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    Products Abound Naturally at Expo West

    Function and flavor among top trends driving innovation

    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ
    Chefs explore the culinary possibilities of Chobani's Greek yogurt at Natural Products Expo West

    Not what a food lacks, but rather what it does have and what it can do was among the trends reflected by products displayed and sampled at Natural Products Expo West, this past week in Anaheim, Calif.

    That said, free-from products were a dominant theme – with gluten-free achieving ubiquity – along with plant proteins, probiotics, healthy snacking and bold flavors to add excitement to healthier foods.

    ‘We’re focusing on helping retailers see the value of free-from sets in the natural aisle,” said Enjoy Life Foods’ Joel Warady, pointing to data showing that free-from shoppers ring average baskets of $102 versus $46 for conventional shoppers.

    Warady said Enjoy Life, owned by Mondelez International, aims to double its SKU count this year, with 49 expected to be launched during 2016. Coming in May and featured at the expo were Proburst Bites – a high-protein, plant-based, on-the-go snack free of all the top allergens including gluten – and Soft Baked and Crunchy Minis, mini versions of the brand’s top-selling cookies, in six-pouch boxes. Enjoy Life also refreshed the packaging for its Plentils lentil-based snack chips.

    Nature’s Path’s Arjan Stephens told PG he believes consumers are shifting toward organic over natural because it’s more clearly defined. “I see the next two to three years really being about organic rather than non-GMO,” he said, noting that while retailers are committing more resources to organic products, his company is investing in better channel management with retailers.

    “People are telling manufacturers they want less refined products, sprouted grains and superfoods,” Stephens declared, sharing samples of Nature’s Path’s newest launch: Superflakes, a cereal made from sprouted grains and sweetened with coconut palm sugar. “Organic is for everyone,” he said. “I think the retailers that have done the best with it have integrated it into their regular store sets.”

    Meanwhile, the Kellogg-owned Kashi brand is “doubling down on plant-based foods,” said Kashi’s Callie Bruhn. Along with a general packaging refresh of its three main brands -- Kashi, Bear Naked and Stretch Island – the company rolled out a host of new products at Expo West.

    New releases from Kashi include its “plant power” platform encompassing cereal, bars and shake mix. The newest cereal is Vanilla Pepita, joining bars packed with protein and fiber from seeds, grains, dark chocolate and nut butter, plus a shake mix, developed with a sports nutritionist and flavored with monk fruit. Kashi’s also adding a line of quinoa-based entrée bowls; savory bars in Indian, Mediterranean and Andean flavor profiles; and ancient grain Teff Thins with Red Sea Salt.

    Van’s is pursuing more indulgent flavors, according to the brand’s Tim Smith. Its granolas, like the new Double Chocolate and Banana Nut, are “chewier and softer,” he explained. “Consumers tell us they love the texture.” Meanwhile, Van’s is launching two new gluten-free bars, the Gramwich, with chocolate filling, and Banana Bread.  “Consumers love our portfolio of flavors and clean ingredients,” Smith said.

    Michigan-based Among Friends continues to grow, now selling its gluten-free, whole-grain, non-GMO baking mixes in 6,000 stores nationwide. Its latest releases at Expo West: Papa Tom’s Pancake Mix, Cora’s Cornbread Mix and Alec’s Brownie Mix.

    Ozery Bakery will be shipping its new Cinnamon Raisin Morning Rounds to stores next month, followed by its new ancient-grain, multi-seed One Bun Squares. “Our grocery distribution is building rapidly,” said Ozery’s Paul Vlahos. Looking beyond the baker aisle, Ozery is looking at “big opportunities in foodservice” for its organic, non-GMO products, with its grab-and-go cracker packs and individually wrapped mini rounds.

    Food follows function

    Protein continues to be a powerhouse, both from traditional and alternate sources.

    “Powdered meal replacements are going crazy,” said Matthew Cox of Bob’s Red Mill, noting that sales have approached $200 million in the natural channel alone. The brand displayed its new protein powders in chocolate, vanilla and chai varieties, each fortified with chia and probiotics.

    These items by Bob’s Red Mill were among 60 new SKUs launched at Expo West laced with gut-boosting probiotics developed by Ganeden, which displayed many of them at its own show booth. Ganeden’s Erin Miller and Teresa DeJohn explained how their company is working to educate retailers about probiotics and expanding media outreach to more consumer-focused outlets.

    Long associated with yogurt, probiotics were a selling point of many new products at the expo, including citrus peel-infused probiotic waters from organic fruit juice maker Uncle Matt’s. In lemon, orange and grapefruit varieties, the brand brags that antioxidants in the citrus peel is enhanced by vitamin C, which aids vitamin absorption.

    Of course, there were also plenty of examples of traditional probiotic vehicles as well.

    Organic powerhouse Stonyfield sampled its new whole milk Greek yogurt with mix-in sidecars of honey, cherry, strawberry and vanilla; a 100 percent grass-fed milk yogurt; and Oh My Yog, a triple treat featuring a cream layer on top, honey-infused center and thick fruit layer on the bottom.

    Chobani’s booth was teeming with chefs demonstrating recipe applications for the brand’s popular Greek yogurt, including both sweet and savory dishes like those served in Chobani’s New York café. But the brand’s huge launch was its line of savory Meze Dips, the Greek yogurt providing a great canvas for bold, complex flavors like Three Pepper Salsa, Chili Line and Smoked Onion & Parmesan.

    Colorado-based Noosa, maker of richly flavored Australian-style yogurts, was sampling its newest varieties: Key Lime, Blood Orange and Blackberry Serrano. The latter flavor, currently available only in Colorado but expanding soon, offers a complex combination of fruit and spice.

    Protein-centric Powerful Yogurt announced three new SKUs of whole milk, no sugar added Greek yogurt with seven active cultures and up to 25 grams of protein. The brand also sampled its new Powerful Oatmeal, delivering 20 grams of protein per 240-calorie serving in three flavors.

    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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