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    NATURAL & ORGANIC: Key Trends Highlight Expo West

    New products included better-for-you kids' options, healthy snacks, and the merging of gourmet and organic.

    By Jenny McTaggart

    Being at the recent Natural Products Expo West Show was kind of like being at a sold-out concert. It was hard to walk through the trade show aisles without bumping elbows with other attendees.

    Certainly this is a testament to the fact that the buzz around organic and natural products isn't going away any time soon. More than 52,000 retailers, manufacturers, and other industry professionals gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center in California March 14 to March 16 to check out the latest trends. That was record attendance for the show, which is now in its 28th year, and an 11 percent increase over last year's attendance, according to New Hope Natural Media, a division of Penton Media and producer of the show.

    While out-of-the-box ideas were few and far between on the show floor, there were plenty of new products that aligned well with the latest major trends in organic and natural foods, including better-for-you kids' options, healthy snacks, and the merging of gourmet and organic.

    Here's a recap of some of the more noteworthy new products introduced at the show:

    Healthy foods and drinks for the younger set

    A polar bear and kangaroo were among the "secret agents" hovering around the Happy Baby booth (www.happybabyfood.com), where new HappyBites healthy kids' meals were on display. The veggie-heavy HappyBites line includes six SKUs, including Veggietots with Orange "Cheetah" Sauce, and Fish Bites with Green "Roo" Sauce. Each package features an animal character, a.k.a. "secret agent," who stands for a specific environmental cause.

    The term "crayons" has until now been synonymous with coloring, but Crayons, Inc. (www.drinkcrayons.com) hopes to change that with its all-natural beverages. At the show the company launched a new all-natural, high-functioning Sports Drink for kids (or kids at heart). The drinks are made with organic cane juice and contain calcium and vitamins B6 and B12.

    Organic or gourmet? Or both?

    Amy's Kitchen (www.amyskitchen.com) had a lot to celebrate during Expo West. The family-owned company marked its 20th anniversary during the show with a bevy of new or updated products. New grocery items include Organic Summer Corn & Vegetable Soup, and Light in Sodium Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce. The company is also expanding its gluten-free line to include such items as Cream of Rice Hot Cereal and Non-Dairy Cheeze Rice Crust Pizza.

    Annie's Naturals (www.consorzio.com) unveiled three new tasty flavors in its Organic Dressings line: Creamy Asiago Cheese, Pomegranate Vinaigrette, and Lite Cucumber Yogurt.

    And Annie's Homegrown (www.annies.com) was sampling new Bunny Graham Friends, a delectable snack mix featuring chocolate, honey, and chocolate chip graham cookies -- made in bunny shapes, of course.

    Blue Marble Brands (www.bluemarblebrands.com), a new organization focused on building several top brands in the organic, natural, and specialty markets, was like a proud new parent at the show. The independent subsidiary of United Natural Foods now represents such high-quality names as Woodstock Farms, Rising Moon Organics, and Harvest Bay. Product highlights at the booth included new Mangosteen Juice Blends from Woodstock Farms (www.woodstock-farms.com) and Rising Moon Organics (www.risingmoon.com) vegetable pizzas featuring ingredients imported from Italy.

    High-end cheese continues to attract sales at supermarkets, gourmet markets, and other retail channels. Lucini Italia (www.lucini.com), a company known for high-quality pasta sauces and oils, is now cutting into the cheese market as well, with Organic Parmigiano Reggiano, a three-year aged, superpremium cheese. As the company describes it, "its taste is delicately salty with pleasant inklings of hazelnut and almond." Each eight-ounce piece is sealed in air-tight packaging immediately upon hand-cutting in Parma, Italy.

    The Muir Glen Organic brand is breaking out of its vegetable sauce shell with new meat varieties. Parent company Small Planet Foods (www.cfarm.com), a division of General Mills, claims that this is the first-ever organic meat pasta sauce. Flavors include Beef Bolognese,  Italian Sausage with Peppers, and Vodka Sauce. Also new at Small Planet Foods is Cascadian Farm Organic Granola, which comes in Fruit & Nut and the more indulgent Dark Chocolate Almond.

    The Tea Room (www.thetearoom.biz) has created a dream product for tea and chocolate lovers: chocolates infused with tea. All of its items are organic. New on the market is the Distinctly Dark truffle line, complete with seven tantalizing chocolates that offer between 50 percent and 72 percent of cocoa content.

    Soy, probiotics, gluten-free and other dietary trends

    Aunt Gussie's (www.auntgussies.com) is introducing new packaging for its popular cookie and cracker varieties, which are specially made for consumers with dietary concerns. Cracker Flats are now packed and sealed in stand-up boxes. They are low-fat, sugar-free, certified kosher pareve, and considered safe for diabetics. Aunt Gussie's line of cookies, including Pecan Meltaways and Chocolate Chip Almond Biscotti, now sport more modern packaging designed to help the products stand out on the shelf, according to the company.

