SAN FRANCISCO — Functional teas, instant noodles and global sauces were among emerging trends spotted at the Winter Fancy Food Show. The event, held Jan. 19-21 in San Francisco, featured more than 80,000 products on display from 1,400 exhibitors.
“As the specialty food industry hits a record year of growth with $148.7 billion in sales, we’re seeing that health benefits and sustainability concerns will continue to drive more food and beverage trends in 2020,” said Denise Purcell, head of content at the Specialty Food Association. “But there’s also room for fun, whether in the form of canned cocktails or global condiments.”
In its 45th year, the Winter Fancy Food Show is “busting at the seams,” said Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Food Association, which produces the event.
“We’ve come a long way in just three years,” Mr. Kafarakis said. “We were kind of outside the mainstream of food … but now we intend for the food industry to recognize us as the place where you shape the future of food.”
Nearly three in four consumers purchase specialty food products, which may be defined as premium, produced in small batches or featuring authentic recipes and high-quality ingredients, according to research from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel.
Beverages, snacks and plant-based foods are drivers of specialty segment sales, according to Mintel. Products positioned around diet claims, including low-sugar or high-protein, also draw interest.
Many of the products on display at the Winter Fancy Food Show — from hot sauce to hot dog buns — were developed to appeal to followers of the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. Snack mixes, baking mixes, frozen desserts, nutrition bars, confections, spreads and coffee creamers prominently featured keto claims.
Milking the oat trend
Oat milk continues to gain steam, starring in new non-dairy products where formulations based on almonds, coconut or cashews previously have dominated.
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based ice cream company Van Leeuwen unveiled a range of oat milk frozen desserts in flavors including caramel cookie, mocha latte, brown sugar chunk and dark chocolate peanut butter swirl. Planet Oat, a brand of non-dairy milk by dairy processor HP Hood L.L.C., Lynnfield, Mass., highlighted an expansion into oat milk-based frozen desserts at the show.
Califia Farms, Los Angeles, added oat-based creamers in unsweetened, vanilla and hazelnut varieties. Elmhurst Milked, L.L.C., Elma, N.Y., introduced single-serve oat milk in chocolate, vanilla and blueberry flavors and oat-based creamers in unsweetened, hazelnut, vanilla and chai spice varieties.
Miyoko’s Creamery, Sonoma, Calif., has added a first-of-its-kind spreadable cultured oat milk butter. From Rucksack Foods, Washington, Oatzarella is a dairy-free cheese alternative made from steel-cut oats and extra virgin olive oil.
Endangered Species Chocolate, Indianapolis, is launching oat milk chocolate bars. Varieties include dark chocolate, dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds, and dark chocolate with rice crisp.
“Our consumers really dictate where we take our new product lines,” said Whitney Bembenick, director of innovation at Endangered Species Chocolate. “We saw the growing trend of milk alternative products available, and we knew we needed to respond to market demand. We looked at all of the options — from almond to coconut milk — but nothing compared to the smooth, creamy taste that oat milk brought to the table. With a taste closest to cow’s milk combined with the health benefits of oat milk, we knew we hit on something that was going to check off all the boxes for a healthier and tastier plant-based milk chocolate bar.”
Emerging global cuisines
An Irish tomato relish and a Korean kimchi aioli were among globally inspired condiments launched at the show. Also featured were elevated ramen and instant noodles in the style of Indonesian and Singaporean cuisines.
“The trend of global cuisines with a regional focus definitely continues,” Ms. Purcell said. “We’re seeing products that are inspired by or made from traditional foods in the Caribbean and southwestern Asia, especially.”
Persian flavors and ingredients appeared in a trail mix application by Niloofar, a Chicago start-up, combining ingredients such as white mulberries, figs, golden berries and pistachios. The company debuted Persian-style almonds flavored with ingredients such as sumac, saffron and Persian shallots. Oyna Natural Foods, a Bay Area start-up, offered kuku, a Persian-style frittata made with herbs, vegetables, organic eggs and garbanzo flour.
Burmese cuisine — a fusion of Chinese, Laotian, Indian and Thai flavors — is at the heart of San Francisco-based Burma Love Foods’ portfolio. Products include spicy fermented tea leaf dressing, Burmese crunchy mix and a fermented tea leaf aioli.
“Global sauces and seasonings from different regions are showing up a lot, especially from places like Cambodia and Burma,” Ms. Purcell said.
Specialty snacks showcased at Winter Fancy Food included lotus root chips, popped water lily seeds, avocado puffs and tomato jerky.
“Plant-based is taking some different directions,” Ms. Purcell said. “Our Trendspotter Panel is predicting a move away from lab-grown meat alternatives to refocusing on fruits and vegetables and whole foods themselves.”
Adding convenience and customization to the category, several brands presented shelf-stable plant-based meal starters and mixes that may be combined with water or vegetables to create patties or crumbles. Great Life by Lucinda, Depoe Bay, Ore., offers just-add-water plant-based burger mixes containing brown rice, oats, lentils, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, vegetables, garbanzo flour and spices. The shelf-stable plant-based crumbles from Longeve, Los Angeles, contain only texturized pea protein. Urban Accents, Chicago, developed soy-based Ground Veggie Meatless Mixes in three globally-inspired flavors: sweet black garlic Korean barbecue, honey barbecue sloppy joe and chipotle street taco.
Urban Cheesecraft, San Francisco, produces dairy-free cheese and sauce mixes that may be customized with a base of nuts, seeds, vegetables or white beans.
“We’re seeing either new protein sources or pumping up proteins with vegetables or legumes in unexpected ways,” Ms. Purcell said.
An example from The Daily Crave, Folsom, Calif., are grain-free churro-style treats made with black beans, red lentils, potato and cassava. Outstanding Foods, Santa Monica, Calif., launched Pig Out Pigless Pork Rinds made with pea protein, and Beanfields, Los Angeles, debuted Vegan Cracklins formulated with beans, cassava flour and chickpea protein. Flavors include chile lime and spicy nacho.
“At Beanfields we’re trailblazing and creating new sub-segments in food and snack along the way,” said Arnulfo Ventura, chief executive officer of Beanfields. “Vegan Cracklins signify our first venture outside of chips, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the news.”
Upcycling gains ground
Environmentally friendly packaging for ice cream pints, tea and confections, as well as edible cutlery, were highlighted by brands at the show. Several companies demonstrated regenerative agriculture and sustainable sourcing and manufacturing practices.
“We’re seeing more and more sustainability-driven product development,” Ms. Purcell said. “That can mean plant-based, upcycled foods or packaging.”
Products featuring upcycled ingredients included a new brownie mix from Renewal Mill, San Francisco, made with okara, the leftover pulp from soymilk and tofu production. Claire Schlemme, co-founder and c.e.o., said the company plans to work with manufacturers of oat milk to transform the byproduct into a nutritious and functional ingredient.
Planetarians, Palo Alto, Calif., uses defatted sunflower seeds, the byproduct of vegetable oil extraction, in protein- and fiber-rich snacks.
Ugly Pickle Co., San Mateo, Calif., uses misshapen or bruised cucumbers, squash and carrots to make pickles or condiments.
Time for tea
Bagged, leaf and ready-to-drink teas introduced at the show tap into health and tradition. Examples included Egyptian hibiscus tea, Thai tea concentrate and South African rooibos tea. A range of bottled teas feature mamaki, Hawaiian-grown leaves harvested from volcanic soil.
“Tea is a mature category, but there are a lot of different takes on tea — functional, sparkling, some authentic global recipes,” Ms. Purcell said.
Vegan Rob’s, a Sea Cliff, N.Y., maker of puffed snacks, introduced a line of functional bagged teas featuring ingredients such as ashwagandha, ginseng, kava root and hemp. The products are positioned to provide relief from anxiety and depression.
Numi Organic Tea, Oakland, Calif., unveiled Sweet Slumber tea blend of valerian root, chamomile, hop, lavender and lemon balm leaf.
“Ingredients like valerian root, lavender and chamomile continue to trend and grow in popularity given their natural, effective relief from stress, anxiety and insomnia,” said Ahmed Rahim, c.e.o. and co-founder of Numi Organic Tea. “That’s why we’ve included these ingredients in Sweet Slumber, which can help people to calm down and sleep soundly at the end of the day.”