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New products at Grocery and Specialty Food West show

Grocery tradeshow offers suppliers the opportunity to showcase new and innovative offerings

Yogurt with an Icelandic bent and craft soda for nostalgic video gamers. These were among the standout items at Grocery and Specialty Food West in Vancouver.

The two-day show and conference, which wrapped up Tuesday at the Vancouver Convention Centre, featured an eclectic mix of small and large foodmakers looking to get their latest items onto grocery shelves.

An especially popular booth with show goers was that of Double D Beverage Co. The White Rock, B.C.-based company is known for its canned Beaver Buzz Energy drink, on the market for more than a decade.

But the firm’s newest item caught attention at the show: Crim City Soda is a line of four craft pops sweetened with cane sugar and all-natural flavours whose packaging seems to come straight out of old video games such as Grand Theft Auto.

On Krim City’s cola bottle, called Kingpin Kola, a striking illustration depicts a street hood and his buxom moll flashing stacks of cash. On Brawler’s Bubblegum soda, a street fight is observed by a burly biker blowing pink bubblegum. The drawings on the labels were hand drawn by a video game illustrator, each taking 20 hours to produce. They hark back to 1980s and '90s gamer styles.

James Drayson, Double D’s business development manger, told Canadian Grocer that most brands in the burgeoning craft soda market try to stand out by emphasize tradition. “It was their granddad’s recipe or something like that. But we’re combining craft soda and pop culture,” he said.

Last week, Overwaitea Food Group agreed to carry the Crim City line and there’s interest from other retailers, Drayson said.

Like Double D, many other exhibitors on the show floor were displaying new products meant to stand out from what’s already on shelf.

Take Lekker Foods. Rather than put out another Greek yogurt, the Victoria-based distributor offered an Icelandic-style yogurt described as something between yogurt and ice cream. “If you love Greek yogurt, you’ll love this,” Julie Bullard, who works in marketing and business development for Lekker, said.

The yogurt, which is made from skim milk, is called Skyr and comes from Shepherd Gourmet Dairy in St. Mary’s Ont. It’s sold in 500-gram tubs in three flavours: vanilla, plain and strawberry. It has no milk fat and is high in protein (22 grams) and calcium (20% calcium in the plain variety).

In addition to being a tasty treat on its own, Bullard noted that the plain variety can be used as a sour cream substitute in cooking. It’s also thicker than Greek yogurt.

New products from companies big and small were on display at the show. On the small side, there was Wendell Estate of Russell, Man. Its raw honey has been sold in bulk for 70 years. After an appearance on Dragon’s Den four years ago, the company began to sell its own line of creamy honey in stylish glass bottles at gift shops.

But now, Wendell Estate aims to get on grocery shelves with a 1-kg jar, said Martin Neuhofer, who handles marketing for the firm. Neuhofer said his honey’s point of difference is that it’s never heated, a process he said destroys important enzymes in honey.

On the larger company side, Pinnacle Foods showcased a new nine-SKU frozen food lineup that makes prepping frozen veggies as easy as microwaving popcorn.

Sold under the Swanson Steamfresh brand (and distributed through Acosta), the line includes items such as whole green beans and broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that are meant to be steamed right in the bag they come in. The secret is a self-venting bag that puffs up as it’s heated in the microwave. The end result is crispy, not mushy, vegetables that taste as if they had been steamed from fresh produce.

The Swanson Steamfresh line also includes more flavourful options such as Buffalo Cauliflower (think buffalo seasoning with cauliflower) and Barbecue Sweet Corn. These items were developed with millennial consumers in mind, noted Stephen Peers, director of sales for the western region and national retail at Pinnacle.

Swanson Steamfresh first hit store shelves in January in Western Canada.

Peers said the introduction of the steam line of veggies holds growth potential for retailers. In the U.S., Pinnacle sells more than 50 SKUs of steam-in-the bag veggies under the Bird’s Eye brand. According to Pinnacle, the “steam segment” represents about 38% of the frozen vegetable category in the U.S. but barely exists in Canada at the moment.

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