After pausing for two years due to the pandemic, the Summer Fancy Food Show returned in-person to the world’s commercial center, New York City. More than 1,800 domestic and international exhibitors from over 60 countries, along with buyers, producers, and business services providers all gathered at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
As the largest B2B U.S. show devoted to specialty foods and beverages, the Fancy Food Show presents the state of the specialty food industry with the latest trends and innovations. So what are some of the major trends spotted at the show?
Plant-based products feature even more plant varieties.
According to the Specialty Food Association, the overall plant-based specialty retail market grew 6% CAGR in 2021, which outpaced the growth of the overall specialty retail market (4% CAGR).1 From dairy aisle to the seafood counter, plant-based innovations now appear in more categories and with more plant varieties:
- Blend is on the rise. New seafood alternatives are made with a blend of six legumes – peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans – to create the flaky texture, while a new oil-free and low-sodium vegan meat is made with a blend of tree nuts, brown rice, and quinoa.
- So much room for mushrooms! Mushrooms may be this year’s “it” ingredient. For example, new to the market are flavored crispy mushrooms and umami mushroom jerky. Crispy shiitake, in flavors like Thai chili and truffle parmesan, are now vacuum fried to retain the color and flavor. Mushroom jerky has the signature umami flavor of shiitake, but with a fibrous texture that resembles meat.
Better-for-you snacks are growing across categories.
Better-for-you products continue to evolve toward fewer ingredients, less sugar, lower calories and more novel flavors. The growth in the better-for-you category in 2021 was represented by the growth of sales in two categories: wellness bars and gels and functional beverages. There was also a rapid growth in the specialty beverages categories, especially among ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages and fermented functional cocktails.
In fact, better-for-you is a trend across categories:
- Functional beverages: alcohol alternatives are made from functional herbal blends with an intriguing taste, and fermented beverages now have even less sugar.
- Wellness bars: Protein bars, a category already heavily focuses on better-for-you ingredients, are doing more to emphasize on their nutrition credentials. With the help from in-house registered dietitians, protein bars now offer more plant-based choices that are high in fiber and protein, with low glycemic index values and a complete amino acid profile.
International flavors are going mainstream.
With vendors from over 80 countries, the international pavilion reflected American consumers’ increased interest in global and multicultural flavors. Domestic products now feature more international flavors than ever.
- African spices: Beyond marinating chicken, PERi-PERi seasoning has been used in packaged hummus, sauce, and frozen African entrees. A wide variety of African spice-blend potato chips have also become a common sight.
- Asian flavors: Multiple brands pushed out ready-to-drink bubble tea lines, some also infused with fruits, resembling those freshly made in boba shops. New chocolates are inspired by spices popular in Indian desserts such as cardamon and marsala chai, while frozen desserts feature both classic and innovative Asian flavors such as pandan, black sesame, and toasted rice.
Homemade meals are going gourmet. The pandemic has encouraged more home cooking. While people are no longer homebound, sales continued to grow in various cooking and baking categories throughout 2021, and the trend continues through April 2022. Entrepreneurs have hence seized the opportunity to bring gourmet experiences straight to consumers’ homes.
- Specialty coffee ready in seconds. For people who work from home most days, the morning coffee routine can get repetitive. Companies jump in to provide good-quality and tasty coffee that can be ready in seconds. We spotted bottled organic nitro cold brew, spray-dried instant coffee from premium coffee beans, and single-serve pour over. While there were still many high-quality, sustainable whole beans coffee brands at the show, ready-to-drink tea and coffee is fast growing. In fact, RTD tea and coffee was the fastest growing specialty food category from 2019-2021.
- An easy 3-course dinner at home. Appetizers and desserts can now be prepared so easily that they almost seem to cook themselves. Consumers can order an all-in-one kit with buttery crackers, shelf-stable cheese, with nut and fruit preserves as toppings, mailed directly to their doors. Future developments could easily include more plant-based options and additional gluten-free lines. If consumers also own a gelato machine, they can enjoy fresh gelato with fewer sugar and no artificial color or flavors within 60 seconds.
The specialty food market has prospered amid the ups and downs of the pandemic, reaching $175 billion in retail, foodservice, and ecommerce sales in 2021. This increase in sales brought interesting innovations from new plant-based options to globally inspired and gourmet offerings. Yet, the specialty food industry continues to face challenges, including inflation and supply chain difficulties and other issues. How will innovators adapt to these challenges moving forward? We look forward to reporting on the latest and greatest next year at the Fancy Food Show 2023!
Yuchen He, is a Padilla NEXTern in our Boston Office and a graduate student studying Nutrition Communication at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition. She is starting her dietetic internship this September at Yale New Haven Hospital. Having been a “lab rat” for years, she is passionate about communicating responsibly and accurately as a scientist in the food industry. This passion deepened as she had a taste of the exciting trends (and flavors!) in the food industry through an internship at a food incubator, the Hatchery Chicago, last summer. Long-term, she hopes to work in the precision nutrition field and help various stakeholders to better understand and develop the field. She hopes to learn from and help the FoodMinds team as much as possible this summer! In her free time, she loves exploring different ethnic foods, be that a novel veggie or a new bakery. She also climbs rocks (in the gym mostly) and lift heavy things. She hopes to keep eating and cooking new things and climbing the hardest way up a rock until she’s 101 years old.