Food Fella with Damon Riccio: Applegate wins prominent certification

Some very positive news out of Bridgewater, as the standalone subsidiary of Hormel Foods, Applegate Farms LLC, has scored big on a new premium brand of meats that uses pasture-raised products and small-batch production methods. The New Food Collective, as it’s called, has earned the certification of the American Grassfed Association for high standards.

The AGA standard looks like this: It mandates that hogs have maximum access to the outdoors, allowing them to forage and roam in woods and pasture, and that, during the grazing season, they gather most of their food outside. It also requires farmers to develop a pasture-management plan to support biological diversity, natural resources and soil fertility.

According to Gina Asoudegan, Applegate’s vice president of mission and innovation: “The American Grassfed Association standard is a leap ahead of anything else out there. The organization’s name focuses on pasture — and these new sausages deliver on that. But AGA also stands for no antibiotics, no genetically modified feed and the highest animal-welfare standards. You’d need five separate logos to replace what AGA does.”

Applegate Farms was founded in 1987 on the premise of producing high-quality natural and organic hot dogs, bacon, sausages, deli meats, cheese and frozen products, and it’s been keeping to that promise. “Applegate is committed to investing in scaling up systems and production methods that raise animals right,” added Asoudegan.

The launch of this new product line will feature fresh pork sausages, and the flavors sound tantalizing. Products include:

  • Sweet Italian Pork Sausage: laced with fennel, sea salt and pepper;
  • Hot Italian Pork Sausage: a combination of fennel seeds, chili flakes and cayenne;
  • Ginger-Scallion Pork Sausage: fresh and zesty, which can go on a bun or even in dumplings and curries; and
  • Breakfast Sausage: a classic, elevated with a real nice balance of salt, sweet and heat.

One of the highlights setting apart The New Food Collective brand is the fact that it sources its meat from small farms in Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri that use regenerative agricultural practices, which are designed to improve soil, water retention and biodiversity. Applegate is also working with the Savory Institute, a pioneer in regenerative agriculture, to assess farm practices and create proof-of-impact metrics that can be shared with the public. The brand uses no antibiotics, and the animals’ diets are supplemented with only non-GMO grain. 

The New Food Collective line will be sold at select Whole Foods stores in the Chicago metropolitan area at first, and we’re hoping to see it in our own backyard soon.

Conversation Starter

For more information visit: or on Instagram: @thenewfoodcollective.

Newest Jersey diner has hint of Southern flavor

New Jersey is undoubtedly the diner capital of the country, but now there’s a new one to add to the landscape — with a heritage from the Sunshine State, Florida! The first Metro Diner in New Jersey will open Tuesday, March 12, bringing over 100 new jobs for East Brunswick-area residents.

The 4,500-square-foot eatery is situated at 269 Route 18, just in front of the Hong Kong supermarket, and features indoor seating for 130 guests. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and
7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Metro Diner, established in 1992 as a single eatery in Jacksonville by the Davoli family, is now among
the nation’s fastest-growing casual dining concepts. Its diners are known for welcoming service, large portion sizes and serious diner food. With most dishes priced under $15, the eatery offers a great value during its all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Sharing his pride about the opening of the East Brunswick location, Managing Partner Mike Killeen said, “Guests feel at home when they come to Metro Diner because we welcome them as if they are coming to our own house,” and added “Metro Diner is known as the place where ‘the locals eat,’ and we hope to be the new go-to destination where our East Brunswick diners turn into regulars.”

You may be saying, “Big deal, another diner in Jersey”; however, take a look at some of the signature dishes with a southern twist that will be featured on the East Brunswick eatery’s menu: Fried Chicken and Waffles, Charleston Shrimp & Grits, the famous Meatloaf Plate and the Pulled Pork Mac Stack. Now, that’s some hearty comfort food, Jersey, and good enough to be a featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” recently.

Conversation Starter

To find out more about the Metro Diner or find a full list of locations, please visit: The diner also has a website where applicants can apply online:

NJFPA conference is almost here

Coming up fast (at the end of this week) will be the annual New Jersey Food Processors Association conference, being held Friday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Princeton.

The NJFPA is the leading organization made up of manufacturers and suppliers of food and agricultural products joined together to promote best practices, share information and lend support and advocacy to professionals in the food processing industry. Its presence here has been of great value to the New Jersey food and beverage community and surrounding areas since its founding back in 1934.

