BALTIMORE — In terms of floor space, exhibitor number and attendee traits, the East coast edition of Natural Products Expo is smaller, has fewer and is much more conservative than the West coast version that takes place annually in March. Business casual was the look in Baltimore this past week, not the Birkenstocks and jeans common to the Anaheim event.

Expo East ran Sept. 18 to 20 at the Baltimore Convention Center, which hosted more than 1,200 exhibitors, primarily marketers located in the Southeast and Eastern part of the country. Like Expo West, the Expo East trade show floor sold out early and expanded into the ballroom and lobby space. Preliminary figures showed attendance was up, once again, and is attributed to consumers’ desire for natural foods.

 

Desire is one thing. Delivering on it is another. And this year’s expo had some real show stoppers. For starters, three products received The Best of East Award, the official show honor given to the most innovative products and emerging entrepreneurial brands exhibiting at the event. On the first day of the expo, the top-70 new product launches were on display in the press room for the more than 300 media members to vote for the best. The winners were announced on day two.

The Best of East Award 2014 winners are: Little Me Tea, Lawrenceville, Ga.; Hampton Creek, San Francisco; and DeeBee’s SpecialTea Foods, Victoria, B.C.

Little Me Tea is the only organic, Non-GMO Project Verified children’s tea and juice drink. It is a blend of antioxidant-rich teas sweetened only with fruits and vegetables. The company recently added Fruit Punch Tea and Berry Tasty Tea varieties, joining the original flavors of Julia’s Tropical Tea and Zane’s Grape Tea. The new flavors will be available in stores by the first quarter of 2015. The full line of Little Me Teas are available in 6.75-oz aseptic boxes with a suggested retail price of $2.99 to 3.39 for a three-pack.

Hampton Creek received accolades for Just Mayo, a vegan mayonnaise-like spread made with pea protein instead of eggs. The startup company, whose mission is to use plants to make foods better, recently entered a partnership with the world’s largest food service company, Compass Group, Charlotte, N.C., to bring its second innovation, Just Cookies, to the marketplace. The allergen-free cookies come in four varieties: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter and sugar.

DeeBee’s SpecialTea Foods manufactures tea-based freezer pops called TeaPops! Lower in sugar than traditional freezer pops thanks to a combination of brewed tea and fruit juice ingredients, the pops come in five varieties: berry and cherry, mint, iced tea, toasted coconut and tropical mango.

The three products exemplify the dominant themes of Expo East: flavor fusion, gluten-free and protein. Often, all three trends are addressed in a single innovation.

When it comes to flavor fusion, it’s not just layers of flavors and combinations of ethnicities, it’s these attributes but in unlikely carriers. The list ranges from seaweed to turkey jerky, as well as the emerging category of food flavor enhancers.

Tracking the trends

Gluten-free baked goods and cereals are the norm at Natural Products Expo. At this year’s Expo East there was a new generation of gluten-free foods making their way into the spotlight, most notably hand-held meals and frozen entrees.

With protein, whey-based foods remained prominent, but not just foods made with ordinary whey. One product featured whey from grass-fed cows. It was also very noticeable that all types of plant proteins, including nuts, peas and seaweed, are making their way into the protein-rich food and beverage category.

Kickers Powdered Food Enhancer from Waldman Naturals Inc., Charlotte, N.C., is the brainchild of entrepreneur Dave Waldman, a bodybuilding champion who wanted to spice up his boring-tasting oatmeal.

“Truth be told, other than a few common spices and sweeteners, I couldn’t find any natural powdered products on store shelves to add some enticing fruit flavor to my otherwise bland-tasting foods so I turned to my kitchen for answers,” he said.

Kickers is a natural blend of fruit, spices, sweeteners and other non-bioengineered ingredients. Kickers is available in four flavors: apple cinnamon, chocolate peanut butter banana, maple banana cream and strawberry banana. The product may be sprinkled onto oatmeal, hot and cold cereals, pancakes, ice cream, yogurt, toast, smoothies, protein drinks and more. A teaspoon serving contains 15 to 20 calories and 2 to 3 grams of sugar, depending on variety. The food enhancer comes in a 25-serving family-size pouch starting at $9.99 and a double serving stick pack starting at $1.39.

Virtuous Living, Marlboro, Md., makes a line of spice blends that are certified organic, gluten-free, kosher, wheat-free, halal and non-bioengineered. But the company said it offers more than that. Food can be therapeutic if prepared correctly and the food enhancers bring flavor to foods of all kinds, providing consumers the ability to enjoy foods without sacrificing taste, according to the company. There are three enhancers. Faith is a sweet blend of raw cane sugar, cinnamon and vanilla bean. Love contains Himalayan pink salt, black pepper and garlic. Hope blends 17 herbs and spices, including cayenne, onion and rosemary and contains no sugar or salt.

