Wellness has been an industry buzzword for quite a few years now, but never before have grocery aisles been able to display such impressive innovation. Between the advancements seen this past year and with a look toward the future, it is easy to see that numerous companies have exceeded or are poised to exceed expectations, ensuring that consumers ring in a very happy and healthy 2015.
A few of the wellness trends that industry observers expect to see take off this year include an increased appearance of whole grains in the gluten-free set, an even stronger emphasis on environmental sustainability and the mainstreaming of holistic wellness. Among this year’s award winners are the companies that have pioneered these trends early on, establishing themselves as leaders of the pack. We proudly present those that truly wowed the Grocery Headquarters editorial staff and board of retail advisors, earning a Trailblazer Award in one of six distinguished categories.
•Allergy friendly: Enjoy Life Foods
The rising demand for gluten-free food was one of the most well documented grocery trends of the past year. However, another important segment that not as many manufacturers are paying attention to (yet) revolves around those consumers who suffer from other food allergies—the free-from set.
“Offering safe products that have exceptional taste is what makes Enjoy Life Foods the trust-mark for the free-from consumer,” says Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for the Schiller Park, Ill.-based company.
Already boasting a large portfolio that includes more than 40 products in eight categories, all of which are gluten-free and free-from, Enjoy Life Foods officials say they have plans to continue line expansion in 2015.
Product innovation is not the company’s only focus, either. “Enjoy Life is leading the way in educating retailers on merchandising free-from sets and technology to make the path-to-purchase easier for our consumers,” Warady adds.
•Snack Food: American Halal Co.
American Halal Co.’s Saffron Road Foods brand launched its first product line in 2010, with the intent to increase the quality of Halal food offerings available in both mainstream grocery stores and natural retailers.
The company, based in Stamford, Conn., began its venture in the frozen case but has evolved and launched products among various sections of the grocery store. A part of its line expansion in 2014, Saffron Road’s Crunchy Chickpea Snacks is one item that has enjoyed an exciting consumer response.
“There are three components to the overwhelming success of Saffron Road’s Crunchy Chickpea Snacks,” says Jack Acree, executive vice president of the brand. “First, they deliver the best crunch in the chickpea snack category. Second is the nutritional profile, especially when looking at the entire snack category. There is no other snack besides edamame that has more protein than fat. Lastly is transparency. Saffron Road uses organic chickpeas that are non-GMO verified and certified gluten-free.”
•Bread: Rudi’s Organic Bakery
Rudi’s Organic Bakery has been in the business of baking breads for more than 35 years, yet has succeeded in the tough task of keeping both its selection and philosophy oven fresh. Rudi’s continues to innovate year after year, by adding product to its line and setting industry standards, say officials for the Boulder, Colo.-based company.
“We bake our breads in small batches using craft baking techniques to achieve mouth-watering flavors and textures,” says Denise Day, senior brand manager. “Plus, we use only the best ingredients, free of anything artificial including preservatives and GMOs, so moms can feel good about what they’re feeding the whole family.”
A more recent launch that stands out to observers, Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery Double Fiber Sandwich Bread is made with four grams of fiber in each slice; the highest in the category, say officials. “Most of all, we set ourselves apart from the competition by continuing to innovate and develop new products that our consumers demand to satisfy nutritional needs and delight taste buds,” Day adds.
•Wraps: Toufayan Bakeries
Toufayan Bakeries produce more than 100 types of baked goods daily, with the third generation of family owners still directly involved in the manufacturing process, step–by-step. The Ridgefield, N.J.-based company goes above and beyond by consistently monitoring the needs of consumers and updating its line to meet them.
“When the company was created in 1926, the mantra was established as ‘Fresh. Authentic. Healthy.’ Ninety years later we still live by these simple words that drive our dedication and business model,” says Karen Toufayan, vice president of sales and marketing.
To satisfy the increasing demand for gluten-free product, Toufayan has expanded its line of gluten-free wraps to include three new flavors: Savory Tomato, Spinach and Garden Vegetable. Company officials add that its gluten-free set will continue to grow in 2015.
