Thursday, September 21, 2017

Top 5 Trends Seen at Expo East 2017

I had the pleasure of attending Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, a trade show that encompasses natural, organic, and functional foods & beverages, vitamins & dietary supplements, beauty & personal care, and more. Expo East is the smaller fall counterpart to Expo West (the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event) that is held annually in March in Anaheim, California. New Hope Network organized the trade show and educational sessions that attracted over 1,500 exhibitors from September 13-16, 2017. During my four days at the show, I tasted lots of products that contained collagen or probiotics, were fermented or plant-based, as well as healthy frozen desserts. Off-the-trade show events of the Harvest Festival, Press Luncheon, Run Clinic and Shake Out with Olympian Nick Willis sponsored by SOS Hydration, and the Community Breakfast gave me a chance to talk one-on-one with many exhibitors.

1. Collagen

Skin care devotees may already be familiar with collagen as both topical and ingestible formulations have been around for years promising to increase collagen production for younger looking skin and stronger hair and nails. Collagen consumption is also associated with helping joints. Collagen was everywhere at Expo East, with some exhibitors going beyond skin, hair, and joint benefits. NeoCell Corporation has been around since 1998 and focuses on skin care benefits with its health and fitness Glow Getters message. It served collagen coffee and collagen pancakes (made with its NeoCell Super Collagen Powder) at its tent outside the Baltimore Convention Center while Celebrity Chef Charles Chen held cooking demonstrations at its main booth to promote #cookingwithcollagen. NeoCell also offered NeoCell Collagen Cookie Bars containing 12-13g of protein. Another dietary supplements company Reservage Nutrition focused on a “Beauty From Within” message with its collagen line available in a number of different formats including bone broth bags, capsules, chews, liquid shots, powders, and tea bags. 

Vital Proteins, producer of Grass Fed Pasture Raised Collagen Peptides, went beyond the benefiting hair, skin, nails, bones, joints, muscles, and tendons message by stating that that collagen “also helps support better digestion, improved gut health, and overall wellness”. The company sampled Vital Proteins collagen coffee creamers in unflavored and gingerbread flavors, matcha collagen, organic bone broth infusion, and three collagen coolers at its truck. Though collagen is only one of many components in in bone broth, companies such as Ancient Nutrition are highlighting the collagen content. Ancient Nutrition states that the collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid and key electrolyte minerals in its Bone Broth Protein can “support the health of your gut, joints, muscles, skin and healthy detoxification”. In addition to the Ancient Nutrition brand, the company also makes Dr. Axe Multi Collagen Protein which contains five types of food source collagen: Type I, II, III, V, and X.

The continued popularity of the Paleo, Keto, Whole30, and Bulletproof diets supports increased demand for collagen as collagen is typically derived from animal proteins (cows, chickens) and is compatible with these diets. Primal Kitchen, which bills itself as Paleo Approved, offered a line of Grass-Fed Collagen Bars with 15g of protein in chocolate hazelnut, macadamia sea salt, dark chocolate almond, and coconut cashew varieties. Dr. Don Colbert, M.D., author of Dr. Colbert’s Keto Zone Diet, offered Hydrolyzed Collagen, Instant Ketones, and MCT Oil Powder at his Divine Health Don Colbert, M.D. booth. Bulletproof, who popularized the concept of brain-boosting butter coffee made with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, offered Collagen Protein powders, Collagelatin powders, collagen protein bars in fudge brownie, lemon cookie, and vanilla shortbread flavors; in addition to coffees, Brain Octane oils, and dietary supplements at its booth.

2. Plant-based

Plant-based was a big theme at Expo East, both on the show floor and in the educational sessions. Four workshops on Friday, September 15 were devoted to the plant-based track. According to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), plant-based food sales in the U.S. grew by 8.1 percent in 2016 to reach $3.1 billion while overall food sales declined by 0.2 percent per data from market researcher Nielsen.  Excitement about plant-based foods was high at the show, especially given Nestlé’s September 7 announcement that it was purchasing Sweet Earth, a California-based maker of plant-based foods such as frozen burritos, frozen meals, and refrigerated plant-based proteins Harmless Ham and Benevolent Bacon. Plant-based products at the show included fish-free alternatives, cheeses, yogurts, milks, meats, meals, and protein bars & drinks.

Good Catch Foods made a splash at the show with chef-created, plant-made fish-free tuna and burgers and crab-free cakes that are made with peas, lentils, chickpeas, soy, and five beans and contain 17g of protein per serving as well as Omega-3 DHA from algal oil. Given consumer concerns about overfishing, attendees responded favorably to the company’s slogan “We’re culinary rebels with a cause. Seafood without sacrifice”. Good Catch was not the only exhibitor to offer fish-free products. Atlantic Natural Foods rebranded its Loma Linda plant protein brand that has been around since 1890 with a clean look and label and a new meal solutions line. Three of the products in the Loma Linda line are Fishless Tuna in Thai Sweet Chili, Sesame Ginger, and Lemon Pepper varieties. Unlike most other plant-based fish and meat alternatives that are chilled or frozen, the Loma Linda products are shelf-stable. Quorn USA introduced Quorn Vegan Fishless Sticks stating on its sell sheet that “Frozen Meatless Fish Sales are Under Indexed”. The show even had vegan sushi. Plant Based Foods offered a 100% plant based Mozza Vegan Sushi made with sprouted brown rice and filled with their MozzaRisella vegan cheese. The company makes MozzaRisella vegan cheese in block, slices, and spreadable formats with sprouted brown rice. 

