San Fransisco, CA. – The Winter Fancy Food Show continues to grow, showing three consecutive years of solid growth, with more than 18,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors representing over 35 countries and 14 international pavilions this year alone. New international exhibitors were from Uruguay, Israel, South Korea, India and Thailand. There were close to 100 first time exhibitors with a diverse range of handcrafted products including kombucha, filet mignon jerky, chickpea chips, sweet potato and orange ice pops and lavender caramel sauce.
Buyers attending the show represented many of the nation’s leading gourmet and specialty food retailers as well as major supermarkets, mass merchandisers and foodservice industry segments including college and university, casinos, healthcare and quick service restaurants.
Specialty Food Industry Update
U.S. retail and foodservice sales of specialty foods and beverages have risen 14.3% since 2011, topping $86 billion, according to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT).
Specialty food industry highlights:
- Close to 75% of U.S. consumers purchase specialty food.
- Specialty food sales at retail are $68.4 billion.
- Specialty food sales in foodservice are $17.5 billion.
- Specialty food is 10.6% of U.S. retail food sales.
- Top specialty food categories by sales are cheese, yogurt and kefir, and salty snacks. Yogurt and kefir are also among the fastest growing categories.
- Most purchased specialty food categories are chocolate, cheese, olive oil and other specialty oils.
- 43% of specialty food consumers use their mobile phones to buy food.
- Nearly half of specialty food consumers buy locally grown ingredients.
New Product Introductions
According the NASFT State of the Specialty Food Industry, the top claims on products seen at the show included: kosher, ethical-environmentally friendly package and all natural. There were significantly fewer deprivation claims like low/no/reduced cholesterol and low/no/reduced sugar.
Snacks had the highest percentage of product introductions in 2012. Gluten-free and convenient and easy to prepare are characteristics most likely to be included in product development plans this year.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are emerging as an important purchase criterion. Specialty food consumers are four times more likely to seek out non-GMO foods than non-specialty food consumers.
Elevated Everyday Foods
Nearly two-thirds of what specialty food consumers buy is for everyday meals. For breakfast, products like ginger pear macadamia toasted muesli and carrot cake super premium oatmeal make everyday breakfast a luxury experience. For those who would rather drink their breakfast, oatmeal based beverages are available in several flavors and are vegan-friendly and gluten free.
Jerky moved way beyond the expected convenience store snack items with offerings like wild salmon jerky, filet mignon jerky and roast red chile chicken jerky.
Chocolate and Beyond
There is no denying the importance of chocolate when it comes to specialty food. It is impossible to taste every variety at the show, yet there was also a lot of buzz about non-chocolate candy. Vosges Haut Chocolatier is always a popular destination at the show, and this year visitors were clamoring to taste their blood orange caramel in addition to their new chocolate creations with mushrooms and coconut ash. Other notable offerings in the non-chocolate confection category included pure maple candy, superfruit chews, and made to order sea salt caramels.
Adult Kid Food
Kid food with grown up taste and appeal was all the rage. The classic PB&J (Peanut butter and Jelly) was reincarnated in many different ways. Miniature bites, luxury candy bars, healthy snacks, granola and cupcakes featured flavors of this “kid classic.”
One featured artisan talked about their mission of bringing wine country quality to a gas station snack with their gourmet jerky for discriminating patrons. Elegant popcorn flavors like sea salt caramel and pumpkin pecan praline added gourmet flair to a favorite snack.
Faux, but not Fake
This is a show where there is a reverence for real food. There is also an appeal to alternative products that are not imitation, like Beyond Eggs, a sustainable plant-based alternative to real eggs. Beans and legumes were also getting the spotlight in snack foods, dips, side dishes and center of the plate demonstrating that protein replacement does not have to offer imitation meat products to be appealing.
