Best of the best in wellness

Buoyed by strong leadership, forward-thinking vision and appealing products, these wellness companies have been honored with Grocery Headquarters’ 2013 Selling Wellness Trailblazer award.             

Each year, Grocery Headquarters announces its Selling Wellness Trailblazer Awards. The awards were created to recognize innovation within the wellness industry and to salute those companies having the most impact on the industry.

This year, the Grocery Headquarters editorial team focused on a number of criteria in reviewing candidates including new product innovation, ingredient integrity, marketing initiatives and social responsibility. The list was long and the number of outstanding contenders substantial. However, in the end only a select few earned the prestigious right to be named one of the Top Wellness Companies of Year.

Aisle7 has developed a health and wellness marketing platform that integrates into retailers’ digital marketing initiatives such as in-store kiosks, mobile phones, websites and social media. Bill Schneider, director of marketing, for the Portland, Ore.-based company, says several top food retailers use Aisle7 programs to educate their shoppers, resulting in more than five million shopper interactions with Aisle7 content every year.

“Our philosophy is simple—an informed shopper is more likely to buy. Put another way, a confused mind delays action which is why our products are designed to cut consumer confusion with objective, science-based research on the latest nutrients,” he says. “In today’s health climate, we believe the single greatest point of leverage is to give people the tools they need to make informed choices on what they put into their bodies.”

Crunchies Food Co.
Crunchies Food Co. was established in response to the dearth of good-tasting and healthy, natural snacks in the market, say company officials. In blending taste with nutrition, Crunchies freeze dried fruits and vegetables have proven to be hugely appealing to everyone from school children to seniors, and from health conscious parents to busy executives, says James Lacey, president and CEO of the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company. “Crunchies Freeze Dried Fruits and Veggies are a unique, one of a kind snack,” he says. Unlike traditional dried or dehydrated fruits and veggies, Crunchies retain, on average, 94% of their nutritional value versus the dehydrated fruits and veggies that preserve a maximum of 45% of their nutrients.

Lightweight and packaged in a re-sealable bag, Lacey views Crunchies as an ideal on-the-go snack and a great replacement for so many of the high-calorie, high-sodium snacks so often found in the market. “These tasty snacks make it easy to get your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables,” he says. Crunchies also offers these snacks in the single-serving Munch Pak size,  as an addition into any lunchbox as a healthy alternative.

derma e Natural Bodycare
In the past four years derma e has been one of the fastest growing natural skincare brands, becoming a leader in the facial care category, say company officials. Today, the Simi Valley, Calif.-based company provides more than 80 premium anti-aging skincare and treatment products. According to officials, derma e products contain scientifically proven effective, natural anti-aging ingredients such as powerful antioxidants astaxanthin and pycnogenol, skin-firming DMAE, wrinkle-fighting peptides and ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid.  Additionally, all treatment products utilize nutritious oils, botanicals, vitamins and antioxidants to help ease various skin conditions and physical ailments such as blemishes, age spots, scars and aching extremities. “Not only will you see great results with these products,” says Jeff Carducci, vice president sales, U.S., “all formulas have a safe, effective delivery system free of parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil, artificial colors and are 100% vegan and cruelty-free.”

Eden Foods
Eden Foods is a 44-year-old independent manufacturer of natural food providing more than 300 authentic, organic, traditional, kosher, pure and purifying foods. From its headquarters in Clinton, Mich., Eden manages grower relations, manufacturing, trucking, quality control, customer services, marketing, import/export, accounting and its websites. Each year company officials also visit the families who grow Eden organic food.

“We continue building relations with organic growers and traditional food makers, nurturing more than 360 family farms with over 80,000 acres of vibrant organic farmland,” says Michael Potter, chairman and president.

Eden tracks the environmental impact of its food upstream with its suppliers, through company operations and downstream, monitoring social impacts. Energy consumption and efficient usage are tracked using custom in-house tools.

Potter says that the Eden brand means no irradiation, preservatives, chemical additives, food colorings, refined sugar or genetically engineered experiments; full disclosure of ingredients and all handling; and producing organic food that meets and exceeds requirements for the USDA organic seal.

Enjoy Life Foods
Today many companies are jumping into the “free-from” space, yet Enjoy Life Foods remains one of the pioneers in this fast-growing category.

