By Jill Failla
On June 19, an inspiring group of natural and organic industry leaders, brands, and investors gathered together for FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference in Chicago. SPINS is proud to partner with FamilyFarmed to help bring natural-focused local companies and brands together for events like these. At the show, a group of seedling natural brands pitched their story to an audience of key players in the investment community with an opportunity to appeal to funders as well as to raise awareness for their brands, receive valuable feedback, and potentially win the Judges’ Choice Award from an esteemed panel of evaluators.
Of the nine brands pitching their stories, eight of them were plant-based! From a sesame-seed-based plant milk brand, to a vegan prepared sandwich, to an almond-based cream liqueur, to a banana-based frozen dessert, we were impressed with the innovation on display. Beyond being vegan, many of them satisfied other special diet needs by being dairy-free, allergy-friendly, and gluten-free. Here’s a closer look at a few of our top favorites.
Almondaire from Bar Napkin Spirits makes a dairy-free, almond-based crème liqueur with front-of-label vegan and gluten-free claims, along with the descriptor, “classic taste of chocolate, vanilla, and almond.” (If this concept conjures images of Bailey’s Irish Crème, Almondaire’s founder agrees: in his pitch, he mentioned the spirits giant’s Almande as a sign of the times where plant-based alternatives are in high demand.) Almondaire contains 83 calories and 1.2 grams of fat per serving and is 13.9% alcohol by volume. Most recently, the brand partnered with FrutaPOP to launch a frozen Mocha Pop made with Almondaire. When it comes to taste, the calorie count isn’t slowing this product down…it took home tasting awards two years in a row at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Spinning Wheel Brands has four natural or organic brands, which include Mozaics (organic popped veggie & potato chips and a SPINS favorite pick from the Gluten Free Allergen Friendly Expo), Handfulls (CrrrunchBites & Fusions nut snacks), Hope & Sesame (sesame-seed-based, non-dairy milk and butter), and Copious Brands (plant-based snack products designed for the produce section of the store). SPINS is particularly interested in seeing the Hope & Sesame brand – with its sesame-seed-based, organic, and sustainable plant milk and nut butter – come to market this fall, as this would mark the first sesame milk we’ve seen thus far in a long line of plant-based milk innovation.
Frönen is one of a few frozen desserts in the banana-based trend SPINS is tracking, along with Hakuna Banana and Fronana. Frönen and Fronana both feature very short ingredient lists; Frönen doesn’t make a SKU with more than 5 ingredients total. Frönen was inspired by co-founder Eric Nadeau’s favorite family recipe and co-founder Jessica Gartenstein’s lifetime battle with celiac disease. Available in Strawberry, Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Banana Coconut flavors (in charming cartons with retro-inspired illustrations), Frönen’s frozen dessert is gluten-free, dairy-free, allergy-friendly, and soy-free. Like other better-for-you frozen indulgence brands such as Halo Top, Frönen includes front-label calorie counts for the entire pint, ranging from 280 to 360 calories.
Moon Meals’ founder LaForce Baker grew up in poverty on the South Side of Chicago and struggled with obesity for many years; he was able to overcome obesity through healthy eating, which is reflected in his company mission to make healthier, plant-based meals more accessible. Positioned as a prepared meal solution for grocery stores and foodservice, Moon Meals currently offers one SKU, the Fiesta Wrap. This vegan, soy-free product contains an organic wheat-flour spinach wrap, taco “meat” made of seitan, and vegan nacho cheese sauce with ingredients such as turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and organic sesame oil. Moon Meals also offers catering options for groups larger than 100 people.
Judges’ Choice Award
Ready to Brands took home the Judges’ Choice Award. Ready to Brands’ first SKU is Ready to Ease, which offers a natural and organic alternative to the conventional nausea-relief products on the shelf. Born out of the need for a safe, natural product for his wife who experienced severe and dangerously dehydrating nausea during her pregnancy, Mark Muller co-founded Ready to Brands last year. Ready to Ease can be consumed as a frozen ice pop or liquid shot, and the certified organic product contains ginger, B vitamins, wildflower honey, and electrolytes from blended coconut water and sea salt. The brand’s founder teased a range of health focuses as possibilities for future product iterations as the Ready To brand expands.
Audience Choice Award
After watching short video pitches from three additional brands, the Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference audience also had the opportunity to select a winning brand of their own for the Audience Choice Award. Sacred Serve won this award, much to the delight of a few SPINS taste-testers. In keeping with the trending plant-based movement, Sacred Serve offers a lineup of nutrient-dense, raw, vegan gelato in Salted Coconut Caramel, Superfood Dark Chocolate, and Matcha Mint Chip flavors made from a coconut-meat base sweetened with coconut sugar. On the brand’s website, stated benefits of the gelato’s matcha green tea and sunflower lecithin ingredients range from liver health to brain and mind health, and some flavors contain high-profile superfood ingredients like chaga mushrooms and maca powder. In striking packaging that stands out on the shelf, the frozen dessert is only available in Chicago today, but we’ll be watching its trajectory!