Our top pick of the Summer 2006 Fancy Food Show goes to frozen hors d’oeuvre specialist Kabobs. Order whatever you need (including this main course-size Chicken Wellington). You’ll never call a caterer again!
Summer 2006 Fancy Food Show
Best of Show ~ July 2006 ~ New York City
Enormous was the word for it. A team of six from THE NIBBLE™ spent three full days going up and down the aisles of the NASFT’s* 52nd Summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Someone said there were six miles of exhibits. It seemed much longer.
*The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT.org) is the professional association for specialty food producers. Its 2,390 members produce nearly 180,000 specialty food products.
It was the NASFT’s largest show yet—and we can anticipate saying the same thing next year, as the $35 billion specialty food industry is projected to continue double-digit growth. We nibbled along with an estimated 24,500 buyers plus fellow journalists and few thousand trade exhibitors from 1,200 domestic companies and 71 nations, who were showing upwards of 160,000 different products.
What did we find?
For the first time in years of attending the summer show, no new “hot flavor” emerged. Usually we see a flavor profile ripple through the different food categories. In the past, flavors such as chipotle, ginger, jalapeño or yuzu could be found in everything from condiments to cookies. This year, at both January and June shows, producers continued to build on two recent popular flavors: wasabi and last year’s hot flavor, pomegranate.
- Wasabi was found in everything savory, from crackers to mustards and vinaigrettes to nut mixes.
- Pomegranate spanned sweet and savory foods —beverages of every description including teas and energy drinks, condiments including salsas, and sweets.
Photo: A NIBBLE Top Pick from last summer’s show, Sheer Bliss pomegranate ice cream (shown here in bar form), illustrates that pom still reigns supreme as the hot flavor in specialty foods.
We would have predicted more blueberry and açai—both high antioxidant foods that, like green tea, have gotten much press. However, there was not much more açai than we observed at the January show (the berry, much more tart than cranberry, works most easily in beverages where it can be sweetened); and blueberry has yet to coalesce from sporadic appearances in beverages, preserves, sorbets and salsas into a united specialty foods front.
Here trends were quite visible:
More Organics. From chocolate to tea to juice to you-name-it: not just everyday organic grocery products but special-occasion and gift foods were everywhere. There are three other food shows dedicated to organic foods, where buyers go specifically to shop those categories. The noticeable number of products at the Fancy Food Show that are now organic parallels the growing importance of organics to consumers.
More Allergen-Free Foods.
This group was also prominent for the first time. Some products were for a universal audience, like breads and crackers; but several companies targeted to the children’s market, including cookies, cake and candy—and they were delicious.
More Energy Drinks. Leveraging the popularity of Red Bull, a dozen entrants poured beverages promising as much energy and better taste. Some were, in fact, better-tasting Red Bulls; most were very different flavor profiles. The majority were presented as dual cocktail mixers.
Photo: Sol Maté provides calm energy from naturally occurring caffeine and theobromine, naturally high in antioxidants (comparable to green tea or 1/2 cup of wild blueberries) and Certified Organic. Indigenous South Americans have drunk yerba maté for a thousand years. In its sparkling, flavored form, we think Sol Maté is a hit.
More Gift-Packaged Tea. Lines of pretty tea bags have always been part of the specialty food business. Although brewed hot tea is still a tiny fraction of tea consumed in the U.S. (about 80 percent of sales is bottled tea), new tea concepts debuted—most largely nice packaging, but all capable of helping Americans drink more antioxidants.
With 160,000 products proffered, it would have taken far more than our team of six and three days of tasting to say we tried them all. But, after years of show-going, we deftly bypassed those we knew well, re-checked those we knew slightly, sought out the new, and focused on products that could be purchased by our national readership (which largely means available online or through national retail chains).
And The Winners Are...
Of the products in our baker’s dozen of winners, four distinguished themselves as so compelling that, full as we were from the prior day’s tasting and as far as we had yet to go, we raced back to eat more at the beginning of the next day. It is to them that we award THE NIBBLE’s gold, silver and bronze stars (there’s a tie for the bronze) of distinction at the 52nd Summer Fancy Food Show.
But all 13 products are very special. We look forward to writing complete reviews of them in the coming months. Presented in alphabetical order by category, they are:
. It takes a lot to make an impression in the beverage industry, and the folks behind Sol Maté have hit on it: ride the organic wave, the energy drink wave, and come up with something that tastes great. We have friends who swear by hot yerba maté for energy and health—and we wish we liked the taste of it enough to jump on the bandwagon. It provides a calm lift without the jitters found in coffee and contains powerful antioxidants, comparable to those found in green tea and red wine; and is loaded with vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B complex, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, phosphates, chlorophyll, hydrochloric acid, pantothenic acid, and choline. Reborn as an energy drink, sparkly and refreshing Sol Maté offers the same calming energy, leaving behind the jittery effects of caffeine-based energy drinks. It’s the energy of sunshine.
