Specialty or “fancy foods” are generally premium quality products, often made by artisans and small producers. Think: Specialty chocolates, olive oils, cheeses, sauces, snacks, charcuterie, coffees, and imported products that reflect diverse cultures. Also included in the category are the growing number of all-natural and/or gluten-free foods, and exotic handcrafted products like vegetable yogurt, cherry chia granola, and black garlic mayonnaise.
In NYC, food fanciers typically find these products in small delicatessens; specialty shops, like Dean & DeLuca and Trader Joe’s; and select supermarkets like Whole Foods and Wegmans.
Earlier this week, we visited the 2014 Summer Fancy Food Show, a trade event held at the cavernous Javits Center in New York. Imagine a venue that can comfortably accommodate more than 2,700 food producers and importers—in addition to more than 20,000 buyers who come to see what’s new and different.
With exhibits from more than 50 countries, 10 state pavilions, and individual producers, a trip around the floor of the convention center was the next best thing to taking a culinary tour around the world. We were able to talk to exhibitors about their products and taste samples (mostly cheese, chocolate, and pieces of bread dipped in oils) along the way.
The highlight of the event is the sofi Award ceremony (which we didn’t attend) that selects the “best of the best.” This year’s grand prize winner was Chef Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, a $5 croissant-donut hybrid that became so popular in NYC that it spawned endless lines and a black market, where they were selling for up to $100 each.
There was also a feel good element to the show: To give back, at its conclusion, 200 volunteers gather up the remaining food products and donate them to City Harvest, filling more than six tractor trailers with food for New Yorkers in need.
Some of the fancy food factoids we learned during our visit:
- TJ Maxx (source of my favorite fig jam) is considered a major retailer for these upscale products. Note to self: Check the shelves for the foreign products I wish I had brought home during our travels.
- Specialty food consumers tend to be young, affluent and live in the West or Northeast although nearly ¾ of U.S. consumers purchase specialty foods.
- A survey of consumers reported that food discoveries made during travel are increasingly prompting purchases. Greek and Mediterranean foods have made the most gains in sales among ethnic cuisines.
- There’s been an increase in the popularity of snacks and small meals (vs. large meals) among American consumers.
- After years of legal disputes, Gruyere is now a registered trademark and can only be used for the Swiss product.
- Another reminder to myself: Buying less more often is a healthier way to eat with less waste.
- The largest seller of prosciutto di Parma in the U.S.: Costco
- Some 40% of specialty food consumers make their purchases online. One last note to self: Check out www.dartagnan.com if you are crazy about foie gras.
- Never drive to the Javits Center. It took one full hour to find an overpriced parking spot in a garage!
Are there any specialty or “fancy foods” that are favorites of yours?