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New convention partners create one-of-a-kind event in Chicago

by Lora Abcarian | May 14, 2009
This year, the All Things Organic conference and trade show will join forces with three new show partners to create a powerhouse event focusing on evolving markets in organics, multi-culturalism, health and wellness, and specialty food. The event will be held June 16-18 at the Lakeside Center of Chicago's McCormick Place.

"This is going to be an exciting show," said Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the Organic Trade Association. This show will help retailers understand what the organic standards mean and what consumers want. These are hot topics.

In addition to All Things Organic, the venture will feature the associations annual meeting and membership days, Expo Comida Latina and All Asian Foods. The new event partners are bringing a sense of excitement to the shows, Ms. Haumann said, because the organic, ethnic and specialty foods categories continue to show explosive growth.

The venue will give thousands of exhibitors, professionals and companies an opportunity to network.

The new product showcases will preview trends in fresh produce, prepared packaged foods, products available for private label, organic products for children, health and wellness, personal care and organic fibers.

Two pavilions will give event-goers a chance to find out about emerging product trends. The new Specialty Pavilion will feature artisan products, ethnic specialties, gourmet products and fine food ingredients. The Health & Wellness Pavilion will focus on food and non-food items in a variety of categories, such as allergen-free, high fiber, whole grain and natural products.

The All Things Organic New Products Awards will be introduced in 2009, recognizing the best in organic product offerings and innovations that are driving the market sector forward. Five areas will be judged at the show: Best Overall Organic Retail; Best Overall Organic Foodservice; Best Overall Ingredient/Application; Best Overall Organic Non-Food; and New Organic Product Grand Award.

This years event will feature four keynote speakers. On June 16, Richard Seireeni, author of the Gort Cloud, will talk about the mainstreaming of the green movement and ways in which networking within the green community can make or break product marketing.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will dovetail the OTA annual meeting on June 17 and precede the shows opening. She was the recipient of OTAs 2000 Organic Leadership Award and will speak about initiatives at USDA expected to have both short- and long-term effects on the organic industry.

Phil Lempert, known as the Supermarket Guru, will host a panel of consumers and retail experts on June 17 to discuss the creation and implementation of in-store wellness programs.

OTA and Kiwi magazine will round out the keynote addresses June 18. The results of their original research study of 1,200 families across the country will be discussed. Information includes factors that influence parents choice of products for their children and how organic fits into their value systems, priorities, as well as efforts to live a more sustainable lifestyle. A roundtable discussion will follow.

A number of industry-related sessions will be held in conjunction with All Things Organic: National Organic Program certifiers meeting; Canadian Organic Standards training workshop; breakfast and education session for Canadian companies; Accredited Certifiers Association meeting; Foreign Buyers Mission meetings; Working with the Organic Materials Review Institute and the National Organic Standards to make products for organic use; Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association board meeting; Go Organic! for Earth Day Advisory Council meeting; and Go Organic! for Earth Day information session.

Presentations during the event as part of the Health & Wellness Education Program will give attendees a detailed look at industry research, trend analysis and best practices to grow the health and wellness retail category.

When asked how the face of the organic landscape has changed during the past decades, Ms. Haumann replied, The Organic Food Production Act has made quite a difference. As part of the 1990 farm bill, rules to implement the legislation were finally published in 2002, and the act established national standards in the United States.

We can truly say organics was going mainstream [in 2002], she added. The organic standards meant something. It leveled the playing field.

According to Ms. Haumann, distribution outlets for organic commodities have greatly changed over the past decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, organic shoppers sought out products at natural markets, generally regarded as specialty stores.

Today, Ms. Haumann said that organic products are readily available at larger retail establishments.

The mainstreaming happened because larger [retail] companies bought smaller organic firms, she explained.

She went on to say that studies continue to show that consumer demand for organic product continues to outpace supply.

Consumers have definitely been a driving force for retail operations, Ms. Haumann said. Data show that organic sales at retail continue to grow at a rate of 14 percent to 20 percent annually. She said that this outpaces to single-digit growth seen elsewhere in retail.

Consumer interest in organic product is multi-faceted. Some consumers are concerned about pesticide residues, Ms. Haumann said. Some people are concerned about irradiation. People have heard there is an overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Organics doesnt do that.

She added that consumers are equally concerned about environmental issues. She said that pesticide exposure at the farm level, soil health and water contamination are among the important considerations for consumers choosing to go organic.

People are trying to make choices that fit with that new value system, she stated. Green is the new black.