By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing
casselld@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: Gluten-free for the soul

I found myself fighting off a cold last week, which led me to search my home and office for products containing Vitamin C, probiotics and other immunity boosters. I spent my days drinking hot black tea (full of antioxidants), eating all-natural fruit cups (for the Vitamin C), slurping down chicken soup (an old-fashioned cure-all) and even nibbling on beef jerky (a good source of protein). (As I write this, a commercial for Tylenol Warming Liquids, a new drinkable drug designed to relieve painful cold symptoms and comfort with a warming sensation, just came on TV. Where was this ad last week when I needed it?) I also sucked on several Ricola (including sugar-free varieties) and (new) Bee M.D. brand throat drops. (Yum!)

Sick as I was, the show must go on. So, while battling this cold war, I began working on a gluten-free feature for the upcoming November/December issue of Confection & Snack Retailing.

Lately, there has been an incredible influx of new product introductions free from wheat gluten, perhaps due largely to increased media attention on the growing number of children and adults with Celiac Disease. In addition, products that are naturally free from wheat gluten or have long been gluten-free are starting to change their packaging to reflect those claims.

The one downside of many of these introductions? Taste. Consumers commonly complain about the flavor profiles of these new items. Here, I highlight a few of those that have crossed my desk as of late and share what their creators have to say about the negative stereotypes surrounding gluten-free. (If only these products had the power to cure the common cold!)

--Nana’s Originals, Nana’s Cookie Bars and Cookies Bites from Nana’s Cookie Co., San Diego, come in a variety of “No Gluten” profiles. (Check out today’s “Sweet of the Week” for further details … and a look at another new healthful product from the company.) According to “Nana” herself -- owner and founder Miriam Diamond -- “Nana’s No Gluten Cookies taste great. Most gluten-free cookies are made primarily with rice flour that is not as smooth as wheat flour, which makes the texture feel different to the palate. Nana’s uses only natural, high-quality ingredients and top-of-the-line natural flavorings that blend together to create a moist, superior-tasting product. For example, our No Gluten Lemon Cookie has been compared to a luscious chiffon cake.”

--Glutenfreeda Foods, Burlington, Wash., offers frozen, bake-at-home Real Cookies in six flavors, each with “the authentic taste of a real cookie” (hence the name), according to company literature. Made in a dedicated gluten- and wheat-free facility, Real Cookies also are free from trans fat, hydrogenated oils, GMOs, hormones and preservatives. Says Jessica Hale -- co-founder, CMO and vice president -- “It is our primary focus at Glutenfreeda Foods, Inc., to produce only products that taste exactly like the ‘real’ thing. Sub-standard tasting food products are something that consumers will generally only try once. By spending the necessary time on R&D and developing quality, authentic-tasting products, our products have, and will have, loyal consumers who purchase [them] repeatedly.”

--All-natural Arico Cookie Bars from Arico Natural Foods, Beaverton, Ore., may be gluten- and dairy-free, but they still appeal to discriminating palates. Just ask CEO Angela Ichwan. “Gluten-free products have come a long way in the last few years,” she says. “At Arico, we’ve worked hard to create snacks that taste good and are good for you. We do it by using high-quality, wholesome and all natural ingredients. There are new ingredients and more options available today to create gluten-free products that taste good. As food creators, it is important to challenge ourselves to create great-tasting gluten-free products that rival their gluten-containing counterparts. If we don’t achieve that, our job is not done.”

I may not have had operating taste buds last week, but I’ve been known to enjoy a gluten-free product or two. (Check out the next issue of Confection & Snack Retailing for details on these and other gluten-free introductions.) Whether it was the tea, the Vitamin C, the soup or even the jerky, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling much better now. I think my personal cold war may officially have ended when the election results came in last night. (Gobama.)

Mars announces sustainability plan

Mars recently held a symposium, in partnership with the African Science Academies, to bring sustainable cocoa farming practices to the forefront. Cocoa industry leaders along with 250 delegates from 14 African nations have finalized a sustainable cocoa farming plan for the continent of Africa, which produces 70% of the world’s cocoa. The plan was developed to help cocoa farmers increase their income by growing higher quality trees that are more resistant to disease and drought, and that consume fewer natural resources. 

“The consensus plan will have a real impact on the day-to-day lives of cocoa farmers throughout Africa,” says G.Y. Gyan-Balfour, Ghana’s deputy minister of finance. “The measures and infrastructure we have committed to should make it possible for farmers to increase their cocoa production in the near future, and will ensure that cocoa can be farmed from these lands for generations to come. The potential benefit to cocoa farmers is great, and will help strengthen families and communities throughout the region.” 

The participants’ 30-year plan includes steps such as advancing the progress of cocoa science, working with the government to make sure cocoa farmers are paid fairly, and improving social and environmental services. Participants expect outcomes of the plan to include recognition of African cocoa producers by chocolate manufacturers, increased income among cocoa farmers and cocoa landscapes, including forests, agro forests and intensified cropping systems in 50% of the cocoa belt in Africa. 

For more information, visit www.mars.com or www.cocoasustainability.mars.com.

