Organic products and those without preservatives and harsh processing remain big business in the United States — with $81 billion in sales last year — despite a tough economy.
Sales in stores, online and in practitioners' offices were up 7 percent from the year before, according to the trade publication Natural Food Merchandiser, which conducts a survey every year. The public consumed items that included foods and herbal supplements, health and beauty items, and pet supplies.
During the next few days, about 25,000 buyers from groceries, drugstores and big-box retailers, as well as distributors and food service operators at hospitals and colleges, will scour the aisles at the Natural Products Expo East, the largest show of its kind on the East Coast, to find the Next Big Things to put on store shelves. (It's not open to the public).
The 1,200 exhibitors include established brands like Stonyfield and Cabot Creamery, who want to expand to more markets, and small and local companies looking for someone to carry or distribute their home-grown products, according to event host New Hope Natural Media.
Erica Stone, show director, said many of the items are "passion products," created in basements by people who want to use and consume them themselves. They are moms looking for healthful baby food or shampoo without parabens, or eaters who don't want any genetically modified organisms in their food.
There are "organic" products, which need to be certified by federal or international authorities, and "natural" products that meet standards of established associations because there is no federal definition for these products.
"We have a standards department that reviews everything," Stone said, emphasizing the challenge of vetting items for the expo for false claims and purity. "In food, for example, we don't want to see any artificial sweeteners, and we don't want artificial colors or flavors. We also have standards for health and beauty products."
But while consumers seem to hunger for "healthy" products, not all organic and natural products are good for everyone. Some are high in fat and calories. And the science behind other health claims is inconclusive. The government also doesn't regulate herbal supplements like other drugs. And for those trying to avoid genetically modified foods, the government doesn't require food labels for those either.
Lee Cohen launched Avenue Gourmet in the basement of partner Patricia Lobel's home almost 13 years ago because they wanted to bring a range of organic and specialty products to markets that were long on items masquerading as natural or healthy. "If the ingredients list has more than a few lines, you really need to take a closer look at buying that product," Cohen said. "And I think more people are reading labels."
For those who want to buy such organic and natural goods locally, or just learn about which ones are made and distributed from the area, here's a look at area companies and their offerings:
Avenue Gourmet, Owings Mills (
Avenue Gourmet is a specialty and natural food distribution company that scours the market for hard-to-find products. It was launched by two specialty food veterans, Lobel and Cohen. They sell natural, sugar-free,
, low-carb and kosher items, as well as organic products. They include everything from baking and soup mixes to chocolates, popcorn, sauces, honey and spices.
The items are available through their online catalog, at
and other local markets. New items include
Envo Water in a recycled paper box, Frontier Dakota Territory Beef Barley Bean Stew mix and Jelly Belly Dark Chocolate Dipped Mint jelly beans.
The company's first nut was roasted in 1924 in a small Baltimore shop by an immigrant from Barcelona, Spain. It's still run out of Baltimore, but the plant is located in Dover, Pa., and sales are now in the multimillions of dollars. Its 150 types of snack foods are distributed globally. The products come under the Barcelona banner, as well as Stonehedge Farms Popcorn.
The company buys directly from farmers and growers and roasts the nuts in peanut oil and ships them within days of getting the orders. Most sales are through wholesalers and are sold in convenience stores and supermarkets, as well as at
and other major league ballparks.
H&S Bakery, Baltimore (www.hsbakery.com
The Paterakis and Tsakalos families came to Baltimore in 1943 from Greece and began baking Italian bread in one of the family's basements. Eventually, the company, named for the two original partners, Harry and Steve, became a giant in the industry, making bread and rolls for large grocery chains as well as
and other restaurants.
In recent years, H&S, now with third and fourth generations working at the company, launched a line of organic, natural and whole wheat bread products under the brand names Perfect Balance and Ultimate Grains. They don't use corn syrup or preservatives. And the products are available in markets including Whole Foods.
Martek is now a division of DSM Nutritionals, maker of biomedical materials. Martek focuses on nutritional products derived from microalgae, including those with DHA and
, sources of
that have been linked to cardiovascular and brain health. These products are for those who can't or won't consume fish, who get the fatty acids from the algae they eat. The company also sells supplements for relief of urinary tract and yeast infections and for digestive health.
