Yesterday I attended the Fancy Food Show, which was a completelyÂ overwhelmingÂ experience. The expo is put on by the National Association for the Speciality Food Trade. It is basically how buyers from the store you like to shop at get all of the cool items you like to buy. It is fascinating to see how huge this market sector is and how little of it ends up making it to our shelves. The DC Convention center is a huge place, yet the show managed to fill it up.
The show is business to business focused and not open to the general public. Luckily, I was able to get a press pass. I guess blogging has become a little moreÂ legitimate. The show focuses on lining up producers with distributors. Some of the products here are only being distributed regionally or in very small stores and come to the show with the hopes of going big time and beingÂ distributedÂ by Whole Foods.
There was also a largerÂ presenceÂ from different countries trade councils. I actually only heard about the show after someone from the Italian Trade Commission reached out and let me know that the show was in town. The Italian pavilion was massive; they must have had the largestÂ presenceÂ at the show. The most impressive thing about the purveyors/producersÂ in the pavilion was the level of quality in the products they offered. They were clearly targeting higher end speciality shops, like Eatly or Dean & Deluca.
Here is my prediction; I think we are going to start seeing aÂ resurgence orÂ renaissanceÂ Â of Italian products. The Italian product market is currentlyÂ crowdedÂ with Importer labeled products ( Sun of Italy, Cento )Â or American products with Italian sounding names (Classico). Italian products that are able to demonstrate theirÂ heritageÂ andÂ craftsmanshipÂ should be able to easily distinguish themselves. While I think that consumer have become much moreÂ savvyÂ and are now very capable of picking up onÂ subtitles, programs like theÂ Denominazione di origine controllataÂ should make it very easy to tell what is the real deal… assuming the D.O.C. maintains itsÂ rigor.
On the other side are legacy Italian retailers, like Vace in DC, that have been around forever and have strong roots in the area. The product lines they carry are not the most sophisticated, which is not a bad thing because they are affordable. However, what they carry used to be unique but now there is a lot of overlap between their stock and Whole Food’s, or even Safeway’s. I think there is a realÂ opportunity for these Italian Speciality stores to expand what they carry, start stocking higher end products and do a better job of telling the stories of the products they carry. Upstarts like Eatly show there is a lot of potential here.
Of course a lot has changed since Italian food first trended and the consumer market has become much more global and sophisticated. I think Spain is putting up a pretty good fight in a lot of Italy’s product categories ( mmm… yummy Jamon Iberico ).Â SpanishÂ food could just be another passing trend though. Either way, it should be interesting and tasty to see how things develop.
Expect a couple more highlights on things I saw at the Show in the next few days.