From the founder of Pirate’s Booty, and the parent company Robert’s American Gourmet Inc., Robert Ehrlich has defined the snack food market since 1986 and is continuing the quest with SexyPop Popcorn. SexyPop, Sea Cliff, N.Y., has quickly grown to be a player in the popcorn market in the past few years. Mr. Ehrlich’s newest creations are SexyPop Energy Popcorn, which contains agave, light cafe and bee pollen, and SexyPop Protein Popcorn, which contains 25 grams of protein-rich vegan peas and Hawaiian sea salt.

Here’s a bread innovation that is not gluten-free, the norm in the category these days. Dave’s Killer Bread, Milwaukie, Ore., developed Seeded Honey Wheat. This is the first U.S.D.A.-certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified honey wheat bread on the market. With nearly four tablespoons of organic honey packed into each loaf, one slice (42 grams) of the bread contains 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. Thanks to the addition of organic flaxseeds, each slice also provides 100 mgs of the omega-s fatty acid alpha linolenic acid.

Banza L.L.C., New York, introduces the first pasta made from chickpeas and pea protein. A cooked 2-oz serving of either penne or rotini provides 13 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. The company said it believes that gluten-free Banza is the next generation of pasta similar to how Greek yogurt was the next generation of yogurt.

Speaking of Greek yogurt, Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods Inc., Ward Hall., Mass., strayed from hummus and salsa and debuted a line of Greek Style Yogurt Dips in Buffalo Bleu Cheese, Jalapeño Artichoke Cheese and Ultimate Spinach with 3 Cheeses flavors. What’s more interesting are the new flavors of hummus and salsa. Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Hommus and Limited Edition Cranberry Salsa are hitting retailers’ refrigerated cases this month. There’s also new Beet Scallion Hommus.

Greek yogurt products are becoming more specialty, as exemplified by the most recent introduction from Maple Hill Creamery, Stuyvesant, N.Y. The company has been designated as the first national dairy brand to receive Pennsylvania Certified Organic’s new 100% GrassFed Organic certification. Milk from grass-fed cows is said to have a more favorable fatty acid profile than milk from conventionally fed cows. At Expo East the company introduced a new whole milk Greek yogurt made with this certified milk.

Boundless Nutrition, Austin, Texas, markets high-protein cookies and bars made with grass-fed whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Perfect Cookie comes in five flavors (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, Snickerdoodle and white chocolate macadamia) and Oatmega Bars come in five flavors (brownie, chocolate mint, chocolate peanut, vanilla almond and blueberry). One cookie provides 10 grams of protein while the bars contain 14 grams. Protein is not the only nutrient these products tout. They both are made with chicory root fiber, providing a cookie with 4 to 5 grams of fiber and a bar with 7. To keep sugar calories low (8 to 9 grams in the cookies and 5 grams in in the bars), stevia or monkfruit extract, respectively, are used.

Burlingame, Calif.-based New Frontier Foods Inc., was founded in 2011 by four fathers on a mission to leverage the science of superfoods to make ordinary foods delicious and healthy. Their first innovation is Ocean’s Halo Seaweed Chips, which celebrated its one-year anniversary at Natural Products Expo East with the introduction of a new line of U.S.D.A.-certified organic chips. With a new and improved recipe, the organic chips come in the line’s four original flavors — chili lime, hot and spicy, Korean BBQ and sea salt — and now new Texas BBQ. Made from seaweed and other gluten-free ingredients, a serving of the baked chips contains 6 grams of protein.

Carla Lee’s NutBurgers, Newport Beach, Calif., relies on nuts as its source of protein for its frozen balls, burgers and tacos. All of the products are based on a combination of brown rice, sunflower seeds, cashews, coconut and other ingredients. For dessert, there’s raw NutYummms in Date Apricot and Gogi Cherry varieties. These products are all about the descriptor fruits, which are combined with sunflower seeds, coconut and other ingredients.

Believe it or not, beverage innovations did not dominate the show for a change. One noteworthy showstopper comes from True Me Brands, Scottsdale, Ariz. Truenopal is based on the juice from the prickly pear cactus, a plant rich in bioflavonoid antioxidants known for their ability to fight inflammation. Low in sugar, truenopal is said to hydrate at the same time it stabilizes blood sugar.

Eating avocado has become easier and more decadent. Calavo Foods, Santa Paula, Calif., now offers two ready-to-eat, perfectly ripe avocado halves in a vacuum pack that has a 62-day unopened refrigerated shelf life. The innovations don’t stop there. The company also is rolling out avocado hummus made with chickpeas; avocado chocolate mousse, which is vegan dessert product; and Aveyo, a vegan mayonnaise alternative combining avocado, white vinegar, olive oil, sea salt and lime juice.

What’s for dessert? Well, gluten-free, homemade chocolate chip-containing goodies are now possible thanks to the roll-out of dark chocolate baking morsels from Enjoy Life Natural Brands, Schiller Park, Ill. With 69% cacao, this is the only dark chocolate on the market that is void of dairy and soy. Semi-sweet mini chips and mega chunks are also available. 

Mark your calendars for Natural Products Expo West scheduled to take place March 6 to 8, 2015. For more information, visit www.expowest.com.