The specialty food and beverage industry has recorded double-digit growth in recent years, driven by changes in consumer behavior, said Denise Purcell, head of content for the Specialty Food Association.

Denise Purcell, Specialty Foods Association
Denise Purcell, head of content for the Specialty Food Association

“The consumer now is so aware of what they’re eating and what they’re putting in their bodies and they want healthful foods and they want a food experience,” Ms. Purcell said. “That’s the norm now. It’s not so much a niche category of consumers who know what specialty is and it’s a thing on its own. It really is just food.”

Speaking with Food Business News before the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 22-24 in San Francisco, Ms. Purcell discussed recent product innovation in specialty food and beverage as well as the consumer trends propelling the segment’s growth.

“(Consumers expect) cleaner ingredients, minimally processed but still very flavorful,” she said. “They want to indulge when they want, but they still want it to be high-quality. They want it to be a healthy indulgence.

“The younger millennial consumer and the consumer who is just coming of age now, Gen Z, are very much of that mindset as well. This is the future consumer for the market, so we can see the growth being sustained.”

Among the latest innovations from 1,400 exhibitors at the annual show, a number of trends emerge, reflecting increased demand for authenticity, transparency and premium quality.

Japanese cuisine

Make way for miso, mochi and matcha as Americans dig deeper into Japanese culture and cuisine. Such sushi staples as wasabi and ginger “are more mainstream now,” Ms. Purcell said. “People have gotten used to those flavors, and now they’re curious to try more exotic ones or from different regions of Japan.”

House Foods, Garden Grove, Calif., is introducing Tofu Shirataki Ramen, a range of ramen kits featuring gluten-free noodles and a soup base. Shirataki, a Japanese staple, is a low-calorie noodle substitute made from an Asian yam. Varieties include Shoyu, a soy sauce flavor; Spicy Miso, a spicy soybean paste flavor; and Tonkotsu, a pork bone flavor.


New from Entube, a Los Angeles-based condiment company, is a Spicy Umeboshi Plum paste, which combines Japanese plum with cayenne. Other Japanese-inspired condiments debuting at Winter Fancy Food include Yuzu Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil from O-Med Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Granada, Spain; and Red Miso Powder from Manitou Trading Co., a brand of Woodland Foods, Waukegan, Ill.

Two exhibitors at the show offer mochi ice cream, a Japanese confection made with pounded sticky rice. Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts, Aiea, Hawaii, features such flavors as azuki bean, pistachio, chocolate espresso, lychee and blueberry, among others. Varieties from Mikawaya, Inc., Vernon, Calif., include strawberry, mango, double chocolate vanilla bean, green tea, cookies and cream and mint chocolate chip.

Cauli power

Cauliflower crops up as a low-carb stand-in for grains in a handful of new products showcased at Winter Fancy Food. FullGreen Ltd., London, makes Cauli Rice, a line of lower-calorie rice alternatives made from cauliflower in four varieties: original, Mediterranean, spicy chicken and chili beef.




The cruciferous vegetable is featured in gluten-free pizza crust products from Cali’flour Foods, L.L.C., Chico, Calif., and Outer Aisle Gourmet, L.L.C., Goleta, Calif. The latter company also offers cauliflower sandwich thins, a bread substitute made with cauliflower, parmesan cheese, cottage cheese, egg whites and sunflower lecithin.

Cleanup in the baking aisle

New baking products from specialty food manufacturers tout the use of clean and allergen-free ingredients.

ColorKitchen, Bend, Ore., has unveiled food colorings and sprinkles made with simple plant-based ingredients such as turmeric, spirulina, beet and annatto. Even the product packaging is made with environmentally friendly vegetable inks, according to the company.

Simple Mills, Chicago, has added a range of organic frostings made with eight ingredients, including coconut oil, sustainably sourced palm shortening and monk fruit extract. Available in vanilla and chocolate flavors, the frostings join Simple Mills’ eight gluten-free baking mixes. The Frosting Queens, Sacramento, offers gluten-free buttercream frostings made with simple ingredients in such flavors as chocolate, vanilla, caramel, strawberry and peppermint.

Arnel’s Originals, Ventura, Calif., is unveiling a gluten-free, organic cake mix with no sweetener, allowing consumers to customize the sweetness and flavor.

Wellness beverages

Apple cider vinegar, the tart tonic associated with host of health benefits, is featured in several new beverages on display at the show.

“We’re seeing wellness drinks, especially for detoxifying your system or relaxation,” Ms. Purcell said. “That would be everything from hot to cold, teas that are designed for relaxing or cleansing.”

Fire Cider African Bronze from Shire City Herbals, Pittsfield, Mass., is an organic beverage with apple cider vinegar and African Bronze honey, a fairly traded multi-floral honey from Zambia, plus oranges, lemons, onions, horseradish, ginger, garlic, turmeric and habanero pepper. Tartly, San Ramon, Calif., offers a line of sparkling fruit shrubs made from fruit juices and apple cider vinegar in such varieties as blueberry lemon, lime mint and ginger pear.

Sonoma Syrup Co. Inc., Sonoma Calif., features an organic Gravenstein Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar infused with organic lemon and vanilla.

Another trending ingredient, turmeric, continues to take over the tea category. New examples include Tuber Tonic from Mendocino Tea, Mendocino, Calif., featuring an herbal infusion of turmeric, ginger, elderberries, cinnamon and black pepper, and Shiitake Turmeric tea from Choice Organic Teas, Seattle, which offers “a whole-body balancing blend of mushrooms and herbs,” according to the company.

Mango mania

Mango is having a moment in new product development. The tropical fruit appears in sweet and savory foods and beverages.

Chuao Chocolatier, Carlsbad, Calif., is introducing a Totally Tangy Mango chocolate bar, with sweet mango sprinkled with tart lime, sea salt and a pinch of chile in dark chocolate.

Saffron Road, Stamford, Conn., has added new frozen entrees, including Thai-Style Mango Chicken, which combines dark meat chicken with rice noodles, diced mangos, baby bok choy, red bell peppers and a spicy mango sauce.

Mango also manifests in a forthcoming mango tomatillo variety of hummus from Hope Foods, Louisville, Colo., and a new line of dairy-free almond milk yogurts and kefirs from Dahlicious, Phoenix.