Edit Patience and perseverance have earned top wellness companies a 2014 Grocery Headquarters’ Selling Wellness Trailblazer Award.
In some ways, natural and wellness companies are the little engines that could. Many have been around for quite some time, quietly building a following among independent, natural retailers and their customers, patiently waiting for their big break. It is safe to say that for Grocery Headquarters’ award-winners, that patience has paid off. We honor them for their efforts and perseverance with the 2014 Selling Wellness Trailblazer Awards.
Angie’s Artisan Treats
Founded by Dan and Angie Bastian, Angie’s Artisan Treats has grown from a kernel of an idea into one of the most popular brands in popcorn. “With innovative and cheeky branding, and quality ingredients, the Boomchickapop line was born in 2012 to meet the increasing demands of the health-conscious snacker,” says Angie Bastian, president and founder. Boomchickapop Sea Salt Popcorn’s chic yellow and pink bag stands out—as does the growth of Angie’s.
Angie’s newest flavors—Boomchickapop White Cheddar Popcorn and Boomchickapop Caramel & Cheddar Popcorn mix—joined the Sea Salt and Lightly Sweet varieties of Boomchickapop last fall. Angie’s Artisan Treats, based in Mankato, Minn., also offers a variety of kettle corn products including Sweet & Salty, White Cheddar, Salted Caramel, Sweet & Spicy and the seasonal Holidrizzle creations. All of Angie’s products, with the exception of the White Cheddar and Holidrizzle varieties, are Non-GMO Project Verified.
Crunchie’s Food Co.
Most people do not assimilate freeze-dried products with being sumptuous, but Crunchies are just that, industry observers say. The Westlake Village, Calif.-based company is well known for the innovation it has brought to the freeze-dried snack category with unique blends of tropical fruits or roasted veggies.
“As we continue to release new products such as crunchy, light and sweet freeze-dried grapes, our consumers can’t stop talking about how great they are. As our growth continued to sky rocket, so has the recognition for the freeze products category,” says James Lacey, president and CEO.
Last fall, Crunchies relaunched its Little Crunchies line for kids as a certified organic product. Ideal for little fingers, Little Crunchies are available in 1-ounce resealable pouches or a 5-pack variety box of 0.33-ounce Munch Paks.
Founded in 1984 by David Stearn and Dr. Linda Miles, D.O.M., derma e has served consumers seeking problem-solution skincare products. The Simi Valley, Calif.-based company formulates its products to address a number of skin concerns with 100% vegan, paraben-free ingredients. However, the benefits of derma e’s products are more than skin deep.
“More than ever, consumers care about the healthfulness of products and values behind brands. Ingredient lists, packaging, manufacturing practices and philanthropic initiatives are all under scrutiny. Notwithstanding these trends, derma e has always championed natural ingredient technology, eco-sustainability and triple-bottom line fundamentals,” says Jeff Carducci, vice president sales, U.S. Its products, which are also gluten- and GMO-free, serve as an accurate reflection to consumers of the company’s commitment to its customers and the environment.
Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods
As Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods embarks on its third decade, it continues to innovate while sticking to the doctor’s original philosophy—that good-for-you food should actually taste good.
“When retailers hear the name Dr. Praeger’s, we want them to realize our mission is to help consumers see wholesome food in a whole new light,” says Larry Praeger, CEO of the Elmwood Park, N.J.-based company. ‘Dr. Praeger’s is dedicated to maintaining the promise printed on the box: “Where you recognize all the ingredients.”’
Dr. Praeger’s products appeal to a wide range of consumers as a sensible meat alternative, healthy snack option or for those with a gluten intolerance. All of Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods’ products contain no artificial flavors or colors, no trans fat, have low or no saturated fat and are Kosher.
Enjoy Life Foods
Each consumer in the supermarket has their own battles to face, and more and more frequently, one of those battles is a food intolerance or allergy. Enjoy Life Foods, based in Schiller Park, Ill., recognized this inclination early-on and positioned itself as a pioneer in the “Free From” category. The company’s products are certified gluten-free and free from the top eight food allergens: wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish.
