Monday, October 29, 2007

Corny Packaging

It is hard to ignore all the talk that has been going on around environmental protection, sustainability and the mindset that each person should do their part to reduce their personal carbon footprint. So naturally, we have been trying our best to think of steps that we can take to be more environmentally friendly. I think we all would like to have clean air to breathe, potable water and the comfort of knowing that Mt. Kilimanjaro will still be distinguishable from the sand dunes of the Sahara ten years from now.

This brings me to the idea of bioplastics. What are bioplastics, you ask? They are plastics made from corn and other plants, that have been creating buzz in a variety of industries, including the food business. The idea is similar to using Ethanol (corn based fuel) as an alternative to gas, except in this case, bioplastics would replace petroleum-based plastics. The other major benefit to bioplastics is that in some cases, they can be completely biodegradable. Supporters of Ethanol and bioplastics emphasize that these materials would reduce our reliance on oil. Dissenters argue that bioplastics aren't necessarily any "greener" than the conventional plastics produced today, since the manufacturing process for bioplastics produces CO2 emissions and natural resources are used to grow the crops.


Utensils composed of Cereplast, a biodegradable resin made from corn and potato starch.

The front panels on this Sony Walkman are made from corn-based plastic.

This biodegradable tape was developed by German researchers.

Although there are currently only several producers of bioplastics in the U.S., the number of companies is steadily growing. The development of bioplastics is still at its early stages and can be controversial, I think they do fill a need. I was suprised to learn that only 6% of all plastics produced in the U.S. in 2005 was actually recycled. That is a disappointing figure. Part of the problem is that we are consuming more bottled water than ever before, but aren't recycling the bottles at anywhere near the same rate. I'm curious to know if bioplastics might be able to help us deal with this problem.

Chemical companies based outside the U.S. are also working on the bioplastics initiative. And already, there are plenty of products that either contain bioplastics or are packaged in bioplastics material, such as the ones above. It appears that bioplastics are just as versatile as their conventional petroleum based cousins. Perhaps the American Plastics Council will change their to "bioplastics make it possible." That may be a bit presumptuous, but probably not completely out of left field. And who knows, if biodegradable packaging made from corn is already available, ten years from now, completely edible packaging might be all the rage!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Go Ahead- Play With Your Food

Part of the fun and charm of cookies that are handmade is the fact that each cookie is different. With homemade goodies, you don't get what I sometimes feel are disturbingly uniform cookies- all exactly the same size, shape and texture. Even more frightening is when the cookies have the same number of chocolate chips or nut pieces in them- they might as well be called cookie clones.

We try to make each of the cookies we generally the same size and with the same amount of nuts, but inevitably their shapes and sizes slightly differ. So naturally from time to time, we end up with a couple funny looking ones that never make it to the packaging stage.

Remember how occasionally a person would come on the Tonight Show or Late Show with a potato chip that looked like a celebrity? Well, just the other day we stumbled across a meringue cookie that looked like a snowy egret. With a little imagination, isn't the resemblance uncanny?

Don't worry-we won't be eBaying this cookie for hundreds of dollars anytime soon. But isn't it nice to know that even after you've grown up, you can still play with your food?

Which one is the cookie?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Farmers' Market Follow-Up

On Saturday, we arrived at St. John's Church in Sewickley at almost exactly 8:00 a.m. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to set up before the market opened at 9, and sure enough, we were one of the first vendors on site. Like most vendors at the market, we had brought a 6 ft. table and a pop-up gazebo that provides shelter from the sun with us. After wrestling with the tent for a bit, a farmer who was also setting up came to our rescue, ensuring that the tent would not collapse on us later on in the day.

Our tent was located in a shady corner of the lot. Our neighbors next to and across from us were all very friendly. It was a bit chilly, but I'm not complaining because most importantly, it didn't rain! The weather was actually quite refreshing- the first real fall weekend we've had in southwestern Pennsylvania, I think.

