We arrived at the Canadian Health Food Association’s Expo East shortly after 9am with the assumption that we’d breeze through the trade show in a couple of hours. Even when we hit the floor and realized just how many exhibitors there were, we were still optimistic. Four hours later, we stumbled from the Toronto Convention Centre, laden down with bags of brochures, samples and assorted giveaway items. We had wondered why so many people were showing up with empty rolling suitcases – it was to carry home their swag. And we only looked at the food – fully a third of the exhibitors were there promoting either various forms of protein powders and energy bars or other health food items such as cosmetics.
Expo East is not open to the public. It is a trade show in the fullest sense of the word, allowing creators and distributors of new products geared to the health food market to introduce and sell their items to store owners. I have a newfound respect for the folks that own health food or natural food stores. In the corporate world, grocery chains have buyers whose sole job is to deal with vendors and distributors. The owner of a little independent health food store is on their own in terms of deciding what to stock on their shelves and how much. And since most health food stores are tiny, the competition for shelf space is fierce.
At trade shows, this competition actually puts everyone in a jovial mood, and we found the atmosphere much friendlier and more professional than similar shows we’ve attended geared toward the public. There were no roving gangs of teenagers dripping ice cream, no elbowing into line for free samples. You could actually see the products and talk to the folks who make them. This was the best part of the event, because it’s really inspiring to meet the people who are creating a product that they truly believe in. And it’s exciting to find new products that we and TasteTO readers are sure to love, or to finally see foods being created that address specific health concerns.
The hot items at this year’s event were definitely the wheat-free and gluten free products. Everyone who has been suffering from celiac disease, there is hope on the horizon for you. From ready made breads and baked goods like the fun cookies and cake mixes at Pamela’s Products, to prepared gluten-free pasta dishes from Eat Italian, an Ontario company creating family recipes with wheat-free pasta, to the line of frozen chicken entreés from Glutino in Quebec, folks with gluten allergies are about to have whole new world of eating re-open for them. Ian’s Natural Foods was also present, offering up a line of wheat, gluten, milk, casein, egg, nut and soy-free foods oriented to kids such as Chicken Cutlettes, Breaded Fish, Alphatots, French Toast sticks and more. Yeah, it still resembles all the stuff we know kids need to eat less of, but it’s all healthy versions (no trans fats), that allows children with allergies to occasionally enjoy the fun foods their friends get to eat.
As an allergy sufferer myself, I was enthralled with a couple of products. First Belsoy’s creamy soya. This dairy-free alternative to cream can be used in soups, sauces, quiche – anywhere traditional cream would be used (except in coffee!). Secondly, a line of great-tasting (no, really, it happens!) soy-based blue and feta cheese products from Sunergia Soy Foods. We liked these a lot.
Sufferers of peanut allergies might want to ask their health food stores about SunButter, a sunflower seed butter out of Fargo, North Dakota, that comes in natural and sweetened varieties.
There were definitely products available for those with a sweet tooth. We ate a lot of chocolate as we travelled the aisles. In the functional chocolate at Zazubean organic, fair trade beans are combined with herbs such as Dong Quai for the luna(tic) bar designed to deal with PMS, or horny goat weed in the flirt bar. Newtree chocolate works on a similar principle, with names like Sexy, Crave and Tranquility, but without the medicinal aspect, focusing instead on flavours like lemon, blackcurrant, ginger and orange. TerraNostra chocolate is organic chocolate based around ricemilk instead of cow’s milk, making even their milk chocolate fine for vegans.
Other stuff we loved:
- The expanded line of organic candies at Pure Fun was exciting to see
- The chips from the Old Oakville Snack Company
- Maple syrup and waffled cookies from Shady Maple Farms
- The many varieties of pickles from Sunshine Farms in Thamesville
- Urban Zen Green teas
- The Taste of Nature Bars from Shandiz Natural Foods
- Meat with a conscience from Rowe Farms
- The tasty faux chicken from Kraut Brothers
- Dragunara Chili Sauce
- The Crispy Chant Crackers from Maureen’s Food World
- Tofurky (but we loved that already!)
- The awesome spelt and whole wheat fillo products from The Fillo Factory
- Gorgeous pestos and tapenades from Le Maison Le Grande
- The meatless Mexican products from Starlite Cuisine – because who doesn’t love healthy tacos?
- Tasty organic pizza, burritos, chicken and fish from Life Choices
That’s just a brief sampling of the stuff we tried, and I can’t wait to see many of these products in health food stores across the city. For folks with allergies, alternative diets or anyone who just wants healthier versions of the foods available in regular supermarkets, it was all represented at the Health Food Expo. Sure, there was those health food clichés, granola and muesli – I think we came home with about five different kinds – but I saw so many products that really excited me. In the weeks and months to come, they’ll be available on store shelves for folks across Canada to get excited about too.