Two chief executives from companies that make frozen products, Adnan Durrani and Jeni Britton Bauer, will be among seven members of the Specialty Food Association to receive Leadership Awards during the trade group’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco on January 11. Recognized for going “above and beyond” in advancing food standards in society – and society itself – by creating social, economic and environmental impact through innovation and vision, their achievements range from bringing halal foods to the American mainstream, to perfecting extraordinary blends for new frozen yogurt, sorbet and ice cream concoctions.
“The specialty food industry is fueled by passionate entrepreneurs who seek to make a difference through the products they bring to market. These leaders are making an even greater impact by pioneering new business practices, empowering workers, and taking risks,” said Ann Daw, president of the New York City-headquartered Specialty Food Association.
Durrani, founder and chief executive officer of Stamford, Connecticut-based American Halal Co., Inc., which wholly owns the Saffron Road brand, is being saluted for his business leadership skills.
After working on Wall Street during the 1980s, he sought a different way to live and contribute to society. The venture capitalist started by helping to launch a green-oriented spring water company, Vermont Pure, and went on to become a partner of Gary Hirshberg at Stonyfield Farm in the early 1990s. “He called me ‘the suit’,” Durrani recalled. “We shared the same values, but I did not look like a hippie.”
Witnessing the World Trade Towers fall during the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, horrified Durrani – not only because he once worked there, but because extremists from his own Muslim faith were responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocent people. He was upset by how his religion came under increasing criticism and wanted to get out the word that the vast majority of Muslims in America abhor terrorism.
“I’d fought for the environment and social causes and built up social responsibility in the food business, but not done anything in the halal category,” Durrani said. “I knew there was an opportunity to use food as an instrument to bring about understanding.”
A savvy businessman, he crunched the numbers. More than 6.6 million Muslims live in the United States. With virtually no high-end, ready-to-eat, organic halal-certified food on the market in 2009, it was a relatively untapped demographic. The frozen foods category was especially deficient, he noted.
American Halal Co. and its packaged food brand, Saffron Road, launched in 2010, and from day one Durrani aimed to appeal to educated consumers who sought healthy, organic world cuisines. In addition to being halal, the brand incorporates other ethical consumerism practices: ingredients are sustainably farmed, free of antibiotics, and vegetarian-fed.
Today the Saffron Road brand, which has registered sales increases of more than 200% annually for the past three years, is distributed through more than 10,000 stores across the country. A large variety of shelf-stable artisan-grade broths and sauces are offered, as well as a growing line of frozen meals and appetizers that range from Moroccan Lamb Stew with couscous to Chicken Tikka Masala, Manchurian Dumplings with basmati rice, and Thai Basil Chili Tofu.
Saffron Road recently launched an assortment of traditional Korean-style frozen entrees featuring Beef Bulgogi, Bibimbop with Beef, Gochujang Chicken and Bibimbop with Tofu. “We partner with high-end, epicurean chefs to develop our recipes so there is authenticity, and we’re off the charts in terms of quality,” Durrani said.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, will be presented the Visionary Leadership Award. In 1995 she went from blending perfumes as an Ohio State University art student to creatively blending ice cream. Today her company owns 20 scoop shops and sells premium pints of distinctive ice cream around the country.
Blending perfumes, in fact, inspired Bauer’s experimentation in desserts when she added pure cayenne essential oil to chocolate ice cream. “It was this freezing cold sweetness on fire, and I thought of it as an edible perfume,” Bauer recalled. “I passed it around to my friends and they freaked out. I realized the potential was huge.”
In the mid-1990s, the ice cream industry followed the Ben & Jerry’s model, with familiar mix-ins like cookies, candy and chocolate chunks. Restaurant chefs were showcasing inventive flavors and high-quality ingredients on dessert menus, and Bauer wanted to bring quality and creativity to a scoop shop.
By 1996 she was running Scream Ice Cream in the North Market of Columbus, Ohio, using ingredients from local suppliers. “I’d come from the art world, so whatever I was inspired by in the market that day were the flavors we had,” said Bauer. “I was an ice cream artiste.”
The business struggled, though, and closed in 2000. Six months passed before Bauer realized where she’d gone wrong. “I was at a coffee shop waiting in line for my favorite scone, and when I got to the front I was so mad they were out of it,” she explained. “When I walked out, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized you have to build a trust relationship with your customers. I only made salty caramel when I felt like it. I didn’t understand how we had to have consistent flavors.”
In 2002, she reopened the store as Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and has taken the business aspect seriously ever since, though her creative background is clearly still in play with flavors like riesling poached pear sorbet and sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream. Her salty caramel ice cream, which helped put the company on the map, is always available.
Other offerings introduced in recent years include dark chocolate peppermint, cranberry parfait buttermilk frozen yogurt, toasted brioche with butter and apricot jam, hot toddy sorbet, chocolate hazelnut ice cream sandwiches and snowy coconut ice cream sandwiches featuring macaroon cookies.
“During almost 20 years of pioneering work, Jeni has effectively created a new ice cream category while inspiring retailers and producers alike to follow suit in being unrelenting on quality and ingredient sources,” wrote Jill Morehead of The Hills Market in Columbus when nominating Bauer for this award.
“Every day, Jeni makes decisions about partnerships and ingredients based on what will sustain the quality of her ice cream as well as the lives of her employees and people who provide the highest-quality ingredients she can find,” continued Morehead.
Bauer looks at her business as a community of people – from her 500 employees to the farmers, producers, distillers, and brewers who supply the ingredients. She buys only fair trade vanilla and conducts direct trade when possible.
“In a couple of years I will have been making ice cream for half of my life,” said the 41-year-old entrepreneur. “It’s fused to my DNA at this point.”
The business is growing, recently moving into new headquarters and continuing to add more scoop shops. “We make better ice cream now than we ever have, and we’ll make better ice cream tomorrow than we do now,” concluded Bauer.
Among Leadership Award winners from non-frozen food companies to be honored by the Specialty Food Association in San Francisco are David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery, Ahmed and Reem Rahim of Numi Organic Tea, Sara Holby of Ajiri Tea, and James May of Wisdom Natural Brands.