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Impressions of the Summer Fancy Food Show


Now that it's behind us, I’ve had a little time to catch my breath, cleanse my palate, settle my stomach and process my enduring impressions of the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show, which took place June 28-30 at New York's Javits Center. Among the things that caught my eye (and taste buds): uniquely flavored beverages, many of them with beneficial attributes; global influences stretching far beyond the pavilions erected by various countries; and a wealth of health-oriented yet tasty food items.

Fancy Drinks, too

First off, don't let the title fool you: Plenty of beverages are represented at the annual trade show. One good example is Choice Organic Teas, which was exhibiting such new varieties as Hibiscus Heart, Beauty Detox, Expecting Baby and Body Stress Relief. Eric Ring, a taster in Choice’s herb department, explained that the Seattle-based company's exclusive partnership with Bastyr University enabled it to create dietary supplements that were safe to drink daily. Ring further pointed out that unlike other brands, Choice controls the manufacture of its tea by operating its own factory, thereby ensuring the quality of the resulting products. Noting that the beauty item contained jasmine to benefit the skin, Ring asserts that "detox is huge" as a trend in the segment.

Over at the Steaz booth, company co-founder Steven Kessler was enthusiastic about the brand's newest SKUs, two of which, Passionfruit (my preference) and Dragonfruit, were leveraging the current consumer interest in unsweetened teas, he noted. The Doylestown, Pa.-based Healthy Beverage Co. also recently rolled out Grapefruit Honey, lightly sweetened with Fair Trade organic cane sugar and containing just 80 calories, and zero-calorie, stevia-sweetened Goji Blackberry, whose smooth taste Kessler described as "almost like wine." Along with providing less sweet beverages, he observed that Steaz tried "to be unique when it comes to our flavor combinations," citing such blends as Blueberry Pomegranate and Superfruit, and vowing that the company would continue to avoid “me-too flavors.”

Although Kessler pointed out that increasingly, "mainstream is crossing over into natural," Steaz normally places its products in conventional grocers' natural sections, which he referred to as "fishing where the fish are," since consumers of natural products are often more aware of such benefits of tea as antioxidants. Kessler has noticed, however, that more shoppers than ever understand the concept of superfruits, regardless whether they regularly purchase natural items. "It's like an education process; then they graduate," he said.

Other noteworthy drinks quaffed at the show included Sipp Soda’s Lemon, Elderflower & Tarragon variety; Joia Sparkling Blackberry Pomegranate & Ginger beverage; and a Pitaya Plus single-ingredient raw organic dragonfruit smoothie that really hit the spot following a day of clashing flavors.

International Inspirations

After drinking my fill, I made my way to foreign parts – at least as represented by the Pereg Gourmet booth – where Brett Fuss introduced me to the Flushing, N.Y.-based company's new refrigerated spreads, including Sumsuma (sesame), and Multipurpose Quinoa Flour, which can be used in place of wheat flour in baked goods. Meanwhile, Can Bech's exquisitely packaged premium fruit preserves, jellies, chutneys and sauces, imported from Spain, may be too pricey for most mainstream grocers, but the company's 2-ounce mini jars of jams meant to pair with cheese, retailing for a suggested $3.19-$3.99, could provide an affordable way for conventional grocery shoppers to experiment with various flavor combinations.

Among the many sauces and dressings on display, I particularly enjoyed Marukan USA's Yuzu Ponzu premium soy dressing with citrus flavor as an accompaniment to spicy tuna sushi. Harold Lee, the Los Angeles-based company’s national sales director, described the product as “a must-try,” and he was right.

On the fresh produce side, Robert Scheuller, of Los Angeles-based Melissa's/World Variety Produce Inc., treated me to samples of a fiberless vine-ripened mango and rambutan, a lychee-like fruit popular in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, but predominantly grown in Central and South America.

Additional tastes from around the globe included Specialties Inc.'s Carpuela Artisanal Manchego; Suji’s Korean Cuisine Savory Beef Ssam; Amira Foods' Smoked Basmati Rice; preservative-free Gaea Olive Snacks; and single-origin Pure Delizia Dark Chocolate.

Better-tasting, Better-for-you Eating

With consumers' interest in attaining and maintaining health here to stay, there were plenty of better-for-you -- but still delicious -- options amid all of the fattening temptations on display. Targeting Millennial women, Carrollton, Texas-based Skimpy Mixers boasts lower calories and real fruit flavors in its lineup, as well as unique zebra-print packaging and an endorsement assist from reality TV star Torrei Hart, ex-wife of comedian Kevin. The product line's Sweet N Sour variety lived up to its name, at just 20 calories a serving.

Aunt Gussie’s, known for its line of sugar-free cookies – the latest flavor is Lemon – has rolled out a less expensive brand, Ella's Smart D-Lites, in five sugar-free SKUs, including Coconut in a bid to attract Hispanic shoppers who need to reduce their sugar intake. David Caine, president of the Garfield, N.J.-based company explained that Ella’s employed fewer ingredients (no nuts or butter) and smaller packaging (a 5.5-ounce container) to bring down the price point.

At the Mary's Gone Crackers booth, Director of Marketing Cate Baril was happy to present the Gridley, Calif.-based gluten-free manufacturer's Minis, its first item expressly for children, in not-overly-sweet Graham, Cocoa and Vanilla varieties. According to Baril, parents can use the bite-size snack to train their young ones to eat "real foods"; she noted it was "as healthy as giving kids a handful of fruit or nuts." Baril also lauded founder Mary Waldner's inventiveness in adding such unusual ingredients as sweet potato flour and mesquite to add sweet and smoky accents to the product line.

Also new from Mary's: a line of Thins, which Baril characterized as "toasty and wheaty," despite their not containing any wheat. The Ancient Spice variety offered appealingly smoky notes, while the Kale crackers were an inviting shade of green, unlike their image on the box.

Other healthier choices included aftertaste-free Country Fresh sugar-free fudge; Maya Kaimal Seeded Multigrain Chickpea Chips; Peeled Snacks' Peas Please snack; Smart Bark! Organic Trail Mix, consisting of currants, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and cacao nibs; Health Warrior Protein Bars; Harvest Stone Brown Rice crackers; and Viki's Banana Walnut and Apple Cinnamon soft-baked granolas.

My experience at the show wasn’t all about eating more sensibly, however: Dancing Deer Baking Co. showed up with a raft of indulgent new products, including year-round Chocolate Sea Salt and Chocolate Chip Dessert Bites. Additionally, Key Accounts Manager Julie Ayotte noted that the Boston-based company was transitioning its Crispy Cookies to Crispy Cookie Bites, making a virtue of the fact that the rather brittle product tends to break up after packaging. I also had plenty to savor, better for me or not, at the sofi Awards press tasting on June 28.

What was your experience of the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show? Post a comment letting us know.

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