by Jim Dudlicek / NGA Director, Communications and External Affairs
I was fortunate to be a guest at this year’s Lipari Foods show late last month in suburban Detroit, where organizers estimate more than 7,000 people came through the doors to visit over 750 booths sampling more than 15,000 items in every food category.
If you were looking for an indication that the pandemic is over, the crowds jamming the exhibition floor at the Lipari show might be all the evidence you need. It’s a selling show in every sense, where order blanks didn’t stay blank for long as buyers eager to satisfy customers at their stores back home came from around the country to do business.
“It’s the biggest show we’ve ever had,” CEO Thom Lipari told me shortly after the one-day show opened, with a classic cinema theme that set the stage for the Michigan-based independent “perimeter of the store” distributor’s largest show since it started hosting the events in 1981. Lipari is celebrating its 60th anniversary in business this year, and the show helped mark the occasion in grand style.
Sampling abounded and, following the established order of booths from beginning to end, I ate dessert first and worked my way through bakery, cheese, dairy, meat and seafood, foodservice and snacks. I was full by noon, but I soldiered on, to ensure I experienced everything in which NGA members might have an interest.
Here are some key trends that were well represented at the Lipari show:
Functional foods. Independent grocers should be meeting the demand for products that deliver on needs beyond good taste. Samples at the show included Evergreen snack bites, with limited ingredients like fruit, nuts and seeds delivering antioxidants, energy and superfood prowess; GoodBelly probiotic beverages promising immune support and health benefits for kids; and gluten-free Keto Wraps by Toufayan Bakeries.
Convenience. Consumers want simple solutions that deliver interesting meals with authentic flavors in a minimum of prep time. The Readycarved line from Opaa! includes marinated, pre-cooked pork al pastor, chicken shawarma and beef and lamb gyros that promise to be ready in five minutes. Wholey Seafood offers Boom Boom Shrimp with sweet chili sauce for the freezer case. Innovasian displayed frozen entrees and appetizers including General Tso’s Chicken, Pork Egg Rolls and Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls. And Devanco Foods offered sandwich kits for gyros, French dip and Chicago-style Italian beef.
Snacking. Snacks are the new meals and consumers want to eat more interesting things throughout the day, like Crunchmaster’s gluten-free avocado toast crackers, Chevre’s goat cheese spreads, infused cranberries from Oh Snap! and Cheesewich’s hard salami between colby jack cheese, bread-free sandwiches that deliver 15 grams of protein.
Plant-based foods. While many independents have made full-service butcher shops a point of differentiation, grocers can’t ignore consumer demand for meatless products and alternatives to animal proteins. Gourmet Evolution displayed organic, plant-based luncheon “meats” mimicking Black Forest ham and mortadella; Tofutti offered dairy-free frozen desserts in pints and sandwiches, plus whipped “better than cream cheese;” and Skinny Butcher sampled crispy “chick’n” breasts, tenders and nuggets made from pea protein.
Soft spirits. Despite the onslaught of spiked waters and seltzers in recent years, the latest consumer surveys are indicating that younger generations are less interested in drinking alcohol. Targeting this key demographic is Vida Pop’s non-alcoholic ready-to-drink cocktails, in flavor profiles including piña colada, mai tai, sangria and Moscow mule.
Foodservice solutions. With the pandemic in its waning days, most consumers appear to have shaken off their reluctance to eat out, whether that’s in a restaurant, in-store café or food bar. To that end, the Lipari show offered demonstrations of prepared foods solutions, including fried chicken, barbecue and pizza, as well as examples of ready-to-eat offerings for special occasions, such as party trays and dips.
The show aims to give independent grocers an edge in the marketplace. “Said to be the last of the true selling shows, we bring some of the most exciting brands and vendors from across the country and even the world for an action-packed day of selling,” said Nick Lenzi, Lipari’s SVP of marketing. “Lipari’s overall mission is that together, we deliver great food and innovative solutions to our customers, while growing value for all.”