For our first run at a farmers' market, it was a fantastic experience. We brought plenty of samples, so people were able to taste all three kinds of cookies if they wanted to and lots of shoppers did. In high school and college I worked a couple retail jobs and really loved them- there's something about meeting and talking to new people and encouraging them to try something new that I find challenging and fun. The Farmers' Market rekindled many of these fond memories. The market was also a great way to inform locals that our cookies are currently carried at a variety of area retailers- we even created a handout which had a list of these locations.

The one thing that we're going to have to remember for next week is to bring more change- we had to make a quick run to the bank during the market so we could get some smaller bills. I took a bunch pictures to commemorate our very first stint at the market. Here's a snapshot of our table.

Our table at the Sewickley Farmers' Market

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Edible PA

Recently, I learned some very interesting facts about the fine state of Pennsylvania, and all it has to offer by way of the many farms and small businesses that contribute a lot to the local economy. When many people think of Pittsburgh, they still picture a dreary, dirty city where buildings are covered in soot. Yes, the city was put on the map because of Carnegie and steel, but Pittsburgh has become one of the cleanest, most livable cities today. Much of the state is beautiful farm country, complete with rolling hills, grazing cattle and old, but well loved barns.

Canadian geese on a farm in the Laurel Highlands of PA

Here are some fun (and educational!) facts that I got from the PA Preferred Department of Agriculture site:

- Pennsylvania has a total of 58,105 farms
- The Christmas tree is the state's largest farm product
- 82 million pounds of pumpkins are grown in the state each year
- Hanover, PA is considered the "Snack Capital of the World," since it's home to Snyder's of Hanover

There is a great emphasis placed on supporting our local farmers and small businesses in general, which I think is something unique and admirable about Pennsylvania. We feel very lucky that were able to start our business here!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Making Our Farmers Market Debut

Next week, on Saturday, Oct. 13th, we will be making our debut as a visiting vendor at the Sewickley Farmers' Market! We will also be at the market on the following Saturday, Oct. 20th. It's located near downtown Sewickley, in the parking lot and surrounding area of St. John's Church. The market likes to offer shoppers as much variety as possible, which is why it is allowing us to come in for two weekends this fall.

The market is a lovely place to be on a Saturday morning. Picture shoppers of all ages leisurely perusing the stands, with cups of coffee in hand. Right now you can find everything from locally grown pumpkins and squash, homemade jams and jellies, and pierogies, made fresh before your eyes. A veritable smorgasboard of fresh from the earth, made with love food.

We're planning on handing out free samples to customers and selling all three flavors of our cookies at our table. Keeping our fingers crossed for good weather!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Amandari Co On-Line Store is Now Open!

After doing lots of research and carefully considering our e-commerce options, we have finally launched our on-line shop. It took a couple weeks because I was trying to decide whether I could create a store on my own that was fully integrated with our website. It turns out that to program the site to be able to perform sales functions, I could download free "shopping cart" software, but would need to either purchase a pre-programmed e-commerce template (a couple hundred bucks) or be able to code the software myself through HTML. I love web design as much as the next person, but even my HTML book for dummies (yes, there actually is a book by this name and yes, I actually do have a copy) wouldn't help me with this one.

Plus, given the issues with identity theft, concerns around the security of sales transactions over the Internet, etc. we figured it was best to leave the back end programming to the pros- thus our decision to open an on-line store via eBay!

Shop 'til you drop (or your stomach is full!) at the Amandari Co eBay on-line store.

You can get to our eBay store directly using the following link:

You can also access our eBay store if you're on our website:

I have to commend eBay on how easy it was to set-up the on-line store. There are certain requirements that have to be met before you can set-up the store, and various ways you can go about pricing your products (i.e. auction style or fixed price), but once you have a better idea of how you'd like to set-up the store, the process is fairly easy.

Right now you can order all three flavors of our cookies (Chocolate Cashew, Espresso Walnut and Chai Pistachio) on-line in batches of 20. We also have a Gift Sampler Package that comes in a snazzy little box and delicate fabric ribbon- perfect for gift giving.

Happy Shopping and Bon Apetit!