Specialty Food Still Special
By Lisbeth Echeandia
The 51st Summer Fancy Food Show in New York in July offered visitors 180,000 food and beverage products from the 2,150 exhibitors. Business-building education seminars were part the program, and the timing made it possible for every person to fit education into their Fancy Food Show experience. Show organizers reported a 34-percent increase in ticket sales from last year’s show.  
According to the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), sales of specialty foods hit $24.7 billion in 2004. And where specialty foods are being sold has shown significant change over the past few years. In 2004, mainstream retailers accounted for 66.9 percent of specialty food sales, specialty food stores for 23 percent, and natural food stores for 10 percent. Sales of specialty food through all three channels have grown between 2002 and 2004, with natural food store sales growing at the fastest pace, jumping nearly 37 percent between 2002 and 2004.    
Order writing is a goal at this show, and exhibitors I spoke with were delighted with the quality of the attendees and the numbers of orders they were able to write. According to the NASFT, 87 percent of all show attendees either authorize or recommend purchasing decisions. High energy on the show floor reflected the opportunities for these products, and the presence of buyers from companies such as Target, Costco and Whole Foods as well as representatives from all the major supermarkets, highlights the importance of specialty products to mainstream shoppers.
Aside from the ‘facts,’ if you’re a foodie — this show is for you. You get an opportunity to try many new and different products as well as lots of old favorites to revisit. And confectionery — chocolate and not — was a strong presence with more exhibitors than ever before. Some of the products offered have a very short shelf life and are not designed for ‘regular’ distribution systems. However, there are plenty of offerings that do meet the mainstream guidelines and enable retailers to give their customers something unique and different.
Another clear indication of the continued potential for upscale products is the sophistication of the exhibitors. Many elegant, visually exciting booths with well-trained, well-informed, booth staff made it a pleasure to walk the floor. And at this show you frequently have the opportunity to meet the owner/inventor/operator of the business, and their passion for their products is clear. Sales materials reflect the business focus, and technology is front and center with most of these exhibitors.
The ultimate in sampling? Walkers Shortbread offered everyone a 4-ounce — regular retail package — of shortbread to take with them as they left the convention center. Many cases of product!
The next Fancy Food Show will be January 22-24, 2006, in San Francisco.