This year marks the Specialty Food Association’s 65th anniversary of being in the center of shaping food choices—from the exotic products brought in by importers who started the fledgling association in 1952 through current innovations like eggless mayo and algae-based ice cream.

To commemorate the occasion, we explore the industry’s evolution in our cover story, beginning on p. 35. We didn’t have to look far to get a handle on the project as the history of specialty food exists right here in our NYC offices. The editorial and design team, with Contributing Editor 
Susan Segrest in the lead, pored over the archives of Buyers’ Blue Sheet and NASFT Showcase, two predecessors to Specialty Food Magazine, to track milestones in the market.

The exercise uncovered some fascinations, including some pretty hilarious retro magazine covers. More importantly, it revealed commonalities over the decades. For instance, a need for convenience foods phased from TV dinners to prepared foods to mobile food ordering services such as Seamless. Throughout the section we look at what was popular then, and what’s upcoming now. (Mushroom coffee? Candy for gut health?)

And in this issue, we continue to examine what’s emerging, especially in our feature, “Food Tech for the Future,” beginning on p. 55. Inventions ranging from human-less checkout to robot-led food prep to drone-managed crops—are already here and will expand to disrupt traditional processes and commerce.

Reporting on tech innovations was intriguing, but 
delving into the product and cuisine trends over the years was truly absorbing. Some of today’s biggest movers had a past variation. Take snack bars. The 1960s and 70s were the height of “space age” foods like Tang. Among them was a snack called Space Food Sticks, a precursor to energy bars. This early snack bar gave way to diet and meal-replacement bars and today’s crop of bars packed with superfoods or made with upcycled food waste. 

Now, bars are one category set to take off in the coming years, according to research from Mintel that SFA will unveil at the Summer Fancy Food Show, as part of LevelUp, a new, immersive attraction that explores the future of food, commerce, and consumers. Mintel has forecasted 33 specialty food categories to project what will grow, slow, or take off, over the next five years. A peek at the results shows that category fliers will be driven by trends in fresh foods, sustainability, and generational patterns like millennials aging and becoming parents. 

Other areas within LevelUp will allow participants to experience the retail store and quick-service restaurant of the future as well as taste product concepts not yet on the market but that offer insight into what will drive originality. 

This anniversary year provides a vantage point to celebrate the past of the industry, preview the wealth of innovation that will propel it forward, and acknowledge the members of the Specialty Food Association’s role in both.

Denise Purcell
Editor, Specialty Food Magazine