•Baking Mix: Among Friends Baking Mixes
Over a cup of coffee and a cookie, Among Friends Baking Mixes quite literally came about between two friends. In an effort to satisfy their children, who the founders describe as picky eaters, without sacrificing taste and nutrition, Suzie Miller and Lizann Anderson created Among Friends Baking Mixes.
“Our mixes make it possible for folks to enjoy a from-scratch experience and recipe when pressed for time or energy,” says Anderson, company co-founder. “And aren’t we all on some days?”
What is it that makes this pantry staple, baking mix, stand out as innovative? Officials from the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company say that the Among Friends Baking Mixes gluten-free line is the only whole grain-, gum- and white starch-free baking mix line on the market.
•Chicken Fingers: Elevation Brands
More than 10 years ago, Ian’s Natural Foods was created to ensure that children like company founder's son, Ian, would have no shortage of wholesome food choices catered specifically to kids.
The Framingham, Mass.-based company uses all-natural, organic ingredients to make gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods, say company officials. Over the years the company’s product line has grown from kid-friendly to family-friendly and continues to stay on top of the latest food trends in a nutritious manner. One of those aforementioned trends comes to life with Ian’s recently launched Sriracha Fire Sticks, a gluten-free item made with white meat chicken, whole grain breading and popular Sriracha sauce.
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the gluten-free category include: GeeFree, puff pastry products; Sahale Snacks, healthy snacking mixes composed of dried fruit and nuts; Angie’s Artisan Treats, unique flavored popcorn; and Bob’s Red Mill, baking aids and flours.
•Feminine Care: Natracare
Typically, feminine hygiene products are no friend to the environment. However, as consumers began to care more about both what they put into their bodies and then back into the earth as waste, there was a call for better-for-you feminine hygiene products.
“We began to educate women about the health and environmental effects of conventional feminine hygiene products,” says Theresa White, senior executive officer for the Greeley, Colo.-based company. “Today, Natracare is chosen by women around the world because we are a brand they know and have grown to trust.”
Recent launches from Natracare include compostable make-up removal and baby wipes made with organic cotton. “We have a commitment to the environment and the social and community responsibilities that we as a philanthropic company feel we are duty bound to support,” adds White.
•Snack Foods: Eden Foods
Eden Foods is the oldest natural and organic food company in the U.S., according to officials from the Clinton, Mich.-based company. Yet dozens of years after its inception, the company’s mission has not wavered. “We’re still doing exactly what we started out to do, getting the best food possible and sharing it with others,” says Michael J. Potter, chairman and president.
One of Eden’s more recent launches plays on the consumer demand for convenience—Eden’s Pocket Snacks. These single-serve packets of dried fruit, nuts and seeds are available in nine varieties and make an ideal, healthy, on-the-go snack for busy consumers.
The company stands out because it focuses on a local-first supply for the more than 400 items of natural food that it produces, says Wendy Esko, director of marketing research. Other environmentally sound initiatives practiced include a commitment to recycling and reusable packaging.
•Water: Good2Grow Foods
Ensuring that kids drink enough water and stay well-hydrated throughout the day can be a tough task, especially when it concerns some of the more stubborn tots. However a recent development by Good2Grow Foods is about to make it a bit simpler.
The company’s latest product, organic Juicy Waters, will hit retail shelves early this year. Available in fruit punch and grape varieties, it comes in a playful, recyclable package designed to capture any child’s attention. “The first thing any mom or child will notice is our patented spill-proof caps that feature a variety of irresistible characters,” says Brent Guinn, vice president of marketing, for the Atlanta-based company.
Additionally, the packaging is BPA-free, and all products are natural, non-GMO and no sugar added. Looking toward the future, Good2Grow has plans to introduce other creative products aimed at keeping kids healthy.
•Breakfast: Nature’s Path
Nature’s Path is not a new addition to the better-for-you aisle, but this is one company consumers will not find resting on its laurels. The Richmond, B.C., Canada-based family-run business continuously surpasses expectations with its unique products, like recent breakthrough, Qi’a Oatmeal containing chia, hemp, and buckwheat.
