Event Review: Natural notes from the May 2002 FMI Trade Show

Show and Tell

Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.
Corvus Blue
Chicago, IL

The Food Marketing Institute’s 2002 Supermarket Industry Convention & Exposition (May 5 – 8) in Chicago focused on “Turning Change into Opportunity.” The show catered to thousands of food retailers and wholesalers from more than 100 countries with workshops, seminars and educational sessions on industry trends and issues, and a product exhibition featuring the newest foods, technologies and services from over 1,000 manufacturers.

Several new products made their debut at the show; in general focusing on three key areas – convenience, enhanced food, and line expansions.

The emphasis was on convenience. Exhibitors, veterans and newcomers, offered insanely handy new products to save time. The time-challenged (and culinary skill challenged) consumer was plied with pre-sliced lunch meats in airtight packages, fully cooked, ready-to-eat cubed chicken meat with an assortment of sauces, microwave-ready soups, and pudding in a tube snacks – all designed to transform supermarkets into convenience stores and delis.

Established food manufacturers and heath-care companies introduced new products in the enhanced food section touting foods with extra nutrients or healthful add-ons. There was an incredible number of nutraceutical waters – almost every beverage touted that it made you smarter, happier, or just plain healthier. A healthcare company entered this segment with a nutrient-enhanced beverage to leverage the existing and superior distribution infrastructure to market their bioactive ingredients as food products.

Line extensions included yogurt smoothies with more protein, vitamins and calcium than before, and beers with lower carbohydrate content as alternatives to light beer.

Among the new products intended for the overworked consumer with no time to spare, some gems stood out. They caught attention because their designers were on hand and they had the best blend of product concept, marketing and value. One could spot their clean natural line and marketing innovation from a mile away:

GLAD CORN® brand A-Maizing Corn Snack

Apparently the inventor, in his quest for a new ethanol fuel recipe, overheated a batch of corn and Glad Corn was made. The result looks very much like large “old maids” that end at the bottom of the popcorn bowl but the product tastes better than popcorn and "won't break your teeth" like other corn products on the market. A-Maizing Corn Snack had no additives and touted only three ingredients: field corn, non-hydrogenated soybean oil, and salt – all natural. The owner, Gladys, said that she was particularly happy that the operation had moved out of the kitchen but that the process was still done right on her farm. The ORIGINAL flavored GLAD CORN brand A-Maizing Corn Snack is sold in 12 oz and 4 oz bags. (www.gladcorn.com)

Pure Farms

When Theresa Krueger was unsuccessful in her quest to find natural meats and flavorful healthy alternatives without additives, she launched Pure Farms. Armed with firm conviction that healthy eating can still taste good, she developed a full line of natural sausages and uncured bacon containing no refined sugar, nitrates, nitrites or MSG. Her fresh pork is raised in free roaming hoop barns. (www.purefarms.com)

Mr. Krispers Natural Gourmet Rice Chips

Terra Harvest Foods in Loves Park, IL, with the mantra that “rice is nice, taste is the true delight” introduced a rice-based snack combining low fat with great taste. These unique snack chips were made from the “goodness of rice” with all natural ingredients and no preservatives. The chips were baked, rather than fried and were therefore inherently low in fat and calories and contained no cholesterol or wheat gluten. Several varieties were presented: Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper, Sour Cream & Onion, Classic Barbeque and Cheddar Salsa – all made from natural ingredients. (www.mrkrispers.com)

Sweet Organics Kettle Corn

Michael Season introduced two new varieties of organic popcorn made with the finest all natural ingredients and seasonings to successfully negate the age-old cliché that healthful products taste bad. These products contained no artificial flavorings, MSG, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, or artificial colorings. The Old Fashioned flavor contained organic popcorn, organic sugar, organic sunflower oil and organic salt while the Cinnamon flavor contained organic popcorn, organic sugar, organic sunflower oil, organic salt and natural cinnamon flavor. The products contained no genetically engineered food ingredients, no artificial colorings or flavorings and were available in 5 oz. bags. (www.seasonssnacks.com)

Oregon Chai Tea Latte Mix

Heather Howitt has done it again – this time bringing to the natural foods market the first instant all-natural chai. This dry powdered mix made with all natural ingredients comes in two flavors – Original and Spiced Original, and is presented as convenient, time saving and good for you! Each package contains 8 single-serve packets. (www.oregonchai.com)

Honest Tea Unsweetened Bottled Iced Tea

To combat the rising prevalence of obesity among Americans, Honest Teas has launched a healthier beverage choice – organic unsweetened teas in bottles for convenience and wholesome goodness. These teas do not contain the sugar found in other iced teas and are certified as being free of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. And they taste heavenly! These beverage alternatives are available in two flavor choices – Haarlem Honeybush (brewed from the South African indigenous honeybush plant) and Lori's Lemon Tea (made from organic black tea, organic lemon juice and lemon verbena). (www.honesttea.com)

NRE World O-bento Organic Frozen Meals

Jeff Schnack and his team introduced a series of new all natural certified organic products at the supermarket show. These delicious Japanese equivalents of quick serve meals consisted of frozen wholesome complete meals made from all natural and organic ingredients produced in California. The line is currently being exported to Japan. O-bento hopes to enter the mainstream market quickly with variations of its currently available varieties: Fillet of Salmon, Chicken Teriyaki, and Japanese-Style Beef available in two sizes –small ranging from 6.8 to 7.2 oz and large ranging from 12.1 to 12.5 oz. (www.nrewb.com)


It was interesting to note that in 1999, the Food Marketing Institute, realizing that natural products represented one of the fastest growing segments in food retailing, dedicated a “Natural Day” to educate retailers on the opportunities within this category. About forty-seven natural products manufacturers participated then. This year’s guide listed forty natural / organic food manufacturers.

Recent events and a lethargic economy have forced shoppers into the kitchen and the show focus clearly was to take advantage of consumers’ need for convenient good-for-you products with taste and excitement. While more consumers are inclined to prepare meals at home, they continued to be time-challenged and are looking for easy-to-prepare alternatives to take-out, fast foods. FMI reported that in the first quarter of this year, there was a 10 percent increase in the proportion of consumers opting for home-cooked meals at least three times a week compared to the same period in 2001. Fast food consumption, take-out and home-delivery all posted declines. Another interesting consumer trend was the move towards less-expensive, private-label brands and the use of frequent shopper programs to save money. Based on a phone poll with approximately 2,000 consumers, FMI identified that the top features sought by consumers in their supermarket preference were cleanliness, high-quality produce, cost-effectiveness and high-quality meats.

While the organic category grew steadily in sales, mass-market supermarkets accounted for 45% of organic sales (Organic Trade Association) and 69% of shoppers surveyed claimed that they purchased their organic products at their primary supermarkets – it was interesting to note that the majority of the new products came from smaller players. The larger players seem to have a wait-and-see attitude or else are opting their usual lazy way out – they will acquire the winners in each category.

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