“The taste bar has been raised for all products and especially the ones in this category,” says Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for the Schiller Park, Ill.-based company. Warady adds that with a broader assortment of products available, consumers are significantly more educated about their food options and are demanding better-tasting foods.

Enjoy Life Foods provides consumers with the piece of mind that comes from being able to purchase products that are free from gluten as well as the top eight common food allergens as designated by the FDA, along with a wide variety of foods that will satisfy every craving. Its complete product line allows 100 million Americans living with food intolerances to eat freely. Warady adds that all Enjoy Life Natural Brands’ products are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish. In addition, its products are all-natural and verified non-GMO.

Funky MonkeySnacks
Freeze-dried fruits are nothing at all like the products many remember eating as kids, says Matt Herzog, president of Funky Monkey Snacks. Using a proprietary process, Funky Monkey’s Snacks have a crisp, crunchy texture more like a snack chip, he says. Funky Monkey Snacks are also 100% real fruit, nutritionally equivalent to their fresh counterparts.

However, product quality, says Herzog, is what sets the Fishers Ind.-based company apart. Using premium quality fruits like organic bananas, along with pineapples, mangos, guava, açai, papaya and apples, plus orange and lime juices, is the key. Funky Monkey snacks are also made directly from fresh fruit at the source. “We make our Non-GMO Project Verified snacks in Brazil from local fruit. Unlike competitors who harvest fruit in one part of the world, then freeze it and ship it to another part of the world to process months later, we capture our fruit at the peak of freshness and process it immediately to deliver the best taste,” says Herzog. He adds a freeze-drying process provides a fun crunch. This process is powered by steam created from renewable sources rather than refrigerants and electricity, making it more environmentally friendly. “The crunch profile of Funky Monkey’s ‘Fruit That Crunches’ gives us a powerful and saleable product attribute.

Finally, we offer interesting and unique flavors such as banana-cinnamon and banana-acai or pineapple with lime juice and pineapple with guava,” says Herzog.

Hodgson Mill
Hodgson Mill is a family-owned company with more than 125 years experience producing stone ground, whole grain and organic foods made from premium quality whole grain, including flours, corn meals, cereals, baking mixes, pastas, gluten-free items and more.
“At Hodgson Mill we believe in living a great life and trying to make life better,” says Ray Martin, vice president, sales and marketing for the Effingham, Ill.-based company. “That starts with making nutritious foods that are of the highest quality because we think life’s better when you take care of yourself and your health. But we also want that to be a positive experience: it shouldn’t be a punishment to eat foods that are good for you.”

Martin adds that the company’s focus is on finding grains that are of the highest grade and produced domestically wherever available. They use only stoneground milling to ensure that their products contain the entire nutritional benefit of the grain. They try to make life better in their community and world as well, starting with a commitment to solar and wind power at their mill and an award-winning recycling program.

In 1903, when homeopathy was standard medical practice in the U.S., eight pharmacists founded Standard Homeopathic Co., now Hyland’s, to meet the need for medicines on the West Coast. As one of the country’s oldest manufacturers of a full range of homeopathic medicines, officials for Hyland’s say the brand offers consumers who value a healthy life the confidence that reliable relief is close at hand.

The Los Angeles-based company’s quick-dissolving tablets are a product of that dedication, says Les Hamilton, vice president of sales. “As the costs of health care skyrocket, the need for medicines that are natural, affordable, effective and available without a prescription is greater than ever and Hyland’s is there to meet that need,” he says.

Hamilton says Hyland’s is also known for its commitment to its employees and its communities. “Our teams work hard every day to make and distribute homeopathic medicines to those who need them. We strive to honor their efforts by ensuring we are a great place to work,” he says.

When retailers hear the brand name PROXI, Kenn Vest, president of Innovasource, hopes they recognize it as an exciting new line of hydrogen peroxide products that offer consumers high performance with a healthy ingredient platform. “At Innovasource, we are committed to bringing innovative products to the grocery channel based around the ingredient platform of hydrogen peroxide,” says Vest.

Officials for the Huntersville, N.C.-based company say that it is important for companies in their product categories to be fully transparent about the ingredients in their products. Each ingredient in PROXI products is clearly labeled and is selected for biodegradability, the source of derivation, human health and safety and consumer preferences. “PROXI products are also unique for the ingredients not present in formulas: No chlorine bleach, phosphates, ammonia, parabens, phthalates, Triclosan, SLS or animal-derived ingredients,” says Vest. “In short, our products were developed for consumers seeking high performance, green attributes, value and quality combined with a healthy ingredient platform.” He adds that hydrogen peroxide has a distinct function in each of their products. For instance, it provides breath-freshening and teeth-whitening qualities in oral care, foaming action and healthy cleansing benefits in personal care products, and disinfecting, deodorizing and cleaning performance in home care products.

