The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco just wrapped up it’s annual three day food wholesale extravaganza, where 1,300 new and established food producers show off their latest and greatest for buyers, and where the food world gets a jump on the 2013 market trends. Some of the projected trendy foods for the upcoming year include smoke-preserving, gourmet popcorn (although we've been eating this one for years), and barrel-aged hot sauces. Products like these are often produced in small batches and made with high-end and specialty ingredients. Americans are spending more on food, and there is a growing market for locally-made, "handmade" products. In NY, this trend has been ably represented by the almost twee, fetishized Brooklyn artisan food movement.
How does one roll out a small-batch, personal food idea in the gourmet food market? Venues that provide exposure to reach the consumer willing to cough up the dough for specialty items include farmer’s markets, food festivals, independent gourmet groceries, and—if you’ve really hit it really big—Whole Foods, who try out artisan foods on a local and regional trial basis. There are also small-scale distributors that base their business around getting these specialty products out of their respective cities and beyond their local cult-following. Mantry.com, for example, sends a monthly curated selection of specialty food items from all over the country in one small, fancy wooden crate. Sending a nicely presented container or unique, beautifully packaged foods is a wonderful gift idea. And they’re all pretty. Aesthetics and packaging play a large role in this new food movement—if we’re paying top dollar for a jar of lavender honey, we want it to look like we did so.
So what's the take-away? While locally-made food is on trend, actually getting it out into the marketplace and onto consumer's tables is a long road. The brand story has to be completely aligned: taste, presentation, the name of the product or line of products, identity design, language and more. That is the front end piece, and many artisan food producers have a neat handle on this part of their business. The harder part, as always, is delivering the product for a price that consumers can stomach, and rolling out the brand into enough markets where one can sell a sufficient amount of units to break even, and ultimately, make a profit. The practicalities of margins and making money are always the issue when you are operating outside the mass market, no matter what arena you are in.
USDA data showed that in 2010, Italians spent 14.4% of their income on food, whereas Americans only spent 5.5%. It seems that this number is rising, so there is clearly room in the market for new tastes and new trends. Pass the smoked pickles, please!