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    More From Expo West: Natural Products Continue Upward Trend

    Free-from products all the rage at annual trade show

    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ

    It really is impossible for one person to see everything at Natural Products Expo West.

    The latest edition of the massive gathering of producers, buyers, retailers and observers, held March 4-8 in Anaheim, Calif., includes exhibit booths and education sessions spread out over several locations, including the entire Anaheim Convention Center and adjoining hotels.

    With two whole days to do it, I focused my efforts on checking out new products and the natural, organic, better-for-you and free-from trends they’re following.

    A few observations:

    Gluten-free is ubiquitous: It’s not in your face anymore; it’s become a given.

    Alternative proteins continue to gain momentum: For those increasingly leaving behind animal products, there’s ancient grains, chickpeas, lentils – even crickets.

    Free-from is outpacing better-for-you: Naturally clean-label products are gaining favor over products designed to be healthier.

    Grazing is the norm: It’s about snacking, portability and convenience.

    Taste is king: “Good for you” isn’t enough – sophisticated flavors are a must.

    Products Galore

    Here’s some of what I wore out my shoes to see (companies listed alphabetically):

    Better4U: Run by Jack Lotker and his daughter Amy, this family enterprise specializes in frozen pizzas with crust made from sprouted grain, in both wheat and gluten-free versions. They’re probably the healthiest frozen pizza you can eat, and very tasty as well.

    Bolthouse Farms: The California-based company famous for its carrots sampled several new items at the show, perhaps the coolest of which is Bolthouse Farms Kids, announced last fall. This line includes smoothies (Strawberry Meets Banana and Peach Meets Mango), fruit puree tubes (Mango Meets Banana & Pineapple, Strawberry Meets Banana and Blueberry Meets Raspberry with Greek Yogurt) and Veggie Snackers (Carrot Meets Ranch and Carrot Meets Chili Lime), which are fresh baby carrots with dry natural seasoning in a separate compartment that’s shaken onto the carrots within the pouch.

    Calbee: Launched at the show were Black Bean Harvest Snaps, in Mango Chile Lime and Habanero, the latest additions to Calbee’s growing line of snap pea and lentil-based crunchy snacks. But perhaps most exciting was the announcement of Whole Cuts; due out in August, they’re whole cut potatoes, vacuum fried, in three flavors: Lightly Salted, Smoky Bacon & Cheese, and Sea Salt & Vinegar. Sort of a cross between fries and chips but with a healthier profile, they’re crunchy and delicious.

    Califia Farms: CEO Greg Steltenpohl eagerly outlined his company’s plans to “partner with retailers on the premiumization of the dairy case.” For Califia, that means upscale merchandising for its popular line of almond milks and fresh juices, and the rollout of its Califia Café concept anchored by the company’s cold-brew coffee concentrates that allow consumers to “personalize to energize” their drinks in a manner that’s in Steltenpohl’s words “flavor forward and taste forward.”

    Tony Chachere’s: Jude Tanzin, the Louisiana-based company’s corporate chef, showcased its line of clean-label seasonings and fish fry breading mixes, the newest of which is its Bold Creole Seasoning.

    Coleman Natural: Coleman’s food truck offered up zesty chicken wings in lemon and honey sriracha flavors, for expo-goers enjoying some sunshine between the main exhibit hall and the arena annex. Inside at the company’s booth, Coleman’s Joe Forsthoffer offered the lowdown on its “no antibiotics ever” line of meat products, emphasizing its local brands: Ranger and Draper Valley Farms in the Pacific Northwest, and Rocky (free-range) and Rosie (organic) in California, from farms in Sonoma County. Additionally, Coleman has worked with microbrewer Dogfish Brewery to develop artisanal sausages with beer flavors. Coleman is a part of Perdue Foods, whose economies of scale have helped grow the natural brand and deliver it to a broad range of consumers.

