Natural Products Expo East 2021

After a Pandemic Pause, Natural Products Expo East returned in 2021, much to everyone in the industry’s relief. I’ve been spoiled by having Expo East in my Baltimore backyard for several years, so my personal excitement level was dampened a bit, knowing it would not return to my adopted hometown. Philadelphia would have to do.

Jules in Philly for ExpoFortunately, I found Philly to be full of life and excitement — lots of great museums, culture and restaurants, including Vedge, where we were lucky enough to score reservations one night! — so I suppose I’ll just have to get used to it!

Oh, and I suppose I should also mention that the Philadelphia Convention Center is just across the street from the Reading Terminal Market, one of the largest oldest public markets in the United States. So what if it was voted #1 Public Market in America? Baltimore’s Public Markets are still older, predating the Declaration of Independence by more than a decade. Just saying.

But back to The Reading Terminal. It is actually amazing and I love it. You should visit.

Fox & SonIt’s absolutely stuffed full of produce, seafood, crafts, restaurants and even a cool bar, but what draws me every time is Fox & Son’s Fancy Corndogs. Odd, right? Well, I seek out Fox & Son’s because of the Funnel Cakes and because the entire stall is gluten free! SO worth the trip! (I even have a t-shirt)

Reading Market

Now is the part of the story where I actually get into the good stuff: the NEW GLUTEN FREE PRODUCTS you came here to read about. And there is some good stuff! 

Themes: functional mushroom ingredients; oats, oats, oats (but few brands even know about purity protocol); plant-based innovation; too much keto.

Expo East Takeaways

Keep checking back periodically as I keep adding to this post; I have samples yet to sort through, but I wanted to at least start getting my favorites recorded so you can begin to look for them in the store and order them for yourself! 

Expo East 2021 show floor
While it wasn’t as crowded as a typical Expo East, there were still plenty of people & plenty of booths. Almost everyone was masked (thankfully).

New Gluten Free, Dairy Free & Vegan Product Highlights

Bars & Oats

A mainstay in the gluten free BAR space, The Gluten Free Bar. I love this company not just for its solid, no-compromise gluten free products (I’m a sucker for a gluten free company owned by gluten free folks — they do things RIGHT), but also for their zero waste facility, living wage employment policy, inclusive hiring, and of course, their certified gluten free, non-GMO and vegan products.

Also, and this is a big deal — they use purity protocol oats. If you know me, you know I’m passionate about this ingredient. If you’re going to use oats and sell to gluten free people, you need to use purity protocol oats. For more on what the heck this means and why this is important, check out this post and clear infographic on what “purity protocol” means to celiacs and others living gluten free because they have to. (Here’s another list from my pal Erica at Celiac at the Beast of companies using Purity Protocol Oats in their products)

Because I love that about them, I’m going to show a not-new, but still great product that you should know about: their portable gluten free, purity protocol portable oatmeal pop-up bowls:

the GFB portable oatmeal

New Product Find: Grain Free Bites.

The GFB grain free bites

Thunderbird Bar is a bar I discovered at Expo East several years ago in Baltimore (ahem) but haven’t been able to find in enough stores and shame on me for not ordering them on-line. I don’t know about you, but I’m just “over” all the chocolate dipped and pre-chewed bars out there. Anyway, I love a bar with a good story and one with a lots of fun flavors. Oh, and one with lots of NUTS! If you’re like me, then you should check out Thunderbird. You’ll see big chunks of nuts, seeds and berries in these paleo, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, and dairy free bars that have no added sugar.

Flavors like Hazelnut Coffee Maca, Pecan Goji Pistachio, Cherry Hemp Turmeric, Texas Maple Pecan, Chocolate Raspberry Espresso … these types of combos should at least intrigue. At any rate, they wake up the taste buds. And their merch is pretty sweet, too. 

Love the brand, what they stand for, the flavor combos and the SIX people who work for them. Small companies keep it real, folks.

Thunderbird Bars

Speaking of new approaches to bars, I love when people make coffee even more portable. As in, a bar.

Pocket Latte (“Ready to Eat Coffee”) was actually pretty good. Yep. I would buy this. Three of the four bars were vegan (I only sampled one). These bars are small: they’re made from Arabica coffee (no synthetic caffeine), kosher, vegan, gluten free, soy-free, cholesterol-free … and they actually tasted good. If you’re looking for edible caffeine, this could be your new thing.

