Chickpeas and Kale and Goat, Oh My! Trends From the Fancy Food Show

Portable and Gluten-Free Are Watchwords For $85.9 Billion Industry

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From "Holy Crap" granola to "D'Artagnan" fois gras and charcuterie, this year's annual Fancy Food Show in New York offered an overflowing buffet of gourmet food, along with a smorgasbord of branding, marketing and packaging styles.

The seminal summer show for the $85.9 billion specialty-food market draws everyone from giant international distributors to mom-and-pop entrepreneurs. This year more than 2,400 exhibitiors shelled out $34 per square foot to display their wares there.

Mitchell Greenberg, a former set designer and Ringling Bros. circus clown, brought his gourmet Mitchmallows in the hopes of finding a distributor. He sells online, but is sure his colorful and creative marshmallows in flavors including PB & chocolate; wine and cheese; and ginger wasabi puffs would be at home on specialty grocery store shelves.

Overall, though, there was a "less" trend on most ingredient checklists. Gluten-free was the most popular "not-in-there" label on pasta, cookies, crackers, sauces and spices. It was a leading trend going into the show, with 38% of members working on gluten-free products this year, according to research by Mintel and show host the Specialty Food Association. Other popular brags included non-GMO, dairy free, nut free, preservative free, and meat free (but with high protein).

Other trends noted coming soon to a grocer near you:

Grab and Go: Feeding increasingly busy lifestyles means small packages of every snack imaginable from dried fruits and nuts to hummus in tiny tubes to sustainable seaweed. "Busy people are looking for alternative and healthy snacks that keep them even and energetic all day with no peaks or drops," said NibNaks founder Marta da Camara. So are companies – she also sells her organic dried fruit and nut snacks directly to Google and Facebook who dole them out to employees.

Unique greens: Kale has been big in the fresh food world as a "superfood" for several years, but now it -- along with seaweed -- is hitting the snack food aisle. The Brad's Raw Food team wore "Kale is Kool" T-shirts to promote its dehydrated kale snacks in pina kale-ada, nasty hot and vegan nacho flavors. Meanwhile, seaweed snack companies pushed roasted and toasted bits of crunchy greens throughout the show. "Kids love seaweed much more than kale," swears GimMe Health Food national sales manager Mitch Dougan. GimMe offers roasted seaweed snacks in cheddar cheese, honey dijon and sesame flavors. Dig in, kids!

Coconut craze: With coconut water hot this year, all things coconut were bound to follow. Coconut oil, reviled just a few years ago for high saturated-fat content, in its new "virgin" form was touted as healthy and vegan-friendly for use as a butter substitute. Handfuls of vendors handed out foil packet samples of the oil, noting it's also great for hair and skin moisturizing. Other coconut products included Cheeseland's KoKos coconut cheese, Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss ice cream line, and Danielle's Roasted Coconut Chips.

Hummus among us. The hummus dip party continued to make a strong showing, but this year its key ingredient, chickpeas, broke out of the bowl. Roasted chickpea snacks and chickpea-based snack chips (Hummus Chips and Falafel Chips) were in force. Roasted chickpea specialty snack maker the Good Bean in Berkeley, Calif., has been around since 2010, but with food giant Saffron Foods joining the roasted snack fray this year, and recent news that Pepsico's Sabra brand is encouraging southern tobacco farmers to plant chickpeas, count on even more chickpea creativity.

Got Goat? Artisanal American cheeses are a hot food category right now, but goat-milk varieties are especially popular. While the creamy soft goat's milk called chevre has been in U.S. groceries for years, the new goat cheeses, from cheese makers like Vermont Butter & Cheese Co., are ripened and aged -- think blues and cheddars -- in the French and Italian traditions. Other goat milk goodies included yogurt, butter, chocolate, cookies, and caramel sauces and candies.

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