Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sweets & Snacks Trends for 2019

With Halloween right around the corner, I wanted to write about sweets & snacks trends that I observed at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo (popularly known as The Candy Show) that took place in May at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 companies offering candy, chocolate, and snacks. The trends I observed: nut butters, keto friendly, flavor duos, superfoods (cauliflower, mushrooms, and superfruits), and low sugar.

Nut Butters

Childhood lunch favorite peanut butter is expanding into the chocolate and snacks aisles. At the show, The J.M. Smucker Company launched Jif Power Ups granola bars and soft baked bars with peanuts as the first ingredient. You may remember the slogan, “choosy moms choose Jif” peanut butter. The Hershey Company relaunched its Take5 bar as Reese’s Take 5 so that consumers know that peanut butter is one of the five layers in the bar – pretzels, caramel, peanut butter, peanuts, and chocolate. Mars Wrigley offered up its new Creamy Snickers bars with Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, and Maple Almond Butter. The creamy nut butters replace the peanuts in the classic Snickers bar. On the gourmet end, ChocXO Chocolatier combined peanut butter with ruby cacao (a chocolate with fruity notes developed by Barry Callebaut) in its PB & Ruby cups. Peanut puffs were offered by Galil Foods, Perfect Life Nutrition, and popchips Inc. All three companies tout protein (from 3.5 to 5g per bag) on the front of the packs while Perfect Life Nutrition states that is a good source of fiber (3g per 1 oz bag) due to its use of navy beans. Justin’s, known for its almond butters, introduced Almond Butter Covered Cashews and Cashew Butter Covered Cashews at the show. They are not in the photo because I did not receive a sample.

Keto Friendly

The Keto diet remains a favorite of dieters and keto friendly snack options were plentiful at the show. Dang Foods Company offered its dang bars. The Cardamom Chai dang bar is a 100% plant-based bar with 3g sugar, 5g net carbs, and 9g protein. Fat Snax’s Double Chocolate Chip Cookies are low-carb, sugar-free, and keto with 0g sugar, 2g net carbs, and 2g protein.  The Good Fat Co offered a range of keto friendly bars including a plant-based option. Its rich chocolatey almond bar contains 2g sugar, 14g fats, and 9g protein. Krisp Nutrition’s Keto Krisp bars contain 5 net carbs, 10g protein, 2g sugar, 10g fiber, and MCT oil.

Double the Flavors

More the merrier is the thinking behind sugar confectionery and chocolates that combine two flavors in one. The Hershey Company’s KitKat Duos combine Mint + Dark Chocolate Candies for a minty and crispy experience. Duoz from Endangered Species Chocolate offers 2 flavors side by side such as Cinnamon Caramel + Coffee Caramel. The Duoz are patent-pending, with the company donating 10 percent of net profits to save wildlife. Mars Wrigley’s Starburst Duos Fruit Chews combine two flavors (blue raspberry + lemonade, strawberry + watermelon) in one chew. Sour Patch Kids Heads from Mondelez Global offer 2 flavors in 1 soft & chewy candy that is 2x bigger than original Sour Patch Kids. The 2 in 1 flavor combos are pink lemonade + blue raspberry, pineapple + redberry, and peach + orange. Jelly Belly’s new Recipe Mix features two flavors in every bean. Fini Sweets Inc’s Fini Flip it! offers sweet and sour varieties in one bag. The unique packaging provides two pouches inside one bag. The Fini Flip it! Cinema Mix + Sour Little Mix features Cinema Mix on one side and Sour Little Mix on the other side. The two candy mixes do not touch each other because there is a plastic divider in the middle.


Cauliflower, dragon fruit, and mushrooms were some of the key “superfoods” highlighted at the show. The inclusion of cauliflower is aimed at healthy snackers as the high-fiber vegetable is being transformed into healthier pizza crusts and into “rice”. Earthly Treats, Inc offered From The Ground Up Cauliflower Pretzels made with cassava flour, cauliflower flour, and a vegetable blend powder (spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets and shitake mushrooms). BFY Brands offered Popcorners Flourish Lightly Salted Veggie Crisps with Toasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas, Rice & Yellow Peas. they are high in protein, high in fiber, gluten free, low in fat, low in sugar, and vegan. Dragonfruit was featured by EVOLVE Brands in its Supernola (chewy clusters of seeds, tree nuts, and energizing superfoods) in a Dragonfruit Lemon Zest variety. The Asian superfruit made its appearance in HI-CHEW candies from Morinaga America, Inc. Tru Fru, LLC featured raspberries that have been picked ripe, frozen fresh, and then freeze-dried before being immersed in dark chocolate. Deebee’s Organics provided a healthy kids snack with its Superfruit Freezies that are USDA Certified Organic and contain organic passionfruit juice concentrate and organic mango puree. Ziba Foods LLC offered Ziba Afghan Dried White Hindu Kush Mulberries that are sustainably sourced, an heirloom superfood, and nutrient dense. The harvest and export of the white mulberries are dedicated to improving the lives of women and farmers in Afghanisan. Mushrooms were transformed into both jerky and snack bar formats by Shrooms Snacks. The Shrooms Bars feature white mushrooms and crimini mushrooms alongside pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, yellow roasted chickpeas, white quinoa puffs, and brown flaxseeds.

Low Sugar

Many consumers want to reduce sugar consumption while still enjoying candies and chocolates. A number of companies offered low sugar options at the show. Lily’s, one of the best known companies in the low sugar chocolate space, showcased their Milk Chocolate Style Peanut Butter Cups and Extra Dark Chocolate that are sweetened with stevia extract and erythritol. SMARTSWEETS INC offered up its stevia leaf extract-sweetened SMARTSWEETS Gummy Bears and new Peach Rings with 3g of sugar per 1.8 oz bag. The SMARTSWEETS are also high in fiber, with 28g of dietary fiber from prebiotic soluble fiber from tapioca and chicory root fiber. Ross Chocolates launched a Dark Chocolate Bar that is sugar free, sweetened with stevia extract and erythritol, and no maltitol that is diabetic friendly and keto diet friendly. Chocolette S.A. offered its RED Delight & Delicious Milk Chocolate Hazelnut & Macadamia bar with no sugar added and 35% less calories than regular milk chocolate with nuts. The RED bar is sweetened with erythritol, stevia extract, and polydextrose. SkinnyMe Chocolate’s Sugar Free Belgian Chocolate Mint variety is sweetend with erythritol and stevia extract.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Look at the Upcoming 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo

The Sweets & Snacks Expo (popularly known as The Candy Show) will be taking place on May 21 to 23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association will host over 800 companies offering candy, chocolate, and snacks. I will highlight a few interesting companies that are scheduled to exhibit at the show.

