After the learning experience of last year’s visit to the Canadian Health Food Association’s Expo East Trade Show, we arrived this year well prepared. We didn’t follow the crowd and bring along an empty suitcase to carry home samples and info sheets, but we did show up at this massive health food trade show with empty backpacks and comfortable shoes.
Open only to trade and media, CHFA’s Expo East is four days of seminars, lectures and trade shows geared toward the health food industry. For anyone who has ever wondered how independent health food stores find out about all the new and interesting products on the market, it’s at events like these, where sales reps work the floor, trying to interest individual retailers, and the media, in their bread, cookies, juice or protein powder. It’s where both big manufacturers and independent producers introduce new items, or new flavours of an existing item, to a competitive market.
As our mandate at TasteTO is to promote Toronto businesses and locally made products as much as possible, we inevitably came across fantastic items that may never make it to market here, and as such, shouldn’t really command our attention. And during the four hours we spent sampling, talking and sampling some more, we tried to concentrate on products that would be available at health food stores in Toronto. But we also came across some really fabulous products that we sincerely hope local retailers decide to stock.
Products like Cool Soup by Go Appetit out of Houston. Bottled soup, best served cold in flavours like gazpacho and mango spice. Another great new product (possibly our overall favourite of the show, in fact) comes from a bit closer to home. Rural Roots Beverage Company is a Kingston-area company offering a line of sparkling tea-based sodas with flavours like mojito, ginger chai and real red tea.
Our favourite juice of the show would have to be the products from Pure Fruit Technologies which were 100% fruit juice blends.
We’re not keen on the variety of granola or fruit bars that make up a big portion of the products on display here, but a booth of individually-packaged halvah bars from Montreal’s Noble Foods caught our attention in a good way. And we were duly impressed by the organic chocolate bars from Theobroma with really great tasting chocolate – rare for an organic product – covering dried fruit like banana, pineapple and coconut. Loved these, can’t wait to find this stuff in stores!
Snack foods in general takes up a fair amount of floor space at the trade show and in the average health food store, as customers look for low-fat, organic or gluten free treats that taste as good as the mainstream versions. Hardbite Potato Chips were at the show, introducing new flavours of their kettle chips such as Thai curry. And Toronto company Farmer’s Bounty was sampling their gourmet organic chocolate barks with flavours like coffee and cream and pink peppermint. We also loved the line of spiced nuts from Sahale Snacks that included cinnamon laced pecans, pistachios with harissa, and an almond and peanut mix with a glaze of strawberries and raspberries for their PB & J flavour.
Other items we liked included the chips and baked “wisefries” from Old Oakville Snacks, organic macaroni and cheese from Life Choices, and the line of organic dried cranberries from Fruit D’Or. We were impressed by the organic prepared Indian food items from Devya Indian Gourmet, and the organic fair trade spices from Arayuma. And Honey Bunny wins our favour for the most intriguing packaging, offering their honey, ketchup and BBQ sauce in squeezable pouch bags.
And while the bottled water market is still going strong despite the environmental concerns, we found the Santevia water system to be a really interesting way to have fresh filtered water at home.
It’s hard to say how many of these products (or the thousands of others at the show) will get picked up and be available in Toronto-area health food stores, but as the range of items expands every year, shopping at the health food store has moved beyond sprouts and tofu to healthy and organic versions of just about everything available at the regular grocery store.