I was so excited to attend the Natural Foods Expo this year, especially after attending the Fancy Food Show in June and discovering the many unique and healthy products that have evolved into a booming business. If you have never been to the Natural Foods Expo, let me briefly explain – it is an annual, bi-coastal show that is held in Anaheim, California in the early Spring (Natural Foods Expo West) and then again in Baltimore, Maryland in early Fall (Natural Foods Expo East). Both shows are quite large and encompass multiple levels at their respective venues and require at least 2 full days to be able to get through everything.
This year, the Baltimore show celebrated its 28th anniversary with 1,200 exhibitors and 22,000 attendees. The show in Anaheim celebrated its 32nd year with 60,000 attendees and over 2,000 exhibitors. The Anaheim show encompassed 1 million square feet, 400 workers sharing 17,000 man hours, 1100 semi trucks unloading 3,000 pallets with 70 forklifts…quite an amazing feat.
The best part of the show is spending time chatting with the company owners to really hear about how their company and product(s) came about. It is during this time that you discover what really makes these companies tick and learn about the love and passion that created their offerings. The Baltimore show highlighted 400 of these new businesses on the top floor of the convention center. Taking the time to evaluate new products and be able to compare them to other similar ones, is what takes a good bit of time. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of these shows, I recommend visiting the more established companies first and saving the new products for last. This will give you a better reference point on where they stand in comparison.
A show like this includes just about any product imaginable – You will find all kinds of energy bars, plant based cups and trays, unique pain relievers , commonly found cosmetics using bee products and even creams and shampoos using hemp (cannabis)…the ideas and the products are endless, and if nothing else, this show will serve to expand your mind in the way you think about everything. You will even find some that are well know consumer brands found just about everywhere. Do you recognize the real Bob from Bob’s Red Mill products? Yep, he was there too…
If you have read my article about the Fancy Food Show, you will discover that trade shows are not cheap to attend as an exhibitor or business owner. A small company can pay upwards of $10,000 for a show of this size. You must also take into consideration that this is not the only show they will attend in any given year, so these expenses can be staggering. However, every business owner that I spoke to told me that they weigh the costs against the immeasurable rewards that can be achieved after getting their product in front of the right people.
At the Fancy Food Show, the trendsetters this year were the companies that offered products in the organic, non gmo, fair trade and sustainable categories. Those companies that were getting extra buzz were those that focused on doing good things and sharing their profits with their communities and other parts of the world.
In a show like this, most of the companies in attendance are very socially conscious, so using this as a distinguishing factor between a good company and a great company wasn’t going to be enough. Most of them have chosen to run their companies differently and all deserve to be supported by the public-at-large…and in the end, it all boiled down to the taste and quality of their product.
In the list below, I included some interesting and tasty new items that I discovered from a few new companies, and also highlighted some great products from existing companies that may not be so well known. Their products are not only delicious, but these companies set a higher standard in how they run their businesses.
The show began on a Thursday and continued on through Saturday – a full 3 days. I only had the opportunity to attend on Saturday, and although I arrived at the start of the show (10 am), I found that many vendors were packing up as early as 1 pm. If you make it to the event in the future, it’s best to go the first 2 days and then leave the last day to wander around and pick up your samples. The samples are always plentiful and companies are always willing to share them with attendees instead of taking everything back with them. So, if you want to take a sample back with you…just ask.
The exciting new companies that I discovered at the 2013 Natural Foods Expo East, were companies that were brand new and launching one or more brand new products. Some of the new items that caught my eye were:
1. Motto Sparking Matcha Green Tea: This delicious new product is handcrafted in small batches and packs a healthy punch. The health benefits of matcha tea are well known, and as an ingredient, it is used in many different products. You often find the matcha powder itself in international stores (especially Asian grocery stores) and can enjoy it warm or in iced drinks. You can even find it used as a favorite flavoring in many Asian desserts like ice cream, sponge cakes, rolls and even mochi, which are Japanese glutinous rice balls that are sometimes filled with sweetened adzuki bean paste. In addition to the matcha powder in the sparkling tea, the other ingredients are equally wholesome and include honey, agave, organic apple cider vinegar and lemon juice to really brighten up the flavor. This is something I enjoyed on the way home from the show and after I finished it, I wished I had another bottle – it was that good. This is a brand new product, so if you are a business and looking to pick up a delicious, all natural sparkling tea drink, make sure to check out their website and send them an inquiry for samples.
