Specialty Food Magazine

MAR 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 62 of 63

Q&A Surpassing the Everyday Cracker Michael Thompson joined Venus Wafers in 2008 as president to share his expertise from a 30-year career in specialty foods. Today, the family-owned cracker company has expanded its line to six brands in 24 flavors. Here, Thompson talks about his influence on the brand and some challenges and perks of the job. BY DENISE SHOUKAS Q What was founder Napoleon Barmakian's inspira- tion to start Venus Wafers? He was a man truly ahead of his time in 1931. He had a pas- sion for great-tasting food that was also nutritious, and he built Venus Wafers based on recipes that were handed down from his Armenian ancestors. How has the product line expanded over the years? Venus's first product was a 100 percent Whole Wheat Wafer packaged in a plain brown box. Today we bake 24 items in total, including six of our own brands—among them, 8 Grain, Haute Cuisine, Nejaime's Lavasch and The Original Mariner Biscuit Company. In addition, we bake crackers and flatbreads for lead- ing retailers and marketers throughout North America. What is your best seller? Our best-selling brand is our Nejaime's Lavasch, a traditional Armenian flatbread. I think it's so popular because it's based on a traditional family recipe and has a light texture and our unique mixture of toppings. You've had a long career working for specialty food companies. How were you hoping to influence the company when you began? I planned to ask all associates to join a team that would identify our product and market opportunities, increase gross margins, and reach a sustainable net income level on a much larger sales base within a reasonable timeframe. We now focus our sales and market- ing efforts towards keeping the Venus Wafers franchise visible and strong, while utilizing our in-house production capabilities to provide selected partners with their own branded solutions. What is the biggest perk of your job? Staying involved with the specialty food trade and my many friends and colleagues, especially in other countries. 60 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com The biggest challenge? The economy: Our business fluctuates with the frequency of home entertaining and the recession certainly put a damper on the demand for specialty crackers. Happily the last few months have been much better and the recent Fancy Food Show in San Francisco is an early indicator of great things to come. Who is your culinary idol? I met Chef Paul Prudhomme years ago and always enjoyed his friend- ship. In fact, I have depended on his booth for my lunch at trade shows in five countries. If you knew you were having your last meal, what would you choose to eat? I like to eat light so smoked salmon, a ripe Brie cheese and an olive tapenade on our new Mariner Olive Oil & Sea Salt crackers—with a glass of Coastal Pinot Noir. |SFM| Denise Shoukas is a contributing editor to Specialty Food Magazine. COURTESY OF MICHAEL THOMPSON

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