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Organic Foods are Where Innovation and Sales Growth Meet

June 5, 2006
A visit to the "Power of Five" conglomeration of food shows in Chicago last month left the distinct impression that organic foods "are where it's at" in terms of innovation and sales growth.

The "Power of Five" megashow held in Chicago last month once again brought the Food Marketing Institute show (FMI), the National Assn. of the Specialty Food Trade ("Fancy Food Show"), the Organic Trade Assn. show ("All Things Organic"), the U.S. Food Export Showcase and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Assn. ("United Produce Expo and Conference") together under one roof.

Last year, the show was huge and exciting. This year, in spite of claims of record attendance, crowds seemed, well, sparser. And, occasionally, there was a little lacking in the excitement department, too.

If one single word could describe the direction food is heading as evidenced by this megashow, it's "organic." Even considering the category has enjoyed double-digit growth for two decades, it's impressive how pervasive the phenomenon has become. This was signified by the overlap between the FMI and the All Things Organic shows. Most of the exhibitors at FMI featured organic or otherwise health-oriented products and launches.

Melissa's World Variety Produce Inc. (www.melissas.com), Los Angeles, expanded its Good Life Food line of organic offerings to nearly 60 "processed-produce complements." The dressings, marinades and sauces all are organic and agave-based. The company also switched to all-organic for its shelf-stable, ready-to-eat polenta and offers an organic version of its edamame.

O'Coco's organic chocolate crisps may be the ultimate in guilt-free yet satisfying snacks.

Thus the Organic Trade Assn.'s "All Things Organic" show, unfairly relegated to the basement of McCormick Place, was by far the "happening place." Bigger and better this year than last, it was consistently packed. This wasn't just due to the extensive beer and wine section either. There were a number of exciting new products on display.

Nspired Natural Foods Inc. (www.nspiredfoods.com), San Leandro, Calif., accomplished the "hat trick" of appeal with its O'Coco's organic chocolate crisps. About the size and weight of a thick potato chip, the product rides the popularity wave of portion-controlled snacks of 100 calories or fewer (90 per 0.7-oz. pack); it tastes great, packing a lot of chocolate flavor per bite; and the packaging is eye-catching.

Two snack bars took that category to new heights. The Pure Bar, by Pure of Holland (www.thepurebar.com), Holland, Mich., is part of the rapidly accelerating "raw" bar phenomenon. It's exemplary for following the one simple formula so many microproducers of healthy foods fail at: It puts flavor first. The cherry-cashew is to die for. So, too, are the new chocolate Maya bars by Denver-based Lara Bars (www.larabar.com).

In beverages, Los Angeles-based Bossa Nova seems to have found the right balance in its juice formulations to make the suddenly ubiquitous açai berry actually taste good, especially its mango-açai blend.

Spirits debuted at this year's show with several offerings from the U.K. company Organic Spirits Ltd. Distributed in the U.S. by Maison Jomere Ltd. (www.maisonjomere.com), Plaistow, N.H., the Juniper Green London Dry gin had a crisp, refreshingly floral juniper flavor.

The blended Scotch whiskey, Highland Harvest, is due to gain importation approval any day now. It could easily vie with the best blends Scotland has, carrying a heady flavor of grain and sporting an unusually rich golden color. But it, too, was organic.

Other highlights were a wealth of nonfood items - clothing and personal care items mostly. That segment of the show floor has grown tremendously, as have the ingredient exhibitors and the certifiers, definitely putting the "all" in All Things Organic. Still, let's hope the clothes and cosmetics don't crowd out the food and ingredient offerings completely by next year.

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