Well Noted: A Wellness New Year

Editor David Feder’s shamelessly subjective ramblings on some of the good, the bad and the weird of last year’s wellness products and stories. Plus: Changes to the magazine for 2007.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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Happy 2007. A new year is a time to reflect on the past, posit the future and play catch-up with things in between. In other words, it's time for my version of a "clip show."

Whether the end of 2006 left you politically bereft or buoyant, in the world of food it was all in all a good year. As we described in our annual Food Processing Manufacturing Trends Survey, the food biz is looking good for the coming year. Most processors are expecting to see an increase in production and sales, and R&D is progressing strong. In other words, we should expect to see lots of new and exciting food and beverage products coming out.

All in all, there were more hits than misses last year on the food front. Starting with dessert first, there were two frozen treats that debuted last year I found so heavenly they sent shivers down my spine: Ontario, California–based Kool Freeze Premium Frozen Products' (www.koolfreeze.com), kulfi (Indian ice cream) bars and açai sorbet from Sambazon (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif.

The former I've waxed about poetically in Wellness Foods and Food Processing before, but seriously, you've got to try the rose-kissed "fulda." The latter showed the care Sambazon took to capitalize not on the allure and megapopularity of the brilliant, healthy Brazilian superberry but on the supreme quality of the sorbet itself. At first taste I was swept back to a gelato "crawl" I made in southern Italy, going from store to stall to pushcart trying incredibly fresh and flavorful frozen gelati that exemplified the very height of the art. Sambazon would be right at home on those cobbled streets.

In beverages, several brewers rolled out the barrels of sorghum beer, one billed as a "gluten-free" beer (more on that in an upcoming "Nutrition Beyond the Trends"). I didn't try that one, but the one sorghum beer I did try was nothing short of vile. Healthful beer does not have to taste like skunk juice. An example of a superb healthy brew comes from Green Valley Brewing Co. (www.wildhoplager.com). The Fairfield, Calif., co. has savvy brewmeisters using organic ingredients to exemplary perfection.

Reed's Inc. (www.reedsgingerbrew.com), Los Angeles, beverages showed, with its outstanding new Cherry Ginger Brew, that a nonalcoholic healthful carbonated beverage can have some kick, too. Other carbonated beverages that quenched my thirst for well-made, well-thought-out drinkables include Utmost Brands' GuS line of sodas, Healthy Beverage Co.'s Steaz group of tea-laced pop and Skylar Haley Inc.'s essn sparklers. These joined Izze Beverage Co.'s (now a PepsiCo brand) as skilled makers of perfectly sweetened fruit-flavored soft drinks that "get" the adult need for something less sweet than "those other sodas."

By far the best noncarbonated fruit juice-based beverages of the year came from two competitors I pray will never demand that, like lovers, I choose between - Odwalla and Naked Juice. Both companies' newest offerings based on superfruits such as açai, blueberry and pomegranate are examples of exactly how to do healthy beverages right.

Savory snacks with a healthful kick showed amazing progress in the last year. True, the pressed-sawdust pretzels and cardboard-textured crackers still come out with depressing regularity, professing to be new, healthy and delicious and being neither of the first two because they failed so miserably on the last score - if it doesn't get eaten, it won't provide any nutritional benefit.

If I could, I'd pass a law that would send the "sawdust and cardboard" perpetrators to Dallas-based Kracker Enterprises LLC (www.drkracker.com) for lessons in how high-fiber, organic and whole-grain can be made to work on the most important level: flavor. This little company solved a decades-old puzzle of marrying high-fiber health with stuff-your-face flavor via its Dr. Kracker line of crackers. Subjectively speaking, they're the first "healthy" savory cracker I ever liked.

And here's the second little cracker I liked: Kellogg Co.'s Kashi brand (www.kashi.com), rolled out its "TLC" crackers. The play on words is accurate - the company put tender loving care into this tiny little cracker: It's whole grain, cheesy and has the perfect hint of pepper to it. Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg also secured the future of organic cereals by being the first of the giant, mainstream RTE breakfast food makers to offer several of its leading offerings - Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies in organic options. We knew 2006 was a great year for the organic boom, but this corporate move clinched it.

One particularly irresistible snack introduced in 2006 was Nspired Natural Foods Inc. (www.nspiredfoods.com), San Leandro, Calif., O'Coco's chocolate crisps in 90-calorie packs. I'm hoping more flavors are in the works for 2007. In the same category, YZ Enterprises Inc.'s Almondina Biscuits (really wafer-thin biscotti slices) may not be new, but they rolled out some new flavors in '06, giving me an excuse to say they are the crack cocaine of sweet baked snacks.

Another high-fiber, whole-grain coup came by way of Nature's Path Foods Inc. (www.naturespath.com), Richmond, British Columbia. The company's entire line of RTE cereals (but especially the "Optimum" line) and hot cereals took off like a rocket in 2006 with a surge of new products featuring those superfruit stars, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and açai.

My only complaint to this great Canadian cereal crafter: More fruit, please. I hate pouring out a bowl of cereal that advertises bananas in the plural and one lone piece of banana appears in a bowlful. And no, they didn't settle to the bottom - I know, because I scarfed an entire box of Optimum Rebound Banana Flax Almond Matcha one night.

Enough new sport/energy/meal/snack bars are released every year to pave a highway - and many of them should be used for just that purpose. But 2006 saw two companies raise the bar (sorry; couldn't resist!) for that category: Pure of Holland (www.thepurebar.com), Holland, Mich.'s fruit and nut Pure Bars (especially the cherry-cashew) and the line of Maya bars by Denver-based Lara Bars (www.larabar.com).

That's the products, and now for the news. Two topics I hope we said goodbye to in 2006 are the demonization of salt and the attempted marketing of the glycemic index as a weight-loss tool to try to salvage the woefully misguided low carb craze. As far as salt is concerned, I fear the coming year will still see attacks based on emotion and pseudoscience, but it can be hoped some of the nutrition and health experts will start digging deeper into the science when called upon to report on sodium in a healthy diet.

When it comes to the Glycemic Index, It's possible we dodged that bullet. Few products were released last year with the misleading non-sequiter "low GI!" stamped on them. Let's keep a sharp eye out in 2007 and see if processors avoid falling into another low-carb fad trap.

I am certain I've left out a number of great wellness food products and stories, so watch this space: I'll update it as 2007 progresses.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for your hard copy of Wellness Foods magazine. We've made a number of changes for the new year. Nutrition Beyond the Trends will become a part of the print edition, and throughout the year we'll be expanding the New Ingredients Profiles and the On the Shelf sections where possible.

We've also added a new mini-feature, "Expert Opinion," in which sharp minds from the world of nutrition, processing and academia sound off on issues they see as critical to the world of wellness food and beverage manufacturing. Look for other tweaks and additions, too and remember, if you have any suggestions - or want to be considered for Expert Opinion - just drop me an e-mail at dfeder@putman.net.

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