“Co-founders Arran and Ratana Stephens were inspired by the words of Arran’s father, a farmer on Canada’s Vancouver Island, who taught Arran as a young boy to ‘always leave the soil better than you found it,’” says Darren Mahaffy, vice president of marketing. “Making delicious organic food that nourishes people and nurtures the planet is one of the main ways we live up to those words.”
Nature’s Path, an established leader in organics, also supports environmental causes. “As a member of 1% for the planet, 1% of our EnviroKidz sales go to support environmental education and conservation efforts,” adds Mahaffy.
•Broth: Pacific Foods
In addition to striving to provide better choices when it comes to healthier, better-for-you food, Pacific Foods has a strong dedication to social responsibility and environmental causes. The Tualatin, Ore.-based company’s ultimate goal is to become a zero waste-to-landfill company.
“With a deep commitment to sustainable business practices, the company works with brokers and mills to help recycle everything from packaging and shipping materials to lighting and batteries,” says Rory Schmick, director of sustainability. “Food waste is composted or converted to cattle feed and sent to local farms.”
Pacific Foods is also ahead of the competition when it comes to some of its new products. “Bone broth, the age-old tradition, is regaining popularity among health-conscious influencers and consumers,” says Ben Hummel, brand manager. “Pacific Foods is leading the charge with a new line of organic ready made varieties, developed to make healthy, low calorie protein more accessible to consumers.”
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the organic category include: Artisan Bistro, frozen bistro bowls, meals for two, burritos and more; Madecasse, unique bean-to-bar chocolates; Bare Snacks, dried-fruit chip snacks; and Hodgson Mills, flours, mixes and pasta.
•Snack Foods: Calbee North America
More than 30 years ago, Calbee was one of the first Japanese food manufacturers to sell product in North America. Having found success, today the company’s focus is on wholesome snacking and connecting with the community.
“Harvest Snaps, a green pea and lentil bean-based snack, is our signature better-for-you brand that represents our company DNA,” says Steve Kneepkens, vice president of sales and marketing for the Boardman, Ore.-based company.
The value of community in the digital age is not lost on Calbee, which has embraced the social media revolution with open arms. In just 18 months since the Harvest Snaps products were launched, the brand’s social fan base soared to more than 150,000 fans. Calbee supports the community by promoting healthy eating, as well. “We have seen a significant increase in donation requests since the Harvest Snaps were launched last year,” says Kneepkens. “We donated nearly half a million samples to schools, wellness entities and facilities throughout 2014 and will continue to support communities with the power of nature.”
When Luvo founder Steve Sidwell realized that he was unhappy about the state of his health, he decided to do something about it. He hired someone to cook nutritious meals for him and the taste went far beyond what he had imagined it could.
Sidwell decided that this type of nutritious, delicious selection of ready-made meals should be available to everyone, and thus Luvo was born. “Our brand rests on four pillars that impact everything that we do: taste, nutrition, convenience and mindfulness,” says Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D., vice president of nutrition for the Blaine, Wash.-based company.
Luvo launched a unique line of burritos mid-2014, crafted with nutritious ingredients in varieties like organic apple coconut curry and roasted eggplant and quinoa. Most of the company’s products feature its innovative “Steamazing” technology, which according to company officials, steam cooks the food in its own juices in a parchment paper pouch for added flavor.
With the increasing number of health issues facing the U.S., many wellness-focused brands are committed to offering a wider array of sugar-free options. To satisfy this need, Seattle-based Koochikoo launched its all-natural sugar-free cookies.
“I launched Koochikoo in 2014 making it my mission to change the way consumers around the world feel about sugar-free products,” says Sally Cox, president and owner of Koochikoo. “Koochikoo is blazing the trail for health conscious consumers looking for indulgences made with alternative sweeteners.” Koochikoo cookies are available in six unique flavors including Joyful Mapley Oatmeal, Lovely Lemon Drop and Jolly Ginger Spice.
