Organic industry boom

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Already well established in Europe through shows such as Germany's BioFach and the Organic and Natural Expo in the U.K., events showcasing natural and organic products are also taking off in the U.S.

Although some have been around for a long time such as the 68-year-old Annual Natural Products Convention & Trade Show put on by the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) growth in the past few years has been explosive.

"This year's Natural Products Expo West was the most successful show in the history of New Hope," said Sandy Voss, director of trade shows and conferences at New Hope Natural Media. "We tend to grow in increments of less than 10%, and this past year we grew about 17%, in terms of company participation."

The robust engine driving this expansion is the market for organic products, which the Organic Trade Association (OTA) estimates reached $15 billion in 2005 and could top $21 billion by 2007. According to the OTA, U.S. organic food sales have grown between 17% and 21% yearly since 1997 in stark contrast to total U.S. food sales, which grew between 2 % and 4% annually.

"We've seen the phenomenal growth in our industry reflected in trade show and conference growth as well," said David Gagnon, chief operating officer at OTA, which co-sponsors All Things Organic, an organic-only event produced by Diversified Business Communications of Portland, Maine.

The bottom line on the escalating demand for organic products lies in consumers' increasing concern about the health risks or advantages of what they put in their mouths, said Bob Callahan, show director at Diversified Business Communications. "The consumer realizes the health benefits of eating organic," he said.

Moreover, the availability of organic food is increasing, and retailers and manufacturers are on the lookout for new products and organic ingredients.

"There's a lot more access to products, and a lot more products to have access to," said Adam Finney, VP- member services for the NNFA. "Supermarkets have private-label organic foods now, something we wouldn't have seen a couple years ago."

Organic foods and natural products are moving up through the food chain, said Callahan, leading far more big-name retailers to natural-product show floors. Both Voss and Callahan noted the presence of mainstream retailers, from traditional supermarkets to heavyweights such as Costco and Wal-Mart Stores, at their events.

"We entertained a lot of large food manufacturers on the floor looking to break their new organic line at the show next year," Callahan said.

Manufacturers are interested in expanding into this niche, which means that they pay attention to organics in their show exhibits. "At the Food Marketing Institute's show, which is co-located with ATO, all the major companies have sections of the booth dedicated to organic products," Gagnon said. "There's a lot of activity in terms of new products in organics."

More evidence of organics' popularity lies in the emergence of organic food and product pavilions at more mainstream food shows. For example, the Ingredient Food Technologist show, held in late June in Orlando, Fla., is a big show (more than 2,200 booths) that traditionally focuses on ingredients for mainstream products. "We're seeing two new pavilions there, one focusing on organic ingredients and one focusing on healthy ingredients," Voss said.

Next, shows dedicated to the healthy and organic market are popping up all over the world. "We've launched over the last couple years some shows in Asia Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai that are all organic- and healthy food- oriented," Voss said.

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