Musings: Themes & Trends of the 2012 Fancy Foods Show in DC
June 26, 2012

Dear Readers;

I haven’t begun to sort through all my notes from two intense days wandering the aisles of the NASFT Fancy Foods Show that was held in Washington, DC last week. This was the 58th summer show; I’ve attended about 19 of them in the past, although I missed the last two years because of work conflicts.

It’s always a thrill, and an overwhelming sensory experience to be immersed in so many different cultures, categories, worlds of food and beverages. A glance at the exhibitors and attendees tells the melting pot story: stiletto-heeled couture attired “beautiful” people doling out the finest in caviars; Birkenstock comfy vegans touting the latest longevity ingredient filled power bars; traditional Mennonite families presenting meats, cheeses and wholesome delicacies from the family farm; elegantly suited men seated in small booths making food import deals from all over the globe– Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, Poland, to name just a few. Spend some time at the Fancy Foods Show and you travel the world! The problem for me is that sensory and belly overload happen pretty quickly, so I’ve learned to take in the show in small morsels of time and walk in with pre-set lenses of categories that I most want to explore. Of course when it’s over, I regret that I couldn’t do more!

The aftermath of the Show is rich with reviewing notes, making connections and sending ideas off to various food and beverage clients, reading the pounds of literature that I gathered while there and the mountains that will come later by email and hard copy …for years.

This is my no means an exhaustive list, but some starting points of what was most interesting to me. In a sense not a whole lot was really NEW. In spite of my two years away; I saw more of a continuation of trends I’ve been following for years. Here are a Baker’s Dozen of my notables…

  1. A macro trend is how BIG and diverse some formerly “staple” foods have become—like salt, mustard, butter, and jams.  Now, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of varieties of each have been developed to appeal to every palate and pocketbook.
  2. “Single” is a new buzzword. Single source, singe origin, single variety, single garden tea, and single muscle meat. That seemed new to me, especially in the diverse categories in which it was singled out! Coffee, chocolate, wines, olive oil, meats, cheese, were just a few.
  3. Salty and sweet, savory and sweet like sea salt flavored chocolates were in abundance. That’s definitely a flavor profile that’s become more pervasive from where it was a few years back. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream flavor Salty Caramel, just one of many yummy examples.
  4. There was a lot of excitement in frozen desserts—ice creams, gelato, sorbet, with celebrity chefs like Mario Batali presenting a taste luxurious line including Roman Swirl and Blood Orange.  The real surprise for me though was just how much I liked the beer flavored gelato!
  5. The combination of upscale and down home seem beautifully melded in Good Taste Kitchen’s Brie & Fig Mac & Cheese, and also in David’s Peanut Butter and Jam Bites (enrobed in Belgian chocolate.)
  6. The quest for innovative good taste while watching calories was still very present with items like Skinny Dippers Plantain Chips.
  7. Nostalgia was in the air with foods, messaging and old-fashioned package designs, like the Scrumptious Pantry’s “Do you heirloom…?” catsup and pickles.
  8. The food as medicine theme still in vogue with items like: Get Burning Herb Tea for metabolism. And Republic of Tea’s: Get Young and Get Probiotic teas
  9. Whimsy was present with products from the Truffle Pig including little mint chocolate chip bars sculpted to look like a little pig.

10. Waters plus were certainly present with many players including Aloe Water, Goji Water and CocoWater from Thailand.

11. Growing gets personal with Bissinger’s handcrafted chocolates and their campaign of smiling faces…”Do you know Who Grows Your Cocoa?”

12. In the “mysterious technology” department I put Enzo’s nitrogen sealed, extra virgin olive oil. Honestly, I have no idea what that does, but the package was gorgeous!

13. But the piece de resistance perhaps, not for my taste buds, but in terms of strangeness was Blackwater Fulvic Enriched Mineral Water.  This is a fulvic and humic acid electrolyte drink, a natural organic complex of 77 micro trace minerals and electrolytes.” In short the drink is supposed to energize and revitalize. I can’t tell from personal experience whether or not it delivered, but I can say how odd it felt to me to be drinking black water. Now I sometimes drink black coffee, even iced, so I’m not prejudiced against a dark liquid. Part of the disconnect for me was the lack of other strong sensory and aroma cues that I would normally expect from a dark colored liquid (like red wine, for example.)

There’s more to tell…in future articles.

My net out recommendation: even if you’re not in the food industry, you might find the experience and the ideas inspired by spending a day at a food show like this well worth the time and effort. Mark your calendar for next Summer. The Fancy Foods Show will be back at the Javits Center in New York.

Bon Appetite!

Laurie Tema-Lyn