This morning I was snoozing through a 5:30 am wake up. I am not sure which cycle it was, maybe the first or second, but the alarm clock started up just as a story came on about Pitango Gelato. Steve Inskeep introduced the story and needless to say I was awake! Click on Pitango for the NPR story. At the end of the story something resonated with me. The venture capitol person being interviewed said that they are trying to figure out if artisan can become mainstream. The interviewer then follows up with a summary of the concept of whether or not high quality ingredients can be used and then sold at a high price.
Will artisan go mainstream? This poses an interesting argument. What is artisan and what is mainstream? I can think of several artisan companies that are in the mainstream. LaBrea breads from the west coast, and many of the fine cheeses produced domestically and abroad still maintain a method of production that is not much different from when they started out. The difference is that they just make more. There are many craft beers on the market today and many chocolate companies that use rustic techniques to produce their products. Small food companies make quality food using techniques that they have to use, because they can't afford the alternative. They may also believe that certain techniques produce the best quality product. Most of the time ingredients and technique are what make things taste better than the mass produced stuff. I am not sure that the issue is whether or not artisan can go mainstream or not it is whether or not the artist can produce enough to be in the mainstream.
The other issue brought up in the story was whether or not high quality ingredients can be used and then sold at a high price? Recently the New York Times ran an story from Julia Moskin on the price of artisan ice creams. How can they justify the $10.00 pint? Price is based on many factors. The use of high quality ingredients commands a higher price at the end. There is no other way about it. The issue is will people pay for it? When I ran a small shop I used to make cranberry chicken salad. People placed orders in advance for weddings and parties. It was very good. We used the highest quality ingredients available. When food reps would come in and notice that I was using Hellman's they would always offer their product for half the price with the slogan, "they will never know the difference." The other brand was cheaper and would increase my profits but it was not as good as Hellman's. And my customers could taste the difference. I had an offer to use already cut celery, and chopped onions, but in the end the cheaper foods would never amount to a better product, just a cheaper one. I never had to try these products because I already knew. You can't use cheap products and then charge a high price. Not many people run food costs at home or do the math on potion costs when they cook a meal. Bacos or bacon? I think we all know that you can't fake the real thing and it is worth every penny.
I got up, had my tea and breakfast then headed off to make more gelato. I'm not worried about artisan going mainstream. I just hope that there is not the same silly debate over artisan as there was over organic. Remember that? At first it was organic then certified organic and then biodynamic, and now it has settled on local. Which has always made more sense. Let's leave the titles out and just enjoy good food, made with quality ingredients, that are made locally.
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