Attending the Summer Fancy Food Show is an event I look forward to every year for so many reasons. This mammoth, bi-coastal production takes place each year in 2 locations — a winter event in San Francisco and a summer show in New York City. It skillfully brings together companies from around the world who are interested in showcasing their newest and best products for both the foodservice and retail industries.
This year marked the 60th summer Fancy Food Show, and it was 30% larger than previous years. In fact, this year’s show was the first ever in the history of the show to have a waiting list for exhibitors who were interested in participating. Companies who have participated in the past say that it is an excellent vehicle to showcase their products on a world stage, and many have become household names overnight. This show provided well deserved recognition to a few extraordinary products that were named Sofi Award Finalists for 2014, and winners were selected from each category and honored during the event. As you might expect, this show is not created for everyone but it does accomplish the very difficult task of sifting out the good from the great.
As an invited guest of the NASFT, my goal is to always do justice to the show itself and the thousands of people and companies who put forth such a tremendous effort to pull it off. I realize that seeing and tasting every product is an impossible feat, so instead I try to maintain a keen eye for the delicious, the original and the unique items that may have been overlooked. I am proud to say that several companies previously included in some of my past articles were nominated as Sofi Award finalists this year. If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out Cocomels, Storye Breads, Gelateria Naia and the great people and products at Olli Salumeria. However small my contribution may have been to bringing these companies to light, I am pleased and honored to be a part of their well deserved recognition and ultimate success.
On my way out of the show last year, I happened to walk past the booth of a company called Numi Tea. I did not have time to stop and chat with the reps from the company but grabbed a few of the savory tea samples that remained on their table. After having a chance to try them, I was impressed with how fragrant, flavorful and satisfying the savory versions were. Their online description of not quite a soup but more than a tea, offers up some nutritious alternatives for those of us watching our waistline. The savory tea product alone is noteworthy in its quality – organic vegetables and wild herbs, aromatic spices in a naturally decaf tea base. It’s something we can easily incorporate into our diet to help stave off hunger throughout the day. These guys also insist on Fair trade and Fair labor practices, and support other eco-friendly practices, so they are thoughtful and serious in their methodology. This year I decided to stop by and pick up a sample box of some new tea from their Top Indulgent Tea line that included chocolate earl grey, chocolate mint, chocolate rooibos and chocolate spice. Fragrant, flavorful, delicious—it’s easy to love everything they do. If you come across their products, don’t ever hesitate to purchase them.
Another great little tea company that caught my attention this year was a company called Tea Pigs. I first came across their info in the Press office, with a flyer provided to us with an attached packet of licorice peppermint tea. The fragrance emanating from this little tea bag was so lovely, that I had to make my way to the north hall to taste this unique flavor combination. Finding a great tea blend in this coffee-centric country is harder than it may seem, and I’m always on the lookout for great tea producers. This UK based company knows what they are doing. They currently offer 13 whole leaf teas and 10 herbal blends with something to please everyone. Buy them for home or give them as a gift – they have adorable and practical packaging that will help to fill many customer needs.
Another little company that I found in the Press Office before the show is a little company called Sweet Monkey. They started out, like many other companies, selling more traditional items like cupcakes and frozen yogurt, but have now expanded their offerings to include a more mobile version called Push-Up Cake Pops. I’ve spent much of my adult life in the baking business and have helped hundreds, if not thousands of people celebrate special occasions. Over the years, I discovered that it was a challenge to meet the customer’s needs when things like distance precluded families from being able to share things they enjoyed. These little Push-Up Cake Pops offer practical solutions for so many applications.
Are you celebrating a birthday for your toddler in pre-school or kindergarten and want to bring enough for the whole class? Or what about taking some treats with you on your holidays that can be enjoyed anywhere? Do you have an office party that needs quick and easy packaging for people on the go? Well, let me tell you that these would definitely fit the bill.
Having said all of that, I would like to make a few suggestions. I sampled the vanilla birthday cake that was layered with yellow cake, vanilla frosting and a plain streusel. The cake was moist and delicious but the frosting was overly sweet, and to be honest, there was really no need for the streusel. The purpose of a streusel is to create an added textural element to a pie or coffee cake, but the streusel in the Cake Pop absorbed the moisture from the cake and became soggy. As you pushed up the cake, the streusel fell out, creating a bit of a mess. If they can reformulate the frosting by making it fluffier and less sweet, and also remove the streusel and add more cake instead, they will have a truly exceptional little product. I’m going to keep my eye on this little company, because their mobile packaging is very noteworthy.
