SPRINGFIELD — Gourmet jelly, organic soy nuts, honey and chili mix are among the gourmet items offered in a gift box from small Missouri specialty food producers who hope to woo customers from across the country.
Eleven companies are part of “Taste the Best of Missouri,” a box shaped like the Show-Me state and colored black and gold — a nod to MU. The companies hope the gift box will bring exposure and marketing opportunities for their products.
The gift box idea began when Kansas City businessman John C. Jungk, owner of Old World Spices & Seasonings Inc., noticed that Missouri was not represented at the national specialty food trade shows he attended.
After two years of planning, Jungk rolled out the gift box in August 2003 with products from 26 food producers. He offered five boxes ranging from $40 to $80, depending on the number of foods.
More than 3,000 were sent to homes and businesses in nearly every state, Europe and even Iraq, Jungk said.
This year’s Taste the Best of Missouri involves 11 companies, offered in three boxes, priced at $35, $50 and $60.
Steve Picker, 37, of Jefferson City, said he thinks consumers like foods made from recipes that have been preserved through the generations — like one from his 89-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Holterman.
Holterman wanted to duplicate a family recipe for salad dressing, but her mother never used measuring cups and spoons.
“She spent 23 years trying to get the recipe right,” Picker said. “She finally came up with the perfect amount of each ingredient in 1957.”
Holterman was celebrating her 84th birthday in August 1999 when a relative suggested marketing the dressing. Grandma’s Cool & Zesty salad dressing was ready for store shelves on Jan. 9, 2000. A sugar-free version is in Taste the Best of Missouri.
Mighty Mo Munchies Original Soy Nuts began as a college marketing assignment to create a new food product. Heidi Hall turned to her family, who grew soybeans on their farm in Oregon, Mo.
Heidi created a high protein, low fat soybean snack. Her professor loved it so much, he encouraged the Halls to market it. The family began selling organic soybean snacks under the Mighty Mo Munchies label in 1996.
The timing couldn’t have been better because the Halls were still struggling to recover from the 1986 farm crisis, said Andy Hall, Heidi’s brother.
Andy Hall acknowledges that some people are reluctant to try the snack. Once they do, they generally will buy it, he said.
“It’s like a sampling for us,” Andy Hall said. “We get sales from people who try it, and we get exposure.”
Most gift boxes are sold through Old World Spices, though some specialty and gift shops carry them.
Greg Nutting, general manager of Maschino’s Home Express in Springfield, said demand has grown this year through increased publicity. He recently ordered 36 more boxes, and all but six were pre-sold.
“We’re seeing this huge pride come forward for Missouri products,” Nutting said.