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 CafĂ© 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. NestlĂ© 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.