Vegan cheeses at the show came in brown rice, almond, cashew, and other varieties. Miyoko’s Kitchen, a maker of vegan cheeses, introduced new Homestyle Vegan Cream Cheese in Plainly Delicious, Un-Lox Your Dreams, and Sensational Scallion varieties and Pub Cheese in Cheers to Chedda, Beer Garden Garlic, and Chive flavors at the show. Founder Miyoko Schinner, author of Artisan Vegan Cheese, produces Artisan Vegan Cheeses with organic cashews using traditional techniques. Daiya offered a full line of dairy-free cheeses including Cream Cheeze Style Spread, Shreds, and Farmhouse Blocks using a combination of tapioca starch, coconut oil, pea protein isolate, potato protein isolate, and coconut cream. Kite Hill calls itself a maker of “Artisan Almond Milk Foods” and offered Cream Cheese Style Spread, Ricotta, and Soft Fresh cheese varieties. The company also offered almond milk-based Greek-Style Yogurt, Yogurt Tubes, Drinkable Yogurt, and European Yogurt.

On the meatless meats and meals side, long-time vegan maker Tofurky was joined by newer companies including Alpha Foods, Drink Eat Well, LLC (Hilary’s), No Evil Foods, and VANA Life Foods. Tofurky, known for its tofu and seitan (wheat gluten)-based Tofurky Roast, introduced a DIY line of Grounds that are gluten-free in Burger, Chorizo, Breakfast Sausage, and Italian Style Sausage varieties that are made with “Pasture Raised Plants”. Despite the growth in gluten-free foods, there is still strong demand for seitan (wheat gluten) which provides a chewy texture. Alpha Foods sampled its 100% Plant Based and vegan All-Day Burritos in four flavors including Philly Sandwich, Chick’ N Fajita, Mexicali, and PIzza. The company uses a proprietary blend of soy and wheat as the protein in its burritos while the cheese is made from coconut oil. No Evil Foods sampled its El Zapatista Chorizo (made with vital wheat gluten) in tacos and its sausage and pulled pork varieties (also made with vital wheat gluten) in Donut Sliders format at the show.

Among the numerous companies offering nut milks and other plant-based milks at the show, Elmhurst Milked, LLC stood out. In October 2016, Elmhurst Dairy exited the cow milk-based business and changed its name to Elmhurst Milked LLC to focus on shelf-stable nut-based milks using a patented cold milling process. After launching Elmhurst Milked Milked Almonds, Milked Hazelnuts, Milked Walnuts, and Milked Cashews varieties at Expo West in March 2017, the company introduced Elmhurst Milked Milked Oats, Milked Brown Rice, Milked Peanuts, Milked Peanuts – Chocolate, Milked Almonds – Unsweetened, and Milked Hazelnuts – Unsweetened varieties at Expo East. Another company producing cashew milk is the Forager Project that uses cashews in a wide variety of foods including Cashewgurt, Smoothies, and Drinkable Cashewgurt. Swedish company Oatly sampled its Oatmilk made from oats. Oatly uses a patented manufacturing process to retain loose oat fibers (heart-healthy beta-glucans) in the chilled oatmilks. Milkadamia added an unsweetened vanilla variety to its line of macadamia nut-based milks. Canadian Global Gardens Group sampled its Veggemo “The Non-Dairy Milk Originating From Veggies” that uses pea protein for protein, tapioca starch for texture, and potato starch for color.

What’s interesting about the growth in plant-based foods is that new product launches are not only coming from companies that specialize in plant-based foods such as Sequel Naturals ULC (Vega) but from companies that have had a long history of using animal protein. At the show, CytoSport Holdings, Inc. (the makers of MUSCLE MILK), Lifeway, and White Cloud Nutrition Inc. (Kura) offered plant-based products. Hormel Foods Corporation, maker of SPAM luncheon meat, acquired CytoSport in 2014. In February 2017, CytoSport introduced its EVOLVE plant-based brand. At Expo East, the company offered EVOLVE ready-to-drink Protein Shakes made with 10-11 ingredients including 20g of pea protein, Protein Powder, and Protein Bars. Kura started out as a brand of Grass Fed Dairy Protein powders using milk and whey from New Zealand pasture-raised cows. At the show, Kura launched a plant based protein powders that contain organic pea, oat, and organic sunflower protein. Lifeway, the largest maker of kefir in the U.S., introduced Plantiful, a new dairy-free, plant-based protein drink made with peas, hemp and rice protein with five dairy-free kefir cultures. 

3. Fermented Foods & Drinks

There was a wide array of fermented foods and drinks at the show as companies sought to promote the health benefits of naturally occurring probiotics created during the fermentation process. On the drinks side, numerous kombucha makers were at Expo East including Buchi, Health-Ade, KeVita, LIVE, and Townshend’s Brew Dr. Kombucha to promote their beverages made with fermented tea. Fermented coffee was present at the show’s Natural Business School’s Pitch-Slam Competition. Camille Delebecque, PhD, the CEO and Co-Founder of Afineur presented on his company's eatCultured Cultured Coffee. He claims that the fermentation process produces a coffee that is easy to digest (lower in acid and stomach irritants), sustained energy (via bioactive compounds and lower caffeine), and no bitterness (with fruit and chocolate flavors).

On the food side, a number of companies offered up sauerkraut and kimchi made with fermented cabbage and salt. Mama O’s Premium Kimchi and Lucky Food offered authentic Korean kimchi. Eden Foods offered a line of organic sauerkraut including a kimchi variety. Jacob’s Raw promoted its line of Raw Organic Krauts including a caraway kraut using a classic Polish home recipe and Raw Cultured Tonics such as beet ginger with no added sugar. Wildbrine offered not just kimchi and sauerkraut but a Spicy Kimchi Sriracha and Live Shots in Korean Spicy Kimchi flavor. 

Not all of the fermented products seen at Expo East need refrigeration. GloryBee introduced Artisan Fermented Honey that is produced in Thailand. Pure longan blossom honey is placed in traditional ceramic casks, green tea is added, and then placed in oak barrels to age for a total of six months. Afterwards, the Artisan Fermented Honey is finished with more longan honey to add a sweet taste to the vinegar-like condiment. Fermentation is also showing up in dietary supplements. At the show, SoTru offered a variety of drink mixes including Organic Fermented Cacao Greens and Organic Fermented Medicinal Mushrooms, with the company saying that “fermentation breaks down otherwise indigestible plant materials, while releasing full nutritional potency and ensuring maximum digestion and assimilation”. New Chapter, Inc says that its New Chapter Fermented Booster Powders in varieties including Fermented Black Seed, Turmeric, Aloe, and Maca are “fermented with probiotics and easily digestible”.

