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The 'Green Revolution': aloe & green foods thrive: it's getting easier being green thanks to growing consumer demand and product development advancements.

It's no secret the typical American diet is severely lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables--particularly those of the green leafy variety, which are rich in the essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients needed for optimal health. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that half of every plate at meal times should consist of fruits and vegetables, for the majority of U.S. consumers there just aren't as many greens as there should be.

Many health conscious consumers are looking to rectify the wrongs of poor eating habits by incorporating green food supplements and functional foods and drinks into their daily diets.

Marina Linsley, marketing director of NP Nutra, Gardena, CA, sees this trend sparking a "Green Revolution" among those looking to consume more green products. "The buzz words for the Green Revolution are: alkalizing, energizing and detoxifying. Leafy green foods are incredibly nutrient dense, helping to create the optimal environment for healthy organisms and at the same time assisting with acid waste disposal. Greens are said to be key players in helping the body quickly restore a natural pH balance while providing a boost to energy, stamina and well-being," she explained.

With a growing variety of green food options available to consumers concerned with their health, the green foods market has seen considerable growth in the last year. Market research firm SPINS, Schaumburg, IL, reported sales for green food supplements in the U.S. for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 12, 2012 are up 13.5% overall in natural food stores and food/drug/mass channels combined (excluding Whole Foods) to approximately $41.1 million. In the natural channel, the market grew 14.9% to nearly $35.8 million, while food/drug/mass channel sales grew 4.4% to about $5.3 million.

Vitamins and supplements with aloe vera as the primary ingredient saw positive growth as well, growing 17% compared to 2011 to $14.1 million in the natural channel, and 12.3% to $20.1 million in the food/drug/mass channel.

Demonstrating impressive growth, products with kelp, wheat and barley grass and spirulina--including food, body care, vitamins/supplements, herbs and general merchandise products--grew 17.2% to $42.1 Million in the natural channel, and 40.5% to $151.2 million in the conventional all outlet combined channel (see Table 1).


Table 1

GREEN FOODS SALES

NATURAL CHANNEL (excluding Whole Foods)

                             52 we         52 we    $ %
                          12/22/12      12/24/11    Chg

Green Food             $35,831,353   $31,172,326  14.9%
Supplements

All Departments:       $42,099,807   $35,932,028  17.2%
Products with Kelp
(lodine), Grass
(Wheat/Barley) and
Spirulina as primary
ingredients

All Departments:       $21,483,859   $18,569,232  15.7%
Products with Aloe
Vera as primary
ingredient

Vitamins &             $14,144,788   $12,092,795  17.0%
Supplements: with
Aloe Vera as primary
ingredient

CONVENTIONAL ALL
OUTLET COMBINED
CHANNEL (Natural and
Specialty Products
Only)

                             52 we         52 we    $ %
                          12/22/12      12/24/11    Chg

Green Food              $5,261,206    $5,037,911   4.4%
Supplements

All Departments:      $151,222,597  $107,594,260  40.5%
Products with Kelp
(lodine), Grass
Grass (Wheat/Barley)
and Spirulina as
primary ingredients

All Departments:       $51,751,602   $44,826,499  15.4%
Products with Aloe
Vera as primary
ingredient

Vitamins &             $20,092,808   $17.893,431  12.3%
Supplements: with
Aloe Vera as primary
ingredient

COMBINED CHANNEL
(Natural +
Conventional AOC
Channel)

Green Food                   52 we         52 we    $ %
Supplements               12/22/12      12/24/11    Chg

                       $41,092,559   $36,210,237  13.5%

All Departments:      $193,322,404  $143,526,288  34.7%
Product with Kelp
(lodine), Grass
Grass (Wheat/Barley)
and Spirulina as
primary ingredients

All Departments:       $73,235.461   $63,395,731  15.5%
Products with Aloe
Vera as primary
ingredient

Vitamins &             $34,237,596   $29,986.226  14.2%
Supplements: with
Aloe Vera as primary
ingredient

Source: SPINS


Cultivation, Delivery & Processing Challenges

Meeting the demands of this emerging market poses many challenges. Acclimating picky consumers to the taste of greens, successfully harvesting a viable crop and delivering potent and high quality products all take significant research and planning on the part of successful companies within the green foods landscape.

According to Hartley Pond, vice president of technical sales at Van Drunen Farms/FutureCeuticals, Momence, IL, "flavor is a key challenge for formulators of green drinks and green foods. The American palate has been shaped over decades to crave sweetness, salt and fats. Green foods often possess flavor notes that are foreign to mainstream consumers and thus fruit juices are often used as key ingredients in national brands."

