As far as perceptions in the US go, the phrase "welcome to the world of organics" is becoming synonymous with "welcome to the All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show". Presented for only the second time this year, the event was held by the US-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) in Austin, Texas from 8 to 11 May. Directed at the growing organic industry, which is finding itself increasingly in the mainstream, the four days effectively combined elements of a trade show, tours and education and information sessions. Austin was more than a trade show with booths; it was an organic experience.

The 2001 show, in its inaugural year, drew approximately 1200 people from twenty countries, who created a friendly and sociable aspect to the proceedings. Show organisers believe the number of participants attending the 2002 event exceeded last year, and they are already looking forward to next year's show, which will again be held in Austin from 14 to 18 May 2003.

The show's 240+ booths, a figure almost double that of 2001, were actually only open on 10 and 11 May, however there were numerous seminars and tours. Starting on the Wednesday and going through until Saturday, the events surrounding the trade show kept people busy and informed. The exhibits were open from 12:00 to 18:30 on the Friday and then 11:00 to 16:00 on Saturday, while the mornings were dedicated to various seminar sessions.

BioFach American Pavilion

A new component of this year's show was the addition of the BioFach American Pavilion. This saw a teaming-up of the OTA with BioFach, a recognised organic brand name in Germany and throughout Europe. According to Frank Venjakob, from Nürnberg Global Fairs GmbH, the owners of the BioFach brand: "The BioFach America Pavilion will help promote the organic movement worldwide and enable new business opportunities for suppliers and buyers." Its appearance in Austin comes five months after BioFach was launched in Japan and Tokyo.

The people who arrived for Wednesday's programme used the afternoon to check out the local retail operations in Austin, such as the HEB Central Market and Whole Foods Market. Other delegates chose to attend a seminar on the Japanese JAS mark, the new certification process for organic products entering the Japanese market. A highlight was the Thursday evening welcome barbeque at the Barr Mansion, seven acres of landscaped lawns and gardens including an 1898 Victorian home and the newer Artisan Ballroom.

Friday's sell-out itinerary included a full day tour of two local organic farms. The first farm, the 175-acre Dream Field Farms, is owned by Chuck Lupher. The second stop was the Tecolote Farm, a 56-acre subscription farm located in the fertile Blackland Prairie and owned by David Petre and Kathleen Kraemer.

Preparing for growth

Two sessions of note dealt with the organic industry in the US and the National Organic Programme. The first provided insight as the US prepares for significant growth following 21 October 2002 when the department of agriculture (USDA) seal appears on organic products. This is a major event in the world's largest economy and Dr Jim Butler shared his perspective and insight into the USDA's relationship to the organic industry.

Another well-attended session was the one dealing with latest news and policy updates from the National Organic Programme. The focus was on labelling changes, inputs and materials approval, and certifier accreditation as the USDA deadline of October 2002 approaches. The session also dealt with the difference between what an organic label must tell, can tell and won't tell. This was an up-to-the-minute session on accurate ingredient calculations and front and back panel statements.

The act of introducing an organic product to the market as a standalone venture or as an extension to existing lines is often a success story waiting to be told, as many of the companies attending the trade show can attest to. Talking with exhibitors on the show floor reinforced this time and time again, along with the fact it is not an easy or quick way to make money

Chocolate challenges

For chocolate lovers all over the world one of the challenges facing the world of organics has been to produce a milk chocolate that tastes as good as the non-organic variety. The show brought new hope however as two companies provided samples of chocolate that were very good. The first was Terra Nostra Organics, a chocolate company from Vancouver, Canada. The product was smooth and creamy, with no strong or bitter aftertaste.

The other company was German firm Rapunzel. It displayed Swiss chocolate in four different styles and is one of the few chocolate manufactures that can claim their product is 100% organic.

Rapunzel's chocolate bars also have a great texture and nice flavour. The chocolate is made with RapaduraTMa whole organic cane sugar that offers a better nutritional value.

However, the quality of the chocolate sold by this company may be best recognised by its truffles products. These milk chocolate covered hazelnut truffle crèmes are made into ladybird bugs that are in numerous restaurants and confectionery/chocolate outlets throughout Germany and Europe.

