February 06, 2005
Asian influences popped up in many products at this year's event which tends to herald food trends for the coming year. The NASFT food show in San Francisco is a place for specialty food producers to get noticed by supermarkets and food distributors. Retailers cruise the aisles looking for unusual or unique flavors and packaging that will set their store apart from others.
Tea was big again for the fourth year with more companies emulating The Republic of Tea's focus on tea with a story. Tea also showed up in bite sized mints, fruit drinks and even in a candy bar; Earl Grey dark chocolate. Tea strainers, new and improved tea bags, gift packs for "tea for two" and other tea accessories were for sale. We didn't see any tea infused olive oil however.
Thai noodles, soups and seasoning mixes incorporated Asian spices lemon grass and citrus leaf, mirroring the trend to citrus flavored olive oils.
Another trend noted was the "Red Bull" effect. Many teas, juices and energy drinks in small cutesy containers.
Is loquat the fruit du jour? LuLu was betting on it with three products: Loquat Mint Jam with Currants, Loquat Chili Grilling Glaze and Loquat White Balsamic Vinegar.
Other buzzwords this year: free trade, functional, herbal, organic, and key lime.
Many California olive oil producers bought booth time at the California Olive Oil Council booth. Executive Director Patty Darragh said that some producers had bought time for all three days. Alan Green of California Olive Ranch offered tastes of their excellent Arbequina and Arbosana oils.
|Alan Green with Mary Lou Banahan|
Attendees at the COOC booth also tasted Stonehouse oils and Mary McCarthy's Tutta California oil. Ms McCarthy, a former corporate development expert, feels that California oils haven't done enough to market themselves nationally. After conquering California, she plans to market her oil aggressively countrywide. The oil is a blend of four varietals including Arbequina, Mission and Koroneiki and has tested at a .12% acidity.
Mary McCarthy of Tutta California
Greg Hinson of O Olive Oil was showcasing their Porto barrel aged vinegar made from California port wine. Oil companies continue to broaden their lines with flavored oils, dippers, vinegars and even companion oils from overseas. O is selling an "Ultra Premium Extra Virgin olive oil" from a family estate in Cordoba, Spain as well as a line of three rice vinegars.
Greg Hinson of O Olive Oil shows off Porto
Edmund Merritt was offering tastes of his Balzana Olive Oil at the Rogers Collection booth, distributor of the much vaunted Nunez del Prado brand.
Different packaging ideas for olive oil included ArteOliva's TetraBrik soft paper/foil package with screw cap. Their rep flatly stated that within 5 years all olive oil would be sold in this container.
The Village Press from New Zealand was showing a tiny screw cap bottle with 1 tablespoon of oil for airline use, explaining that standard blister packs might squirt oil on a business traveler's suit, putting a pending business meeting in jeopardy.
This newsletter is constantly getting requests for recipes for olive oil dippers. Victoria Gourmet of Woburn, MA sells spices and has cleverly packaged a bottle of Morea oil with several different spice mixes specifically made for oil. Add the spices to the oil and the mix is ready in minutes, no need to infuse the oil for days or weeks.
The number of high quality extra virgin olive oils from foreign producers continues to grow. These oils for the most part were excellent, coming from small estates, often organic and with DOP appellations. Many such as Mistra Estates Ladopoulos from Greece were single varietal and had acidity and date produced prominently displayed on the label. The story from most of them was the same, "we want to market our best oil directly to consumers instead of selling it at low prices to the Italian companies which blend the bland supermarket brands". The group in the booth seemed intensely and personally proud of their oil.
Mistra Estates of Greece wants US customers
The countries of origin were the usual Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. The show had many oils from New Zealand and Australia. One Argentina producer, Golden Andes, was looking for distribution channels for their Arbequina oil and Dulce de Leche.
Roger Ley of ollo olive oil, one of the Australians, was predicting a glut of oil in the next few years. Emphasis there has been on planting while brand development has lagged. In California, savvy producers start selling with "borrowed" oil when their trees are first planted, years before they get any yield so that they can introduce and test market their brand.
Australian brand ollo has a KISS (keep it simple stupid) labeling philosophy which would do well here in California. Instead of making consumers guess what a "Manzanillo winter" or "early harvest Frantoio" will taste like, they have labeled their two oils "Fresh and Fruity" and "Mild and Mellow". The Mitolo family which has created the ollo brand owns 400 hectares with over 100,000 trees.
|Roger looking more intense than fruity or mellow|
Pieter Koopman of Hopes Grove in New Zealand was busy trying to sell food guru Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's on his blend of Barnea, and Spanish varieties. Most of the New Zealanders had oil with a heavy dose of Barnea in the blend
|Oil from 34 degrees latitude south of the equator|
Importer Miguel & Valentino was showing a vanilla infused olive oil. It was an interesting combination of flavors but what the consumer would use it for was unclear.
To finish, here are a few products we saw that we dare you to imagine: peanut butter flavored with bacon and tomato, unsweetened peppermint water for that swish and spit dentist visit flavor, pepper & beer flavored peanut brittle, pasta with 14 colors in each noodle, and a tea drink with grape, cinnamon, currant and cardamom.