As the holidays draw near, US Americans are ga-ga about yummy German Christmas goodies. They're also gobbling them up out of a love for German culture. The market's big, and getting bigger each season.
Get'm while they're hot!
When Halla Roberts glances over the well-stocked shelves of her local supermarket in Washington, her eyes always stop when she spots a certain German Christmas cookie.
"I love Lebkuchen," said the 27-year-old web designer, placing a bag of the traditional Christmas spice cookies in her shopping cart.
Lebkuchen, along with crispy cinnamon and almond-flavored Spekulatius, and Stollen, a raisin yeast-bread that sometimes has other dried fruit, nuts or a strip of marzipan in the center, have become Christmas fixtures in the US.
Roberts is not alone in her love of Lebkuchen. An increasing number of Americans buy German Christmas specialties and other food items from Germany.
"Demand in the US for German foods has risen enormously over the past five to 10 years," said Arnim von Friedeburg of the German Agricultural Marketing Board in North America, known as the CMA.
From fatty to trendy
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Although German grocery foods sometimes had a bad reputation in the US because they were considered fatty and unhealthy, the volume of German consumer products sold in the US, including Christmas specialties, is projected to grow this year by eight to 13 percent, the CMA said.
In a CMA survey of buyers of German foods, more than half said they wanted to buy German Christmas specialties in the near future.
Rodman's Gourmet Stores, a Washington-based grocery, offers a large selection of international foods, including imports from Germany. It has long carried items like Pfeffernuesse (spicy cookies covered in powered suger) and Spekulatius to satisfy the American taste for traditional German Christmas cookies.
Roy Rodman, top manager at the store, said the number of German products offered at Rodman's has grown 10-fold in the last 15 years. In each of his three warehouses there is a special section for German products to meet the huge demand.
The Christmas goodies from Germany are especially popular with Rodman's customers, he said, adding that the store wants to further broaden its range of German products. This year, for the first time, Rodman's is offering chocolate Pfeffernuesse.
Hildegard Fehr is also pleased about Americans' high level of interest in German specialties. A native of Austria, Fehr has sold products from Germany for 42 years in her small delicatessen near the White House. The 74-year-old said she sells a lot to Americans leading up to the year-end holidays, and requests continue even after Christmas.
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"Our American customers simply can't understand why we don't sell Stollen after Christmas,' Fehr said.
Other market successes beyond cookies, cakes and chocolates are German Advent calendars, incense burners and wooden pyramids with fan blades on top that rotate when their candles are lit.
Von Friedeburg said he believes the reason for Americans' growing interest in German food is part of a broader interest in German culture.
Many of today's 25-year-olds have ancestors with German roots, sparking an interest in Germany, he said. Meanwhile, prejudices against German culture held by previous generations is also fading.
The CMA's 2006 marketing research on German food and drinks shed further light on the trend. Of 1,000 consumers surveyed, 16 percent said that foods imported from Germany are high quality, a further 15.5 percent said they buy German foods because they taste good and 7 percent said they were convinced German food is healthy.
Lebkuchen-lover Roberts initially had to be convinced that there was more to German foods than just well-known dishes like Sauerkraut and Sauerbraten. She said she only found out recently that Lebkuchen came from Germany.
Roberts has now gotten so enthusiastic over German Christmas goodies that it has inspired her to try her hand at baking a stolen using a German recipe.