As it does every June, the Summer Fancy Food Show packed the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City with specialty food and beverage vendors showing off new products and the latest trends.
Many of this year's offerings built on trends that have been on the rise in recent years, including plant-based offerings, specialty beverages and health-focused fare.
Recently, plant-based foodies have discovered the beauty of aquafaba, the liquid drained from a can of chickpeas that used to go down the drain and is now whipped into an egg replacer for baked goods and sauces.
Vegan chef Jessica Gebel launched Fabalish with a vegan version of Tzatziki sauce and a spicy dip dubbed Smoked Spices.
The products took off at farmers’ markets and Gebel soon started worrying about what to do with all the leftover chickpeas. She began baking them into falafel balls that she used in sauce samplings and soon the new product won fans, and the sauce business grew to included Baked Falafel Balls and, most recently, Chickpea Blondies.
The goal of the brand is to “make vegan sexy,” Gebel said.
As other trends rise and fall, the popularity of chickpeas never seems to wane. Another new brand, Talia Dry Roasted Chickpea Snacks, was created by a group of friends with roots in Turkey who met as students at Cornell University.
The team set out to make a version of the increasingly popular snacks with a few twists. First, Talia’s chickpea snacks are dry roasted using no oil. Second, the brand offers uncommon flavors including Olive & Oregano, Coconut and Honey Sesame.
Stacey Sparks-Huff and her grown kids went vegan and found themselves struggling to feed their cravings for the familiar baked goods they loved. They played around with recipes, but the commercial egg replacers they were using didn’t quite do the trick, Sparks-Huff said.
So she experimented with starches and leveners to create a proprietary ingredient that she has turned into the Simple VGN line of boxed cake, frosting and pancake mixes.
A craving for something better also drove German orthopedic surgeon Mudar Mannah to create Happy Cheeze in 2012. A lack of plant-based cheese alternatives led Mannah to quit his job and innovate in the kitchen, on a mission to “make products that make people smile,” he said.
Today, his company has 16 employees in a new 700-square-meter production facility. The company’s rise mirrors the evolution of the plant-based cheese industry.
“When we started in 2012, there was no competition. Now, the market is growing very fast,” he said.
Beverages continue to be an area of specialty innovation, including tea, an area with seemingly little room to expand.
Scott Wibbenmeyer and his wife, Sharon Colona, turned a chance acquisition into a new beverage business and found a way to innovate and stand out in the crowded tea category.
The pair moved from St. Louis, Mo., to California, buying a property in Temecula that included 600 avocado trees.
“We became accidental avocado farmers,” Wibbenmeyer said.
Colona began doing her research on the proper raising of the fruit, and came across a story about the health benefits of tea made from avocado leaves. The pair set about perfecting a process for brewing the tea, filed for a patent on the process and today it’s selling Avocado Leaf Tea in five flavors.
Dean Eberhardt was working in plastics recycling and toying with home brewing. When he decided to take a 30-day break from drinking, he wanted something more innovative than non-alcoholic beer as a beverage option.
The result -- Boulder, Colo.-based Hoplark Sparkling HopTea. The company brews black, white, green and chamomile tea in different flavors using craft beer methods. The product is served in tall cans that resemble beer cans.
“It’s not an anti-alcohol product, it’s an alcohol adjacent product,” he said.
Some of the other on-trend brands at this year’s show:
- Nanci Gelb and Terri Tsagaris started baking cookies for friends’ events and, when they realized their plant-based cookies were the most popular they launched Off Our Rocker Cookies to make and sell sweet potato-based cookies.
- Boring, Ore.-based A Boring Life has launched a line of flavored almonds and walnuts made with hemp extract.
- New York City-based Fizzy Fox has created a line of shrubs, fruit- and vegetable-flavored versions of the vinegar-bases sparkling drinks.
- Happy Planet, a Canada-based company that’s expanding into the US with a line of oat milks and organic almond milks.
- Gen X, millennials are a growing force behind fancy food trends
- What’s next for plant-based brands in a flexitarian world?
- A new wave of plant-based food makers is focused on fish
- Startups make plant-based meals more convenient
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