SAN FRANCISCO — For many years it seemed as if five words summed up the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show — cheese, chocolate and olive oil. But as the food and beverage industry has evolved and smaller companies have become increasingly active in a wide variety of product categories and extended their reach into many mainstream markets, the businesses exhibiting at the Winter Fancy Food Show have diversified.
|Louise Kramer, communications director for the S.F.A.|
“It’s not surprising a lot of those (cheese, chocolate and olive oil) products are at the show, but we have long had a wide variety of exhibitors,” said Louise Kramer, communications director for the S.F.A. “Tastes have become more adventuresome. Maybe 10 years ago you would also see a lot of pretzels and bagel chips and croissants at the show. Now it is bean chips and gluten —free items.
“The breadth of products really reflects what consumers are looking for and what specialty food makers are doing to meet that demand. Ultimately, the consumer is the decider; some trends stay and some go.”
Ms. Kramer added that how the food and beverage industry is perceived has helped grow membership in the S.F.A., which includes approximately 3,200 members.
“The vision of being in the food business has changed a lot,” she said. “Chefs are revered and many food companies are coming up with solutions for feeding the planet sustainably. This is driving a lot of innovation and, in some ways many of these issues have become a complex puzzle to solve for these entrepreneurs.”
While there is much hype around many small companies, Ms. Kramer said the S.F.A. and the Winter Fancy Food Show offer exhibitors an opportunity to address many of their most pressing problems, most notably gaining distribution.
“Gaining distribution and ramping up after a company’s initial ‘honeymoon stage’ are huge challenges,” she said. “What do you do when you can’t ship product yourself? What tradeoffs have to be made as a company grows? The association and the show are meant to offer education that can help members better understand these issues.”
While the products being exhibited at the show cover a wide variety of categories, so too do the buyers who will be walking the show floor.
“We are seeing a change in the mix of buyers coming to the show,” Ms. Kramer said. “It is no longer just specialty retailers. Amazon, Costco, cruise line buyers and those from universities will be there as well.
“Basically, this is being driven by consumers. People want choice and specialty food is a way for any retailer or food service operator to stand out.”
New to the 2016 Winter Fancy Food show will be the Shelf Showdown, a specialty food pitch competition. In keeping with the theme of innovation, first-time exhibitors will have the chance to pitch a new product to a panel of buyers in a live competition taking place in front of an audience of show attendees. All contestants will get exposure and feedback for their products and the winner will receive a promotional package from the S.F.A.
“This is a pilot,” Ms. Kramer said. “It is very challenging for a small company to grow in the marketplace. This is an opportunity for new exhibitors to pitch their products to retailers. It gives them exposure and an opportunity to learn about going to market.”
The show will run from Jan. 17 to Jan. 19 and be held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.