The Independent’s Playbook: Hot Today, Cold Tomorrow

July 18, 2022

By Jim Dudlicek / NGA Director, Communications and External Affairs

It’s summer, the time when grocers’ fancies turn to … Christmas.

Yes, it’s true that grocery retailers already need to start making holiday buying decisions when the last things most of their customers are thinking about are mistletoe and menorahs. Operators like KeHE, UNFI and others are already holding or planning seasonal shows to spotlight the latest products and marketing ideas.

Meanwhile, summer presents opportunities for the here and now, and the recent Summer Fancy Food Show displayed some of the hottest food trends for the pre-back-to-school period. And there was no shortage of observers, pundits and gadflies speculating which delights sampled at the Javits Center in New York last month would have the most oomph for driving basket rings.

Scanning various reports in the mass and trade media, here’s what seemed to be generating the most excitement this year …

Beverage innovation: Spicy sodas, coffee made of figs, ready-to-drink bubble tea, waters and tonics with health claims, drinks spiked with everything from alcohol to sparkles.

Vegetable snacks: Vacuum- or flash-fried tomatoes and mushrooms; chips made from bell peppers, zucchini, onions, okra and asparagus; crunchy snacks made out of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots; pickles and pickled carrot sticks and cauliflower florets in snack-size pouches.

Plant-based seafood: It’s catching up with the beef and chicken alternatives that pioneered this category. – crispy vegan versions of fish sticks and fillets, fried shrimp, and crab and salmon cakes, plus pea-based clones of tuna and salmon claiming to be “sushi grade.”

New applications for honey: Creamed chocolate pomegranate honey, flavored honey waters and dehydrated honey powder.

More foods with African, Indian and Japanese flavor profiles, like cassava, curry and matcha.

Booze beyond beverages: Spirits are showing up in snacks, pastries and coffee, including cakes laced with whiskey, stout and limoncello; whisky in fudge; and bourbon in coffee and ketchup.

Hibiscus: Its subtle fruity flavor is showing up in cocktails, sparkling beverages and herbal tea.

The next big non-dairy milk: Looks like oat milk is making way for sesame, considered to be a more sustainable crop; sunflower, which is known to not set off immune triggers in folks with nut allergies; and pistachio.

Speaking of sustainability: “Sustainable and ethical” foods and beverages have greater appeal, such as those make from upcycled or eco-friendly ingredients, along with products that support underserved communities. Also included are packaging innovations such as compostable single-serve items that deliver greater portability with less mess.

Fun: Edible candles, animal-shaped cheese, squeezable instant pancake mix, all-natural canned whipped cream, maple-based cocktail tonic spiked with mica flecks to make drinks shimmer.