Bill Lynch, President, Specialty Food Association

Specialty Food Association Fancy Food Show
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With the pace of vaccinations amped up into overdrive, there are a number of indications that we may in fact being getting our lives back. With that has come the reality that we are seeing our restaurants reopening, and a return of catering in limited capacity. As restaurant and foodservice operators seek to find their definition of the “new normal”, there will come a need for new and creative menu solutions.

At the top of the list to source those new and creative ideas has always been the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City. Previous attendees were thrilled to hear that The Specialty Food Association (SFA) has scheduled its’ sole in-person trade show for September 27-29, 2021 at Javits.

Bill Lynch SFA
Bill Lynch

This has always been an interesting show to understand where it fits for a restaurant/foodservice operator. There wasn’t a year that would go by in which one could tour the show and wonder how many different types of olive oil or cheese were bring produced across the globe. Over the past few years, it has become a must-attend on the calendar of the foodservice professional as many of its exhibitors have recognized the potential of the foodservice operator to build profitable market share.

With that in mind, Total Food Service wanted to get Bill Lynch, who leads the Specialty Food Association, to give his vision for how the upcoming show fits in a post-Pandemic foodservice world.


Can you share the history of the SFA with our readers? Who was the entrepreneur/visionary that launched the show? 

In 1952, a group of specialty food importers and distributors banded together to protest legislation limiting markups on all food items.  The group recognized the potential strength of creating a specialty food trade association both in times of prosperity and adversity.  The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) was formed. Later in 1954, this group gathered at Pappas Restaurant on 14th Street in Manhattan to discuss plans for the first Fancy Food Show.  Present at that meeting was a young trade show organizer named Charles Snitow who agreed to partner with the group to launch the first show at New York’s Astor Hotel.  It has evolved into the largest specialty food and beverage trade show in North America, and the NASFT is now known as the Specialty Food Association.

  • McKee Foodservice
  • Day & Nite
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Easy Ice
  • RATIONAL USA
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Atosa USA
  • Imperial Dade
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Cuisine Solutions

Who was the customer when the show launched?

Small specialty food retailers.

How have the needs of your attendee evolved through the years?

As the industry has grown, so have the options. Attendees need to be able to find what they are looking for in a sea of products. Connecting buyers and the press to makers efficiently and effectively has been a priority. Whether it’s our Show app, the Product Marketplace, or the ability to quickly filter through thousands of products in Specialty Food LIVE!, we’ve made it easier for makers and buyers to do business. Education is another important component we’ve developed, from panels on trends and sustainability to seminars on certification and launching a specialty food business.

For many years, the show was thought of as a gourmet store and retail grocery show. Each year, there is more and more product packed for any aimed at foodservice. Your thoughts?

Specialty foods and beverages have always been an important part of foodservice, from oils and vinegars to cheese and chocolate, coffee and tea. Over the years, our members have learned the benefits of being present in a foodservice environment, how it is another way to reach consumers and teach them about the quality of, and uses for, specialty foods and beverages. Foodservice is an important part of the $158.4 billion specialty food industry.

How has 2020 impacted the needs of your attendee base?

Connecting with buyers in the absence of traditional trade show environments has been a major focus for the SFA, and in 2020 we debuted Specialty Food LIVE!, a digital marketplace, to meet this demand. It was so successful that buyers asked us to extend it by a day. We continued this into 2021 in January and have another one taking place May 10-14. Another way we’ve connected our members is through Infinite Aisle, our new online ecommerce marketplace that is designed to make year-round selling simple for our maker members.

What sort of trends came out of the Winter virtual show that our readers can expect to see at Javits later this year?

Our Trendspotter Panel identified the following trends during Specialty Food LIVE! January 2021:

  • Restaurant-Level Ingredients and Products
  • Dining for Social Media
  • Global Flavors at Home
  • Values-based Shopping
  • Healthful Snacking
  • Plant Based Meal Prep

Our Trendspotter Panel always includes at least one person from a foodservice point of view: Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel; Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., professor of culinary arts and food science, Department of Food and Hospitality Management and founding director, Drexel Food Core Lab; Seyma Ozkaya Erpul, founder, Funky Bakers; Amethyst Ganaway, professional chef, writer, and recipe developer; Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, author, journalist, spokesperson, food expert.

How has the growth in takeout & delivery impacted the mix of product that will be at SFA/Javits? (Interesting that in many cases Wegman’s and the local restaurant are competing for the same customer)

In the SFA Trendspotter Panel 2021 predictions, “Eating/Cooking at Home” with “Restaurant Food in the Home Kitchen” was on target – our Trendspotters also cited this in their findings from January, so my expectation is that we will continue to see this at the Fancy Food Show in September.

As you project forward, the audience will be a “recently vaccinated” attendee and exhibitor. What is the show going to ensure a safe trip to Javits?

The pandemic has taught us to be nimble, and we are monitoring and evaluating every possible element that goes into the planning and execution of a Fancy Food Show. We just added SAFFE – Safe at Fancy Food Events – document to our site, which was developed in conjunction with Javits, a Global Bio-Risk Advisory Council accredited facility (GBAC STAR™ Facility Accreditation), to ensure that we’re prioritizing the safety of all participants. That information can be found here and will regularly be updated as conditions evolve. 

What’s the next step for an attendee or potential exhibitor that would like more info on the SFA show?

Connect with us – there are so many ways to do that! Our members run the gamut from maker to distributor, importer, buyer, foodservice, and consultant, so I encourage people to check out our membership page and sign up for more information. Additionally, we are very active on social media with updates about our shows, members, and more on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Our next event, Specialty Food LIVE!, is May 10-14. It is trade-only, and open to qualified buyers and members of the press.


Learn more about upcoming events at the Specialty Food Association website

  • Cuisine Solutions
  • RATIONAL USA
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • McKee Foodservice
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Easy Ice
  • Imperial Dade
  • RAK Porcelain
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Atosa USA
  • Day & Nite