This week marked the annual Specialty Food Association Winter Fancy Food Show, a trade-only event where more than 25,000 food buyers, specialty shop owners, wholesalers, distributors, and other industry professionals go to scout new products, get ahead of the trend curve, and get their finger on the pulse of the consumer food space right now.
It’s one of my favorite events each year because from macarons to chia seeds, I’ve kept a close eye on food and drink trends for the past decade and then some. When you scour 230,000 square feet of food booths, you get a pretty good sense of what’s up-and-coming, what’s hit the mainstream big-time, and what’s on the downswing. Here are a few of my takeaways on the current food and drink landscape based on this year’s show.
Majorly trending in mainstream grocers and supermarkets
I didn’t actually see too much pizza on the floor this year, with one exception: cauliflower crust pizza. What started out as a trend on recipe blogs has now taken a good chunk of the frozen pizza market. Caulipower, Cali’flour Foods, and Monteli were all showcasing their gluten-free, lower-carb cauliflower-based pizzas. (Semi-related: Trader Joe’s makes one, too.)
South Asian spiced-foods used to be too esoteric to have a big presence in large supermarkets, but now that we’ve entered an age where “ghee” has become a common term, more South Asian-inspired foods, particularly curries, are available now than ever. Booths were showcasing Madras curries, Goan curries, tikka masala simmer sauces, and salt-free curry seasoning blends. One of the smartest things I came across was Entube’s new Indian curry chili paste in a tube (which keeps for much longer).
If there was one prevalent ingredient throughout the show, it was most definitely turmeric. I called this out as a trend a few years ago, but since then it’s just gotten bigger. Turmeric lattes are so prevalent that they could be their own category, and they’re modeled after the golden milk seen on wellness blogs and all-day cafes ‘round the world. NuMi’s making a turmeric chai, Rebbl’s bottled a version of golden milk, and SF brand David Rio has also started selling a turmeric golden latte.
Also spotted: orange quinoa chocolate infused with turmeric (Ayurvedic principles and all), turmeric-infused honey, turmeric-flavored snacks, stackable turmeric tea tins from Republic of Tea, fermented carrots with turmeric from Wild West Ferments,, and sparkling turmeric tonic.
A few other mainstream trends worth briefly mentioning (many of which I’ve mentioned in past years): kimchi in chips, salsas, and more; matcha-flavored everything; refrigerated, plant-based soups; shrubs, bitters, and cocktails syrups; and anything waffled.
Some more esoteric, up-and-coming concepts that will start bubbling up in stores soon:
The cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) was everywhere at the show. Perhaps the most notable rendition was in Marley Mellow Mood, a Bob Marley-branded line of drinks. But I also tried it in honey and salt-free seasoning blends, and saw it in olive oil and chocolate.
Adaptogens are plant-derived substances that manage your body’s stress response. Herbs like ginseng, cordyceps, reishi, maca, chaga, schisandra, rhodiola, ashwagandha, and astragalus are all adaptogens. Within the umbrella of adaptogens are nootropics, supplements for cognitive function, such as memory and focus. Just about every major tea line has a line of adaptogenic teas, and nootropics have really come into the forefront: Four Sigmatic has a coffee made with lion’s mane mushrooms to help focus; Radicle Snacks’ Memory Nootropic Bar boosts piperine, a staple of Hippocrates’ medicine bag; and OHi’s Double Chocolate bar contains reishi, which supports the body’s sleep cycles. Schisandra in particular is having a moment: I saw it in Rebbl drinks, Republic of Tea botanical caffeine-free tea lines, and on-the-go snack bars.
Alternative flours are everywhere, thanks to an effort to make everything gluten free or grain free. A few new types on the floor that I spotted were green banana flour, coconut flour, cassava flour and even cricket flour.
Farmed seaweed is incredibly sustainable: it’s plentiful, requires no land, fertilizer, or freshwater, and even fights ocean acidification. Alaska-based food brands like Barnacle Foods and Blue Evolution are leading the way: Blue Evolution has a superfood seaweed pasta, and Barnacle is making kelp salsas and a line of kelp pickles (which were surprisingly delicious!). I also spotted kelp-based superfood drinks made with “deep sea water” and nutritionally-complete fresh pasta blended with seaweed as well.
A byproduct to come out of the paleo, primal, bulletproof and ketogenic diets is the rise of collagen, which has been touted as a way to ease joint pain, retain skin elasticity, build muscle, and burn fat. In addition to sparkling turmeric tonics, Turveda was shopping out turmeric collagen peptides, and Primal Kitchen, a popular paleo brand, was handing out on-the-go packets of its Collagen Fuel, a mixture of collagen peptides, coconut milk, and monkfruit extract.
Oil-based chili sauces are all the rage. They likely started with Lao Gan Ma, a chili-oil condiment made by simmering chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and spices in oil, then adding soy nuts, fried onions and fried garlic. It’s apparently China’s top-selling sauce, and addition to seeing lots of recipes for it, I’m also seeing tons of iterations of it, from Chile Crunch to a new product called Don Chilio (made by frying peppers), to incredibly delicious Spicy Chili Miso Condiments from Japanese brand Okazu.
I’d never heard of Popped Lily Pods before until this show, where they seemed to be all over the place. Water lilies, apparently, grow in pond ecosystems across Asia, and their seeds can be harvested and oven-roasted to create a low-calorie snack that tastes sort of like a styrofoam peanut-slash Pirate’s Booty. Taali, Snack Mantra, Makhana, and the popular primal brand Atlas Provisions were all showing new lines of these. I liked the heavily spiced, chili-inflected flavors the most, and the lightly salted versions the least; when eaten unadulterated, these had a weird barnyard-like taste.
A few other esoteric concepts worth briefly mentioning: dragonfruit as a fruit flavor; jackfruit as a meat substitute in crackers and cans; prebiotic packaged foods like hummus; fruit-flavored creamed honeys; plant-based “butters” made of everything from almonds to macadamia nut milk to aquafaba (chickpea water); keto-centric products like candy bars and dehydrated avocado chips (BLEH!); lactose-free cheeses and ice creams; and za’atar seasonings and spreads.
Perhaps the most exciting of all the new products are the ones that focus on sustainability—in particular, upcycling. Startups trying to avoid food waste are using beer byproducts to create energy bars (ReGrained), chickpea water to create butter (Fora Faba Butter), Ugly fruits and vegetables to make juices and pickles, and leftover pickle brine and cheese whey to make flavored beverages (Render Foods). I hope we only continue to see more of this at future shows.