Barry Callebaut makes plans for new cocoa industry initiatives

At the end of October, Barry Callebaut announced three initiatives to strengthen the cocoa industry. The first is a tree-planting project in Tanzania, initiated by Barry Callebaut and Biolands with support from Barry Callebaut’s German Sarotti brand. By planting 250,000 cocoa seedlings and 10,000 crop and shade trees, the companies expect the trees to rejuvenate existing cocoa plantations while increasing biodiversity and yield by March 2009.

In Germany, consumers can purchase a tablet of Sarotti BIO chocolate or visit www.sarotti.de/utopia to support the project. Each tablet of chocolate purchased represents a newly planted cocoa tree, while each visit to Sarotti’s Utopia portal represents a crop or shade tree (up to a maximum of 250,000 cocoa trees and 10,000 crop and shade trees).

Barry Callebaut’s second project is tripling the cocoa-processing capacity at its subsidiary SACO’s cocoa factory in San Pedro in the west of Ivory Coast. The company has invested 30 million euros over the last two years, along with adding new production lines, which led to the creation of 75 permanent jobs and several hundred seasonal jobs, and brought the annual processing capacity to 105,000 tons.

The third initiative is giving healthcare to cocoa farmers and their families in Goh, near San Pedro in the Ivory Coast, where the average life expectancy is below 50 years of age. The health center will include a consultation room, pharmacy, maternity home and room for in-patients, and will offer medical assistance to 18,000 people.

Recently, Barry Callebaut also announced the results of a study conducted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh through which the company’s ACTICOA dark chocolate was found to maintain and reduce blood pressure levels. Two test groups consumed different cocoa flavanol amounts of the chocolate every day for two weeks. The first group consumed chocolate containing 500 mg cocoa flavanols, while the second group’s chocolate contained 1,000 mg cocoa flavanols. After the two-week trial, both groups demonstrated significantly reduced blood pressures. The results of the study will be presented at Health Ingredients Europe 2008 (Nov. 4-6).

For more information, visit www.acticoa.com or www.barry-callebaut.com.

Mandell named to '40 Under 40'

President, CEO and co-founder of Schiller Park, Ill.-based Enjoy Life Foods, Scott Mandell, has been named to Crain’s Chicago Business' “40 Under 40” list of business leaders. Founded in 2001, Enjoy Life Foods offers all-natural, trans fat-free and kosher cookies, snack bars, trail mixes, semi-chocolate chips and chocolaty bars, which are manufactured in a nut- and gluten-free facility, and are free from the eight most common allergens.

More than 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, eight of which account for 90% of food-allergic reactions in the United States (wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish), Mandell says.

“Recognition like this, especially in a business environment like Chicago’s where there are so many outstanding business leaders, is truly humbling and a great honor,” Mandell says. “I share it with all of Enjoy Life Foods employees who are truly dedicated to our customers, especially those who have food allergies, Celiac Disease and other dietary restrictions.”

For more information, visit www.enjoylifefoods.com.

Chocoholics facility undergoes organic certification

Chocoholics Divine Desserts, an all-natural chocolate gourmet company based in Clements, Calif., has announced that its facility has been certified organic by the California Crop Improvement Association. This certification demonstrates that its facility meets the National Organic Standards, as established by the United States Department of Agriculture, for processing and handling of organic foods.

Rising consumer interest in organic products as well as consumer awareness of organic processes prompted the company to seek the certification. In addition to manufacturing a 2.25-oz. organic bar made with 72% cocoa chocolate, the company offers more than 300 products ranging from truffles to chocolate voodoo dolls.

The company also has the capability to contract- and private -label manufacture products. For additional information, visit www.gourmetchocolate.com.

Shaman Chocolates adds new flavors

Soquel, Calif.-based Shaman Chocolates has announced the addition of two new organic chocolate bar flavors to its collection. They are Organic Milk Chocolate with Macadamia Nuts & Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt and Organic Extra Dark Chocolate with 82% cacao. Profits from sales of the bars benefit the Huichol Indians, who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of central Western Mexico. The bars are wrapped in packaging featuring Huichol artwork and images, and sell for a suggested retail price of $3.00 for a 2-oz. bar and $36.00 for 12 bars. For more information, visit www.shamanchocolates.com.

sweet of the week: Nana's cookie bars

“Healthier than a cookie … tastier than a bar.” Nana’s “O” Mega-Fiber Cookie Bars are about as health-conscious as a product comes. This recent addition to the already highly functional Nana’s Cookie Bars line created by Miriam Diamond (aka Nana), owner and founder of Nana’s Cookie Co., San Diego, takes her original product one step further by adding 5 gm. of dietary fiber and 10 gm. of whole grain per 130-calorie serving. Made from all-natural ingredients, the omega- and whole grain-packed cookie bars are sweetened with fruit juice and contain 12 vitamins and minerals. They are available in Vanilla Toasted Almond, Apple Harvest, Peanutty Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chocolate varieties. The suggested retail price for a box of five is $4.89 or $1.09 per single-serve cookie bar. Nana’s Cookie Bars also come in a gluten-free profile that features Nana Banana, Berry Vanilla and Chocolate Munch flavors. Altogether, Nana’s Cookie Co. offers six product lines and 29 flavors for health-conscious consumers. All items are vegan and kosher, and free from refined sugar, dairy, cholesterol, eggs, hydrogenated oils and trans fat. For more information, visit www.nanascookiecompany.com.