I had the opportunity to indulge the food marketer in me and explore the Fancy Food Show this week in San Francisco. I’d like to take just a marketing minute to share with you some of my key takeaways (no, I didn’t get to take away much free food…unfortunately) from the event. It's not my normal kind of post, but who says I have to be normal?
In homage to all the different kind of awards that we see at these types of events, I’ve developed my own “Best Product…” lists to share. I don’t claim to be marvelously insightful, to have discovered anything new or even to have the best taste in town. All I know is these products caught my attention as a marketer and consumer because they were either innovative, incredibly delicious or both. That's not to say that they are all doing a great job positioning or marketing their products in all cases (some are, some aren't); my choices are based on what I see as products that are different or delicious enough to have a shot at making something of themselves.
Biggest Trend I Noticed
All you “trend watchers” out there need to be fed, so here’s the major “trend” that I saw: gluten free. Judging from the number of products touting their gluten-free qualities, I’d say that the association responsible for promoting awareness of this allergy has done a good job. It felt as if I couldn’t walk 15 feet without coming upon some gluten-free product or another. Guess that would qualify as a “trend,” eh? Even better than the news that companies are waking up to this medical reality is this – most of these products actually tasted good! Better science through food, or something like that.
Were there other trends? Probably, but I want to leave plenty for someone else to expound on.
Best Product Derived from a Country Where We Are Actively Engaged in War
Winner: Bolani Bread/East & West Gourmet Afghan Food
Bolani is an Afghan flat bread stuffed with spinach (my favorite), pumpkin, lentils or potatoes. These yummy munchables are great for snacking, appetizers, cold or hot. Rich in nutrition and vegan to boot (lord help me…I liked a vegan product!), these delicious bolani concoctions are great solo or in combination with the company’s variety of sauces and spreads (garlic mint cheese, cilantro pesto, lentil curry and my favorite, sweet jalapeno – a pepper jelly you have to try to believe). These unique spreads and dips are like an intense flavor explosion in your mouth. This is one product that deserves some refrigerated section shelf space!
Best Product that Doesn’t Seem Possible
Winner: Straus Family Creamery Frozen Yogurt
This northern Cal dairy producer has created a frozen yogurt that is – gasp! – actually made from yogurt! REAL yogurt. And, they found a way to tame the yogurt tartness to produce a dutch chocolate flavor that defies explanation (how do they keep the yogurt flavor from overwhelming the chocolate? I don’t know…I don’t care. It was delicious! Oh, yeah, healthy, too. They have a great companion product, Original Tart, that is extremely refreshing. You won’t see these on the shelf any time soon, as the product is designed for dispensing in ice cream shops, restaurants, etc. But, the creator told me that they are working on a retail version. Trust me…it will be worth the wait. Sorry there’s no picture – I was too busy eating and rolling my eyes in ecstasy to snap a photo.
Best Product from Good Ol’ Boys
Winner: Arizona Gunslinger
How could a product with a name like that not come from a good ol’ boy? This line of hot sauces (steak, BBQ, pepper and salsa) was first cooked up and sold off the back Bill’s veranda in his home in Arizona over twenty years ago. This good ol’ boy had a good ol’ idea! This is not just another line of “hot sauce” products. Was there heat? Heck yeah…but there was also delicious FLAVOR not always found in these kinds of sauces. Most of the products are 100% natural, rich in flavor that was both powerful and subtle at the same time. The quality of sauces was also evidenced by their thickness – we stuck a toothpick in the jars and that toothpick stood at attention the entire time we were at the booth (try that with a steak sauce sitting in your cabinet). Plus, these were two of the nicest guys we met at the show.
Best Product Squeezed from a Tree Product
Winner: The Smoked Olive
I’m no oil afficianado, but I do know when something is unique or good. In this case, it’s both. This company makes a naturally wood smoked virgin olive oil that had such a unique, delicious flavor profile that it had to make my list. It’s also a good example of how someone with enough ingenuity can take a product that would seemingly be hard to differentiate and do just that. Even an untrained mouth like mine could taste the wonderful flavor difference of these three varieties of smoked olive oil on a little ol’ piece of bread. I only wish I could have taken a bottle home to toss on the pasta I was making for dinner that night.
Best Product Made by Aging Rockers
Winner: Rock ‘N Roll Gourmet
This is a company down in the LA area founded by a husband-wife team. As both are also rock ‘n roll musicians, the name is no surprise. What was a surprise was their line of products, a variety of unique, all natural chips and snack products that defy any standard definition or description other than “dang good!” With names inspired by their lifestyle (Hippie Chips – baked potato chips, almost like rice cakes; Little Wings – named for the Jimi Hendrix song, these multi grain chips taste like buffalo wings with a bleu cheese drizzle), I haven’t seen or tasted anything quite like this line. I didn’t check the nutritionally information…that’s because they were so good I didn’t care! But, I double checked their web site, and with no cholesterol and low fat, I’d opt for these over standard chips most any day.