4. Probiotics

There is quite a bit of cross over between fermented foods and probiotic-rich foods as the fermentation process can sometimes lead to the production of probiotic cultures. One of the companies leveraging the dual fermented and probiotics trends is Farmhouse Culture. The company makes sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, fermented beverages, and crisps made out of sauerkraut. In the case of its Gut Punch Sparkling Probiotic Veggie Drink, Farmhouse Culture starts with a fermented vegetable base (filtered water, cabbage, sea salt, caraway) and then adds flavors, sweeteners, and Ganaden’s probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086. Similarly, the company’s Kraut Krisps begin with fermented sauerkraut as a base and then adds oil, brown rice flour, flavors, and GBI-30 6086.

Probiotics were found in a wide variety of foods and drinks at Expo East. NextFoods had one of the largest selections of probiotic-containing foods at the show. The company launched GoodBelly Probiotic Infused Beverages and GoodBelly Strawberry Banana Juice Drink that contain 20 billon probiotics and are USDA Certified Organic. NextFoods also launched GoodBelly Probiotic Nutrition Bar that contains one billion probiotics per serving and require no refrigeration. The company also has a GoodBelly Coconut Water that is USDA Certified Organic with 20 billion probiotic cultures per serving. A number of other companies also offered probiotic coconut beverages. Inner-eco offered Probiotic Coconut Water that is made with coconut water and kefir cultures. Harmless Harvest offered Harmless Coconut Probiotics that are USDA Certified Organic, with 12.5 billion CFUs, a number of live and active cultures, including L. acidophilus and GBI-30 6086, and over 5g of MCTs from coconut meat. One unique use of probiotics was in Freed Foods Inc’s nm nurturme’s Ancient Grain Cookies that the company says is “the first-ever ancient grain cookie with probiotics”. The cookies are made with organic ingredients of millet, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, potato starch, tapioca starch, as well as GBI-30 6086.

There were many probiotic smoothies and meal replacement drinks at Expo East. Evolution Fresh introduced two Probiotic Smoothies that are USDA Certified Organic and contain Ganaden’s GBI-30 6086. Evolution Complete Probiotic Smoothies made with coconut milk, a plant-based protein blend (peas, pumpkin, chia, and brown rice), juices, and oat bran while the Evolution Daily Probiotic Smoothies are made with coconut milk, juices, and ground chia. Inner-eco offered Probiotic Smoothie Packs that combine frozen fruit with GBI-30 6086. TruVibe Organics LLC introduced a line of Eat Clean Organic Meals that are USDA Certified Organic and contain 15+g of protein per 12oz serving. The Watermelon, Pineapple & Moringa variety contains organic juices, pea and rice proteins, hemp seeds, Reishi mushroom extract, chaga mushroom extract, moringa, and GBI-30 6086.

5. Healthy Frozen Desserts

Many companies offered better-for-you alternatives to ice cream at the show as consumers are looking for healthy indulgence. Fronana For Life and Snow Monkey use frozen bananas as a base. Banana “ice cream” has been embraced by food bloggers including Paleo dieters because it is vegan, dairy-free, and contains no added sugars. Fronana The BANANA based ice cream alternative is marketed as being under 100 calories per serving, containing four servings of fruit per pint, with zero added sugars, vegan and paleo diet friendly, low glycemic and diabetic friendly, and free of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat). Snow Monkey adds apple puree, hemp protein powder, sunflower seeds, and maple syrup to create what it calls a “Superfood Ice Treat” that is marketed as Non GMO, Plant Based 21g per pint Protein, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan, Paleo, and Nut Free. Similar to Snow Monkey, ARTIC ZERO highlights its protein content. ARCTIC ZERO Fit Frozen Desserts are marketed as containing 10-12g of protein and 12g of fiber and 300 calories per pint through the use of hormone-free whey protein concentrate, sugarcane fiber, and monk fruit. The bars contain 3g of protein, 2g of fiber, and 80 calories. Arctic Zero is also low glycemic, lactose free, gluten free, and GMO free. The company added Cherry Chocolate Chunk, Peanut Butter Swirl and Rocky Road Trip varieties to its Chunky Pints line and a Cake Batter flavor to its bars.

Minimal ingredients and allergy-friendly status is important to many consumers. Chloe’s Fruit states that its products are free of the eight major allergens. The Chloe’s Pops contain a short list of ingredients - fruit, water, and organic cane sugar - and are also dairy free, gluten free, vegan, kosher pareve, and Non-GMO Project Verified. Deebee’s Organics Organic Fruit Pops watermelon variety also has a short ingredient list with organic watermelon puree, Fair Trade organic cane sugar, and organic guar gum to create a bar with 40 calories and 10g of sugar. Incredible Foods, Inc markets its perfectlyfree frozen bites (30 calories each) and pints of scoopable non-dairy frozen dessert as “allergy-friendly frozen treats”. The company states that perfectlyfree is “Allergy Big 8 Friendly” and free from the eight major allergens including “tree nuts (except coconut)”. Coconuts are considered to be tree nuts but used by many vegan frozen desserts maker because it lends a creamy texture to the desserts. Revolution Gelato uses organic coconut cream, cane sugar, and cashews in its gelatos. At the Buono (Thailand) Co., Ltd., they offered Buono Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert in Coconut Milk and Cashew Milk varieties as well as Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Mochi Ice.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Snacking and Convenience in Fresh Produce at United Fresh 2017

The United Fresh Produce Association hosted its annual United Fresh trade show and conference from June 13-15, 2017 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. At this year’s show, the show organizers split the show into two sections - United FreshMKT Expo and United FreshTEC Expo - to provide a more personalized experience for attendees. FreshMKT Expo was targeted at attendees involved in marketing and product development while FreshTEC Expo was geared toward individuals involved in technology, robotics, and supply chain. At the show, I saw and tasted multiple products offering snacking and convenience.

