Holy Crap is right! 😉
One of the most exciting things that I’ve done this year (to date) was attend the Gluten Free Expo in Toronto a few weeks ago, on September 30th.
As stated on the Expo’s Facebook Page:
“The Gluten Free Expo is Canada’s first, and largest gluten free event. Whether you’re looking for great tasting products, or Gluten Free education, the Expo is your source!”
…. and I can attest that whoever made that statement, was not kidding! 🙂
The Toronto 2012 Expo was the first for Canada. Details are available on the Expo’s website for the upcoming Vancouver Expo on January 13th 2013 as well as the Calgary Expo which is happening on March 24th 2013.
When I first heard of the Gluten Free Expo and realized that there would be over 100 exhibitors present, I thought to myself:
“If I get excited about 2 to 3 gluten free vendors at our local market … and tickled pink by 5 to 10 gluten free vendors when I visited the Halifax Farmer’s market, then I should be in Heaven with 100+ gluten free vendors at the Gluten Free Expo!”
And I was! The only problem was that I had limited room in my luggage to bring back items!
The Expo was held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on 655 Dixon Road and I decided that I should fly to Toronto the day before just in case I might encounter some flight delays. Of course, the cheapest flight that day was scheduled to depart St. John’s at just before 6AM … so I was up at 4 in the morning to get ready. During the month previous to flying to Toronto, I had been emailing back and fourth with Ellen of The Celiac Scene and knew that she was involved in the organization of the Expo. At that point in time I didn’t know if I would be attending the Expo but I was later able to confirm that I could take a few vacation days. I knew that Ellen was busy with getting everything ready for the Expo so I didn’t bother to email her back to let her know that I was heading up for the Expo. When I arrived at the hotel, I emailed her to let her know that I was there and gave her my cell number and room number in case she wanted to reach me and we could finally meet. She replied and said that she must not have updated me to let me know that she didn’t come for the Expo, and that she was staying in BC to man the phones and emails. She felt so bad that I was expecting to meet her while I was there that she decided to connect me with Margaret, the Expo Event Manager. I went downstairs to meet Margaret and discovered what a lovely girl she was! She ended up being short a volunteer so I spent the day from around 3ish to 10pm volunteering with registering the exhibitors as they came in. It was a very long but interesting day. By 10pm only about 50% of the exhibitors had arrived to set up, which means that the next day was going to be super busy from the start! I texted Ellen a couple of photos throughout the evening and was able to chat back and forth with her through email on my iPhone which was nice. When I got back to my room that night Ellen called me and we had a nice chat about how things were going and the excitement of it all! 🙂
The next morning was the day of the Expo and I was supposed to meet up with a friend (Laura) at 11am so that we could go to the Expo together. I was ready to go at 10 AM (when the Expo actually opened), so I decided to go down and help out until Laura showed up. Margaret gladly accepted my offer to help out again 🙂
Who knew that so many people would show up first thing in the morning! The first photo in the above collage is of the line-ups at 10am, and the second photo is around an hour later. Bright green reusable shopping bags were available for the first 2000 people and just after 11 AM we realized that we had run out of bags!! In just over an hour 2000 people had come through. It was crazy (of the good variety)! At one point, we were told that we had to hold people up at the registration because they had reached capacity in the exhibitors area and couldn’t let anyone else in until some had left. People were getting disgruntled because they didn’t get a free shopping bag, and had to wait before they could get in. There were several pretty grumpy people in the lines, but once they got inside and started getting some samples, they seemed to have come around. We were hearing a lot of great comments from people. With 5600 people coming through that day, Margaret said that she is going to plan an even bigger event for next year. I’m hoping to get involved with future expo events because I find these types of events to be really fun to get involved in. Large events like this can be madness, but being involved with successfully putting it off can be really satisfying!
