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Smooch chocolate bar by Zazubea. More Images »

Smooch chocolate bar by Zazubea.

Photograph by: Handout, Files

VANCOUVER – My five-year-old friend Ben has a wonderful expression: “Git your belly out!” he says when thinking “Get it together, fool!” (Don’t ask. He’s five!) Anyway, I love it and borrow it.

I got my belly out recently, sampling and checking out new products at the 20th Grocery Showcase West which takes place every year in Vancouver. It seems the grocery store business is girded against recession. People eat out less, stay at home more, cook more and consequently, shop for groceries more.

“Grocery store purchases have gone up in sales across the board,” says John Scott, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

“What do consumers want? Value!” he said when asked about shopping trends. “In some cases, they look only at price. In other cases, they look at competitive prices for value. They are conscious of getting good value more ever.”

Budget vigilance has been evident in Canada for the couple of years but in B.C., it’s only been since October when the market did that swan dive from the high board that consumers began to seek out best value.

“What’s fascinating is that typically, what consumers usually do in a recession is go for value in volume as opposed to quality. But we’re not seeing the usual spike in starches like pasta,” he says. “They’re looking to health and wellness and tend to be buying ‘better-for-you products.’ Consumers are better educated and savvy. They’re not trading in their knowledge. And ‘local’ is a big trend right now,” he says.

Another trend is more planned lunches and snacks. Before the market collapse, about 50 per cent of people planned their lunches. Now some 80 per cent will buy food in grocery stores and prepare a lunch rather than eat out or on the run. In the snack area, he says, there’s an increase in better-for-you purchases. “Even Kraft is moving into the ‘natural’ area. When the worlds largest company is doing that, you know that’s where consumers are going.”

And a heartening sign: “People continue to ask questions about sustainability and environment. That has not gone away. In past recessions, it went got back-burnered but this time, it tends to be very important. Consumers are asking a lot of questions. What’s in it? Where’s it come from? Is it sustainable? And woe to the retailer who doesn’t have that information,” says Scott.

He says Vancouver has the most diversified market and is the most entrepreneurial city in the country. “What you’ve got is a virtual feast of different formats, different lifestyles and different cultures catering to different things. It’s fantastic. Everybody’s kind of found a niche in Vancouver and they’ll try new things.”

“It’s terrible thing to say in some ways, but the recession is not all bad. It’s teaching us to cocoon a little, be more family-oriented. A lot of ingredients being purchased right now suggest it. There’s a lot of baking ingredients being purchased. We call it centre-store purchases. There’s a lot of neat things happening,” says Scott.

10 to Watch

I walked around the Grocery Showcase West exhibition of the annual convention and took note of some of the new products consumers can expect to see on grocery store shelves. It was heartening to see so many local businesses (nine out of 10 on the list) with good ideas for the grocery shelves, as well as do-good and sustainable businesses. Here are some of them.

1. BETTER LIFE COFFEE AND CHOCOLATES

Co-founder Sarah Davis started this Vancouver company three years ago because she’s “passionate about saving the world” and donates 15 per cent of of “cost of goods” revenues to charities. The First United Church and the Salvation Army are but two of the charities. “I wanted my kids to know there is more to life than Barbie dolls and cars,” she says. I tasted the coffee and loved it.

A 12-ounce bag sells for $12.99 and a 65 gram chocolate bar costs $2.99. Sold at Stong’s IGA, Whole Foods, and SuperValu.

2. LIVE FOR TOMORROW CLEANERS

This one-year-old Port Moody company sells household cleaners including bio-degradable, hypo-allergenic, plant and mineral based, phosphate free dish and laundry soaps. They are not tested on animals and packaging is re-usable or recyclable. I tried a sample of the dishwasher powder and liquid at home and they worked really well. $8.25/litre for liquid; $8.99 for powder. Available at Stong’s, Donald’s Market, Drive Organics, Roots Natural (Maple Ridge) and Meinhardt’s.

