Filipino products aim to take a slice of the specialty food market

Filipino products aim to take a slice of the specialty food market

Saba banana chips, natural coconut products debut at the 63rd Summer Fancy Food Show

For the past 65 years, the Specialty Food Show – held twice a year – has become the marketplace for innovation and trends in the food industry. And this is why food buyers and vendors flock to the shows, held in San Francisco in the winter and in New York during the summer.

The specialty food and beverage industry reached a total of $127 billion last year, posting a double-digit growth for the past couple of years. Produced by the Specialty Food Association, the Summer Fancy Food Show, held June 25-27 in New York, features the latest innovation from more than 2,600 exhibitors.

From coffee and tea to infused water to spreads like jams and chutneys; from cookies, chips and coconut water to all kinds of oil, the food show is a veritable marketplace for global food.

This is why vendors choose to participate in the annual show, something that companies such as Sun Tropics and ProFood USA have been joining the show for years now.

“We’re here to expand our market, and introduce more Filipino products to the mainstream market,” said Sharon Lao of Sun Tropics. This year, Lao brought in a couple of new products, including gluten-free banana chips made from the saba banana in the Philippines and bottled calamansi juice.

Most banana chips sold in the market use plantains, and according to Lao, it is the first time that banana chips made from Saba bananas harvested entirely from local family farms are made available in the US. The Island Saba Banana Chips are handcrafted in small batches with only three ingredients: Philippine Saba bananas, a light sprinkle of island sugar, and a traditional tropical secret: pure coconut oil.

“We decided to share our favorite recipe for kettle cooked Saba banana chips because so many banana chips on the market now are saturated with unhealthy & unsustainable oils,” added Lao. “Banana chips are naturally delicious. They don’t need anything but simple island ingredients to be amazing!”

Coconut oil is traditionally used to attain both a superb crisp texture and rich flavor, but also for a hidden reason: it allows the natural health benefits of the oil to remain intact at higher temperatures while many others begin to break down during cooking. Numerous studies point to countless health benefits of coconut oil consumption, which pins it as the optimal choice for cooking healthy banana chips.

For the calamansi juice, Lao said that each small bottle contains the juice of 60 pieces of calamansi and that no chemicals or preservatives have been added.

Also making it on their lineup is the company’s dairy and gluten free coconut milk based pudding and Coco Rolls in Original, Salted Caramel, and Espresso flavors, in response to increasing demand for coconut products.

“According to recent studies, we see that healthy snacks, convenience foods, and all things coconut are currently on trend in the food market,” Lao added. “In response, we decided to share one of our long-time family favorites from the islands — and it’s just as good in snack-sized cups!”

Aside from the chips and calamansi juice, Sun Tropics also brought their classic products—natural tropical fruit juice and snacks. The company was founded in 2002 “to bring the finest of the Filipino fruit flavors to the US market.”

The result of the recent Specialty Food Association’s annual State of the Industry report bodes well for Sun Tropics because among the 10 fastest growing categories, 7 are refrigerated or frozen. Refrigerated juices and functional beverages grew 31%.

A few booths down, there’s Mansi, a calamansi drink started by Filipino-American Charles Medenilla. Like Sun Tropics, Mansi has been a regular in the fancy food show and so far, reaction has been favorable.

“I want our calamansi juice to be as mainstream as coconut water,” Medenilla told the Asian Journal. Right now, Mansi Premium Calamansi Juice Drink is available in groceries and supermarkets in the east coast.

Mansi as a product is versatile as it can be enjoyed chilled or with ice, warm like hot tea, in cocktails or in cooking.

Medenilla, who left a seven-year Wall Street career to focus on the business, travels to the Philippines regularly to ensure that the business has a steady and sustainable supply of calamansi, which the company sources out from local farmers across the country.

“It feels good to know that we help a lot of farmers back in the Philippines,” he added.

Bronx Hot Sauce

Chef King Phojanakong, chef-owner of Kuma Inn and Tito King’s Kitchen at Jimmy’s 43 is the man behind the newest locally sourced and produced hot sauce in the industry, aptly called The Bronx Greenmarket Hot Sauce. He partnered with the nonprofit group GrowNYC and Bronx landlords to release hot sauce. For more than 40 years, GrowNYC’s garden program has been building and sustaining community gardens, urban farms, school gardens, and rainwater harvesting systems across New York City.

The fiery condiment made its debut at the just-concluded food show. King, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who worked with Daniel Boulud at “ Daniel” and David Bouley at “The Danube” created The Bronx Hot Sauce exclusively from serrano peppers, which apparently, is hotter than poblanos but milder than habaneros. The Serrano peppers originally come from the Mexican highlands, which combines the dry arid air of Mexico with cool mountain air.

The peppers are grown in Community Gardens throughout the Bronx by community gardeners. At the beginning of each season, pepper seedlings are donated to these gardens. At harvest, the company that makes the hot sauce buys the fully mature peppers back from the gardeners at premium, fair trade prices.

The Bronx Hot Sauce is primarily a community development project dedicated to developing and maintaining community gardens and green spaces throughout the Bronx. According to Chef King, the hot sauce has only six ingredients, “without additives or preservatives so it’s always natural and fresh”.

Best of the Philippines Brand

San Miguel Corporation partnered with importer JFC International, which has been importing goods from the Philippines for more than three decades now, to bring to the show nine flavors of the Best of the Philippines under the San Miguel Gold Label ice cream brand. The corporation cannot use the brand Magnolia Ice Cream in the United States because a California corporation has trademarked the brand with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

JFC, one of the largest Asian foods distributor in the United States is working with multiple manufacturers in the Philippines to come up with a program that they can present to the American retailers. It is their goal to educate American businesses about the flavor profile of Filipino ingredients, condiments and products.

JFC consultant Maria Christina Nera is excited about the prospect of getting more Filipino brands to the United States.

“We decided to just bring the Best of the Philippines brand this time, including the best sellers – ube, ube and queso and mango,” Nera said. “I can’t wait to see more Filipino products on American supermarket shelves. It’s about time.”

In the previous years that JFC joined the food show, they brought various Filipino brands such as Century Tuna, 555 Sardines, Purefoods Hotdog, and Argentina Corned Beef, among others.

“Consumer preferences for specialty food products are growing at double digits, outpacing mainstream food staples,” said Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Food Association. “The products our members create appeal to consumers looking for authentic tastes and foods with fewer and cleaner ingredients.”

Karafakis’ claim is backed up by a recent study by Label Insight which found out that consumers are willing to pay more for products with understandable ingredients and that nearly two-thirds of consumers would be willing to switch to another food product if they understood the ingredients of that product.

And this is why companies have adjusted to the times, coming up with just the basic ingredients. The Saba banana chips only has three – banana, a sprinkling of sugar and coconut oil, making it a healthy snacking option suited for the mainstream American market.

As such, the Specialty Food Association continues to thrive as a community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Now on its 65th year, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,400 members in the U.S. and abroad with resources, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an always-evolving marketplace.

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