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Major Flavor: 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show Trends

Tens of thousands of food industry folks descended on San Francisco last weekend for the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show and the Good Food Mercantile—two important shows for up-and-comers and established players in the specialty food industry. It was like the holidays all over again for hungry culture staffers, as we scouted new items, made connections, and tasted a boatload of artisan cheese.

The vibe at both shows was decidedly West Coast—nut milks and alt-flours reigned supreme at the Fancy Food Show, for example—with a healthy dash of global sensibility. We spotted products featuring unexpected spices and teas at both shows, like curry-miso-matcha granola from Lucky Rabbit Snacks and hibiscus-infused salt from Napa’s Whole Spice. Beyond granola and salts, Little Apple’s apple cider caramel spiked with rose hips and cocoa nibs was a highlight. Jam makers are increasingly turning to spices, too, and we were delighted by a rich almond butter spiced with cardamom and cloves from Los Angeles company Solstice Canyon (and, oh, what gorgeous branding!).

Photo courtesy of Quicke's

Photo courtesy of Quicke’s

This trend extended to cheese—we were enchanted by La Cigogne, a tomme-style round lightly flavored with elderflowers from Peterson Cheese. Delicate herbs also surfaced in Quicke’s Elderflower Clothbound Cheddar and in the Green Fairy, an Alpine-style wheel from Atalanta accented by a proprietary mix of herbs harvested in the Swiss mountains.

Hemp was hot: Think bars, bites, even water. (In related news, Eastern Europe–inspired birch tree water is now a thing.) Speaking with Canadian hemp producers Manitoba Harvest, we learned that since the legality of growing hemp in the United States differs from state to state, Canada has pretty much cornered the market. That’s good news for them as plant-based proteins are definitely having a heyday.

Market segmentation also stood out for us. There were items tailored to every special diet: from vegetarian and vegan to lactose- and gluten-intolerant, from Paleo and primal to raw and everything in between (including a line of cricket and mealworm snacks called Don Bugito—seriously).

Photo courtesy of BelGioioso.

Photo courtesy of BelGioioso.

Convenience is still king, and there was a dizzying array of snacks on display to appeal to jetsetters and busy parents alike. The dairy world has jumped on the bandwagon, too, with many cheese companies offering small-format packages. We saw 3-ounce tubs of mascarpone and 70-calorie mozzarella packs from Wisconsin’s BelGioioso, as well as pouches of mini Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar bars at the Coombe Castle booth.

Another treat coming down the pike in 2016: delicious goat’s milk yogurts from LeClare Farms, available in plain, vanilla, blueberry, and strawberry. Wonder if they’ll expand the line to include spice and tea flavors for the summer show?

Feature photo courtesy of Specialty Food Association

Leigh Belanger

Leigh Belanger is culture's former food editor. She's been a food writer, editor, and project manager for over a decade— serving as program director for Chefs Collaborative and contributing to local newspapers and magazines. Her first book, The Boston Homegrown Cookbook, was published in 2012. She lives and cooks in Boston with her family.