The 100 Years Club Installment #55: Eat to Live & Love to EatReading Time: 6 minutes
Twice a year, I go to the Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Food Shows (one in NY and one in Las Vegas).
The Association is older than I am. Founded in 1952, it brings the entire food community together to learn, sell, and sample.
And what a great community it is!
The team really knows how to produce an event — from the top-quality press room to the IG backdrops around the floor to the Pitch Slams for new companies to the funky little beaded hashtag bracelets to the after-hours experiences.
Food people are passionate about what they do and most of them are eager to share their products with media, buyers, and other industry professionals.
What we eat has changed radically since I was a little girl. I grew up on loads of red meat, fried foods (in nasty oil), and preservative- and sugar-packed breakfast cereals. It’s a wonder I’m still as healthy as I am. I believe that, in part, that’s due to a massive change in my eating habits over the past few years.
What Am I Eating NOW?
So, every year at the Fancy Food Show, I challenge myself to “sample clean” and stick to those products that have basic ingredients. “A little sugar” to me is like saying “A little heroin.” I avoid gluten and most dairy (which was really difficult at the Show).
However, I found 30+ products that truly wowed me (which I managed to squish into 10 categories).
As I’ve mentioned in past articles, the people behind the food are as important as the products themselves, especially in an Expo environment. A smile with the samples goes a long way. And, if a founder or rep leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I hesitate to support the brand.
Here are some of this year’s stand-outs (parsed into 10 categories, which was not an easy feat):
- Breakfast is still my most important meal of the day (even though I eat it a little later in the morning. Fiber (9 grams) and protein (6-7 grams) with no added sugar make Wella grain-free cereal a great option for those busy mornings. And WAY healthier than Cap’n Crunch. Need a splash of sweetness on your cereal or protein pancakes? Anderson’s Pure Fuel maple syrup is a great alternative to sugar and comes in little squeeze packs. Having a bacon craving? Splurging every now and then isn’t a crime. And the strips from North Country Smokehouse was worth the splurge. I can’t start the day without good coffee. And sometimes you need that caffeine fix (without sugar or dairy) on the go. Beanhut gifted me a can, which I’m saving for a sleepy day. The java highlight of the show was Press (across from my apartment) is often my business meeting spot, and now you can find their brand in all kinds of places.
- Snacks can keep you going all day. But while you’re grabbing and going, consider options like:
- Olives. Yes, olives. Olibites fit into your backpack and only have 25 calories. You can also throw them on salads. See #4.
- Asparagus, artichokes, and cauliflower now come in small pouches, so you have no excuse to not eat your veggies. Check out the full line from Poshi.
- Are you more of a chip or crunchy person? Confetti offers veggie chips, which have traditional potato chips beat in terms of health value. Turbana makes sweet and salty plantain chips and they have a commitment to sustainability. Craving spuds? Jackson’s Chips are healthier than traditional potato chips. Like Air Puffcorn is not quite like popcorn, but a great snack for those Netflix moments (and only 50 calories per cup).
- Get nutty. Cashews are a healthy and portable snack and WW Traders sells them in a range of flavors. Nature’s Garden offers a range of grab-and-go combos. If you’re a snack bar fan, the Cashew Fig Carrot bar from Thunderbird is pretty clean and doesn’t have any added sugar.
- In a pickle? Randy’s Gourmet Pickles (especially the grilled “Sideburns” variety) may not be something you’d stuff in your laptop bag, but they’re a great add-on to sandwiches (on gluten-free bread, of course!)
- Sometimes you need a boost but can’t take a break to eat. I haven’t yet sampled these Voke Energy tablets, but I like the concept.
- “Snacks of substance” are a slightly different category. When you need a midday protein fix, consider tinned fish (just don’t eat the smelly stuff on a plane or train) and Chicken Sticks from Field Trip. And, when you come from work and don’t feel like cooking, fast-prep foods like some of these grain-based options from Kitchen & Love can show your stomach some TLC. Fast food can still be healthy food.