Nature's Path Foods, a repeat attendee of the show, was founded in 1985 and now produces breakfast foods and snacks from two North American plants under three brands, Nature's Path, EnviroKidz, both certified organic, and LifeStream®, a range of natural foods.

Organics for children

The first time I encountered Ratana was on the bus returning from the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) banquet in Florence, Italy in October of 1999. Since then the company has continued to grow and add new lines and new products to its array of organic and natural offerings.

A new product to Nature Path's EnviroKidzTM line of products is an organic toaster waffle, which joins the already popular EnviroKidzTM cereals in their fight to save wildlife. The EnviroKidzTM brand is the first 100% certified organic cereal for kids. In the fall, it was decided to expand the product range by adding to its successful cereals and including two organic frozen toaster waffles. Organic Gorilla Banana Waffles and Organic Koala Choco Waffles have been specially developed for kids. The waffles have no artificial preservatives, flavour or colourings, and all the ingredients are GM-free, and grown without synthetic pesticides or herbicides.

The colourful animal packaging of the new waffles highlights the fate of the planet's koala and mountain gorilla populations, and explains how kids can help save the species. The waffles provide parents with an excellent opportunity to teach their children about helping the environment through the choices they make while enjoying breakfast together. This delivers the same message that is an integral part of the cereal campaign as well.

Like EnviroKidzTM cereals, EnviroKidzTM waffles will contribute 1% of sales to the EnviroFund. This fund is donated annually to conservation organisations around the world. Last year, EnviroKidzTM donated more than US$24,000 to a number of organisations on the frontline of species conservation. To learn more about the EnviroKidzTM or the other two product lines visit the company's web site at: http://www.naturespath.com 

Another company that has come to notoriety in the past 30 months, and which arrived in Austin for the first time earlier this month, was Northern Lights. Located in Canada, this company has in two short years become the largest producer, processor and seller of organic wild rice in the world. In achieving this recognition, Northern Lights won the 2001 Export Award for Canada for its exports of wild rice to Europe and the US.

Organic rice

Organically grown in northern Canada, the wild rice is still harvested by many of the local aboriginal people who inhabit the northern lakes region of Canada.

The black grains of "rice", which are actually a grain, provide a pleasant nutty taste and can be served alone, blended with other rice, made into a stuffing, or served in a salad. Long associated with special occasions and long cooking times, Northern Lights has made wild rice an increasingly affordable and everyday food item in the diets of health-conscious people in Europe and the US. The product is marketed through the private labels of companies such as Rapunzel, Davert, and Tradin.

Two other product lines of this emerging Canadian food company are wild mushrooms and its famous beef jerky. Northern Lights' mushroom varieties are being launched this summer targeting the European and Japanese markets. Meanwhile the beef jerky, one of the fastest growing snack foods in the US, Europe and Asia, is being directed at the US and Asian export markets.

Meanwhile, The Wizard's Cauldron brings to mind images of King Arthur and the time of the knights, fire-breathing dragons and magic. At the show, however, John Troy became the Organic Taste Wizard at The Wizard's Cauldron, a company making over a hundred organic private-label and premium store brands for the organic food trade. This includes an array of sauces, salad dressings and condiments for customers which include Whole Foods Market, Moosewood Restaurant, Premier Japan, and Simply Delicious, to name a few.

More than simply a bottler, Troy assists companies with their recipe formulations as well as arranging for organic certification, sourcing organic raw ingredients, drawing up the nutritional profiles, and finally helping to position the new products for the rapidly emerging health concerned consumer.

By Bruce Hoggard, just-food.com correspondent

Bruce Hoggard, CMC, MBA, MMIS/OS, F.C.Inst.M., is the President and CEO of Hoggard International, an international marketing and management consultancy. This Canadian company with partners throughout Asia and Europe assists Companies with their global pursuits.

Bruce is the National Chairperson of the Canadian Institute of Marketing and Canada's representative to, and Director of the Asia Pacific Marketing Federation. He is also the past President of the Provincial Exporters Association and a Director of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants.

Bruce can be contacted by email at: bruce@hoggardinternational.com