Americans Love to Snack

Plenty of snack options were offered at the show. Introducing snack products offers a growth opportunity for fresh produce companies as Americans enjoy snacking. According to The Hartman Group’s The Future of Snacking 2016 report, 91% of U.S. consumers snack many times a day and snacking accounts for 50% of all eating occasions. "Snacking is a behavior, not a category," according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel. During her presentation at the May Sweets & Snacks Expo, Dornblaser said that "U.S. snackers overwhelmingly feel anything can be a snack." and "what defines a snack is not the category but the level of convenience and how it's used."

Fresh Convenience Snack Break

I had a chance to try many fruit and vegetable snacks during the Fresh Convenience Snack Break segment of the United FreshMKT Conference when 13 companies offered samples. Snacks offered at the snack break were grab and go options requiring no or minimal preparation (such as rinsing under water). Among the snacks sampled during the break, Naturipe snack packs from Naturipe Farms, LLC with fresh strawberries, salted nuts, and cheese stood out. I had never seen packaged washed fresh strawberries outside of a fresh fruit cup before. This line of snack packs aims to appeal to consumers who are looking for a mix of flavors and textures. Its Sweet & Smokey variety provides a multi-sensory experience with strawberries, blueberries, smokey almonds, and Monterey Jack cheese.

Many of the snaking options at the break offered a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. Del Fresco Produce aims to create excitement by providing “flavor, texture and variety” by including eight tomato varieties in its Mini Mixers Gourmet Snacking Tomatoes. Ready Pac Foods sampled its READY SNAX snack packs including varieties such as Fruit & Flabread with apples, grapes, cheddar cheese, and flatbread during the break. The company invested heavily in sampling at the show by installing a TWEET FOR FREE READY SNAX vending machine near the registration desk. Attendees who tweeted about the product with a special code received a free READY SNAX.

Children's Snacks

In terms of kid appeal, several companies offered several snack products during the Fresh Convenience Snack Break. Pure Hothouse Foods offered Mini Munchies in a colorful stand-up pouch. Mini Munchies are designed for children’s lunches with Juno Bites grape tomatoes, Aurora Bites mini peppers, and Poco Bites cocktail cucumbers. Mucci Farms offered Veggie-to-Go 3-packs that are perforated with one pack each of cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and peppers. 

Crunch Pak sampled its apple slices with the packaging touting “25 calories per serving” at the snack break and new Apple Rings at its booth. On the main show floor, Dole Food Company showcased Dole GO Berries 3-packs that are perforated offer “snap, rinse and go convenience” with snack-size portions of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Snacks With Health Benefits 

Great flavor is key to a snack’s retail success, with 85% of respondents in a Technomic survey citing “flavor or taste” as the primary factor in choosing a snack. However, consumers are also looking for health benefits as 51% of consumers said that healthfulness is important in selecting a snack in Technomic’s 2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report.

Consumers already have a favorable health opinion of fruits and vegetables because of their fresh, unprocessed image. Raising the protein content or using avocadoes with their “good fat” image can further elevate shopper appeal as consumers associate protein consumption with multiple benefits including energy, recovery, weight-loss, and healthier skin and hair according to New Nutrition Business as cited by Christine Pelkman, PhD, Senior Scientist at Campbell Soup Company. Reichel Foods, Inc extended its PRO2snax produce and protein line (with a 60 day shelf life) with a new PRO2snax to the max line. While the original PRO2snax offered 3-6 grams of protein per snack pack, the new PRO2snax to the max offers 13-17g of protein per snack pack. One of the varieties includes sliced apples, turkey sausage bites, white cheddar cheese, and dried cranberries. 

Avocado-based snacks were plentiful at United Fresh. Good Foods Group sampled its 80-calorie Chunky Guacamole single-serve packs with tortilla chips at the Fresh Convenience Snack Break. At its booth, Good Foods Group offered a range of high-protein single-serve snack packs including Chickpea Quinoa Salad with 6 grams of protein and Artichoke Jalapeno Dip (made with Greek Yogurt) & Tortilla Chips with 7 grams of protein. Bejo Seeds Inc offered 100-calorie Yucatan Guacamole Singles during the snack break. MegaMexFoods LLC (a division of Hormel Foods) offered samples of its new Wholly Guacamole Layered Dips in three varieties including Black Bean Over Guacamole) and showed its100-calorie Wholly Avocado Chunky Minis cups and 45-calorie Wholly Avocado Verde Minis Cups. On the drinkable snacks side, Sonatural Juices offered Apple/Pear Avocado Cucumber/Spinach juice that has been produced with HPP (high pressure processing).

Providing Convenience To Compete Against Restaurants and Meal Kits

Food retailers (and the produce processors supplying them) are increasingly competing not just against other retailers but against restaurants and meal kit providers that offer a more convenient way to eat meals. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, food away from home’s share of total U.S. Food expenditure rose from a high of 49.0 percent in 2007, fell to 48.5 percent in 2008 during the recession, and reached 50.1 percent in 2014, to overtake at-home food sales for the first time.

Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and other meal kit providers are also taking share away from supermarkets by providing pre-portioned meats, vegetables, fruits, grains, and spices along with recipes. Meal kits are now a $2.2 billion business according to food industry consulting firm Pentallect.

To compete against foodservice operators and meal kits, produce companies are introducing more convenient yet restaurant-quality products to reduce preparation time and effort. Mastronardi Produce partnered with celebrity chef Roger Mook to create a 15-minute dinner solution. The SUNSET MInzano pasta kit contains Minzano saucing tomatoes, dried Italian pasta, and a spice packet. Ready Pac Foods created Fresh Prep’d SoupKits and Wrap Kits to enter the $8.3 billion fresh prepared meal category as defined by market research firm IRI. The Fresh Prep’d Soup Kit aims to offer the taste of freshly made soup in three minutes by including everything needed for the soup - crisp vegetables and lean protein in separate compartments and a broth concentrate. Additionally, the Asian Inspired Beef variety allows Americans to easily recreate a Vietnamese classic by including rice noodle, cabbage, beef pho concentrate, beef steak strips, lemon, jalapeno, and cilantro without having to visit several areas of the grocery store.

