Skip to main content

Products Abound Naturally at 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.

Protein, naturally

Bill Carvahlo, president and founder of Wild Planet, is jazzed about the possibilities for proteins from land and sea as he extolled the nutritional benefits of wild-caught tuna as “a pristine superfood.”

“We need to educate people on why they should be buying a better can of tuna,” Carvahlo said, noting that his brand is reaching out via social media and national advertising to Millennials whose purchased are driven by deeper values such as a commitment to the environment. “We’re a mission-based company.”

Already known for high-quality sustainable canned tuna, salmon and yellowtail, Wild Planet is next releasing organic canned roasted chicken breast, minimally processed like the brand’s seafood products to retain flavor and natural moisture. “We love making products that make people say, ‘Oh wow,’” Carvahlo said.

Elsewhere on the protein front, meat snacks are surging. The category was represented at the expo by a host of brands large and small, including Thanasi Foods’ Duke’s Smoked Meats, launching its shorty sausages in Hatch Green Chile and Chorizo & Lime, in refreshed packaging; Oberto, bragging about its “protein from real food” like its newest variety, Applewood Bacon; Golden Island, offering jerky in authentic Asian-inspired flavors including its newest, sriracha pork jerky; and brands like Hershey’s Krave, Lawless Jerky and others boasting natural, clean-label profiles.

Liquid assets

Beverages were prominent at Expo West as well. In addition to the aforementioned probiotic water, expo releases included organic cactus water from Steaz, offering a three-SKU line blended with green tea. In Original, Cucumber and Starfruit varieties, the beverage claims health benefits including anti-inflammatory and skin benefits, as well as being high in antioxidants. “We see this as being the next industry leader after coconut water,” said Ashley Benson, Steaz marketing manager.

Good2Grow continues to find success with its natural flavored waters aimed at kids, attracted by their collectable bottles toppers featuring licensed characters including the brand’s latest, the Star Wars Stormtrooper and Care Bears.

Craft sodas were popular, like Coca-Cola’s Hansen’s Natural and Blue Sky brands, both showing off fresh new packaging designed to emphasize their history and mission, as well as their use of real cane sugar or, in the case of Blue Sky’s zero-calorie version, stevia. Jeremy Faa, Coke’s SVP of craft beverages, said Blue Sky features the “latest in stevia technology with much better mouthfeel.”

Paddy Spence, founder of the stevia-centric Zevia soft drink line, noted that brands in this channel are “catering to lifestyles,” as younger consumers seek products with a purpose. “The Millennial consumer is rejecting every institution,” Spence told PG at Zevia’s expo booth, buzzing with activity during the show’s happy hour. “Whether you’re McDonald’s, General Motors or the presidential front-runner in either political party, Millennials are questioning you.”

Snacks and such

With its healthier potato chips made with heat and pressure instead of frying oil, Popchips is seeing “great momentum” since the launch of its Crazy Hot flavor and Star Wars promotion, CEO Dave Ritterbush told PG, showing off the brand’s new packaging.

The company’s next innovation: Ridges. Using a new cooking technology, Popchips can “deliver a crunchier, bolder flavor chip,” offered in multiple flavors including the exceptional Chili Cheese. “It’s what people were telling us they wanted,” Ritterbush said of the snacks that will ship to stores in May.

Also sporting a new look and new flavors is Way Better Snacks, offering a Nacho Cheese variety and a cool new bag design.

The brand’s Emily Harris-Greene told PG the new design was the first result of consumer research the company commissioned on what drives consumers and how best to meet their needs. “Consumers don’t want to have to eat boring to eat well,” she said.

Snack maker Snyder’s-Lance had several new releases in the category, including Snyder’s organic pretzels, Lance gluten-free sandwich cookies, two new tortilla chip flavors from its EatSmart brand, and full-size gluten free pretzel crisps and dried fruit snacks by Snack Factory.

Angie’s BoomChickaPop sampled its latest popcorn flavor, Sweet Barbecue, which Marketing VP Allen Gersten said was influenced by a Kansas City flavor profile. It’s rolling out in May, and Gersten predicted more flavors to follow this fall. The Angie’s booth also showed off its back-to-school store merchandiser, as the brand markets its “nice, clean, tasty, low-calorie snack” for school lunches and snacks.

Alexia Foods sampled its new organic sweet potato fries, which the brand’s Rob Johnson said has become an “incredible seller” for the company.

Made from potatoes all from a single family farm in North Carolina, the product was a natural extension of Alexia’s biggest seller, conventional sweet potato fries.  Alexia also sampled frozen vegetables, a new category for the brand. Sampling its Herb Corn, the product is “all about quality,” Johnson said, noting the corn – flash frozen within six hours of harvest – is lightly seasoned, allowing the real vegetable flavor to come through, unlike other products on the market that are heavily sauced.

Follow our live show coverage at and on Twitter at @pgrocer and @jimdudlicek.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds