Even though I’ve been hearing about it for years, this was my first time attending the Fancy Food Show. I knew it would be enormous and amazing, but I was still absolutely floored by the experience.
People hustling in the food business are some of my favorite people in this world, and I was so excited to talk to everyone I could. I spoke to people selling chocolate, nuts, tea, honey, jam, cookies, and even gourmet cotton candy. So many very cool people following their dreams and busting their asses to bring their visions to life.
I talk to people about our business all the time, and recently at a dinner party someone asked me, “What is specialty food?” I was momentarily taken aback. Since I’ve been in this industry for as long as I have, I forget how embedded I am in it. Not everyone lives a life that is so entrenched in the world of food! When pressed for a quick definition in the moment, I said that specialty food is any food which commands higher value, for any reason, than its counterpart in the commodity market. Whew, what a mouthful. But basically: you wouldn’t expect to spend the same money on a cupcake you buy at a mainstream grocery store (in a plastic six-pack) versus a cupcake you buy at a high end, (‘specialty’) small batch bakery that uses local ingredients.
I feel like this definition was tested thoroughly on the show floor of the Fancy Food Show, where thousands of exhibitors were each exerting the specialty of their product at the same time. And that’s the thing- they were all so special. Such unique products, made by unique companies, targeting highly specific markets. Every individual company singing its own song and producing products that reflect that melody. I know it’s not very fashionable in the business world, but I am an unapologetic romantic, especially when it comes to people expressing themselves. In the specialty food business, every company is like a complex, living piece of art.
Another pattern I picked up when talking to people at the show: when asked what they used for inventory management, about 90% either said spreadsheets, or they just said the first name of the person who handles that job. This confirmed my own experience, that spreadsheets are the primary tool that food businesses use for inventory systems, and often everything lives in the brain of one person. These solutions work for a while, but they are risky. They hold things back when it’s time to scale, and there’s always the fear that the person who knows what’s going on will leave someday and take those systems with them. That is why we are building the tools we are building.
I was humbled and delighted to meet so many amazing food producers at the Fancy Food Show. Specialty food people are just amazing people, and it feels so special to be working towards serving these awesome businesses.