Even for someone who spends the bulk of his 17 waking hours having thoughts about food, an afternoon spent walking the exhibitor aisles at the annual NASFT Fancy Food Show in San Francisco isn’t exactly easy. The show is open to any food lover crazy committed enough to lay out $45 for the privilege (that’s the preregistration price), but the main targets of the 1,000-plus exhibitors here are buyers for grocery chains and specialty food shops. For every sample of Mangalitsa-breed jamon or stone-ground chocolate, there’s a company pimping clear food bags or holiday candy tins in the form of pudgy, glazed-eye snowmen. It’s a slog.

But for many exhibitors—especially new ones—translating food into viable consumer products is exponentially sloggier. You get that sense talking to Alex Setiyo, general manager for Le Sanctuaire, from the company’s booth in the show’s new exhibitor area. In 2003, Jing Tio launched Le Sanctuaire as a high-end kitchen boutique in Santa Monica. Eventually, it became a place where chefs like Ludo Lefebvre could score liquid nitrogen and other modernist toys.

By 2007, Tio had opened a branch in San Francisco. It was the ultimate insider’s resource, a place for restaurant chefs to buy fermented black garlic and pristine spices from Indonesia. Now, Le Sanctuaire is seeking to expand national distribution for See Smell Taste line of whole spices and proprietary vadouvan, harissa, and berbere spice blends in mod-looking jars with industrial labeling. You can buy the spices from Le Sanctuaire’s own stores, of course, order online, or find them at a few shops in San Francisco, at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at Dean & Deluca in New York and Washington DC.

But building a viable brand means doing outreach—like showing up at the Fancy Food Show, unsheathing a fat, glistening, new-crop Tahitian vanilla bean from its plastic packaging so a couple of food writers can sniff it. The smell: a ripe, dark sweetness with a deeply winy edge. Or pinching a pencil-long, tightly rolled stick of Ceylon cinnamon, as Setiyo did for me, so I could take in its surprisingly resinous aroma. “We have to teach people the best way to smell cinnamon,” Setiyo said.

And this week, that means crowding into San Francisco’s convention center with hundreds of other hopeful companies, patiently letting curious show-goers lean over to sniff.

See also: Notes from the Fancy Food Show, Day 1

Image source: le-sanctuaire.com

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