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Natural Products Expo lays out the latest, with an emphasis on what's real and what's absent

March 16, 2013|By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • One company trying to get a start at the expo, Impact Foods, says it will fund a meal for a child through the World Food Program for every bag of granola it sells.
One company trying to get a start at the expo, Impact Foods, says it will fund… (Impact Foods )

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 last weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center.

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."

Natural Products Expo: In the March 16 Saturday section, an article about a natural products trade show in Anaheim misspelled the last name of Brent Knudsen, of Partnership Capital Growth, as Knudson. Also, Knudsen's company was described as an investor in health products; it is an investment bank for such products. —

Which isn't to say there's no science behind natural products, said Brent Knudson of Partnership Capital Growth, which invests in 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, in pouches of fruit purees (Smooch from, in cereal (Holy Crap from or Chiarezza from and in juice or lemonade; chips made with fruit or vegetables. There were bars galore and a line of "fully functional" cookies from the Berkeley-based Cookie Department ( Akiva Resnikoff started out selling his cookies to cafes and now has packaged several varieties, including the Cherry Bomb probiotic cookie and the ginger Snap Back detox flavor.

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.

Deborah Enos of Washington state, a nutritionist at the show, said more people want to avoid sugar, and she was pleased by how many products contain plant-based alternatives, especially Stevia, "which doesn't appear to cause any problems," she said.

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, 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 Häagen-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. "This is the next generation of baby food," he said. 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.

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