Summer Fancy Food Show
Crowds reminiscent of Times Square on New Year's Eve welcomed the 59th annual summer Fancy Food Show back to the Big Apple. At the sold-out event, boasting more than 2,500 exhibitors, show organizers unveiled their new brand, Specialty Food Association: Craft. Care. Joy. "[At the Winter Fancy Food Show] in San Francisco, we saw a renewed optimism of the market as a whole," said exhibitor Matt Nielsen, COO of Nielsen Massey Fine Vanillas & Flavors. "And people are excited to be back in New York."
Organizers shrewdly repositioned the What's New, What's Hot Showcase deep at the end of Javits North, forcing buyers to visit this additional 100,000-square-foot space. The changing interests of today's retailer were reflected by the proliferation of natural foods exhibitors as well as timely seminar topics. A free session on GMO Labeling and GMO's effect on the specialty food industry was standing-room only, said Louise Kramer, communications director at the Specialty Food Association. "This topic is a major concern for specialty food manufacturers and retailers, and the response to the seminar is one more indication that there is a hunger for knowledge and information."
Healthful snacks, authentic global flavors and convenience were major trends seen at this summer's jam-packed show.
Satisfying the Urge to Snack
"The better-for-you snacking world has grown a lot in the last five years," said Kara Nielsen, trend-tracker at CCD Innovation, because younger consumers make meals from snacks. All eyes are on the millennial consumers, who also self-identify as nutritionally minded eaters, according to research Nielsen presented at her show seminar on Collegiate Gen Y eating habits. It is no wonder that the aisles were full of chips, dips and spreads making health claims.
The better-for-you snacking trend merged with the gluten-free trend in dozens of crackers. Among the more intriguing items were the vacuum-fried broccoli chips from Greenday and Simply 7 Snacks' pomegranate chips.
Dried fruit snacks positioned as chips from Navitas Naturals and GimMe's organic baked seaweed sheets should appeal to the nutritionally aware. Brad's Raw Onion Rings earned attendee praise, as did Crunch Ma Me's edamame snacks in such flavors as jalapeño and sea salt and black pepper.
The "go to" foods of college-age kids, said Nielsen are "hummus-y snacks," a segment well represented among the products on display. The "mighty chickpea" appeals to college-aged students as a versatile and low-cost source of protein. Notable in this category was Eat Well Enjoy Life reduced-fat hummus that derives its creamy texture from Greek yogurt. Even the sleepy dip category perked to life with several new lines, including La Terra Fina's seven Greek-yogurt-based dips, Crock Pot branded Warm Dips and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dips.
What Defines Convenience?
Global flavor fusions, new technologies and a rediscovery of grains are reshaping and redefining convenience foods, as evidenced by by several product launches by the specialty food industry at the summer show.
Bobbiesee Ku's mission in creating Go Fusion Food's Jambalaya and Szechwan Taco hot pocket-style sandwiches was to combine her Asian heritage and healthy eating. The flavor combinations in Go Fusion's lineup speak to today's eclectic palate. "Thanks to food chef shows and food trucks," said Nielsen, younger people have wider access to global recipes.
Another manifestation of the global flavor trend was the diversity of simmer sauces on display, which the show organizers identified as a Global Meal Starter trend. Notable for refreshing flavor profiles were Kitchens of Africa maffé peanut and yassa onion jarred simmer sauces, as well as Kaldí – Pure Greek Taste cooking sauces with an Agean spin. Mainstream products with a twist were the Vegan Creamy Rosée sauces made with tofu from Canadian company Le Grand.
Accessibility of BPA-free pouch technology is making such sauces and other convenience products more accessible, noted Nielsen, "addressing an expanded global palate as well as a new embrace of healthful starches." Freshness means quality in an age where center-of-the-aisle shopping is frowned upon, she explained. But the new pouch technology is changing all that. "It seems contemporary," Nielsen noted, and it is opening up a way of packaging for pre-cooked beans and grains, another growing category seen at the show. Consumers should welcome solutions like Urbane Grains side dishes in a pouch, quinoa and grain combinations that are precooked to eliminate the challenge of cooking ingredients with diverse cooking times.
