4 trends redefine fancy at 2024’s Winter Fancy Food Show

The industry’s first major show of the year, hosted by Specialty Food Association (SFA), featured a number of products that highlighted significant trends, including custom alternative sweetener blends, fungi-based meats and more.

Scott Miller, Staff writer

January 22, 2024

5 Min Read
A presentation during Winter Fancy Food Show
Specialty Food Association/Loop Seven

At a Glance

  • Proprietary blends might be the solution to alternative sweetener-induced stomachaches.
  • Global flavors were a major trend, with yuzu lemon standing out as one of the most popular.
  • Frozen foods are starting to offer unparalleled convenience without sacrificing healthfulness.

The specialty food and beverage companies exhibiting at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 21-23 in Las Vegas, clearly had their fingers on the pulse of the industry. Whether it’s sugar reduction using proprietary sweetener blends or new flavors sourced from gardens around the world, here are a few of our favorite trends from the show.

Reducing sugar with custom alt-sweetener blends 

While some holdouts insist that cane sugar provides the best sweetening profile, the sweetener wars may be shifting in favor of natural alternatives like allulose and monk fruit, according to Angela Squire, director of sales and marketing at Icon Foods.

“We are all about clean label sugar reduction, so that means everything we do occurs in nature, and it’s all about reducing sugar within the global food industry,” Squire said. “Cane sugar is something that contributes to neurodegenerative diseases, and it contributes to things like obesity. Allulose, monk fruit or stevia … those occur in nature, so your body knows how to break them down pretty well.”

Squire’s personal favorite is allulose, which doesn’t spike blood glucose levels or contribute to a nutritional facts panel, even though it caramelizes, melts and browns just like sugar. When asked about the potential for stomach upset with alternative sweeteners, she said formulation is key; if you create a balanced blend, all your sweetness needs should be easily within reach — without the stomachache.

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Unique twists on global flavors

From the Japan Pavilion to Little Italia, you couldn’t walk the show floor without noticing a cross-cultural emphasis on providing richer culinary experiences by experimenting with global flavors. Choosing a “flavor of the show” would be challenging — it might be yuzu lemon, a versatile Asian citrus fruit whose bright, sweet profile was featured in Japanese mochi, flavor-boosting purees and more.

Perfect Puree of Napa Valley, for example, offers dozens of frozen fruit purees, concentrates, zests, and blends ranging from sour yuzu and chipotle to Thai basil and black pepper. These purees burst with flavor and can add new depth to a variety of products in development, including desserts, cocktails and even craft beer, with minimal added sugar.

“Really, it’s about flavor,” Michele Lex, president of Perfect Puree, said. “It’s not designed for the bar, it’s not designed for the kitchen, it’s not designed for a finished product. It’s for anything you want to add flavor to. You thaw the product, and then you can use it in whatever you want, whether it’s a cocktail, an ice cream or a savory sauce.”

Related:Global events calendar: Get more from your industry in 2024

Another business bringing global flavors to U.S. markets is Brook37, which sources high-quality teas directly from tea gardens in India. These leaves are so fresh, the resulting beverages tasted incredibly sweet and smooth without an ounce of sweetener or cream.

“There are a lot of ingredients in our teas that are thoughtfully chosen,” Mou Dasgupta, founder and CEO of Brook37, said. She mentioned turmeric and ginger specifically but emphasized that it always comes back to the tea leaves. “We get the rarest teas from Darjeeling, which are known as the champagne of teas … and we are getting the first bunch, which is full leaf, so it retains the true quality of the flavor profile.”

Elevated convenience could equal elevated sales 

Convenience was a huge topic throughout the event. It even came up during the market research panel, “Understanding Trends in Retail, Foodservice and Beyond.”

“Our lives have gotten so complicated,” Mike Kostyo, VP of Menu Matters, said during the panel. “The number of choices that we have to make in a day — we sit on our phones, we scroll through all of the information that we have available to us on TikTok, we see endless videos, and life really gets overwhelming … so how do we, as the food industry, make their lives a little bit easier?”

Several brands are focusing on convenience without sacrificing flavor or healthfulness. Sobo Foods is one — a company that’s “making comfort food for our future” with a spread of healthy frozen dumplings, including flavor combos like kimchi and mushroom.

“What we’re trying to do is flip the script on Asian comfort food in America,” Eric Ji Sun Wu, cofounder of Sobo Foods, said. “All the ‘ethnic products’ in the grocery store are loaded with factory-farmed meats; loaded with sugar, fat and salt; and devoid of veggies. So, what we have is a dumpling that tastes just as comforting … but it’s got the protein of a protein shake, it’s got a quarter of your daily fiber, it’s packed with veggies, and it’s 100% vegan and plant based.”

Putting the fun(gus) back in functional 

Products containing functional ingredients were all over the Winter Fancy Food Show, yet the most interesting subcategory was the humble fungus. Fungi were found sneaking into all kinds of unexpected products, from coffee to bread to plant-based meats.

Prime Roots, a plant-based charcuterie company, recreates a variety of deli meats, including turkey, pepperoni and black forest ham — all using koji (Aspergillus oryzae). Hailed as Japan’s “national fungus,” koji has many applications, from sake to soy sauce.

“Think of it like the ‘roots of mushrooms,’ but it’s not grown in soil,” Kimberlie Le, founder and CEO of Prime Roots, said. “It’s more like brewing beer or kombucha. It takes about one to two days to grow the koji, then two to five days to make the meats. It’s a really quick and efficient process, whereas with traditional deli meats, it can take two to three years.”

Prime Roots turns koji into meat using the same epicurean processes used to make traditional deli offerings, but unlike those meats, these contain no nitrates or cholesterol. They do, nevertheless, contain plenty of fiber, along with the complete proteins not often found in plant-based foods.

“Most plant-based products are using processed plant proteins,” Le explained. “They’re taking a soybean and using solvents like hexane to extract the protein, then they’re putting it through an extruder. It’s not a very natural process … but there’s so much you can do with fungi, from materials to functional ingredients. And, obviously, you can make really great meats.”

About the Author(s)

Scott Miller

Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider

Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.

Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.

Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.

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