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Taste of Tomorrow: Key Takeaways from Fancy Food

Mintel's David Browne (left) and David Lockwood discuss key drivers for specialty food in 2020 at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco

Trends like plant-based foods, functional beverages and transparency apply as much to specialty foods as they do to overall food retail.

That much was made clear on the opening day of the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show, visited by thousands who ate their way through the Moscone Convention Center in downtown San Francisco, where the conference is being hosted Jan. 19-21 by the Specialty Food Association.

Hundreds of exhibitors offered samples of culinary innovation reflecting the key drivers of specialty food in 2020 as outlined by Mintel analysts David Browne and David Lockwood in their main stage presentation. The $72 billion specialty food channel – expected to top $75 billion by the end of this year – is showing “strong but slowing growth” as the category matures, they said, noting that while growth in specialty is stronger than that of conventional products, it’s being moderated by the growing number of mainstream retailers carrying specialty products.

One of Kuli Kuli's new moringa-based shots

Some key points from their outlook for the year ahead:

  • Beverages are outpacing food: Fastest-growing categories include tea & coffee, water, and functional beverages like those designed to address health needs like energy, mental focus, relaxation and microbiome health. Lockwood predicts the latter category is “going to be exploding over the next four years.” Among the exhibited products reflecting these trends: a new line of shots from Kuli Kuli Foods containing moringa, a nutrient-rich tropical leafy green. The brand offers shots for stress, focus, an immunity booster and a daily green boost. Also exhibited: Hawaiian ready-to-drink teas by Shaka, in four zero-calorie botanical flavors, sweetened with monkfruit.
BelGioioso's new snack-size American Grana cheese
  • Snacks cast a wide net: They’re more than a quarter of all specialty food sales, led by jerky and meat snacks, chocolate and other confectionery, and juices and functional beverages. To be sure, exhibited products included snacks that cut across multiple trend trajectories, from protein to plant-based. Amid the sea of charcuterie aimed at more formal occasions and pairings, Busseto sampled California Snackin’ snack cups of mini salami slices. Cheese snacks were prevalent as well, from brands like BelGioioso, with individually wrapped snack portions of multiple cheese varieties including its latest, aged American Grana; Roth, with its Flavor Ups single-portion cups of blue cheese; and Cheesepop, a crunchy snack made with 100% cheese.
Greg Forbes discusses Explore Cuisine's new edamame and spirulina pasta
  • Plant-based is mainstreaming: The category is up 24% since 2016, the Mintel analysts said, noting that 90% of committed plant-based eaters are specialty food consumers. Among exhibitors, Ethical Brands offered two innovations: organic edamame and spirulina pasta by Explore Cuisine, boasting 6x the protein, 5x the fiber and 10% of the carbs of regular pasta. “This adds value back into the category by giving consumers more than they get with regular pasta,” said Ethical Brands’ Greg Forbes, who also sampled Sproud, a line of shelf-stable, yellow pea protein-based milk being brought to the U.S. market through a partnership with a Swedish company. Other plant-based products exhibited included dairy-free vegan yogurt from Follow Your Heart and a line of crunchy snack foods by Vegan Rob’s, including cauliflower, Brussels sprout and moringa puffs.
  • Positioning claims are drawing dedicated consumers: Demand for products with leading claims – including all-natural, organic, non-GMO, local and eco-friendly – cuts across all consumer demographics, the Mintel analysts said. Among exhibitors: Endangered Species Chocolate unveiled a line of vegan, Fair Trade dark chocolate bars made with oat milk, with 10% of the company’s net profits going to conservation efforts, explained Marketing Director Tod Dalberg.
  • Transparency and traceability: Manufacturers are driving this trend because they see it as key to their long-term goals, the Mintel analysts said. Lockwood noted that more food manufacturers are moving to become B corporations. “Transparency will determine a company’s ability to thrive in the long term,” he said.

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

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