New ethnic foods, artisanal fare heading to Canadian stores

The Canadian Press
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Koko Patisserie’s artisanal pastries include lemon tarts. — Photo by the Canadian Press

Ice cream and frozen yogurt may soothe cravings for a frosty, sweet treat, but those craving something warm and savoury might soon be munching on cheese and pepperoni in a cone. Vince Pettinicchio, CEO and managing director Quebec-based Aliments MSU Foods Canada Inc., said the pizza cone was a European fad which started four years ago. His company is the Canadian importer of the product which he sees as “revolutionary in its category.”

“You can hold it in your hand, you can walk around with it,” he said during the Grocery Innovations Canada conference and trade show the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The two-day event offered a glimpse into the future of emerging food products Canadian consumers could soon see at the supermarket.

In an interview prior to Grocery Innovations Canada, John Scott, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said that the growing presence of ethnic foods on store shelves is one that “continues to explode.”

The international flavour was in abundance at the event, with a proliferation of sauces, spices and marinades.

Vincent Uy of British Columbia-based 7000 Island Foods said they are targeting mainstream Canadian consumers with their Pulo Philippine Cuisine product line.

While initially focused on the B.C. and Ontario markets, they plan for a national distribution of the Canadian-made marinades and cooking sauces with Philippines-inspired flavours like coconut adobo and pineapple tamarind, he added.

Sandeep Khanna, director of marketing for Weston Bakeries Limited, said the company was inspired to bring Canadian consumers flatbreads from various parts of the world with a focus on South Asian, Mediterranean and Persian cooking as it launches its Flat Oven Bakery line.

Canadians are becoming more adventurous eaters because of travel and exposure to other cultures, he noted.

“We believe there is a tremendous opportunity for consumers to actually use these products in their everyday cooking — not just when they feel like cooking Indian food or Greek food — but actually use it on a regular basis,” Khanna said.

Such alternatives could include using barbari flatbread to make bruschetta or margherita pizza, or chapati roti as a wrap for kids’ lunch, he noted.

Growing consumer interest in where products are made and an interest in healthier options were also reflected among the homegrown offerings.

From Farm to Table Canada Inc. president Becky Smollett, an Ontario-based manufacturer of locally grown and healthy snack products, is featuring ancient grains in its latest range of popped and unpopped corn kernels, and whole grain microwaveable pop-a-cobs.

“People want to know where their food was grown and where it was processed, and they are looking for healthy versions.”

Long before going trans-fat free was the craze, Kirby and Marcie Punshon of Regina-based Koko Patisserie used all-natural ingredients in their baked goods. The range of artisanal pastries, treats and cakes are sourced from Saskatchewan organic flour milled by a farmer just outside of the city.

“Those were just our principles when we started, and now it seems to be the emphasis, which is great,” said Kirby, who started the business with Marcie out of their home kitchen.

“But it’s still on a pure ingredient deck. It still has to be pure butter, it still has to be pure peaches — it can’t be flavourings. It has to be the real stuff.”

Koko Patisserie took home honours among the Top 10 most innovative products at the conference and trade show, and are expanding beyond their Saskatchewan base with entry into B.C. and Ontario.

Food trend expert and culinary consultant Christine Couvelier said there continues to be an emphasis on “culinary communication” — both between the chef and consumer and farmer and consumer.

“Farmers want us to know what’s in it, the food producers that show up at food shows want to talk to you about what’s in their product, and that’s all around culinary communication,” said Couvelier, whose Culinary Concierge business helps companies develop new products and marketing strategies.

“Consumers know more than they ever have about food and food products and tastes and what they should be like. And they’ve travelled more than they ever have to culinary destinations and they’ve enjoyed the foods. So we need that communication.”

“For a long time, communication with food products on grocery shelves the products were telling us what wasn’t in the food. ‘No sodium, no fat. ...’  But they’ve turned that around, and a lot of producers are now talking about what’s in the food.”

Couvelier said this year’s event featured a strong thematic emphasis on pride and tradition, with companies producing and celebrating products with authenticity.

“Remember when we used to be able to buy pasta sauce and we would just buy ‘pasta sauce.’ And then, all of a sudden, there got to be Italian pasta sauces, and then it became marinara pasta sauce from Tuscany ... and that was the authenticity,” she said.

“I’m seeing that a lot in the show this year. So people are proud of where the food comes from and what they stand behind it.”

Organizations: Grocery Innovations Canada, Aliments MSU Foods Canada, Metro Toronto Convention Centre.The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers Weston Bakeries Table Canada

Geographic location: B.C., Ontario, Philippines Saskatchewan Tuscany

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