When Mediterra founder Telemaque Lavidas moved to New York from Greece, he immediately established one goal: to adapt the Mediterranean diet for the American lifestyle. “I wanted to create ‘clean label’ snacks for different snacking occasions throughout the day that would offer all of the pure and authentic Mediterranean ingredients I grew up eating,” says Lavidas.
After years of careful research, development and advice from a qualified board of advisors, the New York-based company officially launched Mediterra bars in the summer of 2014. Mediterra offers a true breakthrough in the category, as they are the first company to create savory bars, company officials say. Some of the unique ingredients utilized include sun-dried tomatoes, basil and olives. The company is excited about its success thus far and has plans for continued growth, including adding complementary products to its line.
•International: House Foods America
Years ago as consumers’ palates adapted to a wider variety of tastes, House Foods America, a subsidiary of House Foods Japan, sought to bring its healthy, Japanese-inspired foods to the U.S.
Most recently, the Garden Grove, Calif.-based company decided to simplify the process of making a healthy meal with its Wok Me Up tofu and sauce starter kit, that is available in Sweet Teriyaki or Spicy Orange. The product contains tofu and sauce in one package, meaning the chef just needs to add vegetables in order to create a simple, satisfying and nutritious meal.
“House Foods America continues to be a family-friendly company. Delivering smiles and happiness to generations of health-conscious families is our number one priority,” says Yoko Difrancia, manager of public relations and marketing.
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the specialty foods category include: Jolly Llama, gluten- and dairy-free frozen treats; Snikiddy, kid-friendly, veggie-based snacks; World Finer Foods, home to dozens of notable specialty brands including Colman’s; Reed’s, specially brewed ginger ale, soda and root beer; Noosa Yoghurt; Aussie-style yogurt; and Boulder Brands, better-for-you spreads, nut butters, milks and more.
•Pizza: Better for you Foods
Normally, better-for-you is not a phrase associated with frozen pizza—that is until Better for You Foods started its unique product line. Officials for the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company say its pizzas filled a niche as they are not only gluten-free but are nutritious and taste good.
“Innovation is part of our company’s DNA,” says Amy Lotker, company owner and executive vice president of marketing and sales. “Our frozen Sprouted Grain Whole Wheat Pizza crusts are the first and only available in supermarket freezers.”
The company has plans to launch another inventive new line in 2015—pizzas made with gluten-free sprouted ancient grains. Made with quinoa, flax, millet and chia, company officials say that these pizzas have a lower glycemic index, are easier to digest and have more vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants than traditional pizzas. Like all of Better4U’s pizzas, the new line will be made with non-GMO ingredients.
•Fruits: Buddy Fruits
Buddy Fruits is a true pioneer when it comes to squeezable pouches in the U.S. Others have joined the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company in the baby foods section, but this year Buddy Fruits launched its latest innovation with FruitBreak, the first fruit pouch brand merchandized in the produce section designed for teens and adults, say company officials.
“By using larger pouches and innovative ingredients like coconut milk, Greek yogurt and super fruits, FruitBreak provides a new solution for on-the-go Millennials and adults,” says Dan Connors, vice president of marketing and communication. Company officials note that Buddy Fruits hand selects fruit to use the best parts, and adds nothing artificial.
•Oatmeal: Bakery on Main
In an effort to satisfy customers suffering from celiac disease who were unhappy with the quality of food options presented to them, Michael Smulders founded Bakery on Main.
“Today, that mission has expanded to not only make our customers happy with great-tasting gluten-free products, but spreading a little bit of happiness to everyone we meet and work with,” says Lisa Brown, marketing manager for the East Hartford, Conn.-based company. “The Bakery also likes to encourage others to think about things that make them happy and to do something to make yourself, a family member, a friend or even a complete stranger happy.”
Health aficionados will certainly be happy about the company’s latest innovation, Instant Oatmeal, which is packed with superfoods like chia, flax, quinoa and amaranth. It is available in unique flavors like Blueberry Scone, Carrot Cake and more, in addition to the unsweetened Traditional.
