ThoughtMatter recently had the chance to attend the Specialty Food Association’s annual Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center last week. The entire center was taken over by food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. It was an inspiring and exciting atmosphere. As a group of artists, designers, and most importantly, foodies, we felt right at home.
As we headed toward vendors from New York to Hawaii to Louisiana to Maine, we spent most of our time in the local NYC section. There were over 2,670 exhibitors from over 55 countries on display, and we tried everything from chocolate, cheese, olive oil, baked goods, jams, salsas, and teas to a variety of other yummy treats. What I loved most was seeing the variety of journeys each brand was on.
There were early start-ups and more established brands, but one thing was clear — every single person I met or talked to had true passion for their product. It is easy to feel jaded about the food industry with news about lack of transparency, unethical processes, unhealthy ingredients, and the fattening of America, but the Summer Fancy Food Show made me feel different. There are amazing entrepreneurs out there who are developing new practices, pushing the boundaries of food and bringing love back to it.
The entire team sorted through photos, postcards, and pamphlets and reflected on their own experience to highlight five trends, which inspire us.
Brands with Characters
This was probably the most fun trend we saw. It’s no longer enough to have a name on your product; it is now about the person, the story and its character. The exciting part for us, (skeptical) branding experts was most of these characters actually existed. We met ‘mama’ behind Mama’s Biscuits and the bone doctor who developed Bone Doctors BBQ sauce, whose bad signature inspired the logo. Not only did these brands have compelling stories, they also had real character narratives.
Illustration is Tasteful
Food and design have craft, and when those two come together we can’t help but get excited. We saw amazing illustration styles and hand-drawn type that made us envious. But most importantly, it gave us hope, hope that food brands will move away from poorly rendered, hyper-real images of ingredients and instead celebrate the actual product in a whimsical light. Most inspiring was Big Picture Farm whose illustration of goats, dogs and farm animals made us drool.
It was a special treat to have met the founder and illustrator of Big Picture Farms. We were also excited by the tattoo-inspired illustrations of Fire Cider, High River and Heartbreaking Dawns. Long live the illustrator!
Popular: Beets & Matcha
As expected, we spotted the next ‘it’ foods. The ones that don’t get as much love in mainstream, but the foods waiting and ready to break through. We have a leg up being in New York, because we’ve seen these foods everywhere, but at the Fancy Food show we saw them in saturation. The foods of the hour were Beets and Matcha. We’re expecting to see even more of these two vibrant purple and bright green super stars in the near future.
Plant Based Foods
Everywhere we turned we heard ‘plant based’ as an introductory offer. After two aisles of hearing this phrase we finally asked a plant based cookie purveyor what it meant. He looked at our weary faces and said, “it’s vegan and gluten-free, and no one thinks that sounds too appetizing.” However, folks are interested in what a new plant engineered cookie may taste like. With this new knowledge we kept our ears open and noticed that plant based anything is the new everything. We also loved the apple-based honey looking to change the bee conversation. Perhaps next year we will watch out for fruit based foods.
The Unexpected Food
Lastly, our favorite new trend is an unexpected twist to food. This was one we recognized only after we discussed what we tried (which was a lot). We discussed our surprise at dessert humus, savory yogurts and boozy jams. The jury is still out on the appeal of these food combos, but one thing is for sure they made us rethink our expectations for specific categories and flavors.
We all love getting out from behind our computers and exploring what this city has to offer. Fancy Food gave us the ultimate field trip, combining our loves of food, branding, stories, people and purpose — thank you to everyone we met and talked to. You changed our perspective, and we can’t wait to see where your journeys may take you.