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Specialty-Food Makers Searching for Sweet Deals

Specialty-Food Makers Searching for Sweet Deals

Laura Petrecca | USA Today

NEW YORK – Jennifer Korb’s hands are going to be tired.

After three days of slicing her specialty coffeecakes for potential distributors and retail buyers at the Summer Fancy Food Show, she has yet another task to complete: Handwrite more than 120 notes to those who tasted samples of her cakes and left contact information at her booth.

Korb, founder of Jennifer’s Kitchen, wants to do all she can to secure distribution at a retail store. Right now, she only sells her confections online. She spent Sunday through Tuesday with 25 other fledgling food creators chasing similar dreams: getting their first big break in the culinary world.

Their opportunity came as part of a new program by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, which ran the convention that put the start-ups’ products among 180,000 more-established brands at the largest marketplace for specialty foods and beverages in North America. The dream-makers: more than 24,000 supermarket representatives, catering companies, gift-bag makers and other gourmet goods buyers.

The start-ups – among them a gemologist-cum-cookie baker and a maple-syrup-making duo – received free marketing, packaging and flavor tips, as well as legal advice from NASFT members. In addition, if their application was accepted, they could purchase space at the culinary confab for $1,500. The other 2,300 food firms there shelled out $3,300 to more than $39,000 apiece to display their more well-known products.

The fledgling firms’ booths, with sparse decor and staffed by moms, sisters and spouses of founders, faced tough competition. Bigger players such as shortbread king Walkers and jellybean giant Jelly Belly had huge, more elaborately decorated spaces filled with representatives.

“This is the place to be,” said peanut and satay sauce-maker Wan Fischer from her understated booth. She came from Indianapolis, and to save money, was sleeping on her New Yorker son’s couch at night.

Next to Wang, Wes Ward promoted salsa created by his wife, Sarah Beth. The goal of the Greensboro, N.C., couple: “To learn more about the industry and pick up leads for (potential) supermarket sales,” he says.

Farther away, in a far back corner of the show, stood Korb.

Korb, who sells frozen meals to make extra money, hoped to get her big baking break.

Her booth was co-worked by Korb’s good friend Lori Snider and Snider’s daughter, Kate. The three wore brightly colored aprons and talked up each cake’s moistness and flavor.