What’s the Story Behind that Product?

What’s the Story Behind that Product?
Enjoy Life Foods CMO Joel Warady (right) talks with Progressive Grocer Brand Director John Schrei at Natural Products Expo West

As expected, there were plenty of CBD products at this year’s National Products Expo West, from foods and beverages to health and beauty items.

The industry still has to play catch-up in telling the story behind CBD and its purported benefits, and retailers are still sorting out what’s what to best deliver what consumers want, amid varying regional demands and local regulations.

In the meantime, more “mainstream” products still dominated the annual mass gathering of natural products, held March 6-9 at California’s Anaheim Convention Center.

In the spotlight, beyond CBD and hemp: protein, mostly plant-based; free-froms; fiber; probiotics; alternative sweeteners; and exotic flavors.

Also continuing to grow is the passion that goes into the development of the hundreds of brands and products on display – so many stories and personal missions that drive the launching of innovative products meeting specific needs for taste and nutrition.

Case in point: Boulder, Colo.-based Kim & Jake’s Gluten Free Bakery, whose bread, cookies and cakes came to be after co-owner Jake Rosenbarger discovered he had celiac disease. “We felt like [gluten-free baked goods] were really missing from the market when I got my diagnosis,” Rosenbarger, who founded the business with his wife, told me.

For Tempe, Ariz.-based Spinato’s, the journey toward creating a gluten-free pizza for the retail market began in the family’s Italian restaurant, where patrons began asking for the option in greater numbers, and a menu item evolved into a frozen retail product. To differentiate from the cauliflower crusts dominating the market, Spinato’s crust is made from broccoli.

“We even give you a video on how to cook the pizza perfectly,” said Todd Niezgodzki of Spinato’s, pointing out a QR code on the packaging.

The folks behind Second Line pea-based snack puffs, in New Orleans, are involved with community youth nutrition programs, declaring their product to be “snacks with a purpose.”

Dallas-based Purpose Tea pays a premium for the Kenyan purple tea for its RTD beverages to help the locals, predominantly women, who harvest their product. The company donates 5 percent of its profits to financial management, nutrition and gender equity programs, as well as scholarships for workers’ children, Purpose founder Chi Nguyen told me.

And Gina Stryker, visiting this year’s expo but not exhibiting her Gina Cucina line of premium refrigerated soups in glass jars, has made fighting human trafficking the mission behind her brand, from shelf tags to personally lecturing shippers on how to combat the crime.

A commitment to wellness is a common thread. Brent Willis, CEO of Denver-based New Age Beverages, makers of CBD-infused Marley drinks, Xing craft brew tea and Bucha Live kombucha, said that his company aims to “inspire and educate the planet to live healthy.”

The La Farge, Wis.-based cooperative Organic Valley aims to boost the integrity of grass-fed dairy with its certification program. The co-op's Certified Grass-Fed Dairy seal is meant to eliminate confusion in the marketplace and educate consumers on the rigorous farming practices behind grass-fed dairy production.

To date, as many as 400 dairy farms are certified to use the seal, which is expected to start appearing on product packaging this spring, the cooperative revealed in a morning press conference during Expo West. Grocers are considered a key partner in the process of educating consumers. “Retailers need to be the gatekeepers,” said Organic Valley CEO George Siemon. (Organic Valley also displayed its FUEL high-protein milk shakes at the expo, which offer 20 grams of protein per serving and include a new coffee flavor.)

Meanwhile, trumpeting a sustainability message, the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is promoting its Flip 2 Fish campaign, which suggests swapping fish for chicken or other proteins in traditional recipes. “It helps the retailer communicate simple ideas to the consumer,” said ASMI’s Tricia Sanguinetti, describing wild-caught seafood as “a great protein with very little environmental footprint compared to other proteins.”

What’s the Story Behind that Product?
Clif Bar's Whole Lotta Bars on display at Natural Products Expo West


A seemingly endless array of products is displayed annually, and this year’s expo was no exception. Here’s some of what I managed to see and sample over two days at the show:

Biena Snacks sampled its new chickpea puffs, delivering 7 grams of plant protein in Vegan Ranch, Aged White Cheddar and Blazin’ Hot varieties.

