Specialty Food Update: 12 Trends to Watch

Can't attend all the virtual expos? Trendspotter Nancy Trent has you covered! Here's a sampling of the trends she spotted at the Specialty Food Association's virtual event.

Food with high fiber content for a healthy diet with fruit, vegetables, whole wheat bread, pasta, nuts, legumes, grains and cereals. High in antioxidants, anthocyanins, vitamins and omega 3 fatty acid. Rustic background top view.

The Specialty Food Association met this January for their bi-annual meeting, and while it looked different than normal, it was still great. Following the success of their first virtual experience back in September 2020, they decided to host a second virtual event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While there were no samples to be had, and I may have ended my days a bit less totally stuffed than normal, it was still great to be able to virtually connect with food and beverage brands bringing something new and exciting to the table.

COVID-19 impacted a lot of the major trends that we noticed. With the world finding themselves at home a lot more than normal, there came more home-cooked meals. Foodies elevated their recipes, trying harder and doing more elaborate dishes. Kitchen novices have tried out new skills, many of them finding a hobby within cooking. People also were able to transport themselves with flavor. While vacations may have been canceled, people were able to experience the tastes of Mexico, Thailand, and Italy from the comfort of their own home.

There also is an even bigger focus on health and nutrition. While everyone is monitoring the largest health crisis of our time, it is now so much more important what we put into our bodies. We also noticed that while people have more time to reflect, they are paying attention to companies that give back and support greater issues like causes they believe in and the wellbeing of our planet.

Read on for an overview of the different trends we spotted!

Upcycled Food

Defined as the use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, upcycled foods are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment and they are the way of the future.

Renewal Mill is one of many brands that is fighting climate change through their upcycled flours and vegan baking ingredients. They are producing food with a smaller environmental impact and a lower carbon footprint.

Pulp Pantry offers crunchy, crave-able grain-free veggie, upcycled chips made with simple, nutrient-dense ingredients. They are turning veggies into chips with a mission to end food waste.

Avocado trees have to be trimmed every year, so the Avocado Tea Co. takes the trimmings from the tree and turns the leaves into a tea. Not only does it taste great, it is sustainable and delivers health benefits from antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids, and terpenes. 

Functional Food & Beverages

Turveda is a prebiotic super soda. It packs all the benefits and nutrients as a wellness shot but with a delicious and enjoyable flavor. Supercharged with superfoods and super herbs, these sodas help support optimal gut health and boost immunity.

Acetificio M Denigris is an Italian vinegar company that is introducing a new line of apple cider vinegar with the mother. The apple cider vinegar comes in different flavors all made with authentic Italian ingredients that are clean and don’t have preservatives.

Farabella has been doing gluten-free pasta since 1988 and they recently rolled out a Gluten Free Plus+ line that is a functional pasta packed high with fiber, magnesium and potassium. It provides the great taste of traditional pasta to those who can’t have gluten in their diet, but also provides a healthier pasta alternative to everyone, no matter their dietary restrictions.

Plant-Based Energy

Sarilla is a sparkling, ready-to-drink tea that is full of plant-based energy. It was the first draft-style tea, developed in kegs and steeped like beer but without the booze. It is a great alternative to alcohol. Free from refined sugar, pesticides, and artificial ingredients, it is low calorie and naturally caffeinated.

The Soul Patty is a gluten-free, vegan dry mix that can be customized into whatever you want, using an array of fresh and cooked vegetables. You might find this mix in a vegan patty at a restaurant, but they are also sold in retail.

Free-From Faves

Taste Republic does cauliflower and gluten-free pasta the right way; delicious and healthy. They have a wide array of fresh pasta that come in different varieties to meet different health needs without compromising on taste.

Squirrel Sisters is a fan favorite in the UK that made its way to the U.S. this March. Sisters Gracie and Sophie created these no-sugar-added snacks and kitchen essentials that are also vegan and gluten-free out of a need that came from health conditions.

The Unsweetened Tooth is the answer to every dessert lover’s prayers. They are making all of your favorite baked indulgences without sugar. Offering cookies, brownies, cheesecakes, cakes, curds all without added sugar, they are changing the dessert market.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is the founder of The Black Farmer, a famous British brand bringing gluten-free sausages and other meat with attention to those who suffer from Coeliac disease, or a wheat and gluten intolerance in mind. All of their meat is sourced locally, free range and grass fed on lush fields that abound in the area.

