Flavorful Foods Get Functional

    Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.


    Specialty food is the fastest growing segment in the food industry and at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, California, which took place in January and was the first-of-the-year venue for tasting trends.   

    Presented by the Specialty Food Association (SFA), a not-for-profit association with over 3,800 members, including food artisans, importers, buyers and entrepreneurs, the show featured 1,400+ companies exhibiting over 90,000 specialty foods – something for every palate.

    “The Winter Fancy Food Show is where retail buyers, foodservice, and others in the food industry come to see just how much innovation is happening in our space,” said Phil Kafarakis, SFA president. It’s also where we spot the trends that will be shaping foods stories for the year.  

    Here’s a brief report of what we saw and the people we spoke with.


    Performance is the new organic  

    “We are seeing an incredible amount of interest and innovation from brands using ingredients that not only taste great, but produce results you can feel, said Jeremy Grout, VP, sales VitaCup Inc vitamin-infused coffee and tea.  Consumer shopping habits have swung heavily in the direction of a few key trends. The snacking, collagen, keto and CBD space has exploded in the last few years and manufacturers that aren’t incorporating the ingredients/formats harmoniously with these trends are being left behind. 



    Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become a massive opportunity for food and topical beauty products. But there are challenges. While increasingly popular, CBD is still very much in a pre-clinical-proof era. People are reporting anecdotal benefits for treating inflammation, sore joints, anxiety, depression, seizures and many more ailments. (Brands making these claims must follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for a drug.) Foodies are crushing on CBD because food editors and micro-influencers have turned the compound into a darling ingredient and companies are dashing to throw it into every formula. Since CBD has been a marketing buzz word with little regulation, it’s sometimes hard to even know if CBD-touting products contain any compound at all. CBD has the potential to be even bigger business than it is news, so stay tuned to the science, politics and buying trends on CBD. It’s moving quickly.


    Plant alternatives  

    The relationship between plants and people is getting closer. Food is just one of many ways people are living with plants. “Plant based products seem to dominate conversations. I saw almost all retailers trying to make sure they had a good selection of plant based products for their customers,” said Michael Pan, founder of Pan Mushroom Jerky.  “That of course has helped us and I don’t see that trend stopping anytime soon. Mushrooms continue to be used for everything and that’s exciting to see.”   

    It was evident that plant-based categories continue to grow and elicit broader interest, and many buyers were on a mission to find more plant based-products to add to their sets.   

    Bradley Tomko, west regional sales manager, Miyoko’s Kitchen of Petaluma, CA, said, “We received a very supportive response to our positioning as Plant Dairy–not Alternative or Non-Dairy–and that merchandising our products in line with traditional dairy would generate the most effective category growth. It is exciting to see how quickly the market is evolving.”


    Fancy food to go

    “Vegan, refrigerated, and keto friendly bars kept bubbling to the top” said Angela Bailey, senior brand manager of WoloSnacks, makers of fiber-rich WanderBars for travelers, which touts its unique texture, high protein, low sugar, high fiber combo. “We have a broader market to target that can be a staple in diets rather than a trend. After all, everyone travels right?” 

    Bars aren’t the only food people are eating on-the-go. “Over the past few years we’ve noticed a lot of growth in the cannoli category; not only are more stores bringing in both traditional cannoli shells and filling, but they’re also expanding their offerings with items like cannoli chips and ready to serve items, like chip & dip platters and grab & go cups. Traditional cannoli shells and filling can be a challenging item to bring in for locations without full-time bakery employees and these ready-to-serve items allow them to give consumers an innovative way to experience cannoli that also happens to be easily shared with family and friends,” said Emily Trotochaud, social media and marketing manager, Golden Cannoli Shells Company.


    Better butter

    In a sector where many products being marketed as dairy aren’t, there is a great demand for real dairy made premium. The interest and popularity of diets high in healthy fats continues to grow, highlighting the benefits of a premium, higher butterfat butter like Minerva Butter, which has the highest butter fat content at 85%. You can taste the difference. Consumers continue to expect transparency around where their food is coming from. For 125 years, Minerva has prioritized getting cream from American family farms who pasture-raise their cows. It is known as America’s oldest creamery and is experiencing more growth than ever.


    Frozen protein  

    The National Peanut Board partnered with Crazy Richards Peanut Butter to roll out an entirely new category with the introduction of its new frozen snack line, Wholly Rollies – Frozen Protein Balls. Wholly Rollies was developed to make healthy snacking simple.  “As consumers continue gravitating toward snacking, the National Peanut Board is excited to be part of bringing new products to the freezer case. As a delicious, nutritious and portable snack, Wholly Rollies embody everything consumers are looking for,” says Ryan Lepicier, sr. VP, marketing & communications, National Peanut Board.


