Wilbert Jones, Contributing Editor

Each May, tens of thousands of visitors attend the National Restaurant Association Hotel – Motel Show (NRA) and the Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.  Both shows provide more new product trend, flavor and formulation insights.

NRA show stand-outs included:

Gardein, which introduced Crispy Chick’n Sliders: meat-free sliders, made of soy protein.

ZBI, which sampled a shelf-stable, all-natural hummus dip. The line includes Black Olive, Roasted Garlic and Fire Roasted Red Pepper varieties.

San Gennaro Foods, which launched two new frozen products: a fully cooked, steel-cut oatmeal and sharp Cheddar cheese grits, each packaged in single-serve 8oz containers for foodservice self-serve or on-the-go sales.

For anyone who thinks water cannot possibly innovate, a number of options brought flavor to the ultimate hydrating beverage, including one that introduced the notion of pairing foods with water.

Herbal Water Inc. produced a creative line of 750ml favored bottle waters, made and marketed for food pairing. Flavors include cinnamon orange peel water for beef or lamb stew, Moroccan tagines, and chocolate desserts; ginger lemon peel water for roasted vegetables, white fish and cheesecake; lavender mint water for soft French cheeses, roasted chicken and yogurt based sauces; and lemongrass mint vanilla water intended for seafood pasta, Asian curries and biryanis.

Although the Sweets & Snacks Expo might not be the first event one would associate with culinary creativity, this year’s edition featured a number of unique, trend-focused introductions. There were more than 600 exhibitors. Here are a few samplings:

Heat & Bites: Chipotle, picante and jalapeno ingredients were used in several confection and chocolate products. These ranged from Rocky Mountain Popcorn’s Chile Picante Poplets to Tabasco-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans; and from Seth Greenberg’s Authentic Southwest Brownie Crunch collection to American Gourmet Group’s Chipotle Dark Chocolate Bar.

Minis from Giants: Mars Chocolate North America added bite-size Snickers and Milky Way chocolates, packaged in resealable bags. Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. featured Starburst Minis and The Hershey Co. showcased Kit Kat Minis.

Health in All Forms:  Biosilo Foods’ new snacks address obesity concerns, promise to be good sources of fiber and protein and—for those consumers with food allergies—they are free of gluten and dairy.
Biosilo’s new Lemon & Kale Veggie Poppers and Spinach & Cranberry Veggie Poppers also are bite-sized for a degree of portion control.

Live Better Brands LLC introduced Simply Sprouted Way Better snacks. The entire line features sprouted seeds, broccoli seeds, organic diakon radish seeds, chia seeds, quinoa and flax seeds. Also gluten-free, these snacks come packaged in 5.5oz. bags and promise to be non-GMO. Varieties include Sweet Potato, Sunny Multi-Grain, Black Bean, Sweet Chili, Unbeatable Blues and Naked Blues.

Freshening Up
William A. Roberts, Jr.
Executive Editor - Business / New Media

Hartman Group recently predicted a surge in high-pressure processing (HPP). Hartman says manufacturers are finally beginning to communicate the message to consumers that HPP offers the next level in fresh, while HPP products retain the healthy halo of near raw. Beverages, in particular, seem to be taking a fresh approach to innovation, even if that freshness comes in the form of an acquisition. Hain Celestial acquired cold-pressed juice firm BluePrint Cleanse; and Starbucks purchased super-premium fruit juice maker Evolution Fresh. In each case, there’s a major company embracing both fresh as well as the concept of HPP.

In Starbucks' case, the move is only one of a series of many to give even the most processed of offerings the allure of being freshly made. The company's latest effort (a test of freshly prepared soda options in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, stores) suggests the company—and the fresh trend—is far from finished.

Fresh beverages suggest the appearance of being healthier, and as such, juice-bar concepts have emerged nationwide, notes Technomic in a recent issue of its ConcepTrac. Technomic says it has found juice bars from California to Texas to New York. The units provide freshly squeezed or cold-pressed juices made with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables; with each beverage providing a nutrient-rich experience at a price tag often of more than $10. As Technomic notes, these chains are following Starbucks' lead: consumers were willing to pay more for premium coffee, so these chains expect consumers to pay a premium not only for high quality but also for the perception of healthy and fresh.