- Food “accessories” are what I call anything you can add to other foods to give them shock and awe (in a good way). Woman-owned Todo VERDE won the pitch slam (and their booth staff was amazing!). Salsa Queen ensures you can enjoy a little spice on road trips or at your desk with their pouches that just need water to come alive. TRUFF hot sauce is a gourmet addition to even the most basic meal. I love their branding too! Next time I make my “big salad,” I’ll toss on the jar of Broken Taco bell peppers for an extra kick. And no salad is complete without Olivia’s Gluten-Free Croutons (which I’ve even been known to eat straight out of the box…I confess!) Other salad toppings include the crunchy veggies from Coaslink Corp. Want to eat plant-based and a little boujie? Caviart black seaweed pearls are a plant-based alternative to caviar. They come from Season, which makes the tinned fish I referenced in #3. (And we did eat “real” caviar from Tsar Nicoulai for breakfast one day.) When you’re feeling saucy, check out this selection from G Hughes is sugar-free. (And he even posed for a pic with me. We love founders who aren’t divas!
- Global treats enable you to taste the world from your kitchen or dining room table. Sobo Foods makes amazing dumplings and they were in the Final Four in the pitch slam. They’re so new that they’re still building their site, but you can find them on Instagram and I’ll soon be writing about their journey for Street Fight. See below for some of the Asian-inspired trends at the Show too!
- Cheers (without the hangover)! Mocktails (and mocktail bars) abound these days, as Dry January becomes Dry 2024. Tilden is beautifully packaged and has no added sugars. The Mixly Cocktail Co. offers flavors like Bunny Mary (which of course is carrot-based).
- I have a sweet tooth. But now I have so many yummy alternatives like:
- Orgibite dried fruit and Traina Home Grown fruit selections.
- Medjool dates from Rancho Meladuco Date Farm. Never say “I can’t get a date” again! Her products are fresh and very portable.
- Freakin’ Wholesome Filled Dates — when you want your dates extra-fancy.
- Chocolate brownies (yes, that’s right!) from Flax4Life.
- Jack’s Bakery makes some pretty awesome cookie options too.
- Although Monkey Brittle comes in resealable packs, eating the whole bag is tempting.
- And, best of all, the amazing artisan candy from Krack’d Snacks. I visited the booth every day for my afternoon snack fix (and the founder was sooo welcoming every time!)
- Don’t forget to hydrate! Waterdrop makes that easy with its wide range of zero-sugar hydration cubes.
- Not all freebies are food. I was gifted a great hoody from diStefano Cheese, which captures my philosophy of social media — “Quality Over Clout.” And my Wild Bill’s mug is definitely a collector’s item. I don’t know if I’ll be flaunting my “Nuts Sack” in public, but it’s a cute concept, and one can never have too many reusable bags. The brand (Dietz & Watson) sells merch on their website (like diStefano also does), which is an interesting strategy.
- Intergenerational companies abounded at the show, along with founders who started early or late in life and those who were inspired by family members’ stories.
- Anne’s Toum is a truly amazing and addictive garlic dip. Based on a family recipe, the product was sampled by two generations at the show. It can be used as an ingredient, a dip, or a topping. Sooooo tasty!
- Columbus Vegetable Oils is 80 years old and has grown from a father/son duo to a giant woman-owned and sustainability-focused brand.
- Venice Beach Beverage (ginger-infused teas) was founded by Michele Freeman and her husband after a 37-year marriage.
Viva Las Vegas!
Aside from eating, what else did I do at the show and during my three days in Las Vegas? I:
- Sat in on insightful trend panels, including an overview of the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA’s) new research on today’s eating habits, tips for marketing storytelling, and how to build healthy living habits into active adult communities.
- Gathered ideas for BleisureLiving.com about portable travel snacks. Stay tuned for that article.
- Went to sleep embarrassingly early. My room at the Conrad Resorts World was just so cozy (and I got those Hilton points). I also discovered this amazing way to get from the hotel to the convention center. Only $5 for the day, it was like an amusement park ride every morning and night!
- Reminded myself how much I enjoy attending live events, especially those that are finding new ways to engage attendees, support exhibitors and sponsors, and elevate an entire industry. Some of the concepts I experienced will be applied to RacquetX (one of my clients) in March.
So, whether you’re filling yourself with brain food or the kind you eat, attending events like this is a great way to keep yourself healthy (especially with all that walking), connected, and inspired!