The annual Specialty Food Association Winter Fancy Food Show is a great place to get a read on market trends that have not yet become fully visible at the shelf level.

4 Emerging Trends From the 2020 Winter Fancy Food Show Floor

Bedrock Analytics

by Bedrock Analytics

February 5, 2020

It was our pleasure last month to attend the SFA’s Winter Fancy Food Show — a major trade show for the specialty food industry, held in San Francisco every January. The show always proves an excellent opportunity to connect with present and future Bedrock customers, meet with the best and brightest innovators in the market, discuss their strategies and, of course, sample their goods! Most importantly, the Winter Fancy Food Show is a great place to get a read on emerging market trends that are just starting to make a difference on retail shelves.

Let’s explore a few of the trends we noticed while talking with emerging brands and legacy players alike…

Plant-Based Foods Continue to Dominate

Plant-based foods might have looked like a fad when they first started to appear at retail a few  years ago, but the trend has become a bona fide movement. (In fact, there were notably fewer meat products at this Fancy Food Show than previous years!) The shopping habits of vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, the health-conscious, and other curious consumer groups make it clear that the market for plant-based foods is well established, and growing fast. And now that brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and many more have garnered mainstream attention, all kinds of CPGs are experimenting with the category.

Strictly speaking, there is no longer a single plant-based category. Rather, the banner includes a broad range of product types and preparation styles across many categories. Just a few examples from across the Fancy Food Show floor include:

The common factor across each of these items — outside of the obvious — is convenience. Consumers want to be able to buy a plant-based product from any retail channel and know it will be as easy to prepare or consume on-the-go as its traditional counterparts. Yet even now, plant-based items have an air of experimentation about them. For example, manufacturers still seek ways to offer a wider variety of ingredients, emphasizing fruits and vegetables as well as non-meat protein substitutes.

Despite still having plenty of room to experiment and grow, one thing is for sure: Plant-based food is no longer just a fad.

Upcycling is On the Rise

As we move into 2020, it’s abundantly clear that consumers also want products that are environmentally-friendly and sustainable. What’s more, they’re increasingly gravitating towards brands whose principles extend beyond the products themselves, taking into account packaging and manufacturing processes.

The eco-conscious trend is not limited to any specific brand or food category — we observed it across the show floor — but one of the most innovative examples we’re seeing is the rise of upcycling, a kind of recycling that incorporates food waste items that manufacturers would traditionally discard:

  • Renewal Mill‘s signature product is Okara, a gluten-free flour substitute made from tofu and soy milk pulp. Renewal also offers a chocolate chip cookie made from the upcycled source product. (The brand is growing so quickly, they were a highly anticipated contestant at the Naturally Bay Area Pitch Slam.)
  • Ugly Pickle creates their condiments using bruised vegetable produce.

Some upcycling proponents at the Fancy Food Show told us they believe the practice could be certified one day, much like organic foods. So don’t be surprised if you start seeing more upcycled products on retail shelves.

Functional Foods & Beverages are Going Mainstream

One visible development at the Fancy Food Show was the proliferation of functional food & beverage options — products with additional ingredients that promote health benefits. In the US, we often associate the functional category with kombucha drinks, but vendors have become far more experimental. In 2020, we can expect the field to diversify and gain mainstream recognition among consumers.

It’s easy to understand why functional foods and beverages are going mainstream. Modern consumers are increasingly seeking healthy food alternatives that do not require drastic changes to favorite meals. In response, CPGs are taking note — we saw noodle products made from beans, healthy spins on burger condiments, and a wide range of pre- and probiotic foods!

Here are a few of our favorite functional items from this year’s show:

  • Dr. Hops presented high-alcohol kombucha beers, each of which is probiotic, gluten-free, and unpasteurized. (Another strong contender at the Naturally Bay Area Pitch Slam.)
  • Functional sauces and condiments stood out at this year’s show, like Mama O’s Kimchi, packed with probiotics, which are proven to be really good for your digestive and immune systems.
  • Renewal Mill’s Okara flour is not only upcycled, but as a high source of fiber and protein, it also counts as a functional food item!

Customer Choice is Driving Emerging Markets

One notable trend tying together many of our Fancy Foods observations is that a lot of these products and the movements they represent are being driven by consumer demand. Consumers driving market adoption of new products and categories is not new a new thing, but it’s more noticeable these days than ever before. 

Not long ago, the demand for plant-based food, sustainable packaging and source ingredients, functional foods and beverages, and other emerging trends struggled in the face of legacy brands at conventional retail. Today, niche items are finding mainstream shelf space alongside recognizable brand names thanks to the market demands of loyal health- and environment-conscious customers.

This trend marks a significant evolution in retail markets — manufacturers can now create unique items for targeted niche markets instead of trying to reach broad mainstream audiences. Twenty years ago, that might have sounded like a pipe dream. Today, it’s becoming standard business practice.

There are a variety of reasons for this trend, among them a general increased awareness of consumer needs, brands’ direct access to consumers through social media and internet advertising, and manufacturer and retail technology that better utilizes sales data. At Bedrock Analytics, for example, we can visualize raw scan data to find hidden market insights, details around promotion performance, and opportunity gaps that could easily otherwise remain hidden in spreadsheet-based data exports.

Whatever the reason, consumers’ wants and needs are more evident than ever, and vendors are better equipped than ever to realize them. It’s an excellent point to take away from this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show. What’s more, it should give us more to look forward to at the upcoming Summer Show!

For more CPG 2020 trends, take a look at our feature article “3 Natural Trends That Will Impact Conventional CPG Retailers in 2020.”