fancyfoodshowI always look forward to the National Association of Specialty Food Retailers’ Winter Fancy Food Show. The event fills San Francisco’s convention center with gourmet products as far as the eye can see, and then some.

If it sounds a kind of intense and a possibly bit excessive, it is. However, the show’s place in the food world is essential. Much in the same way New York Fashion Week sets the trends that will trickle down from elitist custom couture to the racks of Target stores across the nation, the Fancy Food Show moves the direction of food from the heights of fine dining to 7-Eleven.

If this year’s trends had to be distilled down to one word, it would be health. In the past, foods in the diet and nutrition category would be influenced by the up-and-coming diet fad. This year, it wasn’t a fad but a show-wide movement toward natural foods. From dark chocolates sweetened by stevia from Coco Polo to chia seed pasta from al dente, all of our favorite guilty pleasures were dressed up in a new robe of health.

justin'spbSurprisingly, one of the show’s hottest trends was peanut butter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the creamy, sweet magic in a jar. But in an era when peanut allergies seem to be multiplying faster than rabbits and with staggering intensity, it is odd that the legume paste would take center stage. Yet I couldn’t seem to walk a single aisle of the show without a peanut product being passed my way. From all-natural butters, to individually packaged peanut butter “shots” to chocolate, chile, crunchy, smooth, salty or sweet variations, peanut butter bars, candies or snacks, Mr. Peanut was the man of the show.

Tea was also big–possibly more so than coffee for the first time in my memory of the Fancy Food Show. From Tea Forte’s Tea Over Ice brewing pitchers to help you steep and chill a refreshing brew with just one device to Marcus Samuelsson’s new line of Ambessa teas, the leaf seems to be what’s happening. But tea had some new applications beyond the sachet. There were cookies and snack bars flavored with green and black teas. The tea category also offered what I consider to be one of the most interesting trends of the show. In one of those great minds think alike moments, several purveyors, including Numi, debuted savory teas. In flavors like fennel spice and spinach chive, the bags can be used to boil the typical cup but are also meant to be used as soup bases and in savory cocktails.

lovegrownoatmealGrains and seeds from quinoa to chia abound as did banana as a favorite flavoring (for the record, not mine) from banana and peanut butter cups to the frozen, fresh fruit. Everywhere you turned there was another natural food from Love Grown’s new instant oatmeal packs to Brad’s raw onion rings. For the first time, I left the show thinking I might have done my body good rather than abusing every cell with an infusion of fatty meats, cookies and caffeine. My body thanks you, Specialty Food Retailers, for making consumer health a part of your economy.

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