What’s new in the health products industry15 April, 2008
Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Natural and Organic Products Europe show at London Olympia. It’s the trade show for the natural, health, organic, speciality foods industry.
I know this post isn’t directly cat-related, but if you’re like me, you probably know that a keen interest in all things holistic usually means a desire to learn about nutrition, complementary health care or organic food.
Most of the trade stands at the Show offered samples, or tastings of products from all over the world. All of the exhibitors were passionate about what they’re selling, whether it’s organic honey or a new type of skin cream. It was simply fantastic to be able to pick the brains of these people who’re experts in their field, and add to my knowledge.
So what caught my eye this year?
1. Comvita’s Olive Leaf Complex. Olive Leaf extract is a powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial substance. I’d previously seen it in a powdered form, but what made this version different was that it was a LIQUID extract pressed from fresh leaves. That’s minimum processing, with none of the drying process which would destroy potent compounds in the fresh product. I tasted some – it was palatable, but had bitter overtones, no worse than Swedish Bitters. I found that reassuring. It showed it hadn’t been over-processed to remove its natural taste. I’ve also seen Olive Leaf extract used in other supplements as part of an immune-system booster. It is apparently 400% stronger than Vitamin C.
2. Maharishi Vedic Organic Honey. For those not in the know, Maharishi was the guru whom the Beatles feted in their younger days. The name has been used to sell food that is manufactured or farmed to Ayur-Vedic standards.
OK, there were loads of honey suppliers at the show. But Maharishi Vedic claim that their honey is energetically more vibrant because of the way they nurture their bees, a process which includes chanting/singing to the bees as they make their way to and from the hives. You can either take it with a pinch of salt or see whether it’s made a difference to the quality of the honey.
I’m not sure I could, but I only had a small tasting. I tried some honey water made from Maharishi Vedic Honey, and it was very light, like acacia honey. I didn’t suddenly sprout wings and feel one with the Universe, but it was a nice honey. They also produce honeys made at different times of the year, and with different flavours. The Maharishi Honey Site is worth it just for the happy New Age colours (emphasis on the pink!).
I’ve previously tried Maharishi homemade ghee, and I was blown away. The best ghee I’ve ever tasted. Ghee is clarified butter with the lactose and milk solids removed. Most ghee tends to be greasy and sicky-rich. Maharishi ghee was delicate, light, with a sweet flavour. I could eat it out of the jar with a spoon.
3. Sancler Organic Yoghurt Cheese. Yoghurt Cheese is also known as Labneh, a traditional dairy product. It’s actually strained yoghurt. Sancler Yoghurt Cheese is made in Wales. I spoke to the man, Elwyn, who was exhibiting, and he turned out to be the farmer and owner of Sancler too. The herd is 70-strong, and it was obvious he loved them – he fed them the best of organic produce, he knew their personalities and they all had names. I had an interesting chat with him about TB and cows and the methods he used to prevent TB. Wonderful to meet someone who is passionate about farming organically and creating a great product.
The Yoghurt Cheese itself is very light and refreshing and can be used as a spread. In texture it was a bit like Philadelphia Cheese, but in terms of quality and flavour it was far superior – it is, after all, a live product. And think of all those happy cows!
4. Barleans Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. Now that coconut oil has been proven to be one of the most beneficial oils around, the market is full of coconut oil manufacturers. What makes Barleans different is that their oil is obtained from coconuts that are hand-picked from the tree, and not coconuts that are immature, over-ripe or have fallen to the ground. Tree-picked coconuts means the coconut meat has a gel-like consistency, is fresher and has optimal nutritional values. I tasted and smelt some – I’m careful to do this ever since I bought some coconut oil (certified organic etc.) and it smelt like hair oil – have you ever cooked a curry and have it smelling of perfumed hair oil? I liked what Barleans produced – the smell wasn’t too cloying, so I bought a jar.
5. Maaic Collagen Gel. I’m not usually into face creams because they promise much and cost the earth and don’t deliver, but this intrigued me. Collagen is a substance in the body that is necessary for the regeneration of body tissue. With age, collagen breaks down resulting in less elastic skin, and wrinkles.
A lot of collagen preparations in the market are made from either marine algae or bovine sources. However, Maaic claim that natural collagen that works can only be found in humans and animals, but even bovine collagen isn’t very effective because the size of the particle does not allow it to permeate into the skin. Maiic’s source is collagen from fish, to be specific, fresh-water carp. The skin is taken from the belly of the carp which is more closely approximates the texture of human skin. (though mind you, I’ve never stroked the belly of a carp, so I wouldn’t know!).
The product is from Poland where it has been available for a number of years, but is new to the UK market.
5. ClearGen Anti-bacterial gel made from Mangosteen. Mangosteen is a tropical fruit. It has a hard, thick outer skin that is purple, and inside are soft and white segments of sweet fruit. I’ve eaten a lot of Mangosteen in my life, but have never heard of a medicinal use for its skin. But research has shown that Mangosteen contains a class of compounds called as Xanthones, which are potent anti-oxidants. Xanthones have also been demonstrated to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. And it’s apparently used in South East Asia for skin conditions. So there you go. It’s especially efficacious as an acne treatment.
6. And at last … Pet food. Namely dried dog and cat food. One exhibitor was selling gourmet dog biscuits. Their biscuits were cooked by baking, not using the extrusion method which apparently means a better product. I’m not sure why you can’t just give your dog normal human biscuits vs these gourmet dog biscuits. There were some interesting flavours, like mint and herbs (to freshen the dog’s breath). And the packaging was suitably premium to match the price and the market. Cat biscuits are in the pipeline.
So what trends have I spotted in this year’s show which will possibly set the tone for the rest of the industry?
Last year, the stars were the new superfoods like acai berries and goji berries. But more importantly, superfoods that were sourced from exotic locations: acai berries from Brazil and goji berries from the Himalayas. Their appeal was to a market that was jaded by Western sources of food and seduced by the promise of Eastern healing, and elixirs of life yet to be discovered in Brazilian rainforests.
The trend is still toward sourcing the exotic – there’s loads of products out there with acai and goji in them (even the mainstream Innocent Smoothies have got into the act) – for example, the anti-bacterial gel made from mangosteen fruit.
However, in terms of health products, the keywords are freshness and purity. The gold standard that is emerging is finding ways of delivering a natural product with maximum potency and minimal processing (hence the liquid olive oil extract and the coconut oil) and a minimum of preservatives or chemical nasties. Health food consumers are becoming more demanding and canny about the quality of products available and are willing to pay more for what they perceive as a product that’s as close to its source as possible.
And if it is possible to put a spiritual slant on the product, so much the better – see the honey produced by Maharishi’s happy bees.
Innovation is key as always, and there will always be new takes on old products, for example, the collagen face cream made from fish skin.
In terms of food produce, organic is now the de facto standard. Biodynamic is the next step up, but I didn’t see that many biodynamic producers in this year’s show. I didn’t see much furore over food miles either. Fairtrade seems to be the name of the game at the moment – consumers in the West seem to have a need to couple consumption with the need to save the world, the feel-good factor you get when you drink your cup of coffee knowing that it will benefit not just a small colonial estate, but change the lives of 1000 farmers. And why not?