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Column: Attendees Welcomed Fancy Food Show’s In-Person Element

plate of pancake with strawberry and kiwi toppings

LAS VEGAS – With excitement – and a bit of COVID-related anxiety – thousands attended the Winter Fancy Food Show February 6-8.

It was the first in-person Fancy Food Show in two years, and the event had moved from its longtime home in San Francisco to Las Vegas.

As I initially approached the Convention Center on February 5, I noticed a line about one block long stretching outside – a hopeful sign. I soon learned, however, that the line was to check attendees’ vaccination cards or negative COVID tests prior to entry. Fortunately, I had filled out Share My Health and had a Passport to get a wristband that had be displayed throughout the event.

Of course, this was not the typical Winter Fancy Food Show, with its usual 1,000-plus exhibitors. There were approximately 800 companies exhibiting and a lot of empty spaces on the show floor.

Many companies had pulled out in early January as the omicron COVID-19 variant surged.

Aisles were busy but not packed. And there was a bit of that old, familiar buzz in the air that show organizers, exhibitors and attendees expect, indicating that people are eager to talk about (and taste) innovative foods. Silence, of course, is a very bad thing at industry events.

Exhibitors and attendees in Las Vegas seemed pleased.

Jon Pruden, president of TASTE, with nine retail locations in Virginia, noted, “It’s so good to be among my peers.”

Antonino Laspina, the Italian Trade Commissioner, said: “The Fancy Food show was, indeed, a celebration of coming together again and returning to normalcy. The Italian pavilion saw the presence of tens of Italian companies who made the trip. We saluted old friends and welcomed new ones.”

Sarah Masoni, director of product and process development at Oregon State’s Food Innovation Center, said the show activity exceeded her expectations, with attendees eager to meet and talk about new products. Fourteen new companies participated in the Innovation Center’s area within Incubator Village.

The composition of attendees in Las Vegas this year was weighted heavily toward suppliers and brokers, noted Doug Renfro, president of Mrs. Renfro’s.

“But,” he said, “given all the current supply chain and cost increase issues, those were exactly the people we needed to see.”

Ron Tanner, currently a senior advisor for The Food Institute, has observed and reported on the food industry for more than four decades, including 33 years with the Specialty Food Association. He has also presented hundreds of educational programs about the industry.