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The latest in gourmet

“Today” food editor Phil Lempert samples the newest products from the Fancy Food Show.
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Just imagine what it would be like to visit a gourmet foods store that was stocked with over 50,000 specialty foods all represented by knowledgeable people whose focus is to get you to taste their products. That’s exactly what “Today” food editor Phil Lempert did at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show. Here’s what he had to say about the latest gourmet products.

THIS CONVENTION, WHICH is open only to the food trades, has over 20,000 supermarket, gourmet store and restaurant buyers searching for the latest trends and new products amid the over 1,000 exhibiting companies. Now, more than ever before, retailers are fighting to keep their customers from leaving their stores and heading to the nearest supercenter or dollar store to buy their weekly foodstuffs. One important way that traditional food retailers build our loyalty is by offering new and unique products - which is why this year’s attendance is expected to break all records.

This show is one of my favorites all year — since most of the companies are smaller and privately owned they are typically more creative and get their products to market faster. Bottom line is that what we will see here may take a good two years to show up on the supermarket shelves but are available today in most specialty food stores or directly from the companies websites (for a complete list of products and company contacts visit

So what will the eating trends be in 2003? The focus is on convenience, flavor and health!

The food consumer in 2003 is a shopper with no time and no cooking skills — a generation of shoppers who never learned how to cook; never saw their moms cook from scratch, and think that “assembling” a meal is the same as “cooking” a meal. Surprisingly, these shoppers are not from just one generation; they are Boomers, Xers, Boomlets, GenY, and N-Gen. They are White, Black, Latin and Asian. Their numbers total 200 million shoppers and reflect almost two-thirds of the U.S. population.

The counter-trend, and the irony, is that while the non-cooking population increases, the popularity of gourmet and more flavorful foods, larger and more sophisticated gourmet kitchens, television cooking shows and sales of cookbooks are on the increase. Americans have less time for cooking and less skill, but more interest and more willingness to purchase foods and products that reinforce the home cooked meal image.

The New Ethnic Influence is changing our taste buds. Most “gourmet food” traditionally came from Europe, but in the year 2000, only 15.3 percent of immigrants were from Europe, with 25.5 percent from Asia and 51 percent from Spanish-speaking countries. What this “cultural stone soup” means is that we are seeing a greater breadth of flavors and cuisines. Once relegated to “specialty” aisles, Latin, Asian and Southern foods are becoming the top sellers for major brands. Americans’ taste buds are being excited by more variety and flavor innovations and we will continue to see this trend grow as

more Americans value their cultural heritages and are unwilling to assimilate.

Here’s just a sampling of my favorites from the show:

Cabot’s cheesemakers are on track with their newest flavored natural cheese — Chipotle Cheddar. The recipe is a combination of Morita jalapeòo chilies and the curds of farm-fresh Vermont milk. The red chilies lend to this smoked pepper cheddar both a cured look and a sun-dried, fruity flavor-not to mention medium heat on the Scoville scale. As more people are making quesadillas and exotic fondues — this is a perfect example of the latest flavor trend. Spice rubs are also increasing in popularity as we attempt to make more exotic dishes at home and look for ways to add flavor and not preparation time. In addition to using as a rub on steak, chicken, fish, etc. they are also great to use with salads, combine with olive oil to make marinades, dips for warm bread, pesto. Tasted a great Thai Peanut Noodle — a savory entrée combining the best of both a delicious satay (peanut sauce) with authentic Sen Jhan noodles (rice noodles). Products are 100% natural with no MSG.

Organics continue to grow into new categories and Organic Valley is introducing a new European-Style Cultured Butter. This butter has a higher butterfat and lower moisture content which makes it the perfect choice for sautéing, searing and baking to perfection. Its culture bears a softer body, just right for heavenly, flaky pastry. Also at the show we tasted the first certified-organic fully cooked beef entrées from Green Circle Organics available in four varieties: Bourbon Beef Roast; Parmesan Meatballs & Sauce; Southwestern Style Meatloaf; and Italian Style Pot Roast. The coffee craze continues to grow and now organically with Prebica Whole Planet is a 100% Arabica coffee made from beans grown in South and Central America. Each of the blend’s components is made up of coffee that is organic, shade grown and certified Fair Trade.

Low calorie and low fat seem to be trends that have practically disappeared from this show as American’s seem to want more indulgence and more satisfying foods. The question is, when will these companies start to produce foods that taste great and are good for us?

In the meantime… I guess we will just have to continue to taste our way through the aisles at Moscone Center.

For a complete list of products and more information, visit Phil’s website at