Whenever I walk the aisles of a well-known supermarket chain – which need not be named – it’s not an infrequent occurrence that there will tables set up where eager and (mostly) young people are engaged in demonstrations of new products, from chocolates to granola bars, from beer to coffee, from chips made from all variety of vegetables to dipping sauces to dunk them in. Most such products are launched on their journey to the commercial marketplace by being featured in the Fancy Food Show, which is staged by the Specialty Food Association twice a year and on both coasts – the Summer version taking place in New York at the Javits Center. Running from June 30 to July 2 in 2018, it promises not only to herald upcoming flavorful and imaginative additions to the American palate, but also to provide attendees – most of whom are engaged the food industry, from retailers to manufacturers to consultants, and the like – with opportunities to gain greater knowledge about the business while they network with partners, vendors and colleagues.
No matter how good or nutritious a new product may be, it’s undeniable that marketing has a massive impact in the relative success of anything in the world of food, so accordingly special presentations will, as ever, be a highlight of FFS. The ‘What’s New, What’s Hot!’ product Showcases offer participants a cost-effective integrated way to promote a brand before, during and after the Show. Presence at this offers buyers a quick peek at your products and your booth number, accented by a degree of separation from the sensory overload encountered when strolling the rows of the show floor. This year this will taking place at the Level 3 Crystal Palace. Also, an annually anticipated event at the show is the SOFI Awards and the Showcases for nominated products – the latter to be found at the Level 2 North Concourse. Here visitors will find hundreds of offerings displaying the hottest trends in new foods and beverages, gift ideas, and natural and organic products. ‘New Brands of the Shelf’ is yet another showcase featuring distinctive brands; located in the middle of the 4700 Aisle of the Exhibition Hall Level 1, here SFA member candidates will be presenting dozens of niche and artisan specialties.
Another opportunity for purveyors to set themselves apart will be the Front Burner Pitch Competition, taking place on Monday, July 2 from 9:00-9:45 AM at the Main Stage of the River Pavilion. Competitors will pitch their products to an expert judging panel, with the winner to receive a promotional prize package from the Specialty Food Association including an ad in Specialty Food Magazine, editorial coverage in Specialty Food News, and more. The event will be hosted by Robert Irvine, a world-class chef, fitness authority, and philanthropist, who pioneered a new genre of programming for Food Network with his extreme cooking challenge show, “Dinner: Impossible”, and parlayed that success into the even more popular “Restaurant: Impossible”. Judges include (the aptly-named) Michael Fava, currently the Italian Segment Manager at Sysco and formerly the manager of the Arthur Avenue institution Mike’s Deli for over 10 years, where he served as the international liaison for coordination of imports from Italy, attended trade conferences, and devised menus; Smitha Haneef, the Assistant VP of University Services at Princeton University, where she oversees residential dining, retail venues, athletic concessions, catering operations, and vending, with an accent on wellness and sustainability principles based on scientific research and evidence; and Patti Jackson, now the chef and proprietor of the Michelin Star-awarded Delaware and Hudson, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after stints as Executive Chef of Le Madri, I Trulli and Centovini in Manhattan. The Front Burner Pitch Competition is open to all FFS registered attendees, but, as seating is limited, arriving early is recommended.
As for educational experiences, there will be a good number of programs. These will include Super Sessions, Excite Talks, Research Panels, and other sessions throughout the three days. A one-day course entitled ‘The Basics: The Business of Specialty Food’ will offer participants the chance to learn about research, trends, and best practices for newcomers to the business. The ‘Excite Talks’ promises to be a fast-paced series of disruption-themed talks that will explore three big ideas in retail and food. Other panela and talks will cover topics such as buying decisions, how women are redesigning the food system, artisan gelato, exporting issues and food safety. Details about all programs can be found at the Show website.