This weekend, the Specialty Food Association (SFA) kicked off its 64th annual Summer Fancy Food Show. The event, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, New York, June 30th through July 2nd, is one with which we’re all familiar—an unparalleled three-day celebration of specialty food makers and mongers.
“Our 64th annual Summer Fancy Food Show put the innovation and passion of our industry front and center,” said Phil Kafarakis, President of the SFA. “The Specialty Food Association is honored to host the show and bring the industry together to network, learn, and conduct critical business.”
Boasting approximately 34,000 attendees and more than 2,400 exhibitors from over 50 countries, the 2018 show featured 365,000 square-feet of show floor, ample educational opportunities, and opportunities to meet and mingle with many of the most innovative and excellent makers alongside representatives of some of the top companies in retail and foodservice, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, UNFI, KeHE, Starbucks, Zingerman’s, Dean & DeLuca, and others.
After a Friday featuring not one—but two day-long opportunities for education and networking, the show proper kicked off on Saturday morning with a session entitled “Yes You Can: Bring Entrepreneurial Spirit to your Products and Stores.” At the session, Co-Founder and Chief Organic Optimist for Stonyfield Farms, Gary Hirshberg, spoke about the state of specialty food.
“15 years ago when we started this, in 2003, we were a $22 billion community,” Kafarkis said in his introductory comments to the session. “Today, we’re going to reach $140 billion. We’re growing anywhere from 11 to 12 to 15 percent depending on the product categories we talk about. This is a robust time in our industry; we’re going to be blowing by $240 billion in the next four years.”
Hirshberg addressed the various challenges, tribulations, and triumphs he experienced as a pioneer in the organic and all-natural dairy category. He offered advice on the ways in which specialty food makers could meet the challenges of an increasing crowded market.
“Right now, we’ve got to be sharp. There are more players—more big players—more money, more talent, and this incredible pressure on growth,” said Hirshberg, noting that increased attention and demand for specialty food has brought with it intense competition. “It means, while some things are more—there is more money, more people, etcetera—there’s now less room for error, less shelf space relative to demand, and less time to prove yourselves.”
The show floor opened at 10:00 a.m. with a ribbon cutting, and the event was underway.
The #FancyFoodShow starts today! Here’s what's on tap:— Specialty Food Assn. (@Specialty_Food) June 30, 2018
9 am: Bring Entrepreneurial Spirit to your Products & Stores
11 am: State of the Industry '18: Trends, Sales Data, Category Forecasts
12:15 pm: Market Trends for Artisan Gelato in the US
1:30 pm Excite Talks: Retail pic.twitter.com/jgXfNP558s
That day, I toured the “New Brands on the Shelf” pavilion—featuring 35 up-and-coming producers, spoke with the outstanding startups in the Incubator Village, and checked out exciting products in the What’s New, What’s Hot Showcase.
At the Showcase, I eyed exciting new products like Alexian Pâté’s new trio of Specialty Crackers, Cypress Grove’s new 1 oz Fresh Goat Cheese Disks, Vermont Creamery’s comprehensively rebranded lineup, new yogurt varieties by La Fermière, and new Mariner brand crackers and flatbreads by Venus Wafers.
Sunday brought about the SFA’s sofi™ Award reception and the announcement of the 2018 sofi™ Award for Product of the Year. 139 of the finest artisan producers in the United States and beyond showcased their award-winning products—selected from a field of more than 2,600 entries—and met with fellow makers, retailers, members of the press, and others to talk about their exceptional products and approaches to the food business.
2nd day of the #fancyfoodshow was full of delicious fun! A star-studded buyer panel, inspiring excite talks, tons of unique trends…and a very patriotic ice luge! More at https://t.co/kjEKqDaA2R pic.twitter.com/lB19FuLgLK— Specialty Food Assn. (@Specialty_Food) July 1, 2018
At the reception, I caught up with specialty food stalwarts and startups, innovators and artisans, each excelling in their craft.