When I mention the name Kohler, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I guarantee your response is not remotely associated with chocolate, but would you believe me if I told you that were one in the same? Yes, Kohler Chocolates was also a company I discovered in the Press Office, and I could not wait to discover more about them.
Apparently, Walter Kohler Sr was a true visionary and began to build a plumbing and energy empire in the early 20th century. Many of his employees at the time were immigrants from foreign lands who had arrived in the USA to establish a better life. He decided to build a community that he called the village of Kohler. Here, he built beautiful homes and sold the American dream to families who wanted a better life for themselves and their families. In 1918, he opened the American Club in this same community. A large sprawling home that served as a dormitory for his immigrant employees. It was a place where they could live, earn a wage, learn English, complete their citizenship and become productive members of society.
Over the years, the American Club found new life as an exquisite 5-Star resort. It was here, in the kitchens of the American Club that these delicious chocolate recipes were developed for the visitors of the resort. They began with a traditional recipe of chocolate, caramel and nuts that we all know and love called turtles. The product became so popular that it spawned several other turtle flavors. Customers would look forward to enjoying the chocolates during their stay at the American Club Resort, and then they began asking about how they could purchase them. It was then that the Kohler family decided to go into the chocolate business, and in 2007, the Kohler Chocolate Company was born. I will tell you that they are every bit as delicious as they proclaim. The company includes four flavors of turtles, a selection of brownies, chocolate bars, filled chocolates, a chocolate trail mix and the very popular toffee bark. I salute the Kohler family for their historical contribution to this country, and their continued effort to remain a vibrant, original and forward thinking enterprise.
Last year’s Food Show was all about the evolution of vinegars from savory foods to desserts. This year, the items that many people were talking about were dessert style mustards. One of the best offerings came from a company called Fischer & Weiser. This company makes a great number of products that include delicious pie fillings, a full line of sauces and pasta sauces, salad dressings, salsas, jellies and appetizer dips. I had the pleasure of tasting a few of their products at the show that were simply delicious and included a Salted Caramel Mustard which they drizzled over sliced apples. But my favorite was the Raspberry & Wildflower Honey Mustard. A definite winner paired with sliced baguette and thin slices of roast beef – I definitely could have eaten the whole plate.
As I made my way around the show, I found another business called Calamondin Café that makes delicious jams and coulis from the Calamondin (calamansi) fruit. This tiny little citrus fruit resembles a key lime in its unripened state, but when it is fully ripe it becomes a bright orange like a tangerine. This fruit is used to make marmalade in much the same way as traditional orange marmalade, but the best thing is that you don’t get that unpleasant bitterness. The reason for this is that the calamondin peel is very thin with hardly any pith that is the main contributor to bitter citrus marmalades. I love a great marmalade but it’s hard to find a consistently good product. I was pleasantly surprised with both of the products that I tried (jam and coulis), and found that it offered and intense citrus flavor with a delicate sweetness. The jam and the coulis have a perfect spreadable consistency, and the jam has tiny pieces of rind flecked throughout the product. This added textural element injects an added burst of orange flavor as you eat it, and was a delicious and welcomed surprise. Spread this on toast, top your favorite ice cream, add it to cake batters or fill your cake layers with it— this delicious little product should be in every home.
Over the last few years, goat milk products have inundated the market, and as a result, researchers have shared the many benefits of goat’s vs cow’s milk. These days you can find more than just goat cheese with items like thick, rich yogurts and even ice cream. The biggest selling point is that goat’s milk is an easily digestible alternative to milk and soy products and is higher in calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A & C. When it comes to ice cream, a company called Laloos Goat Milk Ice Cream really does an extraordinary job. Laloos is made with 100% goat’s milk, and if I didn’t tell you it was made with goat’s milk you would never know. All of the flavors are deliciously creamy because of the addition of egg yolks, and intense in flavor.