Bear Yoyos

Bear, “the UK’s #1 fruit snack”, aims to appeal to parents and children with its real fruit rolls and colorful packaging. The fruit rolls are made with no added sugar or fruit concentrates and contain 1 cup of fruit in every pack. The Bear yoyos are gently baked, hand cut into shapes, and hand rolled. The fruit rolls are Certified Gluten Free, kosher, and Non -GMO Project Verified. Every pack contains an adventure card for children to collect that offers information on one country including capital city and how to say hello. The company sends customers a free adventure world map and stickers after you send in 10 “bearcodes”.

Blake’s Seed Based

I first met Blake Sorensen (on the left) and Adam Root (on the right) of Blake’s Seed Based at a September 2018 The Hatchery Chicago networking event. The Blake’s Seed Based snack bars are free of The Top 8 allergens (tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat), are certified gluten-free, and use seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax) to provide taste and nutrition. The pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds provide health benefits including natural energy, antioxidants, bone health, cardiovascular health, healthy fats, and fiber. Their new protein bars contain pumpkin and sunflower seeds and pea protein to provide 15 grams of protein.


Chomps is a maker of meat snacks that are Certified Paleo, Certified Gluten Free, Whole30 Approved, Non -GMO Project Verified, Keto Friendly, and Diabetic Friendly. The protein packed meat snacks contain a short list of ingredients – sustainably sourced meat (grass-fed beef, free-range turkey, or free-range venison), fruits, vegetables, celery juice, and spices. The meat snacks contain no added sugar, no gluten, no fillers or binders, no soy, no dairy, no MSG, no nitrates or nitrites added and no artificial preservatives and have 9 grams of protein. Additionally, the snacks contain less salt than other commercially produced jerky sticks.

Lebby Chickpea Snacks

Lebby Chickpea Snacks are aimed at healthy snackers as they are high in protein, high in fiber, gluten free, low in fat, low in sugar, and vegan. The snacks are also non-GMO and kosher. Inspired by a childhood snack purchased from street sellers, the company uses an artisanal Mediterranean recipe dating back over 500 years, and combines it with modern flavors. The production process for the chickpea snacks is a long one: the chickpeas are dry roasted three times, soaked in water, dry roasted again, and then cooled and flavored. The flavors are Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Mocha, and Sesame Honey.

Morinaga America Inc

I really like Morinaga’s HI-CHEW fruity, chewy candy which are made with fruit juice and purees and are gluten-free. HI-CHEW used to be difficult to find outside of Asian food stores and Cost Plus World Market but they are now more widely available in the United States since the company opened its first candymaking facility in the US – in North Carolina in 2015. The Acai flavor (which contains real chia seeds) was launched in May 2018.

Though Morinaga is a Japanese company, the founder was influenced by his time living in the United States. The founder, Taichiro Morinaga, moved from Japan to the US at the age of 23 in 1888. A Good Samaritan gave him a piece of candy, which he had never tasted during his improverished childhood. He learned how to make candy in the US, moved back to Japan in 1899 and started selling candy from a push cart. Success from the push cart leads to the establishment of the Morinaga Western Confectionery Shop in Tokyo the creation of Morinaga & Company in 1918. In 2008, the company establishes Morinaga America, Inc.

Morinaga America Inc. had introduced HI-CHEW Cola & Orange Soda Fizzies offering “Incredibly Real Soda Taste” in 2017. I can’t wait to see what new flavors they introduce at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Chicago’s Twisted Alchemy Offers Cold-Pressed Juices for Foodservice Operators to Make Craft Cocktails

 Scott Holstein (far right) and the Twisted Alchemy team at their office

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Holstein, co-founder of Twisted Alchemy, a maker of curated, cold-pressed juice for craft cocktails, at the inaugural Naturally Chicago (a program by FamilyFarmed) breakfast held on May 3 at the LYFE Kitchen on 413 North Clark Street. Scott and his wife Kim Oster-Holstein previously co-founded Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels before selling the company to J&J Snack Foods Corp. in 2012. Twisted Alchemy will be exhibiting at the National Restaurant Association’s 100th annual Restaurant Show in the BAR (Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants) Show pavilion to be held from May 18 to 21 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. I had the chance to try some cocktails made with Twisted Alchemy juices and G4 tequila at a Cinco de Mayo event held at their office in the Apparel Center.

Julianna and Kirby making cocktails for the Cinco de Mayo tasting

How do the co-founders of Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels enter the cocktails arena?

You may be wondering like I did, how do the co-founders of a Chicago pretzels company, get into the business of producing juices for bars and restaurants. It turns out that Kim and Scott have a lot of experience making margaritas. After college, Scott bartended at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Paris. With birthdays two days apart in May, Kim and Scott celebrate with a Mexican fiesta with tacos and craft margaritas, requiring a lot of fresh lime juice. They were always looking for fresh lime juice. Scott came up with a solution for fresh lime juice that offers a great tasting lime juice that is not heat-treated or contains sugars and preservative

A grapefruit margarita made with Twisted Alchemy's ruby red grapefruit juice and G4 Tequila

An alternative to juicing fruits on-premise

Twisted Alchemy's cold-pressed Lemon, Watermelon and Orange juices

With the rise of the craft cocktail movement, Scott says that “customers want the same quality level at restaurants as well at home”. Cocktail lovers want handcrafted cocktails with the taste of freshly squeezed juice. However, juicing fruits at the bar or restaurant takes up staff time, is messy, and may lead to inconsistent quality. The Twisted Alchemy line of fresh cold-pressed juices use the HPP (high pressure processing) technology to offer delicious taste and 90 to 120 days (depending on the variety) of refrigerated shelf life without the use of heat pasteurization or preservatives. The not from concentrate juices are free from added sugars and GMOs. 

Additionally, the Twisted Alchemy line of juices offer consistent Brix and noted pH levels as well as consistent yield (no more worries about dry limes or lemons). The front of each juice label states the Brix (sweetness) measurement so that mixologists can get the same sweetness level every time they make a cocktail. Twisted Alchemy offers a line of eight juices: Persian limes (25 limes are used in each 750ml bottle), Lemon, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Watermelon, Orange, Key Lime, and Blood Orange.

