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Ancient grains. Chips, popcorn and snacks galore. Rustic-looking breads and snack chips studded with seeds. Flax. Chia. Protein. Juices. Yogurt.
All made with concern for the earth and its inhabitants, whether animal, vegetable or mineral.
And no gluten. Definitely no gluten.
These were among the highly visible trends on display at the 2014 Natural Products Expo West this past weekend in Anaheim, Calif., where hundreds of exhibitors sampling products, from food to supplements to health and beauty care, demonstrated the power of natural, organic, non-GMO and free-from.
This vast show can be overwhelming as you move among the enthusiastic throngs from all walks of life, all interested in better health and cleaner living. Here’s just a few of the exhibits I saw while walking the show, in no particular order:
Pom Wonderful continues to expand on its core line of juices made from the superfruit pomegranate. As a follow-up to its launch last year of Pom blends in 12-ounce Coconut, Mango and Hula varieties, Pom is rolling out these flavors in a 40-ounce bottle. Pom’s Mark Orsi says this format is “more family-friendly, for kids,” and for the household grocery budget, at an SRP of $9.99 (vs. $2.99 for the single serve). The new bottle is expected to hit store shelves next month.
Boulder Canyon is reaching beyond snacks to a new line of cereals, dubbed Arise, in Dark Chocolate and Greek yogurt varieties. Despite its ubiquity in the marketplace, Greek yogurt “is on fire for breakfast right now,” says Boulder Canyon’s Tim Bateman (left). The company’s also jumping on the protein bandwagon with its new Perfect Fit line of snack chips, promising 10 grams of protein per serving in Asiago Cheese and Dark Chocolate varieties, plus a sea salt-flavored Ancient Grains chip enriched with seven hearty whole grains.
Frozen fruit – convenient and no less healthful than fresh – is growing in popularity, and the folks at Rader Farms have taken it one step further with its fortified Fruit Plus Vitamins line.
Blue Diamond has added honey varieties to its Nut-Thins snack cracker line, with Honey Mustard and Honey Cinnamon varieties due out in June. As a bonus, the company supports research to strengthen the nation’s dwindling honeybee population so crucial to agriculture, Blue Diamond’s Maya Erwin (right) explains.
Crunchies is boosting its popular line of freeze-dried fruit and vegetable snacks with grapes, and has further added Looney Tunes characters to some of its packaging for extra kid appeal, the company’s James Lacey notes.
Zevia continues to buck the downward trend of traditional carbonated soft drinks with its growing line of sugar-free sodas naturally sweetened with stevia. The company is “further reducing the sweetness gap between us and regular diet soda” by reformulating with 99 percent stevia, explains CEO Paddy Spence. Shipping since mid-December, the new formula’s “velocity has been on fire and a lot of it is repeat purchases,” Spence says. Zevia is rolling out a 10-can pack at HEB, Whole Foods and Albertsons, as well as a cola in a can bearing the likeness of rapper Biz Markie, who appeared at a raucous launch event at the Zevia booth during the expo.
The folks at Luvo were aggressively promoting their line of frozen entrees formerly branded as Life Kitchen. Microwaveable in minutes by a proprietary paper-bag steaming process (photo below), Luvo bills itself as “an easy solution to people’s nutrition needs,” with breakfast and lunch/dinner entrees that deliver no more than 500 calories or 500 mg of sodium.
With the support of celebrity investors, Luvo is making a push into retail grocery as well as institutional foodservice, and can be found in hospitals and on board Delta Airlines flights, notes Stephen Sidwell, Luvo’s president, who envisions Luvo becoming the "Starbucks of nutritious food.” The retail line – carried by Target, Safeway, Albertsons, Kroger and Whole Foods – includes 20 meals, flatbreads, burritos, wraps and yogurt bars.
Just Bare is expanding its line of all-natural boneless skinless chicken breasts into foodservice as well as family packs. “A lot of stores have asked for larger packs to offer greater value,” says the company’s Brian Roelofs.