Sarah Muhlbradt, director of sales and business development for Synergized Ingredients, Moab, UT, voiced a similar perspective on the challenges of formulating green food flavor profiles. "Whole green powder or green juice often contribute less than desirable taste attributes." Unique processing methods developed by the company have allowed it to develop a more mild greens flavor profile. As a result, she has found, "many customers do not require flavoring assistance when formulating with our organic greens, but doing so may broaden consumer appeal and acceptance."

While Peter Hafermann, president of DeSoto, TX-based Improve USA, a division of Pharmachem Laboratories, Inc., noted there are limited formulation issues with regard to aloe vera, growing and cultivating the plant can present significant challenges. "Aloe vera can only be grown in climates where freezing temperatures are non-existent; it only takes one frost and your entire aloe vera crop is lost."

As a result, Improve USA opts to farm its crop 200 miles south of the border in Mexico in order to stave off the potential harm of cold weather. "Although environmental and weather related challenges always exist with farming businesses, we have overcome these obstacles by managing smaller farm locations widely spread over a large area near our manufacturing facilities in Mexico," Mr. Hafermann noted. "This strategy has allowed us to minimize our potential risk as it is highly unlikely that all regions would be affected similarly by weather related issues or natural disasters."

Growing the popular green food ingredient spirulina can also be a difficult process. Bob Capelli, vice president of sales, marketing and materials management at Cyanotech Corporation, Kailua-Kona, HI, said, "A huge amount of sunlight and minimal precipitation is necessary for optimal production." In light of these particular specifications, the sunny coast of Hawaii is an excellent environment for harvesting spirulina. "Cyanotech's founder and current chief scientific officer, Dr. Gerald Cysewski, searched for more than two years to find the ideal place to grow microalgae, and finally found it on the pristine Kona Coast of Hawaii with its abundant sun, minimal rain and a consummately clean environment."

Mr. Capelli also added, "Another issue (with spirulina) is that you need a pure, pollution-free environment to be able to harvest a high quality end product."

This message also rings true for those cultivating chlorella and cereal grasses such as wheat, barley, oat and alfalfa grasses, according to Jeff Wuagneux, president and CEO of RFT, LLC, Blauvelt, NY. "A challenge often seen with green products is avoiding high levels of heavy metals," he said. "We strive to produce a finished product that has the lowest lead levels attainable from nature. Our strict GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) quality control program--from selecting fields for growing to processing, milling and packaging--allows us to supply the best cereal grasses to our customers with the lowest heavy metal levels possible."

RET's chlorella and spirulina are grown in an area with very low pollution levels to keep their heavy metals levels down, Mr. Wuagneux added. "In addition, RFT grows both of these products using organic methods and both are certified USDA organic, meaning only USDA-NOP (National Organic Program) approved fertilizers are used in the cultivation."

Packaging and processing green foods in finished products is also a complicated endeavor. Popular methods of packaging and delivering green food products include powders in canisters or packets, and tablets or capsules, stated Ms. Muhlbradt. However, she warned that, "Maintaining finished product constancy may pose a challenge. Natural and organic green food ingredients used in formulation are subject to variation including color, crop yield and nutritional contribution." In addition, she noted, "Production and storage conditions also play an integral part in quality and shelf life optimization."

Mr. Capelli also warned that it's important for manufacturers to minimize exposure to heat, light and particularly oxygen during processing and packaging, "as there are so many fragile nutrients in green foods like spirulina that can be compromised by mishandling."

Because so many of the phytonutrients in green foods are heat adverse, freeze-drying has emerged as a common processing approach. "Freeze drying has become a very popular method of processing green foods in the powdered drink sector due to the very low heat required to remove the natural moisture content," said Mr. Pond. "Consumers who shop in health foods stores understand the important role of gentle, low-heat processing in providing a natural, nutrient-dense green food. Low-heat processing is a key part of marketing green powdered drink and food formulations."

Fermentation of green foods is also emerging as an alternative for delivery and preservation. As an added benefit, the fermentation process itself can potentially contribute to and enhance the health benefits of green food products. "Originally utilized as a method of preserving foods, this natural processing preserves key nutrients that can enhance healthy digestion," Mr. Pond noted.

RFI also offers fermented cereal grass ingredients under its FermaPro brand. According to the company, not only does fermentation serve as an effective preservation method for greens, it also adds a host of benefits to products, including assisted pre-digestion of complex foods by breaking them down into amino acids; increased B vitamin and probiotic content; improved bioavailability of minerals and antioxidants; and heightening the green foods' alkalizing effect on the body's pH.

