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Winter Fancy Food Show Video



Picking the next top tastes

San Francisco Chronicle
Meredith May
January 26, 2014

Long before sea salt ever met caramel, before we started wrap- ping every conceivable morsel in bacon, and even before a murky brew called kombucha nudged its way onto the tea shelf, there were people who saw it coming.

They are food fortune-tellers, equal parts marketing whiz and epicurean, who often make their predictions at the winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, the just-concluded annual extravaganza of up-and-coming specialty foods designed to wow consumers� palates with the Next Big Thing.

Kara Nielsen of Oakland is a professional food trend spotter. It�s her job to find out what we are going to like before we�ve even heard of it, by sampling and sipping at the 13,000 exhibits that were crammed into Moscone Center last week. She�s among an elite group of eight tasters chosen by the Fancy Food Show to telegraph the biggest food stories of 2014.

Surging flavors

�In many ways it�s all the same stuff, but I�m trying to spot the slight variations, the new flavors that are surging, a familiar thing in one category turning up in another, what new health claims people are making,� said Nielsen.

�Quinoa is a good example. We were trending it for years before it went mainstream as a grain. Eventually it started turning up in chocolate bars.�

Nielsen is a former pastry chef whose taste has landed her jobs as a �food trendologist� for the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco and trend spotting for CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights. This was her 13th trip to the Fancy Food Show, and as a veteran,vshe showed up in sensible shoes, with a water cup and toothbrush in her purse. Her first stop is always the What�s New corner, with banks of gleaming glass cabinets. Vendors pay a premium, above the standard $3,400 booth fee, to get into the What�s New section.

�There�s a lot of Thai coconut flavoring,� Nielsen noticed as she snapped photos of Thai coconut lemongrass chickpea snacks from the Good Bean, and a Thai Coconut Pumpkin savory jam from Skillet Street Food Inc.

There were Korean barbecue rice chips, sriracha peach jam, gluten-free sweet potato fettuccine, date and chia seed muesli, and a �high-caffeinated� energy tea from the Republic of Tea.

Next she spotted Perky Jerky, a turkey jerky made with caffeine.

�That�s a little goofy, but I�m sensing an energy trend,� she said.

With her notebook full of ideas, Nielsen hit the floor to put her tongue to the test. Her first stop was the Savor California section, a collective of small, state purveyors, many marketing their wares for the first time, such as Payam Fardanesh, a former computer programmer from Roseville who decided he�d rather bottle the cucumber and mint refresher his grandmother made in Iran and see if he could make it big.

�Oh, my God!� Nielsen said, after her first sip.

�That�s five, we�ve gotten five �Oh, my Gods� so far, and it�s only an hour into the show,� said Fardanesh, co-owner of Silk Road Soda.

�What�s the base?� Nielsen asked.

�It�s organic white vinegar and apple cider,� he said.

Nielsen jotted down vinegar in her notebook. Vinegar drinks are starting to surge, she said.

Then she noticed a small crowd jostling for something nearby.

�Brazilian cheese rolls! I�m all over that!�

Flavia Takahashi-Flores of P- DE-Q in Fresno could barely pass out her warm, golf-ball-size gluten-free p�o de queijo Brazilian tapioca-based bread snacks fast enough. They had a soft yet crisp texture, and came in cheese, jalape�o, chocolate and carrot flavors.

�Doing something new, especially in ethnic food with (gluten-free), is very new,� Nielsen said.

Making it big

After two full days of sampling, Nielsen was ready to say what she thought would go big in 2014:

Anything with sriracha sauce: mixed in peach jam from the Jam Stand in Brooklyn, lots of sriracha popcorns and a Bloody Mary mix.

South American snacking: P- DE-Q cheese rolls; qancha, a Peruvian heirloom corn snack tossed in avocado oil and sea salt from a San Francisco company called Nazqiz; and alfajores �snickerdoodle� cookies from Buenos Aires Alfajores in Oakland.

Yogurt in new ways: as a Mediterranean spread from Blue Isle, a chocolate Greek yogurt from Wallaby Organic Yogurt, and a probiotic cultured goat milk drink called YoGoat from Coach Farm in New York.

Dessert teas: chocolate mint and chocolate rooibos �indulgence� teas from Numi, a white chocolate and a salted caramel mat� tea from Stash, and Tea Fort�s Noir Peach Brulee.

�It�s permissible indulgence,� Nielsen said.

Meredith May is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: mmay@ Twitter: @meredithmaysf


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