Brain Juice energy shots are designed to enhance mental clarity, with superfood and antioxidant ingredients, and B vitamins.

Clif Bar premiered its gluten- and dairy-free Whole Lotta bars, with 10 grams of plant-based protein and no sugar added, in Salted Dark Chocolate, Spiced Almond Ginger and Roasted Peanut Chocolate flavors; Sweet & Salty Energy Bars in a Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt variety, with 9 grams of protein; non-GMO Luna nutrition bars, which are gluten-free with organic ingredients, and contain 8 grams of protein in the Chocolate Chip Cookie variety; and Energy Granola in Cinnamon Almond and Blueberry Crunch flavors.

Conagra Brands displayed its portfolio of natural and better-for-you brands, including Duke’s meat snacks, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop ready-to-eat popcorn, Udi’s gluten-free sweet potato crust pizza, and products from the company's Glutino and Gardein labels.

Coombs Family Farms showed off its Maple Stream sprayable organic maple syrup.

Enjoy Life Foods sampled its Dark Chocolate Raspberry Protein Bites, which won an Expo West NEXTY Award, among the Mondelez International-owned brand’s extensive stable of free-from foods, of which 26 SKUs have been certified FODMAP-friendly.

What’s the Story Behind that Product?
Elmhurst Milked's new Hemp Creamer line at the show

Elmhurst Milked offered samples of its nut milks, including peanut, cashew and walnut, and showed off its new hemp creamers, as well as its peanut-based protein shakes in 4-packs, offering 20 grams of protein per serving, plus its new Milked Oats, an oat milk claiming 20 grams of whole grains.

EmergenC offered samples of its vitamin C gummies and Protein Fuel smoothie mix, with 15 grams of plant protein, vitamin C, antioxidants and B vitamins, in 16-serving resealable pouches.

Fody displayed its line of low-FODMAP foods designed for people with irritable bowel syndrome, including pasta sauces and dressings.

Kodiak Cakes showed its new graham cracker Bear Bites, containing 5 grams of whey protein in three flavors, along with new oatmeal packets.

Late July rolled out three new flavors of ready-to-eat popcorn – White Cheddar, Kettle Corn and Sea Salt – all organic and non-GMO; plus blue corn restaurant-style tortilla chips.

Lily’s Sweets sampled an array of low-sugar chocolates.

Made Good sampled two new flavors of organic crispy squares -- Caramel and Strawberry -- a sweet and salty granola bar, and Good To Go keto-friendly high-fiber snack bars, made with almond flour, in four flavors.

Madrinas cold-brew coffee drinks, in Dark Roast and Vanilla Cappuccino varieties, contain twice the caffeine of regular coffee and boast elaborate story-based artwork on each can.

Malk rolled out three new oat-based creamers, plus Strawberry Cashew and Chocolate Almond milks.

What’s the Story Behind that Product?
Spindrift launched a lime-flavored sparkling water variety at Expo West

Nature’s Bakery showed off its rebranding, with new logo and packaging for its products, including the new Oatmeal Crumble snack bars, containing 14 grams of whole grains and 3 grams of fiber.

New England Naturals had three new decadent flavors of granola – Salted Caramel Apple, Toasted Coconut and Chocolate Peanut – all organic and non-GMO.

OrganiCare won a NEXTY for its FemiClear yeast infection treatment, the latest in its line of all-natural, antibiotic-free ointments.

Oxigen extolled the virtues of its bottled water containing 100 times more oxygen than regular water, promising faster recovery, increased stamina and improved focus, plus oxygenated water shots for an even bigger boost.

Second Line offered its “snacks with a purpose” – pea-and-lentil snack puffs made with avocado oil and containing 8 grams of protein per serving, in flavors including Sweet Heat and Truffle Tosemary.

Spindrift launched a lime variety it its line of unsweetened fruit-flavored sparkling water beverages.

Valsoia sampled dairy-free gelato and frozen novelties imported from Italy.

Wholesome sampled its Organic Brittle Thins, a gluten-free, non-GMO and Fair Trade snack in Dark  Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Honey Roasted Nuts and Caramel Almond varieties.

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