The theme for the 2019 conference will focus on attracting, developing and retaining talent to the industry. It is definitely a hot-button topic as many of New Jersey’s top food processing companies are challenged with shrinking labor pools and maintaining a skilled a workforce for the future.

During the March 8 event, there will be presentations and breakout sessions on various topics for both employers and employees including:

  • Attracting talent in a competitive labor market;
  • Best practices for developing future leaders;
  • Retaining talent with a focus on total wellbeing.

A knowledgeable group of speakers and panelists from educational institutions, government entities and the food industry will share best practices, tips and tools to help you better attract, develop and retain talent in your business.

This year’s keynote speaker will be Michele Siekerka, CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, and there will also be a new segment this year, as the NJFPA will present leadership awards at the luncheon. Additionally, Mazars USA will honor Goya Foods as it presents an award to Robert Unanue, CEO and president of Goya, for its extensive work with community programs including paid summer internships in Jersey City, arts and culture events, and many food-based charities.

Conversation Starter

To become a member of the NJFPA or to attend the event, check out its website at:

Altru launches ‘Master Antioxidant’ drink line

Congratulations to the team that just launched what could be the next big thing in beverages.

Altru Brands LLC, a New Jersey-based beverage company founded by three friends and scientists, Sam Hamid, Eugene Gross and Ken Valenzano, has just released an innovative functional water beverage that is a fusion of exotic flavors and a proprietary blend of electrolytes, natural caffeine and antioxidants, including glutathione. 

Altru Brands LLC’s innovative functional water beverage.

What is glutathione, you ask? It is commonly known as the “Master Antioxidant” or the “Mother of All Antioxidants,” because scientific studies have shown it is the most vital and critical antioxidant to good health. Research has demonstrated that increasing levels of glutathione can raise energy levels, strengthen the immune system and detoxify the body.

So, our friends at Altru have really created quite a formula here, and the best part about it is the four original flavor combinations: Peach Mangosteen, Tangerine Prickly Pear, Mango Cherimoya and Coconut Jackfruit. Each Altru beverage features an exotic fruit flavor paired with a familiar fruit flavor, creating truly unique flavor profiles. 

“We are excited to bring to market a pioneering better-for-you water beverage with globally inspired fruit flavors,” Gross said.

According to some recent studies from the beverage industry, the growth of retail sales of enhanced waters in the United States is far outpacing the growth of other beverage categories, such as plain bottled water, sodas, juice and dairy beverages. Millennials are a key demographic driving this high-velocity category, and their interest in new flavor profiles and functional innovation is something to take note of.

That very well could be the reason why Altru debuted at No. 4 on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” in flavored drinking water.

Aside from Amazon, the product is currently available in Murphy’s Markets and Pennington Markets in New Jersey.

Altru is short for “altruism,” which means selfless concern for the well-being of others, and these founders are also pet rescue owners. They have a passion for securing homes for cats and dogs in need, and that is evident by their commitment to donate 10 percent of the company’s profits to pet rescues.

Conversation Starter

If you’re interested in bringing its mission of healthy beverages and caring for homeless pets through Altru Pet Rescue to your store, check the company out at to find out more info.

Mark your calendars for NJFC’s Night of Distinction

It happens once a year, and it is scheduled for Thursday, March 28, this year at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset. If you haven’t been able to attend in the past, make it your business this year to be there at the New Jersey Food Council’s Night of Distinction and support the 2019 honorees.

I can tell you I have attended this event over the last several years and, each year, at the conclusion, I feel a sense of pride and stronger kinship with those who have been honored and all who make up the complexion of New Jersey’s food retailing industry. 

During the evening reception, you’re not just honoring the successes and achievements of those being honored, you’re getting a glimpse into their lives … where they started, how they progressed, who their families are, their friends and colleagues behind them helping drive them to where they are today. Also, each has a history of civic service within the New Jersey food community to be proud of.

The honorees include:

The NJFC, from President Linda Doherty and her staff to all its members, friends and associates, has done a fantastic job of maintaining this strong alliance for the retail food industry, from executives, management, service partners to other corporate sponsors. They have worked very hard over the years to maintain the food industry’s positive image, and it is evident all throughout the evening.

Please join me! 

Go to the website to register: