Plant-based Takes Root at CHFA East

CHFA Oh my okra

CHFA East in Toronto has evolved to become a leading food trade show and barometer for trends. As expected, “plant-based” food and beverages was a widespread theme at this year’s show. 

Is This The New Cauliflower?

Okra is not one of the top 10 vegetables in Canada, but Bert’s Foods is hoping to change that with the launch of Oh My Okra. This super crispy snack has just three ingredients – okra, non-hydrogenated canola oil and sea salt. Whole okra pods are vacuum-fried below 180°F to retain nutrients, absorb less oil and prevent the formation of acrylamide. The result, a salty snack that’s high in fibre and low in sodium.

Side note: Vineland Research is adapting world crops like okra for Canadian growing conditions to meet increasing demand. 

On a Mission to Reduce Plastic Waste

CHFA Wok Fresh

The boatload of plastic in our oceans motivated a marine biologist and food entrepreneur to create Wok Fresh “dried just-add-hot-water meals” in compostable packaging. These nutritious, satisfying meals hit the mark for busy urbanites and solitary diners. They’re shelf stable; easy to prepare; vegan; low in sodium; chef and dietitian created Asian flavours. Just add hot water to the pouch, let it steep for 20 minutes and enjoy. The pouch is made from corn oil and can be composted in home and industrial composting systems.

Side note: Consumers need to be educated about how to dispose of compostable and biodegradable packaging to prevent contamination of the waste stream. If Canadian municipalities are not capable of processing these materials they end up in landfill, which defeats the purpose.

Convenient Nutrition

CHFA chiamigos

Start your day with ChiaMigos Chia Pudding, developed by active Canadian entrepreneurs. Easy and convenient, this nutritious plant-based snack is ready in minutes – hot or cold. Just add water or your favourite bean/grain/nut/seed beverage, stir and go. One portion serves up 11 to 15g protein and 9g fibre, with only 6 to 7g sugar.

Show Tidbits

Dairy avoiders can turn to a growing number of vegan chocolate products. However, consumers with a milk allergy should be wary of vegan chocolate which may contain milk through cross-contamination from shared equipment during processing, according to the FDA.

CBD and THC were surprisingly absent, except for cannabis consulting services. 

After much chirping, insects in food appear to have crawled back into the crevices, at least for now. 

Foods with edible collagen, derived from fish, chicken, pig and cow parts, promise benefits for joints, skin, hair and the gut. Some studies have shown certain health benefits, but the jury is still out in the medical community about safety and efficacy. 

Coconut is a go-to ingredient in plant-based foods, but contains saturated fat. Front-of-Pack (FOP) labelling for foods high in saturated fat may negatively impact products unless Health Canada provides an exception. 

I found a bottled tea containing damiana and suspect it may not comply with Health Canada regulations. Before using uncommon ingredients ensure they are permitted under food regulations.

Many food trends fall under the “healthy” umbrella. However the “healthy” halo isn’t always deserved, so scrutinizing labels is more important than ever. 

As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain transforms food into retail-ready products. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at or learn more at

© Birgit Blain

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  1. Really enjoy reading your blog… thanks for all that you do. One observation on compostable corn-based PLA packaging. We have not found a PLA based compostable package that complies with current certified organic regulations. It seems that all PLA compostable packaging is derived from GMO corn products. Have you come across a bio-degradable packaging material that provides good durable product life that is compliant with current organic regs? Thanks again.

    • Tony, thanks for reaching out to me. I’m thrilled to hear you enjoy the Food Biz Blog.
      I have not seen biodegradable packaging that qualifies as organic. Biodegradable and compostable packaging is great in theory. However, Canadian municipalities may not be able to process it. Toronto, for example, considers the materials to be contaminants because they are incompatible with anaerobic digestion and sends them to landfill. The second challenge is that brand owners can’t control how/where consumers dispose of packaging. Much more R&D is required to find a viable solution.
      Regards, Birgit

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