Traditional foods took fresh forms, such as the Olli Salumeria's Salumini, bite-sized salami morsels. "America has always been big into snacks," said Jennifer Johnson, the company's director of marketing, "but we have never really had a quality salami snack intro."
Chefs and specialty-food producers have scoured the globe to satisfy our insatiable appetite for heat. With the revival of southern Italian cooking, flavors from Italy's spicy boot predominated. Home cooks will have few challenges figuring out ways to use Bomba di Calabria Hot Pepper Paste, imported by Italian Harvest. A blend of dried peperoncino and extra-virgin olive oil, the condiment will add flavor or heat to pasta, vegetables or cheese dishes.
Creminelli Fine Meats, Fra' Mani Handcrafted Foods and Olli Salumeria each introduced salami infused with hot chilies typical of Calabria and Campania. Chilies and peppercorns, sweet paprika and smoked salt season Creminelli's Campania Handcrafted Italian Salami, for example, giving it a mellow yet picante taste.
Fra' Mani's Spicy Uncured Capicollo, explains Michael Giarraputo, the company's sales and marketing director, is part of its effort "to bring back product diversity by reintroducing flavors which have been long lost in the deli case."
Which is not to say the show lacked outrageously fiery foods. Bonfatto's presented Spice Cream, ice creams infused with hot sauce. And Dave's Gourmet amped up the heat with Scorpion Pepper Sauce made from Caribbean chilies hybridized for their sting.
"Powder it, crumble it or cream it" may be the new mantra of artisan cheesemakers seeking to expand uses for their products. Rogue Creamery's powdered blue cheese made waves on popcorn and is also available in individual containers. Cheese nibbles in the form of goat cheese "pearls" from The Fine Cheese Company and flavored crumbles from Vermont Creamery simplify adding cheese to salads, sandwiches or just about anything. And the lines at Beecher's Cheese blocked the aisles, attesting to attendees' interest in the company's chicken poblano, pork mushroom and other mac-and-cheese combinations.
With annual sales of Greek yogurt up 50 percent in 2012, according to a March 2013 report from Packaged Facts, it was no surprise to see premium and Greek yogurt in proliferation. The owners of Noosa hoped to inspire Americans to consider Australian-style yogurt, thick and creamy with a slight tang. Unexpected was the use of Greek yogurt as a dry ingredient in everything from popcorn topping on Popcornopolis' Almond Greek Yogurt blend to Flamous' Dill and Greek Yogurt-seasoned bean-and-corn chips.
Crowd Sourcing New
Specialty food manufacturers have opened new channels of communication with consumers that enhance product development and strengthen customer loyalty. For Chobani, it is social media and its Manhattan retail outlet.
"Chobani SoHo is the perfect testing ground for gauging consumer reaction to different and unique flavor concepts in real time," said John Heath, senior vice president of innovation at Chobani. Heath and Executive Chef Tim Reardon incorporate "culinary food trends, preparation methods and ingredient combinations" to develop products and concepts served at the store, explained Heath. "Some of our newest flavors of Chobani Flip are inspired by creations served at Chobani SoHo," he added.
Deciphering which products to develop once required months of focus-group testing before consumer rollout. But these days, "we're connected and listening to consumers 24/7 across our social media and customer loyalty channels," said Heath. He called it "the best type of focus group; it's instant, and we have the opportunity to engage and acknowledge their requests on an ongoing basis."
Creminelli invites loyal online shoppers to join the Creminelli Club to receive quarterly shipments of product exclusives and customized food pairings. "We want to reward our loyal members online," said Chang. Such customers become the first to taste the final cut of salami developed by the company founder, like the Truffled Wild Boar Salami that shipped out recently. "They get exclusive rights to say 'I was the first to try a product,'" said Chang.
In the age of social media, specialty food manufacturers are communicating directly with their customers, both face-to-face at events like the Summer Fancy Food Show and virtually as a source for innovation and education.