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08/02/2019 – Health Series / Winter Fancy Food Show / US

Fancy (and healthy) food takes centre stage at San Francisco expo


From mushroom jerky and algae prawns, to scuffed banana bites, guilt-free ice cream and drinkable soups, Food & Beverage Networker explores some of the most exciting new product launches from the recently concluded Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco – and the wider consumer trends that such offerings feed into.


Attracting more than 25,000 attendees, Specialty Food Association (SFA)’s events have for over half a century been viewed as a key proving ground for the exhibiting food companies that gather to showcase their wares from around the world. Indeed, the organisation’s Fancy Food Shows have helped launch such well-known brands as Popchips, Honest Tea, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonewall Kitchen, Walker’s Shortbread, Tate’s Bake Shop, ZICO Coconut Water and Vermont Creamery.


Spanning established producers to emerging start-ups, in January over 1,400 F&B players were looking to hit on gold with the latest innovative taste trends, with a distinct focus on health-promoting products observed at this year’s event. “People continue to be food aware – more aware of what they’re eating, where it’s coming from, what’s in their food, what they’re putting in their bodies,” agreed Ms. Denise Purcell, head of content for the Specialty Food Association. “It’s driving a lot of the trends we are seeing, and it’s good for the industry overall.” 


The rise and rise of plant protein


One distinct trend observed at SFA’s recent show is that plant protein is still a wildly popular area in terms of new product launches. In fact, the plant-based foods industry is experiencing tremendous growth, with sales having more than doubled over the past year – up 20 per cent in dollar sales over that time. According to PBFA-commissioned data from Nielsen, plant-based food sales topped US$3.3 billion in the US alone over the past year, while venture capitalists have invested hundreds of millions into this highly prospective segment. Drivers behind plant protein’s extraordinary continued growth include a strong consumer shift to vegetarianism, veganism and so-called ‘flexitarianism’, as they strive to reduce their intake of meat products for health reasons, alongside shifting away from meat for reasons related to perceived animal welfare issues and/or the impact of animal husbandry practices on the environment.


Reflecting this trend, many new plant-based offerings caught our eye at the recent Winter Fancy Food Show, including a jerky made entirely out of mushrooms. Based around a Malaysian family recipe, Pan’s mushroom jerky boasts an amazing umami flavour and a chewy texture almost identical to the real thing. Unlike its meaty (and often salty, processed, and artificially flavoured) counterparts of old, however, this new vegetarian innovation is also a good source of fibre, as well as being rich in vitamin D.


Meanwhile, exhibitor New Wave Foods’ plant-based shrimp have been wowing food service operators in California and Nevada – and this year will see the company’s retail rollout of its innovative algae-based take on seafood.  


Elsewhere on the exhibition floor, Spero Foods impressed visitors with its flagship product – a creamy, tangy chevre – which, despite appearances and taste, is made not from goats’ milk but is rather entirely processed from plants (specifically, sunflower seeds, coconut oil and seasonings). Spero also exhibited its much vaunted vegan liquid egg product, Scramblit – made from squash seeds – at the show.


“Plant-based is all over the place,” commented Ms. Purcell. “We keep saying it’s not even a trend at this point; it’s really a movement.”


Food that doesn’t cost the Earth


Roughly one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – is currently lost or wasted. Such food losses and waste amounts to an eye-watering US$680 billion in industrialised countries alone, according to the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO).


As consumers become more cognisant of the waste issue, and producers identify new opportunities to repurpose materials that would otherwise be considered by-products of various food production processes, a variety of innovative new foods have emerged onto the scene. One of these is Barnana, which takes ‘imperfect’ bananas – those rejected for export due to having a few scuffs, or being a little too ripe, or perhaps not the perfect size – to create chewy banana bites and crispy banana brittle.


Elsewhere, ReGrained is making snack bars out of the nutritious spent grain that usually goes to waste after the beer brewing process. The firm’s SuperGrain+ barley flour contains just one-third the carbohydrate content of standards, all-purpose flour – it also has roughly twice the protein content and a remarkable 12 times more fibre. SuperGrain+ is incorporated into every ReGrained product, and the firm’s sustainable packaging ensures that wrappers can return to the earth – chiming nicely with the firm’s motto: ‘All taste, no waste’. Certainly, as the food industry ponders how to sustain an ever-expanding global population, tapping into previously wasteful segments of the food production process is increasingly likely to be seen as the order of the day.


Sweetness and light: Healthier desserts


With the rising incidences of diabetes and obesity connected to an ongoing spike in sugar consumption, ultra-health-conscious consumers are increasingly turning away from the sweet stuff altogether, while many more are exploring ways in which they can effectively reduce their intake.


The US government has echoed such sentiments by introducing changes to nutritional labels in the hope of creating greater transparency for consumers. Among the changes that came into play in July 2018 was a callout on the amount of added sugars in a product. The thinking behind that move is to help consumers be more aware of the quantity of added sugars in the foods and beverages they purchase and consume.

