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.
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.
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.
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, non-GMO, 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”.
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.