Annapolitan's Vegetarian Chili Is Going International

March 02, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

At last, a socially correct chili.

It's Chauncey's Chili, and it's "not your ordinary bowl of beans."

For one thing, the label of the microwaveable package continues, it's meatless.

Besides, as creator Chauncey Berdan is quick to point out, it has low sodium, no cholesterol and no preservatives.

Berdan, the county's cable television administrator, is an amateur gourmet cook and a vegetarian. He's been whipping up batches of his meatless dish for years. Almost two years ago, the 58-year-old Annapolitanwent commercial, packaging his product and selling it to local grocery and health-food stores.

This week, Chauncey's Chili will go international.

Berdan has signed two contracts with exporters, one with the International Marketing Consortium, which sells American food to Europe, and one with International Bridge, which deals exclusivelywith Japan and the Pacific Rim.

Chauncey's Chili -- whose label features Berdan's picture and a promise that his "batch of heaven willtango with your taste buds" -- will debut Wednesday at a food trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

In April, the kidney bean concoction will appear at an exposition in Tokyo.

Is Barcelona and the rest of Europe ready for extra spicy Chauncey's Chili? Will the American favorite be a hit with the Japanese?

"We'll find out," says Berdan, whoadded he never would have signed the contracts if he wasn't convinced of the exporters' belief in his product.

He is certain of his chili, though, having taste-tested just about every chili on the marketwhen he first tried getting his version in the stores.

None, he thought, compared with his.

"It's meatless chili, but it has the texture of meat," because of wheat in the mixture, he says. "There's nofat and no cholesterol, but it's still spicy."

He says a trend overseas of people switching from ketchups, mustards and vinegars to chilis and sauces makes it a good time to expand.

Persistence, luck and a strong belief in his product got Berdan this far, he says. He started his company nearly two years ago, after friends complimented his chili and urged him to sell it.

He started selling through downtown Annapolis restaurants, at Dimitri's and the Crate Cafe, and at Merritt Athletic Club.

With no knowledge of commercial processing, Berdan hooked up with a food science professor at the University of Maryland. Computerized tests proved that selling the product in Mason jars and re-heating it on the stove only turned chili to mush. The professor suggested microwave packaging and led Berdan to a processor in North Umberland, Pa., that could do the job. Clark Keller Inc. advertising agency designed the label.

Now, each 10-ounce package, with a two-year shelf life at room temperature, retails for about $2. Berdan, who pounded the pavement for about a year to expand sales to a number of local stores, said he sold 260 12-package cases in the pastyear.

Chauncey's Chili is available at Graul's Market, Rookie's Deli and Carrol's Creek Gourmet To Go in Annapolis; health food storesSun & Earth in Annapolis, Good Life in Severna Park and Country Sunshine Market in West Annapolis.

It also can be found at the Annapolis Country Store and Laurance Clothing in Annapolis, Gourmet Connection in Severna Park, Merritt Athletic Club in Annapolis and Fisherman's Cove in Annapolis Harbour Center.

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