Across the US, 22 per cent of consumers are already taking matters into their own hands by restricting their sugar intake, while 52 per cent are actively trying to avoid artificial sweeteners, according to Nielsen and Label Insight. Crucially, many are looking to eat less sugar in their diet yet are unwilling to sacrifice on taste. The ‘sweet spot’ for brands is therefore in developing ‘treats’ with all the sense of indulgence but with less guilt.


In response to this shift in consumer mindset, Hakuna Banana has created a range of frozen desserts that the firm says are: ‘always plant-based and made without any refined sugars’, using real fruit like bananas and dates, alongside coconut milk, to sweeten its range of desserts, which include Choco Choco Chip and Banana Spice. 


Meanwhile, Arctic Zero chose the Winter Fancy Food Show to launch its new low-calorie ice cream made with real milk and cream, and sweetened with natural cane sugar. Arctic Zero Light Ice Cream contains only 280-360 calories a pint, and joins the firm’s original whey protein-based and lactose-free Arctic Zero Fit Frozen Desserts.


Certainly, Nielsen’s data shows that US consumers are increasingly mindful of the glycaemic index in products – and this creates opportunities for manufacturer innovation, the research firm points out. Label Insight found that organic cane sugar syrup, organic agave nectar, honey, and chocolate and vanilla extracts are just a few examples of natural alternative sweeteners that can be used to sweeten products and still keep within the low glycaemic range. Sales of those sweeteners grew 19 per cent year-on-year in 2016, and products that contain such alternatives are multiplying across the store shelves, Nielsen notes.


A bowl in a bottle: The ‘drinkable soup’


Fruit juices have become omnipresent, with high-end cold pressed options as well as lower and middle market products readily available at grocery and convenience stores the world over. However, in the US at least, it appears that drinkable soups are now sizing up to challenge the market position that juices and smoothies have long enjoyed.


A growing criticism of juices is that they remove natural fibre during the pressing process. While smoothies essentially retain this fibre content, both the former and the latter are increasingly criticised for being high in sugar – albeit of the natural, fructose variety. In contrast, drinkable soups retain the nutrients naturally found in the vegetables, while naturally maintaining a lower sugar profile.


At the Winter Show, firms like Tio Gazpacho, Zupa Noma and Fawen all showcased their new ‘soup-in-a-bottle’ offerings, which aim to satisfy consumers’ growing desire for healthy on-the-go snacking. Given that younger consumers in particular are actively boosting their vegetable intake – by 52 per cent annually, according to analysts at NPD Group – such convenient veg-packed products could experience huge uptake in the future. 


On-trend spices, exotic fruits and superfoods


Globalisation is making the world a smaller place, and is bringing the fragrant delights of far-flung cuisines to the tables of American consumers. Increasingly, this interest in different cultures is transferring into a more adventurous attitude towards food, and an embrace of interesting, more exotic flavours and blends – often reimagined in surprising products. 


In particular, the spices turmeric and cardamom are becoming ever more popular – for their taste profile, but often also for their ayurvedic properties too. Products that caught our eye this year at the Winter Fancy Food Show included HealthVerve Food Manufacturing’s Healthee Organic turmeric drinks, Sencha Naturals’ immune-supporting Green Tea +C with turmeric, Blackberry Patch’s peach bourbon cardamom preserves, Runamok Maple’s cardamom-infused maple syrup, and Green Girl’s cardamom ice cream.


Elsewhere, exotic fruit flavours were cropping up all over the exhibition, with beverages unveiled at the show featuring Filipino calamansi, Japanese yuzu and African baobab. 


Meanwhile, the superfood moringa clearly continues to prove a source of innovation for many health-oriented manufacturers. Rich in iron and calcium, with 27 vitamins and 46 antioxidants, and packed with protein, moringa is considered one of the most nutrient-rich plants in the world. On show at the exhibition in San Francisco, we spotted Indonesian firm Jawa Import Inc.’s partial gluten-free noodles with moringa, and Vegan Rob’s crispy ‘Moringa Puffs’ snackfood, alongside the best-selling organic pure moringa vegetable powder from Kuli Kuli Foods. The latter firm’s founder, Lisa Curtis, this year won Specialty Food Association’s Leadership Award (Citizenship) for her project, in utilising the leaves of moringa trees to improve the lives of women growers in West Africa. According to Kuli Kuli Foods, its superfood powder has a green, matcha-like flavour and adds a healthful, mild burst of green to smoothies, savoury dishes and sauces alike.


Specialty Food Association’s next event – Summer Fancy Food Show – runs from 23-25 June 2019 at Javits Center in New York City. For more information, visit:

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
– Gulfood 2023 Special
– Next level legume – The rise of the chickpea
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