A. Elizabeth Sloan

Natural Foods Marketing Directions
From nutrition bars to smoothies, a steady stream of high-potential mainstream food concepts has continued to cross over from the natural and health food industries. In addition to trendy high-protein, low-carbohydrate, weight-loss, vegetarian, soy-based, and highly fortified foods and beverages, marketers exhibiting at Expo West, the nation’s largest health and natural food show, are charting seven new directions for traditional foods.

All-Natural and Organic Prepared Dinners. With 67% of shoppers checking food labels for the type of preservative last year (up 8% over 2001) and 48% for an organic claim, it’s not surprising that these claims are infiltrating even the most-processed food categories. Certified Organic Classics frozen dinners from Fairfield Farms Kitchens, Brockton, Mass., feature on-trend chicken recipes, like Chicken Marsala and Chicken Cacciatore. Amy’s, Petaluma, Calif., offers frozen all-natural, organic bowl meals, pizza, pocket sandwiches, pot pies, and an hors d’oeuvre line of appetizer pockets, while Annie’s Homegrown, Wakefield, Mass., takes an organic all-natural twist to dried macaroni and cheese dinners and canned pasta meals.

All-Natural Soups. Breaking new ground are refrigerated soups, such as organic soups in microwavable single-serve bowls from Kettle Cuisine, Chelsea, Mass.; gourmet soups in standup aseptic packs in self-serve racks from Pacific Foods, Tualatin, Ore.; and all-natural soups plated in elegant restaurant-like large soup bowls from Bistro Gardens, Studio City, Calif. The “Big” line of oversized, single-serving, dried “cup” meals from Fantastic Foods, Napa, Calif., and family-sized dried soup/chili meals from Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods, San Francisco, Calif., have found two nifty niches. Asian noodles score “big,” as does free range—and vegetable—broths.

Classier Chips. Minding their move to mealtime accompaniments, chips are sporting gourmet flavors, including blue cheese, sweet summer herb, rosemary/thyme, pesto, rye/caraway, dill/sour cream, crème fraiche, and sun-dried tomato. Frying oil will soon become a product differentiator, e.g., the Olive Oil line of potato chips from Good Health Natural Foods, Northport, N.Y. Organic naturally colored chips created with blue or yellow potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, vegetables, or fruits are moving mainstream, while new strong ethnic chip flavors like Hot & Spicy Asian, chipotle chili, and Caribbean jerk are gaining ground.

Gourmet Grains. Health-conscious marketers are pushing their products to “premium” by substituting exotic grains such as amaranth, quinoa, kamut, and barley blends. Others, like Lotus Foods, El Cerrito, Calif., feature ancient, heirloom, and exotic rice varietals such as carnaroli, kalijira, calriso, and Bhutanese Red rice. Pastas are now made from corn, brown or wild rice, and soy flour. Pizza crusts can start with rice, corn meal, or whole wheat and are often “stone-fired.”

A Bevy of Beverages. Dozens of new 100% all-natural organic juices and juice drinks in single-serve, pop-top water bottles, and a variety of new “meal-in-a-bottle” concepts will make competition in the beverage segment tougher than ever. Sparkling and carbonated juices, carbonated teas/lemonades, and micro-brewed sodas are the latest entries. Ready-to-drink single-serve iced teas range from fruit-flavored iced teas with Chai spices to those based on oolong, pure green, or jasmine tea. “Country of Origin” labeling, e.g., Hawaii, Fiji, or Scandanavia, provides a new market edge for bottled water. Super-pure waters from wells deeper than 2,000 feet and from geothermal or natural glacial sources are another new direction.

Healthy Oils. In the health food arena, products that eliminate saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fats are proliferating. A wide range of products without these forms of fat, including hash browns, crackers, cookies, soups, and bars, are now on the market. N’Spired Natural Products, San Leandro, Calif., offers an organic, all-natural, no-hydrogenated-oil-or-trans-fat line of creamy nut butter butters, including peanut, almond, cashew, macadamia and raw and roasted tahini nut. Conversely, the type of oil, such as olive, grape seed or extra virgin coconut oil is another way of giving a product a healthy connotation.

Upscaled Basics. Some new twists on old essentials include nonirradiated, all-natural spices; organic sugar, powdered sugar, blackstrap molasses, and turbinado sugar; mixtures of dried pepper; and lots of sea salt. Salsas continue to proliferate in flavors ranging from black bean and tomato to garlic and cilantro; canned tomatoes are now fire- and flame-roasted; and canned refried bean lines now sport as many as six SKUs varied by type of bean. Organic, free-range, and all-natural meats and poultry are also gaining popularity. Coleman Beef, Denver, Colo., has introduced all-natural, uncured, nitrate/nitrite-free beef hot dogs. 

These new directions are sure to set the pace—and increase competition—in the years ahead.

Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends & Solutions, Inc.
Escondido, Calif.