Just four years old, the All Things Organic Conference and trade show has moved from Texas to Chicago and become a flagship event in the global organic industry’s calendar. Not just an exhibition, the event offers opportunities for education and discussion at the highest level. This month the organisers served up another tasty programme, as our man on the ground Bruce Hoggard reports.

Since its humble beginnings in 2001, when it was first held in Austin, Texas, All Things Organic has become North America’s only all-organic conference and trade show. The All Things Organic ™ trade show and conference was held 2-4 May, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. The move to Chicago was sorely required and has made life easier both for delegates in North America and those from further afield. The organic industry’s top-level decision-makers in purchasing, processing, supplying, distributing, and manufacturing headed for Chicago en masse to meet and promote the organic industry.

The 2004 All Things Organic trade show and conference continued its remarkable growth, building on its 60% growth from last year. This year’s positive results were due, in part, to three factors. The first two were, being co-located with four other shows and conferences, and the move to Chicago. The move and the synergies from the other shows helped build on the previous successes and allowed All Things Organic to open an expanded world of organic business opportunities and connections with both new and old clients. But as important to its continued success and continued viability is the third factor: the continuing healthy growth being experienced by the North American organic industry.

The US organic consumer market has grown to over 90 million people and continues growing each month. This means almost 30% of the population is already buying organically grown products. These consumers are likely to be between the ages of 45 and 54, a target group representing the largest consumer group in North America. The conversion to organics is expected to continue as 75% of all consumers surveyed in a Whole Foods Market nationwide survey indicated they would be likely to eat organic foods more often if a larger variety was more readily available (Whole Foods Market online survey, 9-16 September 2002). To help fuel this desire and demand, the organic food sector is introducing a remarkable 1,500 new products each year.

Organic growth outstripping overall food sector

While the food industry worldwide and within the US has grown 1% or less annually in the last ten years, retail sales of organic food products have grown more than 20% during the same period. Organic products retail sales in the US are still forecast to top US$20bn by 2005, a phenomenal growth rate of 150% between 2000 and 2005. To the north, the Canadian market for organic products represents about US$800m and between 1999 and 2003 independent grocers in Canada increased organic produce shelf-space by about 26%.

Of the organic industry leaders, organic personal care products have grown the fastest, with sales rising approximately 38%. Until the end of 2005 this industry is expected to average an annual growth rate of 20% (Starr Track). Meanwhile, organic non-food and fibre products grew by 14% between 2000 and 2001, with sales projected to continue growing 26% annually until 2005.

The other concurrent shows, adding to the dramatic increase in the number of people in attendance, were; the Food Marketing Institute’s FMI Show, drawing 30,000 retailers from 133 countries to source new products; the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s Fancy Food Show, with 15,000 people at the must-attend event for the specialty food trade; the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association’s United Produce Expo & Conference, providing access to produce buyers; and finally the US Food Export Showcase, which offered food and beverage producers, processors, and suppliers access to nearly 5,000 high profile international buyers.

Exhibition and education

One of All Things Organic’s established strengths is its conference and seminar programme accompanying the trade show and this year was no exception.

New for this year, in a bid to provide the exhibitors with even greater value, were special exhibitor sessions on the Saturday prior to the start of the show. These sessions focused on business topics to help increase productivity and profitability for those involved with any type of organic business. The “Maximize Your Trade Show Experience”, for newcomers and veteran trade show exhibitors alike, provided participants with skills and techniques to use on the floor to increase sales and show effectiveness. The “Keeping Certifiers Happy” session illustrated ways to avoid common problems with compliance and how to maintain proper documentation.

Another interesting idea, steeped in the tradition of most major universities and colleges, was the group of seminars collectively referred to as “Organic 101″. Open to all participants with a trade show pass, these sessions were particularly designed for people new to the organic industry. The topics included “Organic Agriculture and the US National Organic Programme 101”and “Good Organic Retailing Practices 101.”

For the more demanding and knowledgeable participant the regular conference sessions were held on Sunday and Monday. These sessions covered topics ranging from “Emerging Challenges in Food Safety Bio-Terrorism Rules: Affecting the Trade in Food and Beverage Products” to “Emerging Organic Sectors”, dealing with the growth of organic personal care products, pet food and furniture.

