Wellness benefits among trends at Fancy Food Show
Innovation can breed some wacky products — and many appeared at the Summer Fancy Food Show, the annual extravaganza produced by the Specialty Food Association.
This year's attention grabbers included Chili-flavored Granola (chiligranola.com), Haggis-Flavored Potato Chips (mackiescrisps.co.uk), Wedding Cake-Flavored Chewing Gum (project7.com) and Probiotic Popcorn (livingintentions.com).
But these buzzy items were footnotes to the expo's grand overview of the current culinary scene.
Consumer interests have long been nudging the $120.5 billion specialty-food industry into the nutrition, health and wellness arena. This year's show also bolstered demands from the lucrative millennials market that products be clean, natural, simple, sustainable and convenient. The bar for flavor and quality has never been higher.
Bursting the seams of New York's 840,000-square-foot Javits Center, the 2016 show was the largest food and beverage expo since its 1954 inception — 47,000 industry professionals, 2,716 exhibitors, 180,000 products and 49 new brands.
And the industry broadly recorded it as the most health-conscious show ever!
Exhibitors from across the United States and 55 countries presented unprecedented abundance. As usual, the Italian Pavilion had the largest display, while Tunisia — the show's official country sponsor — dazzled with olive oil, harissa, dates and other North African specialties.
Though business and education were the show's primary focus, glamour and pizazz thrived. The red-carpet opening reception offered cocktails, bubbly, food and live music. Arresting characters animated the exhibit halls — mimes in gold (winners) and silver (finalists), show dollies dressed in Serrano ham, a person costumed in packets of jerky and an impressive giant Oreo-esque ambulatory cookie.
Delightful Ted Allen emceed the coveted SOFI (specialty outstanding food innovation) awards, said to be the Oscars of the food world. For two weeks, in a blind tasting, 46 experts evaluated the products. From a record 3,200 entries, they chose 28 winners and 100 finalists across 28 categories, including chocolate, cheese, condiments and beverages.
A panel of trend-spotters, combing the exhibit halls, reported:
• New twists on classics, including savory yogurts, spicy granola, chocolate-chip hummus and pepper-packed honey
• Chocolate and pumpkin everywhere, along with maple, coconut and plentiful pickles
But way more's going on.
Many labels boasted “free-from”— gluten, dairy, GMOs, nuts, soy, corn syrup, antibiotics, added sugars. Others cashed in on the plus points of vegan, organic, kosher, Paleo-friendly and all-natural.
Oils and vinegars and condiments…Oh yeah
Oceans of oils, vast pools of vinegars and cases of intriguing condiments banish boring meals!
Stoger ( stogeroil.com ), an Austrian family business, cold-presses organic Styrian pumpkin seeds for a pure, versatile oil. The roasted and salted seeds also make a terrific snack.
La Tourangelle ( latourangelle.com ) brings 150 years of experience in making fine artisanal oils, including roasted nut oils such as pistachio and walnut. Browse the website and check out new Amazonian Nutriblend, based on an ancient Peruvian medicinal nut: sacha inchi.
Yandilla Mustard Seed Oil (klkellerfoodways.com), with wasabi-like heat and a high smoke point, adds vibrancy to greens, seafood and Indian dishes. Food Wizard Kitty Keller imports it from Australia.
Sparrow Lane ( sparrowlane.com ) deserves larger space for its huge portfolio of hand-crafted, barrel-aged vinegars made from regional California wines and fruit.
L'Epicurien Mustard with Espelette Chili ( frenchfarm.com ) and Red Pepper Thai Bruschetta (sableandrosenfeld.com) transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Honey is money
Honey appeared ubiquitously — in pastries, ice cream, cheese, craft beverages and spreads, frequently laced with ghost peppers, jalapenos or habaneros.
Heavenly Organics (heavenly-organics.myshopify.com) collects organic, raw honey from wild hives in Northern and Central India, to be jarred or made into candy patties.
Henry's Humdingers ( henryshumdingers.com ), founded by Henry Miller when he was 12 years old (He's now 19), offers five flavors, from sweet to spicy, with clever names — Grumpy Grandpa (garlic and cayenne), Naughty Nana (ginger and pepper), Mama Drama (chipotle and cinnamon).
The big chill
One of the hottest dessert trends was frozen treats — artisanal ice creams, gelatos, sorbets and popsicles.
