6 Things We Learned at the 2020 Fancy Food Show

Recently, a few of us went to the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco as part of our never-ending quest to learn about the latest and greatest trends, products, and ideas in today’s food world. We tasted our way across the showroom floor, sampling delicacies from every corner of the earth. Our friends at Datassentials taught us about the lifecycle of a food trend — and other speakers presented on how the food industry is addressing issues from climate change to decolonizing the spice trade to food transparency. 

But out of everything we learned at this year’s Fancy Food Show West, these six insights, ideas, and trends took the cake.

  1. Plant-based 2.0

Did you know you there’s a plant-based alternative to pork rinds? Well, now you do. What about perfectly creamy soft serve with no aftertaste? Eclipse Foods is on a mission to be the Impossible™ of frozen treats. How about mushroom jerky or cultured non-dairy butter? There are tasty plant-based alternatives to many dairy- and meat-based foods popping up more than ever before — and we didn’t know we needed them until now.

  1. Flavor trends lean toward Korean and Afro-Caribbean 

Move over curry and salsa verde — there are new flavors trending! Berbere spice blends and sauces, Jamaican jerk sauce, and kimchi mayo were just a few examples of these emerging flavor profiles. Even a Minnesota-based brand, Mama Kicks, is hopping on this trend train with a line of sauces and marinades inspired by authentic Caribbean, African, and South American flavors. 

But, one of our new favorite brands is KPOP Foods with its line of Korean hot sauces, glazes, and that aforementioned kimchi mayo. You can count on us spending the next few months marinating anything and everything we can get our hands on. 

  1. Radical authenticity and transparency in the food system

We all know about the fair trade coffee movement — but what about decolonizing our spice trade? Or ending slave labor in the chocolate industry? 

Modern consumers are hungry for knowledge when it comes to our food system, and there are some impressive brands who are successfully providing this sort of education. For example, Sana Javeri Kadri, founder of Diaspora Co., explained that pricing for spice farmers has not been adjusted in over 100 years. Sometimes spices can change hands more than 10 times before reaching the consumer, meaning everyone along that supply chain needs to get paid. So in the end, very little profit trickles down to the farmer, which is why Kadri’s spice company works directly with farmers and pays them a living wage. Inspired by Sana, we’re thinking about new ways we can help our clients tell their stories of authenticity.

  1. Building a better beverage

Any grocer will tell you that the single serve beverage category is one of the fastest growing areas in stores right now — and we love this trend. Hello, more cocktail and mocktail mixers! There are options from sugar-free to syrupy sweet, from still to sparkling. Suffice it to say, people are really pushing beverage boundaries. 

Some of our favorites were H2OPS™ sparkling hop water, Kimino sparkling yuzu juice, and Bitters & Sodas, a line of sparkling mixers from Hella Cocktail Co. We can’t wait to start playing around in the test kitchen with these products.

  1. Paleo fades as Keto rises

According to Google Trends, there were more people searching for the word “Paleo” before 2018. However after 2018, Keto stole the show — literally. Basically, if a recipe or product wasn’t plant-based, it was probably Keto. There was Keto cookie dough, ice cream, protein bars, snack chips, etc. Name any product, and there was probably a low-carb, high-protein version. While people can’t seem to get enough of the Keto concept, we’re still on the lookout for Keto products that satisfy our cravings for taste and flavor.  

  1. Something for everyone

As we zoomed out on our time at the Fancy Food Show, it really felt like there is something for everyone in today’s food industry. Datassentials confirmed our theory in its presentation on food trends. The short version? The age of functional food and genetic testing is here, people are armed with more knowledge about what foods work best for their bodies, and the food industry is responding in a big way. 

In other words, trends that used to take 10–15 years to gain widespread adoption are now reaching the mainstream in two years or fewer. 

So what’s the ultimate food trend? We argue: trend cycles are shorter than ever.

Cake Week: When Recipe Development Meets Digital Marketing

The goal of recipe development is to create food that tastes great. But for a food marketing agency like us, flavor is just the start of the journey.

Yes, our team of culinary content creators tests and retests recipes until the result blows our taste buds away — but they also create dishes that do more than just taste or look great. They also accomplish specific goals for a client. 

This gorgeous lemon chamomile cake you’ve been ogling? Elsa Goldman, one of our content producers, developed this cake for our Southern California grocery client, Gelson’s Markets, over the course of a week. But what exactly went into that weeklong process? 

