CHICAGO -- If you aren't into automatic bottling machines, computerized vending or streamlined soft-drink delivery systems, there was not a lot to see at the annual International Beverage Industry Exhibition and Congress held recently in McCormick Place.
There was, however, a whole lot to drink, especially if you are partial to fruit juices, soda pop, sports beverages, premixed teas or spring fresh bottled waters.
That, of course, was the purpose of InterBev 90, which drew 15,000 retailers and wholesalers and more than 400 exhibitors from 86 countries to see what's happening in the wide world of soft drinks.
Wandering the aisles turned up a few interesting items and uncovered some new twists to established trends. There was a decided international flavor to the exposition that extended right through the bamboo curtain. One company, Fai Ma, of Shenzhen, China, is one of the first Chinese firms to engage in direct marketing in the United States and has begun exporting fruit-flavored sodas.
Called Fresh 10, the Chinese pop is being sold in 12-ounce aluminum cans in three flavors with 10 percent real fruit juice: kiwi from wild mountain kiwis, apple and orange, said Bob Denton, a represenative for Orien International Beverage Co. in Roanoke, Va., Fai Ma's U.S. subsidiary.
The Sino soda is quite popular in China and across the border in Hong Kong. The drinks are sweet, crisp and clean-tasting and slightly different from domestic fruit-flavored sodas.
InterBev 90 provided an opportunity for an international tasting of water. It was evident that bottled water companies from all over the globe are going after business in the U.S., where consumer desire for more taste and minerals, coupled with concern over the safety of tap water, has created a $2.2 billion market, according to industry calculations.
From Yugoslavia came Tempel mineral water, imported through a Chicago company, Through Time. Tempel water comes in one-liter green glass bottles and is especially high in magnesium.
Elsewhere on the display floor, natural water from the Caribbean TC island of Martinique was being promoted as pure and light and balanced in pH. Sold mainly in Florida, where water quality problems are more acute than in Illinois, Martinique Natural Spring Water was rated tops in a tasting of 23 waters run by the Palm Beach Post, said a representative of Islands Internationale Inc., the Fort Lauderdale company that imports the water.
Nearby at the Naya Natural Spring Water booth, the emphasis was on its lack of mineral content and, apparently, its value as a diet aid. In its literature, the California company asks the interesting diet question: "Did you know that drinking pure water adequately will aid weight loss?" The answer, according to the Naya brochure, is "Water adds no calories, yet it reduces appetite by giving a feeling of fullness. It also helps eliminate retained liquids -- which are heavier than fat -- and helps the body rid itself of stored fat."
The "purity" of Saint-Jean Springs 500 feet above sea level in the Provence Alps of France is what is being promoted for Saint-Jean Spring Water featured at another display.
Another company marketed its Aqua Vie Mountain Spring Water from the Agua Tibia Wilderness Area of California, thus: "Like a fine wine, Aqua's unique balance of natural minerals are polished to a finish that clarifies the naturally clean taste of this incredible spring water." The Aqua Vie Beverage Corp. also sells spring water from the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai.
For those who prefer water from closer to home there is the Appalachian Mountain Spring Water from Deer Park, Md., which comes in sparkling or non-carbonated varieties in cans, plastic bottles and three-gallon bag-in-a-box containers for office water coolers.
Probably the most effective water display was by Aqua Penn Spring Water Co., of State College, Pa., which markets its own brand and sells water to other companies to market under private labels.
But it wasn't the stack of half-liter bottles that drew the crowd; it was Suzette, a "robot-mannequin," who looked pretty lifelike but moved so mechanically while handing out samples that it was hard to tell she actually was a human being and not a well-programmed android.
Almost every large soft-drink company has a sports beverage on the market or ready to be marketed to compete with Quaker Oats' Gatorade.
Coca-Cola has Power Ade. Pepsi has Mountain Dew Sport. Now Seven-Up has Dr Pepper Nautilus, a lightly carbonated beverage in orange and lemon-lime, sweetened with 100 percent NutraSweet and with added vitamin C.
The National Soft Drink Association, sponsor of InterBev 90, has become heavily involved in recycling and has established a division to deal with its problems.
The trade group even had a booth at the show devoted to recycling and solid-waste programs. The main attraction was a video explaining how schoolchildren can get involved. Viewers could watch it while seated on park benches that looked like concrete but actually were made from recycled plastic pop bottles.
Throughout the two floors of exhibitions, the NSDA had placed red and blue plastic waste recycling containers side by side, each plainly labeled "Plastic Only" (red) and "Paper Only" (blue). That was handy; most of the drink samples were served in small plastic cups, and there was plenty of paper waste. But an examination of about two dozen of the containers showed that show attendees couldn't read or couldn't be bothered to pick the right ones for their plastic glasses and paper scraps.