COLOGNE - Welcome to the latest mega-trend. You can't escape it: Food meant to improve your health is everywhere at Anuga, the international trade fair for food and drink, held every two years at the Cologne, Germany, fairground.
Hordes of visitors cluster at the dozens of booths scattered between the 11 giant halls on the premises. The booths are divided according to category. Each offers a taste of something different, but everywhere you look is "wellfood," which the research company GfK and fair organizers say is The Thing.
There may be something pretentious in gathering all the trends in the food and beverage industry under the wing of a single venue. But there's no arguing that consumers are becoming pickier about the source of things they consume, and generally aspire to healthier fare. Food and drink companies are increasingly coming under attack for the harm their products do to consumers - and they're respondng.
Let's start with that mark "bio" that's appearing all over the place. In Germany, it's practically become de rigeur for any manufacturer aspiring to sell an ingestible, and the trend is growing elsewhere too. Bio does not mean organic, by the way, nor does it relate to the production process. It refers to the product's components. It may be a trademark, but European consumers perceive products bearing the "bio" as being healthier for them. You can find "bio" everywhere, from chocolate to pasta, from breakfast cereals to Krembo to processed foods.
In the spirit of healthy foods, we find a new additive to foods: cannabis extract. Yes, from the plant that hashish and marijuana are made from. The famously spiky green leaf adorns packages of endless products - chocolate, tea, beer and snacks. The amount of cannabinoid compounds per candy bar or other product is miniscule, but that lobed leaf picture packs a powerful marketing punch. And to complete the picture, in the spirit of "back to nature," the packaging in which the cold cannabinoid tea arrives is made of paper (true, the paper is not the easily recyclable kind, but the Swiss manufacturers argue it degrades in less time than aluminum).
Tea spiked with cannabis is an exciting idea, and it isn't the only innovation in that sphere. Wandering the Anuga fair, you might get the somewhat fallacious idea that tea is the only thing people on Planet Earth ever drink.
For years, cold tea has been making inroads into consumer households: It's a relatively natural product derived from plants, and it's perceived as being healthy, certainly when compared with sodas. This year, it appeared in a vast array of shades - black tea, green, white, fruit-flavored and so on. The exotic flavors of the Far East are now augmented by a familiar flavor of the Middle East - mint.
Nor are the companies shy about touting the attributes of their tea product. One purports to relieve stress, another to accelerate your metabolism. Mint is also used in another drink that claims to reduce your stress, which bears the hats-off name AntiStress. That one appears on Anuga's list of the most innovative products this year.
Of course, there are those who want their tea more, well, like soda. Swell offers that very product: a carbonated white tea.
What is white tea, you may be wondering. All right: It is from Fujian, China, and isn't dried in ovens or by chemicals. The leaves and buds of the tea plant are shocked with heat and then dried. They don't turn green or black in the process, but retain a pale hue.
Another fast-developing area is water. A major hit is water enriched with oxygen, which is said to have a stimulative effect. Not a few oxygenated water products therefore target gyms, spas, dance floors and so on. The Alive 02 line is designed with that in mind: It looks like a little oxygen canister and is equipped with a special cork that prevents the precious oxygen from escaping. The cans are shaped like bottles for convenience when dancing (Coca Cola did the same with its energy drink).
OGO stands out in the world of water and continues to forge ahead in the lead. It took advantage of the Anuga fair to launch its latest offering: rosewater-flavored water. The innovation: no calories. Flavored water contains sugar: a 500ml bottle of flavored Neviot contains 75 calories. Consumers like sweetness but would probably prefer to achieve that end without paying the caloric price. OGO tries to make that dream come true, but there's no free lunch, at Anuga or anywhere else. It has to add artificial sweetener.
Water can be found with more than just flavoring. Vithit products promise a daily dose of vitamins. Why swallow pills if you can just drink your required amount? You can also find your daily requirement of omega-3, the wonder-additive that's supposed to make you smarter, in your juice. Israelis know the fortified dairy drinks made by Tara: Now meet SmartFish, which developed SmartWeek juice, which contains the recommendation daily intake of omega-3. That development won SmartFish a place on the Taste 07 list of the most innovative products at the fair.
There is a whole class of "functional drinks" that's growing like the weeds that go into (some of) them. These are beverages that are supposed to have some sort of para-medical effect while slaking your thirst. Venga is one fruit-based type that offers liquid therapy for almost every sort of mood or problem, from anger to seeking inspiration. SpaceLad of Slovakia offers a series of drinks that probably couldn't be hawked the same way in Israel: They're touted as fighting free radicals (atoms or molecules with heightened reactivity because of unpaired electrons, which are believed to be associated with cellular damage); there's also an Alcohol Killer against hangover; and another that's supposed to burn up fat.
One area that seems to have taken off this year is drinks based on fruit or vegetables. Biotta has a range of products that require not a little nerve to try, not to mention faith in your path. Truth be told, their potato drink tastes like, well, the water that bleeds from a potato after you cut it, and their cabbage drink leaves behind, well, a less than pleasant feeling.
Biotta also has a fruit-based energy drink. In general, the energy drinks industry seems to face new, tastier competition. Golden Effect and Krocus are two fruit-based energy drinks packaged rather like beer. They're supposed to help you achieve that breakthrough on the job or when negotiations get bogged down because your energy level has spiraled down the toilet. For gyms, there are fruit-based energy drinks without sugar, packaged in cans with special tops that are reminiscent of Tropit, to be frank.
One new combo of natural ingredients that won esteem for its innovativeness is a drink based on honey and vinegar made from black rice. No question about it, it's not a bad solution for people with a cold but it's far from clear how it tastes when your tastebuds are actually working. The world of drinks isn't confined to bottles any more. Smooze is a line of coconut milk-based beverages that flopped in Israel, but maybe the ice-pop version will go over better. The smoozepops were popular at the fair, perhaps by virtue of their attractive packaging.
Coffee brought nothing new to the breakfast table, but one product that did attract attention, did so by virtue of its production process. Maria Sole coffee is roasted using olive wood, which gives the beans a bitter aroma and won the company a place on the most innovative products list. There was one other item of news from coffee, and it lives in the fridge: Metro Drinks line of cold coffee for the fussy. Among its virtues, the company is diligent about fair trade and buys beans only from suppliers who don't use slaves.
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