Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing

getting fresh: Going organic and green

When I (just recently) learned that Trader Joe’s might be coming to my town of Evanston, Ill. -- home of Northwestern University and birthplace of the late Charleton Heston -- I was psyched. I currently frequent the Trader Joe’s near my workplace in Deerfield, Ill., but the prospect of having one right smack-dab in the middle of E-Town is even better.

As a Chicago-area resident, I do my grocery shopping at a variety of locales: Jewel (weekly), Dominick’s (sometimes), Walgreens (on occasion) and Costco (I need to renew my membership). Evanston boasts two Whole Foods markets, as well, but shopping there regularly is beyond my budget. For produce, I usually hit up this ethnic grocer on Dempster Ave. in nearby Skokie, Ill., for fresh, value-priced apples and bananas, for example. However, last Saturday morning, I visited the Evanston Farmer’s Market, where I found varieties of cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes I’d never even heard of -- let alone seen -- in shapes, sizes and colors that blew my mind. What also blew my mind is how many of those very affordable fruits and vegetables were organic.

It’s no secret that there are an increasing number of organic items -- from produce to dairy products to baked goods to snacks -- in the marketplace. Last week, while waiting in line at a deli counter, I came face-to-face with several clear-packaged blocks of organic dark chocolate, right there in the sliced meats department. Talk about product placement. A growing number of the samples sent to me by confectionery manufacturers now are organic, as well. In addition, All Things Organic has become a must-attend trade show for the food industry. (The next one takes place June 16-18, 2009, at Chicago's own McCormick Place. Visit www.organicexpo.com for details.)

Organic has become more than mainstream. … it's now in demand. Despite food price hikes and the current lackluster economy, dedicated consumers of organics persist, even if it means spending a little extra. It is only a matter of time (not just who’s president) before the recession recedes and more shoppers start going chemical-free. According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages grew from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007, and are projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion by the end of 2008. Although organic makes up a small percentage -- less than 3% -- of the overall food and beverage market, it is one of the fastest growing sectors.

Perhaps this is because organics are part of a bigger picture. It is becoming a commonly held belief that going organic goes hand-in-hand with going green. It's hard to ignore the onslaught of related “green” practices going on all around us. The last few restaurants I ate at featured menu items with made “local ingredients.” Every time I go shopping, I see more people carrying reusable totes instead of taking home those petroleum-based plastic bags. (Last year, the city of San Francisco actually banned in-store use of plastic bags, and other states are considering charging recycling fees for their use.) My daily commute seems shorter, perhaps because more colleagues are carpooling or taking the train. (I know mine are.) Fewer families are purchasing SUVs, as evidenced by automobile sales figures, instead turning to hybrids and alternative forms of fuel as a means of both cost savings and environmental interest. As presidential hopeful Barack Obama says, consumers want a change. I think organics are part of a change we can believe in.

Retailers such as Trader Joe’s illustrate that change. “Your neighborhood grocery store” is chock-full of organic everything, including items from its own private label collection, at little to no more cost than non-organic competitors. Lucky for me that as of Aug. 14, Trader Joe’s had signed a letter of intent to open a 15,000-sq.-ft. store at 1890 Maple Ave. -- that’s within walking distance of my humble abode in Evanston. If all goes well, construction will start by the end of the year, and I should be shopping there with my own “green” totes in 2009.

Enjoy Life Foods makes Inc. 500 list

For the second consecutive year, Enjoy Life Foods joined Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest growing privately held businesses in the United States. The manufacturer of allergy-friendly and gluten-free products was ranked number 371 out of 500, following its three-year revenue growth of 805%.

“If you want to find out which companies are going to change the world, look at the Inc. 500,” says Inc. editor Jane Berentson. “These are the most innovative, dynamic, fast-growing companies in the nation - the ones coming up with solutions to some of our knottiest problems, creating systems that let us conduct business faster and easier and manufacturing products we soon discover we can’t live without.”

Enjoy Life Foods’ products include semi-sweet chocolate chips, soft-baked cookies, snack bars and chocolaty bars that are free from the eight most common allergens. Each is made in a nut- and gluten-free facility, and are certified gluten-free, all-natural, trans fat-free and Kosher. In addition, more than 80% of the products are vegan and all are vegetarian.

“I credit Enjoy Life Foods’ continued success to an extremely energetic team of employees who are highly sensitive to the growing needs of more than 45 million Americans who have food allergies, intolerances, Celiac Disease or Autism,” says Scott Mandell, president, CEO and co-founder of Enjoy Life Foods.

For more information, visit www.enjoylifefoods.com.

Chocolate Council announces members

This year, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association joined the National Confectioners Association (NCA) to form the Chocolate Council of NCA. Representing the entire chocolate industry, including organic, sugar-free and all natural varieties, the Chocolate Council recently announced its 19 members.