•Sweet: Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co.
Just because a consumer is adhering to the gluten-free diet does not mean they do not also need an effective way to satisfy their sweet tooth. Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co., known for its recently launched line of gluten-free crackers, Free For All Kitchen, has expanded upon the line to do just that, while still keeping the nutritional profile top quality.
“We believe our gourmet snacks taste better and are ultimately better for you without the artificial flavors, preservatives and hydrogenated oils,” says Cara Figgins, executive vice president of the Kent, Wash.-based company.
Partners’ newest innovation, Double Chocolate Brownie Thins, are gluten-free and, according to company officials, made with high quality non-GMO ingredients such as Dutch cocoa, cassava flour and five ancient grains.
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the superfoods category include: Ancient Harvest, pasta, sides, breakfast cereal and more all incorporating supergrains like quinoa or millet; Carrington Foods, flax packs, chia seeds, and coconut oil-based products; and Sambazon, superfood juices, bowls and powder.
•HBC: PharmaCare US
PharmaCare US continues to make strides within the health and beauty care category, especially when it comes to innovation in wellness. The San Diego-based company includes the brands Real Health Laboratories, Sambucol, Promensil, Skin Doctors and Kids Smart.
“We continually focus on developing new, innovative products that meet consumer needs,” says Kimberly Weld, PharmaCare’s vice president. “We offer a point of difference—a reason to buy. Our products are supported by a strong a research program and are underpinned by extensive testing and trials. We know that consumers will support a quality product.”
The company’s main goal is to promote healthy living. “Innovation is at the very heart of our business, and our business is improving the lifelong health and well-being of our customers,” Weld adds.
•Feminine Care: Diva International
More than 10 years ago, Diva International set out to change the way women deal with their monthly menstrual cycle. A mother/daughter team, Francine and Carinne Chambers, was determined to make a more sustainable feminine hygiene product, and the Diva Cup was the end result.
“Diva International is committed to both partnering with and supporting organizations that share our values surrounding women’s health and the environment,” says John Szustaczek, director of sales and marketing for the Kitchener, Ont., Can.-based company. “A partner to us is quite simply someone who shares in our mission, values and endeavors to provide women and girls everywhere with access and knowledge of sustainable menstrual care.”
The Diva Cup is leak-free and can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time. It is free of chemicals, plastics and dyes, made from 100% health care- grade silicone and eliminates waste, say company officials. As sales of the cup continue to grow at double-digit rates, officials add, Diva remains a true leader in the category.
•Cooking Oils: Now Foods
Now Foods is parent company to a variety of wellness-focused brands. The company’s latest venture, Bloomingdale, Ill.-based branch Ellyndale Foods, launched this past October. Ellyndale is committed to creating unique, delicious foods that are also natural and organic, say company officials.
“The first products to debut under the Ellyndale label are our gourmet cooking and salad oils. These superior oils, such as Avocado, Almond, and Sunflower, have been carefully selected and processed to maintain their natural flavors and health properties,” says Dave Rosenberg, category manager. Ellyndale’s versatile Avocado Oil benefits from a high smoke point, making it an ideal product for high-heat cooking. It is also a nutritious cooking oil with healthy monosaturated fat and vitamin E.
•Sweetener: Pyure Brands
With growing concern about chemicals and other harmful ingredients infiltrating the food system, it is no surprise that the artificial sweeteners category has faced significant challenges, say observers. Which is why CEO and founder of Pyure Brands, Benjamin Fleischer, says “when I first discovered Stevia I knew it had the potential to change the way America perceived sugar reduction.”
Today, Stevia is the fastest growing sugar alternative on the market, company officials say. And that is not all Pyure is focused on. “I was even able to return to my original goal of developing a healthy energy drink, and Pyure has now launched OEO, the first non-GMO, organic, sugar-free energy shot available anywhere,” Fleischer adds of the Naples, Fla.-based company’s innovations. Additionally, in July the company launched Stevia Sweetener Bakeable Blend, an alternative that matches cup for cup with sugar.
