java. In 2006, they brought in Brown Kalijira Rice from Bangladesh. SRI is the standard that Lotus now employs for all rice brought into its product line, and the com- pany plans to convert all of its suppliers in time. "This partnership was a major expansion of our social, eco- nomic and environmental commitment," Levine says. Levine and Lee devised the slogan "More Crop Per Drop" to represent SRI farming, adding the phrase 122 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com to the packaging of their SRI rice and promoting it on the Lotus Foods website. Hammering Home Nutrition Levine and Lee have never overlooked Forbidden Rice's most impor- tant element—its nutritional value. For more than a decade, Lotus Foods has promoted the benefits of black rice, as well as their other rice, through its website, in stores and at trade shows. In August 2010, Dr. Zhimin Xu, associate professor of food sci- ence at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, came out with research that would help move the company forward. His work proved what they already knew: Black rice contains high levels of anti- oxidants and thiamine. The study found that a spoonful of black rice bran—or an equivalent 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice—contains more anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blue- berries, but with less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E. A few months later, Lotus Foods won the public-relations lotto. In January 2011, Dr. Mehmet Oz, surgeon, author and regular TV commentator on health, appeared on ABC's Good Morning America with a bag of Forbidden Rice, declaring: "For a healthy new year, this is my secret weapon." Within two minutes of that statement, sales of Forbidden Rice rocketed by 122 percent, according to UNFI Q1 Trends Report. For a small company that can't allocate its own research funds, data from other outlets will continue to be a boon for Lotus Foods. "New studies are showing that red rice might be even more benefi- cial than black," Levine notes. But the team remains cautious with packaging claims, waiting for empirical data to be published before advertising the finds. Refreshing the Brand The burgeoning attention to black rice's nutritional value coincided well with a brand refresh Lotus Foods underwent in 2010. The overhaul included new packaging, an updated marketing campaign and a website redesign. As part of the refresh, Levine and Lee realized that their mes- sage of "healthier rice for a healthier life" was not being expressed in their overall branding. A first step was a tagline change for their logo, from "Lotus Foods: A World of Rice" to "Lotus Foods: Rice Is Life" to better tie in the message of health. "We changed our marketing and packaging to express exactly that," Levine says. The logo sits prominently on each package to remind the consumer of the importance and value of rice. "Rice is life for three-quarters of the world's population," says Levine. So farming it sustainably is imperative for the future of rice harvesting—and the livelihood of the harvesters. In addition to the logo tagline, the top of each package is branded with the phrase "Healthier Rice for a Healthier Life."

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