Algae & Kelp

The algae spirulina is one of the most popular and common green food ingredients on the market today. Whether it's in functional foods, beverages, energy bars or dietary supplements, consumer awareness about the beneficial qualities of spirulina is on the rise.

Kerry Watson, natural products specialist for SPINS, explained, "Spirulina is a type of lake algae that contains a high percentage of complete protein as well as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants. It's an ancient superfood that once was a dietary staple of the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans."

The benefits of this green food are well researched and documented. "The most researched green food product by far is spirulina, with more than 200 published studies showing a multitude of benefits ranging from immune system modulation, anti-viral activity, support for cardiovascular health, as well as protection for key organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys," noted Mr. Capelli of Cyanotech.

For example, he cited a 2011 study conducted at the University of California, Davis, by leading immunological researcher Eric Gershwin, MD. "This human clinical trial showed that Hawaiian Spirulina boosts immunity as well as helps combat anemia in iron-deficient people over 50," Mr. Capelli said.

Likewise, RFT's Mr. Wuagneux noted various studies that demonstrated spirulina's health benefits. "Spirulina is so nutrient-dense that it has been used as a health food supplement for malnourished children and adults in clinical studies since the early 1970s. Recent human clinical trials have demonstrated various health benefits in malnourished young children, healthy volunteers or subjects with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), allergic rhinitis or hy-percholesterolemia. Studies on nutrition rehabilitation support various nutrition feeding programs involving spirulina and the results of these studies support the historic usage of spirulina for improving the nutritional status of malnourished population," (Nutrition Journal, 2005; Nutrition & Metabolism, 2009).

In light of this promising, and ever growing breadth of research, market experts at SPINS have seen an uptick in spirulina's usage in popular consumer products. "We're starting to see spirulina pop up in a variety of products like popcorn, kefir and cookies. Spirulina Crunchies are a new innovation that we're just beginning to see as well," said Ms. Watson. Clearly, knowledge of the important health benefits of spirulina is making it a more common staple in the diets of healthy eaters.

Chlorella, another form of algae, is gaining popularity due to its detoxifying effects. This fresh water, single-cell algae has been found to bind itself to toxic chemicals in the body, such as mercury and heavy metals, which can then be excreted from the body as part of the natural digestive process.

Mr. Wuagneux also mentioned multiple studies that examined chlorella's "ability to chelate or bind heavy metals in the body so they can be eliminated. Chlorella vulgaris extracts have been shown in vitro and in animal models to have strong chelating abilities to metals such as cadmium, manganese, chromium, nickel, iron, copper and zinc, to reduce metal-induced damages."

He added, "Chlorella also can have antitoxic activity because it can help neutralize toxins. For instance, chlorella treatment was shown to be effective for improving resistance to bacterial infections Listeria monocytogenes or E. coil."

The common sea plant kelp also offers many of the common benefits of green foods, in addition to being a good source of iodine. It is often used to promote healthy thyroid function. Ms. Watson reported, "Fucoxanthin is a type of kelp that helps to increase thermogenesis without stimulating side effects. These products are driving the growth of the kelp ingredient in the diet formulas category."

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has traditionally been known for its effectiveness in soothing personal care products for skin and inflammation. However, a recent shift in the beverage market has positioned aloe as a popular functional ingredient for consumers, looking for a healthy and refreshing treat with added benefits for immunity, digestion and skin health.

Once a niche item in the ethnic foods market, Ms. Watson of SPINS first noticed aloe beverages popping up in the natural channel around four years ago. "Aloe drinks quickly gained consumer acceptance and crossed over into mainstream channels," she noted. "Now they make up a large percentage of the sales volume and growth for the ingredient. The consumer perception around these products is that they are cleansing and good for the digestive track as well as the skin. I think many are drawn to its unique texture, which is due to the presence of aloe pulp."

Jeff Barrie, Eastern regional sales manager for Aloecorp, Seattle, WA, has seen this growth in sales volume firsthand. "Within the aloe market, one of the most popular products at the moment is definitely aloe beverages. We are seeing a big increase in interest for good tasting, healthy drinks with 1-2 ounces of aloe in the beverage." He added, "We supply Aloe vera Gel 200X Powder, which we believe to be the product of choice for aloe beverages."

Likewise, Mr. Hafermann of Improve USA reported signs of this growing beverage craze. "In mid-November at the IASC (International Aloe Science Council) meeting Devon Powell, the council's executive director, estimated that aloe containing products represented global sales of $13 billion."

Cereal Grasses

Cereal grasses, such as wheat grass, barley grass, alfalfa grass and rye grass, have long been important components of the natural health market.

