Innovation and Excitement are Hallmarks of Fancy Food Show


Innovative tea blends, a new take on chai, tea ice pops and oodles of herbals rewarded attendees eager to learn what's new at the 37th Annual Winter Fancy Food Show.

The 1300-exhibit show floor was very busy with an estimated 18,000 attendees, the largest in the show's history. The event showcased 80,000 products from 35 countries including an entire aisle of India teas.

"This is the largest show we've ever had in San Francisco, and attendees are seeing and tasting a vast selection of new specialty foods," said Ann Daw, president of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. "There is a very positive mood. We think it is going to be a great year of the dragon," she said.

A team of trend-spotting food journalists and consultants identified five themes from nut and grain-based drinks and coconut concoctions to ancient grains and pickled peas and carrots. (See sidebar: Trending Now)

It was jacket weather as blue skies, warm temperatures and no fog tempted show goers outdoors for tea at Samovar Tea Lounge across from the Moscone Convention Center, reports correspondent Babette Donaldson. Here is a roundup of what she saw at the show:

There were 56 tea exhibitors in several categories. Their presence was more subtle than in past years, according to Donaldson. Adagio Teas Wholesale Sales Manager Cynthia Fazekas says that 10 years ago exhibitors spent most of their time educating grocery buyers and restaurateurs unfamiliar with specialty and loose leaf tea.

"When we started exhibiting at this show no one understood specialty teas or knew why they should stock them. We had to educate these buyers about who their consumer is and where they fit in as retailers. We're having a much different conversation now. People here are more experienced and asking important questions, seeking out higher end teas," says Fazekas.

Food manufacturers and formulators are using tea as an ingredient, not because it is a darling with media but to add texture, flavor and healthful antioxidants. Companies like Ito En, New Tree and Gelateria Naia are doing exciting experiments with tea.

Harney and Sons Fine Teas celebrated the 2012 Dragon Theme with their Year of The Dragon Gift Set that celebrates Chinese teas, oolong and lung chin, that honor the mythical creature. Celebrating their own twenty-nine years in business, the Harney family booth was frequently a gathering place for the friends-in-tea including James Norwood Pratt.

Ito EnITO EN offered a new half & Half in Teas’ Tea ready-to-drink bottles.  This is an authentically brewed green tea blended with lemonade and lightly sweetened with a cane sugar and stevia combination. It's superb!! says Rona Tison Sr. Vice President-Corporate Relations ITO EN (North America).  Their bottle black tea and fruit blend, Crispy Apple, was also sweet and refreshing.

Choice Organic Tea, a pioneer in organic and Fair Trade offerings, introduced a Premium Korean Green tea in a pyramid bag from Jeju, an island with limited access off the South Korean coast. The green teas are very forgiving for time and temps. Masala Chai and Rooibos Chai are also new to the lineup along with a decaffeinated Green. Teas are USDA-certified, non-GMO verified, kosher and gluten-free and retail for $4.69 for a 16-count box.

AdagioAdagio Teas is calling their Valentine line "Hugs & Kisses" these pyramid bags and beautifully packaged. The Garfield, NJ-based company has re-branded its entire ready-to-drink Ateadote line to Adagio. Wholesale Sales Manager Cynthia Fazekas has high praise for Bunn-O-Matic's Trifecta brewing system in use at the company's new State Street retail store. Staff there has mastered programming the Trifecta to deliver multiple temps.

Gelato is a long Bay Area tradition dating to the turn of the century when Italian street merchants offered this delicious treat. Gelateria Naia has a new take on the treat, using Numi Jasmine tea in its frozen dessert pops. The Hercules, Calif.-based firm also makes gelato with granola and other interesting combinations.

ForlifeFORLIFE displayed a new nifty line of teaware making it easier than ever to brew loose leaf for foodservice and home. The Stump Teapot is versatile, colorful and sturdy. Pots with a stainless steel lid come in nine colors and either 13- or 18-ounce versions. The firm's Q Teaware cups and teapots with removable infusion basket and holder are available in 12 colors.

Tea Board of India sponsored an entire aisle displaying more than a dozen of that country's top gardens with growers on hand to educate a curious public to the unique qualities of tea from their region. The newly appointed chairman of the Tea Board of India, M.G.V.K. Bhanu generously offered insights into the importance of their tea industry; directly employing more than a million people and producing almost a billion kgs per year. "Indian tea has a soul because there are as many as ten generations plucking the same gardens. My grandfather was looking at the same leaves. Then my father and now me. The tea bushes are our family," says Bhanu. U.S. tea importer Devan Shah, one of the most influential tea importers was in the center of this incredible display representing Jayshree Teas as well as his own ITI (International Tea Importers), based in Los Angeles.

