You probably want to know the latest and greatest from the Fancy Food Show. What’s trending?  What’s the hot flavor, form, or function that will make you a million?

Spotting a trend is like surfing. It requires patience. You notice the waves, and look for patterns.  You look to the horizon and spot the swell that you feel is going to turn into something you can ride. Then you get into position to act, and hope you catch the wave. Success means an exhilarating ride. Failure feels like a painful wipeout.

Attending a trade show is like looking at the horizon trying to spot a wave. There are many factors going into trend development, notably key macro trends in society. To properly capitalize on a trend, you have to understand it at the macro level and then consider the micro level expressions of it and how you can play.

Instead of joining the fray of trendspotters, we identified the consumer truths behind the products that stood out to us and determined what these truths mean for you.

9 Truths We Spotted at the Show

Fookie Ignite 360

1. History Is Repeating but Expressing Itself Differently Each Time

What:  Culinary Tides presented their Flavor Evolution, and how it ties to economic recovery. We are currently in the peak of Hybrids and Stuffed foods, representing Mid-Recovery of the economy. Think Fookies and pretzel buns, pluots and beefalo. It doesn’t mean Comfort Foods are out completely, but when you think about it, we’re not as into Mac & Cheese as we were a few years ago. Up next is Fusion, followed by Molecular Gastronomy.

Truth:  These cycles repeated in the 2000s, brought on by the Dot-Com Bust and 9/11, only to reset again in late 2008 with the Great Recession.  It’s emotional eating linked to economic performance.

What It Means For You:  Be aware of economic trends and where they are headed. Think about Hybrids and Stuffeds with an eye toward Fusion rather than an attempt to revitalize a Comfort Food, unless you are fusing it with another cuisine or stuffing it into something else.

brazi bites ignite 360

2. Crisps, Whisps, Bits and Bites are On the Tongue

What:  Everything is going mini and poppable. Even a baguette slice that might be two bites now has a bite-size version. Bite-size cookies. 

Truth:  We live in an ‘on the go’ age. People want bite-size for hand to mouth snacking wherever they are. The smaller pieces give the impression of eating less but still having more.

What It Means For You:  Can your product be made more portable? How can someone snack on it hand to mouth without a utensil or plate? What would need to be different?

meat sticks ignite360

3. Move Over Jerky – It’s Time for Meat Sticks

What:  While jerky continues to dominate, we noticed several of the jerky and fine meat purveyors offering meat sticks. It’s like Slim Jim but with a (perceived) cleaner ingredient deck.

Truth:  Meat sticks are less messy and easier to chew than jerky. They help with eating on the go and avoiding greasy fingerprints on the car or clothes.

What It Means For You:  Again, think about the consumer dissatisfiers of your product. Need a napkin?  How do you fix that? Hard to eat? How do you overcome that? It’s not always about replacing your product, it’s about growing your range of offerings.

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4. It’s a Layered Affair

What:  Whether its hybridizing or a form of “stuffing” we definitely saw more layering in offerings, sometimes bringing two products together.

Truth:  Layers offer the visual expression of hybridizing two flavors or forms together. It certainly ups the indulgent factor.

What It Means For You:  More than anything, layering is a reminder of visual appeal’s importance. If you can dial up the visual of your product, consumers will respond. We do eat with our eyes, after all.

5. Maple Syrup Goes Beyond the Pancake – It’s HOT!

What: We saw a growing number of booths offering premium maple syrups that were infused with different flavors or smoked or aged in whiskey barrels. The range of uses go way beyond a short stack. The range moves into desserts and as a sweetener for cocktails or tea.

Truth: Non-cane sugar sweeteners are being sought after by consumers. Maple syrup is readily recognized by consumers as coming from a tree so it’s close to the source. Evolving the flavor gives it greater versatility.

What It Means For You: Is your category something that’s almost a commodity or not seen as terribly distinct? These maple syrup manufacturers can be role models for how to reinvent yourself. Welcome new ways of producing, new flavors, new uses.

6. The Two Way Street – Sweet to Savory, Savory to Sweet. 

What:  We’ve been watching as traditionally sweet products get savory flavors. Fage’s Tomato Basil Crossover is incredible! Now, we’re noticing some typically savory foods go sweet. That includes new washes and flavorings to cheese (peppermint was a hit with us, pumpkin chai not so much).

Truth:  This could be evidence of hybridization or fusion coming up.  From a consumer perspective, it represents the desire for some variety in categories that are regularly consumed.

What It Means For You:  Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try a savory flavor with your sweet product. Or add hot to sweet. Or sweet into a savory analog. Keep going and you may arrive at Molecular Gastronomy!

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7. Nitro!!! Bursts Onto the Scene

What:  This feels like it’s leaning toward Molecular Gastronomy – bringing in a new element to cool a product. Adding nitrogen creates a smooth frothy texture and in the case of coffee, removes the bitterness.

Truth: Cold coffee has been on a boom for the past couple years, including Cold Brew. Nitro is another way to enjoy cold coffee or tea with enough of a change to make it enjoyable.

What It Means for You:  Don’t give up. Keep experimenting with new ways to deliver or create your product. 

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8. Shrubs and Bones for Gut Health

What:  Fermented drinking beverages continue to gain ground with several new shrubs making the leap from restaurant menus to bottled offerings. Similarly, bone broth, also good for gut health, continues to grow.

Truth:  Consumers are searching for overall wellness. They are hearing that the gut and probiotics are the key.  Fermented drinks provide alternatives to soda and also to kombucha which can be polarizing to some.

What It Means for You:  Many fermented products are the by-product of making other products. At Expo West we saw Gut Shot juices made from sauerkraut and kimchee marinating liquids.  Take a look at your manufacturing, do you have something of value that maybe you were pouring down the drain?  It doesn’t have to be a drink, maybe it makes something else. And that helps with sustainability, another consumer plus.

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9. Reflections of A Brand’s Personality and Story

What: It’s a turn off when the brand’s story isn’t presented well at a booth. Whether it's the story delivered with the sample or the visuals presented (including the outfits people wear). Story is what helps connect you to a product. Even a buyer. Of course they want a great-tasting product to fit their needs, but how you present yourself to them also tells them how well you know your customers and market to them.

Some did it really well, drew us in, and had us converted (such as Zoe's Meats - pictured above). Others, who we might have been excited to see because we were already consumers, were so unengaging or so totally misrepresenting their brand image that it made you rethink your advocacy of that brand. Imagine what a buyer is thinking.

Truth:  Story matters. It has to be conveyed in all aspects of your presentation – verbal, visual, and product itself.  If you can’t market yourself at a trade show, how are you going to get consumers to love you?

What It Means For You:  It always pays to get some consumer feedback on anything you do.  Make sure you understand how your consumer sees you, then bring that to life at your booth.  Give buyers a reason to choose your product over all the others out there. Yes, taste is king, but a lot of products taste great. What makes yours stand out? Why should it go on the shelf? Then try it out with a safe audience before rolling it out at the show.

Want more great insights from this show – let’s have a conversation:

What were your favorites at the show? What truths did you see? Join the conversation on Twitter @i360sparks and Instagram @ignite360