    Eureka Baking: This company’s breads are rustic, nutty and a wonderful eat. Their newest organic loaves are Saaa-Wheat, Top Seed, Sweet Baby Grains and Smooth Wheat, in 18-ounce loaves at 90 calories per slice.

    Freedom Foods: This Australian company is launching in the United States with its allergen-free line of Crunchola chewy snack bars.

    Gardein: Admittedly, I’m not this company’s target audience. But there’s no denying Gardein’s skill and innovation in developing realistic plant-based meat and seafood analogs that authentically mimic their animal-based counterparts for folks looking for alternate proteins. Sampled were Gardein’s new “crabless” cakes and BBQ pocket meals with a pulled-pork flavor profile.

    TW Garner: CHA! By Texas Pete sriracha joins this company’s well-known hot sauces, along with its mainstay Green Mountain Gringo line of fresh veggie-packed salsas and tortilla chips.

    Ginnybakes: This homegrown Florida-based company impressed me at Expo East last fall and continues to grow its line of free-from treats – deliciously rich and crispy cookies free of gluten and other allergens, with three new varieties: Cranberry Pistachio Bliss, Sweet Cinnamon Love and Ginger Crisp Love.

    Good2Grow: The  bottle-toppers featuring movie and cartoon characters are the most visible attraction for this kid-centric beverage line. But of more interest to parents is the contents, especially the company’s newest launch: Juicy Waters, organic flavored waters with no added sugar at 30 calories per 8-ounce serving, out since January, in grape and fruit punch varieties. New licensed tops: Frozen, Star Wars, Avengers, and new poses for Hello Kitty and Spider-Man.

    Hail Merry: Desserts that are gluten-free, vegan, raw – and delicious, especially the mini tarts in lemon and lime, which were very refreshing. There’s also a full line of raw macaroons in several flavors.

    The Happy Egg Co.: COO David Wagstaff explained how the demand for cage-free eggs is driving the company’s growth, next into Michigan via Meijer stores; its products are currently found primarily in California, Colorado, New York and New Jersey, supplied by farms in the Midwest.

    La Croix: The most exciting news from this Florida-based maker of sparkling water beverages is its two new line extensions. La Cola is a clear, light cola-flavored drink, available in 8-packs of 12-ounce cans, as well as 8-ounce cans. Delivering a unique flavor profile is La Croix Jardin, a sweet and spicy sparkling water in Strawberry Chile, Pineapple Cilantro and Carrot Cinnamon flavors, in 4-packs of 12-ounce glass bottles. Also new are a new flavor for its Curate line, Pina Fraise (pineapple strawberry); three new flavors for its core line: Mango, Apricot, Passionfruit; and new 6-packs, dubbed “fitness packs,” for the drug channel.

    Litehouse Foods: The Idaho-based company is tapping natural, specialty and independent retailers to sell its new Green Garden by Lighthouse line of organic salad dressings. These non-GMO olive oil-based dressings come in five flavors: pomegranate hibiscus, sweet onion, balsamic herb, lime cumin and orange miso.

    Luvo: “Get fresh in the freezer aisle” is the new campaign from this maker of nutritionally balanced frozen meals, built on the four pillars of “taste, nutrition, convenience and mindfulness.” Targeting busy professionals looking to eat better, Luvo is working with retail dietitians and has partnerships with retailers including Meijer and Wakefern.

    Mason Vitamins: Among this supplement supplier’s launches are a coconut oil product, which is says can be for cooking and baking as well as skin and hair; pure argan oil, good for hair, skin and nails; and an avocado, tea tree and Dead Sea mineral body cream.

    Michael Angelo’s: This maker of all-natural Italian meals is coming out with a line of organic ancient grain pasta, made with non-GMO kamut wheat, which delivers a nutty, al dente bite.

    Natracare: For 25 years, this U.K.-based company has led innovation in natural and organic feminine hygiene products, demand for which is growing, leading to their appearance in more mainstream supermarkets. “Grocery is waking up to the movement,” Natracare’s Theresa White says.

