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Produce sets its sights on gourmet at Fancy Foods Show

It may not have had the proliferation of olive oils, cheeses, smoked meats or chocolates, but produce had a healthy presentation at the Specialty Food Association’s 2018 Summer Fancy Food Show. Held June 30 to July 1 at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York, the 365,000-square-foot show attracted some 34,000 gourmet food buyers who visited more than 2,400 booths. Several of those belonged to produce companies, that capitalized on the rarity of produce at the grocery-oriented show.TrainaFoodsimg 3955-copy

Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., distributor of the Melissa’s brand, featured several new strange and unusual gourmet items at its booth — located smack in the middle of the massive show’s main level — including yellow dragon fruit imported from Ecuador, Asaski melons and fresh organic drinking coconuts from Thailand that come complete with a convenient soda-can-style pull-tab and a straw.

“We’re one of the few produce companies in this entire area, and people are amazed because we don’t do cheese, chocolate or coffee — we do fresh produce and are showing some of our dry value-added items as well,” said Robert S. Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s Produce, as he pointed to the jackfruit on display. “We are the largest supplier of jackfruit in the United States. The jackfruit is the largest of all fruits, weighing up to 100 pounds, but most retailers want to carry something that is 20 pounds or less.”

Because many of the attendees at the show operate small gourmet shops that do not have refrigerated produce coolers, Melissa’s was featuring many shelf-stable items, such as its chia and flaxseed-based Clean Snax healthy treats along with dried items, including mushrooms, fruits and chilies.

“We’re broadening produce’s appeal to a different channel,” Schueller said. “Not all of these gourmet shops carry a produce department, but all of them have a gourmet section and so a lot of the retailers who come here are excited about our dried line because not all of them carry fresh.”

Valley Fig Growers, a farmer-owned marketing cooperative, based in Fresno, CA, was touting the growing popularity of figs. “Figs were named the flavor of the year for 2018 by Firmenich, one of the top flavor houses in the world, so figs are definitely trending,” said Linda M. Cain, vice president, marketing and retail sales.

Because of their short seven-day shelf life, the majority of figs are sold dried. “We’ve been showcasing tray figs for the gift shop trade, retail product for our retail friends, and we also have a slew of ingredient and industrial products,” she said. “Our booth location is lucky because we have prosciutto down the way, chocolate down the way, cheeses here, and figs pair beautifully with all of those items.”

Officials of Patterson, CA-based Traina Foods were touting the fact that they are the country’s largest provider of sun-dried tomatoes, operating a more than 100-acre drying field. Attendees were sampling Traina Home Grown Fruitons new All American Blend dried fruit and also Seasoned Sundried Tomatoes, packed in six-ounce resealable pouches.

“We’re trying to teach people new ways to use dried fruit,” said Jill Kazdin, regional sales director. “Everybody knows dried fruit is a snack item, so we’re trying to create new ways to use dried fruit. We want placement outside of the typical dried fruit areas, either in the topping section or perimeter produce, by the croutons. We will help build sales of produce because people want new things to put in their salads.”

Erupting with flavor
Some of the world’s best lemons are grown near Mount Etna in Sicily, so it was only natural that Dream Foods International was at the show highlighting its organic Volcano Lemon Burst and Volcano Lime Burst juices, packaged in a novel plastic replica of their respective fruits.

“We have a patented cap that has organic oil separate in the cap in a reservoir, so when you squeeze it a little micro drop of the oil mixes with the juice and it will taste and smell like a fresh-squeezed lemon or lime all the way to the end of the bottle,” said David Dalessandro, director of sales and business development at Santa Monica, CA-based Dream Foods International. “There are eight lemons or limes in each bottle and the retail price comes out to about 25 cents per organic lemon, and we already did the squeezing.”

A bottle has a five-month shelf life and another four to six weeks once it is opened and refrigerated. “We are usually merchandised on a shelf above the citrus section in the produce department,” Dalessandro said. “Some stores merchandise it in grocery if they don’t have room, and it sells really well on the seafood counter. It is a good add-on for the seafood department and they often fight over who gets the ring, produce or seafood.”

AeroFarms had its booth in the special “There is no Planet B” sustainability section located outside the entrance to the show’s lower level. The Newark, NJ-based firm grows baby kale, baby arugula and other baby leafy greens at its farm operating out of a repurposed old iron foundry in the city’s “Down Neck” Ironbound section. The farm is 70,000 square feet, the equivalent of 1.6 acres.

“We came in and created a lot of new jobs in the community and brought a lot of economic development back,” said Carley Stein, sales and marketing coordinator.

AeroFarms’ products are sold throughout New Jersey in ShopRite and Whole Foods stores and through Fresh Direct throughout New York City.