Bethany Clough

Sustainability and vodka: The latest food, drink trends showcased at Fresno expo

Opening of the first California Food Expo draws vendors from throughout state

From San Diego to Northern California, 135 food and beverage companies have set up Tuesday at the Fresno Convention Center for the first California Food Expo. Over 600 buyers were expected for the Business to Business Trade Show.
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From San Diego to Northern California, 135 food and beverage companies have set up Tuesday at the Fresno Convention Center for the first California Food Expo. Over 600 buyers were expected for the Business to Business Trade Show.

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Jalapeno-cheddar sausage and salted caramel coffee creamer are just two of the foods people from around the world sampled at the California Food Expo in Fresno Tuesday.

More than 140 food and drink producers from California showed off their products at the trade show. The business-to-business portion happened Tuesday morning, when exhibitors hoped to get buyers like stores, distributers and restaurants to carry their products.

The public got its chance to try the food at evening event, Expolicious, paying $60 a ticket to sample and take home armloads of food.

But the show is, at its heart, a business-to-business trade show.

About 700 buyers checked out the foods. They included small buyers like restaurants Jus’ Jo’s Country Kitchen in Clovis. But also Walmart and Whole Foods, along with international importers looking for products to bring into Asia.

Formerly called the Fresno Food Expo, this is the first year the show has used its new name, California Food Expo. Last year, the show began inviting exhibitors from across California.

The switch brought in not only new exhibitors, but new buyers, like Raley’s Supermarkets, said expo manager Amy Fuentes.

“That’s very exciting for a lot of people,” she said. “The California brand really does help carry who’s here.”

Sustainability

Sustainabilty is a buzz word in the food industry, and examples of how food manufacturers are being earth friendly abounded at this year’s show.

A vodka distillery, Misadventure & Co. turns old baked goods into vodka. Grocery stores typically donate extra cookies, cupcakes, bread and bagels sold at their bakeries to food banks. And when they’re past their prime for eating, the distillery takes them, said Jennifer Showers, head of science and operations for the company, based in Vista, near San Diego.

“We’re taking those baked goods and we’re turning them into sugars and we’re making vodka,” she said.

Vodka, after all, starts with a starch, often potatoes, she notes. Their vodka has notes of vanilla, orange and almond.

Ciderhouse Foods of Springville is also turning product that may go to waste into something new.

The company is run by apple farmers. The Hansen family recently took over a 100-year-old apple orchard that had been abandoned. Still owned by the government, the farmers rehabilitated the orchard and are leasing it.

They sell apples at farm stands, but also turn apples that don’t sell into other products. They make granola and apple syrups, including an apple cider syrup made with cider and butter.

It’s a way not to waste leftover cider, said owner Kelley Hansen.

“What happens when cider season is gone? It gets turned into apple cider syrup,” she said. “It’s common sense, which they call ‘sustainability.’”

In Fresno, you can buy their products at You can buy it at Vivily Vintage & Handmade, at 1932 N. Echo Ave.

Also big this year were healthy versions of foods, including foods that are vegan, gluten-free, plant-based, sugar-free, fermented and more.

Buyers

In addition to big-name buyers like Vons, Save Mart and Whole Foods, representatives from smaller companies were sampling the foods too.

Gene Gong of General Food Store in Woodlake was looking for small, local food makers to feature at his store.

“Companies you’re not familiar with, this is where you’re going to find them,” he said.

He was particularly interested in chocolate chip cookie maker Jalen’s Bakery and Pretty Delicious Foods, which makes gluten-free sweet potato pies, and flavor mixes used in pies or mixed with whipped cream.

Awards

A variety of food awards were announced at expo.

Although the awards are open to all exhibitors, companies in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley dominated the awards.

The New Product Awards showcase the newest food and drink products in California, along with new and innovative packaging. The Buyers Choice version of the award is chosen by the expo’s Retail Advisory Council. The Consumers Choice version is chosen by a 14-member consumer panel that mirrors the demographics of Californians.

New Product Award winners, Consumers Choice

1. Pappy’s Buffalo Sweet and Spicy Sauce, Fresno.

2. Gillum Family Farms smoked jalapeno-cheddar sausage, Fresno.

3. Busseto Foods California Snackin’, 3-ounce, personal-size servings in a retail 12 pack, Fresno.

New Product Award winners, Buyers Choice

1. Setton Farm Garlic Onion Seasoned Kernels, Terra Bella.

2. HMC Farms SpongeBob and PAW Patrol-themed grape packs, Kingsburg.

3. True Gold Discovery Flight, a pack of five honey jars.

Golden State Award

Exhibitors can enter any one food, new or not, in this category.

Winner: Fermenting Fairy elderberry-ginger lemonade, based in Santa Monica.

Fred Ruiz Award

This award is named after Fred Ruiz, founder of Ruiz Food Products, Inc. and past California Food Expo board member. It honors companies who have the same vision and qualities that took Ruiz Foods from a small, family start-up to a giant frozen Mexican food manufacturer in the United States.

Winner: Busseto Foods, based in Fresno.

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.
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