This year’s Winter Fancy Food Show—three whirlwind days of more than 1,400 specialty food and beverage brands exhibiting in San Francisco—wrapped up last week, and, as usual, there is no shortage of articles detailing the top trends seen on the floor (like fermented foods and beverages, international flavors, and—cue shocked faces—CBD-infused products).

Examining specific product trends from the show is essential for grocery brands to remain innovative and competitive, and for retailers to identify the hottest products to go after right now. But there were four key concepts that resurfaced again and again at the show that are making a big impact on the food and beverage space.

1. The future of food depends on sustainability.
Sustainability isn’t just a fad, it’s a pervasive topic in the CPG space, especially in the grocery sector, and this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show was no exception.

From Mike Lee’s presentation at the Winter Fancy Food Show

From education sessions on the subject, to the Future Market’s exhibition on biodiversity, to individual brands we observed on the floor, it’s clear that sustainability is on everyone’s mind right now.

At the show, we heard from industry leaders who are tackling issues of food waste and biodiversity in food. We saw brands advertising their sustainable ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging. We observed retailers seeking out ethically sourced and ecologically sound foods. Brands and retailers alike are starting to seriously consider their environmental footprint when manufacturing and sourcing products, and that’s exciting.

2. The plant-based revolution is here.
Or, if it’s not here yet, it’s certainly fast approaching. In the same vein as sustainability, consumers care more than ever about the ethical and environmental impact of their purchases, and plant-based food speaks to these issues by supporting sustainable farming and food production without animal products.

We saw a lot of stand-out plant-based brands on the floor, especially in the meat and dairy alternatives categories, confirming that this is more than just a trend—plant-based foods and beverages are here to stay. Retailers are embracing plant-based products, too, and are finding them to be pretty successful in-store, with a few creative tweaks.

Industry leaders who spoke on the subject noted that a challenge for plant-based foods can simply be getting off the shelf, because consumers simply may not be familiar with plant-based alternatives to the foods they’re used to grabbing. To tackle this issue, brands and retailers are embracing creativity when it comes to the in-store placement, marketing, and branding of plant-based products. Which brings us to….

3. Branding is a big deal.
To most product suppliers and retailers in the CPG space, this point probably seems obvious. And maybe it is obvious, but it still bears repeating, over and over: Branding is a really, really big deal.

At this year’s show, we saw a heavy emphasis on the importance of branding for grocery brands to stand out and succeed in such a saturated market. It’s critical to have a strong, clear, consistent brand, especially when selling to younger consumers who tend to care more about brand identity when purchasing products, and for businesses with a large e-commerce presence.

Indeed, the brands we found ourselves drawn to had unique, consistent, authentic branding that stood out in the sea of suppliers on the floor. Branding is deeper than just your packaging design and logo; good branding is about the way you want to position your products and brand to consumers and the way your consumers view you, and it’s definitely worth investing in.

4. Don’t be afraid to shake up the status quo.
This concept kept coming up at this year’s show, and it certainly seems to be a growing sentiment in the CPG space. The speakers who really inspired us—the ones who talked about sustainability, biodiversity, the plant-based food movement, and more—are the same ones working to disrupt and shake up the status quo in the food industry. Similarly, the brands we were drawn to on the floor were daring, innovative, doing something different than the norm.

Shaking things up and straying away from the status quo can be scary, but it often pays off in a big way. It’s clear that the brands that are succeeding in the specialty food and beverage space right now are the ones that aren’t afraid to try something new.

These takeaways from the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show have certainly given us a lot to think about when it comes to the specialty food and beverage industry. The big-picture future of food is dynamic and ever-evolving, and all of the wonderful speakers and brands we met at the show left us feeling excited, inspired, and, of course, full.

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