In the late 70s, when many of us in the natural food industry got a start, there were few national publications for the industry. One was the Natural Food Merchandiser, and the organization would hold a trade show in the spring of each year. Held in Anaheim California, a ragtag group of young kids, hippies and back-to-the-woods farmers would get together in a small hall with card tables and tablecloths to show their wares.
Other tradeshows popped up for: health food, fitness, “gourmet” food, “specialty” food, imported foods and eventually organic food and wellness products. Over time, the increasing cost to attend and exhibit, as well as the growth potential for organizers, the different shows and products consolidated into the large show formats we have today.
The Fancy Food show in New York, held this past June, is one of these tradeshows that has combined all the industry segments into “Specialty Foods,” with over 2000 companies exhibiting.
The specialty food market continues to expand as worldwide the growing middle class seeks to improve their quality of life and enjoy food for the palate and the eyes! At the Fancy Food show we continue to see the growth of Organic, Vegan, Local, Gluten-free, Keto and other dietary choices. Snack foods and meals-on-the-go continue to grow and clamor for the consumer’s eyes!
Having consolidated most of the exceptional food segments, the specialty food market had 10% growth over the past five years approaching $150 billion. Our best guess while walking the show, was that organic foods represented 15% of the products there. As organic is one of the highest grossing segments, that alone will continue to boost the specialty food growth.
The availability of specialty food products being showcased on Amazon, and other web-based sales, along with the increased offerings in all brick-and-mortar storefronts from local to national, small-market to majors, has also boosted sales and will continue to do so. Broadening ethnic, lifestyle and diet diversity have taken specialty foods from the pigeonhole to the mainstream.
Manufacturers and food merchants seek to fill this growing demand with products that are high quality, clean, authentic, unique and sustainable.
Our observations at this year’s show fell on the tremendous strength of plant-based meat alternatives, the continued growth of ready-to-eat, ready-to-drink products and the significant increase of foreign country exhibitors. These companies easily represented over 50% of the floor space.
The dessert category had a strong presence and many companies filled the need for low sugar, and dairy-free alternatives. The gluten-free category featured combinations of cauliflower and rice and oat flour for pizza crusts, quiche and other pastries. Grains were eliminated from granola and sweetened dried vegetables took their place.
Jerky snacks had a large presence; mushroom jerky, traditional, vegan, and vegetable jerky seemed to be everywhere. Mushrooms appeared in many forms and products besides jerky; mushroom chips, burgers, mycotherapy products, beverages and others that featured mushrooms in the name, such as sauces and entrées.
All the aforementioned product categories showcased the predominant foods at the show. Of course the traditional products we seek and adore also had a strong presence: wine, bourbon, spices, ice cream, teas, jams, chocolates, pastry, bread, cheese, cheese (did we say cheese?), beer, frozen and shelf-stable entrées such as masalas and curries, and many snacks!
One interesting snack that is gaining momentum is the popped lotus seed. One of the best was from Hopapops with cheddar, spicy, mango and plain salted varieties.
As we write, the vivid memories of the show are still with us, as are the flavors and joy on the palate. How can we convey the experiences— we encourage you to go next year!