Referred to as the “Power of Five,” Chicago’s McCormick Place recently played host to five shows promoting the various aspects of the food industry. The Shows included FMI, Spring Fancy Food, All Things Organic, United Produce Expo and Conference, and finally the US Food Export Showcase. Bruce Hoggard cast his eye over the growing choices the organic consumer is faced with.

This year marked All Things Organic’s sixth year in existence. For the organic industry, All Things Organic continues to be a special event as it is the only all-organic trade show in North America.

An estimated 30,000 trade professionals attended, walking among thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of products, ranging from mass-market cereals to artisan breads, from fresh precut vegetables, to foods, products and clothing made of organic ingredients or fibers. There were even organic products for pets, a trend continuing to gain in popularity.

The US$15 billion organic industry remains the fastest growing sector of the US food industry. Various trends this year included children’s products, such as energy bars, crackers, nut butters, sodas, and juice; personal care items for baby and mom; toys and treats for family pets; and treats for discerning adults, including fine chocolate bars, chips and complete gourmet frozen meals.

The seminar series featured five conference sessions. One session, “Retail Success Stories,” was an interesting review of successful companies within the organic industry. There were also Super Sessions, where key figures in the organic and non-organic industries shared their thoughts and experiences, such as journalist Ted Koppel who delivered a captivating and insightful look into current events from around the world. His often humorous approach and intriguing personal stories dealt with a wide range of topics including politics, international affairs, economics and the evolution of television where he spent 42 years.

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Other seminars dealt with the new market for organic children’s products, an increasingly important entry point in the organic lifestyle for many consumers. It has become more than regular meal choices, expanding to include baby clothes, toys and a growing selection of healthy snack foods. To capitalise on this new trend there were two sessions; “Launching Successful Organic Products for Children” and “The Organic Legacy.” They looked at creating a better world for children, and addressing pesticide exposure, nutritional aspects, and environmental benefits of organic agriculture and products.

With the growing popularity of Omega 3 and Omega 6 and food scares from other meats, people are turning to fish as an alternative protein choice and increased health benefits. Creative Salmon was on hand promoting its naturally raised Chinook (King) salmon. Antibiotic free and one of the more interesting choices, great for snacking or in school lunches, was the Salmon Pepperoni stick. This is sure to provide stiff competition for the more conventional forms of pepperoni sticks.

Wise Organic Pastures was promoting its free range and organically grain fed chickens and turkeys. These also have no antibiotics, an additive ultimately passed to the consumer by eating the meat. Although tasting good, it was extremely difficult to determine if the meat actually tasted better than normal poultry as the company claimed. However, people with more sensitive taste buds or with allergies may be able to distinguish the difference, similar to what some people can do with the occurrence of antibiotics in beef.

Named after a flamboyant figure from the old American wild west, Buffalo Bill’s tortilla chips from Great Western Tortilla Company capture the original taste of hand made, stone ground maize chips. Crisp and firm, these tortilla chips are great as appetizers with various dips, but can also be eaten as snacks at barbeques or parties. However, the real surprise was the company’s organic tortilla chip with Omega-3 and its organic salsa also containing Omega-3. Now at least if you cannot stop at eating just one, the consumer can gain the additional health benefits found in the Omega-3.

For people without an aunt or grandmother to “cook-up a storm” there is now Aunt Trudy, a brand from the Fillo Factory. Rescuing singles from the ordinary and difficult task of eating healthy for “one” there is an extensive line of frozen, microwaveable single serving entrees and desserts. The offerings include organic, kosher, vegan and/or vegetarian meals. Although the three new types of mini Quiche were good, the six new Baklava’s and three Strudels were better and as fresh as the pastry in many bakeries.

Sunshine Burger’s frozen products offer another unique protein alternative. By offering sunflower seed-based burgers, Sunshine ensures its products are wheat, gluten, soy and dairy free. There are three variations of these veggie burgers. The original burger is bland with little flavour while the Barbecue version is better at delivering a taste more compatible to real hamburgers. However, the South West Burger is the best as the addition of bell peppers and jalapeno peppers ensure the burger delivers an invigorating and distinct taste. For busy parents and active families looking for convenience, these burgers are already oven baked and only need to be heated and served.

Busy lifestyles should not automatically mean people have to accept unhealthy eating styles. In an attempt to provide healthy and tasty alternatives, Stretch Island Fruit makes several 100% natural fruit snacks with no added sugar. The original Organic Apple Fruit Leather provides a refreshing and familiar taste as it combines the flavours of apples, lemon juice and cinnamon. Meanwhile the company’s new apricot flavour, also combining apples and lemon, was less appealing because of the overpowering apricot flavour.

For children, Snikiddy Snacks was promoting its new mini chocolate chip cookies and its pizza flavored cheese puffs while Pure Fun Confections’ organic candy floss was available in Bubble Gum, Canadian Maple, Licorice, Root Beer and Spicy Cinnamon flavours. All of these choices just melted away in the mouth as air-spun, evaporated cane juice and natural fruit and vegetable colouring dissolved.

Annie’s Homegrown bounced in with its new Bunny Grahams. This bunny-shaped graham snack offered in three flavours, Honey, Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon are free from trans and saturated fats. Made with organic whole wheat flour and organic evaporated cane sugar, it was the great taste that made these snacks a hit. Simple to pack in lunches and fun to eat any time, they are a healthy snack choice and an additional source of calcium.

Staying with the animal theme Barbara’s Bakery was sampling its organic Go-Go Graham Crackers also in three flavours; Wheat Free Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla. These crunchy, animal-shaped cookies are also made without trans fats or artificial ingredients and are fun to eat for children of all ages.

Meanwhile, Endangered Species Chocolate recently introduced two new fun chocolates. Its Chimp Mints, a dark chocolate with forest mint pieces gives creamy-smooth, bite-sized pieces of dark chocolate. The second selection, Bug Bites, is made with organic dark chocolate and is more bitter. Meanwhile, the company’s Eco Rounds are the newest product with each pack containing three pieces of caramelized cocoa nibs covered with a special blend of milk and dark chocolate.

As the show closed for another year it was evident from the response of the attendees and exhibitors it had accomplished its goal of educating the consumer to the growing choices in the organic industry. It also left people speculating and anticipating next year’s show.