Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year – hours spent discovering creative, talented people’s dreams. Twice a year, in San Francisco during the winter and in New York the summer, the Specialty Food Association holds its Fancy Food Shows. This was the 40th annual event and the West Coast’s largest specialty food and beverage trade show.
The Moscone Center is transformed into a dazzling fantasyland of food and beverages for three days each January. This year 1,400 exhibitors from across the United States and 35 countries and regions, shared 80,000 best-in-class products including confections, cheese, coffee, snacks, spices, and beverages. Over the three days there will be nearly 19,000 attendees representing every aspect of the food and beverage market with buyers, producers, industry leaders, members of the press, and more.
This year I had two major focus points … Chocolate (gotta have something chocolate-related for today’s post LOL) and gluten-free products that might be able to be included in the recipe development for the cookbook. Even with limiting my energies to these two areas, I still only got to visit about 2/3 of the booths. It would have taken me another full day to get to them all. If I can take the time away from working on the book, I’ll head back over again on Tuesday.
There were 23 producers of cocoa and/or baking chocolate, 81 producers of chocolate bars, 49 truffle makers, and 108 listed as “other chocolate” producers. Plus hundreds of products made with chocolate!
But this show isn’t just about chocolate – you can see, taste, and order baked goods, baking mixes, cake decorations, flours, condiments, salad dressings, candies, butter, cheese, frozen foods and meals, appetizers, ice creams, pastas, cereals, meats, pates, oils, sauces, spices and extracts, herbs, marinades, salts, seafood, chips, nuts, popcorn, soups, syrups, jams and jellies, nut butters, vegetables, pickled foods, vinegars, and much more. And of course there are packaging options, service items, equipment and other food industry related items.
My years in high tech prepared me for the frantic nature of trade shows and how to survive the crowds and cement floors. Unlike electronic conventions, thankfully there is no blaring music or videos screaming from every corner. This is much more civilized 🙂
Thanks to the Fancy Food Mobile App, I was able to plan which vendors I wanted to visit in advance and plot out a personalized “map” of the show. It was a tremendous help and made me more efficient this year than I have been in the past. I knew which aisles I could skip and the exact booth numbers of my friends and favorite producers making them much easier to find in the chaos.
In addition to American producers, there is always an international section where we can meet sellers and sample foods from around the world. Give our recent trip to France and The Artist’s Italian heritage, can you guess where we spent most of our time? 😉 They even had a pizza oven in the middle of the show with a chef from Italy shaping and cooking pizzas for sampling!
One hint – never eat before you go. You spend the entire time sampling little bites of everything imaginable, discovering new and delightful foods that will be arriving on store shelves in the next months. Most items are available for retail sales, and there are wholesale-only products perfect for chefs and restaurants. By the end of the day you’ve managed to consume several meals worth of foods!
It is always fun to see my friends and help support their efforts. I never fail to run into other blogging friends and members of the SFPFS while wandering the aisles. And of course it is thrilling to meet famous chefs! Every year there are new people to meet, networking to do, and products to sample. Now you see why it is one of my favorite events!
If you are in San Francisco or New York when the show is on and you are in the industry (or know someone who is), do yourself a favor and attend. The Artist had a wonderful time helping me out and enjoying several espressos, some Italian meats and French cheeses as well as far too many chocolate samples. Plus he was able to help me haul all the product information and samples home, LOL.
I hope you enjoyed this small “bite” of the show. Happy Chocolate Monday – have a wonderful week!
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