This year's Natural Products Expo East/Organic Products Expo-BioFach America was held in September, with more than 20,000 people gathering to taste the latest natural and organic products and explore the latest trends in the industry. From vegetable snack bars to buffalo meat loaf, there was a veritable feast of products on show, as Bruce Hoggard discovered.

More than 20,000 people gathered at the Washington Convention Center during 16-18 September 2005 to attend autumn's major organic and natural products trade show, Natural Products Expo East/Organic Products Expo-BioFach America. This year's BioFach marked the third time it was offered within Natural Products Expo East, which itself celebrated 20 years of providing industry trends, best-selling products and current information and education for the natural and organic industries. Once again, the show maintained its reputation as "the place" to see the hottest trends in natural and organic food, dietary supplements, personal care and new healthy lifestyle products.

The BioFach America will grow in both stature and importance during the next five to ten years as, according to the Organic Monitor, the highest organic growth rates are currently in North America. In addition, Datamonitor projects the US organic market to reach a value of US$30.7bn by 2007. This means it will need to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 21.4%. This may be bold given the estimates by the London-based Organic Monitor claim worldwide organic sales grew by only 6% in 2004 meaning global sales were only US$26.5bn for 2004.

However, one growth area most people agree on is the sale of organic packaged foods and beverages. The recent findings of the National Marketing Institute indicate these two categories increased 18% during the past year (2004). These growth rates are gaining attention as more manufacturers introduce new value-added products to meet the needs of busy and hectic families looking for healthy alternatives in all areas of their food and non-food goods.

A world of organic food

To meet this demand, Natural Products Expo East/Organic Products Expo-BioFach America consisted of several different pavilions. These include Natural, Specialty and Vegetarian Foods; Natural Home and Textiles; Personal Care; Pet Products; Healthcare; Supplements; and Ingredients as well as the Organic Products Expo-BioFach America. At this year's event there were more than 1,100 exhibits organised into these pavilions, representing product categories from food to supplement, and personal care to the natural home.

The Organic Products Expo-BioFach America had approximately 300 companies from around the world showcasing hundreds of certified organic products. The Organic Products-BioFach America section was very noticeable by its striking orange colour; however, with more than 170,000 square feet of exhibit space, the organic portion of the show still seemed small in comparison.

In conjunction with the trade show there was the Healthy Foods Conference. With sessions offered from 14 to 16 September, it provided people with the latest and most current knowledge, insight, and trends in functional, natural, and organic foods and beverages.

The sessions included topics on environmental factors, wholesome food, new science on the benefits of organic farming and food for parents who want to tip the scales in favour of health for their child's first years. Other sessions dealt with the consumer trend and products surrounding the new "grab-n-go" lifestyle; the growing role of essential fatty acids in regular foods and child and youth nutrition.

A fourth and very interesting category, "New Lesser Evil" foods and beverages, was also added as companies and consumers move to meet new FDA regulations and guidelines.

Products compete at show awards

This year, organic buying at the show took on a new twist at the Fresh Ideas Organic Farmers' Market. An open-air event, it combined the atmosphere of a farmer's market with a focused business approach, and created a special event for organic buyers and sellers to meet on the Thursday prior to the trade show. There were also several award highlights during the show.

The first was the 5th Annual Taste of Expo, an event created to recognise the top tastemaker in specific categories within the show. This year the focus was on the tea, honey and jam categories. The top honours went to: Mango White Tea produced by Honest Tea; unheated, unstrained honey from both Really Raw Honey and Wee Bee Honey; and finally, in the jam category, an Organic Morello Cherry Conserve made by Crofters Food Ltd.

Another highlight was the 3rd Annual New Products Showcase Award. Each year, according to the Canadian Government, the organic food sector introduces 1,500 new products. This show provides the backdrop for the introduction of hundreds of these new products, classified into six categories. Those retail attendees at the show vote to determine the best new product offerings in each category. This year's winner in the food category was the Gluten Free Cheese Pizza from the company Foods by George.

As people continue to become more interested in healthy food alternatives, exciting opportunities are opening up for companies prepared to provide consumers with products matching these needs. Leading the charge into the healthier lifestyle is the change in the concept of what denotes a "snack" and this category continues to grow in both width and depth.

While the energy bar category is generally well-developed, minimal selection for consumers still exists in the certified organic food bars.

Fruit snacks and winning jam

Sensible Foods, a company based in Sonoma County, California, introduced its new line of healthy snacks at the show. Called Crunch Dried Snacks, these snack and nutrition bars are made from 100% organic products and real fruit, and are available in several interesting flavour combinations.

New at the show was the Harvest Apple flavour, a real pleaser for people who enjoy the taste of fresh apple. For those who enjoy a variety of mixed berries, the Cherry Berry provided a smooth mix of cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and apple that was not overpowered by the apple. The Tropical variety of the snack was slightly tart, as the pineapple seemed to overpower the other fruits of mango, banana, and apple. Two other varieties included Orchard, which is a combination of peach, apricot and apple and the Natural Supersweet Yellow Corn, made from sweet corn and natural sea salt. This was the least appealing of the choices, although there were people who enjoyed it.


