My favorite section of the Fancy Food Show is downstairs along the side wall. Not exactly prime real estate, this is the New Brands aisle, home of many FFS first-timers. Here the fresh-faced entrepreneurs are mostly start-ups hoping to discover a new trend, innovate on an existing theme, or create a whole new eating category.
Usually the owners are manning the display tables – telling their stories first hand. They might be husband and wife, mother and daughter, or a couple of buddies who hatched an idea. Some are sophisticated marketers while others seem very naive. All are driven by a passion for their product and a desire for success. They’ve come to the show to break into the already crowded specialty-food marketplace.
Some of the ideas seem to have real potential. Others seem too trendy. A few seem to be from out in left field, but you never know what will catch on. After all, who ever thought you could put bacon in ice cream! They’re all hoping to hit a home run and be the next granola, salted caramel, or dark chocolate. I don’t think the Beetroot ketchup is likely to catch on, but other products showed real potential. (We did see a well-known venture capitalist prowling the aisles looking for the next big thing.)
The mother-son team at Zesty Z are typical of first-time vendors. Their za’atar, a middle eastern thyme and olive oil spice blend, hails from Brooklyn and is based on their delicious Lebanese family recipe. As a spread or condiment it adds zing to almost anything. They even reeled in their daughter in from college, too, to help staff the booth – a total family effort.
Ziggy Pickles, Owner and Head Pickleteer, makes his Fox Point Pickles in Providence, RI with marketing just as good as the pickles. Ziggy’s enthusiasm and energy pulled a crowd to his display. Keep an eye out for Fox Point. I’ll bet on the success of this brand.
New Age beverages were big at the show this year, both on the New Brands aisle and across the vast show floor. Kombucha, green coffee, shrub, switchel, and more are all vying for a sip of the healthy drink market.
Kombucha is fermented black or green tea, often sweetened and flavored, but not alcoholic. I was skeptical because of an unfortunate experience with bubble tea a few years back, but kombucha is much more appealing. I was an instant convert to its light and refreshing character. Besides tasting great, there are possible health benefits to kombucha that may increase energy, improve digestion, relieve joint pain, and even help you drop a few pounds. What’s not to like!
Green coffee is a tea-like drink brewed from unroasted coffee beans. Brisk and thirst-quenching with a golden color, it’s still a source for caffeine and antioxidants. Sold ready to drink in cans, it’s like having an invigorating iced coffee. We got a taste of the Sunup brand from Nate Pealer and became fans.
Across the show, there were several sources for shrub, a drink made from a colonial-era method for preserving fruit with vinegar and sugar. The resulting fruit is delicious and the sweet-tart syrup makes a bracing and complex drink. The Hudson Standard has a shrub syrup for making drinks (cocktails or nonalcoholic) in flavors including Apple Coriander, Peach Lavender, Strawberry Rhubarb, and Cassis Berry. Element Shrub has a line of bottled, fruit-flavored Shrub and Club drinks ready to go right from the bottle in addition to their syrups.
Switchel is another vinegar-based drink popular in New England during the colonial era. Made with vinegar and water and sometimes flavored with ginger, it was a traditional drink for farmers and field hands, particularly during haying. Hudson Standard makes a Spicy Tumeric switchel syrup, definitely not something a colonial farmer would recognize. Up Mountain in Vermont makes a more traditional ginger-maple flavored switchel along with both lemon and cayenne. You might find them at Whole Foods, a chain known for supporting new products and local startups.
Simply Auri is a drink from Taiwan made from wood ear mushrooms and fruit juice. The mushroom, thought to lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, and prevent heart disease, is popular across Asia. Flavors include Zesty Lemon-Honey, Antioxidant Cranberry-Grape, and Powerhouse Apple-Grape.
The beverage business, already crowded with overwhelming choices, is getting even bigger. Some of these new drinks claim health benefits, others might be better for you than mass-market soda, but they all taste great. Don’t be reluctant, like I was, to try something new.
The Summer Fancy Food Show gathers annually in July at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC, where over 2400 vendors gather from the US and abroad, to tout about 180,000 products, tempt retailers, and try new ideas on the trade.
Every food fantasy you ever had (and some you never imagined) is on display and available for tasting with the hope that retailers will order, distributors will sign on, and the product will be a hit. Keep an eye on food store shelves for new products! Great stuff is coming your way!