Sustainability through use of “ugly fruit” and composting

Twisted Alchemy has a number of initiatives to promote sustainability. The juice producer uses so called “ugly fruit” because the company is selecting fruits for ripeness and juice quality, not for appearance. The company composts 100% of its curated produce. In January 2019, its manufacturing facility began a composting program for its juice waste. The company’s bottles are made of 25% post-consumer recycled material. Its plastics are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the most widely recycle plastic in the world. The company packs juices shipped direct in environmentally friendly packaging material.   

This will be the company’s third appearance at the National Restaurant Association Show and the first under the Twisted Alchemy name. In January 2019, the company changed its name from Industry Juice to Twisted Alchemy.

G4 tequilas were used in the cocktails at the event

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Coffee at the 2018 Housewares Show

The abundance of coffee makers (and samples) made it easy to stay caffeinated at the International Home + Housewares Show held by the International Housewares Association which took place from March 10 to 13 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In this article, I will highlight celebrity baristas and speedy cold brew coffee.

Celebrity baristas

Celebrity chefs such as Cat Cora, Emeril Lagasse, Ming Tsai, and Rick Bayless are a big presence at the show as they demonstrate their culinary skills at the cooking theater and welcome attendees at vendor booths. This year, there was a bigger presence of baristas at the show as coffee maker companies seek to position their coffee makers as producing barista-quality, craft coffee, just like at their favorite specialty coffee shop.


U.S. Brewers Cup Finalist Blair Smith demonstrated Sensio Inc’s new Brim line of manual and electric coffee makers as the brand’s resident coffee expert and ambassador. Some of you may remember Brim as a General Foods decaffeinated coffee brand and its “Fill it to the rim with…Brim” TV slogan from the 1960s-80s before it disappeared from shelves. Brim’s new owner has reimagined Brim as a craft coffee brand with the collection including a pour over coffee kit with 30-ounce glass decanter, smart valve cold brew coffeemaker with patented integrated smart valve, an automatic 8-cup pour over coffeemaker with brew pulse technology, and a conical burr grinder.


Coffee Masters NYC Champion Erika Vonie prepared cortados, espressos, pour over coffee, and more at the Gourmia booth. Gourmia showed its Gourmia GCM3350 IoT (Internet of Technology) coffee maker, “the world’s first automatic pour-over coffee maker can be integrated with both Google Home and Amazon Alexa”. The company has “created a unique planetary pouring pattern, perfected the blooming process, and mastered the temperature control” to replicate a barista’s expertise for the home kitchen. Erika and I chatted about specialty coffee while Eric Grimm made unicorn coffee and activated charcoal coffee using coffee from Counter Culture for me. 


Japanese barista Hiroshi Sawada, World Latte Art champion, did not appear at the Hario booth but I am hoping that Hario invites him to the show next year. I had the pleasure of meeting Sawada at the grand opening of his Sawada coffee shop (in collaboration with Hogsalt Hospitality) in Chicago. Hario is best known for its Hario V60 coffee drippers. They also showed siphon coffee makers, cold brew coffee bottles, and cold brew tea bottles at the show.


Andreas Willhoff, Director of Education for Halfwit Coffee Roasters, General Manager of The Wormhole Coffee, and co-author of Craft Coffee: A Manual, demonstrated KitchenAid’s line of craft coffee makers including new Precision Gooseneck Kettles that have a gooseneck spout and three flow-rate settings and a brew range thermometer in the lid along with a Precision French Press that comes with an integrated scale & timer and a larger size Cold Brew Coffee Maker.


Brian Leonard, “Barista Brian”, has created latte art for celebrities at events such as the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival.  At the Housewares Show, Brian created custom latte art at the Nespresso booth with an overhead camera capturing his every move. The company showcased its new De’Longhi Lattissima One Single-Serve Cappuccino and Latte Nespresso Machine and offered a digital tour of its coffee production process through virtual reality headsets.

Speedy cold brew coffee

Americans are embracing cold brew coffee as it provides a smoother, less bitter taste than traditional iced coffee that is made from hot-brewed coffee.  But not everyone likes the idea of steeping ground coffee beans in water for 12+ hours. A number of exhibitors showcased cold brew coffee makers that reduce the brewing time to under an hour.

Cuisinart’s Automatic Cold Brew Coffeemaker uses spinning action to extract flavor from coffee grounds and make cold brew coffee in about 25 – 45 minutes. The machine makes 7 cups of cold brew coffee, with a choice of three settings – mild (25 minutes), medium (35 minutes) and bold (45 minutes). Gourmia‘s GCM 6800 Cold Brew Coffee Maker claims that its new cold brew coffee machine can “vacuum cold brew in just 2 minutes”. Storebound’s Dash Rapid Cold Brew System has a brewing time of 5 minutes. The machine uses ColdBoil technology to make 42 ounces of cold brew.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Key Food & Beverage Trends Seen at the 2017 PLMA Show

The Private Label Manufacturers Association hosted its annual PLMA Show from November 12-14, 2017 in Rosemont, Illinois. Over 1,500 companies from more than 50 countries exhibited at the show. In this article, I will highlight noteworthy trends in foods and drinks that I saw at the show – cauliflower “rice” and pizzas, seaweed snacks, premium fruit snacks, coconuts everywhere, cold brew RTD coffee, and functional coffee.

Cauliflower Was the “It” Vegetable at the Show

Cauliflower was the star vegetable at the show as companies used it in multiple formats to address consumers’ desires to reduce carbohydrate consumption and eat more vegetables. The vitamin C-rich, cruciferous vegetable is also naturally gluten-free. Health conscious consumers have been transforming cauliflower into “rice” by using a food processor and making pizza crusts out of cauliflower. Offering cauliflower “rice” and pizzas allows food companies to provide a quicker option for shoppers. At the show, Italy’s Emilia Foods SRL offered Via Emilia Riced Cauliflower, Cauliflower Risotto With Parmesan Cheese & Sea Salt, Mashed Cauliflower & Garlic, and Cauliflower Veggie Tots in a frozen format. Venice Baking Company is one of the largest suppliers of gluten-free pizza crusts to the restaurant industry. The company offered gluten-free Cauliflower Pizza Crust and a Broccoli Pizza Crust. Roncadin S.p.A., an Italian frozen pizza maker, offered up Monteli gluten-free Cauliflower 4 Cheese Pizza and Cauliflower Margherita Pizza. Italy's Topan offered Cauliflower Pizza Kits that contain 400g of cauliflower based dough, 300g of tomato sauce, and 100g of mozzarella cheese to make a pizza for two people.  Columbia Fruit offered frozen Organic Multi-Colored Cauliflower that contains four different colors of USDA Organic cauliflower. Belgium’s Crop’s Vegetables NV offered Rice Vegetables that include cauliflower.

