Shaping the Future at Fancy Food

Jim Dudlicek
Editorial Director
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Dinesh Tadepalli presents his product pitch to the Front Burner contest judges at the Winter Fancy Food Show

What makes a new product a success?

How about innovation, quality and user appeal?

At least that was the direction taken by the expert judges of the Specialty Food Association’s Front Burner Foodservice Pitch Competition at the SFA’s 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show, Jan. 20 in San Francisco.

The contest, hosted by celebrity chef Joanne Weir, capped off Day 2 of the annual bacchanal of food innovation. And while the competition attracted products aimed primarily at foodservice, the three finalists could just as easily find a home at the supermarket, either on shelf or as part of grocery prepared food operations.

The contenders: Bob Trently of Savencia Cheese, who presented a pourable cream cheese, which in his pitch to the judges he argued would expedite cooking and baking, and inspire innovation of new recipes. Christine Lantinen of confectioner Maud Borup presented Fizzy Drink Bombs, designed to create customized cocktails by dropping into water or spirits, releasing effervescence, functional ingredients and edible glitter. And Dinesh Tadepalli of Planeteer LLC presented IncrEDIBLE edible spoons and cutlery to replace plastic tableware that’s harmful to the environment when discarded.

What do the expert judges look for in a new product?

Rafi Taherian, associate VP for Yale Hospitality, said products should be “relevant in a good and disruptive way.” Chris Doering, director of sales for European Imports Inc., wants to know, “Is there a good story?” Rachel Perez, category specialist for Tony’s Fine Foods in Sacramento, Calif., says new products should be “on trend and eye-catching.” They also stressed qualities such as authenticity, added value and having an approachable price point.

So, which product rose to the top? Judges agreed that each of the three hit a current key trend: convenience, functional beverages and eco-friendliness. “We have a large food industry with a diverse demographic. All three have utility in various segments of the industry,” Taherian said.

The edible tableware emerged victorious, impressing judges with its sustainability and overall concept that included a varied flavor inventory for savory and sweet applications.

How soon might consumers see any one of these three products in stores? They’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, here’s a few more products exhibited at this year's show that are on their way to shelves already (photos follow in the gallery):

  • Blount Fine Foods new vegetarian chili. The vegan product includes white beans, roasted tomatoes and Before the Butcher plant-based meat crumbles. Blount also sampled its new Family Kitchen line of fresh prepared entrees including Chicken Marsala, Beef Stroganoff and American Chop Suey (ground beef and elbow macaroni in tomato sauce).
  • Cool Beans frozen, plant-based, gluten-free wraps, in a range of mild to spicy varieties.
  • Cumberland Packing’s Monk Fruit in the Raw sweetener, in a new keto-friendly formulation.
  • A rebranded line of authentic Indian entrees by Deep Foods (formerly Tandoor Chef).
  • Single-serve, shelf-stable flavored oat milk plus oat creamer from Elmhurst Milked, the latest entries in a rising trend. “Oat milk is the new almond milk,” remarked Elmhurst’s Heba Mahmoud. “You’ll see it in new products, in foodservice. The oat wave will be here for a while.”
  • Lotito Presto pasta sauce starter, consisting of cheese and seasonings that home cooks mix with pasta water to create the sauce, a meal solution by Norseland Inc.
  • Nature’s Garden “naturally functional” salad toppers and snack mixes in Keto and Omega formulas, offering low sugar with high protein and fiber.
  • Regatta Premium Craft Mixers, expanding its behind-the-bar products into a retail line that’s all natural, gluten free and with no high fructose corn syrup.
  • San-J’s new Korean BBQ marinade and stir fry sauce.
  • Cello ready-to-serve specialty cheese boards from Schuman Cheese.
  • Toufayan Bakeries’ new line of pita chips, in sea salt, parmesan garlic and caramelized onion flavors.

The Winter Fancy Food Show continues through Jan. 21. Watch for live updates on Twitter at @pgrocer and @jimdudlicek.