Visiting the show floor

Since 1992 Happle Gourmet Foods has provided some of the highest quality desserts within the US. Therefore, it was appropriate that Happle Gourmet Foods launch its new line of premium organic desserts for the retail and foodservice markets at All Things Organic. With these organic pies and cakes Happle is among the first in the US to produce certified organic baked goods on a commercial scale.

Initially the company is offering four popular organic pie choices including cherry, blueberry, apple and peach pies. The fruit pies are vegan and available either fully baked then frozen, making them ready to thaw and serve, or frozen unbaked allowing the purchaser to “freshly” bake them. To heighten the pies’ homemade appearance the crusts are hand latticed and the pies are available in both eight and ten-inch sizes.

The second type of new organic dessert introduced by Happle Gourmet Foods was the assortment of organic cakes. The organic carrot cake included fresh pineapple while the chocolate cake carried a hint of cinnamon, giving it a truly unique flavour. A third choice was the cream cheese pie with cherry topping scooped into a graham cracker crust. Although there were other fruit toppings available the cherry carried the day.

Good news for carbavoids

All of the cakes and the fruit piecrusts are made from spelt flour making them attractive to people looking for desserts with lower carbohydrates. People with wheat allergies will also be pleased as they too can now enjoy a variety of desserts.

Another US company, Barbara’s, also makes good tasting foods but this time it comes in the form of all-natural cereals and snacks made from the finest natural ingredients like organic grains and pressed high-oleic oils. The company refuses to use artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, refined white sugar or hydrogenated oils in its products.

Something common among many organic companies is their support of the global ecology and local communities. As such, Barbara’s donates hundreds of thousands of dollars and many hours to non-profit groups through its Brighter Future programme. Barbara’s Bakery is also a Centennial Sponsor of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

At the show Barbara’s was promoting its two new organic additions to its extensive line of cereals. The first was its original Organic Wild Puffs, a cereal made from lightly sweetened kernels of organic wheat, air-puffed into a good tasting cereal suitable for more than just breakfast. The company’s second selection was the only organic caramel cereal on the market at this time. Also called Organic Wild Puffs, this version, packaged in a red box, offers the same naturally delicious and crunchy organic wheat kernels as the original but with the addition of an unbeatable caramel flavour. Both choices provide an excellent source of 11 essential vitamins and minerals and a healthy alternative to those afternoon and after school snacks.

In early March 2004, and promoted at the show, a company called Late July Organic Snacks, took some of America’s favourite crackers and introduced the first organic and trans fat free saltine. This is a major step forward as US food labels are not required to list trans-fat content until 2006. This makes Late July Organic Snacks a pioneer in the bid to bring healthier foods to the market as its initial products are made without trans fats. Yet the final result still provides a crisp, flaky cracker without the hydrogenated oils, preservatives and artificial flavours or colours.

The new “Organic Cheddar Cheese Crackers” in a bite-size form, has a mild flavour captured in its crispy texture, perfect for children of all ages. These crackers are made with organic, aged cheddar cheese and organic, soft, red winter wheat. The cheese is made from milk carefully selected from organic dairy farms where the cows are fed only organic feed, and are hormone and antibiotic free. The milk is then blended, cheddared and aged to produce a mild, but well developed flavour.

Late July Organic Snacks trans-fat-free organic crackers have raised the organic snack food bar and set a new standard for healthy snacking. All three of Late July Organic Snacks’ trans-fat few organic cracker choices are made with organic, soft, red winter wheat. The crackers flaky texture is a result of lower gluten content wheat combined with trans-fat free organic palm oil.

Waymouth Farms was established in 1976 when it introduced its first offering of four trail mix snack products. In 2004, close to three decades later, Waymouth Farms now offers more than 500 bulk and packaged, conventional and organic products processed in its New Hope, Minnesota facilities.

At the show, Waymouth Farms highlighted its selection of 16 varieties of organic snacks. Each flavour choice comes in its own unique standup zip lock re-sealable bag making it perfect for trips to the office, to the beach or just around the television. Several of the early favourites include Feel ‘N Good Mix, Roasted/Salted Soynuts, Joggers Delite and Cranberries & Apples.