Pocket Latte

 

Since most granola brands out either use non-purity protocol oats or don’t know anything about purity protocol oats (meaning they don’t use purity protocol oats), I steered clear. But I was interested in a few grain-free brands that actually tasted good, like Sow Good Grain Free Granola. Their flavors were fun and interesting and exciting and did I already say fun!??

I mean, seriously? Acai the Light? Pumpkin to Talk About? Blue Your Mind? Cin-Fully Delicious? This is a granola I could get excited to get out of bed for! 

Sow good grain free granola

 

Another grain-free breakfast option that was pretty creative: Sweet Nothing Spoonable Smoothies. Made of fruit, nuts and seeds only, these hand-held frozen, spoonable smoothies come in loads of flavors and have their own built in spoon (I found the spoon fairly unsatisfying to use, though). No added sugars or preservatives, no artificial flavors or colors … gluten free … pretty straightforward. Just pick the flavor combo that sounds like you might like it and you probably will. Everything from berries to tropical greens to peanut butter to Rise Coffee.

Sweet nothing spoonable smoothies

Vegan Milks, Creamers, Nogs, Cheese & Nice Cream

Although oat milk EVERYTHING is still hot, I only sampled a few brands, since only a few brands use purity protocol oats. As I mentioned above, I firmly believe that if a manufacturer in this space chooses to use oat ingredients and market to gluten free people, they should use purity protocol oats. For more on why this is important, check out this post and easy infographic on what purity protocol oats means to celiacs and others living gluten free for health reasons.

Elmhurst 1925 is one of the companies that has chosen to use purity protocol oats and they have introduced some lovely new and seasonal oat milk, creamer, nog and latte options, as pictured below. Everything I sampled was creamy and delicious. Their products are vegan, carrageenan-free, gluten-free. And yes, they have pumpkin spice creamer.

Elmhurst Collage Laird Superfood has been known for their powdered creamers for awhile, but they’ve recently launched liquid Superfood Creamers as well. These are no ordinary creamers. Not only are they vegan (coconut milk-based) and gluten free, and of course come in pumpkin spice flavor, but they include three functional mushroom ingredients (Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps and Chaga) as well as aquamin and other plant-based minerals. So it’s actually really good for you. You know, SUPERFOOD. Check out their other coffee (including mushroom coffee), creamers, instafuel mixes, snacks and more on their site.

Laird Pumpkin Spice Creamer

Milkadamia has launched several seasonal nut-based vegan milks and nogs that were quite delicious. I can only imagine all the fun holiday cocktails that could be made with these, given how good they were straight! I mean, White Chocolate Peppermint? Wowza. Their creamers were spot-on, as well. I honestly loved both the Cinnamon and the Chai flavors. Also, pretty exciting that they also introduced Macadamia-Coconut Oil “Buttery Spread.” Spread that love.

Milkadamia seasonals

Those of you who have poured over my vegan and dairy-free cheese recommendations in my post on the topic know that I have been excited — to say the least — about many of the newer entrants to the vegan cheese category over the years. As a cheese lover who can no longer eat cheese, I’m selfishly happy for any new choices.

So I was thrilled to taste some delicious new offerings from Treeline. They already rocked the French soft cheeses, but now they are making a name for themselves in slices, shreds, cream cheese and even aged artisanal cheeses. The products are all cashew-based and gluten free (no gluten in the facility). Everything I sampled was delicious. Everything.

Treeline plant based

I’ll throw this “Nice” Cream in because it really was tasty, and because the base was unexpected. This frozen treat is made from chickpeas. Not coconut milk, not almond milk, not cashew milk, certainly not cow’s milk. The results were somewhat surprisingly delicious and creamy, plus the calorie and fat count is lower and it has some protein! 

One note that not every flavor is gluten free, as some include cookies. Sweet Pea Very Un-Dairy Ice Cream.

Sweet Pea ice cream

Vegan Dips, Hummus, Sauces

Plant Perks, a certified woman-owned, probiotic-rich, vegan Cheeze Spread may not sound that exciting, but it was super tasty and worth a second bite. Flavors like Buffalo Blue, Smoked Gouda and Sriracha Cheddar were all smooth, full-flavored and good enough to serve any dairy-loving friend. Cashew-based with MCT oil. Gluten, soy and dairy-free.

Plant Perks Spread

 

Natures Charm Coconut Custard

Nature’s Charm (coconut evaporated milk; coconut sweetened condensed milk) has now introduced a ready to eat Coconut Custard in a can …

… as well as various other coconut sauces, including a ready to eat Coconut Salted Caramel and Coconut Chocolate Fudge Sauce. I can’t comment on the taste of either of these products yet, as they weren’t sampling them at the booth. 

