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  • Writer's pictureAli Tadlaoui

Natural Products Expo NEXTY award finalists

There was no in person Natural Products Expo this September, but Natural Products Insider announced the finalists in a range of annual awards that would have been showcased had we been able to walk the booths, sniffing, scooping, popping and sampling the wares. I was most interested in walking the "bleeding edge" defined by the benefits and features of the new natural foods and beverages.

When you think of natural products you think first about healthier products. Foods and beverages that don't have all the bad stuff; the artificial flavors and colors, the unfamiliar, hard-to-pronounce stuff, and unnecessary additives. Or foods and beverages fortified with good stuff. And products with short lists of ingredients. As well as products that are minimally processed; foods that are not so manufactured that they you couldn't make them yourself. That's what the finalists in the food categories are all about. And more.

Three Wishes Unsweetened Cereal is a stand-out in the clean label category. As kids, almost every one of us loved, even subsisted on sweetened cereal. The sweeter the better. A good number of us still do, which is why the more popular cereals aimed at adults contain a good amount of added sugar hiding behind the marketed whole grains, fiber, protein-rich nuts, dried fruit, and naturally sweet honey. Three Wishes aims to treat us to childhood cereals without the added sugar. Not sure how they accomplish this using ingredients like chickpea, pea protein, tapioca, and salt, and without wheat, dairy, soy, rice, oats, corn, and peanuts. And without sugar.

Functional foods continues to be a focus area for new natural products. Several functional beverages were lauded, including Energy + Focus Shots and So Good So You Sleep Shots. One to pick you up and one to bring you down. Shots are hot.

A 2 oz. shot of Energy + Focus promises not just a full-throttle pick-me-up like a Red Bull or Monster drink but also mental alertness and concentration. The ingredients are interesting. I know about green tea, ginseng, and turmeric (but not cold-pressed turmeric root). What is ashgawandha? What about lion's mane? There's 250 milligrams of each of these last two. Seems like a lot when there's only 75mg of tea. Hopefully the blueberry and lemon juices mask the funkier notes.

So Good So You Sleep gets insomniacs to sleep with the help of cold-pressed honeydew juice, lavender, California Poppy, and butterfly pea flower powder. For sure. Flower Power. I feel hypnotized just reading the ingredient list. As a bonus, this stupefying shot features a probiotic with the strength of 1 billion colony forming units to support your digestive and immune systems also working their magic while you sleep.

The NEXTY award finalists go beyond a clean label and newly-discovered, natural, functional ingredients that do more than add flavor and texture to your food. The word "natural" is taking on more meaning. The twin themes of social and environmental justice run through these showcased foods and beverages as well. Increasingly it matters to us where and how ingredients are sourced and transported to where they are combined to make the final products we buy.

The importance of a "clean" supply chain is reflected in a new item from Icelandic Provisions called Fruit & Nut yogurt. I can vouch for the product because I've tried it. It is thick, rich, smooth and tasty. I know a bit about it because we did the consumer research for the innovation team. It is high in protein and relatively low in sugar, and is minimally processed. I didn't know, though, that the milk comes from 300 family farms in upstate NY or that their fruit supplier only sources from coconut growers who don't use forced monkey labor...

Pulp Chips' reason for being centers on reducing waste in the food supply chain. These chips are made from by-products of food and vegetable processing, like pomace, which is what is left over from juicing, and okara flour, which is a by-product of tofu production. Pulp Pantry claims that their chips have five times the fiber of a traditional chip. The company is an avid supporter of circular economy initiatives to reduce plastic waste, and is striving to become "plastic neutral." The company's founder teaches kids about sustainability in urban food deserts. Seems like the passion for environmental justice runs deep at Pulp Pantry.

You can see in several of the products up for a NEXTY award an effort to address everything; clean label, special ingredients and/or formulations, and do-gooding. Serenity Kids Bone Broth Meals is another good example. The meals feature pasture-raised meats (sourced from small, American farms that use regenerative agricultural practices) and organic vegetables. These meals are cooked in a nutrient-dense bone broth and provide the right ratio of carbs, fat, and protein for toddlers. The meals are free of the usual allergens, and are packaged in upcycled and recyclable material. Additionally, the brand supports small farmers through the Farm to Consumer Legal Fund.

A couple of final thoughts as I read through these NEXTY awards finalists again. First, "natural" doesn't seem as simple, straightforward, and unadulterated as I expect it to be. When you pile on all the benefits these branded natural products feel more complex and more like concoctions. Mindful concoctions, but far from a handful of nuts and an apple.

When you pile on all the benefits taste also seems to lose its prominence. The Fruit and Nuts yogurt sounds tasty, and many of us enjoy yogurt to begin with. The bone broth meals might be palatable - although to a toddler - because the broth conjures savory notes. The others, I'm just not so sure. Breakfast cereal with no sugar at all? Even my Grape Nuts and Cheerios have a bit of added sugar.

Image courtesy of Cruelty Free Brands

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