Consumer Corner: Chia seeds fueling 2013 specialty food trends

By MICHELLE GROENKE, United Press International
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade says this year's Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was the largest in its 38 year history, with 80,000 products on display. Jan. 21, 2013. (NASFT)
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade says this year's Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was the largest in its 38 year history, with 80,000 products on display. Jan. 21, 2013. (NASFT)

If the prognosticators at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco are correct, which they've proven to be in the past, prepare to be presented with plenty of opportunities this year to indulge in chia seeds, broccoli-flavored tea and chocolate-covered bananas.

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade says this year's Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco was the largest in its 38 year history, with 80,000 products on display.


Savory teas, chia seeds and organic coconut oil were among the items singled out by a panel of trendspotters at the show, which ended last Tuesday.

The top five food trend categories for 2013, according to the panel were "Botanical Beverages," "Oil Nouveau," "Blue Cheese Redux," "So Many Seeds" and "Top Banana."

"Botanical Beverages" included unusual combinations such as Numi Organic Tea's Broccoli Cilantro Tea and Wild Poppy Juice Co.'s Blood Orange Chili Juice. The broccoli-flavored tea is part of a line of savory teas introduced at the show. The pungent brew featuring turmeric and decaffeinated green tea could be enjoyed as a low-calorie snack alternative or used as a broth for cooking rice or noodles, the company said.


"Oil Nouveau" included Arette Foods' Organic Tea Seed Oil with Sundried Tomatoes & Chili Pepper, La Tourangelle Artisan's organic coconut oil, and Stoger's cherry seed, chile seed and tomato seed oils.

"Blue Cheese Redux" offered a fresh look at blue cheese, including Rogue Creamery's Blue Heaven Blue Cheese Powder, and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Wine Grapes, made by Bissinger's Chocolates out of St. Louis. Can't decide whether to put goat cheese or blue cheese on your roasted beet salad? Mount Sterling Co-op Creamery's Smoked Sterling Bleu Goat Cheese may solve your dilemma.

Along with cereal made using chia seeds, rice cakes containing hemp seeds and the Egyptian spice mix Dukkah were among the top seed trends, the panel said. Bananas, particularly combined with peanut butter and chocolate, or cinnamon, may be among the "Top Bananas" in the marketplace this year. Vosges Haut-Chocolat, maker of the famed Mo's Bacon chocolate bar, caught the eye of trendspotters with its Wild Ophelia Peanut Butter & Banana Milk Chocolate Bar.

The trendspotters panel, a yearly tradition, is often spot-on, NASFT communications director Louise Kramer said.

"Coconut is everywhere now; last year it was one of our top five trends," Kramer told UPI. Salted caramel, a trend-spotter pick a few years ago, is also now ubiquitous in the marketplace.


Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Williams-Sonoma and JetBlue Airways were among the buyers who attended the show, which in past years launched brands as Terra Chips, Perrier, Ben & Jerry's and Walker's Shortbread, the trade association said.

As evidenced by the chia seeds and coconut oil, specialty foods and health foods are intersecting at an increasing rate, fueled by consumer demand and the power of Whole Foods in the marketplace. Kramer described many of the new items as having "a healthy glow."

NASFT, which has 3,075 members that produce, manufacture, import, distribute and sell more than 180,000 specialty foods and beverages worldwide, said U.S. sales of specialty foods and beverages rose 6.9 percent in 2011 to top $75 billion.

The group expects that growth to continue, despite ongoing economic concerns. Kramer said specialty food makers appear to have actually benefited from the economic downturn. Consumers, she said, seem to be okay with spending $5 for a dark chocolate bar with sea salt to share as an indulgence versus spending $100 for dinner at a restaurant.

"Specialty foods are continuing to make gains as more consumers across all age groups and regions are cooking, eating and talking about new foods and updated classics like never before," said Ron Tanner, NASFT's vice president of communications and education, in a news release last fall announcing the 2012 sales gains.


Research by the market research firm Mintel suggests consumers are also embracing specialty beverages. Sales of craft beer, made by small independent brewers, nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012, increasing from $5.7 billion to $12 billion. The segment is forecast to grow to $18 billion by 2017.

"The growth rates seen by craft beer are impressive, especially during a period when domestic and imported beers have shown a flat to declining performance," Jennifer Zegler, beverage analyst at Mintel, said in a statement. The market is especially strong with 25- to 34-year-olds.

Vintage cocktails continue to hold their own as restaurants find new ways to market cocktails their customers' grandparents may have once ordered. Ruth's Chris Steak House says juleps, gimlets and updated versions of the classic Tom Collins and Moscow Mule will be prominently featured on their 2013 drinks menu.

"We've experienced tremendous success with our vintage-inspired cocktails and we are pleased that our guests consider us a craft cocktail destination. We are eager to build on that success with the launch of our tableside juleps and 2013 list," said Helen Mackey, director of beverage strategy, in a statement.

A survey of nearly 200 professional bartenders suggests onsite barrel-aged drinks, food-liquor pairings and culinary cocktails will be the hottest trends on restaurant drink menus in 2013, the National Restaurant Association said last month.


"Artisan products, local sourcing and culinary creativity are trendy on restaurant menus and our new research shows that to also be true behind the bar," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge, in a statement. "Increasing recognition of mixology has elevated restaurant drink menus to a new level that allows bartenders to showcase their skills in blending textures and flavors similarly to how chefs approach food in the kitchen."

Locally grown as a culinary statement continues to increase in popularity at U.S. restaurants, with the trend expanding from produce to include meat and seafood. Diners say they want to know where the food was raised, elevating the status of the farms and ranches as names like "Pin-Oak Ranch lamb" and "Niman Ranch beef" are given star-status on restaurant menus.

More chefs are going hyper-local with their produce, growing it in their own gardens on restaurant rooftops. While a number of leading chefs and restaurateurs, including Rick Bayless and Paul Kahan in Chicago, have been featuring home-grown vegetables on their menus for years, environmental sustainability as a culinary theme and hyper-local sourcing is listed among the National Restaurant Association's top 10 restaurant menu trends for this year.


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