Food entrepreneurs from Alabama to Italy will be at the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York on Monday, filling 1,500 booths with a cornucopia of specialty treats from artisan chocolates to vegetable popsicles and anything pickled you can imagine.
Sponsored by The Specialty Food Association, a New York nonprofit, the show is a chance for food and beverage entrepreneurs to show off their fare, meet with potential buyers, and learn everything that goes into running a niche food business.
The specialty food category typically encompasses food and beverages made in small batches with a focus on high quality ingredients. These fancy foods make up a $109 billion industry--a figure that’s up 19 percent since 2012 according to SFA’s research. This will be the Specialty Food Association’s 61st Summer Fancy Food Show, and they are expecting 22,000 attendees.
For Joe Takach, the show is the perfect platform to launch a line of Ernest Hemingway-inspired sauces. Though he’s been to the show before with clients--he runs a communications firm in Virginia Beach--this is his first foray into the specialty food category as an entrepreneur.
Takach spent the last two months crafting recipes and labels, and orchestrating the bottling of a line of barbeque, cocktail, grilling and hot sauces, each named for an adventure in Ernest Hemingway’s life. The Sun Always Rises, a Bloody Mary mix, is named after Hemingway’s time in Paris at the famous Harry’s bar where the drink was invented.
“We started with the classic recipe,” Takach tells Inc.com, “but then added some boldness. Mustard gives it a sense of France.”
By definition, specialty food vendors like Takach craft their products locally. While that's exactly the opposite of mass-market food, some vendors hope to hit it big with large vendors like Walmart and Costco. Honest Tea and Ben & Jerry’s both got their start with the help of the Fancy Food Show.
“Scale is a decision these companies have to make,” says Louise Kramer, communications director for the Specialty Food Association. “They’ll meet the specialty food store from Columbus, Ohio, and they’ll also meet Costco. They may be able to start long-term relationships and fill those orders in the future, or they may decide to stay small.”
Takach will be meeting with a large Florida distributor at the show. He would like to take his products to a chain like Dean & Deluca, but he’s not willing to comprise the brand for a private label agreement like William Sonoma might require.
More and more, large buyers are knocking at the door of specialty food. To meet consumer demand, retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Kroger, as well as reps from airlines, hotels, and yacht clubs, will be at the show building a network of suppliers. Cheese, coffee, cocoa, and meat, including poultry and seafood, are the categories in which specialty products are in highest demand, according to the SFA’s research.
With the industry still growing, the show is also a learning opportunity for entrepreneurs of all levels, offering classes on the basics of running a food business, financing, pricing, finding the right channels, social entrepreneurship, and genetically modified organisms.
But between classes and meetings, vendors hope to have some fun as well. Every morning, the Flavors of Ernest Hemingway’s booth will serve Bloody Mary samples made with The Sun Always Rises mix and in the afternoons attendees can try shrimp with Islands cocktail sauce and chicken with Hunt grilling sauce. The great grandson of Ernest Hemingway will also be in the booth signing books.