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Sneaky Beans, Bougie Baking Mix, and More Takeaways from the Fancy Food Show

I traversed the expo’s cheese-stuffed aisles to see what we can expect in our shoppy shops and grocery stores in the coming months

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the entrance to the specialty food association’s summer fancy food show
The Summer Fancy Food Show happens in New York City every year.
Bettina Makalintal

Every summer, sellers of fancy cheeses, cultured butters, alt-pastas, collagen waters, chicharron croutons, broccoli hummus, and all sorts of other things you can eat descend on New York City’s Javits Center for the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. A huge, trade-only event, the show, which is in its 68th year, displays the “newest and best” in specialty food, with attendees from corporations like Walmart and Cargill mingling with importers, wholesalers, and brands who hope their snack, drink, or sauce will be the next to sweep social media.

This year, the show, which ran from June 23 to 25, offered its typical mix of specialty food stalwarts and smaller, up-and-coming brands. I logged over 15,000 steps in the Javits Center in a single day — traversing every aisle to scope out Korean tornado potatoes, hot sauce in grenade-shaped bottles, a dipping fountain of chocolate and another of marinara, and more — in order to get the gist of what we can expect to see in our shoppy shops and grocery stores in the coming months. Here are my takeaways.

Fancy baking mixes

white boxes of flour & olive cake mix
Flour & Olive sells cake mixes meant to be used with olive oil.
Bettina Makalintal

Bougie baking mixes are here to stay, according to displays from Flour & Olive, a line of cake mixes meant to be baked with extra-virgin olive oil ($17 a box); King Street Baking Co., a line of “premium” and “elevated” baking mixes ($9 a box for cake mix, $5 for frosting mix); and Kittylamb, a line of mixes for brownies, pumpkin cake, and lemon bars ($9-$15 a box). Both Kittylamb and King Street Baking boast ingredients lists that are free from the additives in more traditional baking mixes. (I question some practicality: A box of King Street’s vanilla frosting mix contains just confectioners sugar, vanilla bean powder, and salt, and still requires you to buy your own butter and cream cheese. But if you don’t keep baking supplies around, I suppose I see the argument.)

In 2020, The Caker’s line of luxury cake mixes launched in the United States as an extension of a now-closed New Zealand bake shop. While its $25-a-box mix seemed an outlier at the time, it isn’t any longer — even with the rising cost of groceries, brands are betting on the smaller chunk of shoppers who are down to splurge on bougie basics. There’s also Elia, $30-a-box olive oil cake mix. The trend speaks to rising interest in health-conscious cooking (those who now eschew seed oils, for example, might be more drawn to mixes meant for olive oil) as well as the continued rise of the cheffy pantry and of luxe pantry staples as a subtle lifestyle flex.

Snacks that play with scale

Tiny was on-trend at booths for Fancypants, which sells bite-sized cookies, and Just the Fun Part, which sells bite-sized cone snacks that are effectively just the bottom inch of a Drumstick (the latter is another example of what my colleague Jaya Saxena dubbed “muffin top dining”). That’s in line with some other recent launches: The cookie brand Tate’s recently released a tiny version of its crispy cookies, and Crumbl shrunk down its concept for a tiny-cookie cereal in collaboration with Kellogg’s. Similarly, the popular Brooklyn bakery L’Appartement 4F went viral in 2022 for its cereal made up of miniature croissants.

sample cups of bessou’s nori popcorn next to sealed bags of popcorn
Bessou, which also has a stand in the Market 57 food hall, sells popcorn that uses Japanese flavors.
Bettina Makalintal

The opposite is also happening, however, with some brands supersizing familiar foods as with Hershey’s half-pound Reese’s cups, Taco Bell’s giant Cheez-Its, and Subway’s footlong cookies. Brands know what audiences want from them; playing with size is an easy, surefire win when it comes to giving them something new and exciting.

Popcorn with flavor

We’ve complained far and wide about how boring American chip flavors are compared to the chips in other countries. But the relatively staid world of premade popcorn has been getting more fun recently as brands branch away from cheese and butter flavors. Poppy has been diversifying its sweet and savory options, both Lesser Evil and Bjorn Qorn (in collaboration with drinks brand Ruby) recently played with hibiscus flavoring, Tochi is adding in Asian ingredients including salted egg and chile crisp, and even Herr’s is experimenting with flavors like Mexican street corn.

Last year, Food Business News reported that popcorn’s versatility was positioning it as a “front-runner” for innovation, and that appeared to be the case at the Fancy Food Show. Bessou, which used to run a restaurant and now operates a stand in the Pier 57 food hall, offered popcorns flavored with nori, soy butter, shiso sour cream, and miso caramel (pantry goods like the popcorn have helped diversify the business, the representative said). The Korean nut brand HBAF offered “New York cheeseburger” popcorn. Nutritional yeast popcorn was also solidly represented in the “Golden Chedda”-dusted popcorn offered by Farmer Foodie and the Herbal corn from Little Lad’s. I, for one, welcome the diversification of popcorn flavors; packaged “movie theater butter” popcorn never comes close to the real thing anyway.

Freeze-dried sweets

Freeze-dried snacks, especially sweets, were going strong. Call it the continued TikTok effect, as I heard one seller mention. The reasoning is two-fold: Viewers love watching the before-and-after, since the freeze dryer makes chewy candies crispy and light, and TikTok Shop allows for easy impulse shopping based on what they just watched. (That freeze-dried candies are shelf-stable helps with the TikTok Shop popularity.)

a blue bag of Full of Beans pancake and waffle mix
Full of Beans makes pancake mix that uses fava bean flour.
Bettina Makalintal

I spied freeze-dried Skittles and ice cream from Arctic Farms, sour bursts from UpTop Treats, crunchy lollipops from the Egyptian candy manufacturer Hmto, and cheesecake bites from Freezcake. Creamy or chewy-gone-crunchy isn’t exactly the texture for me, but it’s clearly for some people, even if just for the novelty. As with Swedish candy — also present at the show — this category is the perfect example of how the sphere of influence has shifted in the food world. No surprise, I saw a representative from TikTok Shop making the rounds at the expo.

Even more sneaky beans

Displays from Full of Beans, which sells fava bean flour-based pancake and waffle mix; BeanStalk, which sells soybean-based jerky-like snack sticks and bites; and WayFare, which makes vegan cream cheese using a butter bean-and-oat base, proved that the sneaky bean movement isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. (That’s despite the recent shutdown of Lupii, which sold lupini bean-based pasta and protein bars.) Brands like Banza, with its gluten-free chickpea pasta, and Just, with its mung bean-based egg alternative, of course laid the groundwork here, but it’s clear that consumers are especially open to beans when they can boost protein intake or offer a gluten-free option. It’s like the handshake meme between the modern protein fixation and the pandemic-spurred trendy bean moment. And as such, it was completely inevitable.