Seaweed Snacks

Having been born in South Korea, I have been eating seaweed my entire life. Koreans regularly eat gim (dried seaweed sheets that are flame/pan-roasted and seasoned with oil and salt) as a side dish with rice at meals. In contrast, Americans rarely eat seaweed unless they are eating California rolls or other rolls wrapped in seaweed. Things are changing as kids in Generation Z (born 2001 – present) are embracing ethnic foods including seaweed as a snack. Numerous South Korean companies offered seaweed snacks at the show as a healthy, low-calorie snack. Yemat Foods offered USDA Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks that only contain organic seaweed, organic sunflower oil, and sea salt with 30 calories for a 0.18oz single-serve pack. Under its C-Weed Snack brand, Yemat Foods also offered 20-calorie packs in Bulgogi and Wasabi flavors that are “Great for Kid’s Lunch Box”, Seaweed Crunch With Almonds, and Seaweed Crunch With Coconut. Gim Factory Inc promotes its TrueSea All Natural Premium Roasted Seaweed Snacks as gluten free, vegan, kosher certified, and non-GMO. WooBo offered Artisan Crafted Onion Sea Tangle Crunch made with glutinous rice flour, seaweed, rice bran oil, onion, sea salt, and turmeric powder with 120 calories per 0.88oz serving. Companies are also incorporating seaweed in other snack products. Snak King offered Nori Sesame Cassava Popped Chips.

Premium Fruit Snacks

There is growing demand for snacks that are minimally processed and contain no or minimum added sugar. Exhibitor SunOpta promoted premium fruit snacks with a sale sheet that stated that the $116 million premium fruit snacks category has grown by 14.7% over the last five years according to Nielsen data. SunOpta offers fruit strips, fruit twists, and fruit bits that contain no artificial flavors, no synthetic colors, or high fructose corn syrup.

Multiple companies offered premium fruit snacks at the show. Pocas International Corp sampled Pocas Premium Dragon Fruit Chips in White and Red varieties. Pocas states that dragon fruit is a superfood that can help with digestion, speed up metabolism, and reduce inflammation. Natural Sourcing International, LLC also offered white and red dragon chips. Baobab Foods offered BaoBites Superfruit Snacks that are made from organic African baobab fruit. The company says that the baobab fruit is more nutritious than other dried fruits in terms of antioxidant ORAC value, vitamin C, total fiber, and potassium. Ecuador’s Produtankay Cia. Ltda. offered Golden Sweet Sprit Natural Superfood Berry Snack featuring Golden Berries. The company states that Golden Berries are higher in fiber than raisins, dates and blueberries; contain more antioxidants than green tea; and more potassium and vitamin C than most dried fruits. Continuing with the superfruit theme, You Love Fruit Inc offered You Love Fruit Handmade Fruit Leather in Pomberry Acai that uses organic acai pulp and organic pomegranate juice, in addition to organic mango pulp. The USDA Organic Fruit Leathers contain 2g of fiber in a 0.5 oz serving through the use of organic artichoke fiber.

Targeted towards children was Denmark’s Scandic Foods A/S offered Robinson’s Fruit Shoot Fruit that can count as one of a ‘5 a day” fruit or vegetable. The product is aimed to appeal to children by licensing Robinson’s Fruit Shoot, the number one children’s soft drink in the UK, while reassuring parents with no added sugar or artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners. Other premium fruit snacks at the show included Freeze-Dried Fruit Crisps made with Fuji apples from Brothers International Food Corp., Paradise Meadow Organic Premium Dried Cranberries from Decas Cranberry Products, Inc; and Sweet Valley Organics Tart Cherries Organic Dark Chocolate Snack Bites from Mount Franklin Foods.

Coconut Everywhere

Coconut was everywhere at the show in food and beverage formats. Laughing Giraffe Organics LLC offered Snackaroons in multiple flavors including Chocolate and Salted Caramel. Snackaroons are dehydrated coconut macaroon styled cookies that are USDA Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and kosher. ONA Cookies from Tribe 9 Foods uses organic coconut oil in Certified Paleo cookies that are free of gluten, grains, dairy, and soy. Coconut oil sales have increased in the U.S. and benefited from the growing popularity of Bulletproof coffee and butter coffees that combine brewed coffee with ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil or MCT oil. Beneficial Blends, LLC offered Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil that is USDA Organic and fair for life Fair Trade. The Kelapo Coconut Oil and Ghee single-serve 0.5 oz packets are designed to be mixed into coffee “For Added Energy & Focus”. Carrington Farms offered USDA Organic Coconut Oil and Coconut Oil & Ghee as well as a Premium MCT LIquid Coconut Oil designed to be mixed into coffee and smoothies. The company states that medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are efficiently utilized by the body for energy production and helps in calorie burning". Exhibitor Mementa Inc focuses on coconut and natural food products by selling everything from USDA Organic coconut oil to coconut flour, coconut sugar, and toasted coconut chips to coconut milk and coconut water.

On the beverage front, multiple companies offered coconut water. The Vietnam Harvest Company Co., Ltd provided Sparkling Coconut Water in addition to Organic Coconut Cooking Oil. Copra offered a line of USDA Organic products - 100% Pure Coconut Water and Organic Coconut Smoothie made with 100% Young Coconut Water & Coconut Meat alongside Frozen Coconut Meat Smoothie Packs. Jasper Products offered CoconutSense Coconut Milk in both USDA Organic and non-organic varieties.  Companies are adding fruit juice to coconut to provide more flavor variety. Ace Farm Holdings had their Ace Farm Coconut Drink line that combines water, sugar, nata de coco, and natural coconut flavor. Nata de coco, also known as coconut jelly, is produced by the fermentation of coconut water. WooBo Coconut Fizz mixed sparkling coconut water (not from concentrate) with fruit juice and no added sugar.

