FANCY FOOD

SAN FRANCISCO -- The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's Winter Fancy Food Show, held here last month, racked up the largest attendance for the winter show -- now in its 25th year -- since the NASFT started charging admission fees in 1988, said Ron Tanner, vice president for communications at the NASFT.Supermarkets were well represented, with 14.6% of the buyers there.There were 9,000

SAN FRANCISCO -- The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's Winter Fancy Food Show, held here last month, racked up the largest attendance for the winter show -- now in its 25th year -- since the NASFT started charging admission fees in 1988, said Ron Tanner, vice president for communications at the NASFT.

Supermarkets were well represented, with 14.6% of the buyers there.

There were 9,000 attendees Sunday, Jan. 23; 6,500 the next day and about 3,500 on the last day, Jan. 25.

"I think people were very eagerly looking for new products," Tanner said, adding that many specialty-food stores recorded 15% to 16% growth during the last quarter of 1999.

More jams appeared in the focused tastings -- where attendees can sample similar products side by side -- than products of any sort before. However, there were probably more olive-based items overall, including olive oils and tapenades, said Tanner and several other attendees. Tanner also noticed growth in snack foods, including rice-based products such as chips.

Some exhibitors offer show deals, which some buyers take on the spot. Supermarket buyers are more likely to gather information and take it back to make sure distributors can get the item before they order, Tanner said.

"We get more supermarket buyers at the winter show on the West Coast, because the specialty foods out there are more likely sold in supermarkets," Tanner said, noting that there are fewer specialty shops in that part of the country.

"It was a terrific show for us," said John Engelbrecht, vice president of Food Merchants, Broomfield, Colo., maker of shelf-stable polenta meals. It was the first time the company had exhibited at the show, although it has gone to Natural Products Expos before. "All the retailers, distributors and brokers seemed interested," he said, adding that now "we send information and product samples to them, and they make a decision."