By Jill Failla
The Specialty Food Association’s biannual Fancy Food Show is the largest event in North America dedicated exclusively to specialty food and beverage producers and buyers. This past Summer Fancy Food Show, held in New York City, was attended by over 2,600 exhibitors from 54 different countries, and I had the pleasure of attending as a natural trends scout for SPINS.
The term umami is commonplace these days in the food world, but it was news to me that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a naturally occurring compound in tomatoes, which helps give them their great umami taste. David Benzaquen, CEO of Ocean Hugger Foods, shared this fun fact during the Summer Fancy Food Show’s Disrupt or Be Disrupted session on July 2. Umami-rich tomatoes can do more than make pizza and pasta taste delicious: Benzaquen’s company is currently using them to disrupt the sushi world and formulate a new tomato-based vegan sushi product, called Ahimi.
Certified Master Chef James Corwell, Ocean Hugger’s founder, learned during a visit to a Japanese fish market that four million pounds of yellow bluefin tuna was auctioned off daily. He balked at the sustainability implications, and, in turn, helped contribute to a solution. More and more consumers care about food waste and sustainability, and Ocean Hugger aims to do its part to provide innovative solutions to these issues. I tried the Ahimi, and it was surprisingly satisfying – evocative of raw tuna in taste, texture, and even color.
Seafood Stands Out
Seafood products are perhaps experiencing reinvigorated interest from consumers as they increasingly pop up in both expected and unexpected categories. One product that jumped out at me right away was Freshé’s colorful lineup of tinned tuna meals from Portugal (a nation known for its canned seafood). This lineup offers some welcome innovation into the canned tuna aisle; made with ingredients such as Friend of the Sea Certified Sustainable wild skipjack tuna, roasted peppers, butternut squash, olives, shaved almonds, and olive oil and herbs, these tinned meals are a far cry from the StarKist lunch meals I regularly enjoyed as a kid. The 4.25-ounce BPA-free tin meals come in Sicilian Caponata, Aztec Ensalada, Provence Nicoise, and Thai Sriracha varieties, and the brand suggests pairing the food with a crusty baguette, crackers, mixed greens, and more, depending on which meal it is.
Another product, Williwaw’s Salmon Cracklet crispy salmon and trout skin, stood out to me in the Chile international aisle as something I’ve never run across before, and I was excited to try it. The company was founded by three kayaking and foodie enthusiasts concerned by the environmental impact of food production. Launched in 2017, the brand touts that its oven-baked fish skins are packed with collagen, omega-3, and protein, and would have otherwise been undervalued biproducts in the fishing industry. Available in four flavors – Smokey, Spicy Paprika, Sweet Salsa, and Pesto – the skins were light and crunchy, suitable for a snack or a meal topping.
People are always looking for new superfoods to benefit their health, and aronia berries (also known as chokeberries) are appearing in a growing number of new products. Celebrated for their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dense amount of phytonutrients, aronia berries have been cropping up in several different segments lately, from Jalma Farms’ Black Aronia Berry Jams to LemonKind’s Aronia Hibiscus Flower Tea to Poppilu’s lineup of lemonades. At Fancy Food, I found Jalma Farms at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center table, sampling their Black Aronia All Natural Jam and Black Aronia Hot Pepper Jam, made with jalapeno and habanero. The New Jersey farm’s aronia bushes are also used in conservation efforts as they help to prevent soil erosion and manage wildlife habitats. The jams are naturally sweet, but the brand touts them as containing half the sugar of regular jams.
With the tagline “Keep It Real. Eat The Peel,” New York-based brand Rind purports that more vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber are found in the rind than anywhere else in the fruit. In light of this, Rind keeps the skin on its sun-dried superfruit slices to maximize the flavor and nutrition. Nothing is added to the sun-dried oranges, pineapples, kiwi, persimmons, peaches, and apples, and they’re labeled kosher, non-GMO, and gluten-free. We also like that this product helps reduce unnecessary food waste by using the whole fruit. The fruits ranged in taste from tangy to tart to sweet, but all of them were chewy…in a good way.
The Chocolate Corner
Ending on a sweet note, FlavaBars and Hu were two of my favorite chocolate bars that I sampled at the show. Just launched late last year, FlavaNaturals’ bars and drinking chocolate set themselves apart with highly particular sourcing and processing of cacao to preserve flavanol content (hence the brand’s name). On its website, FlavaNaturals boasts that raw cacao has 40X the antioxidants of blueberries, ounce to ounce! The brand claims that its FlavaBars, with 500 mg of cocoa flavanols, offer five times the cocoa flavanols of typical chocolate bars, and its FlavaMix drinking chocolate, with 900 mg of cocoa flavanols, contains nine times the cocoa flavanols of a typical chocolate bar. The bars are currently available in six flavors: Blueberry + Green Tea Matcha, Almond + Himalayan Pink Salt, Pure Cocoa Nibs, Crystalized Ginger + Saigon Cinnamon, Espresso Ground Coffee, and Classic Dark Chocolate.
Hu Kitchen in New York City is a hip foodservice-meets-retail-meets-brand concept, enjoying something of a cult following with its Paleo and vegan chocolate bars, which were exclusively available at the restaurant to start. This year, Hu Products announced a strategic minority investment from Sonoma Brands, along with plans to accelerate its snacking portfolio into a global space. Its Hu Chocolate bars’ front-of-label claims are numerous: no gluten, no refined sugar, no cane sugar, no sugar alcohols, no dairy, no GMOs, no emulsifiers, and no soy lecithin. They’re made with unrefined organic coconut sugar and organic stone-ground and fair-trade cacao in an SQF Level 3 facility with full traceability. A wide range of dark chocolate flavor options include Salty, Vanilla Quinoa Qrispy, Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa, Hazelnut Butter, Crunchy Banana, and Cashew Butter + Pure Vanilla Bean. And with Hu’s recent extension into Clean Coffee, we’re sure that we haven’t seen the last of this brand!