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Report from the Summer Fancy Food Show

Salted caramel has been a popular flavor duo on restaurant menus for the past couple of years, but judging from the products offered at the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show, held at the beginning of July in New York City, caramel and salt—both on their own and together—are exploding in the retail specialty food sector. In my never-ending quest to taste, sip and spot trends, I zoomed through the 2400 exhibitors at the Javits Convention Center, sampling and making some observations—albeit under the influence of a food coma. Here’s what stood out.

Salt gets hyper-local. Salt sourced from specific regions or countries has been a point of differentiation for awhile now, but now that sense of “terroir” is becoming more localized. There was branded sea salt from Alaska, Amagansett, Long Island and Wellfleet in Cape Cod—some flavored with wine or herbs—all vying for a niche in the artisan salt category.

Caramel flavored hot beverages, sauces, cookies and candies were everywhere. Some of the more unusual caramel candies I tasted were bacon-maple, chipotle and lavender.

Pumpkin and sweet potato, celebrated for their bright color and healthy halo, enhanced several products that I wouldn’t ordinarily associate with these ingredients. Millchap Sweet Potato Co. displayed three new granolas, including Blueberry and Walnut, that incorporated sweet potatoes and Purely Elizabeth had a Pumpkin Fig granola. Also on hand were maple syrup, flatbread crackers and salsas based on one or both of these ingredients.

Eat and drink your vegetables. Specialty food producers are making it easier to eat more veggies. Kale chips were abundant in the aisles, but joining the snack pack were beet, sweet potato and red bell pepper chips. Who knows how much nutritive value are in these products, but they are helping raise vegetable consciousness.

Green Wave Smoothie Pops also disguised a treasure trove of vegetables in a frosty treat. The Greena Colada is a blend of banana, spinach, coconut, lime and pineapple while the Kalelicious combines kale with banana, orange and mango.

Savory teas. Even tea is jumping on the vegetable bandwagon. Tea Forte touted its cucumber mint tea and introduced a line of Garden Harvest white teas that combine fruit and herbs. There’s Tangerine Rosemary, White Cinnamon Sage and Peach Rhubarb Preserve, all of which pair well with food.

Shaking up mixers. All-natural fruit concentrates destined for the craft cocktail market aim to one-up traditional mixers. Fruitations—created by a former bartender—are available in tangerine, cranberry and rio red grapefruit. I tried a mean Tangerine Mojito at the booth.

Ancient grains got a lot of play on the exhibit floor, many promoting their gluten-free properties. Bob’s Red Mill, a pioneer in the category, sampled chia seed, kamut wheat, sorghum and spelt, as well as the more common farro and multiple colors of quinoa. And the aptly named Ancient Grains company promoted biscotti made with teff, amaranth or buckwheat flour and millet toaster cakes.

A rainbow of yogurts.  Greek yogurt is still going strong, with more flavors expanding the category. Chobani’s new mint chocolate chip could easily satisfy an ice cream craving. But new to me was an Australian “yoghurt” brand called Noosa. I spooned up every thick, creamy variety they offered: passion fruit, lemon, strawberry rhubarb and mango. Bright flavor, velvety texture, totally addictive.

An interesting statistic posted near the entrance to the exhibit hall: Approximately 20 percent of specialty food sales are through foodservice outlets.

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