I spent the morning at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and it was actually pretty good this year. Last year I didn’t see much different than the prior year and quite a few of the new brands were boring.
This year I had a bunch of really nice tasting foods. And marketing seems to be focusing back in on actual taste. In short, flavor is in, questionable health claims are out.
None of the following is heavily researched, but I’m pretty good at picking trends (shockingly accurate, actually). Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
1. Non-GMO Labelling Everywhere. I get why a brand would do this, but proudly slapping a non-GMO label on something that has never and will never be genetically modified is super lame. No one is making GMO salt. When you put the Non-GMO label on your salt, you’re implying there is GMO salt. Fucking stop.
What I’d like to see? Companies going a step further and explaining why they are trying to stay Non-GMO. Tell me what customer benefit, beyond questionable safety concerns, the use of Non-GMOs promote in your product.
You might just like supporting old fashioned farming. That’s a great reason. You might want older, more flavorful crop varietals. That’s the best reason of all. You might be into transparency for philosophical reasons. Great.
A buddy of mine that sells pork chooses Non-GMO feed because he believes the quality of the GMO feed is lower, which effects the flavor of his pork. His products are excellent and definitely have something extra going on, so maybe he’s on to something.
2. Less Function/More Flavor. A few years ago you couldn’t throw a rock like gluten-free pastry without hitting a product that was jammed with superfoods and goofy ingredients promising to make you thinner or smarter. It looks like the false promises of the body-hacking industry have finally lost their hold on the public’s imagination.
The best products I saw were simple and delicious. Great peanut snacks. Well roasted coffee. Fun chips. Even the copy on the marketing materials have shifted towards flavor descriptions. This is a great development.
3. Exception to the Previous, Functional Dairy. There were a lot of dairy companies with language about protein and probiotics on their labels. While I’m kind of down on ruining a recipe with an ingredient from the supplement aisle, I am very much in favor of educating customers on the nutritional value of actual food. Please, tell me how much protein is in your mango lassi drink. Does it have gut-health benefits naturally without dumping some questionable homeopathic ingredient in there? Awesome.
4. Candy is Dandy. There looks to be something of a good-old fashioned candy renaissance, especially chocolate. One of the best things I ate today was a simple caramel from a company that’s been making them since 1973 in Park City, Utah (forgot the name). It didn’t have chia seeds in it, or beef tallow, or vegan protein, or probiotics. It was simply a good piece of candy.
The packaging for a lot of these snack and candy companies is pretty good. It looks like folks are moving past the “make everything look like it was made from hemp and printed with vegetable dye” design ethic. The labels were way more Willie Wonka and less People’s Republic of Berkeley this year.
5. Single Origin is Still Interesting. While the whole bucolic farm thing is well past its retirement date, I think single origin ingredients will remain important for a while because it’s something you can actually taste. Coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, and even dairy can exhibit terroir. This is cool and I’d like to see more of it.
6. Big, Bold Flavor. A lot of the brands I was familiar with already have new, fun flavors. Most of them aren’t boring, either. There’s a lot of spice and a lot of heat. I think this is more of the kind of kid-flavor nostalgia I’ve been noticing in food writing. For example, Lucky Peach’s recent article about Hot Cheetos.
The hipster food writers have really started to plant their flag in junk food territory. I’m curious to see how long this lasts. My theory is it’s a direct and predictable pendulum swing from the juice craze.
7. Smoked Everything. Smoked maple syrup was a product I thought was corny, but ended up being really good. Smoking things always adds an interesting flavor layer, provided it’s done with actual smoke. I’m sure someone will come along and try to make cheap smoked maple syrup by adding smoke flavor and it will suck. I’m in favor of smoking everything. Provided there is actual combustion involved.
8. Juice is Over. We’ve reached peak juice. No one is doing it better than what’s already out there. I hoped that companies would get more into peak-seasonality and start introducing products like “late season orange juice.” However, I think it’s just too hard to coordinate outside of a juice bar.
9. Fake CBD Products. I didn’t see much of this today, but there are an enormous amount of completely useless products coming to market made with cheap, ineffective CBD. I’ll shoot you straight here: if you didn’t need a Dr. rec to get your CBD product, it isn’t going to do a god damned thing for you.
If you want to experience the relief a good CBD product can bring, go get yourself a cannabis recommendation from HelloMD.com and ask the Dr. helping you (it’s actually a real deal MD) to guide you. Then, take that info and go to a dispensary.