Land of the Free

The small but growing group of Americans looking for wheat- and gluten-free products is finding that task increasingly less difficult. Annie's Homegrown (Napa, Calif.), for example, has launched Annie's gluten-free Rice Pasta & Cheddar and is among a wave of commercial gluten-free foods hitting markets.

Manufacturers are introducing gluten-free varieties of pizza crusts, doughnuts, buns, cakes and other items. At the same time, the products are gaining shelf space among even the largest grocers. Wal-Mart (Bentonville, Ark.) has a wave of gluten-free offerings that just recently launched and, in a further effort to appeal to gluten-intolerant consumers, is requiring suppliers to identify whenever gluten is used in its private-label offerings. The company has identified 982 of its 1,254 products as gluten-free.

While gluten intolerance affects an estimated one out of every 133 Americans, many more are believed to be gluten sensitive, and a National Institutes of Health (Washington) report finds the prevalence of celiac disease is “much wider than previously believed.”

The Greatest American Zero

When Coca-Cola (Atlanta) decided to attempt to duplicate the Classic Coke formula with artificial sweeteners, the consuming public took notice and managed to make Coca-Cola Zero one of this year's standout new product launches. The new drink merely added to a stable of the company's soft drinks with “Zero” in the name.

Now, Cadbury Schweppes' (Plano, Texas) Diet Rite is hoping to jump on the “Zero” bandwagon, albeit indirectly. The brand has transformed its look and added “Pure Zero” to its graphics.

The move, company officials say, is an effort to “better communicate the brand's strong point of difference--the only soft drink brand that offers zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero caffeine and zero sodium in a wide variety of flavors.”

As Charlotte Dimery, brand manager for Diet Rite, notes, “We added 'Pure Zero' to the graphics to make a compelling statement to consumers about Diet Rite's unparalleled 'zero' benefits.”

Like Spinach for Seafood

Ready, kids? Alright, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
SpongeBob SquarePants!
Absorbent and yellow and
porous is he…
SpongeBob SquarePants!
With carrots and spinach is
where he will be…
Okay, that last part may not be part of the theme song to Nickelodeon's (New York) SpongeBob Squarepants, but it certainly would fit, since the children's entertainment brand has joined with Grimmway Farms Inc. (Di Giorgio, Calif.) to include the nexus of nautical nonsense on baby-cut and peeled carrots. Actually, SpongeBob will be on quite a few fruit and vegetable packages in coming months. Boskovich Farms (Oxnard, Calif.) is adding him to bags of spinach, while he also will be on bags of fruit from LGS Specialty Sales (Bronx, N.Y.).

The Grimmway and LGS deals also call for other Nickelodeon characters to grace packages, including Dora the Explorer, Sportacus and Stephanie from Lazytown, as well as characters from Blue's Clues and The Backyardigans.

Good News and Better News

In no doubt welcome news to the millions of chocoholics around the country, if not the world, confectionery manufacturer Mars (Hackettstown, N.J.) has released research touting the disease-fighting properties of cocoa. The central ingredient in most of Mars' products apparently has properties to treat diabetes, strokes and vascular disease.

The company hopes to introduce medications based on the flavonols found in cocoa. More than 80 peer-reviewed publications have examined the possible health benefits of those flavonols.

However, chocolate is finding a place beyond the healthful, the indulgent or even food. Personal care formulators increasingly are incorporating the ingredient in shampoos, conditioners, body care products, bath scents and scented candles. The developers are capitalizing on research indicating consumers derive similar pleasure from the scent of chocolate-based products as they do from eating chocolate-based products.