With over 18,000 people estimated in attendance, nothing seems small about the 2014 Winter Fancy Food Show in downtown San Francisco. The aisles of vendors, booths, and samples stretch seemingly without end, and the air is thick with fine food. Now in its 39th year, the show continues to bring together olive oil producers from around the world and as near as next door.
As the largest specialty food show in the Western United States, many olive oil producers were excited to be a part of an event that connects them to a wide range of potential customers and distributors. “There is such incredible access to international accounts,” said Greg Hinson, of O Olive Oil from Petaluma, California. This was not only the case for local brands.
Kim Graw, a US representative of the Greek olive oil company A Ro Gos believes this show provides the chance to introduce her brand to the West Coast where representation is lacking. This was echoed by Felipe Cruz of Olave, hailing from Chile. “This is a show for our type of product, where you can cater to a highly knowledgeable consumer,” he said. Olave was not the only producer from South America; brands from Argentina and Uruguay were also present, and eager to emphasize their country’s recent growth in olive oil production.
The show is not only a chance for attendees to sample food and speak with vendors, but an opportunity for all members to participate in workshops and seminars on the business of specialty foods, with sessions ranging from ethical sourcing to principles of marketing. The California Olive Oil Council took the educational mission of the show into its own hands by offering lessons in olive oil tasting and rating. Nancy Ash, the education coordinator for the COOC discussed the goals of olive oil testing, and walked attendees through identifying different qualities, including aromas, signs of defects, and useful descriptors from peppery to pungent, floral to bitter.
One common topic mentioned by California producers at the show was the early harvest of the past year, which for some came a full month ahead of schedule. These differences in timing can be significant for brands that include other fruits and vegetables in their oils, which also follow yearly cycles, from citrus to basil. Producers also mentioned the impending damage of the current drought on next year’s crops, with the severity still unknown, and many were in the process of implementing alternative irrigation methods to avoid large reductions in yield.
For those that have been coming to the Fancy Food Show consistently, it marks a yearly chance to gauge differences in attendees’ appetites and tastes. “There have been a lot of changes over the years,” Kathy Griset, of Cibaria International said. “The American palate has increased to where it has now developed a taste for varietals.” For other long time participants, coming to this show boils down to the bottom line. Representatives of BR Cohn Olive Oil Company from Sonoma, California said that just two hours into the first day, many orders had already been placed. After 15 years at the show for the brand, some metrics don’t change.