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What I Ate at the Winter Fancy Food Show

The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco is an epic, three-day showcase for the future of food and beverages. Countless companies vie to tell their story, show off their best food packaging, and compel you to sample their wares. We came, we saw, we tasted. In what has become an annual pilgrimage to all things packaged, both food and beverage, I spent a full three days at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, eating knuckle-sized bites and bits of every imaginable snack food while slurping on fancy coffee drinks, enhanced waters and everything in-between. What’s in the future of our food and what will be on your dinner table this year? Or on your desk at the office?We thought we knew a lot about consumer packed goods before we started, but, whoa. There’s a lot to know about what’s coming down the pipe and to a store near you. Here are the tastes and trends we left the Show excited about.

A Shift is Underway

As Food Navigator predicted just a week before the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, the big shift across categories is a movement towards portion-sized packaging. Sometimes called meal replacements, snacks are getting bigger. Layered on top of this snack and snack-sharing trend is the practice of adding nutritional ingredients, a.k.a. nutraceuticals – protein, probiotics, vitamins and minerals – to previously not-so-healthy snacks.  I used to call the Fancy Food Show “the salsa, ham and cheese show” as sauces, meats, and cheese companies dominated the stands. While that is still true, more companies are going after nutritional and environmental benefits (grass-fed beef, GMO-certification, and organic everything was the norm) of their products, to such a degree that I sometimes thought I was at the Natural Products Expo West. But I wasn’t. I was in NorCal, leaning in to hear the noise from these rockin’ food and beverage companies.

And now, the foods, snacks, and drinks of the immediate future.

Meat snacks

From meat sticks to strips, chubs, and jerky, high-protein snacks are exploding with countless companies urging me to try their differentiated meat and seafood packaged snacks. Staking out a space, let alone defining your marketing message in this newly crowded category, meant a variety of flavors and claims of environmental and health benefits cascading down from the booths. Boosted with anchovy sauce, honey-glazed, flame-grilled Pork Jerky from Golden Nest was also 100% gluten-free. Skinny Salamis had eight unique flavors, including Pork with Truffles and Street Cart Shawarma Lamb.

EPIC Provisions showcased bars that incorporate the use of the whole animal and support regenerative agriculture. In a move away from the term “jerky,” Lorissa’s Kitchen rehydrates their meat, giving their Ginger Teriyaki Chicken a softer chew and a fun name: Premium Chicken Cuts. (The steak is called Premium Steak Strips.) And Lawless Jerky came up with a line of Asian flavors, including Japanese Curry and Ph. There isn’t enough space here to share them all but you get the meat of it.

New Flavors for Cheese

Cheese is as old as bread, so finding new ways to pique a consumer’s interest means a lot of fun for an eater walking the cheese aisles at the show.  I tried gouda infused with fenugreek from Holland’s Marieke Gouda, Blueberry Vanilla goat cheese from Montchevre, Pumpkin Spice goat cheese from Fiscalini, Jamaican Jerk spiced cheese from Beecher’s, and Vanilla Bean from Heber Valley. La Cigone served up Tomme seasoned with hop cones and Paolo Sartori gave us seasonal Peppermint Bellavitano with a gorgeous pink rind. Rounding out the newcomers were coconut cheese and cookies and cream cheese balls. Could it be that the iconic Midwestern cheeseball has launched a flavored cheese revolution? Sure looks like it from where I stand.

S’mores and Marshmallows

 

Though I did not see a s’mores cheese, I saw s’mores flavor in everything from crackers (34 Degrees cinnamon cracker with chocolate pieces and mini-marshmallows) to snack bites (Bond Bar Caramel S’mores Bond Bites) and single serve s’mores flavored coffee from Java Factory. S’mores in ice cream? But, of course! Coolhaus launched their new Salty S’mores ice cream flavor at the show and really, what could be better than marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate chips swirled into ice cream? That’s right, NOTHING!

The marshmallow world is on an innovation roll, too, with Smashmallow launching snack size mallows, not made from corn syrup, but instead with 100% organic cane sugar. Mint Chocolate Chip was studded with crunchy bits of minty chocolate and Strawberries & Cream tasted like real strawberries layered with cream. On the opposite side of the show floor, Hammond’s Candies gave us pillow-shaped and chocolate dusted Mellow Fluffs. And Japan, where marshmallows have a gourmet reputation, brought Matcha Green Tea Marshmallows to the show. Branded as Hello Kitty by Sanrio, these jawbreaker size mallows were stuffed with matcha jelly. Say what?!

Know Thy Beverage

Slingshot, a creamy yogurt drink company, is emblematic of the trend to boost drinks with ingredients that provide nutritional health and wellness. Packed with 18 to 21 grams of protein and boosted with beneficial probiotics, Slingshots have a wrapper around the bottle’s neck stuffed with oats, almonds and chia seeds (oh, those omegas!) that are to be poured into the bottle and shaken. Yes, Slingshot is a power foods poster child.

Harmless Coconut uses the whole edible coconut for its Coconut Water. Studded with bits of coconut meat, it also boasts 12.5 billion CFUs for probiotics and no added sugar.

LifeAID Beverage Co. has got the nutritional water angles covered with waters boosted with supplements for every nutritional need from TravelAID to GolferAID.  And hydrogen-enriched water from HFactor promised super hydration and powerful antioxidant benefits.

Seasonal, organic maple water, also known as sap water from Saint Q was lightly carbonated with just a hint of maple flavor. It was also delightfully refreshing.

Merging the snack and functional beverage trend is ZŰPA NOMA, ready-to-drink whole vegetable soups in portion-size bottles.

Other drinks that caught my eye and taste buds: ground cocoa beans milled into a kind of alternative coffee from Crio Bru, roasted maca (for energy) made into a macaccino from Science of Living Natural Foods and a cultured egg white drink (lots of protein, no fat) from Eggyurt. Yes, please!

As I gaze into my crystal ball, I predict you will also be seeing nutraceuticals and power foods like protein and probiotics dusted onto chips, nuts and popcorn; new flours like plantain and tiger nut; and matcha and quinoa in even more places than you thought possible. Asian coffee flavors are about to take off and the sheer number of companies making spreadable, vegan chocolate are poised to give Nutella a run for the money.

And, File under Finally!

Kefir made with almond milk from Dairy Free Dahlicious, pourable, squeezable tahini from Mighty Sesame Co., juices sold as functional beverages (thanks, Cheribundi cherry juice), macadamia nut milk from Milkadamia and Royal Hawaiian, and adult flavored peanut butter from Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters (think Spicy Thai Peanut) and Karamelize Me (coffee-infused almond butter).

So get your face ready because there is about to be a lot of good stuff to smile about.