LOS ANGELES — Things seemed simpler this year at the enormous annual trade show for the natural products industry. There was a bit of a back-to-the-old-days vibe among the thousands of things to eat or drink, to use to clean your person or your house, to improve your digestion or your sleep.
Consumers say they are too busy to sort through complicated labels and want straightforward products they can trust, according to many of the exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West.
When people see "claim after claim after claim" on a label, they start to get suspicious, said Carlotta Mast, senior director of content and insights for New Hope Media, the Colorado company that produces the expo. "If it's real food, the food speaks for itself."
Which isn't to say there's no science behind natural products, said Brent Knudsen of Partnership Capital Growth, which is an investment bank for health products — though some of the science might reinforce what your grandmother learned from her own mother about such things as herbal remedies.
"Functional foods," those with a potential benefit beyond straightforward nutrition, were common: teas for digestion or sore throats; probiotics; chia in puddings (Chia Pod from www.thechiaco.com), in pouches of fruit purees (Smooch from www.smoochsnacks.com), in cereal (Holy Crap from www.holycrap.com or Chiarezza from www.chia-rezza.com) and in juice or lemonade; chips made with fruit or vegetables.
Another popular theme was what was not in products: sugar, gluten and genetically modified ingredients. "Consumers are demanding" GMO-free certifications on products, and retailers are adjusting, Mast said. In fact, Whole Foods, which for many exhibitors is the holy grail of product placement, recently announced that by 2018 products must be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms.
Some highlights, from jelly to lotion
There was no way to see — let alone taste — the thousands of waters, noodles, yogurts, cereals, chocolates and other foods being sampled at the expo. But here are a few items that caught our eye; some are widely available, some online-only for now.
Sawmill Hollow Family Farm in Iowa produces jelly (shown), concentrate, wine and 35 or so more products from the antioxidant-rich aronia berry, a native fruit. Sixth-generation farmer Andrew Pittz said his was the first farm in North America to grow the plant commercially. He brought some frozen from the August harvest to show the dark blue globe-shaped berries.
No surprise that a former Haagen-Dazs consultant, Malcolm Stogo, said he put taste first when he came up with soy- and coconut-based frozen desserts. DF Mavens won a best new product award at the expo for the desserts that Stogo spent five years developing. Flavors include salted praline, mango and vanilla. Quality doesn't come cheap: A pint runs $6.99.
A few companies showed dried baby food in easy-to-carry packets. Just add water or breast milk and stir. One company from Chile, named Amara after co-founder Christian Boada's daughter, had freeze-dried organic banana, apple-maqui berry and apple products. Part of the appeal is the simplicity of taking the packets through airport security systems, said Boada, who said organic baby food is hard to find in his home country. Nuturme sells packets of dried organic squash, bananas and kale, and a dried quinoa as an alternative to rice cereal, also to mix with water or breast milk.
A cooperative of Michigan farmers is producing oven-dried chestnut chips for snacking. The farmers also make gluten-free chestnut flour and dehydrated chestnut slices. The chips were so new that no packaging has been developed yet. But they're a one-ingredient snack, very crunchy and slightly sweet — the latter thanks to the only chestnut peeling machine in North America, said cooperative member Virginia Rinkel.
When the terrorist attacks of 2001 struck, New Yorker Andrew Pudalov knew people in the towers and had two young children. He decided it was time to move to Boulder, Colo., and build a business. Rush Bowls, a frozen smoothie that comes with a packet of granola, was the result. The line is vegan and nut-free and comes in kid and adult sizes. Each of the bowls, in five blends, is less than 300 calories.
skin care products
Not all the products were ingestible. Among the many skin care products was a new line called Nova Scotia Fisherman, which uses local sea kelp for its rich-feeling, lightly scented lotions, soap and lip balm. And Bull Dog, a British men's skin care company, was named for a breed that's "loyal, honest and tenacious — the qualities you want in a man," said Rhodri Ferrier, a co-founder. The products, made with essential oils, are "by men, for men, not an afterthought" to a woman's line.
Several companies hoped to do good by doing well. For every bag Impact Foods sells of its granola, it funds one child's meal through the World Food Program. The founders met in a class at Southern Methodist University in which they were learning about conscious capitalism, and they hope to take their company national, in part through the expo. And Sir Richard's Condom Co., with its colorful plaid packaging, donates a condom to Haiti — specially produced in packages designed by a Haitian artist with instructions in the local language — for each one purchased.