“Like the ingredients that we select to go into our formulas, we strive to select environmentally-responsible, yet attractive, packaging that will stand out on the shelf,” says Vest.

KIND Healthy Snacks
When KIND Healthy Snacks launched its first whole nut and fruit bars in 2004, it introduced an entirely new concept to the bar space—easy to pronounce ingredients. KIND proposed swapping out emulsified pastes and artificial fillers for whole ingredients consumers could recognize and feel good about putting into their bodies. This was a novel concept at the time and continues to be a primary driver of their growth and productivity.
In 2012, KIND continued to re-invent categories, forging new paths by creating its first line of granola, KIND Healthy Grains, as well as its newest line of bars, KIND Nuts & Spices. KIND Healthy Grains are gluten-free, artisanal blends of snackable clusters that combine 100% whole grains, with superfoods such as blueberries, walnuts, chia seeds and flax.

“Our newly introduced line of bars, KIND Nuts & Spices, is the first in the category to provide consumers a delicious, natural way to control sugar intake and meet daily protein and fiber needs without using chemicals or sugar alcohols,” says John Leahy, president of the New York-based company.

King Arthur Flour Co.
Officials at the King Arthur Flour Co. like to say, “flour this good doesn’t happen by accident.” Terri Rosenstock, public relations manager, says it is a result of diligence, consistency, and a core philosophy that keeps their customers at the heart of everything they do.

“We believe in maintaining the highest standards and the most precise specifications in the industry, ensuring consistency in every bag, in every kitchen, every time,” says Rosenstock. “We’re motivated by knowing that every day, passionate bakers across the country count on our flour—on us—to make their baking the best it can be. As a 100% employee-owned company, that’s a responsibility every single one of us takes very seriously.”

As a certified B Corp. and a Vermont Benefit Corp., Rosenstock says the Norwich, Vt.-based company is committed to being a good steward of its communities and the natural environment. “We focus on four core areas: employees, environment, community and products,” she says. “We encourage environmentally sound wheat farming practices, strive to source products from other socially responsible companies and incorporate principles of sustainability into every aspect of our business.”

King Bio
Dr. Frank King launched King Bio in 1989 following a private practice as a doctor of naturopathy and chiropractic for 10 years. He remains passionate about reaching more people with homeopathic and other natural remedies that target the underlying causes of health issues.

King Bio maintains a cutting-edge presence in the natural products industry as an integrated all-natural pharmaceutical company registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “We have been a leading manufacturer of homeopathic medicines for 24 years and have an excellent reputation for innovative top quality products that produce effective results,” says Rose Schilling, research and communications specialist for the Asheville, N.C.-based company. “We are fervently conducting research and development of new relevant products for today’s changing health market.”

Company officials say King Bio formulas were the first in the marketplace to develop a unique taste-free pure water base for its homeopathic products. The formulas are free of alcohol and sugar that may cause drug interactions or negative side effects. Other key differences are the multi-ingredients and multi-potencies in each formula, which produce broad-spectrum therapeutic effects and provide faster, more comprehensive results.

Lundberg Family Farms
Albert and Frances Lundberg established Lundberg Family Farms 75 years ago. Having experienced first-hand the ravages of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, the two central Nebraskan farmers resolved to re-imagine the family farm, not only in a new Northern California location, but based on principles of respecting and preserving the land to provide a secure living for their family.

Among the practices pioneered and championed on the Sacramento Valley farm was the use of cover crops to improve soil fertility and the incorporation of the rice stubble to build soil tilth. These practices led to a belief that flourishes to this day: produce food that is good for the body and the planet.

“Above all, Lundberg Family Farms produces healthy and great tasting food that is good for you and the planet,” says Grant Lundberg, CEO of the Richvale Calif.-based company. “We are owned by the second, third and fourth generations of the Lundberg family. We control the production process from field to table, ensuring the integrity of every product that bears the Lundberg family name.”

