Winter Fancy Food Show Finds

The 36th annual Winter Fancy Food Show just concluded in San Francisco with 1,300 exhibitors showing off 80,000 products to 17,000 attendees.

What is the Fancy Food Show? It’s a trade show where manufacturers introduce their goods to buyers from gourmet gift shops, kitchen stores and even mainstream grocery stores.

Geeks have the Consumer Electronics Show — foodsters have the Fancy Food Show.

It is the largest marketplace for specialty foods and beverages on the West Coast, owned and operated by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT).

What exactly are specialty foods and beverages?

Think packaged pasta, oils, vinegars, cheese, cookies, popcorn, jams & jellies, spices, tea, cocktail mixers and flavored waters, just to name a few.

Some products are geared toward the gourmet market and some are aimed directly at mainstream grocery stores.

Celebrities attend to put a personal spin on their namesake brands: Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa line of baking mixes and sauces), Guy Fieri (supermarket line of salsas and BBQ sauces); Bon Appetit Executive Chef/Iron Chef Cat Cora (Cat Cora’s Kitchen line of Greek oils, tapenades, vinegars and sauces).

With 1,000+ exhibitors and 80,000+ products, it’s not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, and depending upon your view, what’s wheat and what’s chaff is highly subjective.

Pen & Fork™ was on the scene to discover what’s new and interesting for the gourmet home cook.

Here are some of our observations from the 36th Annual Winter Fancy Foods Show.

Expanding Ethnic Flavors

African (Moroccan specifically, but not exclusively), Indian (both northern and southern), Korean and Mexican flavors are likely to gain traction in both gourmet and mainstream stores.

Vendors were proudly pushing these ethnic flavors through simmer sauces, condiments (marinades, pastes, mustards, etc.) as well as a gaggle of dry spice blends.

This is good news for home cooks, because it will be easier (more convenient and less expensive) to experience these bold flavors without expending the time and money involved to create them from scratch.

Standouts include Dave’s Gourmet Masala Marinara (although it’s the most tame of ones we tried — a good entry product for the uninitiated); Maya Kaimal’s butter masala simmer sauce, Spicy Nothing’s spicy and tangy curry, and Amalia’s Cocina spicy tamale sauce.

We thought we’d see more Korean products, although we did spot a couple, including a line of Korean BBQ sauces.

Funny, at the San Francisco farmers’ market the day before, we spotted several Korean products, including several flavors of canned kimchi. Perhaps next year’s Fancy Food Show will feature the spicy, fermented cabbage.

(As an aside, the cost to exhibit at the NASFT show is high for small operations. We’re guessing larger companies send reconnaissance teams out to keep an eye on what’s simmering in the local farmers’ markets across the country.)

Growth In Grains

Faro flour from Umbria, Peruvian protein powerhouse Kañiwa and organic Madagascar Pink rice are just a few of the grains (whole and in flour form) showcased this year.

Mainstream grocery stores in affluent areas might eventually see prepackaged grain blends in ethnic flavors like Indian coconut curry from Urbane Grain (distribution limited to Northern California at the moment).

Oil & Vinegar

Innovation in oils and vinegars include new fruit flavors, cooking oil made from tea, ethnic flavored cooking oils, and even innovation in packaging – more mist spray bottles for oils and vinegars.

We loved the soon-to-be-released Sudachi Lime from O Olive Oil and the oil & vinegar emulsions from the French company A L’Olivier, especially the mango vinegar & sesame oil emulsion.

Beverage Innovation

Tea is still an exploding category and tea vendors were touting more loose leaf tea blends and more flavors (orange red carrot, milk oolong, aged Earl Grey) .

Tisano is a brand new company with cacao tea. The spent shells from the cacao bean are re-purposed into a mildly chocolate flavored “tea.” The plain flavor didn’t do much for me but the mint flavor was interesting, and I can see steeping it in milk for panna cotta and serving a cup alongside.

Rose nectar from Sence is another new beverage mixer for cocktails that tastes more intense than rose water, and has a lovely pink hue.

Black Water is certainly a striking product. It’s spring water mixed with fulvic acid, which gives it a black hue. Fad? Probably.

Cheese, Please

One could literally spend days in the cheese aisles of the Fancy Food Show, but we found a quirky, new cheese a few aisles away from the cheese pavilion: Gouda-style coconut cheese.

Serious cheese? No. Fun and tasty? Definitely.

Seriously? More Bacon?

Bacon is dangerously close to pure gimmick (the Baconnaise founders are introducing bacon flavored popcorn and we saw maple-bacon flavored suckers) but we did stumble upon a serious — and seriously delicious — bacon jam.

Skillet Bacon Spread began as a condiment on the Seattle Skillet Street food truck. We certainly made a mental note to check out that food truck on our next Seattle trip.

Stay tuned for more posts from the 36th Annual WinterFancy Food Show, including our top ten “Best of Show” finds coming soon.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your feedback on these finds. What do you think?

2 replies
  1. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    I always loved going to the Fancy Food Shows as an exhibitor – but it is much more fun to be on the other side of the booths (buyer/press…)!


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