Last week was the annual East Coast Fancy Foods show held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. We do not present our products at this show but I make a point to attend every year to try and keep my finger on the pulse of new and developing trends in the prepared food industry. This year was especially interesting as I walked the show with a large group covering many aspects of the food industry. Our group included people from all aspects of the business, including airlines, caterers, importers, group buyers and specialty manufacturers. The bulk of our group all share membership in the RCA (Research Chef Association) and therefore, also know a good number of the over 2,000 vendors represented at the show.
This is a massive show, covering multiple floors and rooms of the convention center, with a very unique layout. The bottom floor is dedicated to new or up and coming products and is segmented by state or country of origin for each manufacturer (which gives a great insight into regional trends). Many of these products are created for and launched at this show, with the hopes of finding an anchor customer at the show to bring the product to market. Unfortunately, many of these products never come to market. This is also very true as you walk the show and see the same trend (or niche product) being shown in similar forms at multiple vendor’s booths. The second floor is for established companies (some of which will also show new products in addition to their established product line) and is segmented by an International area (by country) and domestically by category (i.e. cheese or chocolate).
Working with a team we set parameters to identify and record trends and to identify opportunities relative to each person’s company for items that would work in their wheelhouse or where raw material supply could be an option (like with our crab meat). The rule is that once you see the same item/concept 3 or more times at the show it is added to the list. Attending every year also gives a perspective of development of a category or trend over the years.
Here is the rough list from the show;
– One trend that continues to grow is detailed benefit call outs on packaging and marketing materials. This could be anything from “Non-GMO” to “gluten free” or the new super popular “good source of protein”. Sometimes it seems like the benefits of the product drive the interest more than the product itself.
– Alternative sweeteners – this trend continues to grow and become truly mainstream, white sugar is out, this year honey and maple syrup in all forms took the lead (years past it was Agave). One of our favorite products was a smoked maple syrup from Vermont, clean label.
– Alternative Protein continues to move to the forefront, it isn’t just tofu any more. Plant based protein in all types of products from meal replacement to energy bars
– Eggs are big in all types of forms and applications. From premade egg white crepes to the surprising number of vendors showing artisan marshmallows (at least 10 different examples at the show)
– International flavors in spices and finished goods. From Africa to Jamaica to India, expect to see these flavors in items and on menus this year.
– Flavored waters and unique non-alcoholic beverages. From maple water to cold brew coffee and premium teas. Teas and items flavored with tea was another big category.
– Nut and seed based items, almond milk morphs into nut or flax based crackers
– Peanut replacers – nut butter anyone
– Artisan chocolates and fudge (fudge was big!)
– Activated Charcoal, from snacks to toothpaste
– Snacks with health benefits, activated ingredients, energy bars
– Kid driven items – from edible chocolate birthday candles to “food paint” (squirt bottles with pureed fruits and vegetables)
– Popcorn – in all forms from simple to super fancy
– Artisan and specialty ice cream – from handmade/regional to dairy free, this category keeps going
– Pickled everything – even some pickled cucumbers
– Regional specific items – my favorite was sea salt from Maine and Oregon. You need this to cook your lobsters or Dungeness crab!
– Dry or dehydrated items – from soup mixes to dips and veggie chips taking off where the crispy snow peas opened the door a few years ago
– There were also allot of categories that continue to grow
o Fermented items – Kimchi continues to develop
o Jerky and meat sticks everywhere – this year added palnt and vegetable based items, mushroom jerky sound good?
o Gluten free – everything (even if just a non necessary call out)
o Plant based protein