Spiralized Vegetables

Spiralizing vegetables to create vegetable “noodles” has been popular for a few years among consumers looking to reduce their intake of calories and wheat flour and increase their consumption of vegetables. However, not everyone is willing to invest the time in using a spiralizer device to create these veggie noodles. At the show, Veggie Noodle Co offered the first pre-packaged, all organic spiralized vegetables in zucchini, sweet potato, butternut and beet varieties with the "Simple But Twisted" tagline. The Veggie Noodle suggested multiple preparation methods - raw, sautéed as a pasta alternative, with sauce; as a side, salad, or soup. Green Giant Fresh markets its line of vegetable noodles in beet, butternut squash, carrot, sweet potato and zucchini varieties as “gluten-free, paleo-friendly, nutritious and delicious”. The company aims to appeal to different consumers and eating occasions by offering three different sizes ranging from family to single-serve: 20 oz clamshell, 12 oz pouch, and 6 oz bowl. 

Cauliflower “Rice”

Carb-conscious consumers such as those on the Paleo diet and the calorie-conscious have been making their own cauliflower “rice” in food processors to replace rice and to make wheat-free pizza crusts. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have also offered fresh packaged versions of cauliflower rice for a few years. Now, there are more cauliflower options for consumers. Apio, Inc sponsored the show’s June 15 breakfast and served eggs with their new Cauliflower Rice. Other cauliflower rice seen at the show included Cauliflower Crumbles “Fried Rice” Blend from Farm Day Organic and Green Giant Fresh Cauliflower Crumbles “Fried Rice” Blend. The “Fried Rice” Blend with chopped cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and onions is the latest addition to the original Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cold Brew Makes a Big Splash at the 2017 Coffee Fest Chicago Show

Coffee Fest hosted its eighth Chicago trade show from June 9-11, 2017 at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The organizers focused on cold brew coffee at this year's show with the addition of Cold Brew U and America’s Best Cold Brew Competition. The emphasis on cold brew coffee is not surprising as cold brew coffee is one of the fastest growing segments in U.S. beverages in retail and foodservice channels. The cold brew sub-segment of the U.S. RTD (ready-to-drink) coffee market was projected to grow by 580% from 2011-2016 in retail channels according to market researcher Mintel in July 2016. On the foodservice end, sales of chilled coffee beverages (which include iced coffee, cold brew, and nitro) at Starbucks have grown about 25 percent annually since its summer 2015 launch of cold brew coffee in U.S. stores.

Cold Brew U

The Cold Brew U workshop offered attendees a two-hour lesson on all things cold brew coffee with speakers from Friedrichs Coffee (a specialty coffee roaster and coffee shop chain in Des Moines, Iowa), Brewista (a manufacturer of coffee and tea brewing devices), and Micro Matic (a manufacturer of draft beer dispensing systems and kegerators). Malia Meyer from Friedrichs Coffee cleared up misconceptions about cold brew coffee by stating that cold brew coffee is not iced coffee; cold, brewed coffee; not nitro coffee (necessarily); and not bottled coffee (necessarily). She then presented a history of cold brew coffee going back to the early 1600s when the Dutch East India Company traders developed a method to brew coffee that did not require hot water on ships to the 1964 patent for the Toddy Cold Brew system by Todd Simpson.

Christian Krause from Brewista talked about the benefits of cold brew coffee including its lower acid content than hot brewed coffee, making it easier on the stomach and less damaging to teeth. He said that marketing cold brew coffee has become easier because Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have spent millions creating awareness of cold brew. Dunkin Donuts introduced cold brew coffee to their stores in August 2016. Bryan Nelson from Micro Matic presented on nitrogenated coffee by explaining the nitrogenation process, equipment considerations, and the importance of food safety.

Who Makes the Best Cold Brew Coffee?

America’s Best Cold Brew Competition featured 32 competitors divided into still and nitro categories over three days. All attendees were allowed to participate in the judging process. The winners were Chicago’s Hellion Cold Brew (who work with Chicago coffee shop Metric Coffee) in the still category and Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Colectivo Coffee (who partnered with 3 Sheeps Brewing) in the nitro category.

The Future of Cold Brew Is Nitro

Nitro coffee is still a niche offering in the U.S. with no publicly available estimates on the size of the category. However, if Starbucks and equipment manufacturers at Coffee Fest Chicago get their way, Americans will be drinking a lot more nitro coffee in the next few years. Nitro coffee is cold brew coffee that has been infused with nitrogen to create a smooth, creamy taste with a foamy head similar to a Guinness. Coffee drinkers have responded positively to nitro coffee because of its naturally sweet, creamy taste and visual appeal. However, few consumers in the U.S. had tasted nitro coffee prior to summer 2016 when Starbucks introduced it in about 500 U.S. stores. Nitro coffee's availability had previously been limited with few coffee shops offering it. Portland, Oregon's Stumptown Coffee Roasters helped to popularize nitro coffee by introducing nitro coffee on taps in its stores in 2013, creating a RTD version in cans in 2015, and shipping kegs of nitro coffee to specialty coffee shops. Starbucks aims to be an even bigger player in nitro coffee. On July 13, 2017,Starbucks announced that it would expand the number of stores offering nitrocold brew from nearly 1,000 stores in the U.S. to about 1,400 stores by the endof 2017. However, due to space limitations, the special equipment and accompanying kegs for nitro cold brew coffee may not become available in all Starbucks stores, according to Sandy Stark, senior vice president for U.S. beverage and global innovation.