Crofters Foods, a Canadian-based company and one of the winners at the 5th Annual Taste of Expo, had on-hand its line of certified organic jellies. Although the organic Morello Cherry conserve was the jam winner, Crofters also had several other flavours including an Apple, a Pomegranate and a Concord Grape jam.

The Morello cherries used in the Crofter's jam are a variety grown in Europe and are a darker, sourer cherry than the more commonly used Montmerency cherry. This ensures the jam has a richer and more royal colour, and the flavour delivers a more intense taste experience. Because of this, the Morello Cherry conserve can be used in other applications, such as baking, where it serves to create a more intense cherry flavour to the traditional Black Forest Cake and Cherry Cheesecake, two very popular desserts in both North America and Europe.

Vegetable snack bar

With today's grab and go lifestyle, where families are going in several directions at one time, the demand is on health food manufacturers to keep pace by creating new and exciting product offerings. Companies such as ZEN Organic Foods are providing products to do this as well as combat the hunger pangs brought on by busy days. This British Columbia (Canada)-based company introduced an entire new product line, called ZEN Organic Food Bars.

This new line of certified organic, vegan, gluten free, cold formed Kosher food bars are available in four distinctive flavours; Veggie Tropical Twist, Chai Spice, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla Almond Crunch. The base of each of these products combines organic dates, figs, almonds, brown rice protein and milled Flaxseed. However, the real taste surprise is the Veggie Tropical Twist bar. With a name such as Tropical, thoughts of fruits immediately come to mind, therefore it is a surprise when the first bite comes as the bars actually contain a blend of organic carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, green pepper, cabbage, spinach and beets, plus the standard organic dates, figs and in this case, pineapple, the only fruit.

Chocolate: food of the gods

For all the chocolate lovers in the world, the organic chocolate market continues to diversify and offer more varied and interesting choices. This year there were several companies at the show offering organic chocolate.

One such company was Shaman Chocolates, owned by the Huichol Indian Tribe. As with many other successful organic products, the company has a very interesting and unusual story to tell.

The Huichols are a small tribe of approximately 15,000 people living in Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains. For them chocolate is sacred and seen as a gift from paradise. Since ancient times chocolate has been used in ceremonies in which leaving offerings of chocolate showed love for Mother Earth.

Promoting it as the food of the gods, the Huichol Indians offer five flavours of organic gourmet chocolate with interesting names that build on the company's overall theme. The first is Shaman's Secret, which is a dark chocolate with 60% cocoa. Two other dark chocolate choices are Shaman's Heart, which adds raspberries, and Shaman's Vision with coconut. Meanwhile Shaman's Dream is a smooth milk chocolate while Shaman's Song combines milk chocolate with hazelnuts. All the profit from the sale of the chocolates supports the tribe's cultural and economic survival.

Another interesting name discovered at the show, designed to tell a story, was "MBA Poultry", the United States' original producer of chicken using a process called Air Chilled Chicken. The processed chicken is marketed as "Smart Chicken" and is completely organic.

MBA Poultry has the only pure air-chill system in the United States, which is based on technology started in Western Europe more than 35 years ago. It is so popular with consumers in Europe that, by law, it is the only way to chill chicken during processing for the European market.

The air-chill technology is also widely used in Canada where about half of the processors use a modified air-chill concept. The air-chill method of preparation is a safe, clean and efficient process locking in the natural flavour, texture and tenderness of the bird. This was very noticeable when the MBA Chicken was sampled and reconfirms why MBA Poultry is successfully bringing organic chicken to the American market.

Organic snacks

Another popular product type at the show was crackers. Two of the companies were Mary's Gone Crackers, which manufactures some of the best-tasting wheat-free and gluten-free crackers, and Late July Organic Snacks with its own popular line of sandwich crackers.

Mary's Gone Crackers offers several cracker flavours and has added several new flavours to its initial signature product, the Original Seed Cracker. These flavours include the rather common flavours produced from Caraway, Black Pepper, Herbs, and Onions. The company is also soon to release its own gluten-free versions of Fudge Brownies, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Ginger Snaps, Peanut Butter Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Late July Organic Snacks introduced several new additions to their already popular cracker line at the show. The company has taken their regular cracker and sandwiched a layer of peanut butter or cheddar cheese between the two crackers. These are a great addition to lunches, after-school snacks or served at any evening gathering or party.

Another company with an interesting story to tell was College Farm Organic. They were at the show with their hard candies and lollipops, made with all natural flavours and colours. The company, located in Elizabeth town, PA, is the only American manufacturer of certified organic hard candy and lollipops. The item that attracted the most attention was Naturepops, the brand name for College Farm's lollipops. Introduced in late 2004 it was created as a line extension to the company's original hard candy but quickly surpassed it as parents discovered it was a safe and fun snack for their children. Once again demonstrating the allure of any food item or drink called "tropical" College Farm offers its own Tropical Treat flavour as well as a Wild Berry flavour, a citrus flavour called Citrus Blast, and a cherry flavour called Cheery Cherry.