International Flavors

Over the past year while we stayed home more, dined out less and stopped travelling, there was a lot more time to enhance our culinary skills. With that we found a lot of people experimenting with international flavors and cuisines. Whether it was to try something new or to transport yourself to a new culture from the comfort of your own home, here are some brands that made it easy to do so:

Swiss Rösti allows you to experience the flavors of Switzerland in the form of a crispy potato filled with deliciousness. Founder Stephen Caldwell fell in love with Rösti in his travels and brought this yummy Swiss tradition back to the U.S.

Smörgåsbord Food brings you a taste of Scandinavia. The company is dedicated to bringing authentic food from Scandinavia, nothing fake or “in the style of.” It is a popular brand in the UK for its Swedish meatballs and will hopefully be available in the U.S. market soon.

Agritalia showcased their Bella Italia brand that has high-quality, natural, and organic ingredients from Italy. They developed a regional program that pairs a pasta with a sauce that is traditional to a particular region in Italy. You can pick from Puglia, Calabria, Molise, Toscana, Sicilia, Abruzzo, or Liguria. No matter what destination you pick, you are in for a treat.

Popsalot Popcorn is a globally inspired gourmet popcorn company. The California-based brand allows you to experience flavors from around the world. They are elevating the popcorn experience taking you to Costa Rica, Brazil, Morocco and beyond.

Angkor Cambodian Food raises awareness of Cambodian food and culture through shelf stable sauces, spices and pastes as well as sausages, and more. They are passionate about sharing Cambodian cuisine since it is underrepresented in the U.S. market.

You may have seen CLARK + HOPKINS on the hit show Hot Ones with their Assam sauce, but they don’t stop there. They are bringing the world into your kitchen through their sauces. They are chef-created pepper sauces that are inspired by flavors from around the world. They use authentic ingredients to bring you endless possibilities. Their sauces are more culinary sauces than hot sauces in that you can cook with them. Incorporating their sauces into a recipe helps make it super quick, delicious, and only require a couple of ingredients to make an exotic meal.

Umami is the fifth taste and often forgotten about, but it amplifies how we experience sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Fifth Taste Foods brings the power of oo’mämē to everyone’s kitchen. Their artisanal, all-natural chile crisps are the perfect condiment or hot sauce alternative to pair with your favorite dishes, allowing every bite to be an adventure.

WATCHAREE’S Thai sauces are unique in the marketplace for their authenticity and exclusive use of premium-quality Thai ingredients. In developing the sauce recipes, formally trained chef Watcharee Limanon drew on a wide range of influences that range from traditional royal cuisine to contemporary street food to modern fusion dishes.

Spiced Up & Full of Flavor

No surprise here: Spicy foods are still trending and they don’t look like they are going anywhere. AR’s Hot Southern Honey brings you the sweet heat of the south. Whether drizzled over fried chicken or pizza, paired with cheese and crackers, or stirred into a cocktail, AR’s Hot Southern Honey adds mouthwatering sweet heat to just about anything.

Wildy Delicious believes that food should be more than just a basic survival need. It should be a way to build memories with friends and family. Food is the connective fabric that binds us all, and smell, taste, color and texture are all components of a memory that we can carry with us for a lifetime. They allow you to do this through their spices, oils, vinegars, sauces, condiments and more.

Pizootz/ Mad Scientist Nuts, Inc really are a taste-it-to-believe-it product. They have taken peanuts and almonds to the next level their fun and creative flavors like Baja taco, sea salt and vinegar, New York Dill Pickle and more!

B Nutty is more than just your typical peanut butter spread, they are a line of gourmet snackable peanut butter with irresistible flavors like white chocolate truffle, pecan pie and raspberry white chocolate. Whether you are adding this to a PB&J or to your apples, you are in for a seriously delicious treat. All of their peanuts are honey roasted which elevates the flavor profile.

Crunch that Packs a Punch

Hungry Bird Eats offers a healthy, real-food alternative for kids and the adults that chase them around. These crisps come bite-sized and are packaged in a re-sealable to-go sized pouch to be a perfect fit for anyone who is active or just plain hungry. They are packed with five different super-seeds, creating a deep nutty flavor of toasted seeds that makes them addictingly good.