Best Products from a Company Fighting to Keep It Real Despite Major Investments from a Huge Conglomerate
Winner: Honest Beverages
These guys have been around a while and make a great bottled tea (Honest Tea is one of my favorites). They also took in a big chunk of investment from Coca Cola a few years back that outraged devotees to the brand – “Coke will ruin you.” Well, apparently Coke only has rights to distribute one line of their products, and the company has two new line extensions for their “Honest” brand that strike me as winners. First, Honest Kids, their line of high quality, organic, low sugar thirst quenchers. Think Capri Sun only without all the crappy ingredients (high fructose corn syrup) and half the sugar. And, they taste good. Cha-ching! And, in a much more niche-y segment, there is Honest Kombucha. I can’t tell you much about kombucha other than it contains active probiotics (supposed to be really good for your digestive tract and body) and normally I can’t even sniff the stuff (vile!). Somehow, the Honest team made this stuff not only palatable, but pretty good. Given the high price per unit in this segment, they won’t need to sell tons of this to feel good about the profit margins.
Best Product From Company Providing the White House with Chocolates
Winner: Fran’s Chocolates
It’s true. This small chocolate company from Kent, WA is a favorite of Michelle Obama and her husband, what’s-his-name. I was told that the First Couple were given some of Fran’s grey and smoked sea salt caramels as a gift while campaigning in Washington state during the election, and now they regularly order these delicacies (I was told that Michelle likes the grey salt and her hubby likes the smoked salt…or maybe it was the other way around). I had never thought of sea salt, caramel and chocolate before (I admit, I’m not that devoted a foodie). After tasting these products, which combine absolutely scrumptuously rich chocolate with creamy caramel and just the right amount of sea salt topping, I’m glad Fran thought of it!
And because you can never have enough good chocolate…
Best Chocolate Product Not Currently Providing the White House with Their Product
Winner: Poco Dolce
Right across the aisle from Fran’s I found this San Francisco based company (yes, I did spend an inordinate amount of time bouncing back and forth between their booths). Poco Dolce produces two broad lines of chocolates that emphasize the savory side of sweet –bittersweet tiles (more or less flat chocolate tiles with various flavorings) and chocolate covered toffee squares. OMG! I had never tasted combinations like this company was presenting. Their Aztec Chile tiles mixed real chile pepper heat with dark chocolate to perfection. And, they pulled off the chile feat on the toffee square side as well with their Super Chile square. But, my favorite was their Popcorn toffee square. Truly unique flavors combined with fantastic chocolate, all packaged in great looking tins. Terrific as house warming gifts…but I don’t think such a gift would ever last the drive from my house to my destination without being scarfed down!
Best Products That I Couldn’t Find a Funny Title For
Winners: WOW Baking Company and Oliver Bentleys Barking Bakery/Ollie B. Biscuits
WOW stands for WithOut Wheat.
That’s how this company makes its all natural, wheat free, gluten-free baked goods. And, they make them very, very well. Frankly, they tasted so good I’d buy these instead of a lot of other great gourmet cookies out there whether they are gluten-free or not. I mean, we’re talking cookies here! The fact that they are all natural (with no refined sugars or hydrogenated oils) is a great added benefit. And, if you are gluten intolerant, well, here’s a product that you will LOVE. They come ready to serve, and they also sell mixes and refrigerated dough so you can bake ‘em fresh yourself. This is a very small company today. I hope that one day that they are a very BIG company.
Oliver Bentleys - Ollie B. Biscuits
This product made my list mostly because I bumped into their founder, Eric Zimmerman and he struck me as the kind of guy you root for to be successful. He had fled his financial job after 20 years to pursue his dream – premium, organic dog treats (don’t laugh…what’s YOUR dream?). Anyway, I actually liked the look and feel of his artisan, organic human-grade ingredient dog treats sold in these elegant tins. No additives, preservatives or fillers. No added salt or sugar. No wheat, corn or soy. Just REAL ingredients hand-baked in small batches (each biscuit has a little paw print on it, too). I can’t vouch for the taste of his product (I’m not a dog!), but I can say that I loved the idea behind his Barking Bakery (or “Barkery”) and his “Barketing Plan” (no kidding – that’s what he called it). Here’s hoping his “gourmutt” biscuits become a big hit.
Okay, so that’s my fancy foodwork. Keep an eye open for these products should they make it to a shelf near you (or, you can always go online and buy ‘em). All comments are welcome. AND, for anyone who happened to attend this show, I would love to know: what did YOU think were top new products from FFS?