There were callouts for better nutrition, better quality ingredients, better flavor combinations, and an overall better at-home cooking and eating experience – whether it be from products offering elevated convenience, global flavors or exotic produce that promised to boost color and nutrient density on plates.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, we hear from entrepreneurs who showcased at the Winter Fancy Food Show for the first time as well as more seasoned businesses about how their products go above and beyond the competition. These include better-for-you breakfast items, elevated butters, snacks that are crunchy and snacks that melt in your mouth. We also explore how Pantone’s color of the year – peach fuzz – is inspiring new products and unexpected flavor pairings, and how the hottest new pepper offers more heat.
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Better breakfast: Fluffier, more nutrient dense waffles
According to the Specialty Food Association’s recently released Specialty Food Consumer research, the frequency with which consumers eat specialty foods for breakfast has steadily increased since 2019 to about 36%. In addition, SFA’s most recent State of The Specialty Food Industry 2023-2024 report found frozen breakfast foods were the fourth fastest growing specialty food category between 2020 and 2022.
At the Winter Fancy Food Show several companies sampled better-for-you breakfast options, including multiple waffles – both as mixes and pre-made frozen options.
Among them was Heavenly Waffles, created by Chef Bob Haney, who told FoodNavigator-USA the secret to making extra fluffy waffles at home was to use a carbonated beverage, such as club soda or champagne, along with his mix, which replaces a significant portion of the traditional flour with dry yogurt.
“Heavenly Waffles is a dry yogurt based waffle mix [that is] 140 calories and 10 grams of protein per waffle. They don’t make you tired, like every other pancake or waffle mix on the market. So, you don’t have that hypo-glycaemic reaction that makes you feel like you need a nap. They energize you because the amount of the protein,” he explained.
At the show, the brand introduced four new flavors: cinnamon apple, chocolate espresso, banana and blueberry. They will be available in about a month.
Montana-based startup Unwaffle also showcased a high-protein, allergen-free, vegan waffle line that includes both sweet and savory options. Co-founder and chef Erik Walnum shared some of the surprising ingredients Unwaffle uses to create his high-protein, high-fiber waffles.
“We are a Montana-based company, so we are supporting Montana, organic growers for our oats and lentils. We are milling those into flours and then we are using hemp, flaxseed, tapioca flour, and avocado oil, which is also premium,” he said.
“We see the waffle category is really challenging to do. It’s hard as it is currently dominated by a few big players. There are a few companies that own the freezer case, and they all have compromises – whether it is ingredients, flavor, texture, or they’re not inclusive” and allergen-free, he said. “We hope we can break into that category with a stron line of products that are inclusive and serve everybody.”
Specialty fruit sales surge as consumers seek bright colors, new flavors
According to the most recent State of The Specialty Food Industry 2023-2024 report published by SFA, fruit was the third fastest growing subcategory with at least $500m in sales in 2022 with sales up 24% over the previous year.
Like many categories, however, inflation drove a noticeable wedge between sales and volume of specialty fruit and vegetables. This gap is more noticeable within frozen, sales of which increased 10.8% but which saw volume drop 5.5% in 2022 from the year before. In the same period, shelf stable fruit sales increased 16.3% while volumes dipped 1%.
According to Robert Schuller, director of public relations at Melissa’s Produce, which is one of the largest variety suppliers of specialty produce in the US, consumers are looking for vibrantly colored fruit and roots that can enhance presentation – both on the plate in in packaged foods.
“Kids like color. So, we’ve seen a growth in varietals like … the pink pineapple,” as well as bright yellow fresh turmeric at home, he said.
Other fruits that Schuller sees gaining traction are uzu and tamarin, both of which are being added to beverages, candies and are sold in concentrates and as star ingredients in condiments.
Peach proliferates as color, flavor of the year
Peach also figured prominently at the Winter Fancy Food Show – although less as a fruit and more as a color and flavor, thanks in part to Pantone Institute declaring Peach Fuzz the color of the year and dsm-firmenich naming Peach+ as the flavor of the year.
SFA trendspotters found peach paired with spicy peppers, as in Hot Mama Salsa Peach Habanero Hot Sauce with Lavendar and Janet’s Finest Peach Berry Jalapeno Compote. It also showed up in several beverages, including The Girl Meets Dirt Company’s Peach Shrub and The Republic of Tea’s Thanks You’re a Peach Gift Tea and Peach teas.
North Carolina-based novelty treat company Mary Mack’s also debuted at the show a peach flavored frozen lemonade under its Scoot brand, which Jennifer Naylor says pairs well with the tart tang of lemons.
Move over ghost peppers – there is a new source of spice heating up the market
The sweet-tart flavor combination was also featured prominently in the Mediterranean brand Divina Market’s spreads, including one that features the tart Calabrian chili pepper paired with sweet orange.
Brandon Gross, vice president of marketing for FOODMatch + Divina, explained the Calabrian chili is growing in part because its tart flavor pairs well with so many dishes and other ingredients. He also notes the combination is part of a larger trend of consumers who are “levelling up” and looking for more sophisticated and compound flavors.
Butters blended with spices, fruit offer elevated convenience
Continuing with the sweet-tart trend, at the Winter Fancy Food Show Liko Lehua, a small company from Hawaii, showcased what the owner’s husband Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder described as gourmet butters blended with tropical island fruits to create “creamy, yummy, sweet-tart goodness in a jar.”
The company offers seven flavors that Kanealii-Kleinfelder says are “great on everything” from breakfast to cranberry relish to a dressing for ham or topping for ice cream.
Another startup, Sun Ghee, showcased clarified butter blended with unique flavors, such as sage and rosemary or cardamom and ashwagandha, for what owner and founder Farnosh Family described as “better living.”
“I think there is some white space in offering these unique, different kinds of ghees. There are some plain, traditional ghees that are made by larger manufacturers, but because we are a small batch company, we are able to have pretty good control over the type of quality,” and ingredients sourced from organic and grass fed cows, she said.
Snacks top list of highest-selling specialty food category
Nearly every aisle of the Winter Fancy Food Show included snacks, which according to SFA’s latest State of the Specialty Food Industry report topped the list of highest-selling categories at retail with $6.1bn in 2022.
While crunchy snacks, like Chipoys line of rolled tortilla chips and The Saucy Ladies’ Italian-inspired kettle-cooked potato chips, dominated, there were also a few “melt in your mouth” snacks that stood out, including startup Like Air’s puffed non-GMO corn snacks, which co-founder Allison Lin says is a better-for-you snack for everyone.
Other trends that stood out at the show include a focus on environmental impact, boldly flavored cheese and a plethora of functional beverages, all of which FoodNavigator-USA will dive into in more detail in our continuing coverage of the Fancy Food Show in the coming days and weeks.