2. Koochikoo Sugar Free Cookies: One of the most unique products at the show this year, was a new sugar free cookie by a company called Koochikoo. Their unique sweetener is derived from monkfruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, and offers some great benefits. These crispy and delicious little cookies come in four delicious flavors, and each bag is only 120 calories! It is a great little product for those who are cutting back on sugar for medical reasons (or by choice), and unlike other sweeteners, it did not have an aftertaste. I was so impressed with this product because it has a low glycemic index which means that it does not cause blood sugar to spike.
3. Bonk Breaker Energy Bars: As a kid, I remember when energy bars became all the rage when Jack Lalane created them back in the late 70’s. Today, they are still all the rage and there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of these types of bars out on the market. Many of them don’t taste very good, and an event like this really allows you to taste many of the well known products and compare them to the newer ones out on the market. I had a chance to try this energy bar that an athlete created for his own personal use. When his friends tried them, they encouraged him to share the product because it was simply so delicious. In fact, the company has been chosen as the official, real food energy bar of the Iron Man competitions…that’s quite an accomplishment and endorsement. They have a variety of different flavors, but the one that is so very delicious is the Peanut Butter & chocolate chip bar. These gluten and dairy free bars that were perfectly moist and sweet with huge flavor.
4. Amrita Health Foods: This is another one of those great little companies that has created a plant based endurance bar for a very good reason. These totally vegan, raw, seed (not peanut) based bars were created for the owner’s son, whose was diagnosed with autism. This diagnosis drove the family to contemplate a unique food regimen to alleviate some symptoms and behaviors associated with autism. The change in diet relieved the stresses placed on the child’s system from conventional diets, and if it worked for his son, then perhaps others could benefit from the product also. I tried the deep, dark chocolate maca bar, that was not overly chocolaty, but moist, nutty and delicious.
5. Blossom Fine Foods: A relatively new little company called Blossom Fine Foods makes some extraordinarily good desserts. Owner, Sonia Faber was kind enough to let me take home a whole pumpkin cheesecake that I shared with friends who absolutely loved it. As a result, she has gained a few loyal customers who will be looking for this dessert in their local Whole Foods store. So, if you are looking for something traditional that also happens to be gluten free for your upcoming holiday table, make sure to pick up one of these outstanding cheesecakes.
6. Sweetie Beans: The owners of this brand new little company are one of the most adorable couples I have ever met. This husband and wife team who own and operate this gluten free and vegan company explained to me that they developed these products for their own family, who began experiencing severe food allergies that manifested into severe joint pain (I had the same, read my article for more information). They decided to modify their diet to see if that would help instead of taking the myriad of medications that physicians were suggesting. Once they detoxified themselves of many of the conventional and offending foods, their joint pains disappeared (as did mine), and they decided to take these newly created products to the market place. At the show, they had made one of the most delicious spice cakes I have ever had. Honestly, I could not believe that it was from a mix. They were also kind enough to give me a bag of their Rise n’ Shine Pancake Mix which I enjoyed tremendously and even turned into waffles! Both the pancakes and the waffles were so moist and tender, we simply loved them. So if you want something a little more wholesome that only needs a little water to come together, you just have to try these.
7. Dr. OH BALM: Another brand new item that premiered at the show is a topical, fast acting, all natural, pain relief cream. This product was developed by Dr. Ough, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist who just so happened to also be a marathon runner who always suffered from severe leg cramps. He developed this cream to alleviate his own discomfort, and it worked so well that he decided to sell it. The brochure says that it helps with muscle pain and cramps, fibromyalgia and menstrual cramps. The company also offers a patch for pain relief throughout the day. If you are looking for an all natural pain reliever, you may want to check out their site for more information.
The more established companies at the 2013 Natural Foods Expo East, were companies that had been around for at least one year. Many of these companies offer some wonderful products that may not be well known to the public, but deserve to be highlighted. These companies are:
1. Kate Farms Komplete: This great little company has developed an (ultimate) meal replacement shake which is high protein and totally organic, It is based on rice protein, which also makes it vegan (dairy free) and gluten and soy free. It is such a delicious product with a great consistency. This is made in three great flavors that include Vanilla Bliss, Cocoa Fudge and Java Latte. Their shakes offer anywhere from 17-19 grams of easily digestible protein and include the addition of many other well known super foods, like acai beries, turmeric, camu camu, green tea and green coffee. The Laver family developed these wonderful products for their daughter Kate, who was born with cerebral palsy and very serious absorption issues. When she was given the gloomy prognosis of failure to thrive, her family was offered suggestions to use some existing meal replacement shakes that did not work well for her because they were full of sugars, artificial flavors and colors. These lead to severe digestive issues and acid reflux that led to sleep apnea. They decided to create their own products removing all of the offensive ingredients and the child began to flourish. Their meal replacement shakes are perfect for anyone – young or old – and surprisingly enough, athletes are one of their largest consumers. Their products are packed in small, easily transportable and shelf stable tetra packs and are available for purchase online.
