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February 15, 2018

Fancy Food Show – Same Same but Different

MHT Partners  | Consumer Investment Bank

The first major food/beverage trade show of the year, The Winter Fancy Food Show, rolled through Moscone Center in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, attracting over 1,400 exhibitors and 25,000 visitors.  After eating our way through the show and talking to countless entrepreneurs and a few large players, we are pleased to report that the mood on the floor concerning the food and beverage industry and its consumers was extremely positive and optimistic.  MHT Partners hasattended the show for years, and every year it seems to grow both in terms of exhibitors and attendees.  The general vibe was similar and the major trends were also familiar – same same but different – from recent years.  A few trends that struck us:

  • Protein is IN – from the never ending procession of dried meat purveyors and countless varieties of cured meats, protein is currently a powerful trend. We were delighted by La Quercia’s absolutely fantastic American-made prosciutto from Iowa-raised hogs.  We even sampled some meatless jerky, which was not as bad as it sounds but not as good as promised.  Protein was also represented by nuts in all kinds of forms, from powders to butters, in a dizzying array of flavors.
  • Functional beverages – we continue to see new players every year hawking the latest concoction powered by an array of stimulants and sweeteners. Not surprisingly given the San Francisco location, hemp-based beverages had a visible presence, as did the mighty coconut in many forms – water, milk, and even yogurt.  One of the exhibitors was kind enough to add a splash of bourbon or vodka, demonstrating just how functional their drink could be.
  • Gluten free (“GF”) – as a parent of a GF kid, I’m now much more attuned to the category, and this year I was pleased by not only the diversity of snack and meal options, but also by the taste. Seems like almost anything can be made with a GF variety, which in some cases actually taste better than their gluten full counterparts.  Case in point – I sampled a delicious fresh GF pasta that was every bit as good as what you could order in your local trattoria.
  • Wholesome indulgences – sweet treats consisting of organic, locally sourced, sustainably farmed, and non-gmo ingredients were everywhere, from chocolate to caramel to ice cream. The ice cream wars are heating up, not only with new entrants into the super-premium category (I sampled Cool Haus’ ‘Milkshake with Fries’ flavor that included actual French fries – actually pretty good), but also with several established players like Three Twins who have introduced a ‘light’ ice cream to compete with the likes of Halo Top.
  • Products with purpose – Millennials are less loyal to big brands than older generations, and they are even less obsessed with perceived value. They want their products to have a purpose and they often make their choices based on the values the product/brand du jour represents.  If your energy bar doesn’t contribute to making fresh water, saving a life, or restoring a rainforest, you’re missing out on a whole generation of consumers.

We look forward to seeing how these trends impact food and beverage M&A in the coming year – no doubt, some of the major food conglomerates and private equity investors interested in the category will be interested in pursuing targets that capitalize on these trends.

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