Every January, San Francisco wakes up from its post-holiday sluggishness and hosts the Specialty Food Association’s Winter Fancy Food Show. This is an industry-only affair in which more than one thousand purveyors of packaged foods display more than 80,000 specialty foods and beverages.
That’s right; more than 80,000; everything from chips and dips to olives and pickled peppers to pastas, sausages, and pizzas, to cookies, ice cream and chocolate truffles. Virtually any type of (primarily, non-canned, non-frozen) packaged and shelf-stable foods you can image. And then there are the cheeses and the charcuteries; virtually every type and style you can imaged, and then many more. Close to 10,000 of the 80.000 items are probably cheeses. Hundreds of different types of cheeses from hundreds of vendors from every corner of the world, each with their own, unique variations.
And that doesn’t even count the thousands of chocolates, chips, nuts and other snack foods. Nor the much smaller selections (and of course samples) of much more upscale fare including smoked fishes, caviar, black truffles and wagyu beef. And then there was the booth with the longest lines? That was probably the one whose display case contained large slabs of different grades of ahi, and whose sushi chefs labored to make rolls and niguri for the insatiable masses.
Since inveterate food purveyors, merchants and tasters need something to wash all this food down, there were also samplings of specialty beers, wines, sakes, energy drinks and specialty waters, not to speak of plain, old-fashioned bubblers in the center aisles.
Although all booths were aligned along long aisles that completely filled, and overflowed outside of the North and South Halls of the Moscone Center, a number of sections were dedicated to hundreds of primarily smaller specialty vendors from specific countries. Dedicated sections went way beyond the usual suspects such as France, Italy, Mexico and Japan to include the Philippines, Germany, Brazil, Peru and a number of others.
Nor was the show all admiring and tasting of specialty foods. Most vendors, of course, were there to renew relationships with long-time customers, attract new distributors and retail outlets and check out the competition. Professional food buyers, meanwhile, prowled the hall for new delicacies and negotiated seals in meeting rooms and neighboring hotel suites.
For those who could pull themselves from the bustling floor, there were also educational opportunities, primarily in the form of presentations, seminars and workshops covering topics including food service, legislative and regulatory practices, sales and marketing, working with distributors, food production and safety and, to ensure a steady supply of new exhibitors, sessions on how to start a specialty food business.
Overall, an always amazing show that is always a feast for the eyes and the taste buds, and for all too many attendees, a mandate for yet another diet. But at least you get some exercise by walking the miles and miles of aisles.