TOP PICKS Of The Natural Foods Product Expo East 2015

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on October 3, 2015

natural_products_expo_east_2015I was really happy to be invited to the Natural Foods Expo East again this year to cover the show, especially since I missed the Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC due to time constraints of ongoing projects. The show took place again at the Baltimore Convention Center on September 16-19, 2015, with special events taking place on the 16th and the trade show itself going on from the 17th through the 19th. As I usually do, I kept my focus on the many new companies that are highlighted at the show, especially since there were 25% more new product launches this year than ever before.

Every year, the show just seems to get bigger and bigger — and this year it was no exception. There were 1363 exhibitors  and 25,000 people in attendance – 3,000 more than last year. It was also the 30th anniversary of the show, so I knew they were going to do it up right — and they did.

There were a few things that they did a little differently this year, and one of them was to add an event day to the show’s schedule, where attendees were able to sign up to visit a farm to market  tour that evaluates local, sustainable supply chains. The other new addition to the show was the creation of an all access Superpass where attendees could participate in all of the educational sessions and events AND also had access to the special Superpass Lounge that was set up for them throughout the show. It offered free wi-fi, access to computer and printers, charging stations, on-site concierge services, free bag check, light refreshments and drink tickets for the evenings celebrations.

For me, the Natural Products Expo has always been an exciting event to attend and evaluate the abundance of exceptionally made products already on grocery shelves and discover new products and the entrepreneurial spirit and provenance behind their creation.

The show continues to provide an avenue and an audience to allow good people to do good things. It is a show that I will continue to support because it’s always such a pleasure to attend.

Before I begin with this year’s NEW products, I just want to mention a company called Kate Farms who manufacture a product called Komplete Ultimate Meal Replacement.  I discovered this company at the Natural Foods Expo East in 2013, and learned about how they created the product to save their daughter’s life. These folks continue to stay true to their product, and are always willing to help however they can. Not only is this product great for people on the go, and those who are both fitness and calorie minded, but it has also found a very important place with many others who require reliable nutrition while undergoing treatment for serious illnesses, such as cancer. So, since I have already included them in my TOP PICKS in the past, I wanted to highlight the company this year and publicly thank them for their continued efforts in saving lives, and we have named them our Honorary Top Pick for 2015.

There were many new products that I evaluated this year but the ones that stood out for one or more reasons were the following:

Flax4Life  Wild Blueberry Muffins
Flax became all the rage a few years ago when vegans began adding it to their baked goods as a dependable replacement for eggs. The following year, the Flax Council estimates that close to 300 new flax-based products were launched in the U.S. and Canada in 2010 alone. Since then, the market has exploded with more companies manufacturing gluten free and vegan foods and baked goods, based on this tiny seed that is ground into a fine flour.

I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements for eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids? You guessed it — part of their feed includes flax seed.

The reality is that this little seed has been around for centuries, yet some researchers are calling it one of the most powerful ingredients on the planet.

Early research research indicates that flax may reduce risks of certain cancers ( especially breast, prostate and colon), and the particular plant based omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed (ALA) has shown great promise in inhibiting tumor incidence and growth. One of the other beneficial properties of flax seed is something called lignans. These plant based chemical compounds are one of the classes of phytoestrogens (estrogen-like chemicals that also act as antioxidants). These, in conjunction with the omega 3 fatty acid, have shown great benefit in preventing illnesses derived from inflammation — specifically diseases such as cardiovascular disease (by naturally lowering blood pressure, treating arrhythmias and heart failure), diabetes, parkinsons, asthma and even lung disease.

I had a chance to try their muffins and brownies, and I will tell you that they were not only delicious but offered the light and airy texture you would expect in baked goods. My favorites were definitely the wild blueberry muffins.

The brownies were lightly sweet, chocolaty and fudgy — exactly what you would expect in a premium product.

The company recently came out with their own bread products. I am always careful about promoting vegan and gluten free bread products, because many times they don’t offer a lot of nutritional value (if they are based on rice flour) and also include other fillers and starches like potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch and xantham gum. I am happy to say that these folks include lots of great nutritional ingredients like ground flax seeds, millet flour, egg whites, oats, prune puree, aluminum free baking powder, molasses etc, which outweighs their addition of xantham gum.

Make sure to check out their store locator on their website to find out where you can buy these exceptional products.

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Thomas Creek Farms

Freeze dried snacks became popular many years ago, and I remember distintly when they flooded the market in those clear plastic containers that were touted as natural, yet so expensive and full of more added sugar than fruit. I am happy to say that many things have changed since then and that this family of farmers are serious about what they do. I had the chance to try their delicious freeze dried apples, blueberries and grapes, and hands down, they were some of the best freeze dried fruit snacks I’ve ever had. Their website provides all the information you would want to know about their freeze dried fruit products and their commitment to excellence.