New Nitro Coffee Dispensers Offer Ease and Higher Volumes

Nitro equipment manufacturers in attendance at the show included Micro Matic, Bunn-O-Matic Corporation, and Cornelius, Inc. Micro Matic exhibited with partner JoeTap, Inc who developed the nitro infusion technology for coffee. To attract attendees to the booth, Micro Matic offered personalized nitro coffees including nitro selfies through the use of the Ripple Maker that prints an image or text onto the coffee foam with coffee extract “ink”. As nitro coffee gains popularity, equipment makers are trying to make it easier for coffee shops and restaurants to add nitro coffee. While the first generation of nitro equipment required changing out heavy metal kegs and using nitrogen tanks, the new generation of machines take up less counter space, provide more volume, and in some cases can generate its own nitrogen. All of these companies offered options that use a BIB (bag-in-box) coffee concentrate to mix the coffee concentrate with filtered water and infuse it with nitrogen. Using BIBs to serve nitro cold brew is similar to using soda syrup in soft drink fountain machines. The water to concentrate ratio for a cold brew coffee BIB can range from 3:1 to 20:1.

Bunn, a maker of coffee machines, showed its Nitron Cold Draft machine with two taps (one for nitro, one for still cold brew) in a slim 10” footprint. Cornelius, known for its fountain soda dispensers, introduced the NitroPro (with three taps) and NitroPro BIB (with two taps) coffee dispensers. At the booth, Cornelius showed IDEX’s Element 7 nitrogen gas generator to offer an option for coffee shops that do not want to use nitrogen tanks. Micro Matic showed the JoeTap Barista (with two taps) countertop model that has an on-board nitrogen generator.

Despite the high cost and counter space required for nitro coffee dispensers, demand for nitro coffee is likely to grow strongly because nitro coffee addresses consumer desire for indulgence, health, clean labels, and energy. Nitro coffee offers a sweet, creamy taste with minimal calories and no added sweeteners; the use of only two ingredients coffee and water; as well as offering a caffeine boost without the artificial ingredients found in standard colas and energy drinks. The creamy mouthfeel of nitro coffee also lends itself to consumption as an afternoon snack or dessert substitute.

Using Cold Brew Coffee in Drinks

A number of exhibitors used cold brew coffee as a base for coffee drinks. At the Kerry Foodservice booth, they offered samples of Cold Brew Siesta prepared with Big Train Horchata Drink Mix, cold brew. and ice. Levi Andersen, Beverage Product Specialist for Kerry and creator of said that “cold brew will be around for a long time” when I asked about future prospects. On the topic of nitro cold brew, he said that it is harder to set up, expensive, and needs counter space. At the Drink Innovations Lab, Andrea Ramirez, Customer Marketing Manager for Torani, taught attendees how to make Irish Coffee Soda with Torani Signature Irish Cream Syrup, cold brew, sparkling water, and topped with whipped cream.

Coffee Fest's next show is scheduled to take place in Portland, Oregon from October 13-15, 2017.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Meat Snacks Offer Breakfast, Gourmet, and Kosher Options at the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo

I attended the Sweets & Snacks Expo (aka, The Candy Show) which was held May 23-25 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 exhibitors representing candy, chocolate, and snacks companies. In this article, I will talk about how meat snacks have expanded beyond beef jerky to premium breakfast, gourmet, and kosher options. In other articles, I discuss other trends seen at the show: coffee meets chocolate, chickpeas and lentils in the snack aisle; spicy flavors; and popcorn appeals to both health and indulgence seekers.

The number of meat snacks continues to grow as companies introduce new products to appeal to consumers beyond the traditional audience of hunters and fishermen buying beef jerky at convenience stores. Premium meat jerky, meat bars, and meat sticks have become more visible as a high-protein, minimally processed snack, boosted by the popularity of the Paleo diet and a desire for fewer, simpler ingredients in foods. To appeal to a broader audience and continue growing sales, meat snacks companies are using a wide variety of meats beyond beef, incorporating premium ingredients, and turning to chefs and celebrities. The $2.8 billion meat snack category has been a positive performer in the total snack category, with compound annual sales growth of over 7% over the past four years and 3.5% growth for the year ended February 25, 2017 according to Nielsen.

Using premium ingredients and meats beyond beef is a way for meat snacks companies to appeal to a wider group of consumers looking for a healthy snack. Genius Jerky calls itself an “ultra-premium artisan jerky company” through the use of ingredients such as grass-fed and grass-finished beef, premium spices, honey, and roasted garlic. Field Trip Jerky seeks to appeal to active foodies by using grass fed beef, vegetarian fed pork, free range turkey, and ingredients such as apple juice, pineapple juice, and rice wine. Duke’s Meats emphasizes the use of real, whole ingredients such as hickory smoked peaches, freshly chopped cilantro, and real lime juice in its slogan: “Smoked Meats Crafted with real, whole ingredients, not a lot of sugar”. The brand also emphasizes that its products are “Small Batch Crafted” with the batch case qty number stamped on the back of each Duke’s Meats package. Conagra Brands, Inc, owner of the Slim Jim meat snack brand, acquired Thanasi Foods, maker of Duke's Meats in April 2017.

In the case of Oberto Brands, they have identified four consumer segments in meat snacks – Gourmet, Better For You, Traditional, and With Jerky – so that they have products designed to appeal to each segment. In the Gourmet segment, Oberto offers its Oberto’s Pacific Gold brand that is sold in club channels and positioned as a “Delicious snack to reward myself and family”.

To reach the Gourmet segment, some players are using a chef-created message to target foodies and women. Think Jerky was created by Ricky Hirsch who partnered with famous chefs such as Michelin star chefs Gale Gand (a Food Network star) and Laurent Gras to develop the recipes. Hirsch calls his products “Healthy Chef-Created Jerky” through the use of 100-calorie packs, minimal use of sugar and salt, and use of grass-fed beef or free-range turkey. Chef's Cut Real Jerky, created by Chef Blair Swiler and Dennis Riedel, touts features such as "Chef-Created Marinade", "Real Ingredients", and "Cut By Hand" in addition to being certified gluten free. At the Sweets & Snacks Expo, Chef's Cut Real Jerky introduced shelf-stable Protein Packs that combine its meat jerky with dehydrated cheese (using a patented process) in Real Steak Jerky - Original Recipe & Cheddar Cheese and Real Turkey Jerky - Teriyaki & Pepper Jack Cheese varieties. Following the show, actress Olivia Munn announced on June 12, National Jerky Day, that she is the newest investor in Chef's Cut Real Jerky. This development is likely to bring more female attention to the brand and to meat snacks overall. 

