What’s new in New York? The top ten food trends from the Fancy Food Show 2018

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The Fancy Food Show in New York is now in its 64th year, with the 2018 edition attracting around 2,500 exhibitors and an estimated 35,000 visitors. A far cry from the first Show in the Astor Ballroom on Times Square that had just 82 exhibitor booths.

Its success has been built on the Show’s role in acting as a window out onto the world of new food innovation, and its record of helping new brands to grow from saplings into mighty oaks; brands like Popchips, Honest Tea, Ben & Jerry’s and Stonewall Kitchen all emerged from the Fancy Food Show.

The Brand Nursery has been attending the Show for a decade now and we’ve developed a keen eye for emerging trends and those curious, different, exciting new innovations that just might lead to something significant in the coming years. Here’s what we spotted in 2018…

 

1. Some like it hot

It was 100 degrees on the streets of New York this week, but it was pretty fiery in the (thankfully air-conditioned) halls of the Show too – and this was down to the number and variety of hot sauces on offer this year.

Some, like Pain Is Good were just scarily hot, and made a benefit of their challenge to the human palate. We were more drawn to those, like Secret Aardvark, that made more of a virtue of using natural ingredients, had more contemporary packaging, and had the kind of intriguing brand name that draws you in…

And then there was ‘It’s Hot, But It’s Sweet, But It’s Hot’ – another unignorable brand idea that extended beyond sauces into nuts and was, frankly, all a bit mad.

 

2. Cauliflower flourishing

There’s often a familiar ingredient that suddenly starts to get used in interesting and different ways – this year it was the humble cauliflower. Its high vitamin C and fibre content make it yet another natural food-source to use as a base for a whole variety of different products.

From The Ground Up had a range of pretzels and chips made using cauliflower, whilst Kitchen & Love were displaying a range of cauliflower-based microwaveable meal pots (moving on from their quinoa range that, presumably, is now so last year!)

Caulipower claims to be “revolutionising comfort foods by making them better for you”. They had pizzas made from cauliflower as well as baking mixes that are vegan, gluten free and dairy free – the finished products tasted just as good as if they’d been made using standard wheat flour.

 

3. Pasta plus

There were a host of pasta products this year that sought to differentiate themselves from ‘ordinary’ dried or chilled pasta lines.

Some, like Connecticut’s Nuovo were adding decorative colour to their chilled ravioli to enhance its visual appeal, whilst others were exploring new ingredients to deliver or add to pasta to enhance their nutritional profile.

Bella Italia had enhanced its range of authentic Italian pasta by introducing a new range of protein-rich pasta that uses vegetable ingredients. Pedon from Molvena in Italy adopted a similar approach for their More Than Pasta range.

And Trulli Sassi seeks to stand out in this crowded market through distinctive packaging that reflects the traditional rooftops of the Trulli region of Puglia.

 

4. Canned fish re-imagined

The humble can of fish has been around for…well, ever. Although its contents meet many on-trend criteria, that traditional flat canned packaging is in need of a bit of a makeover.

There were a fair number of examples through the Show halls of companies that were doing just that. Ecofish from New Hampshire had their Freshe range that added vegetables to create light meal options, and presented them via vibrant, contemporary pack designs, and Matiz from Spain was also displaying strikingly modern pack designs.

Safe Catch from California have gone a stage further and put their sustainably caught tuna into ambient pouch packs, and added contemporary flavours (Tandoori, Chilli Lime, Citrus Pepper) too. And Season’s ‘Savouries’ are a canned sardine lunchtime ‘kit’ that includes crackers, salad and a spoon along with the sardines.

 

5. Ginger

Another ingredient that was much in evidence at the Show was ginger – most especially within a whole range of new beverages. Ginger’s natural energy-giving properties appear to be at the heart of this (small) revolution.

Ginjan’s organic ginger juice is made in New York, but is inspired by the West African heritage of its Guinean founders – a really spicy, tasty drink that feels authentic and different.

The Ginger People offer a range of ‘Rescue Shots’ that really pack a punch and are the perfect way to wake up your senses (trust me, on day three of the Show that’s a valuable tonic). And Annie’s Ginger Elixir was just that – a spiky fermented potion housed in elegant packaging.