Humphry Slocombe ( humphryslocombe.com ) is amazing ice cream with slyly titled flavors: Here's Your Damn Strawberry, Tahitian V*n!ll@, SOFI-winning Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee and the iconic Secret Breakfast (bourbon-infused ice cream loaded with ground corn flakes).
Gelato Fiasco ( gelatofiasco.com ), “inspired by Italy, perfected in Maine,” offers gelato and sorbetto from a vault of 1,500 house recipes, including bold Ripe Mango Sorbetto.
Brio (meaning vigor, energy and vitality) takes organic whole milk from pasture-raised cows and adds rich nutrients, including omega-3s and probiotics.
Brewla ( brewlabars.com ) crafts ice pops from brewed ingredients and natural fruit juices, enhanced by vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The latest: The Barista, Cold Brewed Coffee.
On the pulse
The United Nations declared this the Year of the Pulse, and food producers enthusiastically put their fingers right there on lentils, dried peas, dried beans and chickpeas.
Biena Chickpea Snacks ( bienafoods.com ), a protein- and fiber-packed crunch, comes in six flavors, including Sea Salt, Rockin' Ranch and Habanero.
Explore Cuisine ( explorecuisine.com ) makes Pulse Pastas — Red Lentil Penne, Green Lentil Lasagna, Chickpea Fusilli.
Delighted by Dessert Hummus ( delightedbyhummus.com ) transforms chickpeas and tahini into sweets: Brownie Batter, Snickerdoodle, Chocolate Chip.
Pure Genius Provisions ( puregeniusprovisions.com ), the product of a health-seeking woman with an intense sweet tooth, produces whole chickpea-based brownies and blondies.
RW Garcia ( rwgarcia.com ) fills two hot niches: Pulse Tortilla Chips combine black beans, lentils and chickpeas with ancient grains.
Flamous Chips ( flamousbrands.com ) packs in pulses, sprouted grains, dehydrated vegetables and healing spices such as turmeric to create tasty, high-nutrition snacks.
Ancient grains go gourmet
Einkorn, emmer, spelt, amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, teff, millet, rye, freekeh, farro and many more (some of them gluten-free) — grains once essential to our ancestors, then overshadowed by generic wheat, are now back as superfoods.
Smart Flour ( smartflourfoods.com ) wins wellness awards for its frozen pizzas, made with sorghum, amaranth and teff, available in five popular toppings or as crusts only.
Pereg Natural Foods ( pereg-gourmet.com ) encompasses a veritable wellness empire. Started with all-natural herbs and spice blends, it now ranges through pulses and rice, cereals and bread crumbs, seasoned quinoa and farro mixes, and — most recently — an expansive line of gluten-free flours, including buckwheat, quinoa, coconut and almond.
Zemas Madhouse foods ( zemasfoods.com ), a company committed to gluten-free, ancient whole-grain products, including cooking and baking ingredients and wholesome snacks, offers a line of mini-cookies in familiar flavors — chocolate chip, double chocolate and oatmeal cranberry.
Effie's Homemade ( effieshomemade.com ) won a SOFI silver for its Ryecakes, both a cookie and a cheese-perfect cracker. But Effie's has many more lines united by quality ingredients and spot-on flavors.
To some an allergen, for others a sought-out nutritional powerhouse as alternative milk, especially almond and cashew; alternate flours ( simplemills.com almond flour crackers); alternate cheese dips and spreads ( thehappyvegan.com Notcho Nocheez); artisanal granolas (fast-growing Viki's, vikisgranola.com ; farm-sourced Small Batch Organics, smallbatchgranola.com ); wholesome snacks (Setton Farms Snack Blends starring pistachios, settonfarms.com ); and ubiquitous chocolate-hazelnut spreads (Nocciolata, rigonidiasiago-usa.com ).
A whirl of cheese
Cheese lovers welcomed mountains of worldwide, world-class cheeses. The winners this year were all American cheese royalty:
Vermont Creamery ( vermontcreamery.com ), captured two SOFIs: gold fo r Bijou, a yeasty, handcrafted, ripened goat's milk; and silver for Bonne Bouche, an ash-ripened goat's milk.
Cypress Grove Chevre ( cypressgrovechevre.com ), an all-around brilliant line of goat's milk cheeses, won a silver with its bold Bermuda Triangle.
Point Reyes Bay Blue ( pointreyescheese.com ), a rustic blue inspired by its Northern California Coast terroir, stood out as a cow's milk classic.
