From Comfy House Foods quinoa blueberry pudding to Uncle Tong sun-ripened banana syrup, Victoria’s Kitchen almond water to Bison Brewing organic beer, the 2012 Winter Fancy Food Show, January 15-18th featured something for everyone scoping out the latest in organic and natural products. The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT) hosted the 37th show at San Francisco’s Moscone Center over the course of three bustling days.

Attendees were treated to seminars, workshops, cooking demonstrations, and product samples from over 1,300 exhibitors from 35 countries. Nearly a quarter of the exhibitors were exclusively organic and natural companies. Celebrating its 60th anniversary the NASFT touted 18,000-plus attendees at this winter show––the highest turnout yet.

Louise Kramer, Communications Director for NASFT, said that the California-based WFFS often features a greater percentage of organic and natural companies than the summer show on the east coast, which tends to highlight more international products. She explained that this year, for the first time, the show decided to combine the organic/natural exhibitor space with that of other companies. “It’s almost essential for specialty food companies to feature organic or natural options,” she said. “It was becoming increasingly difficult to draw a distinction since so many companies now have at least one product that falls into that category.” The winter show has seen at least a 6 percent increase in self-described organic/natural exhibitors since last year’s event, with nearly one-third of U.S. exhibitors fitting that category.

A proud consumer of natural products herself, Kramer said, “I brim with pride whenever I’m out shopping and see our members’ products.” In line with a philosophy of wellness and sustainability, in the past few years, Kramer has noticed a significant increase in the interest of the history behind the food people are purchasing. “Consumers really care about the people behind the products that they’re eating. [The FFS] is about sharing the passion behind the food.”

Throughout the aisles, a panel of trendspotters identified top five trends expected for 2012: pickling; drinks made from nuts; seeds and grains; coconut and ancient grains. Other trends as reported by NASFT included savory sweets; mindful snacks such as bean chips and seaweed; cocktail mix makeovers and new takes on both chai and fig. In most of these categories, a natural or organic version was available, with a particularly strong organic presence found in the groups of grains and coconut.

In their 2011 State of the Specialty Food Industry report, culled from three years of data across 51 specialty food segments, NASFT found that natural food stores in the United States are the fastest growing retail channel, with a sales jump of 14.7 percent between 2008 and 2010. In fact, nearly nine in 10 NASFT manufacturer members process or market an all-natural product, NASFT reported. While “all natural” was the key product characteristic of 89 percent of specialty food manufacturers in 2010, product features and claims such as “sustainable,” “organic” and “local” followed closely. Retailers, on the other hand, said that local products interest 75 percent of consumers today, with just over half of them most interested in organic products. Two-thirds of distributors said that sustainability would be the fastest growing claim within the next three years.

With a reported 55 percent of consumers purchasing organic foods, it is easy to see how these interests comingle. Natural products made from organic and fair trade ingredients, produced and packaged sustainably, had a considerable presence at this year’s show. Throughout the exhibitor halls, companies that did not offer all-natural options last year were now seen featuring a natural line, while some all-natural products from 2010 were now USDA-certified organic.

Recycled and biodegradable packaging was frequently seen, from new 100 percent compostable tea sachets at Two Leaves and a Bud, to paper beverage containers by C+ Swiss Hemp Ice Tea. Companies like Comfy House Foods, who currently offer organic guacamole and hummus, are looking to expand their certification to other products, sourcing ingredients such as quinoa and chia seed organically as well. Several companies were also already offering organic products, but had yet to complete the certification process.

Another heartening theme throughout the show was the step toward organic options taken by some of the bigger, more established companies. The Republic of Tea was the first company to display the Certified USDA-Organic seal on their tea, and continues to expand their organic offerings with a growing line of exclusively organic tea, as well as a new organic kids’ tea line. “With over 300 varieties of tea, most lines feature at least one organic option,” said Eva Wong, Director of PR. The company plans to launch additional organic products at shows throughout 2012.

As international distributers, manufacturers, brokers, retailers and “foodies” came together for the 2012 Winter Fancy Food Show, the overall message was clear among the sea of exhibitors. Globally, there is continued growth toward organic products and sustainable practices. The encouraging interest in organic and fair trade seen in 2011 is expected to continue to increase through 2012, with both new and classic products changing to uphold healthful and environmentally conscious standards.