The Specialty Food Association hosted another impressive trade show at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco on January 21-23, 2018. Over 1400 companies came to promote more than 80,000 products to retailers and distributors.
It's hard to boil it down to just a few trends but here are a few that stood out to me.
Indulgence and health
There was a lot of exhibitor overlap between EXPO West and the Fancy Food Show, likely reflecting the bipolar growth of both health and indulgence in the specialty channel. High end consumers have shown they like the best of both worlds and millennials have never known a world that didn’t offer both. Their growing economic influence will likely make this reality last for decades to come.
The yogurt business has grown tremendously and the plethora of new products reinforced that more upside remains. This category delivers solutions for so many – high protein, probiotics and vegetarian as well as vegan and lactose-free for those made with coconut and nut milks. Nearly all are tasty, some downright indulgent, with useful functional benefits. Innovation has driven growth in this category - both product and packaging. First it was creamy French-style, then Russian, Greek and now Icelandic (also known as skyr). Yogurt based drinks, such as kefir and lassi, have also enjoyed growth and a rash of new entrants.
While the tree nut butters provide a useful alternative for households with peanut allergies (that have become increasingly more prevalent with kids), these premium products are really targeted at gourmand adults. Made with every type of nut - peanut, cashew, almond, walnut and pistachio - they were sold plain and with mix-ins such as chia and chocolate. Nut butters were also found in cookie and candy centers.
There was a noteworthy number of new companies hailing from Brooklyn, highlighting the new craft food hub on the East Coast. The hipster vibe of the borough seems to have inspired millennials to launch new food businesses that match both their lifestyle and values. They have executed well and if they can navigate the challenges of the food industry, they are going to grow quickly.
Craft chocolate bars were more prevalent than I've seen in recent years. Many promoted their fair trade and single origin sourcing but I was also struck by the elegance of the packaging as well as the use of distinctive molds for the chocolate bar underneath the exquisite outside wrapper.
Variety makes the snack world go around and there were a lot of interesting ideas, many of them coming from abroad. Salty and sweet, there were new products made from seeds, ramen, seaweed and even insects! Flavored or plain, they have the potential to open up whole new snacking categories.
So here are just a few of the intriguing products I saw….the ones that garnered my interest but could either be the beginning of a trend or simply a novelty. Please weigh in and let me know your thoughts.
Pork Barrel Bacon Popcorn (#baconpopcorn) took this salty snack to a new level of indulgence. Truly proof that bacon makes almost anything better! It was delicious and addictive.
Yuguo Farms Shiitake Mushroom Chips (#mushroomchips) were one of many products leveraging the growing interest in the health benefits of mushrooms. Available in 3 flavors - Original, Spicy and Wasabi.
Matzo Chips (#matzochips) is a great way to bring matzo into the mainstream. Tasty and a natural complement to a bagel sandwich (or some chicken soup), they have playfully leveraged it beyond its holiday use. The Brooklyn-based company also sells matzo crackers and matzo ball soup mix.
Copper Cow Coffee (#coppercowcoffee #portablepourover) is a kit enabling Vietnamese style coffee for one. Starting with a clever single serve pour over filter drip bag that balances on the rim of the mug, it includes ground Vietnamese coffee and dry California condensed milk.
Izza Pops (#izzapops) is a San Francisco start up with a plant based solution for those looking for a dairy free frozen treat. A simple, clean and mostly organic ingredient label uses the creaminess of coconut milk and the nutritional benefits of cashews and fruit to deliver a healthy treat. Available in 3 flavors - Coconut Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry.
Mike's Hot Honey (#mikeshothoney) is another simple and innovative product started in Brooklyn. Cleverly packaged in a squeeze bottle, they hope to replace New York's obsession with dried red pepper with a squeeze of Mike's on a slice. It has many other applications too - giving it great potential to be the next 'must-have' condiment in your house.
Just Date Syrup (#justdatesyrup) is a simple solution for anyone looking for a healthier alternative to refined sugar. Made from California Medjool dates, it makes the luscious taste and healthier sweetness of dates more accessible. In an easy to use squeeze bottle, it's easy to add to oatmeal, yogurt or your morning coffee.
Once again, the food show demonstrates how lucky we are to live in the specialty food heartland. Whether you shop in mainstream grocery, natural stores or specialty shops, you can be confident 2018 will be a year full of new and exciting choices! Bon Appetit!
Joanne Haase is the Principal of the Haase Consulting Group, a strategy and research consultancy focused on consumer products. www.HCGMarketScope.com