Fancy Food Show impressions
- samtheman Jan 23, 2002 11:47 AM
This was my first Fancy Food Show visit so my impressions might be obvious, or naive...
For the chowhound, is the Fancy Food Show heaven or hell? Or a little of both...
At first I was delighted. So much food to try! And a lot of it was wonderful indeed. It was also cool to meet people like John Scharfenberger, all the local cheese makers, tea importers with great stories, etc.
But I was always surrounded by suits jabbering about "product, product, product!". Food quality took second fiddle to merchandising and packaging. Many of the press-kits for new food products overlooked any mention of taste, instead going straight to marketing -- I tried some Turbo-Juice thing and the guy kept telling me how it was made for adventurous males age 18-35. Another booth specialized in marketing "ethnic foods" to "ethnic consumers". One display showed how to market to Latino consumers during catholic holidays, by having sales on tortilla chips and florescent yellow cheese products.
It was also interesting to note how some exhibitors were excited to see my press badge; others ignored me completely, looking for buyers only. In general, the local food companies were far more helpful and willing to chat. Everyone's badge had a bar-code on it, and exhibitors would scan you in and promise to send you stuff. (I spent a lot of time chatting with chocolate vendors hoping to get scanned and get samples in the mail!).
The most interesting "new product" I tried has to be the vegan caviar. There were two different companies, one based in England (seaweed-based, only OK) and a Turkish one (soy and seaweed-based, quite convincing but a little salty. I'd buy it.).
I like food products, I like buying packaged foods at the store. But you'd think this was all people ever ate, visiting this show. By the end, I wanted to run to the nearest farmers market and hug a bunch of dirty carrots.
Anyone else have another angle?
I agree! I'd been before, so I knew what to expect, but it is very disheartening to realize how much the whole scene is about packaging and cutesy names and how little it's really about food. A few observations: the biscotti and rugalach crazes of a few years back seem to have died down. There seemed to be a lot of ginger things--Reed's ginger ice cream, in particular--and tons of high-end tea, much more than in previous years. Highlights: the Meyer lemon-olive oil sorbet made by McEvoy Ranch (they don't make it commercially--just was a show demo); the funky, buttery-gooey Portuguese cheeses and deliciously fatty chorizo at the Portuguese table; the American Cheese Society table, with cheeses from Old Chatham, Cowgirl Creamery, and more; the nice English ladies toasting and buttering crumpets to order at one of the Brit-imports booths; hot-from-the-griddle Nueske's bacon from Wisconsin, mmmmmmm; new chicken-mango sausage from Aidell's; the fact that all the international booths conformed strictly to the cliches--everything maple at the Canada booths, suave guys in suits and tons of olive oil in the Italian section, fondue and chocolate for Switzerland...
I also noticed that ginger products and teas were bigger this year (but a few tea companies that were new last year didn't show up, so it probably evened out), as well as sea salt/fleur de sel/red salt, and salt/spice mix grinders. There was something else that is escaping me right now that seemed to be everywhere. . . Every year there are more organics, which is really great to see.
After having attended the show four or five times, I have it down to a science. I never stop at chocolate or sweets booths. Unless it's something really worthwhile (did visit Scharffen Berger and Chocolove), the sweets just ruin all the other flavors for me. Don't do the coffee drinks, either. All that caffeine adds up REAL fast. Anyway, my main focus is tea and cheese, so I spend the most time at those booths. And I always enjoy the Weir's sauces booth, because they sample out their sauces on "Veat," which is a vegetarian chicken-style product.
BTW, did anyone try the new Jelly Bellies flavored "earwax," "vomit," "dirt," etc? Probably the most vile product I came across. It was a Harry Potter tie-in of some sort. I did try "dirt" and "grass." Yes, they really taste like dirt and grass.
And the most annoying thing is the salesperson who doesn't know his/her own product: the guy in the tea booth who explained to me how their Earl Grey was infused with bergamot "nuts" and the cheese guy who told my husband (who is an experienced cheesemonger and does a lot of business at the show) that raw milk cheeses have to be aged for 30 days before they can be sold. To give this guy some credit, he didn't argue when my husband corrected him, and thanked him for the information. LOL
I always have a nice time at the Quady booth; I got to try one of their special "cocktails" made with half of each of their Vya vermouths. I also shared the mulled wine recipe I made up this year with a bottle of Essencia. I might get lucky and have it posted on their website. :-)
The yak cheese was good, and it looks like my husband will be bringing it in.
And I finally got the name of the company who sells the large green olives stuffed with apricot that I never wrote down last year. Yum!
So many foods, so little memory.
We can all be thankful that most of that stuff won't make it into the stores. I've gone every few years at least since chips were the biggest thing. I've been through salsa and tea, but my problem is that it's just heartbreaking to see those people who have invested their hard earned money in what they hope will be the next successful blue corn chip or jelly belly. Out toward the edges of the hall in particular you can see failure on their faces and it's stink hangs like a cloud.
Oh yes, the stink of failure and desperation. . . as a retailer I walk quickly through those gourmet slums lest someone grab me and beg, "You're from XXXXX store. Please give it a chance. Did you taste my artisianal jalapeno/chocolate/kava kava/echinachea/extra virgin olive oil/corn chips with jellybean centers? Please please. Here's a brochure with a busty model/smiling peasant in native garb on the front"
Explaining that you only buy perishables just makes the grip that much tighter. . .
The ginger products seemed to make their debut on the scene at last year's show, and this year there were even more. I agree with you on the explosion of teas and organics. I also noticed that there were more fruit-based or fruit-flavored things. Conserves, jams, fruit juices, and syrups seem to have replaced the riot of salsas and chips of recent shows.
The range of cheeses also expanded and I was thrilled to see how far our local product has come. I noticed many more specialty butters available, both domestic and imported. The one from Vermont hit home with me.
The sausage was served at a table adjacent to the Portuguese table in the same distributor's booth. It was indeed chorizo from Spain and one of the two kinds was from La Rioja. I asked the importer who would be carrying it in SF so that I could buy it at retail. He said that currently the restaurant B44 is the only local customer, but he was hopeful that he'd have some retail accounts soon.
What the heck did you expect to find? It's a trade show that exists to support the gourmet food industry. The people who rented booths do so only for the sake of marketing and selling product. It's not there to salve your need for chowhound purity
I've attended the food show here and in New York. What always comes to mind when walking down those endless aisles of recycled ideas is...does the world really need yet another olive oil, tea, coffee etc. I just want to shout at the top of my lungs while in the Moscone or Javits...PEOPLE DON'T ANY OF YOU HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA IN YOUR HEADS? SHOW US SOMETHING WE HAVEN'T SEEN/TASTED BEFORE! Where are the visionary people of our day?
Went to the Fancy Food show for the first time myself...I went down every last aisle, largely ignoring the super-packaged, salad dressings, and foodservice standby dessert arrays, many of which seemed pretty scary.
Most disturbing item I saw, an "Eco-bar"---first ingredient=corn syrup.
Good tastes included a mellow cow's milk cheese with saffron from Sicily, a good jasmine pearl tea from a Portland-based company called The Tao of Tea, and a new version of Vicolo's cornmeal pizza crusts, made with spelt ---earthier and a nice variation. Lots of good tea a nd cheese in general.
Wildest taste, Underberg bitters...reputed to aid digestion. A boozy aromatic herbal whallop.
Winner tastes, Chocolove extra dark organic chocolate bar--- slow to melt, revealing layers of flavor, creamy. Cowgirl Creamery Pierce Point---amazing herbal rind and supple interior.