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Review: Tillen Farms

by TK February 17th, 2008 | Food News
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At the Boston Wine Expo, we got to experience a ton of new wines, but the things that caught the most attention with us were the food vendors, which were exhibiting. One vendor that we had to come back see a few times (and get a few samples each time) was Tim Metzger and Tillen Farms. Tillen Farms

Tillen Farms had an array of pickled vegetables that were amazingly fresh tasting. I got a chance to ask a few questions of Tim Metzger, CEO of Tillen Farms:

Which of your items is your biggest seller?

Our top selling products are Tillen Farms pickled Crispy Asparagus and Hot ‘N Spicy Beans. These were the first 2 products developed in 1985 when we were part of The Hogue Cellars, the well known winery in. At the Boston Wine Expo, our top seller was Tillen’s Hot Spiced Asparagus. We’re finding more and more folks enjoy some heat. We use dried crushed chilies peppers to give some steady heat without overwhelming the taste. In fact, we use mild vinegar brine with a garlic clove which tends to reduce the acidity of the vinegar and not destroy the palate.

At which specialty stores can people find your products?

Tillen Farms has national distribution and is like Swiss cheese, we have lots of holes everywhere. We are, for example, available in 1,300 Safeway stores and 270 Cost Plus World Markets nationally. We’re also available in The Fresh Markets and Harris Teeter in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast region, in Publix in Georgia and Florida, in King’s Supermarkets in New Jersey, several Whole Foods divisions in the Southeast, Southwest, Southern California, Midwest and Northwest. We’re also available in hundreds of specialty food retailers and independent grocers and wine shops across the country. Our distribution in New England is admittedly soft. That’s part of the reason why we participate in these consumer events, to build awareness and interest in the products. We are available in Marty’s Wine & Spirits and Cappy’s, in Henry’s on the north shore, Four Seasons market and all Dave’s Markets in Rhode Island. On Cape Cod, we also enjoy a loyal following with Orlean’s Wine & Spirits and others. Distribution is the name of the game and it’s what I spend much of my time to expand Tillen Farms’ availability. We have an offer on the table with Hanaford (Maine) to go into their beverage section, but dealing with supermarkets is challenging. We also have an excellent website, www.tillenfarms.com. We offered everyone who visited us in Boston a 20% on-line discount using Code # TFB8 when checking out!

What is the next specialty food show where you will be exhibiting?

We participate in both consumer and trade events. For example, in New England, we will participate in several trade events later this spring with our distributors, Chex Finer Foods in Attleboro, MA and Associated Buyers in New Hampshire. We’ll also likely participate in the Greater New York Wine and Food Festival in early April being held in Westchester Country, New York. One of my favorite consumer shows is the Hudson Valley Wine and Food Festival, being held at the Fairgrounds in Rheinbeck, New York. And we’re active in the NASFT (National Association for Specialty Food Trade), the folks who put on the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and the Spring event in Chicago. I’ve been a member of the association for many years and am finishing up my term this summer as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NASFT. It’s a terrific group of industry professionals and represents the cutting edge of the specialty food business.

Do you have a favorite recipe made with your products?
One of the easiest and most satisfying uses with Tillen Farms is wrapping up any of our chilled Asparagus (and carrots and beans) with thinly sliced procuitto or turkey for a superb appetizer. Our veggies also make wonderful swizzle sticks for Bloody Marys and our Snapper swims perfectly in a Martini. At a recent show, one of our fellow exhibitors was making paninis with cheese. We gave him some Tillen veggies and the Tillen vegetable panini soon grew a huge line of folks waiting for a sample. But in the end, the easiest way to enjoy Tillen Farms is right out of the jar as a healthy and tasty treat. The range is 100% natural, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and is naturally low in calories and carbs.

Do you own the farm where your products are grown?

No, I don’t. But I have a long term packing relationship with the packer where I’m now responsible for about 90% of his volume in this business. He also does a lot of fresh asparagus and cherries for other customers. They’re located in Sunnyside, WA, in the middle of the Yakima Valley, one of the great growing regions in the U.S., known for their fruits and vegetables and wine grapes! The combination of cold winters, hot summers and volcanic soil creates an ideal growing environment for our veggies, most which are sourced within a 50 mile radius.

What is the story behind how you started Tillen Farms?
I started working with Gary and Mike Hogue, then the owners of The Hogue Cellars Winery as their national sales agent for their food division. This was a business that basically started from scratch where they had a small cannery operation near the winery. They owned some fields and grew their own asparagus and beans. They let me manage their food business as they rapidly expanded the wine business. In 2001, The Hogue Cellars was sold to Vincor, then the largest Canadian importer and distributor of wines. They called me and said they were not going to continue with the food operation and gave me an opportunity to buy the assets, license the brand with the understanding that I’d change the name over a period of time. The name, Tillen, was the brainchild of my wonderful packaging designer, Betty Slater, who suggested creating an acronym with my name, (Ti)m, my daughter’s name, Ji(ll) and my wife’s name, Hel(en). So Tillen Farms was born in 2004 and we’ve just about doubled the business since that period.

Are there any new products in your development pipeline?

We’re working on several obvious line extensions like pickled garlic and pickled onions which would nicely complement our existing range. We’re also working on developing a larger food service pack for our core Hot ‘N Spicy Beans for the restaurant trade. We believe that more and more white table cloth restaurants look at ways to differentiating themselves from their competitors and Tillen Farms veggies provides them with a vehicle to do so. We also believe the Tillen Farms brand could be expanded to other healthy, natural products. But we want to do this very carefully so we don’t plan to stray too far from our roots.

One of the most frequently asked by our customers is “How do we keep these veggies so crisp?”

It’s an interesting question with not an obvious answer. We work with local farmers and have access to the freshest possible produce from the fields. Within hours of having been picked, these products come into our factory, are sorted and cleaned, then travel through a steam tunnel where they’re blanched, then shocked in cool water. They’re then pickled in a vinegar brine and are only heated for a few minutes (to create a vacuum), then cooled down and that’s it. Most competitors overcook their products creating a soft mushy texture. Tillen Farms vegetables retain their natural crispness because we don’t “cook” them in the jar and our customers really appreciate the difference! And all this without any artificial preservatives or additives.

The crispness and freshness can really be tasted with the Tillen Farms offerings. Our personal favorite is the carrots, but the spicy asparagus is equally exceptional. For your next appetizer plate or just for great treats for the family, Tillen Farms is worth a try.

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Comments 2 Responses to “Review: Tillen Farms”
  1. [...] two years ago, we wrote a review of the pickled food offerings of Tillen Farms.  This year at the Boston Wine Expo, we got to see what was new from Tim Metzger, CEO of Tillen [...]

  2. [...] two years ago, we wrote a review of the pickled food offerings of Tillen Farms.  This year at the Boston Wine Expo, we got to see what was new from Tim Metzger, CEO of Tillen [...]

Comments on Review: Tillen Farms