Editor’s Note: Andrew S. Whitman, a member of THE NIBBLE’s Board of Advisors, is an expert in the food industry, where he invests in & operates consumer products businesses for exponential annual growth, including in the specialty food and organic sectors. Andy recently returned from the annual Expo West conference and exposition, the country’s largest trade presentation of natural and organic products, held March 23 to 26, 2006. He shares his observations via newsletter with thousands of industry professionals, and we in turn are sharing them with you. Notes from prior food shows or other consumer products industry shows are available under the News section at www.2xManagement.com.
A Sign of the Times. As a result of growing consumer interest, ever-increasing presenceof natural channel retailers and the distributors who serve them and expansion of natural and organic offerings by the mainstream retailers, Natural Products ExpoWest was the busiest Expo I’ve ever experienced. The city of Anaheim, California—accustomed to crowds from Disneyland—posted signs for the week leading up to Expo warning about “severe traffic congestion” during the show. According to the show’s organizer, record-setting crowds of over 43,000 industry attendees visited more than 3,000 exhibitors—an exhausting amount of products to see, and not surprising given the 20% annual growth in the organic food sector.
Overall, two very interesting themes have finally broken out after each spending several years emerging: raw foods and functional foods derived from exotic fruits and berries.
Pure. Simple. Unprocessed. RAW. After years of slow growth, the raw food movement has begun to accelerate. There are ever more books, magazines and websites dedicated to raw foods; four- and five- star restaurants exclusively serving raw food diets are popping up across the county. Someone was promoting a new movie, Raw for 30 Days—a reverse version of Super Size Me where six people eat only vegan raw foods with fantastic results. Look for it at www.RawFor30Days.com since it’s not too likely to be at the 20-screen megatheatre near you.
Many people (including me) have questioned the viability of this lifestyle becoming broadly adopted. The term “raw food” itself scares off some people. Yet, at its root (no pun intended), the belief in raw food becomes more acceptable to a larger audience when viewed through the lens of purity and simplicity, manifested via a lack of processing. Convenience-oriented “raw” products have finally come of age. LäraBar, one of the pioneers in the segment, billed as “the original fruit and nut food bar,” continues to build a strong following with core flavors like Banana Cookie (the ingredient statement reads: “almonds, dates and unsweetened bananas—that’s it”) and Apple Pie (dates, walnuts, unsweetened apples, almonds, raisins and cinnamon).
LäraBar platform extension Mäya, named for the ancient civilization credited with bringing us chocolate (food of the gods—and were they right!), looks promising. Organic-certified and made from Fair Trade cocoa, Mäya comes in flavors like Chocolate, Chocolate Coffee, and Chocolate Mint. It’s dairy-, soy- and gluten-free to boot. The coffee variety was quite tasty!
LäraBar has the potential to emerge as a power brand with cross-category appeal, maybe in juices or fruit and nut-based snacks—especially if they evolve their branding to Lära (much like BocaBurger became Boca and then introduced products across multiple categories).
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, LäraBar founder Lara Merriken must be ready to explode from all the adulation. New entrants like Raw*Revolution and SmartMonkey were prominent. There’s “room at the inn” for new entrants, but whether they will get the traction they seek is yet to be determined.
Antioxidants in the Mist. Food & beverage manufacturers have been trying to develop functional foods for years, although they have been slow to develop and often are tucked away in the corners of the trade shows. Functional foods are those that serve a helpful effect on the body beyond normal satiation and nutrition. And, as we live longer, preventative health through better eating certainly is a sound strategy.
We’ve started to learn that better living can happen through fruits and exotic berries, many of which come from Africa and South America. Starting with the more familiar, blueberries are rich in antioxidants and packed with vitamins A and C, potassium and folate. Pom Wonderful developed a huge business selling pomegranate antioxidants to America (in juice format via a really cool-shape bottle), mostly in combination with other fruit juices (think cranberry juice blends)—so much so that they cannot keep pace with the demand!
Now, we’re ready to see the likes of açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) and acerola (commonly known as the Amazon cherry) become mainstream. Açaí is a nutritious and energy-packed berry from the Brazilian Amazon which is consumed most often by locals as a bowl of berries. Not only does açaí have more antioxidants than blueberries or pomegranates, but it contains healthy essential fatty acids, calcium, dietary fibers, iron and electrolytes. However, like cranberries, pure unsweetened açaí can be unpalatable for most people; it took time for the right blends of açaí to be developed. Sambazon, maker of “organic Amazon superfoods,” makes Organic Ready-to-Drink Smoothies, Organic Smoothie Packs (mixes) and Pure Açaí PowerCaps (supplement form). The ready-to-drink smoothies in particular are tasty ways to refuel and rejuvenate the palate and the body.
Other Noteworthy Tidbits
To Your Heart’s Content. Corazonas are new, heart-healthy tortilla chips that are amazingly tasty and quite good for you. According to the Company, plant sterols, also known as phytosterols, are compounds that can help decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a.k.a.“bad cholesterol.” Plant sterols occur naturally in fruit, vegetables, whole-grain products and most vegetable oils, but usually at levels too low to effectively combat LDL cholesterol. However, recent scientific studies have shown that plant sterols can be added to other foods at sufficient levels to lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk for coronary heart disease. Corazonas has clinical tests to substantiate reductions in LDL cholesterol levels when you consume only a small, vending machine-sized pack a day. So, go ahead… snack to your heart’s health.
Put On a Happy Face. Many upscale restaurants have offered tea-infused desserts for years. Now, Smiles organic tea-infused gourmet chocolates brings together two compatible ideas. After three visits and way too many yummy samples, I was certainly smiling!
Chemistry Professors Wrong? Is water not meant to be merely H2O? Penta Water, which debuted last year, is oxygenated water that claims to be clean, crisp, and provides optimal hydration. Now, competitor Perfect Water uses a “stabilizer” named Aquagen to molecularly-bind stabilized oxygen, thereby claiming their oxygenated water does not lose the “extra” oxygen when you open the bottle since the oxygen is suspended in the water. I’m not sure that I (yet) believe the science behind the whole oxygenated water phenomenon, but people are paying lots of money for bottled water with extra oxygen! Will H2O1.1 be next?