    Nature’s Path: The maker of free-from snacks and cereals is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It’s launching Love Crunch Bars, an extension of its flagship granola line, along with oatmeal and bars as part of its Qia superfood cereal line, plus a premium version of its Que Pasa tortilla chips, a thicker, boldly flavored chip made with quinoa, chia and other ancient grains.

    OneCoffee: This Canadian company has developed a 99 percent compostable K-cup, offered in five blends at an SRP of $9.99-10.99 for 12ct box. Featuring certified organic, free trade coffee, it’s already sold throughout Canada and is launching in United States  later this year in Southern California.

    Pasta Chips: These unique snacks have a new line extension: Veggie Pasta Chips, the first variety made with spinach, broccoli and kale; roasted pepper & sun-dried tomato is coming soon (a Rosemary variety is joining the core line in May). Along with a recent packaging refresh, the brand went non-GMO and lowered the sodium across all its products.

    Popchips: “Heat is the fastest growing trend in the snack space,” the company’s Marc Seguin told me. Popchips is responding with its latest  new flavor, Crazy Hot (coming in May), which is flavorfully piquant and crazy good. Also new: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Twist, coming in June, and single-serve bags of Veggie Chips, popular among schools because they meet the latest government school nutrition standards. “Our goal is to deliver products that are not a sacrifice, that are truly delicious,” Seguin says. “People are not going to change the way they eat if it’s better for them but doesn’t taste good.”

    Snyder’s Lance: The venerable snack maker launched the market’s first gluten-free sandwich crackers under its Lance brand, available in peanut butter and cheddar cheese varieties. This summer, the company’s newly announced Clearview division launches to concentrate on better-for-you products; it will oversee the Snack Factory (Pretzel Crisps) and Eat Smart brands. Also samples at the expo: Eat Smart Dipping Chips and Cape Cod Dipping Shells.

    13 Foods: Their line of pre-prepared frozen beans, chickpeas and lentils enjoys distribution in 26 states and shows great potential as demand grows for plant-based proteins. The company would do itself a favor by working with culinary experts to develop meal solutions around their products as a way to draw more attention to the brand at the retail level to generate familiarity and usage among shoppers.

    Virtex Farm Foods: This group of 120 Saskatchewan-based canola farmers developed  North Prairie Gold extra-virgin canola oil, a non-GMO, minimally refined specialty premium product. With 98 percent of all canola oil coming from GMO plants and processed for the mass market, North Prairie Gold is in the same league as extra virgin olive oil, intended for tasting and home baking rather than large-quantity frying. Launching now across Canada and the U.S., it’s an excellent source of vitamin E and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and carries an SRP of $8.99 per 500 ml.

    Zico:  The coconut water category is growing 30 percent annually but still has low household penetration, Zico’s Amy Driscoll told me. The company’s latest releases aim to make the wonder beverage more accessible: An 8.45-ounce single-serve drink box, which contains about the same amount of liquid as one coconut, is coming this spring. Also joining the product family are pineapple and watermelon raspberry flavored coconut waters, and organic fair-trade coconut water.

    Follow my trade show movements on Twitter, @jimdudlicek


    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ
    • About Jim Dudlicek As editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, Jim Dudlicek oversees daily operations of the magazine, spearheads its signature features, produces PG’s monthly Trend Alert newsletter on center store issues, moderates its regular webcast series, and writes and comments about a wide range of grocery issues. A food industry journalist since 2002, Jim came to PG in June 2010 after covering the dairy industry for 7½ years, during which time he served as chief editor of Dairy Field and Dairy Foods magazines. A graduate of Marquette University, Jim is fascinated by how truly progressive grocers inspire consumers to enjoy food, transforming the industry from mere merchants into educators that can take the most basic of all necessities and turn it into something profound and life-enhancing.

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