It’s no secret that snacking has become a way of life for most Americans and healthfulness is becoming more important, particularly to millennial consumers. A new study by Y-Pulse® (ypulse.org) found that 85% of millennials said that healthfulness was an important factor in their choice of snacks; yet they were often challenged by availability of healthy snacks. Solutions to this consumer dilemma could be found in almost every aisle at this show.
Notable items that met the healthy requirement without compromising on taste included: dark chocolate pumpkin seed BarkThins, toasted sesame and seaweed popcorn, cinnamon twist all natural trail mix and crunchy chocolate chickpeas. Chia is the ingredient du jour in healthy snacks including chips, crackers, dips, cookies and beverages.
More Exotic Salts
Gourmet salts have been a subject of this report many times, and just when we thought we said it all some new varieties emerged at the show as line extensions on the classic sea salt. Varieties of sea salt included hand-harvested, flakey, smoked and fusion flavored.
Coconut water is going mainstream with both liquid and dehydrated products to keep consumers healthfully and deliciously hydrated. Almond water is also gaining a following with line extensions in adventurous flavors like licorice mint. Herbal waters in lemon verbena geranium and lavender mint were enticing. Hawaiian volcanic water boasts health and environmental benefits because of recycled containers and significant water donations to people in need.
A new campaign by the Specialty Foods association featured a wide range of specialty food makers with unique products and a passion for the food business. One could not help but notice that many were in the food business as a second and even third career – from nurse to lawyer to shepherd.
The NASFT leadership awards for 2014 were presented to two California companies, The Republic of Tea and Lotus Foods and one New York company, Runa Tea. The awards speak to consumer values that go well beyond the value of the product itself.
Tyler Gage of Runa Tea received the Citizenship award for improving the lives of people and communities by advancing environmental and social sustainability knowledge at practices in Ecuador. Caryl Levine of Lotus Foods received the Vision award for her innovative work with rice farmers in South East Asia to set in motion positive change and progress. Ron Rubin of the Republic of Tea received the Leadership award for the company’s innovative programs that benefit employees of the company.
Capturing The Trends on a Market Tour
Insider tours of the San Francisco neighborhoods are a great way to experience the trends in action. The Bi-Rite Divisadero is a great example of what urban retailers can do to capture the hearts of neighborhood customers. Their website proudly proclaims that they serve their community with love, passion and integrity. Visiting the store demonstrates the promise is real.
The 24th Street Cheese Market has been serving up specialty foods from near and far for over 30 years. The windows are covered with a mosaic of handwritten signs featuring everything from local honey from Berkeley to figs from Calabria. Their local and global cheese selection is exceptional and customers are warmly guided to the best choices for their taste. The manager is delighted to talk about how she curates all of the offerings for their well traveled clientele.
Taste Talk Tweet
Tweeters noticed many new products reflective of food trends, including nut butters made with super foods, uses for all parts of the coconut, iced tea topped with tea-infused sea salt, and sriracha in everything. Many were excited to discover new snacks such as pasta chips, egg white chips, pre-Incan-inspired corn snacks, and regional products like Alabama-style white BBQ sauce. Jelly Belly unveiling their new flavor, draft beer, garnered awe and disbelief from some, while others speculated about Peruvian food replacing Thai as the “new” ethnic flavor ripe for discovery.
If you would like to follow our observations in real time at our next show, please follow us at http://twitter.com/OlsonComm. The next conference we will cover is Research Chefs Association, March 11-14.
Feed More Than The Appetite – consumers are interested in companies that make good things and make the world a better place.
Small Batches and Hand Crafted – small batches, hand crafted foods and boutique flavors continue to captivate retailers and consumers looking for the secret find.
The Go-Anywhere Gourmet Experience – consumers enjoy treating themselves to a gourmet experience even when they are on the go with flavorful, convenient snacks that literally can be tossed in a bag or a backpack.
Flavors to Explore – Greek is the world flavor on display this year. Greek yogurt has reached the point of ubiquity as a snack and an ingredient and now the broader cuisine of this country is getting more attention.
February 7th, 2014