There are actually three enterprises under the umbrella of this family of companies, who work together synergistically toward a common goal. Thomas Creek Farms is one, and the other two are Homegrown Organic Farms and AgriCare.

Agricare is one of the largest managers of permanent cropland in the United States, managing farmland from Southern California to Oregon and employ over 70 full-time team-members year round an as much as 1,200 during  peak harvest season. AgriCare serves their growers by providing professional, productive, and economical agricultural services that create profitable farming operations.

Homegrown Organic Farms is one of the largest marketers of organic permanent crops  in the U.S., and focus on building lasting relationships with customers across North Americawhile also working to bring the greatest return to their growers. It is here on their website where you will learn more about the farmers who are growing this delicious fruit.

All three companies have developed a clever, vertically integrated system that handles every product from seed to shelf — not too many companies can say that. Their vertically integrated system comes full circle to support their family of farmers, yet these three companies also manage to concern themselves with the needs of their community and the world.

They grow their own organic fruits that includes blueberries, citrus fruits, grapes, pomegranates, persimmons and stone fruit and then freeze dry them. The final product is so sweet, delicious and most important of all…crispy. I fell in love with their sweet freeze dried grapes that were unlike any I had ever had before. Their foil pack bags are full of large, beautiful chunks of freeze dried fruit that are so hard to resist. They are all organic, non-gmo with no added sugar and perfect treats for anyone at anytime.  You can purchase these delicious freeze dried fruits directly on the Homegrown Organic Farms website in a variety of different sizes that include individual packs of blueberries, apples and grapes. Eat them as is or add them to baked goods, cereal, homemade granola or trail mixes.

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BeePure Premium Honey

If you are not using raw honey in your regular diet, you should understand that you are not only missing out on a delicious product, but also the many health benefits that come along with it.  Raw honey has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It promotes body and digestive health, is a powerful antioxidant, strengthens the immune system, eliminates allergies, and is an excellent remedy for skin wounds and all types of infections. Raw honey can also stabilize blood pressure, balance sugar levels, relieve pain, calm nerves, and it has been used to treat ulcers. Raw honey is also an expectorant and anti-inflammatory and has been known to effectively treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma.

When I suggest that you incorporate honey into your diets, I don’t mean that processed stuff in the squeeze bottle. Those products are pasteurized (heat treated), which destroys much of the nutrient value, and is just as unhealthy as eating refined sugar.

Raw honey is honey that has not been heated, pasteurized or processed in any way. The differences between raw and pasteurized honey are substantial. Raw honey is an alkaline-forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants and other important natural nutrients.

BeePure’s beautiful raw honey comes straight to your table in glorious shades of yellow, orange and amber. The most interesting one of all that I discovered in their selection was a dark avocado honey. The taste was so reminiscent of a rich molasses, but more like a sorghum syrup, with a deep vegetal essence of avocado, and feels smooth and silky. It’s glorious in salad dressings that can handle its lovely herbaceous flavor, and exceptionally delicious in chocolate desserts. It goes well with smoked meat, so it would be a great addition to BBQ sauces and is even more delicious drizzled over smoked, creamy cheese.

I had never seen avocado honey before, so when I got back from the show I did a little more research on the product. Honey bees are essential in pollinating the avocado blossoms, and the avocado honey comes from the avocado blossoms’ nectar.

I was surprised to discover that avocado honey is prized for its skin softening benefits. As a general rule, darker honey is more desirable because of its higher concentration of antioxidant properties. At this time, the product is not available for purchase through their website and they are working on getting it into store shelves. So if you come across it, don’t hesitate to pick up a few jars. Other unique flavors include mesquite and orange blossom — what’s not to love.

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Jackson’s Honest Coconut Oil Potato Chips
There are so many coconut oil products out there these days, but I have never come across a potato chip fried in coconut oil. I’ve tasted many coconut based products like coconut milk, coconut ice cream, cakes cookies and brownies made with coconut oil, sugar, nectar and flour, and I will tell you that in most cases, there was some essence of coconut flavor in the background of every product.

I also cook with coconut oil, and depending on what you are making, the coconut oil is more noticeable in some preparations than others. When I tried these potato chips at the show, I was fully expecting to pick up a coconut essence, but that was definitely NOT the case. In fact, these potato chips are so delicious that I can’t wait to find them on the retail side and pick some up to snack on at home. The sea salt and vinegar are outrageous, and so far, these are the only potato chips fried in coconut oil that I have come across so far.  Their website has a store locator, so make sure to look them up to see if they can be found anywhere close to you.

