Elevated flavors, novel grains define new snacking revolution at Summer Fancy Food Show - slideshow

Specialty Food Association's annual New York conference offered a glimpse into the future of food, with a record number of innovators showcasing trends.

Abena Anim-Somuah, Contributing writer

July 8, 2024

12 Slides

At a Glance

  • The rise of unique snacks like chin and buckwheat indicates consumer interest in exploring new flavor profiles and textures.
  • Plant-based energy drinks with upcycled cascara showcase a focus on pushing boundaries in established categories.
  • Protein-fortified desserts like collagen-boosted cottage cheese ice cream are emerging.

The Specialty Food Association's (SFA) annual Summer Fancy Food Show attracted a record-breaking 2,400 exhibitors from 56 countries in June. These innovators presented their latest creations – potential future pantry staples and social media darlings – to a captivated audience of buyers, specialty store owners and food media representatives.

The event served as a valuable platform for showcasing cutting-edge food science advancements, novel ingredients and creative formulations within the $206.8 billion specialty food industry (SFA Report, 2024). This year's showcase focused on several key trends, offering valuable insights for food developers.


On a panel discussing sustainability in the food space, Anna Hammond, founder and CEO of Matriark Foods, emphasized how important it is to “build a small version of a big company that makes these practices matter, not just to appeal customers, but because it’s important to align with sustainable practices.”

Elevated crunch

The new wave seems to be indulging at snack time, with bold, bright global flavors taking center stage. Snack company Gratia offers chin chin, a West African fried dough snack in luxurious packaging. Nori crunch, shiso sour cream and miso caramel were just some of the varieties from Bessou, a former Japanese restaurant that now runs a stand in Pier 57’s food hall in New York. The company launched these pre-made popcorn options a few years back, and it’s been a great way to diversify the business. Also, buckwheat appears to be an emerging grain with brands like Diggables, selling puffed chips in garden herb and white cheddar flavors, and For Good Granola, bringing a new spin to the traditional oat base present in most granolas.  

Related:‘Hidden hunger’ and the need for plant-based diets

Better-for-you drinks

From the debut district to the beverage pavilion, beverages made a huge splash at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show. While most drinks were non-alcoholic, there wasn’t a strong advertisement when talking with exhibitors. Rather, there was an emphasis on functional ingredients, health benefits and alternative sweeteners.

For example, Fresh Fizz displayed sodas made with date (date cola), hibiscus (hibiscus ginger ale) and jalapeño (sparkling jalapeño limeade), sweetened with honey from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The team initially began developing canned cocktails, but due to delays in attaining alcohol manufacturing licensing, they switched to making cocktail-inspired sodas.

Also, Bear Maple uses maple water as a sweetener paired with hydroponically grown ginseng, the first in the market. Founder Brian Bethke made the connection after noticing that maple and ginseng grow together in the wild. Additionally, ginseng offers functional benefits like clarity and focus. Huxley, a plant-based energy drink uses cascara, the upcycled husk of the coffee bean with light fruit notes and packed with antioxidants. They are representative of energy drinks powered by super fruits that offer sustained energy without a crash and added electrolytes to boost hydration. Non, an Australian-based nonalcoholic wine, utilizes real produce, innovative filtration and distilling techniques to produce vibrant bottles with tannis, florals and acidity without the booze. Flavors like cinnamon and yuzu, pear and kombu, and tomato water and basil are designed by chefs who have worked in celebrated fine-dining establishments.

Related:Harnessing umami can help cut sodium and boost flavor

Protein everywhere

Smul, a South-African wellness company, offers shakes, bars, and ready-to- eat oatmeal made with sustainably sourced and naturally flavored plant-based protein. The company’s heat-and-eat options include lentil ragu and tikka masala and are made with non-soy proteins, with an average of 28 grams per 375g serving. Full of Beans, a gluten-free pancake and waffle mix made from fava beans, offers a strong showing of legumes as an adequate source of protein in addition to brands like instant lentil cups Lentiful and Tootie’s Tempeh. On the flipside, meat products like jerky from Side Projects Jerky are offering versatile high protein options like huli huli chicken made in partnership with Poi Dog’s Kiki Aranita, and a pho flavor in what they dub a portable version of the classic Vietnamese soup.

Related:Mesquite is poised to become the greener, healthier 'chocolate'

The dessert and confectionery selections were big on protein as part of indulgence. Smearcase, a newly launched brand, is whipping up frozen, collagen-boosted cottage cheese ice cream with 40g of protein per pint.

Heightened heat

According to the SFA’s Trendspotter Panel, a curation of industry experts, heightened heat is one of the emerging trends set to soon dominate the sauce aisle. For example, Empress Hot Sauce, a brand making hot sauces inspired by Taiwanese produce and chilies features flavors such as Smoky Hibiscus, Passionfruit Mustard and Ghost Pepper Maqaw, which pack a punch while also showcasing unique flavor pairings. And with a spicy BBQ sauce offering, Tamarind Heads aims to enter the mainstream market by displaying tamarind’s cultural richness and versatility through familiar products that bridge traditions and the evolving American palette, according to CEO Sashi Patel.

All images provided by the Specialty Food Association.

About the Author(s)

Abena Anim-Somuah

Contributing writer

Abena Anim-Somuah is a James Beard Award-winning entrepreneur, writer and podcast host. She is also the founder of The Eden Place, a company whose mission is to use food to harness community. Abena is also the host of The Future of Food is You, a Cherrybombe Podcast Network show where she interviews emerging talent in the food world. Additionally, Abena writes her newsletter, Your Friend in Food, where she shares her musings on all things culinary.

When she’s not cooking up ways to expand the Eden universe, you can find Abena reading a good book, traveling, playing tennis, spending time with her loved ones and taking long walks around her Brooklyn neighborhood (making frequent stops for pastries).

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