“Over the years, Enjoy Life has been promoting the concept of ‘Free From’ as a category based upon its knowledge of the ever-growing incidence of food allergies and intolerances. We are pleased to serve as a category captain as so many retailers adopt the set as part of their overall special diet strategy,” says Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer. The company continues to drive the ‘Free From’ category with its innovation. Last fall it introduced Dark Chocolate Baking Morsels to its allergy-friendly baking chocolate line.
Innovation is one pillar of Hodgson Mill’s continued success. The Effingham, Ill.-based company plans to introduce several new items at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, including Ultragrain & Quinoa pastas, gluten-free Rolled Oats and a re-introduced non-GMO Multigrain Cereal with Quinoa.
“Not losing sight of our scratch baking roots, we are also introducing an All Natural Almond Flour and Coconut Flour,” says Ray Martin, vice president of sales and marketing.
Another pillar is its commitment to sustainability. “We will also maintain our approach to sustainability through our solar and wind power investments and our recycling program,” says Martin. “Putting our consumers at the top of our pyramid, we are in our third year of an ‘A’ rating for quality and safety in food processing as audited by BRC in the Global Food Safety Initiative.”
Consumers are looking for products they can trust to provide relief from a wide variety of everyday ailments. They would like to do so without worrying about the negative side effects and interactions that can occur with conventional, over-the-counter medicines. Hyland’s, a division of the Los Angeles-based Standard Homeopathic Co., has been fulfilling this need since 1903.
“When retailers think of Hyland’s we want them to know that we can provide their customers with medicines for the whole family that are effective, safe, natural and affordable,” says Les Hamilton, executive vice president, sales.
The company’s newest innovation is the DEFEND Severe Cold & Flu powder, a multi-symptom medicine that is packaged in individual sachets and contains no dyes, artificial flavors or sweeteners. Each dose can be mixed in hot water to create a natural honey and lemon flavored medicated drink that delivers relief from the sudden on-set of flu, as well as the late signs and symptoms of severe colds and flu.
“We appreciated that there was an unmet need for a powder homeopathic medicine to treat colds and flu naturally, and we saw this as an opportunity to develop a uniquely soothing solution,” Hamilton adds.
“Be curious and question everything,” says Justin Gold. “I was extremely curious why no one was making a better nut butter and wasn’t afraid to generate my own answers when I didn’t understand or like the responses.”
It is that same innovation and creativity that spurred Gold, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s, to put his nut butters in a portion-controlled squeeze pack. The line of all natural 80 Calorie Squeeze Packs are available in all five of Justin’s nut butter varieties and hit shelves in boxes of six last June.
These healthy, 80-calorie squeeze packs are the ultimate convenience food for consumers to put in a purse, pocket or lunchbox or squeeze on a piece of fruit, says Gold. With 2-3 grams of protein per pack, they provide a quick boost of energy to fuel a long run or get consumers through the afternoon slump, he adds.
Educated consumers are driving the trend towards more natural choices in the healthcare industry, especially in the homeopathic set. The products that are surviving and growing are those backed by science and modern formulations. Homeopathic medicine is in a unique category because the FDA classifies it as a pharmaceutical drug product, allowing it to legally make health claims on the label.
Officials for King Bio, based in Asheville, N.C., have seen sustained success and growth in homeopathic medicine since its’ founding in 1989. Executive vice president David Gerhardt credits King Bio’s FDA-approved practices with its sustained success in a growing category. King Bio’s Safecare product line provides symptomatic relief for a variety of ailments as common as asthma, all the way to ulcers.
“King Bio uses FDA-approved homeopathic manufacturing guidelines and focuses on the key health issues for today’s market,” he says. “Our modern and unique formulations combine what consumers want most, safe and fast-acting results without negative side effects or drug interactions. That’s the Safecare name in a nutshell.”
Lundberg Family Farms
Since 1937, the Lundberg family has been in the business of growing and producing rice products in a sustained manner. Their eco-friendly passion and innovation has spread throughout their product line to include rice cakes and chips, risotto and brown rice pasta.
