Right now, the last samples are being snarfled down at Moscone Center for the conclusion of the three-day and 38th annual Fancy Food Show. More than 17,000 attendees attempt to taste as many of the 80,000 products on display from 35 countries over the course of three days, and it's enough to bring even a professional food taster to her knees.
A panel of trend forecasters and other culinary experts settled on five major trends that they saw at this year's event: Botanical beverages, "oil nouveau" (tea oils, seed oils etc.), blue cheese, seeds, and bananas. We noticed these ideas in abundance as well (and marveled at new applications such as Oregon cheesemaker Rogue Creamery's blue cheese powder), but the trend we noticed most was laziness.
Don't have the energy to microwave a cup of soup? Not to worry, a new self-heating "Hot Can" will take care of that tedious and oh-so time consuming process for you. Think a cupcake is just a vehicle for frosting and you can't be bothered to spend time eating the cake part? A slew of "just the frosting" products delivered in both dainty and gluttonous portions will have you in sugar shock in no time.
Can't eat anything unless it's in pop-able form? Luckily there is now a chip for every ingredient on the planet. Drinking multiple glasses of wine in one sitting is such a bother because you have to, you know, keep tipping the bottle, but now there are stackable wine glasses sealed with a lid so you can pour all four at once.
One thing we did not see at the Fancy Food Show was pre-chewed and/or pre-digested food. But that's probably the next frontier of this wave of laziness.
While many of the mass consumer ideas were geared towards slothfulness in the kitchen, the Fancy Food Show's vast number of exhibitors create a balance with more involved products. For example, gluten-free goods have been growing exponentially here over the past few years, but this year we began to see even more thoughtfulness at the smallest levels, like a Kansas chef experimenting with sorghum pie crusts and teff flour biscotti in order to achieve pure flavors that don't tend to be associated with the mish-mash of ingredients that can show up in GF products.
There are also signs that the middle American palate may finally be embracing heat and spice beyond chipotle. While we did not find nearly as many "extreme" hot sauces on exhibit this year, it seemed like this was the year that the sweet and hot combination took off. With so many beloved Yankee snack foods being very one-note and bland, this was an exciting growing category to witness.
Our extreme bias may be showing, but over countless hours of stalking the aisles, it was clear to us that so many of the truly fresh ideas and flavors we encountered were created by Bay Area companies. It's no surprise that we're a center of food innovation, but this was a nice reminder. Stay tuned for a special focus on what we consider to be the best of these new products.