This care and pride in the product is reflected in every package, where every ingredient is organic or eco-farmed in a responsible, sustainable manner, he says. Lundberg also produces its own renewable energy through solar power generation, minimizes landfill waste and utilizes energy-saving food production systems.

The Mediterranean Snack Food Co.
The Mediterranean Snack Food Co. has pioneered the creation of healthful lentil based baked snacks, which are packed with the super food nutrition benefits of lentils, rather than empty calories, say company officials. “In addition to having official GF certification, the other real point of difference is that our snacks deliver on all three critical consumer needs in healthy snacking: nutrition, taste and satiation,” says Lonnie Williard, vice president of marketing.

The Boonton, N.J.-based company’s new HummuZ crispz, are also non-GMO verified, and feature another wholesome legume, garbanzo beans, which also offer a good source of protein, providing a gluten-free snacking for partnering with hummus, salsa or other spreads.

“We feel that continuing on the path of providing consumers with nutritious, satisfying snacks in delicious, sophisticated flavors and answering the need for convenient, wholesome snacks with new product offerings and innovations will help us stand apart in our category,” says Williard.

Natracare, a family-owned company with a mission to make better and healthier products for women from organic and renewable, compostable materials, continues to develop the feminine hygiene category. The Greeley, Colo.-based company continues to expand into new categories such as mother and baby lines and organic cotton wipes. Susie Hewson, international marketing director, says among its many accomplishments she would like the company to be most known for its quality, authority and global brand recognition.
“We have authority for our company and brand’s integrity as a manufacturer which stands by its philosophy and ecological principles while delivering high quality, innovative products at a competitive price without compromising resources, both human and natural,” she says.

Hewson also says that the company and brand stands for more than just high quality, organic and natural products. “We are an award winning, ethical company committed to offering organic and natural solutions for personal health care that has full regard for their environmental impact.”

Nature’s Path Organic Foods
Living by his father’s motto, “always leave the soil better than you found it,” Arran Stephens, CEO and founder of Nature’s Path, has passionately devoted his life to the growth and success of the organic food movement. The family run Richmond, B.C. Canada-based company was an early supporter of the Non-GMO Project, and throughout 2012, supported labeling of GMOs and people’s right to know what is in their food. All of the company’s products are USDA certified organic and have passed a rigorous, independent verification process and bear the Non-GMO Project Verified Seal.

With a commitment to operating on the triple bottom line, where social responsibility and environmental sustainability are equally as important as financial viability, Nature’s Path abides by the motto “Eat Well, Do Good.” The company incorporates a philanthropic element into everything it does and has launched several philanthropic initiatives, including the Bite4Bite initiative, which was introduced in 2011. For each bag of Love Crunch sold, Nature’s Path donates the equivalent in cereal or cash to food banks. Last year, they donated more than $2 million in food and cash to food banks across North America. Nature’s Path also provides Gardens for Good Grants to deserving organizations to help put organic community gardens where they will serve those who need them most.

Once Again Nut Butter
Once Again Nut Butter began as a small three-person co-operative in an 800-square-foot basement more than 35 years ago. “We produced a few thousand pounds of healthier peanut butter a year,” says Gael Orr, communications manager. “Today, we produce millions of pounds of different types of organic nut butters, roasted nuts and bottled varietal honeys by our 30 member/owners in our modern 45,000-square-foot facility.”

Orr describes the Nunda, N.Y.-based company as a democratically operated employee-owned workplace that prides itself in providing health-conscious consumers with products of superior quality and integrity. Located in a small rural community, the company is dedicated to supporting organic and sustainable farming practices.

Pacific Natural Foods
Pacific Natural Foods’ extensive line of soups and broths include classic pantry staples like Organic Creamy Tomato Soup and Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, as well as new favorites such as Organic Cashew Carrot Ginger Soup and Organic Butternut Squash Bisque. Although most known for its soups and broths, the brand is also the maker of the widest variety of dairy alternatives on the market.

According to Kevin Tisdale, vice president of marketing, the Tualatin, Ore.-based company continues to rethink possibilities when creating healthier, cleaner versions of pantry staples like condensed soup and cranberry sauce. Pacific’s Soup Starters, launched early 2011, were among a new trend of companies creating base flavors that allow families to customize the ingredients in their meals for an endless number of possible dinner combinations—bringing the restaurant experience closer to home.

