2013 Winter Fancy Food Show Recap (and Photo Gallery)

HINT is the exclusive sponsor of BevNET’s 2013 Winter Fancy Food show coverage.

In yet another indication that the food and beverage industry continues to recover from the lackluster years of the so-called “Great Recession,” the 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show packed the walls of San Francisco’s Moscone Center with thousands of suppliers, attendees, and buyers. While beverage marketers represented a small component of exhibitors at the specialty and gourmet products show, their booths were nonetheless bustling as brand owners indicated positive reception to a variety of new products and packaging revamps, and reported a steady flow of deals and opportunities.

Of the nearly 50 beverage brands at the show, many debuted updates and line extensions that will ultimately launch at the upcoming 2013 Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, while others aimed to get a head start on the new year – and onto retailer shelves. Drink companies that did showcase new wares may end up being rewarded for their early efforts as BevNET counted dozens of representatives from natural and specialty food retailers, including Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Costco, and Trader Joe’s.

Although few new beverage trends emerged from the event, the continuing shift toward healthy and better-for-you drinks – even while surrounded by gourmet food marketers hawking decadent cheeses, rich desserts, and aged, rare meats – was eminently clear. From low-calorie sodas and antioxidant-rich cherry juice, to juice smoothies and high alkaline waters, the show featured a range of products from emerging categories that have grown as alternatives to high-calorie and artificially-sweetened drinks.

One company that has benefited from the shift is ITO EN, which markets Teas’ Tea and unveiled a new Acerola Cherry flavor to the brand’s Half & Half line of green tea drinks. The product features 300 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C and is sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia, keeping the beverage at 100 calories per 16.9 oz. bottle. ITO EN also introduced new packaging for its line of unsweetened Teas’ Tea. The labels now call out the products’ zero-calorie formulation and prominently feature imagery of tea leaf fields on the front of the bottle, which is now produced with a thinner, lighter-weight plastic.

ITO EN did, however, hold off the launch of a new line of Teas’ Tea latte drinks, which the company plans to debut at Expo West. Adam Hertel, general manager, sales & marketing West for ITO EN, told BevNET that the products are inspired by “milk tea” drinks that are commonly sold in Asian countries. The new line will debut with two SKUs – Matcha, and Black Tea – with packaging and pricing similar to that of the brand’s current offerings. The products will be shelf stable and will initially roll out in Asian-focused grocery stores before landing in the natural channel.

Hertel also said that ITO EN was in the process of developing a line of value-priced tea drinks that would enable the company to gain a deeper foothold in the convenience, Hispanic, and drug store channels. The beverages are unlikely to come under the Teas’ Tea umbrella, Hertel said. ITO EN is aiming for a $0.99 price point for the drinks and hoping to launch the new brand sometime this summer.

While ITO EN may be looking to expand its consumer base with a new pricing tier, Q Drinks is taking aim at new growth by extending its line of sparkling drinks with three citrus flavors that will launch in April. The new flavors – orange, grapefruit, and lemon – are flavored with fruit extracts and contain no juice, according to Q Drinks founder Jordan Silbert. Silbert indicated that the company will attempt to appeal to consumers of  San Pellegrino sparkling drinks, and offer comparisons between the products in terms of sugar and calorie content. He noted that the new Q beverages contain 50-55 calories per 8 oz. serving and are sweetened with organic cane sugar, whereas San Pellegrino drinks have 140-150 calories per 12 oz. can.

Packaged in both 750 mL and 8 oz. bottles, the new drinks will be distributed in the same retail channels as Q Drinks’ tonic and cola products, which are sold nationwide in Whole Foods and other independent gourmet retailers.

Of course, for a show in which caviar and cured Spanish ham were copiously sampled, a few indulgent beverage brands felt right at home. New York’s The City Bakery launched a new line of premium hot chocolate drinks that are based on the 22 year-old bakery’s famous recipe. The shelf-stable beverages are made with real melted chocolate, can be served hot or cold, and are packaged in 11.1 oz. Tetra-Paks with 2.5 servings per container. The products have a suggested retail price of $4.99 and are currently available at Whole Foods stores in New York City and throughout the retailer’s Northeast region, according to Maury Rubin, chef and CEO of The City Bakery.

The genesis of the line – which took two years to create and is chiefly financed by The City Bakery – came from Rubin’s belief that that there is significant white space for an ultra-high quality chocolate drink. Although the brand appears to be one specifically targeting specialty consumers, Rubin said that the company will aim to gain entry into mainstream retailers where shelf space for high quality chocolate and specialty groceries has slowly increased. Rubin hopes to position the brand alongside premium coffee and chocolate products, as opposed to other hot chocolate brands, which he called a “sleepy spot.” He noted that while The City Bakery self-distributes – along with Gourmet Guru – in the Northeast, the company is close to signing deals for new distribution on the West Coast.

Indulgent drinks at the show were certainly not limited to chocolate. As evidenced by the wave of new cold brew coffee concentrates introduced over the past year, the highly rich and flavorful products are in demand – so long as they are of the quirky, DIY realm. And, of course, being natural or organic goes a long way toward credibility among consumers of cold brew coffee. Enter Secret Squirrel. The new brand is a cold brew coffee concentrate made with organic and Fair Trade coffee beans that are roasted and brewed in Los Angeles.

Packaged in the now ubiquitous (for cold brew coffee, anyway) 16 oz. glass bottle with a screwtop cap, the concentrated formula produces seven 8 oz. drinks per container and retails for $9.99 per bottle. Like most other brands in the nascent category, the products can be mixed with milk or water. While Secret Squirrel is operating in a relatively tiny distribution footprint  - the coffee is sold in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and on the company’s website – founder Trevor Smith indicated that the drinks will grow in availability following new deals secured at the show.

Much more coverage of the 2013 Winter Fancy Foods show will be coming tomorrow along with a video round-up of the event. In the meantime, check out our photo gallery of the show.