Uprising Food’s new superfood freedom chips bring back the crunch in a guilt-free way. These keto- and paleo-friendly chips are packed with superfoods like almonds, flaxseed, egg whites, apple cider vinegar, MCT oil, and olive oil and only contain two net carbs, six grams of protein and six grams of fiber.

“Sipping” Soup 

Keep Life Tasty has many brands of products, all of which are pioneers in their categories, including their Millie’s Sipping Broth. This sipping broth comes in tea like pouches for quick and convenient use. Take a break from your chaotic day to relax and have a moment to yourself. Whether you are intermittent fasting or just need a light snack to hold you over until your next meal, Millie’s is a perfect addition to your day.

Focused on a Greater Good

Butcher’s Bunches Handcrafted Preserves are more than just delicious jams and preserves. They support important causes. Recently, they partnered with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons to come out with a jam to support the LOVELOUD foundation, which he founded, that supports LGBTQ+ community.

Ficacci Olive Company became famous throughout Italy and lately worldwide, so they realized they want to be a leader in the industry and made the choice to upgrade their packaging to become more environmentally friendly sine they know that they can make an impact on our world. They are introducing paper cups for these olives with the hopes others in the market will follow suit.

Distinctively creamy and delicious, Truly Grass Fed doesn’t stop there. The Irish-based butter and cheese brand is rooted in Irish heritage with the modern consumer in mind. The grass is truly greener here which makes for happier cows. Truly Grass Fed cows spend a minimum of 250 days on pasture, are 95% grass fed, and that’s just the beginning. They have the data and accreditations to support it as well.

Clif Family Napa Valley may be known for its wine, but it is making an impact for its sustainability focus. They have many efforts to reduce their footprint, they have taken a step beyond that. They have started to produce Solar Grown honey from beehives located in solar arrays that are planted with native flowering plants that provide food for honeybees and other at-risk pollinators. This is something you can start to expect popping up more and more.

Twin Engine Coffee fully embodies the concept of origin roasted as in they live where they work. They grow, select, and roast right at the source, where the coffee grows in Nicaragua. This creates 4X more value than Fair Trade coffee standards. It is more sustainable, good for both the environment and economy, helps stop poverty, one family at a time.

Dine-Out Favorites At Home

With the global pandemic forcing everyone to stay home and the majority of the work force transitioning to a work-from-home culture, a lot of other behaviors changed as well. There is the lack of commuting; whether you used to drive, train, subway or walk, you probably haven’t been doing so for about a year and with that comes a change in your daily routines. You may not be stopping at your local coffee shop or going out to lunch as much. World of Coffee, Inc. found an increase in their CPG business as more people were making coffee at home.

LA-based restaurant, Angelini Osteria, a favorite among celebrities and renowned chefs alike, now allows you to enjoy the delicious taste of authentic Italian food from the comfort of your own home with their line of packages sauces, Gino Angelini FoodsTheir sauces are gluten free, USDA certified organic, non-GMO, and vegan.

Food to Fuel

The Gym Kitchen provides high-protein, macro-friendly ready meals for health-conscious on-the-go individuals living and working in today’s ever more fast-paced society. Fuel your body right after a workout with food that actually tastes good, even if you don’t have time. The Gym Kitchen truly embodies the phrase that abs are made in the kitchen.

Feel-Good Favorites

Ginger’s Breadboys is a holiday staple that transports you back to your childhood of decorating gingerbread cookies. Their kits come with all of the ingredients you need to bake and decorate delicious gingerbread cookies.

It’s not authentic beer cheese if it doesn’t come from Kentucky. Hall’s Beer Cheese is the original snappy beer cheese. The unique flavors begins with aged Wisconsin cheddar and infused with a hint of hot pepper. Of course, beer is a key ingredient, complementing the rich, sharp taste of the cheese.

Whether you are in the mood for a sweet, shortbread snack or a savory, cheese straw Flathaus Fine Foods has you covered. With over 25 years in business, these treats will leave you feeling comforted, satisfied and happy.

You can’t have just one of Seely Mint’s addicting peppermint cookies. Indulge in this product, guilt free, knowing that their flavoring comes from authentic peppermint plants opposed to a synthetic peppermint oil you might find in a lot of other products in the market.

While the Specialty Food Association continues to monitor the ongoing pandemic, they are hopeful we will be back in person for the Fancy Food Show 2021 that will be held September 27-29, 2021 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. We are looking forward to meeting more brands and being able to sample their products in person.
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