2011 Winter Fancy Food Show

By V. Sheree Williams

The 36th Winter Fancy Food Show hosted by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NAFST) at the Moscone Center in San Francisco was a 3-day food love affair.  The show is the largest to date in this venue taking residence in both the North and South Halls to showcase exhibitors representing 35 countries and 80,000 products to 17,000 attendees.

The show is a marketplace for professionals such as retailers, wholesalers and restaurants.  Exhibitors pull out all the stops to talk to current and potential buyers as well as the media. Three members from Cuisine Noir attended to check out the goods and to find the ultimate foodie must haves.  Our top 10 picks are below and readers can expect to see many in our CN Essentials throughout the year. 

Together, specialty foods and beverages represent a $63 billion industry which is said to be on the rebound after two years of tightened spending.  At the show this year were 140 new exhibitors plus 120 in a pavilion devoted to natural and organic producers.

Emerging Food Entrepreneurs were also featured in a special pavilion called “New Brands on the Shelf,” and included tabletop displays and samplings from 24 newcomers.  In addition, they are part of a training program that launched in 2008 to support these newcomers with seminars, expert advice, networking and opportunities to participate in the Fancy Food Show. 

Diversity is also a focus for NAFST and its Diversity Program is a great way to engage companies owned by African-Americans, Asian, Caribbean, Eastern European, Hispanic and Middle Eastern entrepreneurs.  Prior to the show, NASFT held a Share Group for diversity members hosted by Chronicle Books as well as an Open Forum where members could talk about opportunities and challenges they face in the marketplace.  For more information about becoming a diversity member, go to www.specialtyfood.com.

So after a full day of  tasting lots of sea salt chocolates, yummy barbeque sauces, ribs, sausages, olives, olive oils, desserts as wells as enjoying a cup of tea and a little cosmo, we have a lot of honorable mentions before getting to our top 10.  There were a lot of fabulous exhibitors, each offering their own style and taste on original to favorite products.

First up, the sauces at Rufus Teague.  If you are looking for something sweet or spicy to wake up your meat, these sauces will do the trick. I tried all of them and they are great.  Next, if you are interested in learning more about Afghan food, Bolani is a family owned company located in Northern California offering traditional Bolani flatbread, sauces, dips, jellies and spreads.  Very good.

If you love soup plus want to eat a little healthier, Wild Veggie has something you’ll enjoy.  Their all-natural soups can also be a drink and start with in-season raw vegetables to create the perfect meal or snack. Available in red bell pepper, carrot and broccoli, they can be enjoyed cold or hot. And speaking of veggies, Tillen Farms Crispy Dilly Beans were delightful and perfect for that afternoon munch attack.

Need something to drink, Marble Pop was among one of the most innovative products to me.  This carbonated drink comes in four great flavors.  In addition, the bottles have a marble on top that needs to be popped before you can drink. How fun.  We tried the Green Apple and Strawberry and loved it.

Lastly, if you want some heat and pain, Blair’s Sauces & Snacks will have you drinking water or milk for days after trying his products.  They say some like it hot, but I am not sure they meant this hot.

And now, who made the Top 10 list?  Again, there were a lot of great products out there and these are the ones that really stayed on our minds after talking to the exhibitor and sampling. 

Sassafras Kids Baking Kits
We know that most children nowadays don’t have much exposure to cooking, much less experience doing it.  These baking kits make cooking very approachable and fun for young children.  We picked up one of the cake kits to test not only for flavor, but also for how clearly it’s explained.  We also like that the recipes rhyme.

Tulsi Teas
Of all the teas that we found on the floor, and there were a lot of them, these impressed us the most.  The flavors were incredibly clean and vibrant.  The fact that they give some of their profits to support a free school for homeless children is a bonus.

Jake’s Barbecue Sauce & Seasonings Company

We really liked the well developed flavors the owner creates in his sauces. They aren’t just vinegar for heat with some chili flavor.  We also enjoyed a lively conversation with “Jake” about the difference between his sauces and several of the others in the hall.

Ayala’s Herbal Water
Another thing we saw a lot of was flavored, beefed-up specialty waters. We found the still version of this brand to be the most refreshing.  Janice, our editor, tried the Ginger Lemon Peel flavor.  It had good flavor and was really clean on the palate.  She said she literally felt refreshed after drinking it.

Spicy Nothings
Janice loves Indian food, so she tried to swing by as many Indian exhibitors as possible.  As much as she loves Patak’s, partly because of their large variety of offerings, she found the flavors in the Spicy Nothings sauces to be cleaner and fresher.

Tyler Florence West Coast Kitchen Essentials
His line of sauces, glazes, marinades and seasonings are fantastic.  If you love wine, we highly recommend the Cabernet and Chardonnay marinades.  For pasta lovers, the Puttanesca Pasta Sauce is to die for.  With his products, you can have Florence in your home every night.

These great toppings are perfect for spreading on bread, finishing your favorite burger or mixing with your favorite pasta.  A delicious blend of parmesan and asiago cheeses with extra virgin olive oil, you’ll want to “glop it on” just about everything.

Nita Bee’s Tastys
With a wonderful line of cookies and desserts, Nita Bees Tastys is expanding its reach from the internet into grocery and specialty food chain outlets.  We were looking for something a little different and found it with the Sugar-free Sweet Potato Pie.  Sweetened with agave nectar, you won’t even miss the sugar let alone know that it is missing.

Saucy Mama
Loved, loved, loved the Parmesan Garlic Marinade that I sampled with a piece of chicken.  The Saucy Mama line includes mustards, wing sauces, dressings, sauces, cocktails and marinades.  We just tasted a few, but bet everything is just as wonderful.

Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier
Of course we had to add some chocolate to our list and Bissinger’s always hits the spot.  They were actually one of the exhibitors that we looked forward to seeing.  We sampled the Chocolate Covered Wine Grapes as well as the Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas and salt caramels. Simply unforgettable.

The next show will take place in Washington D.C., July 10 – 12.  For more information about attending or becoming a member, visit www.specialtyfood.com

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