On the Scene: Fancy Food Show, Day 3

LAS VEGAS – All good food must come to an end.

And so the final day of the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) Fancy Food Show was upon us. With full stomachs and pockets stuffed with business cards and even the odd pistachio shell, foodgoers rushed to try what they had missed, connect with colleagues old and new, make a final pitch or close a sale, and look forward to the summer show in New York City.

Check out the Fancy Food Show Day 3 photo gallery here.

Three years after the pandemic wiped out events such as these, food and bev industry professionals were thrilled to connect once more, evident in the catcalls from booth to booth beckoning passersby and obvious in the lively discussion of flavors, textures, trends, challenges, opportunities, closures, and more. The recent Noma news prompted heated debate about the nature of the contemporary fine dining restaurant, #thedeathofartisanalfood, worker compensation, and more, while the rise of Latin-inspired flavors of the future clashed, complemented, and competed with #Foodstalgia mashups and throwbacks of the 80s and 90s.

And The Food Institute team was there to capture all of it.

“The importance of the in-person connection cannot be overstated,” said Brian Choi, Food Institute CEO.

“As great as Zoom functioned during the pandemic, the in-person connection at Fancy Food (and other shows) cannot be replaced,” Choi continued. “Also, the ability to taste product is huge – although DTC (direct-to-consumer) can help, it doesn’t replace the sensorial experience at the show, along with the ability to learn about products in real-time.”

SFA veteran Ron Tanner also shared his thoughts after three days of live streaming coverage from pavilion to pavilion. “The specialty food industry is a person-to-person industry and the buyers were delighted to spend quality face-to-face time with their suppliers,” he said. Tanner also noted that beverages are absolutely booming as consumers look to lower their sugar intake from more traditional and established brands, and Indian food is emerging as a popular range of regional cuisines in the U.S. (See live coverage from the beverage pavilion here.)

Coverage began promptly once again on The Food Institute stage and media center. As the primary media partner of the Specialty Food Association – and after three days of nonstop reporting, itinerant snacking, and community-building partnerships and introductions – the booth tables slowly loaded up with snacks, beverages, samples, business cards, and more as foodgoers were quite familiar with the team.

If you’ve been here, you know – there’s something for everyone. Here are some more foods and trends that really intrigued some of The Food Institute staff:

Paola Garcia – After hearing that Tijuana-based vendor Tacos El Gordo had “rewritten the rules” in the Las Vegas taco scene, I had to try some. They were so good – the team will have to get more next year!

Jordan Wiklund – I left with a new appreciation for plant-based foods. As a born-and-bred meat eater with young kids who demand the most basic foods imaginable, my exposure to the world of plant-based and vegan foods and snacks is pretty limited. Though I didn’t find a plant-based chicken to recommend, many of the vegan beef options were more than passable. And some of the plant-based chocolate? Forget about it – you’d never know.

#TrendWatch – Move over American hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak – the flavors of the world are more accessible than ever before, especially in D2C applications from web and mobile. If there’s one takeaway from this year’s show, it’s that the only thing limiting anyone to trying anything new is themselves; despite inflation, rising egg prices, and fears of a global recession, vendors and brands are more than thrilled to get you what you need in as direct, simple, and affordable ways as possible. Web3 is touted as the future of food distribution and exposure, and startups no longer need large benefactors to get them through the early stages of joining the global food community – the DIY aspect of contemporary food business is strong and should continue to grow as the world continues to shrink.

Clean, simple packaging touting clean, simple ingredients is here to stay. QR codes – once thought dead as a means of information distribution – merely needed mobile tech and internet technology to catch up to today’s food-savvy consumers, executives, and brands. The pace of innovation is thrilling. The food industry is thriving.

As Gene Wilder said in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the suspense is terrible – I hope it will last.

Find our other On the Scene coverage and photo galleries, and check out The Food Institute on LinkedIn and Instagram to keep up with all the action from Fancy Food 2023 and beyond. We’ll be posting more photo galleries, shorts, and reels, with some long-term follow-up to what we’ve discovered for tomorrow’s food industry. And we’ll see you at the summer Fancy Food show in June in New York City!