It was more than an affair to expose and release gummy bears, tarantulas and dinosaurs. The three-day activity was also a dynamic show-and-tell opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur who swears by his mother's cookie recipe, or an Italian aunt's pasta secret, Grandma's jam . . . a unique mushroom or escargot farm.
The marketplace was at the Anaheim Convention Center, which held the 12th Winter International Fancy Food and Confection Show last week. Sponsored by the National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade Inc., the largest West Coast trade show brought goods from about 14 countries. The show covered 112,410 square feet and had about 1,100 booths for close to 20,000 buyers and retailers.
The growth in many of the businesses that started as cottage industries was an encouragement for gourmet shop owners. Tremendous mail-order catalogue response and an increase in specialty markets selling many high-quality items not found in supermarkets have also provided incentives to many producers.
Forty colorful booths from the new California Gourmet Group presented California-grown products such as wild rice, escargots, olives, and kiwi, tomato, berry and goat cheese derivatives. Craig Makela, president of Santa Barbara Olive Co., who founded the group, said that the association was able to get state and federal funding for export trade fairs as well as reduce retail cost through lower shipping costs.
Enthusiastic about the birth of the organization and wanting to see education expanded, Makela added: "Consumers are getting pinched by high price of specialty foods. . . . By getting together we ultimately managed to do consolidated shipment into the Eastern seaboard. For instance, Cook's Classic (dressings), Just Delicious (soups, sauces), Sweet Adelaide (vinegars, oils), Deer Creek Wild Rice and Moonshine Trading (nut butters, varietal honeys), all combine shipment, saving 18% to 20% in retail price, a direct shelf reduction."
Makela, a former wine maker, added nine products to the Santa Barbara Olive Co. line, such as dill-style, Cajun-style, onion-stuffed and mushroom-stuffed olives. Jalapeno-stuffed, hickory-smoked, sun-dried and anchovy-stuffed olives are some of his most popular and interesting products.
Balance of Foods
The show revealed not just ultimate cakes, chocolate confections and pastries, but, almost on the extreme end, plenty of low-calorie, low-salt or nutrient-filled food items. There was a balance of rich foods for the upscale entertainer and nutrient-wise goods for the health conscious. Convenience was, of course, a major goal, but the wholesome, homemade quality was also obvious in many of the specialty food items.
"The thing that's in is whatever's healthy and tasty," said Dan Cohen, vice president of sales of Clearbrook Farms in Ohio. Belonging to this category is the company's line of reduced-calorie fruit spreads, which have about 16 calories per teaspoon. The sweetness comes from the fresh fruit since there is no cane sugar, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Wonderfully fresh and filled with whole fruit, I particularly enjoyed Clearbrook Farm's wild Maine blueberry and Michigan red cherry flavors.
With the widening clamor for salt-free, preservative-free products, there could be no better timing for the Miss Scarlett brand of salt- and preservative-free marinated miniature artichokes, asparagus and corn from Burlingame, Calif. What started as a hot pepper jelly business for owner Peggy Luper has now grown to an award-winning line of beautifully packed olives and vegetables. We also sampled Luper's new dilled green beans, vermouth-laden "Drunken" stuffed giant olives and onions, marinated mushrooms.
Another salt-free product came from Chalif Inc. from Wyndmoor, Pa., in the form of Champagne mustard, adding it to its salt-free line of mayonnaise, and three types of mustards: hot and sweet, sassy and honey.
Quinoa souffle . . . quinoa cheesecake, anyone? If there was one food item that attracted interest without the sneaky lure of ice cream or chocolate, it was a tiny ivory seed from the Andes mountain ranges called quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). Quinoa Corp. from Colorado calls its Ancient Harvest brand quinoa the supergrain of the future. Similar to millet in appearance, quinoa is getting raves for its high-quality protein, a complete protein containing a balance of essential amino acids equal to the protein of whole dried milk. Quinoa is starting to get attention from chefs, and once in the hands of culinary geniuses, this old grain could well be included in a restaurant menu in no time.