The specialty food industry is more robust and innovative than ever before. It is a great time to be in the gourmet foods business, and there is no better place to see the latest and greatest than the Fancy Food Show. Walking the floor with a keen eye, you will uncover the hottest categories, boldest flavors and latest trends shaping the industry’s growth.

Fresh JerkyFresh Jerky: It sounds oxymoronic, but this is not your father’s jerky if you’re thinking of the tough leathery jerky he’d grab while fueling up the car on that road trip. I first discovered this new age of jerky while dining at Country Cat in Portland Ore. The Hand Cut House Beef Jerky was an eye opener that quickly disappeared when passed around the table. Brands are bringing it to retail combining better meats with a more natural process delivering delicious results. Krave has had great success in the category, but it is facing increased competition. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky had a selection of beef, chicken and turkey jerky. Chef Blair even let me have a taste of a pork tenderloin jerky he was working on at the show. It sounds odd to think of jerky as healthy, but it is a great source of protein, which should make the idea easier to swallow.

Popped Corn: You couldn’t walk near the Moscone Center without being offered a bag of Boom Chicka Pop. Sales of bagged, ready to eat popcorn have exploded by 60 percent in the past two years. Healthier offerings with bold flavors are driving the growth. I first discovered Sirracha Popcorn at the Summer Fancy Food Show and see this category continue to boom driven by small, innovative companies willing to experiment and take risks.

Protein AlternativeProtein Alternatives: Daiya wasn’t at the show, but I did discover Neat, which makes “crumbles” from nuts and other natural ingredients for meat (and egg) alternative mixes. Plant-based proteins are on the rise, and not just among vegetarians and vegans. The National Peanut Board and a variety of brands had dehydrated peanut butter on display, a great way to pack protein into our ever-growing thirst for drinkable meals.

Turmeric Time: The Specialty Food Association highlighted this in its Trend Spotting roundup. I sipped my Turmeric Tea at Spicely and also found it among beverages including rice, nuts and yes, popcorn. Time will tell if it will have the adoption of ginger, which I still think has room for growth.

Getting ToastyGetting Toasty: Toast has become as hot as Hansel, with chefs embracing a more epicurean offering than what you would typically think. As Elizabeth Weise of USA Today reported Cinnamon Toast Tea and Buttered Toast Chocolate were all on hand. If someone can package the flavor of avocado toast with truffle salt, I will be the first in line.

The New Ancient Grain: Quinoa has reached a place where some people even enjoy pronouncing it. Amaranth, freekeh and sorghum are making waves. Sorghum is one that has particularly piqued my interest, and manufacturers are beginning to embrace it, particularly for gluten-free foods.  Dogfish Head was sampling its sorghum-brewed, gluten-free Tweason’ale at the show. The sorghum industry will need more milling and distribution capacity to grow its use at home, but companies like Bob’s Red Mill and Smart Flour Foods are making inroads.

2015 is starting off as another great year for the specialty food industry, and I look forward to seeing what’s new at the summer show in New York.

For more information about our Food, Beverage and Nutrition Practice, click here.