Food vendors sell with personal touch

Woman sells items at Fancy Food Show

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: This next item's for the foodies among us. A lot of people are reaching for generic cereals and searching out two-for-one deals, but even in a recession there's money to be made in food -- especially at the high end. Plenty of entrepreneurs are trying to break into the $48 billion specialty food market.

But April Dembosky reports a lot of those newcomers aren't driven by a dream of huge profits.


APRIL DEMBOSKY: The economy was on everyone's mind at this month's Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. The makers of such delicacies as Italian truffle salt and fennel pate are trying to appeal to reluctant consumers with smaller, cheaper portions. But some of the companies here for the first time came with a more personal motivation.

MARISA WAYNE: My dad loved beef jerky. We all do.

Marisa Wayne is the daughter of actor John Wayne. Her brother Ethan is taking the family business in a new direction. Before, it was just a licensing company.

ETHAN WAYNE: We've licensed products like plates with his picture on it, or mugs or cups or shotglasses or firearms or lottery tickets, slot machines, etc.

But he wanted to develop his own products that honored his dad. At the show, he unveiled six varieties of John Wayne Stock and Supply Beef Jerky -- all natural and organic.

ETHAN WAYNE: You know, as kids, whether we were on location with him or on our boat, we ate a lot of beef jerky. So we became, I don't know what you'd call it, beef jerky connoisseurs?

Part of the proceeds will go to the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. But for Ethan and his four brothers and sisters, the product is also about doing right by their dad.

ETHAN WAYNE: You know, we always talk about, like, "One day we'll have to see him again, and we wanna make sure that, you know, whatever we make pleases him.

[Music]

For husband and wife team Dan and Jean Ehrlich, the inspiration for their product was music. They both play in several rock bands and run a music website. After late-night rehearsals, they're often hungry.

JEAN EHRLICH: What's open late at night? 7-11 or On the Go. Someplace that, you know, you're lucky if there's a banana you can eat.

So they started making a snack called Hippie Chips, a potato-and-rice puff baked with hemp seed. They see the anti-Dorito quality as just one benefit.

JEAN EHRLICH: What we do on the back of every bag is, "Promote independent artists and bands." And you can go to the website and listen to their music.

On the other side of the convention center is a very unexpected exhibitor. Beck Maxwell is the vice president of Volcano Vaporization System in Oakland, Calif. His product hit the market in 2003 -- but not the food market.

BECK MAXWELL: It was widely adopted by the cannabis community as a non-smoke means of delivering the active ingredients in cannabis.

People who recognize the vaporizor stop at his booth, perplexed. Then Maxwell demonstrates the device's culinary uses.

He puts a pinch of cloves and tangerine peel into the machine. The air around the table fills with a fresh scent of spices and citrus.

CONVENTION GOERS: Oh! Cool. Check it out.

Chefs visiting the table have been impressed with how the Volcano might change the high-end dining experience. Award-winning chef Grant Achatz has used it at his restaurant in Chicago.

MAXWELL: He fills a vapor balloon with a lavender aroma. He places that inside of a pillowcase, and then perforates that pillowcase. And the plate of food is placed on top of that. The aroma is slowly released during the course of the meal and it really infuses the palate of the diner.

Retailing at nearly $700, the Volcano Vaporizer may take some time to catch on in culinary circles.

I'm April Dembosky for Marketplace.

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