They Fancy The Healthful

Posted: July 30, 1986

NEW YORK — Carbohydrates came into their own last week, as gourmet fare at the 32d annual International Fancy Food and Confection Show.

Not the usual sugary simple carbohydrates, mind you, but the complex, all- natural, "health-food" kind of carbohydrates: breads, beans, grains and, yes, more pasta.

That is not to say that fewer chocolatiers and candy companies were represented in the miles of aisles at the show at the Javits Convention Center. But this is one of the largest trade shows in the country, having grown to 700 exhibitors from 20 countries. And much of this year's growth came in the area of wholesome, healthful, even organic, foods with less sugar,

salt, oil, preservatives, fillers and such.

The show, sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, attracted about 30,000 food buyers.

"What I thought was interesting," said David O'Neill, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, "was the esoteric health foods that they are bringing more into the mainstream, with marketing geared more to middle America. They're making them tastier."

Still, said O'Neill, "there is not a lot that's really new. Like the jelly and mustard thing, it just goes on and on and on. There's a lot of copycatting."

Bob Lockwood, director of specialty foods at John Wanamaker, agreed.

"The industry saw its major explosion of new products between three and five years ago," said Lockwood. "Since then, things have been relatively stable. There is increased interest in natural foods, but I don't think it's dietetic or even diet-related, but just a raised consciousness of health."

That growing health-consciousness has attracted a whole new segment of suppliers to the gourmet market. Natural is the buzz word even in calorie- and cholesterol-laden confections. And the industry is trying, albeit not very successfully, to create low-sodium and sugar-free products with universal taste appeal.

Several companies introduced no-salt-added and "lite" items. Among them, Huxtable's previewed a bit-better-than-bland line of "no-salt, no-sugar, no- oil" prepared foods that it planned to sell to hospitals as well as gourmet shops.

Earthy breads were a bright spot in this year's show. Improved packaging and shipping now permit wider distribution of additive- and preservative-free loaves, such as Dimpflmeier Medieval Stone Oven Sourdough Rye, a 10-pound deli loaf made in Canada from a peasant recipe, using pure spring water and a starter imported from Bavaria.

The 70 percent rye loaves and five-grain breads that Schripps European Bread Bakery in Jersey City has sold through Zabar's, Balducci's, Bloomingdale's and other upscale New York outlets during its first year in business are being offered outside that area. And Hye Quality Bakery of California showed off its Armenian cracker breads.

NEW FOR GOURMETS

Grains and flours, as exotic as amaranth and as trendy as blue cornmeal, were new to many gourmet buyers. They were introduced to products from Arrowhead Mills, Great Valley Mills, Eden Foods, Whole Earth and other companies whose products traditionally are found in health- and natural-foods stores. Protein-boosting sesame flour and oil from the amino acid-rich sesame seed were promoted as much for their nutty flavor as their nutritional benefits. Packaged whole-grain mixes (for breads, muffins and pancakes) were available for convenience-oriented customers.

Even breakfast got its due with such mixtures as imported muesli and a new, versatile cereal/pilaf, Kashi, that's a fiber-rich, pleasant-tasting blend of seven whole grains. More ready-to-cook mixes of beans and seasonings make it easy for any cook who can boil water to turn out "homemade" soups, stews and chilies.

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As important as the health trend is, the show was built around more traditional specialty fare, the best example of which was truffles, both sugary and scented. In this business, trendy is also a tradition. Each year brings some food gimmick or other to boost pre-Christmas sales, and this show was no exception.

For those who didn't give a trifle for truffles, there were potato chips, popcorn, fortune cookies and bagel chips - all chocolate-coated, of course. The lushest were Chips au Chocolate from Yuppie Gourmet Inc.

The fortune-cookie concept was picked up by several companies, the greatest variation being Ice Breakers, cheese-flavored cocktail crackers filled with questions to get conversation rolling.

There were black pasta and cilantro pesto - and every conceivable combination of mustards and jellies from horseradish to jalapeno, carrot to clove. There were fancy white truffles, selling for about $80 an ounce.

Then came the Mickey Mouse and other Disney-character chocolates, candies and cookies. Look for them to be all over the stores by Christmas.

