Monday, June 29, 2009

My day at the Fancy Food Show

I’ve just come from the Fancy Food Show in New York, or the closest an adult can come to being locked overnight in a candy store. Next time I’ll know to bring my own toothpick, so I can move more quickly from booth to booth, spearing whatever sample is being featured. The choices fill a huge swath of the city’s main convention hall, the Jacob Javits Center.

Cheese was by far the most common product featured. But I tried everything from a Pisco Sour to velvet cake to a juice-infused gummy candy, wholewheat pancakes, all kinds of cured meats, and, perhaps best of all, real licorice.

The trends that were evident:

--Healthful snacks were definitely in abundance. What made them healthful varied widely. There was a ginger snap, touted as a hangover aid because it had triple the usual amount of ginger; any number of teas ascribed with healthful qualities or ingredients, like a mangosteen additive; confections loaded with nuts; plain old nuts; dairy-based drinks, like kefirs, marketed as snack options; and new types of yogurts, like the more-pudding-like Greek variety. Other examples were familiar products, like vegetable chips, packaged in what were hailed as “smart portions.”

--A number of cheese purveyors tried to put some fruit into their products. I tried a cranberry-studded mild cheese, and I could’ve had any number of selections that were recommended to be served with fruit jams, as they are in Italy. I also saw cheeses that were topped with fruit compotes or stewed fruits, sort of like cheesecakes.

--Aggressively showcased were teas, teas, and more teas. Sold loose-leafed, in tea bags, in cans, in bottles, in concentrates.

--There were probably a half-dozen small-batch soft drink specialists, featuring drinks in traditional (cola, orange) and unusual (espresso, pomegranite, carbonated lemonade) flavors.

--Consistent with the recent surge in foodservice licensing, several restaurants were on hand to promote products they hope to sell through supermarkets or other eateries. Included were Peanut, Butter & Jelly, the New York restaurant that features nothing but variations on the PBJ, touting its peanut butter; Patsy’s, the New York landmark that can boast of being Frank Sinatra’s favorite restaurant, promoting its pastas and sauces; Rao’s, doing the same; and Sarabeth’s, the bakery institution, looking to sell more baked goods through alternative channels.

--At least two booths featured speck, from regions a long plane ride from Italy. One purveyor cured the pork-leg meat in Iowa. The other hailed from Asia.

Almost as telling was the lack of attention to products that were in the spotlight just a year or two ago: Coffees, unusual breads, craft beers, and alternative proteins, like ostrich or beefalo. There was some of each, but not as much as a sharp-eyed shopper might encounter at the National Restaurant Association show.

Okay, time to work off everything I ate during my three hours on the show floor. A 12-mile run should do it. Maybe.

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