The Happy Egg Co.’s cage-free concept continues to gain steam, with its eggs now sold in 2,500 stores, mainly in the West. The line was expected to launch this month in Safeway’s Vons stores in California as well as at Safeway in Colorado; it’s slated to hit Kroger’s QVC and Fred Meyer banners in June, with Kroger planning to take the eggs national this fall, according to Happy Egg COO David Wagstaff. “Consumers are understanding more about hen welfare in egg production,” Wagstaff says.
Will consumers accept cereal made from beans? The team at Love Grown Foods is betting yes by launching Power O’s, which claims to be the first cereal made from beans and brown rice. Available in Original, Honey, Strawberry and Chocolate varieties, the 10-ounce boxes will roll out in April at about 40 major U.S. retail banners. Power O’s, which have a light, crunchy texture (my favorite was the Honey), are “bringing meaningful ingredients to the category,” says Love Grown’s Claire Tindall (left).
Ganeden’s Julie Lebowitz says attendees were showing great interest in her company’s probiotics, which Ganeden has helped many CPG manufacturers put into cereals, beverages, K-cup beverages, protein powders and other products. Ganeden has developed a probiotic strain designed to be effective for gut health while existing at ambient temperatures in non-refrigerated products.
Eureka Baking Co. is launching a line of organic breads that are aggressively whole grain, seeded and nutty, with great taste and texture, and a moistness lacking in many other organic breads. Currently sold in the company’s home state of California, Eureka’s breads will be pushing out to 2,000 stores in Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado in April, says brand manager Jim Morris (at left in photo at right).
Noosa used the expo to launch two new flavors in its line of fantastic Australian-style yogurt (which I freely admit I prefer to the so-popular Greek variety). The introduction of Coconut and Pineapple brings to 11 the number of flavors for this creamy, full-fat yogurt (my favorite is the Lemon). With triple-digit sales growth, Noosa can be found nationwide at grocers including Target, Kroger, Safeway, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods, according to co-founder Koel Thomae, who says the brand “embodies healthful indulgence.” While Noosa currently comes in an 8-ounce tub, Thomae says the company is looking into a smaller cup size following the success of a cup pack developed for BJ’s Warehouse Club.
The folks at Better4U, who scored a PG Editors’ Picks win last year for their whole-grain frozen pizza, has followed up that success with a gluten- and dairy-free pizza, as well as a dinner box that includes a pizza and chicken nuggets, designed to be cooked in the oven all at once, says Better4U’s Amy Lotker (photo at left).
Chris Coppedge at Atlantic Natural Foods (right) sees great opportunities for his company’s Caroline’s brand, which features canned vegetarian taco filling and “fishless” tuna that mimic the texture and flavor profile of the genuine articles, which are finding popularity among people who might otherwise eat meat but can’t for health reasons. As a die-hard carnivore, I was skeptical but found both products to be quite authentic in flavor and mouthfeel.
Retail Dietitians Rock
“Retail dietitians are the new rock stars of retail,” says Betsy Ramirez, a star among RD’s in her own right. Ramirez laid out the case for grocers boosting their customer outreach on wellness messaging by hiring in-store dietitians, in an educational session during the expo held at the Marriott hotel adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center (which was overflowing with exhibitors taking up all available space).
Ramirez summarized her top 10 reasons for grocers to hire retail dietitians:
1. Consumer demand for food-related wellness information
2. They’re trained in creating special diets and offering nutrition therapy
3. Customer loyalty is reinforced through this added value
4. Potential for increased sales
5. Branding banners as experts in health and wellness
6. Way to boost employee wellness
7. Way to provide whole-health solutions, from food to pharmacy
8. Adds new dimensions to the shopping experience
9. Keeping up on food labeling and regulatory issues
10. Helps to build a community of consumers with the grocer at its center
Now an independent consultant, Ramirez used to work at Kroger, where she forged partnerships with vendors and hospitals, created point-of-purchase wellness messaging and launched a health-focused monthly circular. As the public face of the program, Ramirez rode these and other initiatives to double-digit category sales growth, proving measurable ROI for hiring retail dietitians.
With the grocer and its retail dietitians and pharmacists working together, food retailers can take the lead in wellness, Ramirez said: “Good health starts with what you put in your grocery cart.”
See my dispatches from Expo West - including more photos from the show floor and a look inside my media swag bag - on Twitter @jimdudlicek