The spice is right
For centuries, humans have recognized the disease prevention and wellness benefits of spices and herbs. Ditto for chiles. And our palates are now tuned in to heat.
The Spice Lab ( thespicelab.com ) sells Healing Spices, individual ground spices such as turmeric and ginger, plus blends and teas.
The Gracious Gourmet ( thegraciousgourmet.com ) took a SOFI silver for its Hatch Chile Pesto. Also try Tangy Tomato Chutney.
Just Jan's ( justjans.com ) adds savory options to low-sugar, all-natural fruit jams — n otably silver SOFI-winner Tangerine Sriracha.
EnTube ( entube.la ) is haute hot with added superfoods in a convenient squeeze tube format. Current flavors: Harissa and Indian Curry — but watch the selection grow. Use as a sauce base or to boost everything from eggs to yogurt to cocktails.
Chung Jung One ( chungjungone.com ) makes spicy ingredients and sauces essential to currently craved Korean cuisine. Try Gochujang three ways: Chili, Ketchup and Miso. It's fermented, and that's healthful, too.
Fatworks ( fatworks.com ), wanting to adjust your “fattitude,” offers pure tallow, pure lard, duck fat and leaf lard, plus an amusing website that credits the Paleo/primal diet for prompting a return to “real foods.” The popular diet targets the high-protein, high-fiber eating of our caveman ancestors.
Lobel's of New York (l obels.com ), the iconic NYC butcher, markets sophisticated beef jerky — another trend spawned by Paleo popularity. Lorissa's Kitchen ( lorissaskitchen.com ) makes jerky from responsibly raised protein — including pork, beef and chicken — in four Asian flavors.
Safe Catch Tuna ( safecatch.com ) is an elite canned tuna — sustainably wild-caught, individually mercury-tested, hand-packed then slow-cooked to retain all nutrients and flavor.
Tonnino ( tonnino.com ), tuna belly and fillets — packed in jars with extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic or other seasonings — exceed all expectations.
Wild Planet ( wildplanetfoods.com ), maker of canned tuna, salmon, sardines, white anchovies, mackerel and shrimp (and roasted organic chicken breast), is wholly sustainable and totally delicious.
Chocolates, confections, dessert toppings, cookies — the sweet tooth fairy was in heaven. Caramel lovers had another dominant year, and Pittsburgh's chocolate guru Amy Rosenfield ( monaimeechocolat.com ) found the 2016 show fielded more chocolate than in the past six years, including a surge in Ecuadorian. Bean to bar, she notes, remains the top trend. In her Strip District shop, watch for Monte Cristi, Milka, Les Caprices, Pura Delizia or any she may recommend.
Ritual (the Belize bar won a silver sofi) and Stoneridge Orchards ( stoneridgeorchards.com ) introduced whole beautiful strawberries dipped in rich, dark chocolate.
The sleeper: a century-old Dutch cookie, Daelmans Stroopwafel ( daelmansstroopwafels.com ), recently introduced in the United States, became a show sensation.
The beverage revolution
As sugary soft drinks fade in popularity, entrepreneurial beverage companies have exploded in number and thirst-quenching options. Tea retains a dominate market share, but brands diversify, adding health-boosting nutrients, more ready-to-drink bottled products, fermented Kombucha and Matcha and cocktail blends. Bobbing up at the show were also craft sodas, sparkling bitters, drinking vinegars, enhanced waters and …
Happy Tree Maple Water ( drinkhappytree.com ) is organic maple water straight from the tree or with a splash of ginger or pomegranate.
Califia Farms Nitro Cold Brew Coffee ( califiafarms.com ) is essentially cold-brew coffee with almond or Macadamia nut milks, blasted with nitrogen.
Mamma Chia Chia & Greens Beverages ( MammaChia.com ) are a textured blend of chia seeds with veggies in flavors such as cayenne and lemon, ginger and lemongrass, kale and mint.
Crio Bru ( criobru.com ) is a coffee alternative brewed like coffee but from cacao beans.
In the end, what appeared as excess turned into bonus for New York's food-insecure residents: Exhibitors donated more than 100,000 pounds of specialty food to the Specialty Food Foundation, which then donated it to food-rescue organization City Harvest for distribution throughout the five boroughs.
Ann Haigh is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. She is co-host, with husband Peter, of onthemenuradio.com.