Natural Products Expo West 2012: Lots of Veggies, No GMOs

Natural Products Expo West continues to grow, with chia, Greek yogurt and cereal bars prevalent this year.

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Natural Products Expo 2012
More than 60,000 attendees and some 2,000 exhibiting companies filled more than 1 million net sq. ft. of space in the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center.

How many ways can you squeeze how many servings of vegetables into how many products?

That seemed to be the challenge, judging by products on display at Natural Products Expo West March 9-11. The 32-year-old show set records: More than 60,000 attendees and some 2,000 exhibiting companies filled more than 1 million net sq. ft. of space in the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center. An adjoining hall housed a largely nutraceutical ingredients expo called for the first time Engredea (formerly know as Supply Expo).

Discussion at the show revolved around the U.S. and EU organic equivalency, the non-GMO movement and recent developments in the FDA's New Dietary Ingredients guidance.

While vegetables, chia and Greek yogurt were everywhere, any company admitting to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their products would have been beaten with a hemp branch. With support from the event organizers, the Just Label It campaign (www.justlabelit.org) circulated a petition at the show. With nearly 900,000 signatures already under its belt, the group wants to hit 1 million before presenting them to the FDA to force action on a 2011 petition to require labeling of genetically modified foods.

Beanitos (www.beanitos.com), which forges pinto and black beans into chips, is a big supporter of the campaign. To that end, the company had someone in a hazmat suit in its booth to dramatize the purported dangers of GMOs.

But back to vegetables. It's kind of ironic how the simple potato chip – made from a wholesome vegetable with just a three-item ingredient statement (potatoes, vegetable oil, salt) – gets so maligned. But Kettle Foods (www.kettlebrand.com) appeared to be the only potato chip purveyor at NPEW. Now a part of Diamond Foods Inc., the formerly independent company focused on four retired flavors of chips (red chili, jalapeno jack, cheddar beer and salsa with mesquite) that it has brought back only for 2012 in honor of the company's 30th anniversary.

In several other booths, the potato chip was replaced by the likes of Veggie Chips – that name belonging to Natural Intentions (www.thedailycrave.com). The all-natural/no GMO product has an ingredient list that includes – surprise! – potatoes (in flour and starch form) plus tomato paste, spinach powder, beetroot powder (all those possibly for color) plus salt, sugar and expeller-pressed safflower oil.

While Snikiddy's (www.snikiddy.com) Eat Your Vegetables also listed potatoes (actually dried potatoes) first, they include navy beans, rice flour, carrot and sweet potato, in addition to the flavoring ingredients.

Terra Chips (www.terrachips.com), a pioneer in the category, remained in the booth of parent Hain Celestial Group.

The humble legume lentil is the key ingredient in Plentils from Enjoy Life Foods (www.enjoylifefoods.com). With lots of protein but no gluten, they come in Light Sea Salt, Margherita Pizza, Garlic & Parmesan, and Dill & Sour Cream.

But if you don't mind a little gluten, R.W. Garcia's Dippers are semi-traditional corn chips with brown flaxseed, black sesame seed, chia seeds, mango powder and "a trace of lime." Varieties include three-seed, curry and mango.

Peas of Mind (www.peasofmind.com), our 2009 R&D Teams of the Year winner in the small (less than $100 million sales) category (see the article), continues to age with its original baby clientele – but maintaining a focus on getting as many vegetables as possible into children. Pull-A-Parts are new "dunkable veggie snacks for after school or anytime." With carrots and broccoli kneaded into the dough, they provide a serving of veggies in every single-serving box. They come on the heels of Peas of Pie, which also has carrots and broccoli baked into the pizza-like crust.

Another former baby food company growing up is another Food Processing R&D Teams of the Year winner (2011 - see the article). HappyBaby itself has grown up into HappyFamily (www.happybabyfood.com). The organic food company brought an ambitious 15 new products to the show, including HappyTimes (bite-sized snacks made with fruit, whole grains and yogurt) HappyTot Toddler Meal Bowls (meat and veggie meals for toddlers' developing bodies) and three new HappyMunchies (baked organic cheese & veggie snacks).

In the burgeoning Greek yogurt category, giants Chobani and Fage were there, as was lesser-known Karoun. And the stuff is getting frozen, too. Just as Ben & Jerry's (not at the show) was launching frozen Greek yogurts nationally, Dannon's Stonyfield Farm unit (www.stonyfield.com) was sampling both traditional Greek yogurt and a frozen yogurt, both under the Oikos brand. Gelato maker Ciao Bella (www.ciaobellagelato.com) offered the treat not only in scoops but in frozen novelties.

Another company we've written about before at this show also is growing into new product niches. Corazonas (www.corazonas.com), which we noticed long ago for their cholesterol-lowering corn chips, for more than a year has been producing similarly healthy cereal bars – actually Oatmeal Squares. At this show, the company introduced white chocolate macadamia nut and blueberry to what now is a seven-variety line.

That category – cereal bars – was present in a huge number of booths at NPEW.

The name Jamba Juice will be popping up on grocery store shelves, not just malls and busy urban locations. The smoothie chain has been on a licensing tear over the past year. Just about any product with fruit seems ripe for the brand, and several were evident at NPEW.

Inventure Foods Inc. was sampling make-at-home Jamba smoothies in aseptic pouches plus multigrain chips – "salty and sweet, made with real fruit" – such as Blueberry Bliss and Cranberry Crunch. Bare Fruit showed bagged apple chips. Zola puts its favorite acai into a Jamba Daily Superfruit Shot.

Not at NPEW, but also using Jamba's name, are Johnvince Foods (trail mixes), One Drinks (coconut water, fruit juices and electrolytes in an alternative to sports drinks) and Oregon Ice Cream (fruit sorbet bars). Nestle actually was the first to license the Jamba name and, after a 2008 false start, the multinational recently resumed lightly carbonated fruit juice drinks.

Natural Products Expo East will be Sept. 19-22 in Baltimore.

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