The Deep Chocolate was extraordinary, but how can you go wrong when the product contains 70% dark Sharffen Berger chocolate. The Capraccino tasted like a good strong coffee, and the Rumplemint was equally minty with loads of shaved chocolate. If you think for one minute that the Vanilla Snowflake was simple or plain in flavor or creaminess — think again. These folks don’t skimp. Just take a peek at their ingredient list, and you will see what I mean. You can purchase their product directly from their online store on their website. In the coming months and years, I am going to enjoy watching this company grow by leaps and bounds and get the recognition they deserve.
When it comes to ice cream, it’s really hard to beat a good mochi ice cream. If you have never had mochi ice cream before, it is a truly unique taste and texture experience that is not soon forgotten. I had first begun my love affair with mochi when I discovered it in the dessert isle of my Asian market many years ago. Mochigashi is a traditional Japanese sweet that is made from cooked, glutinous rice that was traditionally pounded to create a sticky, white mass with a thick, chewy, jelly like consistency. It can be filled with many different things like sweetened red or white bean paste, fruit or vegetables, sweet potato and even ice cream. Small balls of ice cream are wrapped inside a thin mochi covering. They are a great mobile dessert and can be easily enjoyed without plates or utensils. They come in many different flavors and can be found in many international markets.
If you don’t have an international market near you, no worries, companies like Bubbies will ship them directly to you. The company is based out of Hawaii and has more flavors than I can count. They even offer seasonal flavors like pumpkin, peppermint candy cane and eggnog during the holidays, along with a delicious fruity selection like honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon during the summer. These were truly one of the best mochi ice creams I have ever tried.
A company that has been well known for the past 60 years in Northern New York is a company called Mercer’s Ice Cream. Originally started as a family business delivering milk, the business evolved as it passed through different owners through the years. The ultimate goal of each family that owned the business was to highlight the extremely high quality of the dairy products produced in the area. When the Mercer family owned the company, they added ice cream to the lineup, and although they are no longer affiliated with the business, their name remains as a legacy to the brand they helped to build. Today, the company sells 30 flavors of ice cream and sorbet, and recently added six varieties of wine ice cream that include cherry merlot, chocolate cabernet, peach white zinfandel, port, red raspberry chardonnay and Riesling. Reps told me there is 5% alcohol in the product, so definitely something for the adult crowd. The two flavors offered at the show (Port & Red Raspberry Chardonnay) were everything you would want an ice cream to be – creamy and full of complimentary flavors and spices – it’s simply delicious.
We are all on the lookout for delicious appetizers, and some of the best are made by a company called The Perfect Bite. I have seen some of their items at big box stores, so they are out there, but there are a good bit of their products that are only found online. These guys have a huge selection of both sweet and savory miniatures that are perfect for any gathering. Some of their more unique offerings include rice balls known as arancini, that are filled with either a 3-cheese filling or a ham and cheese. Another item which I really loved were their mini burgers in a variety of different flavors that include smoked bacon and cheddar, BBQ with Monterey jack or my favorite of all the caramelized onion and gorgonzola. I was really impressed with how delicious this pre-fabbed product really is. If you need some quick solutions for your upcoming gatherings, make sure to consider their delicious offerings.
I came across a small booth that consisted of the company’s logo displayed in a backdrop and a large bowl in the center filled with small sample packs. The name of the company was Halfpops, and the name alone had me intrigued. After inquiring about the name and getting the rundown on the company, I discovered that it was a popcorn product – but not just any popcorn product. If you are like me, you love to eat the partially popped, crunchy popcorn remnants that remain at the bottom of your bowl. Well, this is exactly what these guys make. They developed a patented process that partially pops the corn, and they are OUTRAGEOUSLY delicious. After finishing off my first sample pack, I realized that they reminded me of that other snack called corn nuts. These were very similar in flavor and crunchiness, but these were better. They were smaller, and you didn’t have to worry about making a dental appointment after your snack break. The company currently offers 2 flavors:- butter and sea salt and aged cheddar. Both are delicious, but I am always partial to the aged white cheddar variety. Their next flavor will be a caramel sea salt and is due out soon. Look for them in stores, or go online and order them– they are beyond delicious.
If you eat out often or love to watch food television programming, you may have wondered where Chefs find those unique containers, utensils, skewers, dishes and packaging that help to beautifully present their completed dishes. Companies like Pack ’n’ Wood or Restaurantware sell many of these unique and hard to find items, like miniature mason jars or cones with matching stands that are perfect for appetizers or a selection of different desserts. These upscale ideas offer a modern twist to your food presentation. What’s even better is that you can order from either company online at any time, and WOW your guests at your next gathering.