“It’s obviously an honor for Vermont Creamery to win a sofi Award; it really feels like an endorsement of what we’re doing as a business and what we value in terms of quality ingredients and commitment to Vermont agriculture and farmers,” said FM Muñoz, Director of Marketing for Vermont Creamery; the recently rebranded company took home sofis in a number of categories, including Best New Product for the Cheese - Non-Cow Milk, Mixed-Milk category, Gold in the Cheese - Non-Cow Milk, Mixed-Milk category, and Silver winner in the Dairy, Yogurt, Dairy Alternative category
“I think it’s also really important for the American artisan cheese community, in general, that these cheeses are getting out there and winning awards and that we continue to elevate the community of American artisan producers,” Muñoz added.
Rogue Creamery President David Gremmels expressed similar sentiments, noting the gratitude with which the company accepted a Gold sofi in the extremely competitive Cheese - Cow Milk category.
“It’s a great honor to be included in the sofi Awards,” said Gremmels. “For me, it means that our cheese was distinctive in its flavor and also in its looks—that it stood out among the many cheeses and other products that were submitted. It’s gratifying to know that it’s recognized among all the phenomenal products included in these awards.”
Communities and cuisines from far and wide were represented, including California-based Cambodian food makers Angkor Cambodian Food.
“To me it’s great; it’s a prestigious award, but at the same time, it’s not just my cooking. It’s the culture that I want to share with the community,” explained Channy Chhi Laux, Founder of Angkor Cambodian Food. “There are not many people who have tasted Cambodian food [in the U.S.]. If you’ve tasted Cambodian food, it’s probably because you know some Cambodian people, so I’m trying to introduce this cuisine to the general population in America.”
Firehook Bakery took home a Silver sofi Award for the company’s Hummus Crunch baked crackers, and I spoke to Brand Manager & Marketing Director Joseph Roberts about the win.
“I think for us—for Firehook and the team—winning a sofi Award, which is something we had already known about for a long time in the industry—was really cool,” said Roberts. “It was kind of a reflection of how we feel about the product, our passion and all the nurturing thought that goes into the product. It was great to see that solidified, validated, by other people—it was almost like a ‘thank you’ from the industry, so it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
At the culmination of the Meet and Greet, the SFA’s President presented the association’s second-ever Product of the Year award.
“For 46 years, we’ve presented sofi Awards to the best of the best in the specialty food industry,” said Kafarakis. “Our Product of the Year winner comes from an amazing field of competitive products in 39 categories. It’s exciting to recognize Improper Goods and have the Bitter Housewife Cardamom Bitters named 2018 Product of the Year. They truly embody the passion and innovation that our industry stands for, and we predict great things ahead for them.”
In an SFA press release introduced later that day, Improper Goods Vice President of Operations Dylan Myers expressed gratitude and hinted at plans for continued growth and innovation in the category.
“We are honored that our Bitter Housewife Cardamom Bitters have won not only a coveted gold sofi Award, but also Product of the Year,” said Myers. “Improper Goods is all about making cocktails fun and approachable…We’re excited to continue our journey leveraging this incredible recognition.”
The last day of the show kicked off with the SFA’s Front Burner Pitch Competition. Presented by the Foodservice Council and hosted by Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine, the competition featured Sun Grove Foods’ Joanne Lacina, No Evil Foods’ Sadrah Schadel, and Mike’s Hot Honey’s Mike Kurtz presenting to a an expert panel of judges. Delaware and Hudson’s Patti Jackson, Princeton University’s Smitha Haneef, and Sysco of Long Island’s Michael Fava scored the competition.
Ultimately, though fans voted on No Evil Foods’ plant-based products, the panelists selected Mike’s Hot Honey as the winner—receiving a prize package consisting of a variety of SFA promotional opportunities.
The last day’s show floor brought with it the opportunity to connect with various members of the community that we wouldn’t want to miss.
I caught up with Hellenic Farms Founder Vivianna Karamanis Tziotis and spoke to her about the company’s fourth sofi win, vegan fig salami, and the Summer Fancy Food Show’s Partner Country—Greece.
“We’re really proud of it because we really feel like its giving attention to Greece and everything that Greece stands for, which is great quality products,” Karamanis Tziotis told me.
The day closed with participants bidding fond farewells to colleagues, reminiscing about dinners and parties, and parting ways, taking to the four corners of the globe to continue applying the knowledge, building the bonds, and making the excellent products that made the 2018 Summer Fancy Food Show truly exceptional.
Stay tuned to Deli Market News for more coverage of the show in the following weeks.