Natures Charm Coconut Chocolate Fudge Sauce

 

Cedar’s is a well-known hummus/hommus brand, but here’s a twist: this version is fat-free and oil-free. Isn’t that something?

Cedars fat free oil free

Plant-Based Foods

The market is really heating up in plant-based meat replacements, and I’ve highlighted a few new ones below. As usual, many contain wheat as an ingredient, so reading labels cautiously is always a must. Beyond the burgers we’re all familiar with at this point, check out some of these new offerings:

Atlantic Natural Foods has 4 plant-based brands, 3 of which with gluten free products worth taste-testing in their own right.

  • Tuno is an obvious vegan tuna knock-off: made from soy protein, the texture is quite similar to canned tuna, and some of the flavors even come in a similar tuna-style can. Newer flavors include Thai Sweet Chili; Sriracha; and Sesame Ginger. Gluten-free and vegan. 
  • Neat Egg replacer is made from chia and garbanzo beans. The rest of the line includes flavored base mixes like Southwest and Italian. Gluten free and vegan.
  • Loma Linda offers plant-based complete meal solutions ranging from chik’n and rice in Tikka Masala to Sloppy Joes to Pad Thai with konjac noodles. All come in heat and eat pouches. Gluten free and vegan.

Loma Linda Plant Based Taco Filling

Longeve is a brand I was introduced to at Expo East and was surprised at how meat-like their plant-based meat substitutes were. The base for Longeve meatless crumbles are yellow peas, so they deliver a healthy dose of protein and iron along with flavor and texture. Gluten free, Kosher, Non-GMO Project Verified and certified plant-based.

longeve

I’m throwing another Nature’s Charm product in here mostly because it’s super random and no one else seems to be doing it?? Again though, since they don’t sample at their booth, who knows how it actually tastes — I’m definitely curious. Aren’t you? MUSHROOM calamari … in a can.

Natures Charm Mushroom Calamari

Mikey’s is a great gluten free company; Mikey is great, their English muffins are great, their company is great, so you know they’re going to do the newest in their line of “Pockets” right. They have new flavors and they’ve partnered with Just Egg to do some breakfast scrambles that are plant based and quite flavorful. I’m not the biggest fan of the gluten free crust on their Pockets, but it holds together well, and as I said, the fillings are all quite tasty, so it works. I do really appreciate that they’ve expanded their line into vegan offerings since their 8 other Pockets contain meat and/or dairy. More portable GF/DF options – yay! Certified gluten free.

Mikes Plant Based

Another portable option is plant based frozen wraps — these from Cool Beans. While not certified gluten free, they are certified vegan, certified non-GMO and declared gluten free. The wrap itself is not primarily rice-based, which is perhaps why it’s better than most. It’s made from tapioca, potato, chickpea and sweet rice flour. Filling options range from Tikka Masala to Tuscan Basil, so they’re different and exciting.  

Cool Beans

Ok so I’ll throw one veggie burger in, and though it’s not totally new, the fact that I did speak to one of the founders at the booth made it news to me that I want to share with you. Argentinian born Silvia Lucci and her chef husband Daniel founded Luhv Foods on the principle that vegan, gluten free food can be deliciously uncompromising and has the power to heal. They have experienced a transformation in their own lives, going from life-long meat eaters to entirely plant-based, and have seen a marked improvement in their health; they wanted to be part of a movement to make this type of food available and accessible to everyone.

As part of their mission, they are donating indefinitely to Philadelphia Black-owned businesses, have joined Support +Feed, and are a certified plastic negative product, something she and I discussed at length. (As a fellow food manufacturer, it’s a constant struggle to find packaging that both suits the product and protects the contents until they get to the consumer, but doesn’t contribute to the planet’s plastic problem.) These types of booth meetings are what makes Expo so special and why I’m so glad in-person is back!

But back to the burgers. Their Black Bean, Plantain and Poblano Burgers were my intro to the brand and are truly delicious. I would buy these again and again. The flavor is great; texture is great; they hold together well and are substantial in comparison to many veggie burgers currently available. The addition of plantain is really ingenious here. Priced at less than $2/burger in most stores (sold in frozen 3-packs). Garbanzo, Flax and Chipotle has 11 grams of protein and is a totally different kind of burger, so you have options, but both are tasty and different from others on the market. Certified Vegan, gluten-free (not certified), soy-free.

