By: Margaret Core, Vice President, Industry Events, Food Marketing Institute, and Sarah Malenich, Director, Sales & Marketing, SQFI 

SQF CertifiedSpecialty foods and beverages represent the sweet spot in food retailing today. Sales hit $127 billion last year, climbing 15 percent from 2014 to 2016, while total retail food sales grew 2.3 percent, according to the Specialty Food Association’s annual State of the Industry report.

Why are specialty foods and beverages doing so well? Product innovation and wider availability in mass-market outlets.

Four FMI staff members attended the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York last week. We were there primarily to discuss food safety - Rober Garfield and Leann Chuboff from the Safe Quality Food Institute took the stage and gave a presentation on the “Future of Food Safety.” Read more about their presentation. We also visited with FMI members – thanks to our new alliance with the Specialty Food Association, FMI members were extended VIP access to the new LevelUp program and other show benefits. Our team also took time to visit with all the SQF certified companies at the show. See them pictured above and additional details below.

As we took in the exhibit hall we learned about the hottest new, fun trends in specialty foods and beverages. All the oils, chocolates and teas Fancy Food is famous for were there, but so were plenty of innovations and new products. Here are a few of the latest trends we noticed: 

1. Nutrient-dense foods and plant-based products are in.

Plant-based foods are the new Superfood. We heard many compelling stories describing how food quality is found in nature, but driven by the desire to harness biology to naturally craft incredible foods. Mindful nourishment and “plant-powered” energy were at the forefront of many of our conversations. Here are a few products that caught our eye: 

2. The waters are flowing.

From rose water to hydrogen-infused water, there was plenty to quench our thirst. Coconut water remains a keeper, but we also saw more variety in waters with enhancements. We read plenty about the attributes of waters that were all-natural, natural immune boosters, natural energy boosters, had no refined sugars and more.

2b. That is B, as in bees.    

Honey-based products were everywhere! Be it for hydration or stimulation, we saw honey being used in many products, including water.

Beetox anyone? Honey water has a centuries-long history of being used as medicine, for hydration and, now, as an energy booster. Do bees ever sleep?

Likewise, the showfloor was rich with wellness beverages. Think apple cider vinegar, green tea, matcha and more to arm your body’s defense system. Products we found include:

3. Non-sweetened foods and Whole30 are the new black.

We picked up on the focus on non-sweetened foods during our visit. When exhibitors had products low in sugar, they were showcased and prominently described as sugar-free, unsweetened, low sugar or no sugar.

We noted also a good number of exhibitors displaying products compliant with Melissa and Dallas Hartwig's Whole30 program. Millions of consumers have bought the 2015 book and have tackled the program that calls for them to eat non-processed whole foods and ditch grains, dairy and sugar. Products we discovered:

4. Drink your soup – Veggies, bone broth and more.

Summer soup isn’t just gazpacho any more, although there is plenty of that too. Be it hot weather refreshers, packable snacks or liquid lunches, we found appealing ready-to-drink soups and veggie products designed to meet the consumer’s desire for convenience and health. Marketed as lower in sugar alternatives to cold-pressed juices, souping quickly is becoming the new juicing. 

5. Cultured coffee anyone?

Coffee turned Superfood through natural fermentation? Reduced acid for those of us who suffer from heartburn? More sustained energy? No bitter taste? Do tell.  

6. Finally, artificial intelligence digs its robot paws into food retailing.

As customer experience management enters a new era, we were intrigued by Flavorprint by Vivanda. Using propriety algorithms and machine learning, Vivanda can quiz consumers on their tastes and texture preferences, then match those preferences - using 33 core flavors and 16,000 aroma chemicals -  with any recipe, beverage or food product, delivering personalized recommendations through an API (application programming interface)-enabled platform designed to create customized one-of-a-kind menus.

We also enjoyed reviewing the  sofi product award winners on display front and center in the lobby and had a delightful time wandering from booth to booth, running into FMI members, visiting with exhibitors who have investing in SQF certification and enjoying the wide variety of specialty foods and beverages emerging in the marketplace. In addition to the SQF certified companies listed above, here are some more we encountered on the show floor: