Recent Comments

    Highlights of the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show

    By Elaine Viegas–

    The Specialty Food Association just wrapped up the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show, which ran from January 21–23 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. At least 25,000 food professionals from 1400 exhibiting companies attended the show, where buyers representing businesses big and small determined what foods will be sold in stores across the nation. Decisions made at this influential event can therefore affect what you will be eating in the months to come.

    California boasted the largest state presence at the show, with more than 351 companies there this year. Our state’s presence is not just because of the location of the event, but also due to California’s overall leadership in this industry given our many farms, vineyards, and more. New York, New Jersey and Oregon also had strong participation. In terms of the 20+ countries that participated, the largest pavilions featured companies from Italy, Japan and France.

    Below are some of our favorites from this year’s show:

    Best International Pavilion
    Our team from the San Francisco Bay Times is still in an Italian food swoon, as the Italy Pavilion offerings were stellar. They included Acquerello risotto that was rice perfection. The Carnaroli grains are grown and processed in Italy before being aged. The proud Italian woman who gave us a sample said, “This will be the best thing that you will eat at the show.” She was right. The simple risotto, which she had flavored only with olive oil and Parmesan, was outstanding. It was al dente without being too chewy, with each and every grain cooked to perfection.

    At the front of the Italy Pavilion was a bow-tied young fellow making espresso drinks, one after another in a flash. Each was exceptionally good and better than what you can get at most cafes here.

    At another booth, a team from Trentodoc was pouring sparkling wines made in Trentino, Italy. This region, part of the Italian Alps, produces juicy, intensely-flavored grapes that, after fermentation, yield a characteristic bold crispness with bright effervescence. These wines are much better than most proseccos.

    Yet another table in the show’s little “Italy” had prosciutto cut into paper-thin slices. The meat was so light and impossibly tender that the not-too-salty prosciutto could almost melt in your mouth without chewing. It paired well with a creamy grana padano, a cow’s milk cheese that had been aged for 14 months. The cheese was flavorful, but quite creamy and not sharp at all. We were told that the “riserva” grana padano, aged for over 20 months, takes on greater complexity.

    If this were the Olympics of food, Italy would win hands down, in our opinion. Japan also had a strong showing this year, with some of the biggest crowds attending the event waiting for Japanese beer and sushi. One of the beers was brewed with sweet potatoes, which imparted very little flavor, but added a nice smoothness.

    Best New Product
    It was Mexico, not Italy, that produced our favorite new product. The name is a bit wacky, but “Jicama Nachos” are a great alternative to tortillas. These are just thin slices of jicama shaped exactly like a corn or flour tortilla. You can use them as you would tortillas to hold other ingredients. At the show, they were filled with guacamole. The sweet, refreshing jicama paired well with the rich avocado mash and held its shape. For those of us trying to cut down on carbs, Jicama Nachos provide a good vegan alternative to tortillas.

    Best Entree
    Frida’s Foods, based in Texas, served up restaurant-quality chile rellenos. The chiles were mouth-wateringly spicy, but not too hot. The batter exterior was crisp and toasty and did not overwhelm the fresh, high-quality chile.

    Best Out and Proud Couple at the Food Show
    Shannon Rowan and her wife Breelynn MacDonald are the two chicks behind Two Chicks Jerky. They were clearly having a blast at the show in their matching shirts. The two got their start making homemade goods, such as pickled vegetables, home-brewed pale ale and beef jerky for friends and co-workers. After a few months of hearing, “Oh my god, you should sell this,” they did, and now make a very delicious and protein-rich beef jerky that is a satisfying, portable snack. (Another good jerky is made by Country Archer, also featured at the show.)

    Best Cheesecake That Is Not Cheesecake
    A team from Japan featured “frozen cheese tarts.” These are handheld little tarts made with a pastry crust. The simple filling was creamy and not overly sweet like most American cheesecakes tend to be. I can see these served for breakfast, as a snack or—perhaps if topped with fresh fruit, shaved chocolate or other flourishes—dessert.

    Best New Snack
    Pop’d Kerns is a popcorn snack that’s like a cross between a corn nut and regular popcorn. We have had similar products before that were tooth-breakingly hard, but the texture of Pop’d Kerns is just right. The ranch flavor was particularly good.

    Best Display
    The Aloha from Oregon booth is always incredibly beautiful. Their products, colorful jellies, glisten like holiday tree ornaments. We had to stop and admire them and the way in which they were lined up like elegant jewels.

    Best Drinkable Vacation
    Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail. Made with cachaça, sugar and a citrus juice (either lime or lemon), it is refreshing and delicious when done right. Brunholi Caipirinha is all natural and comes pre-mixed. Made with lemon, it is surprisingly tasty. The festive Brazilian team was serving it in small shots, but it would be probably even better on the rocks in a chilled glass.

    Best Humanitarian Work
    Two locally-based tea companies, The Republic of Tea and Numi, make consistently great products that are environmentally conscious and benefit humanitarian efforts. The Republic of Tea, for example, has just released Saffron Rose Tea that has a unique and exotic sweet-savory flavor. The saffron comes from Rumi Spice, a company founded by former U.S. Army officers who served combat tours in Afghanistan. (We also like The Republic of Tea’s new Apple Cider Vinegar Sips and Daily Greens Single Sips that come in pre-measured individual packets for consumption anywhere.) Numi has a fantastic line of turmeric-infused teas. The turmeric comes from Madagascar, where Numi brought safe drinking water to 4,000 farming villagers. Both The Republic of Tea and Numi have Fair Trade certifications. Numi even offsets carbon emissions from employee travel.