Cold Brew Coffee

Numerous companies offered cold brew RTD (ready-to-drink) coffee at the show to participate in the fast-growing cold brew coffee category. Demand for cold brew coffee is rising because the process of steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 10+ hours creates a coffee with a smoother, less bitter taste. Heartland Food Products Group offered its JAVA HOUSE Cold Brew Coffee Co. in both shelf-stable concentrate and RTD bottle formats. The JAVA HOUSE RTD bottles came in Colombian Black, Coffee Cold Brew Frappe, and Vanilla Cold Brew Frappe varieties. At the Trilliant Food & Nutrition, LLC ’s booth, its Horseshoe Beverage Co. division offered a variety of shelf-stable RTD coffees including cold brew, latte, and energy beverages. Berner Food & Beverage’s shelf-stable RTD coffee included cold brew, iced lattes, coffee energy, and coffee nutrition. Gehl Foods, LLC and Steam Punk’d Roasters Ltd. both offered shelf-stable cold brew coffee. On the concentrate end, Synergy Flavors, Inc offered a wide variety of options to meet different price points including a premium 100% Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate and a Standard Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate with Synergy Pure Coffee Concentrate and coffee solubles. For the do-it-yourselfer, Pod Pack International, Ltd offered Cold Brew One pods that contain ground coffee in a micro-mesh filter. The Cold Brew One pods are designed to make a single 12oz serving at home with no mess in a glass in 8 to 12 hours.

Functional Coffee

The popularity of RTD coffee energy drinks such as Java Monster (from Monster Beverage Corp.) and Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Coffee Drink that blend coffee with energy-boosting ingredients like guarana and ginseng has led companies to offer private label varieties. Berner and Trilliant Food & Nutrition offered coffee energy varieties while Strategy & Execution Inc offered a 15oz RTD Espresso that contains 13g of protein. NuZee, Inc fused cold brew and functional benefits in its new line of Coffee Blenders shelf-stable RTD Cold Brew coffees – LEAN, THINK, RELAX, and ACTIVE. The THINK variety contains 200mg of American ginseng to enhance mental clarity and concentration while the LEAN variety contains 400mg of green coffee bean extract to promote weight loss. Coffee Blenders also offered its line of functional coffees in a Drip Cup Pour Over format and whole bean coffee format.

Trilliant Food & Nutrition’s Wellnova Consumer Healthcare division offered functional coffee packaged in capsules to be used in the single-serve coffee Keurig Brewers. Wellnova’s functional coffee pods are designed to offer health benefits without the disadvantages of taking pills or vitamin gummies. Its Café Complete Coffee & Protein variety is a 2-item pack, with a coffee pod and a separate protein packet with 10g of collagen protein. Other functional coffee pods in the line include Immune (with Wellmune immune support), Fiber (8g of prebiotic fiber), and Vitamin (12 vitamins and minerals).

Monday, November 6, 2017

Top Food Trends Seen at 2017 NACS Show

The National Association of Convenience Stores hosted its NACS Show from October 17 - 20, 2017 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In this article, I will highlight noteworthy trends in foods that I saw at the show – protein cookies & brownies, meat snacks innovation, and spicy notes. I previously wrote an article on non-alcoholic drinks trends from the show.

Protein Cookies & Brownies

Sales of protein bars are growing as they are consumed by a wide group of consumers beyond athletes and bodybuilders to busy consumers looking to add more protein to their diet as either a snack or a meal replacement product. Dollar sales of nutritional/intrinsichealth value bars grew by 3.4% to reach $2.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended April 16, 2017 in total U.S. multi-outlets according to data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). To build on the popularity of protein bars and expand the number of eating occasions, companies are creating better tasting products that offer the convenience and high protein content of snack bars in a more indulgent (albeit, a higher-calorie and sugar) format. A number of exhibitors offered protein cookies, brownies, and cakes that offer 12+g of protein per package.

Amplify Snack Brands, Inc extended its OATMEGA protein bar brand made with grass-fed whey protein into Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and White Chocolate Macadamia cookies. The Chocolate Chip OATMEGA Cookie contains 12g of protein, 330 calories, 12g of sugar, 10g of fiber, and DHA & EPA Omega-3s in 2.8oz cookie. Lenny & Larry’s, LLC offered their Complete Cookie which contains 16g of vegan protein (pea protein, rice protein, vital wheat gluten), 400 calories, 24g of sugar, and 10g fiber in a 4oz cookie in flavors such as Double Chocolate and Snickerdoodle. Honest Kitchens, LLC offered its Bake City COOKIE + PROTEIN whose vegan Espresso Dark Chocolate variety contains 22g of protein (from faba beans), 440 calories, 36g of sugar, and 6g of fiber in a 4oz cookie. Protein bar maker Quest Nutrition showed their Quest Protein Cookies at the show.  The display for the Quest Protein Cookies touted 15g of protein, 3g of sugar, and 12g of fiber per cookie, with the nutritional information varying by flavor. Nature’s Bounty Co’s MET-RX sports nutrition brand offered its MET-RX High Protein Chocolate Fudge Brownie with 24g of protein (soy protein, whey protein, egg white, and milk protein), 300 calories, and 18g of sugar in a 2.8oz brownie. Another high protein brownie was offered by Robert Irvine’s FIT CRUNCH. The FIT CRUNCH Whey Protein Brownie was developed by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and contains 15g protein, 5g sugar, and 190 calories. ThinkThin, LLC, a maker of protein bars, cereal, and powders; introduced the ThinkThin Protein Cakes with 12g of protein (milk protein, whey protein), 170 calories, and only 1g of sugar in a 1.48oz package. ThinkThin offers a dessert substitute through flavors of Birthday Cake, Chocolate Cake, and Red Velvet but minimizes sugar through the use of stevia leaf and monk fruit extracts.

Meat Snacks Innovation

Beef jerky has long been a convenience store staple as it offers a convenient, shelf-stable form of protein for workers, hikers, and fishermen. Dollar sales of dried meat snacks grew by 2.9% in convenience stores in the 52 weeks ended May 14, 2017 according to data from IRI. Today’s meat snacks are going beyond beef jerky and becoming more upscale and incorporating other ingredients including cheese. Demand for premium meat jerky, meat bars, and meat sticks has grown as a high-protein, minimally processed snack for health conscious men and women, boosted by the popularity of the Paleo diet and a desire for fewer, simpler ingredients in foods. Additionally, the idea of eating meat as a snack has been boosted by Kraft’s 2014 launch of refrigerated Oscar Mayer P3 Portable Protein Packs that combine Oscar Mayer Selects meats, Kraft natural cheeses, and Planters nuts.

