The Rhythm Superfoods team headed out to San Francisco earlier this year for the Specialty Food Association’s 2017 Winter Fancy Food show. Rhythm Superfoods CEO Scott Jensen rounded up his favorite trends and products from this year’s show. Check it out!
I think I hit a 25 year Fancy Food Show anniversary this year attending the most recent one in San Francisco January 22, 23, 24. The first one I attended was the East Coast version, that year in Washington DC in the Summertime my then Stubb’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Eddy Patterson and I were there to scope out the show to see if it was something we wanted to exhibit at 6 months later in San Francisco. It was and we did. This year’s San Francisco show was very different in many ways than the first one I exhibited at but also very similar and comfortable as well. I’ve made a lot of friends in the Food Industry and I like seeing everyone and catching up on what they’re doing creatively in their current businesses. This is a very dynamic business, with low barriers to entry so it’s somewhat easy to enter and many do, so every year brings a mass of new entrants into the industry. This year’s show stats: over 33,000 industry professionals from around the country and world. It felt like double that, as the aisles were busy the whole time.
Big impression on me this year is the pace of category stratification when a segment in the industry gets hot. If you were to have developed a hot product 25 years ago, it might have taken someone else 2-3 years to figure it out and then another 2 years to make something that tasted good enough to compete with you. The data available was not nearly as robust and accurate, nor as quickly available to reveal trends so fast. If a product gets hot in the current environment, there are 2-4 competitors already showing their line of competitive items at the next trade show 3 or 6 months later, and they’ve already got financial backing to gain credibility. That’s good for consumers and great for the industry… with so many choices to look for to tantalize your food and beverage consumption experience. But, that makes it that much harder to rise to greatness and make your dream come true in this industry. An interesting result of that speed to market and creativity is that it makes us all better as food creators. We’ve all gotten better and faster at adapting to trends and defining a brand architecture that appeals to a tribe of consumers.
Another impression that follows this thinking laterally is the incredible packaging and booth designs that I witnessed at the show. I think our packaging and booth represents our brand mission well. It takes a lot of thought, talent, time and money to get to that point. When I think about how the technology of design (design hardware and software) has improved it’s no wonder that so many of the booths and product packaging is so good at this and other shows now compared to two decades ago. If you are planning to start a food company or already have and plan to attend one of the big food shows this year, you better bring your “A” game. Everyone else will; I can assure you of that. It’s so good, I would opine that the worst of this year’s Fancy Food Show booth design and packaging design would have been some of the best in the first one I exhibited at. Our original booth was hand painted canvas and plastic shelves from Home Depot… and man did we thing we were great. We were!
Finally, some thoughts about products and segments that I thought were clever and had wheels. Some of you have seen the quick growth of these segments for a year or two, so they may not be revolutionary to you now, however, some of the current offerings of these products are simply much better than what was available just a year ago.
Here’s my list of 5 favorites from walking the entire length of every single aisle before the show opened on Tuesday morning. If you had a drape over your booth at this show overnight to protect your product, I didn’t get a chance to see what you had so please forgive.
Broth and Bone Broth (1 a & b): It’s growing and people love it, frozen, Tetra packed or glass Jar. It’s got a lot of fans and it’s merchandised in multiple locations in stores and is purportedly great for various health forward thinkers. I tasted a S.F. bay area brand called Nona Lim’s that had the most incredible umami Thai Curry & Lime Bone Broth and Carrot Ginger Soup so flavorful that I could have finished a full pot of both. Available online and in the bay area at natural food stores.
(2) Color Kitchen Foods: It’s about time someone developed an alternative to the baking decorative aisle’s current offering and Color Kitchen Foods has done just that. They’re using easy to understand and plant based colors to make sprinkles and cake decorating color additives with sugar, corn starch…and things like spirulina and vegetable juices to make the colors you absolutely need on your cupcakes. I’m sure there’s a good reason for not launching these USDA Organic, but that maybe that’s next… it would have been flawless in my opinion.
Snack Foods (#3, #4 & #5): We’re in the snack business so I know how hot and competitive it is. There are highly creative entrepreneurs making products that simply couldn’t be made ten years ago. Ingredients like pea protein flour, almond flour, chia, amaranth, tsampa and all the legume, bean and pulse ingredients that were simply unknown ten years ago and now are showing up in dozens of new snacks and other products; delivering protein and fiber and vitamins and phytonutrients at levels that were unheard of a decade ago.
(3) Speaking of great snacks, Siete Family Foods just launched a great Grain Free Tortilla Chip… with the lead ingredient being Cassava flour; these crunchy little delights were really tasty and are a great follow-on to their first product launch, the awesome Siete Almond Flour Fresh Tortillas. Really yummy grain free alternatives to the previous norm of flour or corn fresh tortillas and fried corn tortilla chips.
(4) Arctic Zero Peanut Butter Swirls Frozen Dessert. Confession: I love peanut butter and my oldest son has severe tree nut and peanut allergies… anything with peanut is an indulgent treat for me when I travel. We’re all beginning to get our taste buds used to frozen desserts and other “typical” dairy products when they’re not made with dairy or lactose, some are great, some not so great. But this frozen dessert hits all my triggers, with a delicious peanut butter ribbon swirl and some chocolate bits and pieces in a lactose free base. Beyond avoiding the lactose, these treats cover the following bases: low-glycemic, lactose-free, gluten-free treats with whey protein, organic cane sugar, chicory root and monk fruit as sweetener.
(5) Beside the fact that I know/love the founders and they’re located in Austin, I found Epic’s new Wagyu Beef Steak Strip delicious and just the right texture for such a snack. Some folks are struggling to love the texture of a meat bar… it’s something new to their palette. I’ve gotten over it myself and, although I eat a lot of plant based snacks personally, the new Wagyu meat snack from Epic is truly that: Epic.
So, lots of innovation and variety out there at the Fancy Food show. “Better for you” snacks, beverages and indulgences show the most velocity of innovation in my opinion. Many of the new products hitting the shelves in the “Better for you” archetype are actually breaking the rules of what we used to think of as “good for you”. The FDA and USDA used to have the final and only word on what we could or shouldn’t eat daily, but that’s changed significantly since my childhood. One week eggs are good for you then they’re bad for you and then they’re good for you again. Who can keep track? So, consumers are now seeking their own set of inputs through social media sources and thought leaders that help them make their own decision as to what is good for them. The lack of a defining authority on what we should all eat daily has left the vacuum for entrepreneurs to fill with creativity and product innovation that is transforming our food culture in this country. Stay tuned, there’s a lot more to come…and fast.