With many ingredients sourced locally, some from dairies and farms owned by the company’s founder, Tisdale says Pacific takes great pride in knowing where its ingredients come from. With the belief that its customers care just as much about sourcing, they developed their own “Certified to the Source” program in 1997.

Similasan USA
Guided by its Swiss heritage, Similasan USA offers natural homeopathic remedies that provide symptomatic relief. “We are dedicated to ethical practices and integrity in all that we do,” says Haley Ball, product manager for the Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based company.
Similasan currently sells 17 SKUs with an emphasis in three categories: eye care, ear care and kid’s cold care. According to Ball, each product is formulated, using only the finest natural ingredients and produced according to regulations by both the Swiss Medic and the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

“Similasan USA prides itself as being a leader in the growing all-natural industry with efforts focused on educating both the retailer and consumers on the benefits of homeopathy,” says Ball. “As the natural movement continues to outpace other segments, expect Similasan to expand its selection of homeopathic products to meet the consumer’s demands.”

Traditional Medicinals
Traditional Medicinals offers more than 50 herbal teas, including options for everyday wellness such as peppermint and chamomile and options intended for symptom-based use such as Nighty Night and Smooth Move. “We are the leading seller of wellness tea in the U.S. Our teas are formulated by herbalists who have extensive training and knowledge on traditional paradigms developed over centuries,” says Matt Crum, vice president of marketing for the Sebastopol, Calif.-based company. He adds that all of the teas have received Non-GMO Project verification.

The teas are undergoing a packaging change and as a part of that update, the company is grouping each of their teas into nine intuitive segments: detox, digestive, green, herbal, laxative, relaxation, seasonal, tonic and women’s. “We’ve segmented our variety of teas this way to awaken curiosity and make it easier for consumers to find products based on their needs,” says Crum.

Wellness up and comers

There are hundreds of companies dipping their feet into the wellness waters. While they all cannot capture a coveted Grocery Headquarters Trailblazer award, the Grocery Headquarters ‘editors believe the ones listed below are right on the cusp.

Karma Culture
With the premise that premixed drinks do not deliver on their stated health claims, Karma Culture is trying to provide a solution. The Pittsford, N.Y.-based company has created a system that stores the nutrition in the cap until minutes before consumption, assuring freshness and optimal potency.

“The trend we are betting on is a knowledge-based consumer,” says CJ Rapp, Karma Culture’s CEO. “Contemporary consumers have a thirst for information. They are less about slogans and sound-bites and more about knowledge-based decision-making.”

InBalance Health Corp.
InBalance Health Corp. provides real food ingredients that are gluten and allergen-free, diabetic approved, 100% vegan, and made with natural ingredients. With the proper balance of low glycemic carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein, the Wayland, Mich.-based company’s products are designed to work with the body to support long-term health. Company officials say helping consumers attain and maintain ideal weight and stabilize blood sugar with high fiber, low calorie snacks that taste great is their primary goal.

Columbus Manufacturing
After almost a century of providing premium salame and deli meats, Columbus Mmanufacturing is writing a new chapter The Hayward, Calif.-based company has launched Farm to Fork Naturals, an all-natural line of salame and deli meats.
According to company officials, the Farm to Fork Naturals line uses all sustainable practices to produce food that upholds the highest standards of quality and taste. All animals are humanely raised—fed 100% vegetarian diets and never given antibiotics or added growth hormones.

Better For You Foods
Pizza is a universally likeable food, and Better For You Foods, based in Delray Beach, Fla., aims to capitalize on that likeability in the healthiest way possible. As a family-owned and operated company, its mission is “to provide a great tasting, natural, healthy product for our family and yours,” say company officials.

In October 2012, Better For You Foods acquired A.C. LaRocco, a fellow all-natural and healthy frozen pizza brand. “The brand matches up very well with Better4U Foods,” says Jack Lotker, founder and CEO. “Both offer the health-conscious consumer a variety of pizzas that taste great and are literally, significantly better for you.”
The Ready. Set. Cupcake! product line, manufactured by Batter Up, features all-natural, ready-to-use frozen cake batters and buttercream frostings—in both vanilla and chocolate—packaged in a professional pastry bag. Officials for the Miami-based company say the concept focuses on providing a convenient and healthier quality shortcut to baking. The newest item in the product line, GFCO Certified Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Batter, is now available along with the original chocolate and vanilla cake batters and buttercream frostings.    — Molly Zimnoch

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