The leading specialty food show in the country returns to San Francisco, Jan. 19–21, to give visitors a mouthwatering glimpse of the latest in cuisine and culture. This year, The Winter Fancy Food Show will feature a taste of Italy, an expanded Incubator Village and a Mediterranean Diet Roundtable—all great places for meeting professionals to get ideas for spicing up their menus.
“Countless connections, discoveries and deals are made,” says Bill Lynch, vice president of engagement and events with Specialty Food Association, which puts on the event in San Francisco each winter and New York City each summer. Attendees include buyers, makers, distributors, importers, influencers, global thought leaders and, this year, a delegation from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Education sessions and special events fuel attendees for the coming year. Lynch notes that the newly expanded Moscone Center allowed his group to add more experiential features to this year’s show. His was the first group to move in when the facility cut the ribbon on renovations in 2019.
Smart Meetings asked the experts showing off their creativity about trends planners can look forward to seeing in ballrooms in 2020.
Made in Italy
The Italian Trade Agency (ITA) will promote “authentic Italian creations made in unique places by dedicated people who use centenary traditions to obtain the products we all know and love,” says Antonio Laspina, executive director with ITA for the USA. He is eager to help find a an even bigger place for real Italian cucina in the largest market in the world.
Look for Lounge Italia, where delicacies will be prepared on the spot by renowned Italian chefs with authentic Italian ingredients. Vinitaly will offer wines paired with the daily cooking show’s menus. And a coffee bar will boost everyone’s energy with a strong espresso made in the Italian way. Taste It Live will showcase Italian cheese and meats—13 types in all—with a professional speaker to conduct guided tastings. A specialized mixologist will offer cocktails built with Italian liqueurs and cordials and explain the properties of each drink.
“Aside from the fact that Italy could not be absent from these occasions because Italian food has a special—and sizable—place at everybody’s table, we have been participating at the Fancy Food show for many decades,” Laspina says.
Predicting food trends is a challenge in the best of times. Now, with “all the emerging cuisines, traditions, cultures and tastes, it may be even more challenging,” cautions Laspina. Organic and natural foods will be at the top of today’s preferences due to our desire to stay healthy, he observes. That leads to ever more “free” foods (dairy-free, MSG-free, etc.).
He sees Americans as extremely price conscious when it comes to food. Therefore, he predicts that products with a good ratio of price to quality will win over the biggest audiences. “We think Italian products comply with all the above, have a long history of being healthy and keeping people healthy, and, most importantly, they taste amazing,” he says.
Susie Timm, a food events publicist working with Traina Foods, also points to healthy eating as the trend for 2020. The Patterson, California-based dried food company will be testing new items “not quite ready for retail,” she says. That includes Pasta Toss to replace traditional pasta sauce. Look for the concept products in stores by mid-year.
Natalie Shmulik, CEO of The Hatchery Chicago, is seeing more products in the cannabis space, as recreational use is legalized in more areas. She also has noticed a focus on cognitive health and ingredients that encourage that—including tonics and shrubs with natural ingredients. One of the companies she is traveling with, Nature’s Nosh, produces CBD products such as Peanut Better & Jolly.
Only in SF
Delegates flock to the show almost as much for the destination as the exposition. Traina uses the event to bring together the team, many of members of which are remote, to experience the foodie city of San Francisco.
This will be the first time Shmulik is bringing her Incubator Village to San Francisco, though she has been to the summer event at Javits Center three times with emerging companies. “The best thing is the experience of traveling together to reinforce the family dynamic and startup mentality we share,” she says, adding that each of the female-led companies showing with her promote a mission in addition to a great product.
“So much great food will be there, but will try our best to get out after the show and connect with partner companies,” she says. “Plus, the weather is better there than in Chicago in January.”