I didn’t actually get to see any of the speakers because I spent most of my time down around the registration area, which was bad planning on my part, and I hope to plan my breaks better the next time I’m involved so that I can take in a few of the speakers 🙂
It was so nice to get to finally connect with Ellen (though phone rather than just email) and we chatted several times that weekend …. not just about the Expo, but also about how I started down this path and all the events that led me here. And it was so nice to meet Margaret! That girl does not buckle under pressure and is such a lovely person! My favourite part was when exhibitors would come up and ask to speak with Margaret and I would point to her just a few feet away from me engaged in conversation with other exhibitors or hotel staff and the response was always a surprised “Noooo waaaaayyyy ….!” Many had only spoken with her on the phone and I can only assume had envisioned her to be an older person with more life experience, lol. I got such a kick out of their responses! Once they met her, she definitely lived up to their expectations! 🙂
The Expo didn’t actually go as I expected, but it was a fantastic experience. I was actually chatting with the owner of a restaurant in Uxbridge, Ontario called Frankie’s Ristorante that’s completely gluten-free, as well as nut-free and soy free. I think I’ll consult with them when planning my allergy friendly restaurant as that chapter in my life unfolds 🙂
And now to share with you some of the goodies that I brought back with me. I tended to stay away from products that I was familiar with and knew that I could purchase back in Newfoundland.
I thought this kettle corn was delicious! I met Teresa & Tony of TnT Enterprises who started a side business for something fun to do. They are actually both forklift drivers and they said that they had no idea how much fun that they were going to have getting into the kettlecorn business. They actually do a lot of sales as part of fundraising programs for schools which I thought was neat. They love going to events like the Expo and are full of life. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with them during the set up, at their booth during the Expo and even while checking out of the hotel the next day (that’s when they handed me a second sample of their popcorn for the flight)! They love to tell everyone that the product is just four simple ingredients: corn, oil, raw sugar and a little bit of salt. I forgot to ask them what they use to dye some of the popcorn with for their Harvest package as well as any other times that coloured pieces are required (such as school colours for fundraising campaigns).
I was excited to see a product that resembled two-bite brownies!! I sampled one (and then another) while chatting with Edward, the president of the company. He was explaining how Nutri-Health’s products were originally designed by a dietician for patients in hospitals and seniors homes and that they started to notice a demand for their products. You can check them out at www.nutri-health.ca
The bottom cookie was made by a company called Sweets from the Earth. Their products are all natural, 100% vegan, refined sugars free, GMO free, etc. etc. and there are two options: 1) peanut & nut free; or 2) gluten & wheat free (depending on one of the two dedicated facilities that the item is prepared in). You can check them out at www.sweetsfromtheearth.com
The Scrumdelicious Cookies mix is from 1-2-3 Gluten Free (one of the Expo’s sponsors). Kim, the founder of 1-2-3 Gluten Free products had used this cookie mix to make pumpkin cookies. She had me at the word pumpkin before I even sampled it! I can’t wait to try out this mix later this month to make Halloween cookies (Post-blog post update: check out the blog post on the cookies here)! This was just one of many products from this company which are made in a dedicated gluten/dairy/peanut & tree nut/egg/soy – free facility. All products with the exception of 2 (biscuits and corn bread) are also corn-free. The products are GMO free, large-yield, and all natural. 3 of the mixes are sugar free (in which you add your sweetener of choice). You can check out the other products at www.123glutenfree.com
I discovered CocoMira products at Winners Homesense. The only thing is that the products are never consistently stocked …. either that, or when someone finds this product on the shelves, they buy all of it for themselves and leave none for anyone else (as I do when I find it). So I was super excited to find their booth at the Expo! I grabbed my favourite, Mocha Latte Crunch, but also picked up the Dark Chocolate Crunch as well. I would have picked up more but I knew that there was limited space in my luggage! CocoMira products contain no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives, no high-fructose corn syrup, no gluten and no egg. I just discovered by checking out their website that they are carried in some Chapters/Indigo stores as well as some Second Cup locations (the only two locations local to St. John’s)!! I shall have a look the next time I am at Chapters and Second Cup!! 🙂 You can check out the other CocoMira products on their website, www.cocomira.com
Last, but not least, I discovered this fantastic Nutty Pumpkin Harvest granola! This stuff is fantastic! I was so sad that I only picked up one package! Turns out that you can buy a package of 12 for $40 (+ 25.20 in shipping and taxes). The granola is also dairy, soy and corn free in addition to gluten free. I also picked up a jar of Organic Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Butter by the same brand/company and it was taken from me at security because the security officer considered it more liquid like than paste like. The almond butter goes for $120 (+ 35.60 in shipping and tax) for 12 (minimum order). To check out other similar products go to www.totalwellbeing.ca