The not-lemon cake

Plot twist! The lemon chamomile cake didn’t start as a lemon chamomile cake at all. Elsa began with a bright-pink vision of a blood orange and almond tea cake, only to end up with what she would call “a bad testing day,” or what most parents would call “a learning experience.” 

But first things first: why a citrus cake in the first place?

Well, the food world is trend-focused, and so are we. Our team develops a strategy based on what ingredients and dishes are popping up across social media, in cookbooks, etc. We balance that trend-focused lens with what’s in season and what insights we have into the SoCal market in which Gelson’s operates, as well as the interests of its clientele. 

This time around, citrus desserts checked all of those boxes. Whether it’s oranges, lemons, grapefruits, or one of the many citrus hybrids available today, winter is the time to eat citrus — particularly in Southern California. Add that zest and tang to something like cake, and you’ve got yourself a fresh, almost spring-like dessert. We could envision the Gelson’s customer making a citrusy dessert for a special occasion, like a baby shower or even a birthday. With those insights in mind, we (meaning Elsa) could confidently proceed with the development process.

So back to the blood orange cake: The first test was way too sweet. And in order to get the frosting to stay on the cake, Elsa basically had to make what amounted to a thick, orange sugar paste. (Yum?)

But all baking-related frustrations aside, her initial inspiration, as well as the clear strategic benefits of a blood orange cake, just weren’t there anymore. Yeah, blood orange is fun and bright — but Elsa realized it’s actually kind of outdated (in terms of food trends) and polarizing (ask a room full of people if they like puckery blood oranges and see what happens). 

“I had the freedom to just be like, ‘F*** this. I’m gonna do something that I’m excited about,’” she said. “Because if we’re going to spend so much time developing a recipe, you should be excited about it.”

New cake-spiration

In Alison Roman’s latest all-the-rage cookbook, Nothing Fancy, there’s a lemon-turmeric tea cake recipe, and it sparked that inspiration Elsa was missing while also fitting the trend-focused and seasonal content brief. 

“Adding floral and more herbaceous notes into cocktails and desserts is trending right now,” she said. “Like you see tahini in a lot of desserts — and more herbs.”

She didn’t go with turmeric, however. For her new vision, which looked more like an elegant layer cake, something delicate seemed a bit more à propos. Chamomile adds a similar earthiness and herbaceousness as turmeric, but also brings in subtle floral notes to complement the lemon and tone down the overall sweetness. Win-win. 

For the first iteration of the lemon chamomile cake, Elsa used what’s known as the reverse creaming method to get a dense texture… but it ended up heavier than expected. So much so that you (supposedly) couldn’t taste the flavors. In the days that followed, she instead worked towards a happy medium — moist, a bit dense, light but not too light — using a génoise sponge formula.

If you don’t bake (or obsessively watch “The Great British Baking Show”), this method involves mixing eggs yolks with melted butter, oil, sugar, and flour, and then making a meringue that’s gently folded into the batter. With this technique, Elsa could steep chamomile into the melted butter and oil to make the subtlety of the flower, well, not subtle. As for the frosting? She chose a simple Swiss buttercream, but added mascarpone to make it tangy and a bit lighter.

The version you see here

One week from the day Elsa tested the never-to-be-seen-again blood orange cake, it was time for styling and photography. The challenge? The cake was one color: white.

Conveniently, cakes decked in flowers are popular right now — and Gelson’s sells lovely edible marigolds, which added warm, cheery tones to the blank canvas. She also perched some dehydrated, stained glass-like lemons (which are deliciously tart, by the way) among the flowers so people can understand the flavor profile just by looking at a photograph.

After all was said and done, the final cake was bright, lemony, and subtly sweet thanks to the earthiness of the chamomile. Also: it was totally Instagrammable (always a plus for our purposes). 

At this point you might be thinking, “This cake sounds complicated.” Well, yes and no. It does require a dash of patience and a little baking know-how. But it’s actually perfect for the Gelson’s customer: a more advanced home cook who wants to challenge themselves in the kitchen — and maybe show off their culinary prowess to friends and family. After all, recipe development is about creating food for others to enjoy making (and eating).


Check out the recipe for the Lemon Chamomile Cake over on the Gelson’s blog.