Essential Cane, our Bronze Star winner from the 2009 Winter Fancy Food Show, dazzled with a dozen flavors of cane sugar, including Green Chili, Habañero and Sweet Onion. Who took the Silver? See the next page.
ANDY WHITMAN is a career food professional, abandoning the Kool-Aid of his youth for the greater rewards of specialty foods.
Winter Fancy Food Show 2009
Specialty Food Trends, Observations & Winners
CAPSULE REPORT: The Winter Fancy Food Show, held in San Francisco from January 18-20, attracted 16,000 buyers, brokers and media to taste 80,000 products. Contributing Editor Andy Whitman shares his observations, and THE NIBBLE editors award Gold, Silver and Bronze Stars to our three favorite products from the show. This is Page 1 of a three-page review. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.
Amazing! In the midst of an economic downturn, the 34th Winter Fancy Food Show matched all-time records with 16,000 attendees at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, who arrived with enthusiasm to peruse the 1,250 exhibitors—including more than 100 newcomers. Having walked all 198,000 square feet of the show several times, I tried dutifully to sample each of the 80,000 specialty food and beverage products. Tough job, but someone has to do it. If you think all that walking offsets all those calories—it doesn’t.
Why was the show so busy during such gloomy economic times? The show organizers, industry trade association NASFT, and market research firm Mintel, remind us that few parts of the retail/grocery world show proof that more than 90% of their categories have been growing since 2004. Amid current economic conditions, consumers are dining more often at home, and specialty foods and beverages will benefit. It’s easier to treat yourself to good food products than a good restaurant meal.
Trends & Observations
Amid the proliferation of tea, toffee and salt caramel, here’s what stood out at the show:
Agave Is The New Honey
Well, only if you’re referring to agave syrup (also called agave nectar), which is sweeter than honey but a bit less viscous. Many prefer agave to sugar or other natural sweeteners based on both taste and reduced impact to blood sugar levels (reduced glycemic spikes). In addition to being used in many emerging foods and beverages like PranaBar energy bars, Q Tonic premium tonic water and Artisana Nut Butters (a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week), some manufacturers are trying to ladder up the taste and health-oriented benefits to be more than just a sweetener. Two tasty frozen novelties doing exactly this are Organic Nectars raw agave gelatos (not exhibiting) and newcomer Agave Dream ice creams and granitas. Yummmm. Painful, I know, but I tried each flavor—twice!
Photo: Is agave syrup the new honey? It tastes more like sugar and is lower on the glycemic index.
Seasonings Busting Out All Over
Fabulous Flavored Salts. While a bit of a niche product, BaconSalt, which we discovered at the last Fancy Food Show, is a “zero calorie, zero fat, vegetarian and kosher* seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon.” In order to keep the flavors flowing, a few artisan manufacturers have infused their sugars and salts with, some would say, more mainstream flavors. While Europe has pioneered fennel salt, truffle salt, saffron salt and other elegant flavors (read THE NIBBLE’s 2007 review of Ritrovo’s gourmet seasoned salt imports), American companies are hopping. Barhyte’s Lords Of Salt line showcases six flavors, including Chardonnay, Chocolate, Hazelnut, Olive, Pinot Noir and Serrano Lime. Not to be outdone, SaltWorks’ Fusion salt line has sixteen flavors. Our editorial director tasted most of them straight, and declared them (as well as Barhyte’s) to be splendid. Imagine what you can do with salt flavors like Espresso, Habañero Pepper, Lemon Twist, Spicy Curry, Sun Ripened Tomato, Thai Ginger and Wild Porcini!
Photo: Chocolate-flavored sea salt adds intense smoky, savory and creamy chocolate flavors to cocktails, salads, grilled meats and desserts—not to mention chocolate bars and caramels.
*Our Editorial Director is fond of saying that she should give up publishing and invent kosher bacon.
Sweet & Savory Flavored Sugars. For our sweeter side, SaltWorks has debuted Essential Cane all-natural flavored cane sugars with many options. While The French Farm has quietly sold bags of sugar flavored with Cinnamon, Coconut, Ginger, Lavender, Lemon, Orange, Oriental Spice, Rose and Vanilla, they have not presented them with the panache and consumer appeal that Saltworks has achieved with the new Essential Cane line, nor have they thought outside the box by mixing sweet sugar with savory flavors.
Thus, while you would not be surprised to find such Essential Cane flavors as Clove, Cocoa, Espresso, Ginger, Lemon, Lime, Raspberry and Vanilla Bean, how about Green Chili, Habañero and Sweet Onion?
Whoa, that Habañero Sugar is hot, but it’s no gimmick. What would you do with it? Spice up fudge or cookies, sprinkle it on sliced apples and jicama, season seafood or mole sauce, rim glasses of Virgin or Bloody Marys. Sweet and hot is cool!
Butter It Up. Epicurean Butter, a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week, added exciting new flavors, including Basil Walnut Pesto and Chimichurri, to its compound butter line (flavored butters that make instant sauces and add flavor to fish, meats, vegetables and more). It now rivals the Saltworks lines for diversity of options. The company also debuted European-Style Butters for the table, mixed with sea salt and olive oils.
Other savory flavors include Balsamic Vinegar, Béarnaise, Black Truffle Butter, Blue Cheese Sun Dried Tomato, Chardonnay Shallot, Chili Lime, Lemon Pepper, Marsala Wine, Roasted Garlic Herb, Scampi Butter, Porcini Sage, Tomato Chipotle and Tuscan Herb. Sweet butters (for toast, muffins, pancakes baking and more) include Cranberry Walnut, Honey Pecan, Orange Honey, Pumpkin Spice and Sweet Cinnamon.
Let the buttering begin!
Photo by Brian Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.
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