Because some of the ingredients in the granola is organic (not all are stated to be organic) I contacted Real Food Market to see if they might be able to bring in this product. I’ll keep you posted on the results once I hear back! 🙂
In addition to food products to be sampled and purchased, there were also several other informational type booths. I think that one of my favourites was the t-shirts at this booth! It was a company that I had never heard of before called Olli Lolli. I love these shirts …. especially the one for the “Everything Kid” …. you know, the kid that has developed allergies to nearly everything. At least these t-shirts can help spread awareness of their allergies and I discovered that this company also sells clothing (for example, cargo pants, hoodies, and jackets) to help carry their allergy medication so that they have it with them at all times. Check out their products at www.ollilolli.com
Another booth that was present was Allerbling, which is a wristband that is a unique medical ID bracelet, and is customizable by you, at any time, based on your child’s changing food allergic conditions. It displays the iconic symbols of the food products that are risky to the children, so their teachers and caregivers can be constantly reminded at a glance. Check them out at www.allerbling.com
Other booths that were of interest to me (and that I managed to get time to stop by and see) were as follows:
Mila: Loaded with Omega—3s, Fiber, anti-oxidants and many other vital nutrients, Mila® offers a variety of opportunities to improve your overall health and well being. It can also be deliciously combined with many foods as it has no taste or smell and its biological properties are not diminished by heat in the baking process making it easy to incorporate into your favorite recipes. They didn’t have any thing to sample the seeds with so I opted not to pick any up as I had limited room in my luggage but its definitely something that I want to look into more. Check out the product at http://home.lifemax.net/mila/the-miracle-seed
Lotus Fine Foods: Offers two forms granola that is organic, vegan, dairy free, gluten free and free of artificial flavours, colours, trans fat, preservatives and refined sugar; 1) Coconut & Cherry Quinoa, and 2) Cranberry & Cinnamon Quinoa. Check out their products at http://lotusfinefoods.com/
Bubbie’s Biscotti: If you follow the link to their site, you might realize that the gluten free biscotti varieties are carried at Second Cups around St. John’s. The two Gluten-free flavours are Chocolate Chip and Belgian Chocolate Marble. Don’t forget that they are also peanut and nut free! Check them out at http://bubbiesbiscotti.ca
Frankie’s Ristorante: As I mentioned above, located in Uxbridge, Ontario. Patrons will find both Celiac-friendly food and a peanut- and nut-free environment, as well as vegetarian, vegan and some sugar-free pastries for diabetic patrons every day. They also have a gluten free bakery which supplies the restaurant. Check them out if you ever find yourself in the Uxbridge area, as well as their website: http://www.glutenfreefrankies.com. This is definitely one place on my restaurants-to-visit list!! 🙂
Crepe-alicious: A European Restaurant which serves European favourites, Savoury Crepes, Breakfast Crepes, Vegetarian Crepes, Sweet Crepes and Paninis. All crepes can be made gluten free for an additional cost and there are several items that can also be requested to be gluten free. Their menu looks great but unfortunately they do not have a website (from what I can tell). The best that I could find was the listing on Urbanspoon: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/242/1683405/restaurant/Ontario/Crepe-alicious-Hamilton
Goodbye Gluten Fine Foods: Canada’s first 100% Gluten-free food store offering:
Fresh baked goods from its gluten-free, nut free, and dairy free bakery; Fresh prepared foods made on premises in its gluten free and nut free kitchen, and features a wide assortment of appetizers, salads, sides and main courses in Grab n’ Go format (fresh or frozen) or from the display counter; Grocery items including Nut-free, Dairy-free, Egg Free, Soy Free, Sugar Free, Salt Free and Vegan products; Catering.
Sounds like a fantastic place! Check them out at http://www.goodbyegluten.com
And last, but not least, Alyce Feindel (who was a delight to chat with and is from the Maritimes … Chester, Nova Scotia to be exact) was there selling copies of her cook book “Living and Eating Gluten Free”. Alyce also did one of the talks that I unfortunately missed but I enjoyed chatting with her during the set-up period on Saturday night as well as the day of the Expo.You can check out Alyce on her website www.glutenfreeforlife.com
This is just a small sample of the exhibitors who were present on the day of the Expo. For a complete list of the exhibitors who were there, check out http://glutenfreeexpo.ca/toronto-exhibitors-sponsors/.
I loved everything about the Expo! Engaging with Ellen via phone/email, meeting and helping out Margaret, visiting with my friend, Laura, while we perused the various exhibitors, sampling and buying delicious products, and realizing that I could stop myself when entering gluten-intolerant “robot” mode where I automatically ask the person serving me “and you’re certain that this is gluten-free right??” …. EVERYTHING was gluten-free. And it was absolutely awesome!!