Melanie Bartelme
Melanie Zanoza Bartelme is a Global Food Analyst at Mintel, providing insights on global innovation and consumer trends across a number of food categories.

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) hosted its 45th Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, bringing together thousands of food buyers and distributors.

Global Food Analyst Melanie Zanoza Bartelme walked the show floor, serving as an official trend spotter for the SFA. Here, she checks in on how the specialty food industry is responding to four of the most important trends in food and drink.

Sustainability reached across categories

Sustainability is no longer a “nice to have.” Companies across categories are being challenged to demonstrate how they are doing their part in protecting the planet. At the show, this could be seen in a variety of ways. Companies like Happy Planet shared the environmental benefits of their ingredients, such as oats. Meanwhile, Force of Nature, demoed a blend of ground organ meats as a beef alternative, promoting its iron and protein content. This brand, along with many others, also discussed regenerative agriculture, a growing method that aims to manage and improve the health of soil.

Companies also discussed upcycling: the transformation of byproducts or other unused materials into something new. Renewal Mill showed its gluten-free baking blend that uses its okara, a flour upcycled from milked soybeans. Upcycling also appeared in packaging, with Belgian Boys dedicating its entire booth to showing how its glass cheesecake ramekins can be reused.

Plant-based products innovated

Plant-based eating continues to trend. The show dedicated an entire room to plant-based foods, and many more could be found across the rest of the booths. Products featuring meat alternatives were on display, such as Upton Naturals’ soy jerky and Nona Lim’s Dan Dan Noodle Bowl with Beyond Meat Beef Crumbles. Innovation also came in the form of whole vegetables. Rhythm Superfoods and Sonoma Creamery showcased their whole-vegetable cauliflower snacks, a twist on veggie chips made from powdered vegetables.

Meanwhile, Bella Sun Luci rechristened sun-dried tomatoes as Plant-Based Tomato Jerky for a new generation. In the Incubator Village, an arena filled with small startups, Adda Veggie presented its eponymous protein powders that consumers mix with their own vegetables, giving them the opportunity to create their own high-protein veggie burgers and bites.

Diet-focused eating continued

Based on the number of products mentioning “keto” in their name or making “keto-friendly” claims, this diet is still on companies’ minds. These included Keto Butta, HighKey’s keto-friendly cookies and Just Made’s Keto Frosting. Companies also looked to reduce or eliminate sugar from their products, such as Noosas Hilo high-protein, low-sugar yogurt and Chef’s Cut Zero Sugar Biltong. While these products likely resonate with the consumers following these diets, companies should remember that diet trends are just that, trends, and that consumers may have moved on to the next (or call the same diet something new) by this time next year. Finding ways to target multiple consumers groups with the same product would be a sound strategy.

Food and drink targeted function

While some products called out a specific diet, others targeted specific functions. Mood33’s Hemp-Infused Herbal Teas offered solutions for Calm, Peace and Wellbeing, while Numi aimed to provide Immune Support and Belly Bliss with their shots. Vegan Rob’s launched a new tea line based on herbal ingredients the brand believes can “help solve mental health issues.” Varieties include Relieves Loneliness, Relieves Depression and Sober Fasting.

Beauty from the inside out was also a theme, and collagen remained a key ingredient in food and drink positioned for boosting beauty. For example, Alo introduced an aloe-and-collagen water called Jen, while The Republic of Tea launched its Clean Beauty Berry Aloe Tea with sea buckthorn. Probiotic brand GoLive also tapped into beauty with its Beauty Tonic single-serving prebiotic and probiotic packets containing collagen and biotin.