Americans are crazy for food. We like to eat in and go out, try new things and return to old favorites, eat healthy or indulge all while keeping up with the latest trends. At the annual Summer Fancy Food Show in New York all this eating is celebrated.
Our love of food has created the $147.8 billion fancy food industry. Fancy food seldom occupies the center of the plate. Instead, the category includes specialty snacks, treats, beverages, artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and more — the kind of things that make eating an adventure.
In aisle after aisle of the vast Javits Convention Center, vendors tout their wares. Samples are plentiful, so a good tasting plan is essential to keep from overdoing it. We might perhaps avoid the soft drinks this year, skip the jams and jellies, stay away from the cookies. It’s impossible to have it all. I always save room to end the day for the ever expanding array of small producer cheeses grouped together in the back left corner of the show floor.
Do you like chocolate? Try the award winning tree-to-bar Peruvian chocolate from Cacaosyuo. Seek out Goodnow Farms chocolate bars from Sudbury, MA. Goodnow swept five of the ten possible SOFI awards for chocolate given by the Specialty Food Association, producers of the show. Every year, there’s a surprising new chocolate flavor combination.
SOFI awards, given annually by the Specialty Food Association for the Best of the Best in Specialty Food cover the gamut of the industry. Some judging categories are: dessert sauces; pickles; honey; vinegar and dozens more. The scope of the edibles at the show is breath (and appetite) taking.
International foods are well represented. Big exporters like Italy, Great Britain, and France takeover entire aisles showing the range of products available. Smaller countries like Costa Rica have a single booth devoted to several of their exports.
At the show you can meet food industry leaders, TV chefs, or up and comers like Chef Pierre Thiam of Yolélé. He is introducing delicious West African ingredients to the world, starting with fonio, a tiny gluten-free ancient grain.
A couple years ago I had a nice chat with Mike Kurtz of Mike’s Hot Honey, a new product at the time developed at the pizzeria where he worked. He invited me back to the pizzeria that evening to try some pies with hot honey. The hot honey is now America’s number one selling honey product. You can catch products and their creators on their way up just by walking the aisles.
States also group together their specialty food producers for greater marketing impact. New York has a big presence with a lot of hipster foods from Brooklyn: pickles, mayonnaise, fancy sodas and the like as well as some upstate farm-based items like maple syrup.
At Catskill Provisions in the town of Long Eddy, Clair Marin has created a line of products based around her passion for beekeeping that includes New York state honey and maple syrup along with sauces and marinades, breakfast mixes, and her latest brainstorm – honey whiskey.
There is no Connecticut aisle, but I did learn about The Gracious Gourmet of Bridgewater, maker of award-winning condiments, spreads, pestos and tapenades. This year they introduced the Empresa line of jams and jellies including Apple Sweet Cherry Jam, Blueberry Lemon Thyme Jam, and Chile Mango Lime Jam. You can order online at thegraciousgourmet.com.
Specialty food sales have outpaced retail food sales by more that 7% in recent years. Consumers with wide ranging tastes and disposable income continue to seek out new flavors and eating experiences.
The Specialty Food Association predicts that sustainable and healthy eating will be important drivers of future trends. Organic and gluten free are well established as is the desire for non GMO and healthy ingredients.
Plant-based foods are on the horizon as a growing trend. Meat and dairy substitutes are getting better and more popular. Consumers are also looking to shed excessive packaging in favor of degradable materials.
It’s the Millennials in their 20s and 30s who are driving these trends. When they make food choices, they’re thinking about health, the impact on the environment, and good flavor — a winning combination for the future that is well represented at the Fancy Food show.