By Greg Bell
For anyone who works in the food business, The Fancy Food Show can be a banner event that introduces innovations and products that could go so far as to change your business – and even make it better. Produced twice a year in New York and San Francisco by The Specialty Food Association, thousands of specialty foods manufacturers and buyers from across the country come together to explore the latest and greatest condiments, confections, breads, beverages, mixes, lifestyle recipes, and so much more. I went to the event at the Javits Convention Center in New York from June 29th to July 1st, 2018 – and I learned a lot, saw a lot, and ate a lot!
This summer’s event in New York was easier to navigate, thanks to the SFA’s user-friendly app allowing attendees and exhibitors to view, search, and mark specific exhibits and floor locations ahead of time – which can be a big help, with nearly 2700 exhibitors. And there was a lot to see and do. One of my favorite speakers was the keynote delivered by Gary Hirshberg, the co-founder and chief organic optimist at yogurt maker Stonyfield Farms. Gary spoke of his early years developing small farm-produced organic yogurt with only seven cows. At his 30th birthday party, he told his friends, “If you really want to give me a present, stop at one of the grocery stores on your way home and ask for organic yogurt.”
The next week, Gary got calls from the managers of all three stores near his New Hampshire farm, who were all dumfounded at the sudden requests for organic yogurt. “If you’re going to take control of your future, then the best thing you can do is lock onto something that’s meaningful to the consumer,” Gary shared. And he has. Stonyfield built their business on small owner-operated farms with cattle counts below 500. Now, they’re the second leading yogurt brand with 13.3% of the market. In 2017, Stoneyfield was sold to a French dairy, Lactalis, for $875 million.
I stopped by the Incubator Village, which had displays from early-stage start-up programs from Cornell, Rutgers, LSU, Oregon State, La Cocina, The Commonwealth, The Hatchery and more. I met the founder of Commonwealth Cold Brew Coffee Company, Olin Nelson, and two of his associates, Andrew Lloyd and Connor Giallongo. They taught me a lot about cold brewing coffee, and took me through a fascinating tour through chemistry, taste and packaging.
I also spoke with Kimberly White and Cindy Johnson of Bull Dog Pepper Jelly, a relatively new cooking condiment widely used in BBQ and meat roasting. These jellies add a sweet, hot finish to any meat. And I chatted with Paul Slovak of Finn’s Smoked Fish Dips, who created a canned white fish product that – surprisingly – has no fishy taste. Incubator Village was a fantastic representation of the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Then there was Future Market, a concept creation by Mike Lee of Food Labs – think of it as the section dedicated to futuristic concept cars in the auto industry, but with an eye on the food industry 15 to 25 years in the future. Here, I learned more about touchscreen shopping – and I loved the Nutrition Plate. It was a dining plate with sensors and scales designed to track portions, calories, nutrient content and vitamin deficiencies, which were then recorded to a FitBit-style watch or phone. The data could even be sent to your physician!
Another interesting item was Block Chain Chicken, a whole, fully cooked chicken with block chain tracking. For those who don’t know, block chain is a 3-D communication tool that’s updated instantly every time there’s a change – and while it’s largely used in financial transactions, applying it to the poultry industry means buyers can track every step of a chicken’s journey from farm to table, which can help zero in on issues of contamination.
The entire show was mind blowing. From the lectures to the talks and discussion panels, to the tastes, textures and aromas, every inch of the convention center had something amazing to experience – and to inspire. There were so many amazing products from creative, passionate entrepreneurs, and I can’t wait to attend the winter show in San Francisco. Will I see you there?