07/06/2011 03:42 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011

What Is The Fancy Food Show And Why Should We Care?

Imagine a large room filled with endless samples of 180,000 different products: cheese, chocolate, olive oil and more. For three days every summer, the Fancy Food Show comes to New York (except it will be in Washington, DC for the next two years) and brings with it an impressive roster of products from truffle oil to haggis.

Organized by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), the Fancy Food Show collects about 25,000 vendors, buyers, trade representatives, distributors, store owners, retailers, gift basket assemblers and media. They are sharing—or trying to find—the next best thing in the world of fancy food.

The 57th annual Summer Fancy Food Show (July 10-12, 2011) has grown significantly from its early years. The first show had 40 vendors and 90 percent of them were from Europe. Today, 60 percent of the products are from the United States.

Of course, this high-end buffet has its costs. Exhibitors must be members of the NASFT, which costs about $200 to $600 in yearly dues, depending on the company's annual sales. Booths at the show cost several thousand dollars, plus the additional costs of being featured on the exhibitor map and the food costs of handing out free samples.

In addition to the many vendors displaying their products, the Fancy Food Show also hosts the sofi Awards which recognizes stand-out food products in 33 categories such as appetizers and cold beverages. This year, there was a record 2,326 entries.

Many of the foods at the show aren't actually all that fancy. Or, they may start out as niche items and then go mainstream. Ben & Jerry's got its start there—there's always room in the marketplace for the next big food thing. For Fancy Food Show attendees, they just might figure that out a little bit before the rest of the public.