Each summer New York City’s already legendary food scene becomes even more interesting when 2,500-plus specialty foods companies from 45 countries arrive at the City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for the Specialty Food Association’s (SFA) annual Summer Fancy Food Show. The exhibitors—many of whom run small businesses—dish out samples of everything from a Bloody Mary mix inspired by the life and works of Ernest Hemingway to a line of nutrient-rich, allergen-friendly and minimally processed granola squares.

Of course, it’s not all about the free snacks—specialty food is now a $127 billion industry, and meetings like the Summer Fancy Food Show help fuel growth even further. New York City–based SFA’s membership comprises more than 3,400 artisans, entrepreneurs, importers and specialty food purveyors from around the world, not to the mention distributors, retailers, and others who shape the way that food gets to our tables. Connecting buyers and suppliers is crucial, but SFA also seeks to educate its members who run small businesses on how they can more effectively market their products to consumers. The Fancy Food Show is the perfect forum to do both.

“There’s so much that’s going on in the intersection of our community,” says SFA President Phil Kafarakis, who has been at the helm of the association since July 2016. “We want to provide the educational content that’s most relevant to our members and showcase our proprietary research so that we can provide insights on different food categories and how they’re changing.” Kafarakis is a longtime attendee—and enthusiastic booster—of the Summer Fancy Food Show. He comes to the Specialty Food Association from the Washington, DC-based National Restaurant Association and previously worked at food-industry giants like Kraft and McCormick & Company.

The 2017 show saw the debut of LevelUP, a vast interactive attraction where attendees were briefed on SFA’s proprietary industry forecasts, learned about the association’s 65-year history and sampled 
on-trend foods from around the world. Attendees could also take a one-of-a-kind trip to the supermarket. “We had an exhibit area that shows what the grocery store of the future would look like personalized for each shopper,” Kafarakis says. “It’s important to show our members what they can expect to see down the road.”

SFA’s Madison Avenue headquarters is less than a mile and a half from the Javits Center, making it easy for stakeholders to check in on preparations in the weeks leading up to the show. Holding the meeting in the City isn’t just convenient for the association, however—it’s a boon for attendance. “New York City is a huge draw for attendees, especially our international community,” Kafarakis says. “It goes right back to our roots: the Specialty Foods Association grew out of people importing food from all over the world.”

The City’s robust financial-services sector is also a key factor in the show’s continued success. As Kafarakis explains, “Being in New York City also connects us to the City’s venture-capital communities. We’ve got a lot of these people looking at our members and considering investments.”

With the ongoing expansion of the Javits Center, as well as new developments in the surrounding area, SFA leadership is already dreaming about what the future holds for their summer showcase. “We sell out at Javits every year, so we’re excited about the expansion and the development around the convention center,” says Kafarakis. “The Javits folks are phenomenal. They’ve got great leadership. We used the whole facility and even expanded out into the River Pavilion. We believe we can expand our meeting’s footprint into the surrounding neighborhood [Hudson Yards] in the future.”

For more information about NYC’s Summer Fancy Food Show, visit specialtyfood.com.