Twice a year the artisans and merchants of “fancy” foods gather in New York and San Francisco for the Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows, sponsored by the NASFT—National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Some 45,000 buyers walk aisle after aisle after aisle perusing, sniffing, nibbling and evaluating a mind-boggling 250,000 products from all around the world, including gourmet chocolates, handmade chocolate, chocolate truffles and fine chocolate.
Just prior to the start of the Fancy Food Show, our own talented group of artisans gathers for our semi-annual meeting of the FCIA—Fine Chocolate Industry Association. It’s a fun and fascinating group that includes professionals from all around the country involved in chocolate from blossom to bean to bonbon and bar: growers/producers, chocolatiers, chocolate makers, pastry chefs, chocolate manufacturers, marketers, writers, educators and specialty retailers.
The winter confluence of these groups took place January 16th-19th in San Francisco, so I grabbed my umbrella, trench coat and Wellies (have you seen our California weather lately?) and hit the road (or the airport and train station anyway).
Our FCIA program this year included a new feature called the Gallery Showcase in which members were given a small presentation space to “showcase” some of their latest and greatest or soon-to-be-released products. This was the first time that our fun and flavorful new Easter Chicks made their public debut. Chicks officially “hatch” on March 1st; they make wonderful chocolate gifts. Chicks make an excellent companion chocolate to our 24-karat gold Spring assortments.
The aww-factor was pretty high as my fellow association members considered the amount of painstaking detail involved in creating these hand-made chocolates. Each Chick is carefully hand-painted (eyes, beak, face/body, shell top and bottom), then cast in Private Reserve Premium Dark Chocolate (64% cacao), creamy Prestige Milk Chocolate (32%) or Snowy White Chocolate (33%), and filled with layers of flavors including Bumble Berry, Cherries Jubilee, Orange Orchard, Sticky Almond and Sweet Sesame Seed Crunch, among others.
The educational portion of the evening focused on an informative—and surprisingly entertaining—panel discussion focusing on the mystery, myths and facts around the health benefits of chocolate. An impressive panel of scientists and experts were assembled to explore the topic. They included: David Stuart, Director Natural Product Sciences for The Hershey Company; Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD Research Scientist for Mars; Joan Steuer, President of Chocolate Marketing and Founding Editor of Chocolatier (now Dessert Professional); and Clay Gordon, Founder of The Chocolate Life (online community).
The scientists presented data from research studies suggesting that chocolate does in fact yield beneficial effects from consumption including improvement in blood flow within 20 minutes of consumption and a reduction in blood pressure with daily consumption of small amounts (more studies are underway to further validate these findings). Clay discussed the benefits associated with cocoa and chocolate’s exceedingly high ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, one of the primary methods for measuring and comparing antioxidant properties in foods), and Joan Steuer reminded us all that even if chocolate is ultimately determined to be a “health food” by any scientific standard, we should all remember the primary reason to consume is for the pure pleasure of the chocolate-eating experience.
The following day I put on my walking shoes and traversed over 180,000 square feet of exhibits at Moscone Center. I must admit to being a little myopic, focusing on the wonderful world of gourmet chocolate and our wonderful supporting vendors (packaging and specialty ingredients), but I did “slow my roll” a bit around the dozens of cheese booths (hey, I grew up in Wisconsin and now live in California… there’s whey in my blood) I encountered, not to mention artisan sausages and charcuterie producers. Of course, the What’s New/What’s Hot section is not to be missed, either. Lots of “green” offerings this year, and gluten-free was all the rage… none quite as good our gluten-free PurePower Peanut Bars.
Every style of specialty food is represented in a demonstration of America’s seemingly unlimited entrepreneurial spirit that drives artisans of every style to “take the plunge” and bring their craft to market. It’s only too bad that they don’t add a day for the public, allowing the vast community of foodies to come through to “try and buy.” It would definitely be a finger-lickin’ win/win for all concerned!