One of the most unique items I discovered at the Show this year was a beverage called Tiger Nuts produced by a company called Organic Gemini. I had never heard of Tiger Nuts before, but was quickly informed of their historic significance dating back to ancient Egypt. This plant is actually considered a tuber because it is produced in the root system of the plant. Another name for it is earth almond, and once pulled from the ground it is rinsed and allowed to dry for up to 3 months. You can find the product ready to eat in packets as you would a tree nut. Eating them this way must be an acquired taste, because I did not find them to be very enjoyable in this way. The bottled beverage made from Tiger Nuts and known as Horchata, was not bad. The unsweetened version reminded me of raw soy milk that I used to purchase in Asian grocery stores years ago. The coffee flavor was quite good and not very sweet. The other flavors available are Chai, Original (sweetened with medjool dates) and Bee Pollen. In other countries, Horchata can also be prepared using uncooked rice, almonds, sesame or barley. From what I have read, the original horchata was created in Spain using Tiger Nuts. Because it is a tuber, it is an allergen free product, and also gluten free.
One of the more interesting products I discovered again and believe is underutilized, is the Australian Wild Hibiscus Flowers that have been candied in syrup. These delicate flowers are suspended in a flavorful syrup and used as a beautiful and edible garnish in cocktails, champagne or even desserts like ice cream or custard. The flowers are intact, thanks to a delicate handpicking process developed by the owner of company. The jar come in 2 sizes, one with an 11 count and the other with a 50 count. These also have a great shelf life of up to 2 years.
The international isles are not usually an area where I spend too much of my time because many of these vendors are newer companies searching for distribution opportunities within the USA. Sometimes I get lucky and find a company that has an established base where consumers can readily access their product.
As I walked past the exhibitors section for France, a uniquely capped and colorful bottle display caught my attention. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that they were an array of sparkling juices from France that included flavors like blood orange, tangerine lime, green apple, pomegranate blueberry and several types of lemonades that included a new pear lemonade flavor. The company is called Effervé, and is imported into the USA (and Canada) by a company called Eurobubblies. I sat for a moment to try the product and was impressed with the burst of flavor I got with every sip, along with a lovely clean finish. I inspected the label but did not discover anything out of the ordinary that would set this product aside, but I knew there was something more that did not meet the eye. I continued to prod the reps for more information and finally sat for a moment to speak with Christian Clerc, the Director of Sales for the USA market. I discovered that what made this product so distinctive was their use of fresh mineral water from natural springs sourced from the foothills of the Vosges mountains in France.
The Soultzmatt Springs are located in the northeast area of France known as Alsace, and have been a well known source of delicately carbonated mineral water since the 13th century. In fact, Franciscan monks highly regarded the product for its curative properties and also used it exclusively in their beer production, a tradition that continues with many beer companies today. This is a HUGE selling point and I am surprised that this very important fact is not really disclosed in their labeling. What I do know is that the product is delicious and surprisingly enough, found in many grocery chains that run the gamut from Aldi, Kings, Sprouts, Homegoods, Heinen’s and even Balducci’s. So, when you are out shopping for your everyday beverages, leave the Coke on the shelf and try one of these many delicious flavors.
The other product that caught my eye was a company called Ethical Bean from Canada. An environmentally aware, community minded company that makes a great tasting product. They currently offer 8 whole bean and 5 ground roast items that would rival some of their more well known competitors. The company is located in Vancouver, CA and recently installed a smart roasting system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. It is a company that believes in transparency so much, that it has added a QR code to each and every one of its products. When the QR code is scanned on a smartphone, it discloses your coffee’s journey from farm to shelf—and since coffee manufacturers across the globe have not historically used Fair Trade practices, this company is setting a higher standard for corporate social responsibility. This is a great way to access information if you have a smartphone to scan it, but there is still a large part of the population that does not. There is no doubt that this technology is useful and will become even more useful in the future, and I applaud the good folks at the Ethical Bean who have chosen to embrace it so early on in the game.
For more information about attending or exhibiting in either the Winter or Summer Fancy Food Show, please visit their website.
Future show dates:
Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, CA, January 11-13, 2015
Summer Fancy Food Show, New York City, June 28-June 30, 2015