EXCLUSIVE: Fancy Food Show Caters to Every Taste

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EXCLUSIVE: Fancy Food Show Caters to Every Taste

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s (NASFT) 56th Annual Summer Fancy Food Show, which kicked off Sunday, June 27 at the spacious Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York and wraps up today, delivered its usual stunning assortment of mostly edible products for the upscale/gourmet consumer, but what’s especially exciting this year? Progressive Grocer traversed the aisles of the bustling mega-event to shine the spotlight on some of the up-and-coming items that may soon be flying off store shelves across the country.

Flavors of the past have made a big comeback, if the recent career trajectory of bacon is anything to go by. Once a beloved breakfast staple, and then a reviled conveyer of unhealthy fats and cholesterol, the smoked meat has returned to triumphant prominence, helped by a boost from the Atkins diet back in the 90s, as well as consumers’ realization that moderation is the key to enjoying all of their favorite indulgences. Interestingly, the current craving for bacon flavor goes beyond meat itself to products incorporating its familiar flavor. That’s what Dave Lefkow, one of the “bacontrepreneurs” of Seattle J&D’s Foods, found, when the company first offered its now famous Bacon Salt. “We’re just trying to ride a wave” of nostalgia,” Lefkow explained to PG, adding bacon’s enduring appeal was due to its status “the ultimate comfort food.”

The wave J&D’s Foods is riding includes such bacon-flavored extensions as Baconnaise, BaconPOP microwave popcorn and Bacon Ranch dressing and dip mix. When asked how the company is dealing with recent negative publicity about high levels of sodium in the American diet, Lefkow said that the products were actually low in sodium, since they contained sea salt. Also, somewhat improbably, the product line is vegetarian and kosher. “The rabbi laughed at us,” admitted Lefkow in recounting the certification process, but luckily the religious leader “had a good sense of humor,” and since no bacon is actually used in the foods, the company was able to get the all clear from the Almighty of the Old Testament. “Now we’re trying to get [the line] halal-certified to bring peace to the Middle East,” quipped Lefkow.

Continuing in its quest to bring old flavors to consumers in fresh ways, J&D’s Foods this year introduced its first-ever non-bacon-flavored product, Malt Salt. The company modestly describes the malt vinegar-flavored seasoning salt as “the world’s greatest advancement in seasoning-based malt vinegar technology ever, and pretty tasty on fish and chips.”

Pungent new tastes were also on tap at Hillsboro, Ore.-based Beaverton Foods, a family-owned purveyor of condiments under the Beaver and Inglehoffer brands. Along with its new-to-market Beaver All-Natural Gourmet Ketchup, featuring no high-fructose corn syrup, and Inglehoffer Sweet Hot Pepper Mustard, the company was discreetly testing two items not yet for sale: Bacon Mustard (there’s that flavor again) and Sweet & Sour Chinese Mustard, the latter developed by Beaverton president Gene Biggi, according to his grandson Jeffrey, who was at the show.

Over on the sweet side of the taste spectrum, French chocolatier Valrhona has revamped the look of its revered line with new packaging, as well as introducing new baking products. Among the super-premium offerings from the company is its annual Estate Grown collection, which features bars containing carefully selected cocoa beans from a single plantation — and every year, because the harvests differ, so does the product, Valrhona’s Carolina Gavet explained to PG, comparing the chocolate “vintages” to those of wine. With consumer interest in high-end chocolate on an upswing — abetted in no small way by recent research indicating the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate — the Gavet noted that Valrhona was engaged in “trying to educate people” through methods such as the dissemination of recipes, holding demos at retail and social media efforts.

Even non-chocolate manufacturers of confection are planning their own forays into the lucrative market. The Really Healthy Stuff Co. (REHEST), the Newburyport, Mass.-based creator of sugar-free Caring Candies, which feature no artificial sweeteners, is working on a line of sugar-free, dairy-free and peanut-free chocolate candies due out next year, company co-founder Bianca Oliveira Riethmueller told PG.

Meanwhile, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Chuao Chocolatier is offering its own new extension, in the form of a tasty three-SKU artisan brownie mix. Described by company chef Michael Antonorsi as “the offspring” of Chuao’s hot chocolate line, the brownie mix, which will come in Abuela, Spicy Maya and Winter varieties, was developed at the request of retail partner Crate & Barrel, which saw such phenomenal success with the hot chocolate that it asked for another product.

