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. (read more…)

Despite the fact that women are underrepresented in leadership, organizations that hire more women leaders perform better than those that don’t, and companies in the consumer packaged goods industry are starting to take notice, according to the Women 2020 report from the Network of Executive Women. The report says that a diverse workforce helps foster innovative environments at CPG companies, and female leaders from Walgreen, PepsiCo, Kraft and Wal-Mart talked about the challenges they face and how their companies work to foster women leaders last week during a panel at FMI Connect.

Melissa Donaldson, director of diversity networks and communications at Walgreen, Trish Lukasik, senior vice president of PepsiCo Sales, Regenia Stein, NEW secretary and former Kraft Executive, and Kaitlin Wolfe, a regional director of operations for Wal-Mart, talked about the unconscious biases that women face in the workforce, including the “mom penalty,” career planning and appearance.

“I think it’s so critical that we understand what women face in business and that women help other women,” Wolfe said. (read more…)

Speakers, exhibitors and attendees alike descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place Tuesday to kick off FMI Connect, the Food Marketing Institute‘s annual show. In a flurry of shuttle buses and registration badges, there was a common theme of partnership and networking as members of the food industry began connecting with one another for the week’s event.

Marc de Speville, founder of consultancy Strategic Food Retail and a speaker at FMI Connect, geared up for his Thursday session covering technology trends in the changing world of food retail as he traveled to Chicago, preparing himself to talk about how online grocery will affect food retail. He said he will focus on showing retailers how they can utilize high-tech solutions to compete effectively with Amazon and other online grocery businesses as the pureplay industry continues to grow.

“This is a great chance to share what I believe are mostly new ideas regarding the coming challenges and opportunities for mainstream supermarkets and see how people respond to them, what sort of pushback I get,” he said. (read more…)

At last month’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, 2,168 exhibiting companies — a 4.3% increase over last year — showcased their products to more than 61,000 attendees. Some trends from last year’s show returned bigger than ever, including gluten-free items and health-focused beverages. Here is a look at three trends that dominated this year’s show.

Locavore movement grows with in-house produce operations

Locally grown produce was the second most popular trend named by chefs in NRA’s 2014 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, and the local produce movement was well represented at this year’s show. Attendees could sign up for a tour of McCormick Place‘s very own rooftop garden, which will provide about 6,000 pounds of produce to the convention center’s two Green Seal-certified restaurants this year. McCormick’s foodservice provider, Savor, works with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest to tend and harvest the herbs, lettuces and vegetables grown on the rooftop.”We work with the chefs to make sure everything can be utilized,” Windy City’s Angie Mason said. (read more…)

The Food and Drug Administration released proposed regulations for menu labeling in 2011, and final rules are anticipated later this year, Dan Roehl, NRA’s vice president of government relations, said during a menu labeling panel at the NRA show Saturday. Roehl and his fellow panelists — Healthy Dining Culinary Dietician Rachel Rothman and Darden Health & Wellness Director Cheryl Dolven — shared tips and best practices for restaurant operators who will need to add nutrition information to their menus.

Restaurant chains with 20 or more locations will be required to list calorie counts on menus and have additional nutrition information, such as fat and sodium content, available to customers who ask for it. The FDA commissioner anticipates that restaurants will have one year to comply once it releases final regulations, Roehl said, but the panelists agreed that starting to prepare now is the best way for restaurant operators to ensure they meet the deadline. (read more…)