Each year, the Specialty Food Association, known for being ahead of the curve in food distribution trends and market behavior, hosts a Fancy Food Show in the Big Apple. At this year’s show, 2,400 exhibitors from 50 countries showcased 180,000 products.
As always, there was cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and caviar as far as the eye could see. But between bites and sips, we noted some of the biggest trends driving consumers who are just as concerned with where their food is sourced and how it impacts their health as with how it tastes.
Ice Cream is the new SlimFast
Meal replacements are no longer limited to mix-and-drink shakes and snack bars; Innovators are rethinking meal replacement and providing alternative options for consumers who want to “eat on-the-go.” A new addition to the category are frozen dairy desserts like Halo Top and Brio that are lower in fat, higher in protein and fortified with vitamins, minerals and fiber. While they face potential regulatory, psychological and consumer education challenges, it’s evident that consumers are looking to raise – or in this case forgo – the bar when it comes to meal replacement products.
Please call the water sommelier
For consumers looking for purity and taste experience, a number of high-end glass-bottle artisanal water companies, such as Tau and Antipodes, have also emerged allowing consumers to pair water in the same way that they would pair wine with food.
Does sugar by any name taste just as sweet?
Many see sugar as the new evil to beat. However, taste buds still demand sweetness. To accommodate this dilemma, manufacturers like Heavenly Organics, Jammit Jam and Bruce Cost Ginger Ale are loudly advertising their move away from high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, instead celebrating their source of sweetness by leveraging ingredients like specially sourced honey, cane, palm, date, monk fruit and coconut sugar.
Seaweed is the new “it” superfood
Once the go-to healthy ingredient, kale is being replaced by its cousin, seaweed. From fresh salads to savory kelp chips like these roasted snacks by Annie Chun’s, seaweed was everywhere and in everything at this year’s event.
Local. Sustainable. Natural
If the “Organic” sign next to the Jelly Belly display is any indication, health halo labeling isn’t going away any time soon. The organic– as well as the non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan labels – were prerequisites for many buyers. Sourcing verifications – including fair trade labels were also essential. Some food manufacturers like Safe Catch tuna are taking this to the next level by testing every fish they use for mercury.
Food is medicine
The modern consumer is looking for food that not only tastes good, but that also provides functional benefits. Companies are touting the medicinal properties of probiotics, fermentation, bone broth and more, and are devising new products to fit these needs. Fermented Brussels sprouts, Pok Pok Som drinking vinegar or probiotic cheese are a few that emerged at this year’s show.
It’s not “processed food," it's molecular gastronomy
While consumers look for less processed and more “natural” foods, they are seriously excited about the gourmet aspect of food processing: molecular gastronomy. Once only the purview of Michelin star chefs and the World’s 50 Best List, consumer food companies are transforming tastes and textures of food to create freeze-dried fruits like Crispy Green, saffron sprays from Saffron Merchants Company, or disappearing raviolis by Caviaroli.
Western culture has a long history of discovering things that aren’t new. We are centuries away from the introduction of noodles from China to Italy by Marco Polo, but the tradition of re-naming, re-introducing and re-owning foods has not died. Flavors lauded in cultures around the world, including Korea’s gochujang, Japan’s matcha, India’s numerous spices, are now being recognized as creative, “new” creations. Even the everyday Indian Ayurvedic spice has now been rediscovered as a fancy “Tumeric Latte” by companies like Wunder Workshop. While Wunder Workshop showcases the historic and cultural roots of its product, many similar companies and products sometimes forget, or sadly forgo, the recognition of its origins.
Some like it hot
As food manufacturers continue to remove sugar, salt and fat from their products, they are looking for new ways to fill the flavor gap. The latest trend: heat. From jalapeno chocolates to jalapeno bone broth from EPIC Provisions to grapefruit chili soda, capsicum is found in unexpected, but not unwelcome places.
Where does your food-spiration come from?
Brooklyn hipsters are no longer the source of all the hottest and up-and-coming trends in food. This year’s show demonstrated that the foodie authority is coming from a different coast. The new taste-makers are kids coming in right off Venice Beach or Silicon Valley, showcasing sriracha puffs
, high end Matcha tea drinks
, or brewed cacao nibs that embody the unique cultural and culinary cool.
Have you spotted these trends, or others? What do you think foodies and food professionals should be on the lookout for throughout 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comments.