    Now that the Winter Fancy Food Show is over, food industry professionals are preparing for the Specialty Food Association’s next major event: the Summer Fancy Food Show. It will be held at the Javits Center in New York from June 30–July 2. The San Francisco Pride Weekend is June 23–24, so you might consider the trip to NYC, if possible. The summer show is supposed to be even larger than the one in San Francisco. That is hard to believe, as you could spend days at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which covers 220,000 square feet, and still not have enough time to visit each booth and vendor.

    For more information:

    Elaine Viegas is a classically trained chef who is the food columnist for the “San Francisco Bay Times.”


    This Year’s Hot Food Trends

    Food innovation is running at an all-time high and the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel has named what they believe will be the hot trends of this year.

    The panel draws perspectives from retail, foodservice, strategic marketing, and culinary education, and includes Ken Blanchette, FreshDirect; Jonathan Deutsch, Drexel University; Kara Nielsen, CCD Innovation; Perla Nieves and Alysis Vasquez, Midnight Market; Alison Tozzi Liu, James Beard Foundation; and Elly Truesdell, Whole Foods Market.

    “Macro trends like sustainability and health are converging in the 2018 trends,” says Denise Purcell, head of content for the Specialty Food Association. “The Panel is predicting more algae and other plant-based proteins and products meant to reduce food waste, as well as growth in the use of functional ingredients like activated charcoal, which is a base for the so-called ‘goth’ foods. But, while a lot of these trends speak to health and better-for-you choices, consumers’ demand for deeper flavor exploration is still strong, as evidenced by the interest in Filipino and regional Middle Eastern foods.”

    Here are the Trendspotters’ predictions for the top 10 food trends of 2018:

    1. Plant-based foods. Plant-based options are proliferating in many categories beyond meat substitutes. Segments like cheese and frozen desserts are enjoying growth in plant-based subcategories. As for meat alternatives, algae is winning fans. 2018 will bring more plant-based convenience foods too.

    2. Upcycled products. As consumers become more aware of how much food is wasted in the U.S., upcycled products made of ingredients and scraps that would have otherwise been discarded, will hold bigger appeal. We’re already seeing pressed juice made from imperfect fruit, chips made from fruit pulp, and snack bars made from spent grain from the beer-making process. Expect more to hit the market this year.

    3. Filipino cuisine. Often overshadowed by other Asian cuisines, the foods of the Philippines have not yet captured a broad U.S. audience. That’s shifting, as American palates have become more sophisticated and attuned to the complex flavors and bitter or sour notes of Filipino dishes. Chefs and tastemakers are taking to this cuisine that infuses Asian and Latin flavors, and #filipinofoodmovement, founded in 2012 to create awareness and appreciation of Filipino culinary arts, is a growing force.

    4. Goth food. Possibly a reaction to the 2017’s deluge of rainbow and unicorn foods, black is the new black. Activated charcoal—produced by heating coconut shells to extremely high temperatures until they are carbonized—is gaining superfood status for its reported detoxifying attributes and is being used as a surprising twist in everything from pizza crust to lemonade to ice cream. We’ll see its use spread this year.

    5. Alt-Sweet. With sugar topping the list of dietary watch-outs, consumers continue to look to alternative sweeteners for lower glycemic impact, fewer added-sugar calories, and intriguing sweet flavors as well as sustainable footprints. Syrups made from dates, sorghum, and even yacon and sun root will join monk fruit on the market as emerging options for sweet.

    6. Product labeling 2.0. More is more when it comes to product labeling. Consumers will seek greater on-label visibility into the farms, ingredient sources, and supply chain of each item in their shopping basket. GMO transparency is among the most prioritized details, but shoppers want new depths of information across the spectrum, including Fair Trade certification, responsible production, and no animal testing.

    7. Root to stem. Between nose-to-tail butchery and reducing food waste, a few forces are combining to inspire root-to-stem cooking—utilizing the entire fruit or vegetable, including things like stems or leaves that are less commonly eaten.

    8. Cannabis cuisine. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, the varieties of pot-enhanced food and beverage will increase. Look out for continued interest and acceptance in a host of snacks, treats, and beverages with a little something extra.

    9. A (deeper) feast from the Middle East. Foods like hummus, pita, and falafel were easy entry points, but now consumers are ready to explore the deep traditions, regional differences, and classic ingredients of Middle Eastern cultures, with Persian, Israeli, Moroccan, Syrian, and Lebanese influences rising to the top.

    10. The rise of traditional bread. Although much attention has been placed on gluten-free options in recent years, the traditional side of bakery has also been elevated by the same sourcing and fine-tuned production processes we see with proteins and vegetables. Bakers are using local grains, milling the day before baking, and incorporating long proofing times, re-inventing what good bread means.

    Additionally, the Trendspotter Panel says we’ll see even more:

    • cricket flour and non-grain sustainable proteins;
    • fermented foods;
    • cocktail mixers and bitters for home use;
    • savory flavors where one would expect sweet;
    • pasture-raised animals for welfare, better health, and taste;
    • bananas transformed into milks, snacks, frozen desserts, and flours and baking mixes.

    Also on the radar: Eating for beauty with products like collagen-infused foods; moringa as the new superfood; mushrooms (extracts, powdered, or whole) as a functional ingredient in everything from chocolate to lattes.