During the show Waymouth Farms introduced its three new organic Trail Mix flavours to the consumers. These flavours were Chocolate Banana Trail Mix, Raw Trail Mix and Tropical Fruit Trail Mix.

The Tropical Fruit Trail Mix brings together the flavours of raisins, apples, peaches, cranberries, apricots, diced dates, and pineapple in an explosion of tastes intended to remind the consumer of the tropics. The Chocolate Banana Trail Mix has a combination of banana, dates, cashews, pineapple, coconut, cranberries, and papaya that provides it with its own distinct and exotic flavour.

Moving away from the snack area, several companies at the show were offering new organic main-course meal selections as healthy alternatives to conventional dining. The remarkable advancement in all of these products has been the taste, the texture and the overall impression these organic foods now offer.

One such company was Sunrich Food Group and its branded Naturals’ 100% QAI certified organic Veggie Burgers.

The remarkable fact about Naturals’ Veggie Burgers is that it is the first certified organic vegetarian burger in the organic industry. All of the ingredients are organically grown and processed in accordance with the California Organic Foods Act and certified free of genetically modified seeds.

The Veggie Burger patties are partially cooked in the factory allowing the consumer to just heat and serve. The burger can be prepared using the stove, microwave or open barbeque grill. The burger, although meat free, is a tasty and flavoursome alternative to the regular meat burger.

Following its successful national launch of Moosewood Soups and Entrees through retail outlets, Fairfield Farm Kitchens recently launched its Moosewood certified organic vegetarian and vegan soups, sauces and entrees in convenient foodservice packaging. This means consumers demanding organic, vegetarian and vegan products will now be able to find these choices in colleges/universities, restaurants, resorts, fine delis and institutions. This addition to its product line makes Fairfield Farm Kitchens the only premium quality food manufacturer in the US offering a complete menu solution for the industry.

Each of its six organic vegetarian soups is strictly prepared according to authentic Moosewood recipes and the selections contain carrots, onions, celery, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle peppers, soy sauce, fragrant seasonings and herbs. The Creamy Broccoli & Cheese Soup, one of the more popular soups, combines whole milk with Neufchatel and Cheddar cheeses to create a rich, velvety base. To this is added hand-diced potatoes and bright green broccoli and it is then seasoned with nutty, roasted garlic and fresh basil. The other choices are Creamy Potato & Corn Chowder; Hearty Mushroom Barley Soup (Vegan); Mediterranean Tomato & Rice Soup (Vegan); Tuscan White Bean & Vegetable Soup (Vegan) and Texas Two Bean Chili (Vegan). This last soup takes fresh vegetables and mixes in generous servings of red and black beans. The zing and passion of the chilli flavour is compliments of spicy chipotle peppers and aromatic cilantro. This is all wrapped in molasses, mustard, and soy sauce adding their own nuances to this Moosewood favourite.

However, the real stars of the booth, introduced in spring 2004, were Moosewood’s new entree selections recently created by its team of chefs. All three of these new entrees have an ethnic-inspired flair to them, giving the diner the opportunity to enjoy international cuisine in the comfort of their home.

The mainstay in any household is the Macaroni & Three Cheeses, an appealing selection for all ages offering the combination of sharp cheddar, Parmesan and creamy Neufchatel cheeses with just a hint of mustard. Joining this are the exotic and unique new selections. The first was Moroccan Stew (Vegan), a stew of fresh sweet potatoes, cabbage and peppers simmered with tomatoes, raisins and chickpeas.

The second was Pasta e Fagioli, a Tuscan-style fennel & basil tomato sauce tossed with white beans & spinach served over durum penne pasta. The rustic and robust personality in this sauce is finished with splashes of lemon and wine.

The last flavour was Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans. This is a savoury combination of red beans and vegetables simmered with chipotle, garlic, cumin and lime, ladled over sweet yellow cornbread (with a hint of orange) and long grain rice.

Once again the companies and their products, briefly reviewed in this article, represent only a few of the many wonderful products on display at All Things Organic. However, the most encouraging outcome and report from the show is the increase in the variety of organic products in the ready-to-eat category and the continuing over-all improvement in the tastes, flavour and presentation of organic products. For the individual truly interested in the organic industry this show is a definite must on next year’s schedule.