Two new products under its Amerifit Brands include Ovega-3 and BrainStrong, which both provide fatty acids. They also offer prenatal
with DHA powder to give toddlers and kids' Gummi versions. In addition to the supplements, Martek's
life'sDHA is found in infant formula and, more recently, in Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry Juice and Horizon Organic Milk Plus life'sDHA.
Natural Products Solutions, Lutherville (natprodsolutions.com)
The company founded six years ago by Travis Pendergast and Martin Gallant sells a line of herbal-based supplements for men and women under the name VirMax. The supplements aim to improve sexual performance, function and feeling in men and women. The products are available at drugstores, groceries and vitamin shops, and are being sold internationally.
New products include VirMax for Men and Women and a fast-acting VirMax 8 Hour for Men.
Pure Glass Bottle, Baltimore (pureglassbottle.com)
PURE Glass Bottle was created by environmental chemist Walt Himelstein, who has spent his career on environmental projects including Superfund cleanup drinking water monitoring. But he believes that stewardship begins at the personal level, so he endeavored to create the most environmental bottle for everyday use.
His glass bottles are reusable and dishwasher safe, and a nontoxic coating makes them shatter-resistant. There is no liner and the top is BPA-free. Without metals or plastics, there is no leaching of materials and no parts where microbes could grow. They are available wholesale or retail online.
Salazon Chocolate Co., Eldersburg (salazonchoc.com)
When Pete Truby and friends were on a hike in Utah a couple of years back, they took along some dark-chocolate bars to add to their salty trail mix for energy. Around the campfire, the gang decided to launch a company to make their energy food. They called it Salazon (Spanish for "salted"). Now the products are offered in about 400 stores such as Whole Foods, and soon Wegman's.
The chocolate is made from organic, Rainforest Alliance-certified beans in small batches in this country and hand-sprinkled with a small amount of solar-evaporated sea salt to bring out the flavor. Some proceeds go to environmental causes. And the bars are kosher, vegan and gluten-free, though they are processed in a facility that makes other items.
Shea Radiance, Columbia (
When Funlayo and Shola Alabi couldn't find products to treat their two sons' eczema and severe dry skin, they asked relatives in Nigeria to send them shea butter. The couple started adding their own oils to the shea butter, and soon their Columbia company, Shea Radiance, was born.
Their skin products are sold at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores, or via their website. They will soon introduce a line of hair care products.
The Vegetarian Resource Group is a Baltimore nonprofit organization that educates the public on vegetarianism and the interrelated issues of health, nutrition, ecology, ethics and world hunger. The group publishes the Vegetarian Journal and produces and sell cookbooks, other books, pamphlets and article reprints.
The group's health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in schools, workplace, and community. The group's latest book is "Vegans Know How to Party" by Nancy Berkoff and "The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book" by Reed Magnels. You can buy books from the organization's website,
, some health food and book stores, or by calling 410-366-8343.
Vanns Spices, Woodlawn (www.vannsspices.com)
Vanns Spices is known for its unusual blends, like Himalayan Pink Salt and Juniper Berries. The company, founded in 1981 by a teacher who used to mix spices at home, makes more than 2,500 blends that can be found locally at Eddie's of
and Eddie's of
, Whole Foods and David's Natural Market in Columbia.
The products are also on the company's website. Their newest products are a new line of natural flavors and extracts that include basics such as vanilla and peppermint and more exotic flavors like black walnut. The company also recently introduced "grinder" spices and relaunched and expanded its gourmet line.
Very Peri Sauces LLC, Columbia (email@example.com)
Reginald Carey and his wife, Paige, were on vacation in England looking for exotic cuisine among the country's bland menu when they happened upon a restaurant that served Peri Peri sauce. They were hooked, and when they returned home tried to find the peppery sauce with the citrus taste. The brands they tried just didn't compare to what they had tasted.
So the couple came up with their own concoction and started the Columbia-based company Very Peri Sauces two years ago. The sauce, used on chicken and in other dishes, can be found locally at Mom's Organic Market in Bowie. Or you can buy it on their website. They are rolling out a new sauce made with honey called Dolce.