COLOGNE - You can spend the whole day masticating and still be hungry. It's a fact. When you wander among the booths at Anuga, one of the biggest food trade fairs in the world, almost all offer you samples. A pack of tissues becomes a necessity, if only to politely conceal that you're spitting out some delicacy that you find other than toothsome.
The exhibition halls at Anuga, which takes place in Cologne, Germany every two years, are a font of ideas and inspiration. Manufacturers come from all over the world to present products they think can become worldwide hits. Strolling among the booths, you gain an idea of what interests the big supermarket chains today and what consumers like in far-away countries around the globe.
Transparent packaging is all the rage at Anuga. True, it's nothing new. But when you package in transparent plastic you send a message that your product is natural and has nothing to hide. In addition you send a message about processing and minimal waste.
Transparent packaging is especially prominent for organic foods. Take the products of Mondobio, such as pastas, grains and spice mixtures - all are in see-through packaging. But Mondobio has no patent on the idea. Even baked goods sold for baking at home come in clear packaging these days. The message there is freshness, even though the product just came out of the refrigerator case.
Iroscilli, a line of frozen vegetables sold by Mondelli of Italy, sells its products in clear vacuum packages. Its main offerings are berries, mushrooms and mixed vegetables with mushrooms for pasta and risotto.
Moving onto ice creams, clear packaging adds a certain natural vibe to the product. The Italian-style ice creams may be made by a German company called Bruno Gelato, but the colors of the product - seen clearly through a family-size transparent container with an image of a neighborhood caffe - make buyers feel as if they're in Rome.
Meanwhile, the refrigerated and frozen pizza sector is moving in another direction entirely - toward health food. Think about it. Pizza is made from natural ingredients - flour and eggs for the crust, tomatoes and cheese for the topping - can be positioned not as fast food, but as a nutritious meal.
The change in market positioning has engendered changes to packaging, too. Forget the cardboard boxes with a photo of a pizza oozing oil. The frozen pizzas shown at Anuga are light-years away from the greasy offerings sold in Israeli supermarkets.
Any manufacturer that can stick a Bio label on the product - one notch below the standard for "organic" standard - has an advantage. Wagner, from Germany, in addition to pizzas laden with cheese and sausage offers another animal entirely - Original Balance, topped with vegetables and low-fat chicken breast. An even more diet-friendly version, which has also earned the Bio label, is called - wait for it - Nature Lust. It sports toppings of spinach and chunks of tomato. Both the Balance and the Lust come in attractive packages that just scream of freshness and health.
Another intriguing Wagner product can't exactly boast of joining the health craze: little snack pizzas, stuffed with cheese and with toppings, well, on top. Called Piccolinis, they also comes in versions especially suited for children, with sweet corn or with cheese and sausage.
Then there's Gourmet d'Alsace, which takes "pizza" to a whole new level. Alongside its ready-to-bake pies with popular toppings such as onion, mushrooms, broccoli or peppers, or even fried potatoes, it offers a number with black currants and pineapple.
Pizzas shown by Ianterna Alimentari Genova have won various prizes around the world. These are thick-crusted pies, reminiscent of focaccia, which the company also makes.
Italian pasta giant Barilla, meanwhile, is showing Pasta Cup, individual servings of pasta and sauce that come frozen. You defrost it for five minutes in a microwave oven and then nuke it on high for two more minutes, and it tastes pretty good.
Among the more innovative products at Anuga 2009 is another frozen pasta, made by Bonroyal of Germany, which comes in a variety of flavors and forms. Each package contains 400 grams of ready-to-heat pasta, packaged in cardboard that can take the heat.
The booth run by the Greek company Alfa is bustling with visitors tasting everything they can lay their hands on. The company made the Anuga most-innovative list this year with a line of ethnic Greek products, otherwise known as burekas. Yes, stuffed pastries made with phyllo dough. Okay, these aren't the potato or cheese burekas you'll find at every kiosk in Israel. Its branded line includes the Kihi, made of phyllo leaves stuffed with feta cheese or spinach, or - vanilla cream.
The burekas won attention by virtue of their degradable packaging, which has won various international awards. It's basically a tough baking paper. All you need to do is remove the top part of the paper package, stick the thing in the over for half an hour at 180-200 degrees Centigrade. Alfa has kashruth certification, of which its representatives at the booth are very proud.
At the Israeli both, run by the Exports Institute, we find the company Cohen Or selling ethnic confectionaries, branded as Shiraz. But Alfa steals the show with its degradable packaging.
Crowds clustered around the booth of the German company Krommer, home of the Twist Potato. That's a potato, cut by a special machine into a spiral before being impaled on a stick and deep-fried. The technology is good for restaurants that want a kicky side dish, and food stalls as well. It's an interesting concept but the end result is greasy.
The shape of the Twist Potato is a lot like the Fruitinis made by Del Monte. These are pieces of fresh pineapple - yes, you guessed it - cut into spirals and stuck on a stick, thankfully without being dunked into boiling oil. Instead, they're flash-frozen and marketed as a sweet nosh that's 100% natural fruit. Those also made the Anuga most-innovative list.
Another most-innovative product is the Chocololly of Holland. It's a frozen dessert that looks like a chocolate bar on a stick. Under the chocolate is butter cream.
Ablig Feinfrost will also intrigue frozen dessert lovers with its Hexenkerze popsicle, thanks in part to its "cool" design and relatively small portion, a boon to the calorie-conscious. The Hexenkerze was first launched in 2004 but it seems more relevant than ever before. The only snag is that its taste, to be frank, doesn't make up for the savings in calories.
While on desserts there's the series of frozen pancakes made by Diksmuidse Pannenkoeken of Belgium. A minute in the microwave and you're good to go. The range includes mini pancakes, regular-sized ones and crepes. The most interesting versions are stuffed with fruit, chocolate and even ice cream. The pancakes are sold singly or in packs.
You'll also find cakes sold as single slices. Patisserie Limburg is one company that is doing this, mainly to convenience stores. Erlenbacher, a Nestle unit, made the most-innovative list with its frozen cheesecake, by virtue of the fact that its crust remains crisp even after freezing and thawing. And Maheso of Spain offers a line of frozen tapas. Its eggplant and zucchini lines probably wouldn't take off in Israel, but the churros line, South American fried dough that you dip in sauces such as those made by Colac, probably will.
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