Ten years or so ago, if you were interested in learning about the trends ready to hit supermarket shelves, the last place you'd probably go would be the Summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Sure you'd learn about the newest varieties of aged cheeses or a new region might pop up as the latest source of hand-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Of course, there'd be some new balsamic vinegars, various spreads and tapenades, lots of jam and plenty of prosciutto. But the focus at the Specialty Food Association's semi-annual meeting, was just what it said it was: fancy food.
Things, however, have gotten a lot less fancy at the Fancy Food Show. Over the years, the show has given over more and more floor space to new and innovative packaged goods companies. It's a great opportunity for food companies to meet with retailers and distributors in the downtime between Expos East and West. The expansion into packaged foods also helps specialty food stores -- which are increasingly finding themselves competing with traditional grocery stores -- find products they can showcase on shelf. And, of course, it allows those of us who trend watch to ponder the Next Big Thing (or Things) in food.
While there were a few new trends, most new products built on trends we've seen growing for the past couple of years. Here's what I found most notable:
Soup's On: Several companies touted ready to eat, grab and go soups. some of which were shelf stable. These included Tio Gazpacho, Fawen, Zupa and Drinkable Veggies from bone broth maker Bonafide Provisions.
Up with People — Companies have been claiming to be good for the planet for several years but now it’s time to be good to people. Greyston Bakeries is hoping to change lives by getting people to eat more brownies and through its Open Hiring plan, which "provides a job to any individual who walks through the door, no questions asked.” The company also provides child care, community gardens and workforce development programs. Now Everybody Can Be a Jerk — Jerky is one of those products, along with granolas and snack bars, that make you say, "Do we really need another one?" To some, the answer is a resounding yes. But what makes these new jerkies unique is the use of other proteins besides beef and turkey; jerkies are now being sold in chicken, fish, and pork varieties. There was even a vegan jerky made with soy and jerkies for kids. Skinny Salamis, meanwhile, put a more upscale twist on the meat stick.
Bean There — Companies continue to find new uses for beans and peas. Watusee Foods has expanded its line of chickpea snacks to include Popped Chickpeatos and “breadcrumbs” made from chickpeas. Rule Breaker used black beans in its line of brownies and blondies while Gabriella's Kitchen enticed you to Love Pasta Again with its pea protein-based Skinny Pasta.
Caffeine Nation — There was tons of coffee, of course, with more companies getting into the cold brew game and cold brew companies now getting into the “nitro” cold brew game (there was even a “nitro” tea that was delicious). But the most fun I saw in coffee and hot cocoa was from a company that is co-branding its K-cups with beloved candy brands like Tootsie Roll and Junior Mints and then creating clever brands for its coffees like Java Nagila, it’s seasonal Hanukkah blend.
Pop: Music to Marketers Ears? — Packaged popcorn has been trending for awhile but now seemingly every grain (and even a few non grains) were popped, be it chickpeas, quinoa, peanut, or peas. Other fun new snacks included Jica Chips, made from jicama, “naked” popcorn (without the skin) and cannoli and matzo chips.
Mood Food — Several exhibitors featured lines of products that either fit your current mood or the mood to which you aspire. There were several teas that fit this, well, mood as well as a line of chocolates and maple water.
Just Don’t Call it Milk — The dairy people don't like you to call it milk but the non-diary milk-like beverage category continues to grow. Two of the newer ones were made from quinoa and tiger nuts.
Mainstream Jewish — Some companies are trying to either put a Jewish twist on their category or are taking products familiar to Jews to the mainstream. This included the above-mentioned Java Negila K-Cups; matzo chips from the Matzo Project; halvah, the Middle Eastern tahini-based confection in modern flavors like banana, whiskey, coffee and hazelnut from Aaron Gourmet; and a spin on the matzo "crack" that makes Jews and non-Jews alike count down the days to Passover with Legally Addictive Crack Cookies. Trust me, they are addictive.
And Now for Something Completely Different -- A shout out to the two new products I saw that will either start or buck trends: Bou, which hopes to take bullion to gourmet heights but without all the sodium; Sauder’s Hard Cooked Flavored Eggs, which come in Buffalo Hot, Mustard and Beet flavors; and RayZyns, dried wine grapes with a slightly sweet, slightly crunchy taste and texture. The latter just may be my favorite.