Mr. Wuagneux of RFI defined cereal grasses as the "young grass stage of the wheat plant, the barley plant, the alfalfa plant and the oat plant. At this young green stage the cereal plant contains many times more vitamins, minerals and proteins than is found in the same plant once it matures to the grain stage. In simple terms, the young cereal grass is much more nutrient dense than the mature cereal plant with high levels of B vitamins, chlorophyll and antioxidants."

Lawrence KS-based cereal grass producer Pines International traces its company's roots back to some of the earliest animal and human experiments testing the beneficial effects of cereal grass consumption. In 1925 agricultural scientist Dr. Charles Schnabel was one of the first to document the advantages of consuming cereal grass, and went on to formulate the green food supplement Ceroplyl. This groundbreaking green food ingredient, and the work done at Cerophyl Laboratories, was the inspiration for co-founders Ron Seibold and Steve Malone to begin Pines International in 1976. In fact, the company works from Dr. Schnabel's laboratory to this day.

Pines International considers Dr. Schnabel to be the "Father of Wheat Grass," and Mr. Seibold described some of the first experiments this green foods pioneer conducted. Ultimately, this led to the spurring of a successful (and by SPINT's account, rapidly growing) sector of the green foods market. "It all began with some chickens he had in his backyard," Mr. Seibold said. "Dr. Schnabel grew some wheat grass, dried it on his radiator in his home, and ground it up and fed ii to his chickens during the winter. According to his records, the chickens went from 33% egg production to 90% egg production in the wintertime, which is pretty extraordinary. Because chickens are unable to go out and eat the greens that they'd normally consume in warmer weather, he found that supplementing their diet with wheat grass could increase their overall egg production."

This first successful experiment in chickens led to further animal testing, and later, human trials. Dr. Schnabel then developed the green food supplement for human consumption, Cerophyl, which he began providing to medical practitioners and their patients.

Mr. Seibold explained, "Doctors began experimenting with using the cereal grass supplements in their patients and they found the same results that farmers were finding with their animals. Gynecologists particularly, routinely began prescribing Cerophyl to pregnant women, since it's high in folic acid, which is crucial during pregnancy. Also, they recommended using the supplement during nursing, since it led to more milk production and better quality milk. The doctors found that this led to healthier children in infancy as well as later in life."

Thanks to early pioneers in this market, cereal grasses are thriving in the nutraceuticals industry today more than ever. Consumers are becoming more aware of the rich nutritional content of these grasses, and are incorporating them into their diets via supplements, and increasingly through blends combining various types of grasses, or grasses with other green foods.

According to Mr. Capelli of Cyanotech, "The most popular products in the green foods category are single microalgae products and grasses such as spirulina and wheat grass, as well as combination products that meld many different green foods together in one formula. According to SPINS, for the last year the top 10 sellers in the U.S. market in the green foods category are all combination products, with the sole exception of Hawaiian Spirulina."

Mr. Wuagneux discussed RFI's involvement in green food and cereal grass blends as well. "RFI develops and manufactures custom green food products often containing 10-50 different ingredients. These products contain the individual ingredients, such as grasses, but also include other green food ingredients, such as green vegetable powders or antioxidants."

Green Revolution Rising

Many experts in the dietary supplement and functional food and beverage industry are taking note of consumers' lack of green food intake and their desire to adopt healthier diets. In turn, many mass-market brands are developing in ways for consumers to incorporate the green foods they're lacking into their everyday routine.

According to Mr. Pond of VDF/Future-Ceuticals, functional products with green foods are becoming readily available within the broader consumer market. "The green foods category is broad and diverse in terms of the products offered, market positioning and the direction of scientific inquiry. Leading brands--Odwalla's SuperFood (Coke), Naked Juice's Green Machine (Pepsi), Bolthouse Farms' Green Goodness (Campbell's) and Evolution Fresh's Essential Greens with Lime (Starbucks)--all have mass distribution in the ready-to-drink (RTD) green foods sector. These multi-national food and beverage companies are riding a wave of consumer demand that has its roots in the health foods stores across America, as well as the 'juicing' of fresh green drinks, which has been a vibrant part of the health and wellness culture for decades."

Mr. Pond added, "Companies like Amazing Grass, Country Life Vitamins, Garden of Life, New Chapter, Now Foods and many other innovative brands in the health food sector all have very popular green food powder drink formulations with intensely loyal and nutritionally savvy customers."

With a variety of convenient and delicious options popping up in various channels, it's likely that the green foods movement will continue to flourish.

This article in a nutshell:

* Cultivation, Delivery & Processing Challenges

* Algae & Kelp

* Aloe Vera

* Cereal Grasses

* Green Revolution Rising

By Lisa Olivo

Associate Editor
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Author:Olivo, Lisa
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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