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Winter Fancy Food Show takeaways: Trends in health, convenience, trust

Education sessions at this year’s event had a lot to offer attendees. Some of the main topics discussed included success strategies for brand partnerships, the value of specialty foods, consumer trends in beverages and product development, and culinary projections for the year.

Amanda White

January 30, 2024

4 Min Read
Winter Fancy Food Show education

At a Glance

  • Successful partnerships are crucial for brands, especially co-packing relationships built on transparency and collaboration.
  • Specialty foods are booming, driven by consumer values and innovation.
  • Consumers are prioritizing health, convenience and trust in their food choices.

She came, she saw, she ate. And she sat down for some intriguing sessions at Winter Fancy Food Show. The recently concluded event in Las Vegas, held Jan. 21-23, was more than just an event — it was a hub of innovation, eager brand founders and more samples than you can possibly consume. I was glad that, as the conference content manager for SupplySide, my main assignment was to take in some of the educational content offered, which gave my feet and gut a much-needed break. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the key takeaways from five standout sessions.

The six traits of successful co-man/co-pack relationships

Carl Melville, an industry veteran and founder of The Melville Group, took the stage to share his wealth of experience in successful co-man/co-pack relationships. If you’re a brand, this might just be the most important relationship of your life, aside from your spouse or partner. Both require communication, transparency, collaboration and trust, so choose wisely. Beyond the basics, Melville outlined six essential traits that play a pivotal role in fostering strong and lasting partnerships: operational transparency, functional alignment, compatible cultures, structural collaboration, strategic outcome alignment and common value metrics. Melville discussed common challenges in finding the right co-man partner and emphasized the value of early engagement in the process.

“You’re both on journeys of discovery because the market is changing so fast,” he said.

The real value of specialty foods

Jim Wisner, founder of Wisner Marketing LLC, headed up this session, which dove into how strategically important specialty foods are to profitability and the bottom line for retailers. Specialty foods are thriving in a golden era, marked by a doubling of sales in the last decade. The industry’s success is propelled by smaller manufacturers and a consumer shift toward value-driven, unique and environmentally friendly products. Embracing private brands, understanding industry dynamics, addressing online challenges, and fostering a sense of community are key to sustaining and enhancing this growth.

“Retailers have started to get savvy now,” Wisner explained. “They are totally looking for things that are new, unique [and] different that makes your store a place customers want to shop at.”

Seating was limited at this session, with more people standing than sitting, and I was grateful to have arrived early. David Lockwood, owner of Lockwood Consulting, presented a comprehensive overview of current consumer trends in the ever-evolving beverage industry. From the rise of health-conscious and functional choices to the increasing emphasis on flavor and form, Lockwood dissected the factors influencing consumer preferences. Lockwood gave a highlight from the Specialty Food Association (SFA) November distributor’s report: “Beverages grew faster than food over the past decade, reaching 17% of total specialty sales. But the bigger reason that beverages play an outsized role in specialty food is that drinks innovation happens at a faster pace than for food.”

Unrelated but equally entertaining was the fact that I got to sit next to his lovely wife and clearly his biggest cheerleader, as she laughed at every quip and started and ended every round of applause. We all need someone like that in our corner.

This was another standing room-only situation, but my feet soon forgot their protest because these ladies were beyond entertaining with infectious camaraderie. The dynamic duo of Ashley Colpaart, CEO of The Food Corridor, and Sarah Masoni, director of development at Food Innovation Center, teamed up for an interactive session on the latest trends in foods coming from shared-use kitchens and food incubators, specifically in Ashley’s shared-use kitchen database. Some of the top searched words were “caterers,” “food trucks,” “local,” “meal preps,” “meal kits,” “tea,” “mushroom tea,” “health,” “vegan” and “protein,” with an emphasis on convenience.

“So, if you’re trying to come up with a new food product and trying to figure out where your niche is, I think that could be a really good place to look,” Masoni said. “How can you fit into somebody’s hand when they’re running out the door to go to the gym? Or they need something healthy to eat in the car when they’re driving to work. Those are two great areas to look at.”

2024 trends: A culinary exploration

Mike Kostyo, VP of Menu Matters, delivered a culinary exploration of the trends expected to shape 2024. Heading into this year, consumers have new sources of anxiety, as well as existing anxiety. With 2024 being an election year, with added economic concerns, Covid-19, global wars and climate crisis, it’s been termed a “permacrisis.” Consumers want to know that they will be taken care of, they can trust brands and that they are still getting a good deal.

“So how do we do that? Well, a big portion of that, of course, is health.” Kostyo explained. “Consumers were asked, ‘What are the overall goals that you have for your life?’ On top — being happy, 44% of consumers say that they want to be happy, probably no surprise, just under that was being healthier.” Finding solutions for these consumers with your products is the answer.

Fancy Food Show was a treat, both figuratively and literally. Each session offered a unique perspective from industry professionals, empowering attendees with practical tools to navigate the complexities of a tricky food industry.

About the Author(s)

Amanda White

Conference content manager, SupplySide

Amanda White serves as the conference content manager for SupplySide at Informa Markets, where she curates and oversees engaging conference content, cultivating meaningful connections within the industry and facilitating knowledge-sharing among industry professionals. With over 13 years of experience in the natural products industry, her expertise in marketing has been honed through her tenure at a reputable supplement company. During her time there, White played a pivotal role in driving brand awareness and promoting health and wellness products to a wide audience. She graduated with honors cum laude from Michigan’s Northwood University, where she double majored in marketing and business management.

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