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Healthy snacking and fresh juice dominate at Chicago food show

This year's FMI Connect showed US consumers favouring both convenient and nutritional foodstuff.

Photo: CuteCumbers from Mucci Farms.
CuteCumbers from Mucci Farms.

Only one international pavilion – courtesy of Mexico – was in evidence at this year's FMI Connect and United Fresh event in Chicago. Domestic suppliers, of course, were out in force, with various states – notably Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan and Minnesota – having their own dedicated areas to highlight their produce.

Aside from these geographical zones, the event also featured several themed areas, including the Technology Pavilion, the Fresh Pavilion, the Health and Wellness Retail Zone, and The Retail Experience of the Future Area.

As ever, a quick tour around the show floor proved a good guide to the current trends and preoccupations of the US food sector, with four in particular – healthy snacking, increased juice consumption, a premium on innovation and variety, and an enhanced role for technology – proving clearly apparent.

Healthy snacking

Snack-size and "snack pack" packaging was seen everywhere. Single-serving packs of everything were pretty much ubiquitous, including fresh berries, pre-cut fruits (such as apples and peaches), olives, nut mixes, and guacamole.

"Ready Pac" foods – featuring combination snack packs, including things such as pre-cut celery sticks and dip or pre-cut fruit, cheese and crackers – were another notably high-profile arrival this year. A number of producers even set out to ensure that the vegetables themselves came snack-sized, with Mucci Farms debuting its "CuteCumbers" mini snack-sized cucumber variety. The company was billing them as "perfect for convenient snacking, with no chopping required".

Juice

America's obsession with the health benefits of freshly-squeezed juice is clearly continuing. In line with this, the Chicago-based Good Foods Group was highlighting its healthy fruit and vegetable juice blends, while POM Wonderful, a Los Angeles fresh beverages company, debuted its new range of pomegranate and fruit juice blends, including POM Mango, POM Hula, and POM Coconut, a blend of pomegranate juice and coconut water.

Even more exotic fare was on show from Frey Farms, an Illinois-based producer of squash and melons, as well as being the US's largest supplier of pumpkins. This year, the company introduced its newest product, Tsamma, a watermelon juice.

As well as pre-prepared drinks, a number of exhibitors were also showcasing juice extractors. This is in line with the current trend for grocery stores and restaurants to add fresh-squeezed juices to their shelves and menus.

Innovation and variety

One of the winners of this year's Product Innovation Awards, presented as part of the event, was a new variety of tomato – the Y.E.L.O., a brilliant yellow tomato from Mastronardi Produce/SUNSET. Other new products included stir fry-kits from Apio Inc (consisting of pre-washed salad greens, vegetable blends and packaged sauces, all specifically design for use in easily put together stir-fry dishes).

Technology

With technology clearly driving everything from consumer behaviour to back-of-house operations, a number of high-tech exhibitors made their presence felt this year. These ranged from mobile apps aimed at promoting customer engagement to state-of-the-art logistics software. Several exhibitors were also showcasing advanced lighting and spraying systems for fruit and vegetable displays.

FMI Connect is organised by the Food Marketing Institute and focuses on the US food retail industry. Traditionally, the show has been held in a different city each year, but is now firmly anchored in Chicago until 2017.

This year, the event attracted 12,500 participants and 808 exhibitors. United Fresh, with a focus on fresh produce companies and their partners, was co-located with the event. In combination, these shows bring together grower-shippers, fresh-cut processors, wholesaler-distributors, retailers, foodservice and restaurant leaders, all under one roof. In total, the combined shows attracted a total of 15,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors. InterBev, a beverage equipment and beverage products show, also had a limited presence on the show floor. Total exhibit space was 226,000 sq ft.

FMI Connect and United Fresh 2014 took place from 10-13 June, at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Michelle Erickson, Chicago Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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