January 20, 2012

Three Key Takeaways From The Fancy Food Show

Fancy Food ShowWalking through two giant halls of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, filled with over 1300 product manufacturers, three main things jumped out at me:

1. Popcorn is popping!  If there was one area where there seemed to be more smaller producers than big brands it was in popcorn.  I had expected to – and did – see numerous small chocolate companies (in addition to some of the Big Brands) – but popcorn is apparently back with a vengeance.  Topped with cayenne, smothered in caramel, or drizzled with chocolate (or all three combined!), popcorn in every form and flavor is definitely trying to oust the potato chip from its stronghold on stores’ snack shelves!

2. Non GMO labeling.  I can’t tell you how many products, big and small brands alike, were advertising the fact that they were made with non GMO ingredients.  If you aren’t aware, GMOs (which stands for genetically modified organisms) are plants or animals that have been scientifically altered.  Right or wrong, there is a lot of public concern about these so-called “FrankenFruits” so it was interesting to see how many brands were using that as an attribute when it came to marketing their product.

3. Is Artisan losing it’s meaning?  Words like “artisan” and “small-batch” were being tossed around and touted at almost every booth at the show.  In many cases though when you dug a little deeper it turned out that the product wasn’t quite as advertised.  In one case a small brand told me that their products were “artisan” and “handcrafted” only to find out, after a little digging, that their products are actually made by a third-party manufacturing facility that utilizes machines for all their production.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that small companies shouldn’t look for ways to make their production more efficient but at the same time I think that then disqualifies you from using terms like “artisan” and “handcrafted.”  Unfortunately, since terms like that aren’t regulated, there’s really not much that can be done.

The reason that this is incredibly important to those of you who are actually artisan, handmade, small-batch, locally sourced, etc, etc is that those phrases that you’ve been using to help differentiate your products from the mass-manufactured brands may be losing their currency in the marketplace.  On the one hand, if every company from the biggest of the Big Brands (franchise chain Panera Bread calls themselves “Artisan Fast Food”) to the cottage food producer is using these terms then that’s not an efficient way to differentiate your product from the crowd.  Also, there’s the chance that consumers will stop trusting the word because they see it being used in cases where it so obviously doesn’t apply in which case, even if it’s true for your products, it’s not necessarily going to be something the customer will believe.

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One comment on “Three Key Takeaways From The Fancy Food Show

  • Jeff on said:

    I recently wrote about the term artisan in the food business while musing on a name for our pasta. It’s a bit of a bummer, but I guess that’s what happens when critical mass is reached.