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Mate and mints, spices and sweets

These are among the next big things in food trends, judging from thousands of products on display at the summer Fancy Food Show.

By MOLLY GORDY, Associated Press
Published July 26, 2006


Look into my crystal ball. I have seen the future of your kitchen cupboard. It is filled with African spices, organic junk food, cleverly packaged breath mints and dozens of different specialty teas.

The basis for this prediction is not tarot cards or palm reading, but the summer Fancy Food Show, a showcase for tens of thousands of products jostling for a spot on the shelves of your local supermarket.

An exhaustive tour of the 171,000 products from 71 countries on display this month at the sprawling Javits Convention Center resulted in blisters, indigestion and the recognition of some volcanic trends:

* "Hot and spicy" is still hot, and African is hottest.

The presence of thousands of Mexican-style salsas, Thai-spiced relishes, Indian-inspired chutneys, Southwest barbecue and Jamaican-themed jerk sauces was evidence of Americans' growing affection for spicy food.

But the profusion of similar products threatens to exceed consumer demand. Which will prevail?

Perhaps those with innovative packaging, like the "adjust your own heat" bottle of the Costa Rican-made Dave's Insanity Sauce. Or the Asian spiced products, which attract young consumers who grew up on Chinese food. Or African spice blends, which offer new taste combinations for the jaded palate and have been given a surprise publicity boost from Angelina Jolie's decision to give birth in Namibia.

Vann's Spices had already planned to introduce an African collection long before Jolie's trip, representatives of the Maryland company say, but the increased public interest in all things African that resulted is giving real momentum to its launch.

* We're going organic (or at least natural), and there's no turning back.

Organic food consumption is up 22 percent from two years ago, industry groups report, and is expected to continue to grow. Accordingly, the show featured all kinds of new organic product offerings, including things you might not have considered at the top of your "healthy" list, such as organic gin, scotch and rum; organic cat and dog treats; and even a line of organic candy.

Luna Roth of the Canadian company Pure Fun acknowledged that its organic, kosher and vegan lollipops and cotton candy will rot your teeth as quickly as the traditional kind, but if you're going to indulge, she says, her company's product is the better bet.

"It's not what's in it, but what's not in it," Roth says. "No pesticides, no chemicals, no dyes."

* Tea is the new bottled water, and mate is the new chai.

Our national tea consumption has doubled in the past five years, with about 127-million Americans naming it as their favorite beverage, according to Tea Council USA.

Most of the growth in consumption has occurred in specialty beverages. This was reflected at the Fancy Food Show, where more than 1,000 specialty teas were on display.

Chai, an Asian blend of tea leaves, milk and spices, has grown in popularity in the past few years. This year it was joined by mate, a blend of Argentine teas and spices that may be the next chic drink.

* Mouthwash is out and breath mints are in.

So far, companies are avoiding saturation by trying to corner separate niches of the market: ArtCoCo Mints, sold in airports and tourist shops, are personalized, with a geographically specific logo such as Boston lobsters or New York taxis. HintMints come in flavors such as Irony and Cynicism. Mirror Mints come with a small makeup mirror in a pink box emblazoned with titles like "Cute," "High Maintenance" and "Neurotic."

But that doesn't come close to Blizzard Mints, a Colorado company that features purebred canines on its box covers and promises "to make your breath sweeter for kissing your dog."

[Last modified July 25, 2006, 11:38:25]

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