 

6. Shots

It wasn’t just ginger-based shots that were in evidence at the Show – there were several others using other herbs and spices (notably turmeric and ginseng) to deliver peppy shots that are positioned as a great way to kick-start your day.

With the whole energy drink sector battling both the impact of sugar taxes and something of a ‘dirty’ reputation, these natural boosters are well placed to offer a credible alternative to coffee for that ‘wake-me-up’ moment.

Oh…and there were coffee shots too. Forto coffee shots come in handy little pots, can be drunk hot or cold, include a Hershey chocolate flavour for those with a sweet tooth, and are unashamedly targeting those funky millenials.

 

7. Everyday vegan

The vegan sector appears to be reaping the benefits of a (very) virtuous circle at present – more media and marketing interest, more products becoming available, making it easier for consumers to dip their toes in the vegan waters.

Through recent research that we’ve undertaken, it’s becoming clear that vegan foods are no longer just used by a committed few; they are increasingly being eaten and enjoyed by a host of flexitarians who simply choose the vegan option from time to time.

There were plenty of products on display in New York that help to pull vegan food into the mainstream. So vegan hot dogs (Yeah Dawg from Brooklyn – where else…?), vegan pulled pork, vegan jerky (using mushrooms, and absolutely delicious) and vegan sausages were all in evidence – mostly from American brands like the guys from No Evil from North Carolina.

And there were several vegan mayonnaise products using ingredients like avocado or sea algae to replace egg, delivering a lighter, natural alternative to traditional mayo.

 

8. Anything but a bar

There were an awful lot of energy bars at the Show (there always are, and the ‘wall’ of these products in Wholefoods in Manhattan now fills a complete 24 foot fixture). To be honest, it’s very difficult to distinguish between them beyond the occasional clever brand name, so it’s no surprise that the burgeoning snack/energy sector is branching out into other formats.

We saw clusters (lots of clusters), balls, bites, sticks, mini’s, squares, thins, rounds…even ‘Brittles’ and ‘Cracklets’. Anything to find a slightly different angle to differentiate the pressing of dried fruit, nuts and seeds into an energy-giving snack.

 

9. The joy of eating

Whilst an awful lot of what was on display at the Show was being promoted for its health and well-being properties there were a range of brands that recognise that food should be celebrated for its ability to please us too.

Shan Foods from Pakistan offer a range of unremarkable looking (but probably very tasty) spices mixes, but they promote them as “giving you a bite of happiness every day”.

Joyfuls are chocolate treats that mix rich, dark chocolate with fruit, nuts or seeds and a hint of salt to bring pleasure to sweet snacking. And Joyfull (note the extra ‘l’) are a range of parmesan crisps offering a whole-heartedly savoury route to joy.

Enjoy Life bring a more positive, celebratory tone to the world of gluten and allergy-free foods – enabling those who need to watch what they consume to “eat freely”. Because, after all, food should be a pleasure!

 

10. Seeded on Amazon

There were a number of fledgling businesses that we met at the Show that have used Amazon as the first means of distribution for their new product ideas.

This online space allows them a degree of control over the quantities that they make available for sale and removes a lot of the complexity of the route-to-market process, particularly in the USA. For many it is becoming the easiest option to explore and demonstrate the potential for their offering.

Whilst some more experience wise industry figures we chatted to did offer words of caution about the commercial models that Amazon operate, it does appear that this channel may increasingly rival the gourmet and more premium supermarkets as a testing ground for new food ideas.

 

And finally…other notables

Back in the 1970’s the Fancy Food Show introduced the world to chocolate covered ants. They never really caught on (although there were snacking bars made from cricket flour on display in 2018…) but this kind of novel innovation does, sometimes, lead to something more substantial. Here are a few of the more unusual items we saw this year;

  • Peekaboo – ice cream with ‘hidden’ vegetables to make it easier to get some greens into your kids’ diet
  • Bohana – popped lily seeds (highly pop-ular in India) that offer an alternative to popcorn without those irritating hard kernels that always get stuck in your teeth
  • SugarSin from London had a range of adult candy sweets – gin and prosecco flavoured gummies
  • Food Paint from Noshi in New York – organic food colourants that kids can use to add fun colours to their cake and cookie decorating without their parents having to worry about e numbers
  • Owl’s Brew had drinks that were part beer and part tea. Perfect for the British…?

 

Words by Chris Blythe