3. SENSIBLE FOOD SNACKS

These organic snack-packs of freeze-dried veggies and fruits would be great for kids and adults alike. I tried a few niblets of the freeze-dried corn at the stall and you wouldn’t have thought they were good-for-you vegetables at all. They’re ultra light and delicately crunchy. Comes in corn, cherry, soy nut and apple. Available at Choices, Whole Foods, Capers, Planet Organic (Coquitlam). $2.39 for 1/2 cup of fruit. ($2.69 for cherry)

4. ZAZUBEAN CHOCOLATES

The local makers of organic fair trade Zazubean chocolate bars have been around for a year or two now, but they keep coming up with catchy new products. The latest: Nutbar (“Go nuts; be happy”) and Smooch (“Chocolate 4 play”). The women behind the product call them functional chocolate bars as they contain herbs and ingredients to enhance health and well-being. $3.99 per bar. Available at some IGA stores, Urban Fare, Choices, Whole Foods, Nesters, Planet Organic (Coquitlam).

5. BRADLEY SMOKING BISQUETTES

Great for your first barbecue of the season. These made-on-Annacis Island little pucks of woodchips are bound with a beef protein and pressure. Put a puck on the barbecue grill over low heat and you’ll get 10 to 15 minutes of smoke while you’re grilling your food. It comes in six “flavours” – apple, mesquite, hickory, alder, and two are made from the spent barrels of Jim Beam and Crown Royal whiskies. They’re clean, efficient, and easy to use. $5.99 for a pack of 12. Available at some IGAs, M&M shops and Clancy’s Meats (five Metro locations).

6. OCEAN AMBER SMOKED ROCK FISH

Another local product; a fishing family’s side business; a unique product that can be used in the same way as cold-smoked salmon. It’s less oily and lighter in taste. It was previously available as a fillet, but now it’s available pre-sliced and ready to use. The fish is harvested by mid-water trawl, meaning the net doesn’t touch the ocean floor. $7 for 100 grams. Available at Stong’s Market.

7. SHADY GLEN VINEGARS

Used in the kitchens of Araxi, Bluewater Cafe and Raw Bar and the Cannery, these gourmet vinegars, made in North Vancouver, come in raspberry, blackberry and bing cherry infusions. $12.99 to $15.99 and can be bought at Gourmet Warehouse, Thrifty’s (Tsawwassen, Port Moody, Coquitlam), Cioffi’s (Burnaby), Urban Fare and Whole Foods.

8. DAN.D.PAK ALMOND AND CASHEW OLA’LA

You know Nutella, the hazelnut and chocolate spread. Dan-D Foods, the Richmond company behind all the great Dan.D.Pak foods has come up with Almond Ola’la and Cashew Ola’la, blends of nuts and Belgian chocolate. There’s even a higher percentage of cocoa and nuts in them than in Nutella. Can be used for a dessert fondu, spread or sauce. $4.99 to $5.49 for 400 gram bottle. Available at Save On Foods, T&T Markets, some IGA stores, Canadian Tire and some small grocery stores.

9. DOI CHAANG COFFEE

A Vancouver company has partnered with an indigenous hill tribe in Northern Thailand with a guarantee to purchase 75 per cent their single estate coffee beans. The Akha growers own their own coffee company as well as 50 per cent of the Vancouver-based company that roasts and distributes the coffee. $9.99 for 227 grams. Doi Chaang Coffee is available at IGA, Meinhardt’s, Urban Fare, Capers on West Fourth Ave. and Donald’s Market.

10. CLICK ESPRESSO PROTEIN DRINK

Perhaps it’s a sports-minded beverage, but there’s no reason you couldn’t chug-a-lug a cup of Click, hot or cold, in the a.m. The company is based in Port Coquitlam. A serving gives you a double shot of espresso, 15 grams of protein, calcium and it adds up to 120 calories. Retails for $19.99 to $24.99 for 320 grams. Available at GNC, Reflex, Alive and Nutrition House retailers in Metro Vancouver.

mstainsby@vancouversun.com

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