    At French Meadow Bakery's (www.frenchmeadow.com) booth, there was no shortage of good-for-you baked products. The company has rolled out new informational labels on its packaging to let customers know whether items are gluten-free, made with hemp, organic, or "naturally indulgent." A new item that we found to be particularly indulgent was Sweet Little Round Cakes in flavors such as Apple Caramel and Carrot. Each dessert, which comes frozen, serves four.

    Consumers can get both probiotics and prebiotics from Naked Juice's (www.nakedjuice.com) newest beverage innovation, Probiotic. Flavors include Tropical Mango and Very Berry. Each 10-fluid-ounce bottle contains 100 percent juice and provides two and a half servings of fruit. Other new products included Bare Breeze, a line of 100 percent juice in refreshing flavors perfectly suited for the summertime, and Banana Chocolate Protein Zone.

    Pacific Natural Foods (www.pacificfoods.com) is converting its entire all-natural dairy almond beverage line to organic. Marketing director Kevin Tisdale notes that customers are seeking not only alternatives to dairy, but also products made with quality organic ingredients. The new line includes Organic Almond Original, Organic Almond Vanilla, Organic Almond Unsweetened Original, and Organic Almond Unsweetened Vanilla in 32-ounce aseptic containers, and Organic Almond Chocolate and Organic Almond Vanilla in eight-ounce four packs.

    This October, retailers can support any initiatives around Breast Cancer Month by adding an innovative product from Vitasoy (www.vitasoy-usa.com). The soy milk maker will soon begin shipping six-packs of its "Pinkies." A portion of the proceeds from each chocolate soy milk beverage (packaged with a pink lid and pink ribbon logo) will be donated to breast health initiatives.

    Ethnic foods

    As more companies introduce restaurant-quality meal preparation kits, Thai Kitchen (www.thaikitchen.com) and Simply Asia (www.simplyasia.com) are at the center of the action. Both brands belong to Simply Asia Foods, which in turn is owned by spice master McCormick & Co., Thai Kitchen's new 10 Minute Simmer Sauces and Simply Asia's two new flavors of Heat & Serve Noodle Bowls (Mandarin Orange and Spicy Mongolian) are the latest additions to the lineups. The brands are also celebrating the "Year of China" with Olympic entertaining tips and recipes from chef Katie Chin.

    Healthy snacking

    For the very daring chip connoisseur, Kettle Foods (www.kettlefoods.com) has unveiled the winner of this year's "People's Choice" limited-edition flavor: Death Valley Chipotle. Many of Kettle's chips are baked, not fried; made from real sliced potatoes; and all-natural. The company has also rolled out a new 100-calorie snacking size for people who want to curb their snacking.

    PeaceWorks Holdings (www.peaceworks.com) is introducing a new line of its best-selling brand, KIND Fruit & Nut Bars: KIND Plus. The "plus" is targeted supplements like antioxidants, omega-3, calcium, fiber, and protein, which have been added to the bars. The line's six flavors include KIND Plus Calcium (Cranberry & Almond), KIND Plus Protein (Almond, Walnut, & Macadamia), KIND Plus B-Complex (Passionfruit & Macadamia), KIND Plus Fiber (Strawberry Nut Delight), KIND Plus Antioxidants (Mango Macadamia), and KIND Plus Omega-3 (Almond & Cashew).

    Health & beauty care

    Alacer Corp. (www.emergenc.com), makers of the Emergen-C brand dietary supplement, is entering the beverage category with Emergen-C Health & Energy Water, a product formulated with 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, plus seven mineral complexes and B vitamins. The company made the drink with purified water and all natural flavors and sweeteners. Flavors include Raspberry, Lemon-Lime, Tangerine, and Dragon Fruit.

    The innovation hive is buzzing at Burt's Bees (www.burtsbees.com), a company known for its high-quality, all-natural skin care products. In addition to speaking out about the need for a natural standard in the personal care segment, Burt's Bees is busy developing new products. Just a few of the company's latest items include Milk & Butter Moisturizing Bath Wash, 30 SPF Sunscreen, Muscle Mend, and the Naturally Ageless line for mature skin.

    CleanWell (www.cleanwelltoday.com) is taking a new approach to clean hands, with all-natural, fragrant foaming hand wash, and hand-sanitizing products. The alcohol-free products are triclosan-free and proven to kill 99.99 percent of harmful germs, according to the company. The secret ingredient is Ingenium, a patented blend of essential plant oils.

    Nonfood trends

    Few people look forward to cleaning, but Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day (www.mrsmeyers.com) makes the task a little more bearable -- and certainly healthier. The company's earth-friendly cleaning products are now available in a sweet new fragrance, basil. According to Mrs. Meyer's, "top notes of basil, apricot leaves, parsley, and eucalyptus" make the new scent cool and crisp. The company has also rolled out a Rhubarb Spring Cleaning Kit, complete with window spray, liquid dish soap, all-purpose cleaner, and countertop spray.

    Soy Basics (www.soybasics.com) was displaying its fragrant Soy Inspirations candles, which are made from natural soy wax. The line rolled out in 2007, but it's still gaining traction among supermarkets, natural food retailers, drug stores, and mass merchandisers like Target Corp.

    By Jenny McTaggart
    • About Jenny McTaggart

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