Revolution Tea manufactures organic and conventional tea concentrates for foodservice. The company offers 12 flavors of iced tea packaged in 1- and 1.5 gallon bags. A water-fed delivery system dilutes the tea drawn which is drawn from a spigot. Representatives explained this makes Revolution more economical than batch brewed teas. The 13-year-old company, based in
Phoenix, Ariz., says it started a revolution with its tea delivery system.

Belgium-based NewTree displayed several 'natural born chocolate' items and
energy bars, one made with green tea. Tea adds to the flavor profile of their mini bars and packs usable antioxidants, according to the company which makes nutritional snacks of granola, nuts and flax. Their cookies are rich in omega-3s and their protein-rich chocolate is not for dessert. The company, founded in 2001, seeks to re-invent chocolate. Products are sold in Whole Foods, Wegman's and Pier 1 Imports.


37th Winter Fancy Food Show
A selection of new items from the show.

Honest Tea has grown to 38 different products including a line of HonestKids tea in pouches, kombucha and stevia sweetened bottled teas. CocoaNova, a unique cacao infusion was released last May and the Lemon Tulsi launched in 2010 was on display. They still supply the White House with the President Obama's favorite, Black Forest Berry and a limited run of "Barak Forest Berry" that was distributed only in the Washington DC area. The Bethesda,Md.-based company, owned by Coca-Cola, topped 100 million bottles earning $71 million last

Sencha Naturals has new mints made with tea concentrate. Eco Twist Tube
made of kraft paper with a convenient new dispensing top. They have also replaced their old tins with completely
recyclable tins and have added new flavors; tropical mango, pink
dragonfruit and Bombay chai.

In 2009 Paawan Kothari, founder of The Chai Cart, started her business towing airpots of homemade chai in a cart behind her bicycle. Using Twitter and Facebook she would signal patrons of her next location in advance. Many gained a huge following. Half the excitement was in finding these makeshift carts before the San Francisco cops. Her unsweetened chai concentrates consist of black Assam tea infused with spices. Just add milk. Kothari brought a distinctive Rose Chai Tea to the show. The chai is infused with
rose water and spices.

Takeya, a Japanese company with offices in Huntington Beach, Calif., has lovely infusion and serving products that are designed marketed for iced tea. Glassware includes double-walled designs, pitchers with removable infusion basets in a modernistic design. One that caught my eye was wrapped in a soft grip silicon jacket good for hot tea too.

AIYA America displayed loose leaf consumer tins matcha and a selection of fine loose leaf teas. These 80-85 gm tins include Matcha Infused Genmaicha, Premium Gyokuro, Premium Sencha and Matcha Infused Sencha. This Japanese company has offices in Torrance, Calif.
aiya-america. com

Twinings North America, based in Clifton, NJ was another large and historic presence for the tea industry. Upholding a vision of quality tea for more than 300 years, they are now re-launching their line of herbal teas; including Pomegranate Raspberry, Chamomile Honey and Vanilla along with Lemon and Ginger and Wild Berries.

Republic of Tea was the largest display of tea on the show floor. Celebrating 20 years in business, they served two new blends. Their 20th Anniversary Celebration Tea combines a Ceylon black tea from the Tommagog Estate, sweet white wine grapes and whole tea flowers. Twenty Herbs, The Tea of Many Virtues is a full-bodied blend of herbs and spices. Once again they attracted throngs of people by giving away small French press infusers decorated with their new commemorative logo. More than 100 teas, this Novota, Calif. company continues to be a dynamic presence in the consumer marketplace.

Tea Forte has a new "Skin-Smart line" with flavors like Cucumber Mint and Cherry Marzipan to "help keep you looking and feeling beautiful" by "taking care of the skin from within".  Teas are packaged signature eco-friendly teabags, 16 per box. Recently acquired by Sara Lee, the Concord, Mass. company continues to introduce design-driven accessories.

Davidson's Organics, Reno, NV continues their commitment to being 100% organic, now packages most of their teas directly at their own
plantations and almost completely Fair Trade. They are also growing and blending their newest caffeine free Tulsi Teas; Pure Leaves and Hibiscus Flower, blended with cinnamon and citrus peel.

Chef Lena Kwak of Cup 4 Cup, Sonoma, Calif., has developed a gluten-free flour substitute that makes baking for special needs customers much easier. In most recipes their product can conveniently and deliciously replace traditional flours. While it's not a tea product, this is an important innovation for tearooms faced with the challenge of creating homemade baked goods worth mentioning.

As Cynthia Fazekas observes, the face of tea in the gourmet food market has changed dramatically in the last ten years, largely because of companies who have diligently represented our growing industry at events like this where thousands of foodies congregate and learn.

Many of these new products will also be displayed at World Tea Expo, June 1 – 3, 2012 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV.

The Fancy Food Show returns to San Francisco January 20 – 22, 2013.