CHOCOLATE CAVIAR

And who could forget the Trivial Pursuit cookies, packaged with question cards for the amusement of nibblers, or the sprinkles of crunchy topping called Chocolate Caviar?

There are now enough liquor-soaked cakes saturating the market to make even a hard-core dessert lover take the pledge.

And when you make out your holiday wish list, don't forget a plastic- wrapped and beribboned Rolls-Royce convertible, which was at the show doubling as a gift basket piled high with British foods and beverages. As displayed, it cost a modest $175,000, gift wrapping included. This ultimate specialty food gift was designed by Nowco International, a packaging supplier in Wilkes-Barre, in cooperation with Foods From Britain, a marketing arm of the British government.

An international array of beers included some of the newest beverages. Following the general trend to drinks with less alcohol, several were alcohol- free or blended with fruit flavors to make "beer coolers." Among the most refreshing was Kronenthaler's alcohol-free, lemon-flavored brew from Austria.

If drinks are less alcoholic, foods are more so. A half-dozen new flavors of liquor cakes bring their numbers close to two dozen. And there is no less liquor in other food categories. Along with an array of wine mustards and dressings are olives and vegetable condiments marinated in vermouth. New items include Champagne Mustard (Chalif), Cranberry Champagne Dressing (Cuisine Perel) and brandied cranberries (The Larder of Lady Bustle).

The latest wine jelly from Napa Valley Connection is made of an award- winning 1982 cabernet sauvignon, although not so labeled. This is not to be confused with the vintage-dated grape jellies from California Soleil Vineyards, which, despite the winelike labeling, contain wine grapes, not actual wine.

Such products are marketed primarily to the top strata of food shoppers - the 3.4 percent of Americans who frequent gourmet-food stores. Survey profiles identify these shoppers as well-educated, and professional and financially well off. Two-thirds are women, most of them homemakers. But of the overall total, 60 percent are childless. The gourmet shopper is most likely to be single and between 25 and 34, to live in the suburbs, to be either a Westerner or a Northeasterner, to have post-graduate education and to have an income of $50,000 or more. Yet those shoppers who are married account for the greatest gourmet-sales volume.

CONVENIENCE ITEMS

To meet the needs of those married shoppers, more heat-and-eat and ready- to-eat foods were evident. And fancy fixings, such as puff-pastry sheets and shells (Saucier), will be more readily available in freezer cases.

Food companies have percieved a consumer appetite for mousses, ready-made and mixes. Several such products now are available to both the specialty and supermarket trade.

Lockwood, of Wanamakers, was most enthusiastic about the new California Avocado Oil and Coryell's Crossing raspberry preserve from Berry Best Farm in Lambertville, N.J. "It takes a lot to get me excited about a new jelly or jam," he said. As for the oil, said Lockwood, "the stuff is great. It has, like, a 600-degree smoke point."

Each year, judges assess the show and bestow numerous awards. The Coryell's Crossing raspberry preserve won the best-of-show award, and the avocado oil was declared the best new product. Interestingly, the prize for fine candy was not awarded.

David Grife scans the food show each year for new and unusual items for his gourmet-food shop, Grife's at 21st and Brandywine Streets. "We found new pastas made with calamari ink and saffron that look and taste good," said Grife. "And I met an importer from Holland who has brought in for the first time not just red, yellow and purple peppers but orange and brown ones."

The ever-growing numbers of handmade and high-quality chocolates impressed Daniel Liberatoscioli, president of the Restaurant School, who uses the show to keep abreast of the industry. "And the Belgian beers - some were flavored with orange and coriander," he commented. "I thought they were fascinating."

"We found some kicky cheeses made with basil and with pepperoni, and more triple cremes," said Pat Tabibian, director of the Creative Cooking School in Wilmington. "And there are more prepared ingredients, mixes and bases. Natural is the big term this year. Even the Germans had pumpernickel bread with sunflower seeds."

Peter Howell of The Fish Market found some "outrageous, really good" wine mustards. "There was a green chili and garlic dressing that was delicious. And I tasted a goat's- milk yogurt that I liked," said Howell, who was shopping for both the restaurant and for its takeout and specialty-food shop that will be opening next door.

What particularly impressed him, however, was the diversity, the mixing of both multimillion-dollar companies and mom-and-pop operations. "It was so large anyone would have to find something there," Howell said.

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