Mr. Dennis Whalen- ADM Cocoa
Mr. Jerry Hagedorn- Barry Callebaut
Mr. Pierson E. Clair- Brown & Haley
Mr. David Taiclet- Fannie May Confections Brands, Inc.
Mr. Steve Genzoli- Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
Mr. Neil Turpin- Green and Black's USA, Inc.
Mr. Gary W. Guittard- Guittard Chocolate Company
Ms. Mary Myers- Mars Snackfood U.S.
Ms. Louise Hilsen- Nestle USA, Inc.
Mr. Daniel Trott-Russell Stover Candies, Inc.
Mr. Neil Campbell- Seattle Chocolate Company
Mr. Peter Blommer- The Blommer Chocolate Company
Dr. Dan Azzara- The Hershey Company
Mr. Patrick Huffman- The Warrell Corporation
Mr. Edmond Opler- World's Finest Chocolate, Inc.
Mr. Patrick Zachary- Zachary Confections, Inc.
Mr. Larry Graham- National Confectioners Association
Ms. Susan Smith- National Confectioners Association
Mr. Bill Guyton- World Cocoa Foundation, ex-officio

The Council’s first meeting will be held September 18, 2008, in Washington, D.C., during the NCA’s Washington Forum. Chocolate Council members will work with NCA communications, scientific and regulatory and government affairs committees, along with collaborating with the NCA about the global cocoa supply chain. For more information, visit www.candyusa.com.

Sweet Eurasia attracts worldwide visitors

Nearly 5,000 visitors from 62 countries and 72 exhibitors from 20 countries attended the first edition of Sweet Eurasia, held June 12-15, 2008, at the Tuyap Exhibition Center in Istanbul, Turkey. There, manufacturers showcased new products in categories such as confectionery, sweets, chocolate, sugar, biscuits, packaging, chocolate machine and equipment, nuts, chewing gum, bakery products, breakfast snack, private label, sweeteners, crackers and organics.

Visitors to The Annual Sweet, Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery Exhibition hailed from all over the world, including the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East, India, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Portugal, North Africa and the United States. A dedicated Hosted Buyers Programme helped these visitors establish new contacts at the market, while a Matchmaking Day allowed attendees -- decision-makers in areas ranging from manufacturing, importing, grocery stores and wholesaling -- to meet with Turkish exporters.

The second edition of Sweet Eurasia will be held June 18-20, 2009. For more information, visit www.sweeteurasia.com.

Dark chocolate goes down under

Americans aren’t the only ones enjoying dark chocolate these days. According to a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Australians like their dark chocolate, too.

The story, which ran on Aug. 24, notes that while dark chocolate used to be the treat of choice for seniors, Australians of all ages now are turning to the sweet, thanks largely to the health benefits associated with dark chocolate, which is known for its contribution to heart health (through natural flavonoids) and high antioxidant levels.

The Herald notes that research by manufacturer Lindt reveals that dark chocolate sales in Australia have grown nearly 40% since 2007. The category also has received a boost thanks to interest in exotic flavors such as chilli, the story states.

The Herald adds that Cadbury’s Old Gold takes the largest share of the dark chocolate market, making up 41% of block sales -- that’s its 2002 sales numbers.

Campaign truffles predict president

Just this past June, artisan chocolate maker B.T. McElrath introduced “Campaign Buttons” -- 60% cacao dark chocolate melt-a-ways. The all-natural chocolates feature either an image of a Democrat donkey with the words “Vote DEM,” or a Republican elephant with the words “Vote GOP.” The artisan treats come five to a package or in a one-pound bulk pack, with either all Democrat or all Republican buttons. The five-piece packages currently are available at a suggested retail price of $10.75. 

B.T. McElrath is taking its political chocolates one step further by using them to predict the outcome of the presidential election. Every week, the company posts its current sales breakdown on www.btmcelrath.com in an effort to determine the political preferences of chocolate lovers. As of August 15, the Democrats have the lead: 52% to 48%. In the end, the company will find out which chocolates sold more and if the result is the same as the outcome of the actual presidential election.

sweet of the week: BestSweet, Inc.'s Bee M.D. Throat Drops

Cold and flu season will be here before we know it, hence the introduction of BestSweet, Inc.’s Bee M.D. Organic Honey Throat Drops. This new product from the Mooresville, N.C.-based confectionery and health care product manufacturer provides natural, soothing relief and contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives. It's also environment- and bee-friendly. Studies show that bee populations have become threatened. Without bees -- which act as pollinators for flowers, trees, fruits and crops -- more than one-third of the global food supply would cease to exist. Bee M.D. donates money from every sale of its products to support the research and protection of bees. In addition, the eco-friendly Bee M.D. uses only all-natural, recycled or biodegradable materials and packaging whenever possible. Bee M.D. can be found in local grocery and drug stores for a suggested retail price of $3.29. Starting in September, the brand also will be sold online at www.drugstore.com and www.amazon.com. For more information, visit www.bestsweet.com.