Sugar content in meat snacks has historically not been a big factor in consumer purchasing decisions. However, it looks like that could change in the premium segment of meat snacks as health conscious consumers increasingly seek to reduce sugar consumption not just in beverages but in snacks. Think Jerky’s website talks about its founder’s focus on minimizing the use of sugar and salt but does not call its sugar content on the front of the packaging. In contrast, Duke’s Meats features a low-sugar message in its slogan: “Smoked Meats Crafted with real, whole ingredients, not a lot of sugar” and calls out the sugar content on the front of the pack. Without naming names, Duke’s Meats calls out a leading “gourmet” jerky for containing 11g of sugar and a leading meat bar for containing 9g of sugar. In contrast, Duke’s Meats products contain only 0-5g of sugar per serving.

Women have not been a traditional consumer of meat snacks. But Link Snacks, Inc, the number one player in meat snacks with its Jack Link’s brand, created the Lorissa’s Kitchen brand in 2016 to appeal to active, upscale women looking for a healthy snack with varieties such as Ginger Teriyaki and Korean Barbecue Beef. Lorissa’s Kitchen is differentiated from other meat snacks brands through the use of attractive packaging that features photos of ingredients such as ginger, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. The packaging also touts that Lorissa’s Kitchen is “100% Grass-Fed Beef”, “Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics”, No Added MSG, and No Preservatives to reassure women that the meat snacks are premium.

Even consumers eating kosher are now being targeted. Tomer Kosher offered Kosher Beef Sticks that are kosher certified, made with 100% angus chuck, and free of dairy, gluten, and soy.

Among new initiatives, the traditional outdoorsy male audience for meat snacks is not being ignored. Three Star Brands licensed the Coleman outdoor brand to create Coleman Premium Steak Snacks for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Oberto Brands uses its Cattlemen’s Cut brand to target the Traditional consumer segment and its Oberto brand to reach the Better For You segment.  The company hired sports personalities including Rob Gronkowski (NFL All-Pro), Richard Sherman (NFL All-Pro), and Travis Pastrana (action sports) to spread the message that “Oberto is the jerky brand for those who lead an active lifestyle”.

Among other consumer segments, breakfast lovers and campers are being targeted. Link Snacks Inc extended its Jack Link’s brand to Jack Link’s A.M. to create Breakfast Bacon in Applewood Smoked and Brown Sugar & Maple and Breakfast Sausage in Original and Hot & Spicy varieties as a hearty morning offering. The introduction of a morning-positioned meat snack provides another snacking occasion beyond afternoon snacking and ties in well with the concept of more Americans having a second breakfast as reported by The Wall Street Journal in April 2017.

Popcorn Appeals to Both Health and Indulgence Seekers at the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo

Popcorn products were in abundance at the Sweets & Snacks Expo which took place May 23-25 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 exhibitors representing candy, chocolate, and snacks companies. I will talk about how popcorn makers are targeting both health and indulgence seekers in this article. Other articles will highlight the following trends in snacking that I saw at the show – coffee meets chocolate, chickpeas and lentils in the snack aisle; spicy flavors; and meat snacks offer breakfast, gourmet, and kosher options. 

Popcorn’s neutral taste and low calorie content provides a versatile platform that allows companies to offer one of the lowest calorie snacking options (on a per cup basis) or the indulgence of caramel, cheese, and chocolate mixed in. In turn, popcorn along with meat snacks has been one of the fastest growers in the U.S. snack industry. The RTE (ready-to-eat) popcorn category grew by 10.9% to reach $1.3 billion for the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017 according to IRI POS, MULO and C & MULO data cited in Amplify Snack Brands, Inc’s June 13, 2017 presentation. A large portion of the double-digit growth has been driven by the company’s SkinnyPop brand, the number two brand in RTE popcorn after PepsiCo’s Smartfood brand.

SkinnyPop and other better for you (BFY) popcorn brands have leveraged growing interest in healthier snacking. The SkinnyPop brand has grown sales by highlighting features such as 39 calories per cup (in the Original Popped Popcorn), Non-GMO Project certification, gluten free certification as well only using only three ingredients (popcorn, sunflower oil, and salt). Going beyond its Original RTE popcorn, the company introduced microwaveable popcorn and popcorn cakes in February and is rolling out RTE popcorn in Real Cheese Aged White Cheddar & Pepper Jack varieties (47 calories per cup) this month.

A number of other companies also highlighted the low number of calories for their RTE popcorn at the show. SHRED Brands LLC highlighted “SHRED Snack approved at 33 calories/cup” on its SHRED Pop package. SHRED Pop is targeted towards calorie-counters and fans of Dr. Ian K. Smith, best-selling author and creator of the SHRED diet. I had a chance to meet Dr. Smith at SHRED Brands' booth at the Good Food Festival held in Chicago in March 2017.

Gaslamp Popcorn Co notes that its Sea Salt & Olive Oil Hand Made Popcorn contains 37 calories per cup. This popcorn is targeted at foodies with a small batch, kettle-popped process and the use of California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Open Road Snacks notes 43 calories per cup and 18g whole grain for its Sinfully Thin SuperPop Popcorn Herb & Spice Popcorn with Kale & Pomegranate. By using dehydrated kale flakes and pomegranate powder, the company seeks to position its popcorn as not just BFY but as a superfood. Karen Bradley, VP of National Sales at Open Road Snacks, told me that her company targets a wide range of consumers by offering both BFY Sinfully Thin Popcorn range as well as indulgent Rocky Mountain Popcorn (with the "taste HUGE" slogan) in flavors like caramel, kettle, and white cheddar. Open Road Snacks was acquired by Fresca Foods Inc in February 2017. By using a 0.625oz bag instead of a 1oz bag, Herr Foods Inc is able to claim 80 calories per bag for its Go Lite! Himalayan Salt popcorn. In addition to using Himalayan salt that is popular among foodies, the company uses coconut oil, currently viewed as one of the healthiest cooking oils.