Meat snacks exhibitors at the NACS Show showcased new sticks and meat snack packs that incorporate nuts and cheese. Individually wrapped meat sticks offer better portion control than meat jerky in resealable pouches. Organic Prairie, part of the Organic Valley organic dairy family, offered its Mighty Meat Sticks made with 100% Grassfed Beef that is USDA Certified Organic. Conagra Brands introduced new Slim Jim Premium Smoked Sticks that use either grass-fed 100% beef or 100% premium pork that is raised without hormones. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, owned by Halen Brands, Inc, introduced new Turkey Pepperoni Real Snack Sticks with 60 calories, 2g fat, and 9g protein. Oberto Brands launched new Pepperoni Jerky and Sticks. Link Snacks, Inc added Beef Sticks (made with 100% grass-fed beef) to its premium Lorissa’s Kitchen line that is geared towards women. Perky Jerky offered Beef (made with 100% grass-fed beef) and Turkey Sticks that are claimed to be "59% leaner than traditional sticks". Perky Jerky's sale sheet highlighted that it is targeting M3 = Millennial Moms With Money will drive current and future category growth". 

The popularity of meat & cheese snack packs is prompting companies to introduce shelf-stable varieties of meat & cheese/nut plates. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky showed shelf-stable Protein Packs that combine its meat jerky with dehydrated cheese (using a patented process) in its Real Steak Jerky – Original Recipe & Cheddar Cheese variety. Link Snacks Inc created Lorissa’s Kitchen Combos that combine meat jerky, nuts, and dried fruit in varieties such as Moroccan Market. Kraft Heinz introduced a shelf-stable variety of its refrigerated P3 Portable Protein Pack under the Planters brand that includes Planters peanuts, meat jerky, and sunflower seeds.

Adding nuts and fruits also allows companies to reach consumers who are not fans of meat snacks as these provide more textural and flavor variety. Oberto Brands introduced its Trail Mix with Original Beef Jerky that includes nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate pieces at the 2016 NACS Show.  The latest innovation in meat jerky is the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar from Premier Nutrition Corporation that appears aimed at consumers who want the high protein content of a protein bar but without a lot of sugar or any artificial sweeteners. The sale sheet for the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar states: "Real Jerky. Real Nuts. Really a Bar. 10g of Protein. Made with 100% American Beef. No Artificial Sweeteners". The sale sheet did not list the sugar content of the PowerBar. Also offering flavor and texture variety was the Farmer's Pantry line of meat with crisps. The United Snacks of America line included Chicken & Waffle Crisps (made with chicken breast), Bacon  & Cornbread, and Steak & Frites (beef jerky & French fry crisps).

On the refrigerated side, Kraft Heinz, Hormel Foods Corporation, and Tyson introduced new meat & cheese plates at the show. Kraft Heinz showed new Oscar Mayer Natural Meat & Cheese Plates (with meat, cheese, and whole wheat crackers) and new Oscar Mayer P3 Protein Plates (with meat, cheese, and dried berries).  Hormel introduced its Hormel Natural Choice snacks that are made for on-the-go snacking with meat, cheese, and dark chocolate-covered treat. Tyson extended its Hillshire Farm Small Plates line to include varieties with Beef and Pork Cuts. The small plates are inspired by wine & spirit flavors and include seasoned beef or pork and cheese in Smoky Bourbon, Whiskey & Brown Sugar, and Apple Chardonnay varieties.

Plant-Based and Vegan Options

There was no shortage of beef jerky, fried chicken, hot dogs, and sausage pizza at the show. At the same time, there were quite a number of companies offering plant-based foods to capitalized on the growing interest in plant-based foods due to ethical and health reasons. On the high protein end of vegan foods were EVOLVE and OWYN. CytoSport Holdings, Inc, owned by Hormel Foods Corporation, offered both its dairy-based MUSCLE MILK and its new EVOLVE plant-based protein brands at the show. The company offered EVOLVE ready-to-drink Protein Shakes made with 10-11 ingredients including 20g of pea protein, Protein Powder, and Protein Bars. Another clean label protein shake at the show was Halen Brands, Inc’s OWYN (Only What You Need) line. OWYN offered its line of Ready-To-Drink Shakes that contain 20g of plant-based protein from pea, pumpkin, and flaxseeds per 12oz serving. Vega, the maker of vegan protein powders and snack bars owned by Danone, offered Vega Protein + Snack Bars that are certified vegan and contain 10-11g of plant-based protein from peas, rice starch, brown rice, and hemp seeds. Premier Nutrition Corporation who introduced the PowerBar Jerky & Nut Bar at the show also sampled its PowerBar Plant Protein bars that contain 10g of protein from cashews, pea protein, rice flour, rice protein, pumpkin seeds, and cashew butter. Nature Delivered Inc, owner of the graze snacks and snack subscription box program, offered its Veggie Protein Power variety with 9g of protein from edamame beans, spicy chickpeas & black pepper cashews.

There were a number of vegan options geared toward the light snacking occasion with 5g or less of protein. Tofu producer House Foods sampled its refrigerated GO UMAMI Baked Tofu Bars that contain 5g of protein. GLK Foods, LLC offered GoBitos seasoned roasted chickpeas that have 5g of protein per 1oz serving. Rhythm Superfoods showcased its new Grab & Go Beet Chips and Kale Chips. By coating the Kale Chips with sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, the chips contain 4g of protein per 0.75oz serving. 

Gaea, a Greek company that specializes in Mediterranean products, introduced Veggie Snacks in Carrot, Cauliflower, and Gherkin varieties in recloseable pouches. Similar to its Gaea Olive Snack Packs, the Veggie Snacks contain no preservatives. Products aimed at health conscious parents included Materne’s GoGo squeeZ applesauce pouches and Brands Within Reach’s N.A! Nature Addicts Fruit Sticks – both of which contain 100% fruit and no added sugar, colors, or flavors.

Spicy Notes

Americans, especially younger ones, are embracing spicy flavors as they like to visit ethnic restaurants where Thai Sriricha, Korean gochujang, Moroccan harissa, and Yemenite Zhug hot sauces can be found. Exhibitors at the show incorporated spicy notes into both savory and sweet products. On the savory side, Picadilly Circus Pizza offered up samples of its Nashville Chicken Pizza, inspired by the popular and spicy Nashville Hot Chicken that is showing up on restaurant menus outside Nashville, Tennessee. Green Chile Food Company had a wide range of Southwestern frozen burritos (handmade in New Mexico) including the spicy Beef & Bean Burrito with green chile, cherry tomato salsa, and cheddar cheese. Another company to feature New Mexico’s chile peppers was Hormel Foods, LLC who offered the Hormel Hatch Chile Link that mixes pork sausage, scrambled eggs, cheese, and Hatch chiles from New Mexico in a sausage link.  