    Everyday parchment

    Food prep was a big part of Fancy Food this year. We’re seeing more natural ways to cook including with parchment paper. It’s a simple way to reduce toxins when cooking and storing food. PaperChef makes it easy to wrap and cook your food in natural parchment paper so you don’t have to rely on foil.  


    Chocolate gets hot & spicy

    Along with the global food influences from the Indian and Asian markets, hot peppers and bold spices are finding their way into specialty chocolate creations in the US market. The concept is now moving from the niche stage to mainstream on Main Street. Chocolatiers across the US continue to experiment with combining the sweet and savory and venturing into new product creations. SweetShop USA recently created Abuelito Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffle, which combines Hatch Green Chile, cinnamon and jalapeño in a Belgian chocolate ganache center. 

    “While boxes of chocolate remain a gift staple on shelves, specialty chocolates purchased in smaller packages, as grab-n-go snacks continue to lead the growth segment,” said  Michael L. Moss, president, Sweet Shop USA. Growing demand for traditionally seasonal offerings, like brittle and toffee, is transitioning these favorites from limited time holiday offerings to year-round staples in many retail chains.”


    Edible whimsy

    Function and fun met at several booths, including at Let Them Eat Candles, edible candles. “We were swamped with people telling us that Let Them Eat Candles was the most innovative product they saw at the show,” said Loree Sandler, a Let Them Eat Candles representative.


    Rethinking Juice  

    There has been a trend to consume less sugar which pushes companies to rethink the whole juice category. How do you offer lots of nutrition without too many ingredients and too much sugar? “You can no longer rely on citrus fruits and vegetables to do this because you end up consuming an extremely large amount of sugar. However, by finding awesome superfoods from around the world and including them in products, producers offer customers one-of-a-kind blends that draw from traditional uses of the ingredients. It also helps companies differentiate themselves from competition by offering more than just a drink; the juice now becomes part of the customer’s daily health ritual,” claims Nina Vukicevic, project manager, ArmedinaUSA

    Companies are seeking to include more and more functional foods in their ingredients. Instead of simply offering orange juice or some sort of fruit blend, companies over the past few years have been featuring exotic ingredients such as maca, reishi, cordyceps, cacao, ashwagandha, matcha, etc. in their products. In turn, they provide their customers with way more nutritional value, often from ingredients that the customer wouldn’t otherwise consume, either because they simply don’t know about the ingredient or don’t buy it otherwise. Juices offer a quick, convenient way to consume a lot of nutritional goodness, especially when the ingredients include nutritional powerhouses from around the world. 

    DJ Rassech, president, Deep Water USA Inc. with Deep Rose, hits the mark. He said, “Flower based drinks are going to get real big. They may not replace sodas entirely but they will take some junk off the market.”


    “Sipping” soups  

    “When we launched our innovative Heat and Sip soup cups in 2017, we were one of the first brands to address the trend of consumers wanting a healthier on-the-go beverage option, and I believe we are still the only brand which offers bone broths in this format,” said Ami Tseng, senior marketing manager, NONA LIM. “We’re seeing consumers drink soup or bone broth in the morning in place of coffee/tea, and throughout the day as either a light snack, lunch, or afternoon pick me up. Drinking bone broths as a post-workout recovery drink is also popular.”

    Turmeric continues to be popular with consumers. “Our Turmeric Chicken Bone Broth Heat and Sip Cup is our best-selling bone broth online, and it will be available at Whole Foods nationally beginning in April this year. Ramen continues to grow in popularity as well, and is reflected in the range of products hitting shelves, for example Nona Lim’s clean-ingredient ramen cups and ramen kits (broth + noodles).”


    Small meals, big protein

    Freshe hits on a lot of trends we saw on the show floor. These celebrity chef designed, easy to open tins of wild caught tuna are perfect for portable small meals and snacking. 


    Traceability to the tree  

    There is growing demand to know where our food comes from. Each bottle of Origin 846 extra virgin olive oil has a lot number which corresponds to the actual set of trees on the company’s grove. Origin 846 does not blend from other producers and from other countries. “We own our groves, the organic format of our olive oil is picked by hand, and most of all, we are able to lead the quality control process from beginning to end,” said Dustin Gilman, representative of Cho American, importers of Origin 846. 

    We expect to see these evolve and more develop at the Summer Fancy Food show in New York City, Jacob Javits Center, June 23–25, 2019.