SF Fancy Food Show

After tasting 80,000 foods and drinks from more than 1,500 exhibitors at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I think I have some idea what we’ll all be enjoying in the year ahead. Or maybe, after doing precisely that for three days with my colleagues at Fischer & Wieser, I have less of a clue than ever. That’s why the oh-so-serious work of the show’s own Trendspotter Panel comes in handy.

Actually, I do have a few thoughts before sharing the panel’s Big Five. First is, you go to a Fancy Food Show and you get awfully sick of crackers. Between the people who give you tastes of their sauces, marinades, mustards, cured meats, cheeses and preserves ON crackers and the makers of crackers themselves, that’s just way too many crackers. And second, the whole gluten-free thing has come a long way in a short time.

Having had several friends on GF diets (you can tell I’m one of the cool kids because I use abbreviations), I know that only two years ago the stuff was terrible – in particular pastas and baked goods, which of course are the heart of what our happily glutenated lives are all about. At this year’s Fancy Food, I tasted a slew of GF pastas, breads and other baked goods, and they all tasted fine, real, even normal. Or maybe I was just happy they weren’t crackers.

Now, back to that Trendspotting Panel. Much to my taste buds’ delight, they spotted an increased openness of Western eaters to Asian flavors, including bak kwa meat snacks from Little Red Dot Kitchen and, my favorite in this category, tandoori seasoned chicken nuggets. Of course, then I wouldn’t dip the nuggets in ketchup, thus cutting into global ketchup sales. There was also a lot of grass at the Fancy Food Show, and not just because the old hippie neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury was close by. There was Organic Valley grassmilk yogurt, The New Primal grass-fed beef jerky and Steve’s Ice Cream made with grass-fed milk.

Proteins were even more evident than in recent years, and not just meat as we know it – which is often another way of saying bacon. Bitty Foods served up tastings of snacks made with cricket flour, for instance. Many foods were packaged for sale “by the cup,” including the all-too-healthy-sounding sweet potato kale quinoa salad from Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods. And there was an inordinate number of purple foods on the exhibit floor, from Smoky BBQ Shredded Beets from Love Beets to Organic Stoneground Purple Corn Flakes from Back to the Roots. With a sly nod to The Artist Again Known as Prince, the panel titled this particular trend “Purple Reign.”

Whenever you come home to the Hill Country from a Fancy Food Show, be it in San Francisco in winter or New York City in summer, there is an irresistible desire to just have chicken soup for dinner. With no cricket flour. No grass-fed anything. And definitely – I’m serious about this – no crackers.

Story by John DeMers

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