On the sweet side, Mars Wrigley showed its new Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat varieties that combine “fruity flavors with a spicy kick” to appeal to young consumers. Starburst Sweet Heat features Fiery Watermelon, Flamin’ Orange, Strawberry Mango, and Pipin' Pineapple. Also at the Mars Wrigley booth was COMBOS Honey Sriracha Baked Pretzel combining honey with the Sriracha hot sauce flavor. Nestlé USA sampled its NERDS Lucha Grande Guava and Mango Chile and Guava flavors varieties that are inspired by sweet, spicy Mexican candy and Mexican professional wrestling. Mondelez International introduced Sour Patch Kids Fire that fuses sweet, sour, and spicy notes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Top Non-Alcoholic Drinks Trends Seen at 2017 NACS Show

The National Association of Convenience Stores hosted its NACS Show from October 17 - 20, 2017 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In this article, I will highlight noteworthy trends in non-alcoholic drinks that I saw at the show – RTD coffee, cleaner energy drinks, zero-calorie sparkling waters, and unsweetened & lower-sugar RTD teas. I will be writing a separate article on food trends from the show.

1. RTD Coffee Outperforms Other Non-Alcoholic Drinks in C-Stores

Non-alcoholic drinks as a whole have not been doing well in convenience stores in 2017 according to figures from IRI cited by CSP DailyNews.com. Dollar sales of carbonated beverages, the largest category, declined by 3.3% in the 24-week period ended June 11, 2017. However, three categories did show growth – RTD coffee, RTD tea, and bottled water – in c-stores. Sales of RTD (ready-to-drink) coffee/tea and bottled water grew by 4.6% and 1.3%, respectively, in c-stores in the same time period. Given the strong performance of RTD coffee, it is not a surprise that many exhibitors offered RTD coffee products at the NACS Show. In fact, two of the top 10 rated products (based on scans by retailer attendees) in the show’s Cool New Products Preview Room were cold brew coffees. The number one product out of about 320 items was JAVA HOUSE Authentic Cold Brew Coffee from Heartland Food Products Group (available in both concentrate and RTD bottle formats) while the number three product was STOK Cold Brew Coffee Bulk (in 1.5 gallon RTD bags to be used in a proprietary dispenser) from DanoneWave Away From Home. RTD coffee, especially the cold brew variants, have shown strong growth as they meet consumers’ desires for healthy, flavorful, and convenient energy with a list of simple, easy to pronounce ingredients.

Cold brew coffee has been one of the fastest growing subsegments within coffee in both retail and foodservice outlets because the process of steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 10+ hours creates a coffee with a smoother, less bitter taste. At the show, Chameleon Cold-Brew Coffee introduced a new refreshing twist to cold brew coffee with its Sparkling Cold-Brew Coffee line in Ginger, Citrus, Spiced Vanilla, and Black varieties in 12oz cans to its USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Certified Organic cold brew coffee line. New Age Beverages introduced its Marley Cold Brew Coffee in 11oz cans as a more premium offering to its existing Marley One Drop line. The sell sheet for Marley Cold Brew states that the coffee “is steeped for 16 hours in stainless steel wine tanks, then pressed and filtered for clarity”.

Seeing the trend in cold brew coffee-based cocktails, Café Agave introduced Café Agave Spiked Cold Brew in 187ml (6.3oz) cans. The Spiked Cold Brews are made with Arabica coffee, contain 10% alcohol by volume, and are “Wine License Approved” according to the sell sheet.

Innovation in RTD coffee is not limited to small companies. The largest player in U.S. RTD coffee is the North American Coffee Partnership (NACP) created in 1994 between PepsiCo and Starbucks that sells the number one Starbucks Frappuccino brand.  At the NACS Show, NACP launched the Starbucks Frappuccino Chilled Coffee Drink with Almondmilk in vanilla and mocha varieties to reach younger consumers who are increasingly looking for plant-based options. NACP added two new flavors – Vanilla & Fig and Unsweetened Black – to its Starbucks Cold Brew line and will be launching Starbucks Doubleshot Coffee Smoothies using bananas and almond milk in Dark Chocolate Banana and Vanilla Honey Banana varieties.

The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) was a later entrant to the U.S. RTD coffee market with the creation of its global joint venture with Italy’s illycaffè SpA in 2008 but now aims to become a bigger player in RTD coffee with a multi-brand RTD coffee strategy. In early 2017, TCCC launched the Dunkin’ Donuts bottled Iced Coffee beverages in partnership with the donut & coffee shop chain and added Cold Brewed Coffee varieties to its Gold Peak RTD tea line. At the show, TCCC introduced McCafé Frappés  – RTD coffees (in 13.7oz PET bottles) created in partnership with the McDonald’s restaurant chain in Caramel, Mocha and Vanilla flavors. Additionally, TCCC owns 16.7 percent of Monster Beverage Corp. who makes Java Monster RTD coffees that combine coffee, dairy, and Monster’s energy drink ingredients. Monster launched two new RTD coffee lines at the show that are more premium than Java Monster. Espresso Monster is billed as “3 shots of espresso with a shot of cream” and contains taurine and B vitamins in an 8.4oz can. Caffé Monster Energy Coffee comes in 13.7oz glass bottles.

2. Cleaner Energy Drinks and Caffeinated Waters

Energy drinks are seeing some of their consumers move toward alternatives such as RTD coffee and caffeinated water as consumers show a preference for products with “clean labels” – a short list of pronounceable ingredients. Sales of energy drinks declined by 0.9% in c-stores in the 24-week period ended June 11, 2017. Energy shots such as5-Hour Energy are struggling, with dollar sales down 2.3% for 52 weeks ended December 25, 2016 per IRI data for U.S. convenience stores. Forto Coffee aims to be a bridge between RTD coffee and energy shots with its USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified, cold brew formula that contains a short list of ingredients including water, coffee extract, milk, cane sugar, natural flavors, caffeine, and baking soda. The company introduced two new flavors - Hershey's Chocolate in partnership with the confectionary company and Pure Black Espresso. Forto Coffee is billed as a “Ready-to-Drink Energy Shot” in a 2oz shelf-stable format.

