(May 1, 4:40 p.m.) CHICAGO — It was apparent at this year’s All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show just how far the organic market is expanding beyond its traditional boundaries, as thousands of attendees representing the entire supply chain filed into Chicago’s McCormick Place from April 26-29 for this year’s show.

While organics still account for a small percentage of total food distribution, the message was clear at the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association’s annual show. Despite the challenges facing the organic category, especially produce, it is growing in retail and foodservice venues.

The Spring Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase ran concurrently with All Things Organic, and the overall event was dubbed The Global Food & Style Expo.

“The last few years, there’s been an incredible push for everybody to live greener and healthier, and I think organics fold themselves into that better way of living,” said chef Bobby Flay, keynote speaker at expo. “Organics is a trend that’s not just trendy, but completely essential. Organically grown, local farmers…all those are words people were just throwing out 10 years ago, and now they’re becoming an important part of way people eating.”

Despite the departure of conference and expos for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association and Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., organic association press secretary Barbara Haumann said the All Things Organic didn’t see a loss in attendance or show floor traffic.

Post-show numbers put attendance at about 17,000, including exhibitors, at all three shows. There were more than 600 exhibitors on the All Things Organic side, which is a little higher than 2007, Haumann said.

“We’re very pleased and very excited about the way the show’s going,” Haumann said. “Everyone was a little concerned, but we’ve gotten some good feedback.”

The departure of United Fresh and FMI shows might have led to a stronger All Things Organic, because there weren’t competing platforms, said Tonya Antle, vice president of organic sales for the Earthbound Farm line of San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Natural Selection Foods LLC.

“The people here are truly passionate about natural and organic,” Antle said. “You know the vendors here all are prospects.”

There were noticeable increases in international attendees and foodservice customers, which is a change from years’ past, as well as a strong retail presence from large conventional chains and independents. The heightened interest from both sides is an indication of the new direction the organic industry is taking, Antle said.

“The majority of the new people are from foodservice,” Antle said. “We’re reaching the next level of our customer base.”

Fellow exhibitors supported Antle’s claim, such as Matt McLean, president of Uncle Matt’s Organics, Clermont, Fla., who witnessed a number of foodservice companies wandering the floor, ranging from Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sedexo Inc., to smaller restaurants and spas.

Haumann said All Things Organic will return to Chicago in 2009, and that the same three shows will be April 6-9 at McCormick Place.

Trade show points to noteworthy growth in organics
Barry Parisotto, organic category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, stands next to the Zespri organic gold kiwifruit that Oppenheimer expects to begin distributing in late May.