NEW YORK (AP) — Water that packs a hydrogen punch, snack bars as sticks and confections more savory than sweet are among innovations to emerge from hundreds of purveyors at the Summer Fancy Food Show.
The annual showcase hosted by the Specialty Food Association wrapped Tuesday in New York after three days and more than a little sampling of the artisan and high-tech bites and beverages from more than 1,200 companies.
Phil Kafarakis, president of the trade group, said in a recent interview that his industry is booming to the tune of $127 billion a year, including the retail and food service markets. The consumer has really changed the dynamic, he said.
"Everybody keeps talking about the Millennial, but it's not just the Millennial. GenX and NextGen and even Boomers, when you think about health and wellness, are looking for authenticity in products," Kafarakis said.
Denise Purcell, head of content, offered these observations gleaned from the food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs who peddled their wares:
Over the last couple of years, Purcell said, something has happened to water. Companies are playing with its natural properties to claim added benefits.
"Water is up 75 percent in dollar sales from 2014 to 2016. Separately, there's a lot of interest in functional beverages, so what we're seeing right now are enhanced waters," she said.
There's a company called HFactor Hydrogen infusing its pouched water with molecular hydrogen, reportedly to boost anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also claims of an additional energy boost, all with no added chemicals or magnesium.
And there's Formula Four Beverages' OXiGEN water, infused with molecular oxygen, so not the O2 kind. Specifically, the company said it uses 1,000 parts per million of bio-available oxygen per 20 ounces in a bottle, compared to between five and 40 parts per million in tap or other bottled water.
Why? Well, according a study cited by Formula Four, all of that helps clear lactic acid, making for a faster recovery after exercise. It also claims a boost in endurance, stamina, mental clarity and, wait for it, decreased hangover effects.
There's also a shot format with five times more oxygen than the bottled product, Purcell said.
Another company is doing enhanced waters with pomegranate seed oil, reportedly good for inflammation and to help with digestive health, Purcell said.
Another company took an entirely different twist on water and it's not necessarily to sip or improve health.
It's from Rogers Collection and it's called Oak Smoked Water, made from Welsh oak chips smoked by the folks at Halen Mon. The water has actually been on the market since 2013 and is pretty much what it claims to be, with smoking done over four days without additives for use in soups, risottos and casseroles as a way to add depth.
It can also be frozen into ice cubes for cocktails.
SNACK BARS THAT AREN'T BARS
Purcell has been watching this market segment for a while.
"They, too, have grown a lot over the last couple of years. Snack bars are up about 50 percent since 2014 and they're forecast to grow even more. They hit on a lot of macro-trends like snacking and portability and good for you."
Among recent innovations: A company called Aunt Dottie's mixes together salad ingredients — greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits — and condenses them into a bar.
What's interesting to Purcell is a variation on the bar, the snack stick.
There's one company, Vivify, doing energy snack sticks in interesting combinations of nuts, quinoa and seeds like flax and sunflower. There's a chia-pistachio combination and a quinoa and toasted coconut combo.
For the first time, the Specialty Food Association asked members if they plan to expand out in this market category.
"A third of them said they're planning innovation around that, and it's cutting across all different categories, so there's cheese and meat and dairy alternatives but also condiments, frozen desserts and water again."
The show included a plant-based water made from hemp. Cashew sauce was offered as a cheese sauce alternative in a handy add-hot-water format.
"We are seeing a lot more vegan-friendly desserts, whether it's frozen ice creams or sorbets. Alternative milks, nut milks, are becoming very popular," Purcell said.
COFFEE AND TEA
"This is another area where we're seeing a lot of innovation, especially refrigerated and ready to drink varieties. Those have exploded. They've been up 114 percent between 2014 and 2016," Purcell said.
A company called Sunup uses unroasted green coffee beans in a bottle drink, offering tea-style flavor with a full caffeine kick.
Another company, Afineur, claims to have customized the natural fermentation process to eliminate the undesirable characteristics of coffee and enhance the goodness. The resulting coffee is less bitter and easier to digest, Purcell said.
Camille Delebecque, the CEO and co-founder of Afineur, has a Ph.D. in synthetic biology.
SAVORY AND SPICY CONFECTIONS
Chocolate went peppery a while ago. Now the artisans are having fun with other flavors.
"Spices, they're going to a new level in confections," Purcell said.
One company, Rumi Spice, was founded by a group of U.S. military veterans who source saffron from sustainable farms in Afghanistan for its Saffron Gems, a gummy bite-size treat with threads of saffron visible in the rich-tasting golden candy.
MilkBoy chocolates out of Switzerland offers bars of 60 percent cocoa infused with pine tree oil.