2. Sibu Sura Organic Chocolate: This all natural chocolate company located in Maryland controls the manufacturing of their organic chocolate from start to finish. This sweet little company sources 100% Fair Trade, organic bean, roasts them in their facility, packs them in environmentally friendly packaging, supports charitable causes in their communities and even recycles their cocoa shells right back into mulch. Their products make great little gifts and are only 80 calories a bar.
3. Harbor Creek Farms: If you are looking for some delicious sides to go with your holiday meals, I highly encourage you to try a few products from a vegan company called Harbor Creek Farms. I had a chance to try their delicious northwest mushroom strudel and their cranberry horseradish sauce at the show and both were really delicious. The mushroom strudel would make a great appetizer for the upcoming holidays, but I was even more intrigued to try the cranberry horseradish sauce after the owner told me he puts it on ice cream….What?? I expected it to be spicy, as you would with horseradish, but it wasn’t at all – it was pleasantly sweet and slightly chunky, and although it is a vegan product, I wouldn’t think twice about serving this next to my favorite piece of meat or poultry.
4. WOW Baking Company: If you happen to come across some chocolate brownies made by this company, make sure to grab yourself some. These are wheat and gluten free brownies that are so creamy and delicious, that I simply could not tell that they were not the real thing.
5. Singing Dog Vanilla Company: You know that a company truly loves what they do when they begin to get creative and add vanilla to everything. These guys have everything from the more traditional vanilla bean paste, vanilla coffee and vanilla lip balm… but the item that really caught my eye was their vanilla salt. If you are a home baker and want to try something unique in your baked goods or confections (I can really see this on some soft, homemade caramels), or you want to find a unique item to give as a gift to someone who loves to putter in the kitchen, then this is it!
6. High Mowing Organic Seed Company: I was happy to run into my friends from the High Mowing Organic Seed Company based in Vermont. If you want to read about the good things that these people are involved in you must read my article on sustainable agriculture that tells you the story of the small mining town of Hardwick, Vermont. These people insist on doing good things for the people that buy their products, and it all starts with selling wholesome, organic, non-gmo seed. I love to support companies like this who can sleep at night knowing they have done the world a lot of good.
7. Yasso Frozen Yogurt: I remember trying frozen yogurt years ago when it became all the rage across the country. Over the years, the craze died down but was recently re-ignited with the new found love consumers have developed for the rich and creamy Greek style yogurt. This love has spawned a resurgence in the frozen yogurt market. This company has been around for a while, but I had never had the opportunity to try their products until recently. They make several different flavors and all are just delicious and creamy without the yogurt tang. My favorites were the mango and the coconut, and all of them are so light and fluffy that I would put them up against any of the better quality gelatos out on the market. I recently found a variety pack being sold at my neighborhood big box store called BJ’s, but if you are looking for a specific flavor, make sure to check out their website.
8. Russo’s Pizzeria: One of the most delicious items I had tried at the show was this company’s delicious gluten free pizza. Gone are the days when the words gluten free were associated with breads and crusts that tasted like cardboard…these guys are the real deal. Their prepackaged pizzas come in a variety of different flavors and use the best toppings for a great pizza flavor that is paired with a very crispy, rice flour crust. I cannot explain to you in words how incredibly delicious these pizzas are, and all I can say is, if you see them in your local market, stock up.
9. Worker-B: This little company prides itself on selling one of the most wholesome and natural ingredients on the planet. Bee products are one of the most nutritionally complete foods that are loaded with so many vitamins and minerals, and so good for our health. I had a chance to speak with Michael, who is one of the owners of this small, but up and coming company that was recently featured in Oprah’s O Magazine.These guys specialize in developing skincare products whose ingredients include products that are harvested from their own hives. They also sell a couple of different and unique tasting raw honey, so make sure to check their website for these complexion enhancing, anti-aging products.
10. Back 2 Earth: I don’t think that most people would equate packaging material to a naturally occurring product, but this company develops their responsible packaging from wheat stalks. They are petroleum free, compostable, biodegradable, sustainable, gluten free, gmo free and tree free (contains no paper). They also contain no chemicals or bleach and can withstand temperatures of up to 450°F with no leaking. They are safe for microwave use and safe to use in the freezer without cracking. They offer a variety of different trays (meat trays and also for fresh food like sushi) and most recently began to offer pizza trays. If you are a manufacturer or packer looking for green packaging, these people should be one of the top on your list.
If you plan to attend one of the Natural Food Product Expos (East or West), make sure to come hungry and bring lots of bags.