How did the company choose what that new item would be? “Brownies are always a celebration,” declared Antonorsi, who eagerly talked up the “zero-stress” line’s virtues, including the fact that it will make home cooks’ kitchens smell like the company’s chocolate. Retailing for $12.95 per box, the brownies will make its retail debut exclusively at Crate & Barrel this September, as well as being available for purchase on Chuao’s Web site, before distribution widens to include other retailers.

Speaking of brownies, Ukiah, Calif.-based Pamela’s Products was out in gluten-free force promoting its new single-serve microwaveable chocolate brownie mix, which can be prepared in under a minute, as well as a single-serve baking and pancake mix. Marveling at the explosion of the gluten-free segment since her company began 22 years ago, founder Pamela Giusto admitted to PG, “We never expected gluten-free to get to this point,” a position she attributed to the efforts of grass-roots organizations to raise awareness of such medical conditions celiac disease, better ways of diagnosing gluten sensitivity and the “understanding that gluten-free can taste good.” Now, beyond, celiacs and others with specific gluten issues, many people, including influential celebrities, endorse a gluten-free diet for general health and digestive well-being, she noted. The great thing about products like hers being carried in mainstream supermarkets like Kroger and Safeway, added Giusto, is that people who need to adhere to a gluten-free diet are able to do so more easily, because “they don’t have a choice.”

Heart health is top of mind at Los Angeles-based Corazonas Foods, Inc., which has updated its packaging to reflect its unique status as a maker of potato and tortilla chips made from ingredients proven to help lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol by 10 percent to 15 percent. This feat is achieved by adding sterols during the manufacturing process, Corazonas’ Langley Perry explained to PG, adding that eating the chips helped him lower his own cholesterol. Perry was quick to add, however, that results varied by person, and that in addition to indulging in Corazonas snacks, “you still have to eat healthy.” New from the company is a line of similarly cholesterol-lowering Oatmeal Squares in Chocolate Chip, Banana Walnut, Cranberry Flax, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Brownie & Almonds varieties.

Another interesting trend was exemplified by the “progressive pickle people” at Root Cellar Preserves, which “chief pickle officer” Lorne J. Jones noted was a causal-based business with the aim of contributing half of its quarterly income to support local conservation efforts in the Northeast. The Wellesley, Mass.-based company even got its start as an effort to save an upstate New York farmhouse in danger of demolition. In addition to its good works, which Jones said resonate strongly with educated consumers between the ages of 35 and 50 who are interested in a variety of foods as well as in helping their communities, Root Cellar Preserves remembers to supply the goodies: the company recently bowed three new items, Zesty and Sweet Pickle Chips, Crsipy Dill Hamburger Chips and Spicy Dill Pickle Chunks, in addition to providing such unique perennials as Sweet Apple Cinnamon Pickles (a seasonal offering made permanent at consumer request).

Ethnic food was well represented by the pavilions of various nations and regions of the world, including emerging food exporter Africa, which was taking full advantage of the excitement surrounding the 2010 World Cup soccer competition in Johannesburg by prominently displaying the globally watched event’s ubiquitous vuvuzelas (horns) and cuddly lion mascot, as well as providing a huge flat-screen TV to broadcast the game action to riveted attendees. Much closer to home, however, there was an impressive showing from the companies involved in the nonprofit American Indian Foods (AIF) program. The initiative recognizes and promotes thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers.

For Kyle, S.D.-based Native American Natural Foods, one of the participating businesses, restoring the buffalo to its traditional grazing lands and combating the modern scourge of diabetes Lakota people are important goals, company president Mark A. Tilsen told PG. The way Native American Natural Foods, which began as an Internet-only business in 2007, works toward these worthy goals is by using the simple ingredients contained in the traditional Lakota dish wasna, or buffalo meat preserved with fruits and herbs. The company’s modern twists on this ancient foodstuff are to source sustainable, prairie-fed buffalo meat from as many Native American ranchers as possible (additionally, the sales, marketing and fulfillment staff is proudly 100 percent Native American) and to manufacture all-natural, nutritious items to support a healthy lifestyle.

Native American Natural Foods’ efforts hit publicity paydirt when its Tanka Bar, featuring 70 percent buffalo meat and 30 percent cranberries, received a 2010 Editors’ Choice Award from Backpacker magazine. Now carried in 4,000 stores across the country and distributed by United Natural Foods, Tree of Life/Kehe and Nature’s Best, the company also offers Tanka Bites, Tanka Dogs (buffalo hot dogs) and Tanka Wild Summer Sausage. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before the business adds to its slogan, “Real food. Real people. Real good.” How about “Real successful”?