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Building foodie tourism in Portland

Ted.com-style talks highlight upcoming FoodWorx conference


Steve Jones, owner of the Cheese Bar in Southeast Portland, will discuss how to start an artisan food business at the upcoming FoodWorx Conference in Portland.Erik Wolf has traveled the world in search of good food, but he'll always come back to Portland.

In fact, he sees Portland as "kind of a Disneyland for food” — different than San Francisco, New York or other places, he thinks, because good food is so accessible.

Wolf will be illustrating that point in a talk entitled “Why we’re all foodies” at a first-of-its kind conference set for January 15.

The one-day FoodWorx event at the Portland Armory will be hosted by the World Food Travel Association, a Portland nonprofit that’s been been around since 2003, having changed its name from the International Culinary Tourism Association this fall.

Wolf, the group’s executive director, will be one of a dozen local speakers to present to the hundreds of foodies attending from Portland and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, including Canada.

Topics at the conference will run the gamut. All will be 20-minute Ted.com-style talks that are designed with more humor, storytelling and visual props than the average Power Point presentation. The point is to engage and inspire people beyond the day’s events — to leave with newfound resources and a call to action, Wolf says.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Keith Bernhardt, Director of Operations for World Food Travel Association, attends a dinner with other Foodworx organizers to discuss the upcoming summit on the future of food trends.  “Portland is the center of the food universe,” he says. “We want to capture the excitement.”

Topics are geared toward anyone with an interest or stake in the food industry: public policy makers, hospitality researchers and professors, culinary students, food and drink travel trade professionals and everyday citizens.

Some of the the talks are:

• "Enough to go around: Preventing waste and enjoying what we have," by Heather Schmidt, sustainability manager for New Seasons Market. Schmidt highlights an August report by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, which says that Americans waste 40 percent of all edible food along the supply chain, from crop production to harvest, distribution, retail and finally the restaurants and grocers. For consumers, that rate is 25 percent.

"There are things we can do,” Schmidt says. “Let’s actually find the joy in what we have.”

• “Portland: The Mighty Gastropolis,” by Portland Monthly food editor Karen Brooks, offering up tips other destinations and businesses can apply toward their own branding efforts.

• “From Romance to Reality: Owning your own artisan food business,” by Steve Jones, owner of the Cheese Bar on Portland’s Southeast Belmont Street, sharing his lessons in translating his passion into a startup artisan business.

• “Sustainable Business Now: What the food movement can learn from today’s business leaders and innovators,” by Alison Dennis, executive director of Portland State University’s Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability. Dennis will share insights into her work at Burgerville and Oregon Health & Sciences University, as well as her year-long culinary trip in 2004 to 27 countries across six continents.

• “Do good and make money,” by Craig Ostbo, cofounder of Koopman Ostbo Marketing Communications. Ostbo will talk about his experience working for local natural, organic and sustainable companies over the past 17 years, starting with Kettle Foods and including Bob’s Red Mill, Kombucha Wonder Drink and Oregon’s Wild Harvest, among others.

“My particular hope with this talk is to get them to look at their business another way,” Ostbo says. “They may not even see they’re in the practice of doing something that actually fills a societal need.”

A case in point he gives is Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, who used the profits from his whole grain store, started an employee stock program and gave the money earned to Oregon Health & Sciences University and other organizations to end childhood obesity.

"Bob at his core is about the health of the nation and he just happens to make a heck of a lot of money," Ostbo says. “Capitalism is good; greed is bad."

Having watched Portland’s landscape of food-based social entrepreneurism grow, Ostbo is now working on a book with his business partner, Ken Koopman, on the same topic as his FoodWorx presentation. They’re interviewing entrepreneurs across the country and doing research at universities with social entrepreneurism programs, which they found tend to be driven by students.

While Portland will be center stage for the FoodWorx talks, Gothenburg, Sweden, will be the site of a global version of the conference. Wolf’s organization will produce the World Food Travel Summit, a gathering of 500 trade attendees in Gothenburg next September. Also comprised of short Ted-style talks, it will focus on the “new wave in food tourism,” including the impact of food on the environment. The last worldwide food summit was held in Nova Scotia, Canada in 2010.

If you’ve never heard of the World Food Travel Association before, it’s because it keeps a low profile. There’s no brick-and-mortar headquarters. Wolf and his five employees (two of them part-time) have focused the work outwards into the region and overseas.

“FoodWorx is our commitment to starting more work in the region,” Wolf says. “This is the hotbed of food creativity. What better place to set the stage than Portland?”

The group’s bread and butter is developing and publishing research, such as the “psycho-culinary profiling” study published in 2010. In surveying 11,000 foodies in 37 countries around the world, the research team found that everyday people are motivated to eat by different kinds of “anticipation rewards.”

They’ve developed 13 profiles: the adventurer, budget, gourmet, novice, vegetarian, localist, organic, ambiance, innovation, social, eclectic, trendy and authentic.

Most respondents overall indicated their preference for “localist” food. Second-most popular was the novice, then eclectic, organic and authentic.

Wolf says he was most surprised at the popularity of “novice,” which apparently means that people hadn’t thought of food as an attraction before. He was also surprised at the small number of self-proclaimed gourmets, 8 percent, which he says “goes to show the number of people truly interested in a top-notch experience are very small. Most people just like great food and drink.”