Phrases like gluten-free, fair trade and non-GMO hadn’t even been coined in 1952, when a handful of U.S. cheese importers banded together to fight tariffs that were hurting their businesses. The effort succeeded and led to the formation of the Specialty Food Association, which is celebrating its 60th Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City this week.
Today, U.S. specialty food and beverage manufacturers market an average of 41 different products and last year the industry did a record $88.3 billion in retail and foodservice sales, according to the association. Sales dipped in 2009, as the recession hit, but they came back strong in the ensuing years, as foodies who had been used to fine dining started cooking at home more, said spokeswoman Louis Kramer.
At the same time, people who were losing jobs or otherwise downsizing were also reassessing their lives, dusting off old dreams and creating entrepreneurial food businesses, many of which are on display in the new-product hall at the show. Despite their brief histories, many of the newest ventures already have deals that put their products on retail shelves and restaurant tables.
Chef Maggie Radzwiller teamed up with longtime friend and CPA Mike Karu two years ago to launch Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine, a line of frozen vegan meals that are gluten-free, low-sodium and sold in 32-ounce BPA-free jars that can go from freezer to microwave. Since launching, the Durham, N.C.-based company has put the meals into Whole Foods stores in the Triangle area and 23 Wegman’s stores on the East Coast.
Adrienne Ramos and her mother-in-law, Carla, turned generations of tradition into Sofregit, a venture that turns fresh vegetables, herbs and unrefined coconut oil into cooking blends called sofritos. The blends give home cooks and restaurant chefs a base to turn out a meal more quickly, without resorting to preservatives, Ramos said.
Trent Lewis was a former chef who gave it up for the more lucrative world of finance. His wife Sasha was in the same industry and expecting a baby when the idea for their food venture was born from her craving for chocolate spread. Searching for a “cleaner” alternative to what was on the market, the pair created Barefoot & Chocolate, a non-GMO spread made with fair-trade certified organic cocoa, cane sugar and vanilla.
Ten months since the release of the first product, the company is preparing to put out a third flavor and their spreads are for sale at Kings Markets, Balducci’s, a few Whole Foods stores, a few other stores and online at Amazon and Abesmarket.com.
Bantam Bagels founders Nick and Elyse Oleksak were also working in finance when foodie inspiration struck. The idea for the brand’s signature product, a bagel ball filled with a schmear, came to Nick in a dream, which became a reality 10 months ago. The Bantams come frozen, in packs of six and 12. They’re sold online and at the company’s small bakery, but growth is coming fast and the pair is preparing to move into bigger New York City digs, Elyse said.
In addition to the company’s site, New Yorkers can also order Bantam Bagels at food delivery site Seamless. As the online world matures, specialty food makers are finding new opportunities there. In addition to Barefoot & Chocolate, several others have taken to selling on Amazon, including Element Snacks, a line of chocolate dipped rice and corn cakes that are non-GMO and, at least the dark chocolate ones, are vegan. That last part has given the year-old venture an in at specialty e-commerce sites like Vegan Essentials, which only sells goods that aren’t made with animal products.
If the new-product hall had a theme this year, it might well have been health, and the awareness that consumers are more interested than ever before in where their food comes from and what’s in it. Other companies showing for the first time this year include:
- Chef Belinda Spices, whose latest products are spice blends that can be used in baking and as an alternative to sugar or artificial sweeteners in coffee.
- Heirzoom Bakery, whose owner Diane Holtaway turned a favorite family dessert recipe into a frozen offering for foodservice and packaged goods for coffee shops and gourmet retailers.
- Wondergrain, a gluten-free, protein-rich sorghum product that’s touted as just as healthy as quinoa and much easier to produce.
- IBEX Drinkable Yogurt from Skyland Foods, which is certified organic and made with very little added sugar.
- Green Mustache, a line of beverages made with two cups of kale and spinach, fruit, chia and coconut water, which is blended instead of juiced to keep in more of the fiber.
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