There were plenty of indulgent items featuring popcorn at the show. The Hershey Company offered its Hershey’s Popped Snack Mix (with chocolate, pretzels, and popcorn) and Reese’s Popped Snack Mix. Gaslamp Popcorn Co offered up its Malibu Mix that combines sweet kettle corn, white cheddar flavored popcorn, and sea salt & olive oil popcorn. Hello Delicious! Brands combined the indulgence of caramel with the health benefits of dried Montmorency tart cherries in its Popcorn Thins Handcrafted Popcorn Snacks With Cranberries, Almonds, Cherries & Caramel.

Also offering indulgence was Harry & David who introduced two new varieties of its Moose Munch Premium Popcorn featuring Nestlé’s confections - Moose Munch Popcorn made with Nestlé Butterfinger Bites and Moose Munch Popcorn made with Nestlé Buncha Crunch. I spoke with Harry & David’s President Steven Lightman and Midwest Gourmet Food Group’s President Steve Druckman at the booth at the show. acquired Harry & David in 2014 and also owns The Popcorn Factory, Cheryl’s Cookies, Wolferman’s,, Stockyards, and Moose Munch and The Popcorn Factory primarily sell their products directly to the consumer. Lightman talked about how the company is seeking to position Moose Munch as an everyday snacking item instead of holiday gifting only. Consumers are familiar with Moose Munch from its availability in department and home stores such as Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond during the Christmas shopping season as well as on the Harry & David’s catalog and website. To reposition the Moose Munch brand and reach younger consumers, the company has decided to go after self-consumption and snacking occasions through new products such as the Nestlé collaboration, smaller package sizes, and an expansion of retail channels. Using smaller single-serve 4oz bags and share-size 8oz bags instead of tins and drums allows Harry & David to sell their premium items into convenience stores such as 7-Eleven which receive more foot traffic than department stores.

Similar to Lightman’s goal at Harry & David, Druckman wants to expand the number of eating and buying occasions for The Popcorn Factory’s popcorn. The Popcorn Factory is known as a source for decorated popcorn tins during the holidays through its website and catalog. Druckman seeks to expand its wholesale business and to increase the number of orders on The Popcorn Factory’s website. At the show, the company’s Wholesale Shared Bag Line offered multiple indulgent options including Bacon Cheddar Popcorn, Butter Toffee With Sea Salt Popcorn, and Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn in packages ranging from 3oz to 8oz. The Popcorn Factory also offered Single Flavor Clear Canisters of popcorn in a wide variety of flavors including Peanut Brittle and Sour Green Apple. In terms of e-commerce, Druckman wants to get more and more gifting occasions beyond birthdays, sympathy, thank you, and graduation. To aid this effort, parent company offers the Celebrations Passport membership program similar to Amazon Prime where consumers receive free unlimited standard 2 business shipping with no minimum purchase across all of the company’s brands for an annual fee of $30.

Candy and snack manufacturers are increasingly interested in using e-commerce to grow sales. At the show, One Click Retail’s VP of E-Commerce, Nathan Rigby, stressed the need to compete on effectively in his “State of the Market: E-Commerce for Candy and Snacks” presentation. Rigby stated that grocery sales on Amazon U.S. passed the $1 billion mark in 2016 and totaled $350 million in the first quarter of 2017, up 30% year-over-year.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Spicy Flavors at the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo

I attended the Sweets & Snacks Expo which was held May 23-25 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 exhibitors representing candy, chocolate, and snacks companies. In this article, I will talk about how candy and snack companies are injecting spicy flavors into their products. Other articles will highlight the following trends in snacking that I saw at the show – coffee meets chocolate, chickpeas and lentils in the snack aisle; meat snacks offer breakfast, gourmet, and kosher options; and popcorn appeals to both health and indulgence seekers.

Spicy flavors such sriracha and chili, habanero, jalapeno, and serrano peppers featured in many candies and snacks seen at the show. Most of the spicy products offered a mild to medium heat level, unlike the famously fiery Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper tortilla chips from Amplify Snack Brands, Inc. Sriracha hot sauce’s growing popularity has moved it beyond Asian restaurant tables to savory snacks, candies, and even nut butters. Pop! Gourmet Foods offered The Original Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Kettle Cooked Potato Chips that has been created in partnership with Huy Fong Foods, the producer of the original Sriracha Chili Sauce.

The sriracha flavor notes of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt are increasingly being combined with other flavors such as honey and fruits. Hippeas Organic Chickpea Puffs offered a Sriracha Sunshine flavor variety at the show while Think Jerky offered Sriracha Honey Free-Range Turkey Jerky. Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty, owned by A&A Global Industries, Inc., offered the youth-targeted Sweet Fire sriracha candy line that includes cotton candy, gumballs, and popping candy (with a strawberry lollipop). For active, health conscious consumers, snack bar maker PROBAR LLC offered PROBAR Organic Sriracha Peanut Butter Blend made with organic peanuts, coconut oil, vinegar, and pineapple in single-serve 1.15oz squeeze packs for on-the-go snacking.

Beyond sriracha, companies are combining the taste of sweet fruit with spicy notes to appeal to young consumers. Impact Confections Inc is known for its WARHEADS Extreme Sour Hard Candy products. At the show, the company introduced HOTHEADS Extreme Heat Worms to offer a multi-layered flavor experience of puckering sour, sweet fruit, and fiery heat. American Licorice Company extended its Sour Punch brand with new Sour Punch Pineapple Mango Chili Straws. Use of spicy fruity flavors is not limited to small and medium size companies. Wrigley extended its fruit flavored Skittles and Starburst lines with Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat that combine “fruity flavors with a spicy kick”. Starburst Sweet Heat will feature Fiery Watermelon, Strawberry Mango, Flamin’ Orange and Pipin’ Pineapple.