“What really sets Lundberg apart from other products in the marketplace is that we are involved in every step of the process from the growing of the major ingredients to the production of the finished product,” says Todd Kluger, director of sales and marketing. “Our mission is to honor our family-farming legacy by nourishing, conserving and innovating for a healthier world.”
Last year, the Richvale, Calif.-based company combined its California heritage with on-trend ancient grains for a new line of Multigrain Rice Chips. Available in Mendocino Tomato & Herb, Mojave Jalapeno, Redwood Smokey BBQ and Shasta Chipotle Lime, the chips combine organic brown rice with red and white quinoa, amaranth, corn, millet, garbanzo beans, chia and flax seeds.
MyChelle Dermaceuticals’s primary focus is to provide consumers with an all-natural, quality skin care regiment specifically design-ed and customized for their individual needs. Beginning in 2011, MyChelle partnered with Whole Foods Market to launch the VISIA Scan Imager. This direct-to consumer initiative has allowed hundreds of consumers to find the appropriate skin care regiment for their unique needs. What would normally cost hundreds of dollars in a dermatologist’s office, MyChelle has brought to consumers for free in their local grocery store, making that retailer a must-shop stop for consumers in the area.
MyChelle Dermaceuticals’ VISIA provides an analysis with an eight-point profile focusing on skin irregularities, wrinkles, texture, bacteria, pores, age spots, UV spots and vascular areas.
“Rather than simply telling shoppers that our products are effective, MyChelle uses the VISIA machine as a consumer tool to show the efficacy of their products,” say Kristine Carey, vice president of marketing and consumer empowerment, and Sarah Eggenberger, vice president of product development and innovation for the Louisville, Colo.-based company. “This mission is part of the brand’s company-wide obsession to prove to the world that natural skin care can not only be effective, but also natural.”
Natracare stands for more than just organic and natural feminine hygiene and baby care products, say officials for the Greely, Colo.-based company.
“Natracare is a realization of founder Susie Hewson’s personal ethics and so the environmental and ethical positioning of the products is absolutely central to the everyday life of the business,” says Theresa White, senior executive officer. “We are proactive in many environmental and social improvement campaigns and believe our participation allows us to be responsible citizens that provide opportunity for conservation and social improvement projects to take place.”
The company’s philosophy is based upon a mutual respect for the material and functional needs of consumers, in balance with a responsibility to produce products in a sustainable and ethical manner. Continued consumer demand for a healthier lifestyle from environmentally sound products and concern of pesticide usage, allergies and intolerances are what motivates the company’s innovation, White adds.
As a pioneer in the gluten-free marketplace, Pamela Giusto-Sorrells has seen many changes in the category. There has been a proliferation of new brands moving into the market as well as long-standing companies creating gluten-free sub-lines. Despite the stiff competition, Giusto-Sorrells, founder of Pamela’s Products, has remained true to her original philosophy and retained her success in an aggressive retail landscape.
Jennifer Ramstad, director of marketing for the Ukiah, Calif.-based company, credits Pamela’s consumer-centric mentality: “The company is solely owned by Pamela and not accountable to venture capitalists or stockholders,” she says. “Pamela lets her consumers drive her business and product development, not a boardroom.”
Many of the company’s new products are developed based on consumer requests and interests, including their newest line of Figgies & Jammies bars. “Pamela’s consumers had requested a gluten-free fig bar and she saw a real void in the marketplace. Fig bars are a popular cookie but for those who are wheat intolerant, there are not really any options on store shelves,” says Ramstad.
The Figgies & Jammies are a gluten- and egg-free fig bar cookie available in four flavors: Mission Fig, Blueberry & Fig, Strawberry & Fig and Raspberry & Fig. The bars do not contain any artificial additives, hydrogenated oils or corn syrup and are made with real fruit and fig.
Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co.
Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co., saw a unique opportunity in the gluten-free market, and tackled it whole-heartedly. Partners, based in Kent, Wash., developed the Free For All Kitchen brand of entertaining crackers to give gluten-free consumers an option for festive occasions where they were accustomed to going without.