However, the real story is Naturepops' environmentally conscious wrap, packaging, and displays. The wrappers are not the more common petroleum-based plastic, but a fully degradable clear film originating from plant matter. Meanwhile, the bags for Naturepops are made from recycled paper, printed with water-based inks, and lined with poly lactic acid, a completely degradable material made from cornstarch. In addition, the corrugated cardboard used for displays and shipping cartons is a 60% plus post-consumer material and can be recycled.

In response to the numerous inquiries regarding the candy's ingredients, Naturepops' packaging was recently updated, added a list of allergens not found in the candy, as well as being more specific than required in listing the ingredients.

LesserEvil popcorn

Staying with the theme of interesting names and fun products, the company LesserEvil definitely was an eye catcher. This company, known for its creation of delicious and fun snacks, was at the show to introduce and promote its new line of all natural gourmet kettle popcorn. Several of the popcorns are naturally sweetened with evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup, contain no trans-fats and are low in other fats.

As with all popcorn, LesserEvil's various selections are also addictive, where one handful is never enough. However, the combination of sweet and salty is not necessarily for everyone and does require getting used to.

At the show, the company was promoting its regular popcorn as well as its sugar free line. In the regular offering, there was KettleCorn, a slightly sweet, slightly salty gourmet popcorn; SinNamon, a kettle corn with a rich, real cinnamon taste. The Black & White is a chocolaty-kettle mix where half of the kernels are covered in a natural cocoa glaze and the other half are the regular kettle corn. The final flavour was Corny-Q, a hickory-sweet kettle corn made with a spicy-sweet mesquite BBQ sauce.

In the no-sugar versions, LesserEvil was promoting a more adult popcorn treat in BeeNutty, a snack made of popcorn, chopped peanuts and honey, and SantaFe, a combination of popcorn, pumpkin seeds and peppers that provides a more spicy kick.

One of the terms being bantered about at the show and mentioned at the beginning of the article was "grab and go". This terminology, describing the ease and convenience being demanded in the food industry by busy families, is spurring companies to introduce new products to meet that need.

Pearl River Pastry & Chocolates, a company making "natural gourmet" high-end, individual, frozen cakes, tarts and mousse as well as unique, filled nonpareils, handcrafted enrobed chocolates and elegant truffles using Belgian chocolate, was at the show with its individual dessert line of cheesecakes, chocolate bundt and liquid centre chocolate cake. These items were initial sold to pastry chef customers in and around the New York Metropolitan area, but given the demand have become a consumer item.

The company also has a new line of unique, filled nonpareils with peanut butter, mint, raspberry and orange fillings, called "Pearls" made with Belgian chocolate.

CytoSport, a leader in the Sports Nutrition Industry, had a booth at the show to promote its products designed to assist endurance athletes and fitness minded individuals. Its main product is Muscle Milk and Oats, a product containing 30grams of protein and instant oats. This meal in a bowl only requires hot water and three minutes to deliver nutrition with a great taste.

Buffaloaf

The Buffalo Guys is a company that raises and manufactures a range of buffalo meat products. Buffalo is still a specialty meat, with its own distinctive taste and flavour, that is slowly catching on as an alternative to beef. Buffalo is usually leaner than beef and does require some getting used to from both the cooking and the taste perspectives.

Earlier this year the company, based on customer requests, launched two new consumer products. The first was ground Buffalo, packaged in one pound frozen bricks ready for most menu items needing ground beef. The second new product was Buffalo burgers sold in a one-pound pack containing four -quarter-pound patties. Both products are all natural with no hormones or antibiotics. A third item was an all-natural buffalo hotdog with no carbs, nitrates, MSG or saturated fat.

The more interesting product was the company's ready-to-serve meal, the buffalo meat loaf known as Buffaloaf. Similar to popular meat loaf, except with buffalo meat instead of ground beef, it comes in four flavours. The first is the standard Buffaloaf with an abundance of celery, carrots and garlic. The second is a spicier Mexican version with peppers, rice and an authentic Mesa taste. An Italian version is full of fresh garlic, basil and tomato while the Gourmet loaf gets its flavour from green peppercorns with a hint of smoked flavour.

In an interesting move, Baltimore, Maryland will be home to Natural Products Expo East starting in 2006. According to show organisers, this change reflects retail buyers' preferences for a new location. Further more the show will move to 4-7 October, switching from the Thursday to Sunday format to a Wednesday to Saturday format.

With October quickly approaching companies and people are preparing for the world's largest food show, ANUGA, from 8-12 October. I look forward to bringing readers the latest news and product innovations from Cologne.