Luhv Burgers

Refreshment & Protein

As I mentioned in my Expo recap tweets, water, water, water. I won’t get into much of it except to say that I did find water with added Vitamin D intriguing. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably deficient in vitamin D, so why not get a hit of your daily dose while hydrating? Shine Water offers vitamin D, antioxidants and electrolytes (zero sugar) in several refreshing WATER flavors like Kiwi Cucumber and Strawberry Lemon.

Shine Water

 

I also love a good bubbly, and taste-tested my way around La Croix‘s new flavors, all of which I loved, including Beach Plum! Their Limoncello really did taste more like Limoncello than just a lemon squeeze — don’t know how they did that …?

Jules and La Croix

And I’ll throw this one in although it’s not available yet and not even hinted at on their website, but I’ll be excited for it the minute it hits: Zhou Nutrition’s Plant Complete Vegan Protein Powder (I also sampled their Hydro Fuel electrolyte complex which was great). It’s hard to find a really great tasting vegan protein powder with a clean label … that’s not chocolate flavored … and this one tasted good and checked off all the boxes, nutritionally-speaking.

zhou plant protein

Octonuts packaging is certainly eye-catching, as is their concept: single ingredient walnut and almond powders as well as 6 or fewer ingredient walnut or almond-based protein powder blends. Vegan, paleo, keto, grain-free/gluten-free. If nuts aren’t an issue for you, these simple ingredient, plant-based powders are definitely worth checking out.

Octonuts nut protein powder

Treats

Chocolove is going gluten free! Their dark chocolate is already dairy-free kosher (they do not currently make a vegan claim) but they are introducing new packaging and switching ingredients over in order to make their products like this new Chocolate-Pretzel Bar gluten free!

chocolove

Dandies vegan marshmallows are awesome. But did you know about their seasonal flavors? Pumpkin, Peppermint and now Maple! Don’t tell anyone I told you, but apparently next year, they’ll be releasing a vegan marshmallow fluff, too!

Dandies Maple Marshmallows

You may have already tried Undercover Snacks, but if not, you need to. I probably shouldn’t admit that I grabbed a few extra samples of these quinoa treats.  Only the dark chocolate varieties are dairy-free; made on shared equipment with milk chocolate.

Undercover snacks

Snacks & Bread

Mary’s Gone Crackers is a staple in the gluten free cracker biz. Her crackers aren’t vacuous and tasteless or cardboard-like, as so many gluten free crackers tend to be, and her latest offerings are no exception. In fact, the new Super Seeds line is full of flavor and plant-based protein: each serving has 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber. The Everything Crackers tastes just like you’d expect/hope from the “everything bagel” topping craze, but I prefer the Seaweed + Black Sesame flavor, as garlic and I aren’t close friends. Certified gluten free, non-GMO, organic.

Marys Super Seeds

Savor Street Grain-Free Pretzels are always a fun stop at Expo because the founders are just lovely. Their products are safe for nearly anyone, as well. Free from nearly everything but flavor.

Savor Street Pretzels

We all know cheese puffs, but what if you could have a vegan, gluten free cheese puff that actually had plant protein, calcium, iron and vitamins (i.e. less guilty snacking)? Enter: Outstanding Puffs.

Outstanding vegan white cheddar puffs

Sourdough lover? Make your own! If you’re not inclined to make your own gluten free sourdough though, Simple Kneads is your answer. The founder is meeting the need for his own son and perhaps for your family with his growing bread business. The breads have a good shelf life and boast authentic sourdough flavor in uniquely shaped, nutritious gluten free loaves. I’ve heard a lot about these breads, so I’m glad I had an opportunity to taste them for myself at Expo. Top 9 allergen-free.

Simple Kneads

 

Gluten Free & Food Allergy Certifications

One last plug to food manufacturers who are selling to gluten free consumers, and to gluten free consumers who are shopping for foods: independent, third party certifications matter.

It’s how consumers can differentiate between products that may or may not be safe enough for them, particularly when there is gluten in the facility. It is also how we know you’re serious about using industry best practices to make the safest gluten free products. Check out this article for more information on gluten free certifications, how to identify them and how to get them.

GFCO

There is another NEW certification you should also know about: Certified Free From. This certification demonstrates that the product is tested and does not contain some or all of the Big 8 Food Allergens (wheat, milk, eggs, soy, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish, fish). Look for this certification (or if you are a manufacturer, look into getting this certification!) displayed on products and websites starting in 2021.

certified free from

 

*Disclosure: All of my gfJules products are certified GFCO and CFF because I believe in the importance of these tests and in independent certifications.

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