Conference Beat™ – Fancy Food Show: San Francisco, January 2015

The 40th Winter Fancy Food Show continues to thrive with more than 19,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors from around the world. 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, healthcare, airlines and restaurants.


The largest food categories represented at the show were cheese, meat/poultry/seafood and chips/pretzels/snacks. The fastest growing exhibitor categories are nut/seed butters, eggs and frozen desserts according to the Specialty Food Association.


Gourmet Retail Market Dynamics:

  • Conscious capitalism characterized many of the exhibiting companies that were proud to showcase their efforts to make a positive difference for those involved in bringing their products to market.
  • Incubators and accelerators are helping entrepreneurs move out of their kitchens to meet the demands of consumers’ heightened interest in small batch producers.
  • The movement toward mindful dining has consumers rethinking indulgence with a healthy perspective.


Specialty food industry highlights

Specialty food sales in the U.S. have reached $88.3 billion, up 47% since 2008. Retail represents $70.2 billion and foodservice $18.1 billion.


Specialty food industry highlights:

  • 50% of adults have purchased specialty food in the past 6 months
  • The top 5 categories of specialty food purchased are: chocolate, olive/specialty oil, cheese, coffee and salty snacks
  • The most likely purchasers of specialty food are women, younger adults, affluent households and Hispanics
  • Consumers aged 25-34 are the most likely to shop for specialty foods at food trucks
  • Younger affluent adults (18-34 years old with income between $75K and $99K) frequent the widest range of food retailers. Older shoppers are more likely to shop at supermarkets
  • 84% of specialty food shoppers say better quality foods are worth paying more for
  • 52% purchase foods that support charities, up from 46% last year
  • 63% watch food or cooking shows on television or the internet


Low Tech versus High Tech

Although this trade show has long been called Fancy Food, the focus has evolved to simpler foods, cleaner ingredient statements and products less processed.


On the digital frontier, 3-D printers are giving food makers new opportunities to reinvent food. It is no longer science fiction; real life examples include hand sculpted chocolates, customized wedding cake decorations and dinosaur shaped quiches.


Old School New Age Packaging

Packaging has to be captivating for gourmet foods and producers go to great length to entice consumers with seductive packaging. Packaging offered something for everyone including old school mason jars, new-age squeeze pouches, super bright colors and earth tones.


Mason jars are popular for products positioned as handmade home recipes, some even featuring labels that appear to be handwritten. In Chicago, there are kiosks called Farmer’s Fridge that dispense fresh produce based meals and snacks in mason jar type containers.


Hand size squeeze pouches were popular for kid-friendly snacks and beverages as well as kitchen sauces.

What’s Next

Confections – the hunt for the next cupcake has been on for several years and the macaron seems to be moving in with its more complex preparation that is not easily replicated at home.


Condiments – mustard, barbecue and a wide range of specialty sauces all have a following. One new line of sauces even claimed to have the first probiotic condiments. Ketchup took center stage with lots of artisan makers featuring flavored ketchup and more tomatoes in every bottle. One producer claimed over four pounds of tomatoes in each bottle, lower sugar and gluten free.


Butters and Spreads – we have been waiting for competition to Nutella® as the consumer’s favorite premium spread and this year we saw premium nut and seed butters take off. Indulgent cookie butters made with all natural and organic ingredients were drawing crowds. There is even coconut butter for those following the Paleo diet.


Crunchy Snacks – think thin with cookie brittle, brownie thins, ciabatta thins and pasta chips. It is a large and growing category with almost endless flavor and texture innovation.


Super Seeds – Chia seeds continue to be popular. A new portion packed yogurt featured chia seeds already mixed in. One producer of flavored pumpkin seeds went so far as to name their brand Super Seedz.


Chocolate – single origin, fair trade and avante-garde flavors have kept the excitement in this category going. What’s new? A stone ground chocolate that is a love-it or hate-it product that often challenges the palates of chocolate aficionados. Craft chocolatiers are using ancient Aztec and Mayan techniques to create a dairy free, low fat product with a gritty consistency and earthier flavor than European-style chocolate.


Veggie of the Moment – Beets are red hot and are seen in ice cream, veggie kefir, ravioli stuffing mixed with goat cheese, savory tea and kimchi. Beet pearls come packaged like caviar to provide little flavor bombs for beverages, salads and desserts. For young foodies, squeezable kid friendly beverages contained juice blends and yogurt blends with beets.


Gourmet Beef Jerky – a c-store staple has taken on new allure made from a wider range of meats and with gourmet flavors. One example is Jim Beam bourbon small batch beef steak strips. It was noted that the ancient method of meat preservation and the modern name jerky came from a word used by the Quechua people of Peru – ch’arki.


The Local Food Scene

The Union Larder is curated rather than stocked with a limited number of items to appeal to well heeled sustainably minded foodies with little cooking knowledge or time. It is a combination grocery, restaurant and wine bar with a big focus on fine meat and cheese.


The Hall, in the gritty mid-Market neighborhood, is a permanent pop up with a collection of artisan vendors in a space that was slated to be torn down. What was scheduled to be a temporary project to harness the power of food to build a community has become a runaway success.


Reclaiming space for a marketplace can also be found outside of the city. The Barlow in Sonoma County which is a 12+ acre industrial park is now a restaurant, retail and arts destination that showcases local businesses.

Global Flavors

The size of international delegations at this show gives a glimpse into global flavors ready for American kitchens. Peru and Ecuador were the largest among South American countries. Japan had been absent for several years, but came back strong this year with one of the largest exhibits they have ever had. The Philippines had a large presence with live cooking, proving once again that anything that can be wrapped in a hand held format or served in a bowl is destined for success.


Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter devotees continue to be captivated by tea at this show, with unique varieties of brewed matcha, kombucha, and tea crafted for cocktails coming down the pipeline, as well as new 5-lb box packaging for flavored black teas.


Vegetables were infused into more products than ever before, with tweeters mentioning veggie chips made from Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and an arugula and cabbage combination. Plant-based waters in flavors like artichoke, and yogurt in savory flavors such as beet, butternut squash and tomato further fueled the healthy veggie trend.


“Cold” seems to connote a more natural production process, with examples like carbonated cold brew coffee soda, cold-brew coffee concentrate pods for “brew-it-yourself” convenience, and organic cold-pressed vegetable juices with chia seeds new on the market.


Spicy flavors popped up in multiple products from Buffalo Wing Monterey Jack cheese, to Sriracha potato chips and Sriracha-tomato ketchup.


If you want to follow our observations in real time go to The next conference we will cover is NAFEM North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, February 19-21, 2015.



Implications for Food Marketers

  • Small Batch Production. Consumer interest in knowing where their food is made and who made it is driving interest in small batch specialty foods that are unique, but not necessarily local. Food accelerators like L.A. Prep are helping entrepreneurs build up to meet the demand.
  • Less Is More. Products and brands touting less sugar, non-GMO, no pesticides and generally less processed are in demand by consumers.
  • Brand Storytelling. In specialty food, the brand story supports the value of the products whether it is multiple generations of family or a celebrity chef who enjoys meeting customers and fans in the booth at the show.
  • Ancient Replaces Artisan. Many companies in the specialty food business dropped the word artisan from their vocabulary as the word became ubiquitous and failed to differentiate. Now, ancient is all the rage from ancient grains to ancient methods of production.



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