A sales rep from a small Spanish cheese company lifts a perfectly modern glass cloche and cuts an asymmetrical piece of semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese. She extends her hand my way, beckoning me to come over. Her table is covered with practical (but still beautiful) brown recycled paper, with various cheeses placed directly on the paper. Aside each cheese is a name, handwritten, and a few select qualifiers or tasting notes. The handwriting is somewhere in between legible and illegible, like it’s begging for you to lean in and examine it further.

It’s all very intentional, the presentation of these cheeses; it’s rustic but only in the way that devout metropolitan dwellers perceive rusticity. And that speaks to me rather directly.

“You seem like an adventurer,” she says and hands me the cheese to taste.

I smile because she is flattering my more individualistic sensibilities, but also because I admire her ability to accurately spot her target audience (folks who like to believe they have truly individualistic sensibilities). I taste the cheese. It’s funky—the kind of fresh farm funk that years of “adventurous” eating have taught me to appreciate—like fresh hay, rolled lazily over wet grass, mixed with the distinct smell of farm animals. She was right. I am an adventurer.

Lastly, I smile because I realize that the 2018 Summer Fancy Foods Show is a perfect real life allegory for the the competition and chaos of marketing specialty foods and beverages online. It’s chaotic, overcrowded and noisy with chatter. Buyers rush around in stiff blazers, button up shirts and sneakers as they jockey for position on the next round of samples. Their interest and decision making seems to be made from a blend of purely visceral reactions to food and beverage, specific business needs and something less tangible: instinct. Just like us. Just like we do.

But more than than that, it’s made up of thousands of carefully curated experiences. Each speaks to an almost singular sensibility. Some booths present very brand forward, and their sales reps mirror the brand in their personal appearance and mannerisms. Others remain quite traditional (if not totally formal), their merchandising all but screaming for an ornate silver spoon. And, some still present in an almost perfectly utilitarian fashion: here’s the food and here’s a sell sheet. Ready to buy?

For me, this was the main theme of the show: food that’s made for someone. When you approach a booth, one of the first questions a sales rep would as you was about your diet. Are you familiar with FODMAP? Have you ever tried Keto? Gluten-free? No soy? Dairy-free? Vegetarian. Vegan. Non GMO. Farm-fresh. Small batch. Handmade.

And while it would be easy to chock this up to the growing health craze, it would be a mistake. The future of food is made with the individual in mind, not the mass market. From hot honey for the fun-loving foodie and veggie ice cream for bio hackers, to Ayurveda (an wholistic food-is-medicine concept from India) and Italian burrata swimming in herbed olive oil, consumers look at food the same way they look at communications.

Is it made just for me?

The most popular offerings at the show were those who answered the question “who is this for?” clearly and without apology. Too often food and beverage brands ask themselves, “who am I?” when it comes to cracking the code on their brand, rather than “who is my customer?”

Consumers in the digital age look to see themselves reflected in the brands they choose to engage with, offline and on. As brand marketers, the questions we should be asking ourselves is how can we help consumers and customers see themselves in our brand? How does our brand and marketing help people celebrate what they like in themselves, validate purchasing decisions and work on problems they might have?