Food + Drink

Good Food / Great Business at the Winter Fancy Food Show

The Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show filled both sides of San Francisco’s Moscone Center with specialty food products, many featuring strong flavors (spicy everything), new ingredients (millet is the new quinoa), and twists on crowd-pleasers (jalapeno popcorn anyone?). At this trade show, wholesale food buyers scour the aisles to see what’s new, what’s done, and what’s next for their shops, stadiums or even hotel mini-bars.

Aside from a trend in Indian and Thai flavors (even in peanut butter), one theme stood out: success and fast expansion through partnership.

“Partnership” comes in many flavors.

Here we’ll take a look at how collaboration is central to a few new ice cream and yogurt brands we’ll see this year. Themes you’ll notice include:

  1. Business collaborations with friends or colleagues
  2. Manufacturing collaborations where entrepreneurs team with contract manufacturers (called co-packers) to produce foods, often more efficient and flexible than running their own production facility
  3. Ingredients collaborations with other food crafters and suppliers to add the best flavors, sometimes in familiar branded ways

The most jaw-dropping example comes from Claire Keane. Claire spent years making her addictive chocolate caramel shortbread “Clairesquares” bars, which she’d commercialized as part of La Cocina’s San Francisco incubator. At the show, Claire not only had her own booth, she had a tower of Haagen-Daaz cartons stacked on the table. With her logo on the package. In a Clairesquares flavor. It may have been a slow process, but the results sure are big!

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While Claire started slow, Nancy Silverton started fast. Through partnering with co-packer LA Creamery, she managed to launch Nancy’s Fancy ice cream brand—featuring flavor twists like Honeycomb and crowd-pleasing Chunky Salted Peanut Butter with Crunchy Chocolate—in a mere six months. Well yes, she kind of has a track record to perhaps streamline starting up.  But her working with a manufacturer from the get-go exemplifies one approach, which I call “Business Builders” in my book Good Food, Great Business.

Nancy’s collaboration didn’t stop there. She also has a Stumptown-branded coffee flavor, similar to another wonderful California-based maker, Gelateria Naia, which partners with small farms and food makers like Recchiuti Confections and TCHO Chocolate for their gelato bars and pints.

We also got a taste of Phin & Phebes ice cream whose playful branding will certainly appeal to urbane kids. This Brooklyn-based company sprang from another kind of partnership, this time romantic. Jess Eddy and Crista Freeman begin making ice cream at home in 2010, leading to a flurry of recipe testing at home and events where people loved the creative flavors with locally-sourced dairy. They’re now in 750+ stores, while continuing to develop recipes and source all the ingredients themselves. The duo oversees production runs at a co-packer, which produces the ice cream. This strategy allows for fast growth while minimizing upfront investment costs.

My absolute favorite product this year incorporated a ubiquitous flavor: a coconut-flecked organic Icelandic yogurt made by Smári Ásmundsson, “an Icelander, born in Hafnarfjörður to Halldóra Hermannsdóttir and Ásmundur Jónasson.” This spoon-standing-thick yogurt magically delivers only 138 calories a cup.

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Smári and I first met in December 2011 at a Slow Money event, designed to matchmake food entrepreneurs with folks opting to invest in local food systems. “We’ll be in Whole Foods on day 1,” he had said. As of this show they’d landed in 1,000+ stores—thanks to hard work and again partnering with an organic manufacturer in Northern California. Luck? Not so much. The yogurt category has been growing for years.

We left the show full of stories, thousands of calories, and confirmation that there’s plenty of room for the next great pickle or cheese twist. Reaching out, researching, and connecting at shows like the Fancy Food Show and other food trade shows are a great place to start.

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Susie Wyshak

Susie Wyshak wrote Good Food, Great Business which she encourages you to read while alternating with trips to the grocery store. Online templates, a newsletter and resources at FoodStarter.com help readers kick start their food business planning.

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