Taking health a step further, Pyure donates a portion of its proceeds to organizations and foundations that focus on diabetes education and other social and environmental causes.
•Power Bars: Pure Protein
With the increasing focus on living an active, healthy lifestyle, food manufacturers have had to innovate to keep consumers energized. That is where Pure Protein comes in. “With the perfect combination of high protein and great taste, Pure Protein is a nutritious and delicious way to help our consumers fuel their active lifestyles,” says vice president of marketing, Patrick Cornacchiulo for the Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based company.
The company’s newest bars, Chocolate Salted Caramel, not only play on current flavor trends but also the consumer desire for more protein, note observers.
An active member of the community, Cornacchiulo adds, “Pure Protein recently helped our consumers achieve their goals by sponsoring the ‘Pure Passion Series’ in 2014,” an event series of races and charity runs. The brand provided over 1,000,000 samples to participants of these events.
•Homeopathic Medicine: Similasan Corp. USA
Similasan AG, a Swiss manufacturer of homeopathic remedies known for its gentle, homeopathic Dry Eye Relief drops founded its U.S. branch, Similasan Corp. USA, almost 20 years ago.
The company has remained a top provider of homeopathic products in the U.S. ever since. More recently, natural, homeopathic remedies for children have gained popularity and become the Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based company’s best sellers. These products include Kids Cold & Mucus Relief and Kids Cold & Fever Relief, which use homeopathic ingredients to help children’s bodies naturally recover from illness. The medicines are gluten- and dairy-free and non-drowsy.
Similasan’s products stand out from the competition due to the stringent regulations they are subjected to. “Similasan products are formulated with natural active ingredients, in accordance with the HPUS and Materia Medica as well as the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices,” says Don Steiert, sales and planning manager. “Similasan meets strict FDA manufacturing and Swissmedic EU regulatory guidelines. Additionally, our products and formulas have to resist tough pre-market trials by our formulators in Switzerland.”
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the functional category include: Boiron, homeopathic medicines for children and adults; Wisdom Natural Brands, stevia natural sweeteners including Sweet Drops; Feronia Water, sustainably tapped pure maple water; and Hylands, homeopathic sleep, skin and cold remedies.
•Vegan: Wellnx Life Sciences
Wellnx Life Sciences’ brand Nature’s Science is known for its top quality weight loss supplements, but recently the brand has successfully ventured to explore other areas.
“Nature’s Science features supplements in the joint, sleep and heart health categories, as well as a full line of up-and-coming functional oils including Nature’s Science Vegan Omega-3, which contains five times more DHA than the Krill Oil and comes in a convenient vegetarian softgel,” says Tara McCrory, brand manager of the Mississauga, Ont., Can.-based company.
Omega-3 is known for its unique health benefits like protecting against Alzheimer’s and easing joint pain. Frequently obtained from fish oil, consumers often complain of a fishy aftertaste when ingesting these supplements. Thanks to the advancements by Nature’s Science, everyone can safely and happily supplement Omega-3 into their diets, add company officials.
•Herbal: Penn Herb Co.
The Penn Herb Co., the exclusive U.S. importers for Olbas Herbal Remedies from Switzerland, is continuing to revolutionize the means for consumers to obtain natural healthcare.
In early 2015, the Philadelphia-based company’s retail store will be replaced with a new “Herb Superstore” that is four times larger than the original retail store. This new store will include information kiosks for customers to learn about natural herbs and remedies, a tea bar, healthy foods section and a “Nature’s Wonderland” section of the brand’s own natural remedies.
“From the company’s humble beginnings on Second Street in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, we have greatly expanded customer service, manufacturing, packaging and shipping lines at a modern 46,000-square-foot facility in Northeast Philadelphia,” adds Penn Herb’s vice president Wm. P. Betz Jr.
Other notable entrants and companies to watch within the supplements category include: Country Life, vitamins and protein supplements like whey.