The gluten-free crackers are made from cassava root flour and a blend of five ancient grains including amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teff. The crackers are available in three flavors: Roasted Garlic & Rosemary, Olive Oil & Sea Salt and Olive Oil & Herb, as well as a range of sizes from the original flatbreads, to the medium sized hors d’oeuvre cut, the medium deli cut and the small 2-inch by 2-inch snack crackers.
Runa was founded after two college friends, Dan MacCombie and Tyler Gage, were introduced to the natural effects of guayusa, a super-leaf native to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Guayusa is naturally packed with polyphenol antioxidants and caffeine and indigenous communities have brewed guayusa-like tea for thousands of years. MacCombie and Gage drew up a business plan to connect these communities to the global marketplace so guayusa could be shared with the world.
“Runa now works with over 2,000 indigenous farming families to plant guayusa trees and reforest the Amazon, and is proving that sustainable, high-impact businesses in the Amazon can support producers and connect consumers to ancient traditions,” says co-founder/co-CEO MacCombie.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company offers loose-leaf, bagged and ready-to-drink teas, as well as lightly carbonated energy drinks—all made from the same organic, Fair Trade guayusa.
Sahale Snacks’ co-founders Edmond Sanctis and Josh Schroeter are experienced outdoorsman with a taste for the finer things in life. They started their Seattle-based company after an August 2003 trek up Mount Rainier where they were forced to leave behind their usual backpack full of gourmet food and wine in order to travel light. As the two descended the mountain, they set their sights on a new quest: creating a snack that would fuel their adventures without compromising on flavor or taste.
“At Sahale Snacks, we believe food is more than just fuel, it’s an experience—and when it comes to snacking, no one should have to settle for ordinary,” says Sanctis, co-founder and chief innovation officer. “Our team continues to draw inspiration from food adventures, searching to discover the perfect ingredients or experimenting with flavor combinations.
From the Thai-inspired Sing Buri Cashews accented by real lemongrass to the Cashews with Pomegranate + Vanilla featuring pure ground Madagascar vanilla bean, it’s the choice of ingredients and balance of flavors that make Sahale Snacks unique.”
Toufayan Bakeries, a family run bakery based in Ridgefield, N.J., recently expanded its current line of gluten-free baked goods to meet the growing demand for gluten-free specialty products. Its new products include Spinach, Garden Vegetable and Savory Tomato flavored wraps, which join the existing line of gluten-free wraps that have been a part of the Toufayan product line since 2012.
“Toufayan’s dedication to innovation has helped the brand maintain a leadership position, with healthier new products like Smart Bagels, Smart Pockets and Gluten-Free Wraps. Our recent introduction of three flavors of gluten-free wraps has been enthusiastically received and is but another example of Toufayan’s innovation and ability to meet the needs of today’s consumers,” says Karen Toufayan, vice president of sales and marketing. “As more and more consumers are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, the Toufayan family wants to be sure they can turn to our products to safely feed their families.”
Wisdom Natural Brands
Hydration has long been the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, but few consumers manage to consume the recommended eight glasses of water each day. SweetLeaf Sweet Drops, manufactured by Wisdom Natural Brands, set out to change that with its line of natural water enhancers. Made with organic stevia and no artificial ingredients, SweetDrops are available in four flavor blends: Strawberry Kiwi, Raspberry Lemonade, Peach Mango and Lemon Lime.
The company, based in Gilbert, Ariz. has its sights set on the functional tea category next. They will be promoting its Wisdom of the Ancients brand, which includes the SweetLeaf sweetened Yerba Mate Royale tea.
When consumers think of the frozen novelty set, health and better-for-you are not usually concepts that come to mind. Boston-based Yasso quickly changed that when they brought Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt bars to market in six flavors, with five more to come this spring. The bars provide consumers with all the health attributes of Greek yogurt, as well as portion-controlled indulgence, say company officials.
“Shoppers are taking the time to read nutrition labels more closely and are actively seeking brands that offer products that fit into their everyday lives,” says Amanda Klane, co-founder. “Yasso was created to offer an acceptable indulgence that can be enjoyed every day of the week, and in doing so, we’re helping retailers bring shoppers back to a category that has long been avoided by consumers trying to eat healthy.”