Candy, Chocolate & Sweets
- Cherrybrook Kitchen. Calling itself “the sweet solution for food allergies,” this line of cake, cookie and pancake mixes in very attractive packaging is so tasty, you wouldn’t know it’s dairy- and egg-free. Wheat/gluten-free mixes are also available, and the entire line is nut-free. Kids will love to learn to cook with these mixes, and adults will fancy them as well.
- John Kelly Chocolates. We don’t bother with most fudge—it’s too cloying. Hollywood’s John Kelly gets it right: intense chocolate flavor, perfect texture, in 12 flavors that rock. It’s even certified kosher by KSA.
Photo at right: John Kelly’s fudge comes wrapped “normally,” but each bite feels like a special gift from the Fudge Gods.
- Signature Chocolates by Rena. A new consumer effort by a California company that has been supplying patissiers with components like chocolate swan boats and beautiful chocolate toppers for pastries, Rena’s Gourmet Truffle Pop collection, chocolate lollipops filled with superb flavored ganaches blew us away. They’re not on the website yet, but we’ll be reviewing them this fall.
The only organic chocolate producer in the U.S. (other companies import organic couverture to make their chocolate, Seattle-based Theo buys the beans, roasts and makes their own), this is an eye-opening line of organic chocolate. A rustic style with cutting-edge flavors, theo gets an “A” for originality and taste.
- Chef Stefan. We’ve been looking for a handsome artisan salt tasting collection like this for some time. Stefan offers either 10 or 15 of the finest salts from around the world—enough to develop a fundamental knowledge of this exciting category.
- D.L. Jardine’s. We’ve tasted a lot of salsas, and D.L. Jardine’s line is consistently superb—from classics like chipotle and salsa verde through artichoke and bean to fresh flavors like cilantro lime. There are nine fruit salsas from peach, mango, and pineapple raspberry chardonnay and a cranberry orange for Thanksgiving and new pomegranate; and three organic salsas.
- Harvest Songs Preserves. In the Ararat Valley of Armenia, perfect, handpicked fruits are minimally processed in small batches to create this line of exquisite preserves. In standards like Apple and Pear, Apricot, Strawberry and Peach plus Tea-Rose and Petal, Pumpkin and Apple, Quince, and Walnut, each is exquisite.
- Livio Pesle. Livio Pesle retired as a shipping executive to make wine, and ended up making an elegant line of wine sauces and cocktail jellies instead. These are low fat or no fat, healthy condiments for connoisseurs. Each item is so nuanced with flavor, that to give the entire set to a gourmet will make your gift as memorable as a set of Bordeaux first growths.
Photo: Livio Pesle’s Picolit Wine Jelly, made from one of the oldest wines of Friuli, matches beautifully with goose liver, ricotta and goat cheese.
Appetizers, Mains and Sides
- Gagné Foods. If you lovingly remember a basket of biscuits so good you couldn’t stop eating them, you can now have an endless supply. Michael Gagné’s Robinhood Free Meetinghouse 72-Layer Cream Cheese Biscuits, made at a five-star restaurant in Maine, are those irresistible biscuits. Buy lots and lots!
- Kabobs. There have been good entrants in the frozen hors d’oeuvre category for a few years, but for breadth of selection, quality of execution and consumer-friendliness, we flipped for Kabobs—of which only one of many selections is a kabob. Everything you could desire is here, and it all tastes as good as it looks in the photos. Shipped to you frozen, you just heat and serve. Those folks in Lake City, Georgia know how to throw a party.
- Nodine’s Smokehouse. We tasted every bacon at the show, and a lot of it was quite yummy. Top honors, though, go to the bacon from the Nodine family of Torrington, Connecticut.
- Stoneridge Orchards. There were many fruit snacks at the show—dried, crisped, and otherwise. Stoneridge takes a new approach—it soaks its whole fruits in fruit juice before drying to achieve a sweeter product. The all natural peaches, blueberries, cranberries, Montmorency cherries, raspberries, and strawberries were incredibly delicious. They may have a tad more calories than plain dried fruits—but they taste infinitely better. In convenient grab-and-go bags for snacking, they’re also exceptional for recipes.
Thanks to the NASFT and the exhibitors for another delicious show!