Natural Products West 2006

The Natural Products Expo West / SupplyExpo / Nutracon / World Ethnic Market conference and trade show in Anaheim last month was one of the best shows in years.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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The city-within-a-city that was the Natural Products Expo West / SupplyExpo / Nutracon / World Ethnic Market conference and trade show comprised 65,000 attendees and over 4,500 exhibitors. Whew! But this year's show, Mar. 23-26, was worth the seemingly endless assault on all the senses because - in spite of sporadic grumblings I heard complaining of the contrary - there was a wealth of truly inspired and exciting new products and ingredients.

In my 2005 report on NatExpo West, I mentioned that a major flavor trend appeared to be green tea. I was curious to see if this trend has some legs - and it does. Green tea and tea extracts abounded this year in soy drinks, dairy items, sweet snacks and beverages. Best of all, the products featured used green tea intelligently; the ingredient never felt tacked on for the sake of a label and did not betray with the flavor clashes commonly indicative of the overly heavy marketing hand.

Another trend spotted, one I cited more than a year ago in our sister publication Food Creation, was also very much in evidence: Flavors rooted in India and the rest of the subcontinent (see "A Passage to India"). These influences were most evident in the plethora of teas, beverages and dairy products (such as ice cream and yogurt) containing chai, the milky spiced tea favored in that part of the world and brewing up plenty of popularity here. DSM Nutritional Ingredients (www.nutraaccess.com), Parsippany, N.J., used the flavor to great effect in a soy-based beverage to show off its tea-derived epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) polyphenol Teavigo.

The subject of Indian flavor culture leads me to the one food product that just plain blew me away. This is entirely subjective, but having been in the food business in some capacity or another for over 30 years, I just have to get vocal when something comes by that knocks my socks off. Kool Freeze Premium Frozen Products Inc. (www.koolfreeze.com), Ontario, Calif., showcased a complete line of kulfi - Indian-style ice cream - in bar form.

It would have been worth mentioning if only for the novelty, but they also taste fantastic. Flavors offered include: mango, strawberry, pistachio, saffron, coconut, malai (Indian for "cream" but it tastes like white chocolate), chikoo (Indian for a sapote fruit, with a taste faintly of fruit and nut and chocolate) and my personal favorite, rose. Be warned: These are seriously addictive. Still, at only 180 calories for a big bar, it's a sweet treat you can afford to eat.

Utmost Brands' GuS meyer lemon soda
Utmost Brands' GuS line offers carbonated beverages that cater to adult tastes.

Pomegranates are continuing their upward march on the hit parade. Pomegranate juice appeared in dozens of beverage products, and pomegranate powder is being promoted as an ingredient for fortifying foods and beverages with its powerful antioxidant properties. Even the cosmetics section of the show featured a number of soaps, creams and other personal care products using pomegranate. Odwalla (www.odwalla.com), Half Moon Bay, Calif., introduced a mango-pomegranate juice in its new PomaGrand line that was perfectly poised in its balance of the two flavors.

Speaking of beverages, "adult" carbonated beverages are still elbowing to the front lines. These are the beverages that are not overly sweet, and they are definitely impacting the beverage trade, as the big players are slipping slightly in sales while these hand-crafted drinks gain ground.

Utmost Brands Inc. (drinkGus.com), New York, says it all with its GuS (for "grown-up soda") line of carbonated, fruit-flavored drinks. Boulder, Colo.-based Izze Inc. (www.izze.com), spearheaded the aforementioned pomegranate trend last year with its release of pomegranate-flavored soda. This year, the company introduced its new apple flavor. It was worth the wait; this is the first apple soda I've tried that tastes as if you're biting into the fresh fruit.

Gluten-free foods ticked up a bit, compared to last year, but I am now beginning to think the curve, although steady, will be a little slower than I forecasted last year. Healthy grain foods in general moved forward on the heels of the double trend of trans fats becoming olio non grata and the return of whole grains and health to prominence (thanks in part to the work of the Whole Grains Council - www.wholegrainscouncil.com - and its whole grains stamp). Still, some great whole-grain, trans fat-free products - perennial favorite Dr. Kracker (www.drkracker.com) flatbreads, for example - found themselves sharing the stage with an increasing number of newcomers. [Editor's note: "Globally Gluten Free" (Wellness Foods, April 2006), goes into detail about the gluten-free side of this phenomenon and what it means to wellness food processors.]

On the ingredient side, omega-3s took another leap in popularity. The versatile and healthful fatty acids found their way into numerous products released at the show: breads, beverages, cereals, dairy products are just a few examples. Even waffles. Van's Waffles (www.vanswaffles.com) of Torrance, Calif., released its new line of Hearty Oats waffles with added omega-3s.

Vitamin D is another ingredient that seems to be hot. It makes sense: Once thought to be a thing of the past, vitamin D deficiency appears to be coming back. Processors are on their toes, though, and adding D to products beyond dairy. (To learn more, check out "Calcium and Vitamin D Duet," Wellness Foods, April 2006).

I was also pleased to see virtually no heavy emphasis on the issue of fat content in the thousands of great wellness products. Processors finally "get it." Fat does not make a person fat. The fact is, nature does such a good job of balancing content of fat, protein and carbohydrates that when we adhere as closely as we can to the most natural form of an ingredient it will often be the healthiest. In nearly all the new products I encountered, "back to nature" was the rule.

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