The Fancy Food Show, an annual trade show held this week by the Specialty Food Association, covers less territory at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York than in prepandemic years. A total of 1,373 companies displayed foods, drinks and related items, down from about 2,400 in 2019, the last year the show was held. (Pandemic caution drove the decision to shrink the show.) But that’s still plenty of pasta sauces, cheeses, chips and chocolates to discover in the United States’ $175 billion specialty food industry. New flavors and ingredients like Lapsang souchong tea, seaweed, bourbon and black truffle are showing up in products like coffee, cheeses and candies. According to the association, sustainability, ethical sourcing and products to “support the livelihoods of underserved communities” are increasingly important features for a growing list of products, including for Black Mamba Foods from South Africa, with a line of sauces and condiments. South Africa was among the 60 countries that also included Botswana, Taiwan and Croatia in the international pavilion.
Sales of plant-based alternative protein in specialty foods reached $7 billion in 2021 in the United States, with the biggest jump at the start of the pandemic in 2020. But with mainstream corporations like Unilever entering the category, growth in the specialty food segment has slowed considerably. Convenience is also an important feature: “Pandemic-influenced cooking at home jump-started growth in the category, and it is expected to continue,” the association stated. Big names in new pasta sauces are Carbone, as in the restaurant, and a newly-minted regional Italian line by the chef Tom Colicchio for the Jersey Tomato Co., which will soon be on the market. Also increasing in sales are refrigerated products, notably ready-to-drink tea and coffee, and entrees. A winner of one of the association’s new product awards is zucchini-cilantro-cauliflower soup, a refrigerated product ready to heat and serve from I Eat My Greens, a small company founded in San Diego in 2020. It was one of 300 first-time exhibitors at this year’s show. Though major distributors of specialty foods are perennial exhibitors, the show also has an area for start-ups, companies in business for less than a year with sales under $1 million.