From fancy faux cheese to turmeric teas, products launching the natural channel meet demand for convenient nutrition, sustainability and simple ingredients.
Say hello to hemp seeds. Packed with protein and essential oils, this health ingredient du jour is popping up in bars, beverages, burgers and nut butters. “Hemp has been repositioned as new products are pushing the protein of hemp seeds over the omegas,” said Kara Nielsen, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm.
Made with organic fruits, nuts, hemp protein powder and hemp seeds, Evo Hemp snack bars are vegan, paleo-friendly and gluten-free. Each bar has 7 or 8 grams of protein. Hilary’s Eat Well Hemp & Greens Burger is made with organic grains, vegetables and spices with 6 grams of protein per serving.
Despite the popularity of dairy alternatives in the marketplace, milk makers continue to innovate on the refrigerator staple. New optimized dairy products include fairlife ultra-filtered milk, which has 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and half the sugar of conventional milk; and a2 Milk, which has a different protein structure than traditional cows’ milk that is easier to digest, according to the company.
Please pass the broccoli sprouts? New freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders from Super Sprout may be shaken on any dish to deliver a sneaky dose of nutrition in a convenient format. “We’re seeing supplements turn into something that may be sitting on your table and looked more at like food,” Ms. Nielsen said. “A condiment with nutrition.”
A similar product line from Kickers adds fruit flavor to oatmeal, pancakes, cereal or yogurt. Available in such flavors as apple cinnamon and chocolate peanut butter banana, the powdered fruit blends are gluten-free with no artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. Doctor Rach’s KidzSprinkles are a powdered multivitamin for children with probiotics, enzymes and omega-3s packaged in a shakable bottle. “It seems a little on the novelty side, but I think the core idea is people are struggling to get the nutrition they want or to make things that are good for them taste better,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Boasting a host of health benefits, turmeric has taken off in tonics and teas, but now the ancient spice also is showing up in snack nuts, popcorn and more. “The curcumin/turmeric trend in the supplement space has grown, and we’re starting to see this turmeric in food items go beyond just beverages, where it has been lurking in a not-so-sexy way so far,” Ms. Nielsen said. “It obviously has taste challenges, but I feel like we’re at a bit of a turning point now, where we’re going to see more entrepreneurs and products showcase turmeric in a way that hopefully will be meaningful.”
An example is Healthee Organic Turmeric Brown Rice, microwavable coconut-milk cooked rice with organic turmeric. “I think whether that brand makes it or not is a good model for thinking about how these nutrients can be a regular part of our day,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Expect to see more food and beverage products featuring “adaptogens,” ingredients such as ginseng, Peruvian maca root, ashwagandha, eleuthero and mushrooms that are linked with health benefits like mental clarity, sustained energy and immune support.
“These herbs and potions and roots and plants are coming out of both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda medicine,” Ms. Nielsen said. “I feel that these are growing in acceptance as more people are doing acupuncture and practicing yoga and meditation. However, it’s going to take a while for these to trickle out.”
In such varieties as Maca Mocha and Ashwagandha Chia, Rebbl Elixirs and Tonics are made with organic ingredients and “super-herbs” to improve energy levels and reduce stress. Touting similar health benefits, Four Sigma Foods makes a line of coffee and hot chocolate mixes made with cordyceps, reishi and chaga mushrooms. Navitas Naturals offers maca maple cashews made with maca powder, which is said to increase stamina, boost libido and fight fatigue.
More product manufacturers are embracing almond flour in gluten-free formulations. An example is Mikey’s Muffins, a line of English muffins in original, cinnamon and toasted onion flavors. “It’s way better than the gritty rice flour, tapioca starch, or the off flavors of the fava bean flour, which previously made up a lot of these products,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Here you see this next generation of gluten-free merging with the paleo trend.”
Simple Mills offers a line of almond flour-based mixes for muffins, bread, cookies, cakes and pizza dough. The baking mixes and croutons from Jackalope Good Food Co. contain a blend of blanched almond flour and organic coconut flour. “I think it’s definitely coming out of both the maturing innovation efforts of gluten-free companies as well as the love of good fat, good food, real ingredients love of the paleo folks,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Made with cultured nut milk, gourmet cheese substitutes offer an upgraded alternative to dairy-dodging consumers. “Free-from foods are going a little artisan, and it’s not just some kind of combination of highly processed ingredients to replicate cheese for your sandwich or grilled cheese or pizza,” Ms. Nielsen said. “This is like the pleasurable elements of artisan European traditionally made cheeses that you serve as an appetizer or dessert.”
Examples include a double-cream chive product from Miyoko’s Kitchen, French-style treenut cheese from Treeline and almond milk-based cream cheese-style spread from Kite Hill. “Folks are giving up milk and dairy because of how intensive dairy farming is, so this type of alternative can appeal to that type of user, as well as people with allergies or just choosing to give up other dairy products but still being a fan of cheese,” Ms. Nielsen said.
Natural and organic product makers are stepping up sustainability efforts with compostable and biodegradable packaging solutions. “Keurig has not solved the compostable coffee thing yet,” Ms. Nielsen said. “OneCoffee is trying to do it. They have a 99% compostable coffee pod.”
Another company takes environmentally friendly packaging a step further with edible drinking cups. Made entirely of vegan, biodegradable ingredients, Loliware cups are available in such flavors as citrus, matcha, Madagascar vanilla and tart cherry.
“The environment is typically a mission for an entrepreneur or new company in this space, and it’s great to see how some of these folks are solving in a way you kind of wonder why the big folks haven’t been, and they continue to be pioneers in that respect.”
Back to the Roots aims to solve cereal packaging with Stoneground Flakes. “The flakes themselves are made with three ingredients, and they come in a carton with 20% less packaging than a cereal box,” Ms. Nielsen said.
From soups to snacks, products in the natural channel are popping with bold and worldly flavors. “Conventional marketers are still so hesitant to really make something authentically flavored with potent ingredients and big bright flavors, chilies and heat and harissa,” Ms. Nielsen said. “And I think these younger folks really again are leading the way and making flavor-loving consumers turn to the natural channel.”
World Peas offers fava crisps and crunchy green pea snacks in such varieties as Brighton vinegar with sea salt, Sichuan, wasabi, Bombay curry, and Hungarian garlic. TaDah! Foods Falafel Poppers are frozen falafel balls filled with harissa hummus, roasted garlic hummus or cucumber dill yogurt. And Nona Lim broths and rice noodles span the globe with varieties that include Vietnamese pho broth, Thai curry and lime broth, miso ramen broth and Laksa noodles. “We forget to talk about flavors, sometimes; we mostly talk about health and wellness in the natural space,” Ms. Nielsen said. “There are a lot of really great flavors and much more interesting than what’s coming out in conventional.”