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Tory’s Seaweed Kelp Crisps
I am a huge supporter of products made from seaweed, not only because of its health benefits (which are many) but also because it is currently being studied as a sustainable food that can provide complete nutrition for the millions of people suffering with hunger and starvation in our growing world.  These seaweed kelp crisps caught my eye because I like to turn people onto to seaweed products through deliciously manufactured seaweed and kelp treats.

These were really delicious and perfectly crispy without having an overwhelming seaweed taste like other products I have tried — and I have tried many. Not all seaweed products are made equal, and one very important detail is that your seaweed should always say organic on the label. This ensures that the seaweed was farmed in the cleanest of waters. having said that, I will tell you that none of the packaging or marketing material on this product says organic, but this is what their website says, “The seaweed is harvested exclusively from the Korean government controlled coastal zones for clean marine ecology for a premium quality food.”

If you’ve never considered adding seaweed products to your regular diet, you may want to re-consider after reading a little more.

Seaweed is an ancient super food and was our ancestor’s secret to health and longevity, and seaweed has been considered a perfect food in china for over 2000 years. Seaweed is high in protein, mineral content (organic iodine for healthy thyroid function, calcium, magnesium, iron), contains more vitamins C than oranges, contains anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins A and B, fiber, alpha linoleic acid, EPA (usually administered with DHA as fish oil) and so much more.

Nori includes almost all the mineral elements, which are used effectively in our body. This common seaweed contains more vitamins than fruits and vegetables and is abundant in dietary fiber.

Seaweed health benefits include improved memory, healthy thyroid function, improved immune system, lowers blood pressure, strengthens heart vessels, normalizes cholesterol levels, supports bone health and so much more. If you have never considered adding seaweed to your diet in the past, then this snack treat is a good way to start.

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Säpp Organic Birch Tree Water
We’ve all heard about the benefits of coconut water, but have you ever heard of the benefits surrounding the newest tapped water supply that comes from birch trees? I had never heard let alone tasted the product before, so I was really keen to try it. The company offered 3 flavors at the show — natural (plain) and two others with rosehip and nettle infusion. I tried all of them, and my favorite was definitely the natural flavor — I was surprised to find that it tasted a lot like lemon water.

You might be asking yourself what the heck birch water is or why it’s so important — questions I definitely asked the reps at the show — and the responses were not only interesting but compelling.

Birch tree water is an all natural, organic, low calorie drink, without any added sugar. It is a powerful source of manganese, zinc, calcium and iron along with other key minerals. It’s high in macronutrients and micronutrients including proteins and amino acids, as well as enzymes, electrolytes and potassium. Some have suggested that it can help rev up a sluggish metabolism and help detoxify those with liver disease and kidney disease. Unlike coconut water, birch water also contains saponin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and may have some anti-inflammatory effects. Birch tree water also has xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol which the American Dental Association says helps fight tooth decay.

Apparently, the Eastern Europeans are credited for first harvesting birch tree water and discovering its many benefits, but many in North America have been drinking it as a health tonic for years. In the early spring, the trees (Silver Birch & the North American Sweet Birch) are tapped to release their ready to drink sap, which has been naturally infused with rich and diverse minerals — the same way that maple trees are tapped for their syrup. The product is refreshing, naturally delicious and has 80% less natural sugar as compared to coconut water. You cannot purchase the product at this time online, however you can find them in NYC and Chicago. If you are interested in trying the product, talk to the buyers in your local organic market and share the information with them.

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Perfect Pickler

This company’s booth was bustling during the show with many inquiries. Why? Well, researchers have released a tremendous amount of research suggesting that for optimal health, we should all be consuming pickled, fermented, preserved and cultured foods on a daily basis. This would include things like pickled vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi) or  cultured dairy products like buttermilk, yogurt and cultured butter.  The benefits of fermented foods revolve around the live, active cultures that are a direct result of the anaerobic fermentation process. You can pick up their easy 3-step pickling system online or at Wegman’s, a great supporter of the company, who has seen a 21% increase in sales in probiotic supplements since 2014.

Wegmans continues to expand their canning and preserving section of general merchandise by including a year round displays that include the Perfect Pickler. It makes a great gift for cooks, gardeners, DIY’ers and those seeking a healthier lifestyle.

perfect_pickler_vegetable_fermenting_kit


Smart Flour Foods

This company makes one of the most delicious frozen pizzas and pizza crusts that I have ever tasted using ONLY ancient grains. This is such a hot topic these days which is why I decided to stop and check out there product. My friend Maria Speck published her first book, that just so happened to be a run away best seller on this very same topic a few years ago (Ancient Grains For Modern Meals, check out my review).