Makers of “clean” energy drinks aim to take share from Red Bull and Monster Energy by offering a shorter ingredient list, using organic or natural ingredients, and not using preservatives. Organic energy drinks pioneers – Hiball Energy (acquired by Anheuser-Busch in July 2017), GURU Energy Drink, and Steaz (purchased by Novamex in August 2016) sampled their products at the show.

Organic energy drinks are becoming more mainstream as evidenced by PepsiCo introducing AMP Organic Energy Drinks at the show. PepsiCo also introduced Yachak Organic Yerba Mate that contains 160mg of caffeine per 16oz can and is USDA Certified Organic and fair for life fair trade certified. New Age Beverages introduced Marley Yerba Mate that is also USDA Organic. These sweetened yerba mate products could be considered organic energy drinks or RTD teas.

Other energy drinks companies are positioning their products as natural and using unique packaging to stand out on shelves. +Red Elixir comes from a fashion background as the founder of Rock & Republic and knows how to make a splash. The company hosted a musical performance by CeeLo Green at its booth to promote its line of beverages - Power Elixir, Power 20 Elixir, Rescue Elixir - that are “made with 100% natural flavors, no artificial sweeteners or colors” and the addition of red marine algae. +Red Elixir’s proprietary 12oz cans with a cap do not look like other energy drinks.

UPTIME Energy markets its energy drink as “premium energy with a balanced boost” with a “clean ingredient panel…featuring one fifth the ingredients of other leading energy drinks”. Part of the premium positioning for UPTIME Energy is reflected in the use of tall, slim 12oz resealable aluminum bottles.  

In addition to their Avitae original and flavored caffeine + water and sparkling caffeine + water, Avitae offered their AvitaeXR Extended Release Caffeine product that contains 250mg of caffeine. After the initial dose of 125mg of caffeine, the ZUMXR proprietary energy blend in a caffeine bead format slowly releases 125mg of caffeine over three to four hours. The clear 12oz PET cans allow the consumer to see the caffeine beads after the can is shaken.

In addition to coffee shots and clean energy drinks, companies are also using caffeinated waters to reach out to consumers who want a boost of energy with minimal ingredients. At the NACS Show, Avitae, Hiball Energy, Hint Water, and Klarbrunn offered their caffeinated waters that provide consumers an alternative to colas and energy drinks for the afternoon slump. Klarbrunn introduced BUBBL’R Antioxidant Sparkling Water to appeal to multiple groups - Generation Z (born 1995-2010), millennials (born 1980-1995), and Generation X (born 1965-1980) mothers for the family. A 12oz can of BUBBL’R contains 70mg of caffeine (about one cup of coffee) from white tea extract and green coffee bean extracts, A and B vitamins, and 5 calories. The company says that BUBBL’R is USDA compliant for high schools.

3. Zero-Calorie Sparkling Waters 

In addition to caffeinated waters, zero-calorie sparkling waters are driving growth in bottled waters as health conscious consumers seek out alternatives to carbonated soda. National Beverage Corp.’s La Croix is the most popular flavored, unsweetened sparkling water in the U.S. and continues to show strong growth. Industry players believe that sparkling water has a lot more room to grow. The Coca-Cola Company announced its acquisition of Mexico’s Topo Chico sparkling mineral water brand on October 2. Topo Chico offered Topo Chico Twist of Lime and Topo Chico Twist of Grapefruit in 12oz glass bottles at the show. Nestlé Waters offered its regional (including Ice Mountain Sparkling, Poland Spring, and Zephyrhills) sparkling waters in 12oz cans as well as PET bottles. Previously, the company offered these sparkling waters in PET bottles. Nestlé’s sell sheet citing Nielsen Homescan data stated that new entrants comprise 64% of sparkling waters category growth and that most of these shoppers want flavor options. Talking Rain Beverage Company introduced a new flavor – Ginger Lime – to its popular sweetened zero-calorie Sparkling Ice line at the show. VOSS Water of Norway introduced a new Lime Mint flavor to its sparkling water line. Another premium flavored sparkling water at the show was Hiball Energy's zero-calorie Alta Palla Sparkling Waters that are USDA Organic.

4. Unsweetened and Lower-Sugar RTD Teas

Consumers looking for alternatives to carbonated soda are turning to unsweetened or lower-sugar RTD teas. While few companies offered unsweetened RTD tea options five years ago, consumers now have several options to choose from. At the NACS Show, The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) introduced Gold Peak in Unsweetened Raspberry and Unsweetened Lemon as well as a Slightly Sweet Lemon Tea in 18.5oz PET bottles. Honest Tea, maker of USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified RTD teas, introduced Unsweet Mint Green Tea and offered Moroccan Mint Tea with 8 grams of sugar and 35 calories per 16 oz glass bottle. According to TCCC, unsweetened tea is the fastest growing segment in RTD tea and mint flavored teas are growing at 20 percent annually. Sugar content is the first point of decision-making in RTD tea purchases according to  Scott Tillman, Director, Retail Channel Strategy & Commercialization for TCCC. Fuze will also be relaunching as Fuze Antioxidant & Vitamin Infused in January 2018, with two of the four new flavors at 10 calories per 16.9oz bottle.

Bai Brands LLC introduced new packaging for its 5-calorie (and 1 gram of sugar) Bai Antioxidant SUPERTEA at the show. Bai, acquired by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group in January 2017, is best known for its 5-calorie enhanced flavored waters. With the packaging redesign that emphasizes SUPERTEA, the company wants retailers to display its SUPERTEA next to other RTD teas instead of with Bai’s functional waters. 

Argo Tea, owner of a tea cafe chain, offered several RTD teas at its booth including Unsweetened Tea, Signature Drink Originals, and Teappuccinos made with almond milk. The company's newest offering is Cold Brew RTD teas that contain 20 calories (and use fair trade cane sugar) per 13.5oz glass bottle. The Cold Brew RTD teas are produced using a cold brew process and are being rolled out to Whole Foods Market stores this month. The three varieties are Armenian Mint, First Flush Darjeeling, and First Flush Gyokuro. 

After test marketing its Teavana Craft Iced Tea in select markets beginning in February 2017, Starbucks and its manufacturing and distribution partner Anheuser-Busch launched the super premium RTD tea line at the NACS Show. Two of the six varieties are unsweetened – Meyer Lemon Black Tea and Strawberry Apple Green Tea.