Two years ago, bean chips were one of the hottest snack foods at the Summer Fancy Food Show. Now we’re seeing the actual roasted chickpeas, the latest step in the evolution toward healthier, more natural snacks, said Louise Kramer, communications director for the Specialty Food Association.
“Retailers want what’s new and healthy, less-processed and with simple ingredients,” she said. “And people want food with stories behind them. The products have to talk themselves off the shelves.”
U.S. specialty food sales hit a record $109 billion in retail and foodservice channels last year, and there’s no shortage of stories in the new-brand pavilion at the New York City show, which started Sunday and runs through Tuesday, from a pair of nuclear power plant engineers who created an unsweetened carbonated tea brand to a mom with two sets of twins who launched a vegetarian soup business.
Gina Stryker began making vegetarian food 12 years ago for her yoga-instructor husband’s retreats, and eventually the students told Stryker she should bottle and sell her soups. The low-sodium soups made with organic ingredients and no added sugar proved a hit, selling out at local farmer’s markets time and again. She eventually marketed 12 kinds of soups and sauces, all but two of them vegan.
Now, the Colorado resident’s brother has created a 40,000-square-foot organic greenhouse in Idaho to grow produce for her and he’s putting the finishing touches on a commercial kitchen to enable Gina Cucina to expand further.
Stryker comes from a long line of chefs and she’s sharing her passion for healthy food with the next generation — she gives lessons on nutrition at her older children’s high school and recently hosted the kindergarten graduating class at her home, where they made lunch for their families.
Personal issues led several of this year’s crop of foodie entrepreneurs to create their brands, including Michelle Retik who was a pastry chef when she developed Crohn’s disease. She learned to manage her condition with diet and without medication, and then she opened a bakery called The Squirrel and The Bee in Short Hills, N.J., and create Goodness Grainless, a gluten-free line of granola that works for paleo and vegan diets.
Allison Luckman’s story also starts with her health issues — she was diagnosed early with lactose intolerance and later found to have ulcerative colitis, conditions she learned to manage with diet. Her son’s egg allergy and her daughter’s gluten intolerance eventually got Luckman baking. She launched Allie’s GF Goodies with the goal of making sure all kids get to have yummy baked goods. The products have always been gluten-free and peanut-free, some are vegan, and she has continued to tweak her recipes to make them suitable for people with a wide range of allergies and food issues.
Luisa Mendoza’s celiac diagnosis three years ago was the catalyst for Huga Bars, a line of gluten-free nutrition bars inspired by recipes from friends and family around the globe. Mendoza and her partners worked with a food formulator, baking the original desserts and painstakingly recreating them in bar form.
Auria Abraham came to the U.S. 20 years ago for college, with plans to return home to Malaysia after graduation. Instead she met a guy, got married, stayed in the U.S. and carved out a career as a jingle writer. The hours got too long after her first baby came, and eventually she turned her talents to commercializing traditional Malaysian condiments called sambal. Her Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen brand Hot Chili Sambal and new Lime Leaf Sambal helped Abraham win a booth at this year’s show in a contest by the New York Economic Development Corporation.
A sampling of other stories from the new-brand pavilion includes:
Sound Sparkling Tea, an unsweetened sparkling tea created by health-conscious engineers Tom Kelly and Salim Najjar, who used a Soda Stream to turn cool brewed tea into a carbonated beverage. They left their jobs at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in January to do the business full time.
Arteasan Beverages, a tea drink made sweet by fruit and botanicals instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Former finance executive Fernando Rodriguez left his career, moved his family from Venezuela to the U.S. and created the drink as an alternative to sugary soft drinks for his three sons.
Sweet Basil, a line of frozen meatless meals created by Connie Fassuliotis and inspired by her Greek heritage.
Bee’s Water, a line of flavored honey waters created by Henry Owunna, a former pharmaceutical researcher who drank honey water as a child in Nigeria, got out of the habit after moving to the U.S. as a young man. Then one day he was home sick, remembered the drink’s soothing properties and created a brand.
Backyard Brine, a line of artisan pickles made in Brooklyn by Cori and Randy Kopke who started pickling as a hobby 10 years ago, and turned it into a business after the pickles they made as a relative’s wedding favors were a hit with the guests.
Ft. Greene Farms, a small-batch Brooklyn-based producer of products like pickled mustard seeds and red pepper relish created by former fine-dining chef Nathan Meshberg. “It’s about the details that tie dishes together. I’m really fascinated with that aspect of cooking,” he said.
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