The pizza crusts only use sorghum, amaranth and teff, which are grains that can be challenging to work with. In this particular case, the resulting texture was really delicious — kind of what you would find in a thin crust pizza — soft, yet slightly crispy around the edges. I tried the Garden Margherita pizza with basil and tomato, and found it to be a perfectly delicious gluten free option. I am usually bothered by the addition of other starches like potato starch, tapioca starch, cornstarch and xantham gum, but in this case, these starches were combined with highly nutritive ancient grains and not with the traditionally used rice flour, so I did not find their addition as problematic in this particular case. They do not sell their products online, but do offer a store locator  on their website.

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Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps

I’ve had my share of different crackers at cocktail parties just like many of you, but I have to say that as crackers go, this is definitely the most delicious crispy cracker I have ever put in my mouth.

I had never seen, heard or tasted them before, and when I came across their small display at the show I didn’t realize that it would be love at first bite. These thinly sliced, crispy wafers of sliced bread are simply packed with so many good things. You would be hard pressed to find one piece of cracker that was not packed with some kind of nut or berry.

There were 3 or 4 different flavors set out for the attendees at the show and I tried them all. Without a doubt, my absolute favorite was the salty date and almond. This has that magical sweet/salty combination that pairs so well with just about any kind of cheese, and would go so well on any crudite platter.

They don’t sell their items online, but their website does offer a store locator information section in both the USA and Canada. All you have to do is enter your location, and you will get info on what stores in your area carry these delicious crackers. If you do find the salty date and almond flavor, make sure to pick up lots of them!

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Pure 7 Chocolate

This little company is a relatively new, and offers a few different chocolate bars that are sweetened only with raw honey, making them perfectly acceptable for those who follow the paleo lifestyle, and others who insist on including whole foods in their lives. The chocolate is very creamy but not overly sweet, and is manufactured with organic and fair trade ingredients. They use an innovative, low heat technique to keep the chocolate in its most pure and potent form, without compromising the benefits of the raw honey used in the product.

There is also no dairy, soy, gluten, refined sugars, preservatives, or chemicals in the chocolate. Their current flavor offerings include Espresso (72% cocoa), Salted Almond (72% cocoa), Raspberry (72% cocoa), Coconut & Cherry (72% cocoa), Pure 7 Dark (80% cocoa), Pure 7 100% Dark (offering a lower glycemic index for consumers) and also a Stevia Pure 7 Dark (92% cocoa), sweetened with organic whole leaf raw stevia powder. This last item is completely sugar-free and has no added fillers. If you cannot find their products in your local health food stores, you can purchase them directly from their online store.

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Nativo Acai

Acai is something that came on the scene a few years ago with a small burst of popularity that has since waned. It’s a shame really, because its benefits to overall health should be considered.

This Brazilian company manufactures two different types of acai wild berry pulp and packages them in individual pouches. One is called puro version which has no sugar, caffeine, additives or preservatives and the other is called a fused version, and has added guarana, for an extra boost of energy.

Açai is an antioxidant powerhouse, loaded with essential fatty acids, amino acids, fiber and calcium. It contains an almost perfect essential amino acid complex in conjunction with valuable trace minerals that are vital to muscle development. It is comprised of healthy monounsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and phytosterols that help to promote cardiovascular and digestive health.

Most people use this as a base for vegan ice creams or create smoothies, sauces or enjoy it naturally with whole grain cereal. You can purchase this product from their website, and while you are at it, make sure to check out their recipe section.

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The Best of East Awards at the 2015 award ceremony were presented to the most innovative products at the show.

The winners included:
Chosen Foods for their Avocado Oil Mayo
Tio Gazpacho for their Gazpacho de Sol
Savannah Bee Company for their Royal Jelly Body Butter

The Retailer of the Year awards were presented to stores that exemplify excellence in today’s retail world through sustainability, innovation and community — values that define the natural products industry.

The winners included:
Most Sustainable category: MOM’s (Mid Atlantic)
Community Engagement category: Kimberton Whole Foods (Pennsylvania)
Best New Store category: Mustard Seed (Ohio)
Innovation category: Local Foods (Illinois)

For more information about attending the Natural Foods Expo East in Baltimore, please visit their website for more visitor and exhibitor information. Make sure to read about our TOP PICKS in 2013 and 2014 so that you can keep an eye out for those outstanding products too.

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