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FDA Issues Official Rule Defining Gluten-Free Foods

By Lucas Witman and Jazmine Woodberry

In August, the Food and Drug Administration issued an official rule defining specifically what it means for a product to be gluten-free. According to the newly minted standard, any product labeled “gluten-free,” “without gluten,” “free of gluten” or “no gluten” must contain no more than 20 parts per million of wheat, rye, barley or any other ingredient derived from these grains that has not been processed to remove gluten.

“This standard ‘gluten-free’ definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products and will assure people with celiac disease that foods labeled ‘gluten-free’ meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA,” said Michael R. Taylor, Deputy FDA Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, in the official announcement from the FDA.

Gluten, the protein that occurs naturally in many grains, is detrimental to the health of many Americans, especially those with celiac disease. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, causes the body’s natural defense system to react to gluten by attacking the inner lining of the small intestine. This can cause the body not to absorb necessary nutrients from the foods being consumed and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriages, short stature, intestinal cancer and other maladies. It is estimated that 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, with another 18 million experiencing some degree of gluten sensitivity.

In recent years, awareness of gluten sensitivity and intolerance has exploded, resulting in a subsequent eruptive growth in the market for gluten-free products. According to market research firm, Packaged Facts, gluten-free product sales topped $4.2 billion last year. Thus, any change to the labeling standard for gluten-free products could have far-reaching industry-wide ramifications.

It is likely that most food companies that market gluten-free products will be largely unaffected by the FDA’s announcement, however, as the 20 ppm standard is already the unofficial one most companies currently employ. This is the figure most health officials agree upon as safe for those suffering from celiac disease, even for those who are severely sensitive to gluten. In fact, many gluten-free food producers actually adhere to an even stricter standard, ensuring that that their products contain no more than 10 ppm of gluten. Still, the FDA estimates that five percent of gluten-free products currently on the market currently contain over 20 ppm.

“This is great news for gluten-free consumers,” said Lucy Gibney, founder of gluten-free baked goods brand Lucy’s. Lucy’s markets a variety of cookies and brownies, all gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO and all-natural. “The U.S. FDA limit is about authenticity. Consumers now know what the ‘gluten-free’ claim really means, and manufacturers are held responsible for meeting the standard.”

Greg Vetter, CEO at Tessemae’s, a producer of all-natural, gluten-free dressings, spreads and marinades, expressed his pleasure with the FDA announcement as well. “It makes it a little bit easier for the consumer to have more trust in the products they are buying with the new FDA regulations,” Vetter said.

Although both Lucy’s and Tessemae’s already voluntarily conform to the FDA’s new 20 ppm or less standard, the companies support the rule as necessary for protecting the health of U.S. consumers and ensuring that those products with a gluten-free label are uniformly safe for consumption.

“When you are getting into all of these companies that are trying to create gluten-free products—cookies or pancakes—where things would historically have gluten in them, [it is important] that those people are doing what they need to be doing to protect those folks,” Vetter said.

“The new standard provides a definition, and it provides an expectation of accountability. Those two elements are reasonable when it comes to an important health matter for 21 million Americans,” Gibney said. “When this many people are affected, and the standard is so reasonable to meet, regulation is a good move.”

The FDA’s official regulation was published on August 5, and companies will have one year from the publication date to bring their labels into compliance.

Energy Products Market Wide Awake And Going Gourmet, Despite FDA Investigation

By Jazmine Woodbery

Can engrained visions of Red Bull giving you wings and a Food and Drug Administration investigation into energy drinks stop the energy products market from surging ahead—and straight onto gourmet retailers’ shelves?

Retailers are seeing beverage sales rise, and that rise is on the back of the power of the ever-widening energy drink market. Energy drinks raked in billions last year, up 14 percent from five years ago, and energy shots themselves saw a 168 percent sales increase in that time period, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

“Caffeine is the legal drug of choice in the United States. It’s in medications, it’s in food, and because of the specialty coffee explosion with Starbucks, coffee is where you get your lift. Most people are habituated to it,” said Tom Pirko, President of Bevmark, a food and beverage consulting firm based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “People have been drinking coffee and tea for caffeine forever and now people are reaching for energy drinks as well. That’s not going to stop. And until retailers see the consumers saying ‘No we’re not going to consume these products,’ the retailers are going to push on selling them.”

Wells Fargo Securities Beverage Buzz survey reported an estimated 9 percent uptick for Monster Beverage Corporation in-store volumes during the second quarter of the year, after an already sustained 7 percent increase in the quarter before. Still, although big wigs like Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar sit handily atop the American markets, the success of these major brands has spurred the growth in availability of healthier, organic and gourmet energy drink products as well.

Campbell Soup Company, for example, produces the V-Fusion + Energy drink, featuring juice and green tea, and Starbucks’ new Refreshers line features pomegranate, strawberry and melon flavors enhanced with unroasted green coffee beans. Other specialty products within the larger energy drink market include natural energy drink Guru, Steaz Energy drinks (billed as “good for the mind, body and soul”) and all-natural fair trade energy drink brand Hiball Energy.

Somewhat surprisingly, all of this growth in the industry comes on the heels of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin calling for a Food and Drug Administration investigation into energy drinks. Durbin’s push began last year, after reports of five deaths allegedly linked to the consumption of Monster energy drinks, including the December 2011 death of 14-year-old Anais Fournier.

“Energy drinks with names like Monster Energy, Red Bull, Rockstar, Full Throttle and AMP are now common fixtures in grocery stores, vending machines, and convenience stores. These products target young people claiming to increase attention, stamina, performance, and weight loss,” Durbin wrote to the FDA Commissioner. “The glossy marketing tailored to youth has worked. Thirty to fifty percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks…[However,] consuming large quantities of caffeine can have serious health consequences, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some cases death.”

Others are joining the fight as well, bringing lawsuits against major energy drink companies. This includes a mother in California who is suing Monster, alleging that her son died after drinking 32 ounces of the drink a day before his death. Her claim is bolstered by research that links excessive caffeine intake to negative health consequences, particularly for kids and young adults.

The FDA’s current regulations on energy drinks limit caffeine to 0.02 percent or less of the product, about 71 milligrams in a 12-ounce drink. Some companies often eschew these limits, however, by marketing their products not as drinks, but rather as dietary supplements. The agency also places regulations on energy food products, such as Perky Jerky, high quality dried and cured turkey and beef jerky that, according to CEO Brian Levin, was first envisioned when a can of energy drink fell on a pack of jerky.

“It’s not considered any more of an energy product than a diet soda or a piece of chocolate,” said Perky Jerky CEO Brian Levin. “We created a gourmet, high quality product for active lifestyles and the ingredient we use for energy is a very small amount essentially used for flavoring…It’s frustrating to be lumped into these products that have more of a desire to jump on this energy craze when if anything we are going away from it.”

Perky Jerky is sold in a broad spectrum of retail environments, including at Whole Foods in the southwestern United States and in the Dean and DeLuca catalog. The company’s growing popularity is enabling it to expand. Soon, Perky Jerky plans to roll out a line of gluten free products as well as more flavors and turkey alternatives.

“This is kind of a higher end product that’s within reach,” Levin said.

Although the FDA investigation into energy foods and drinks does not immediately appear to have far reaching ramifications for the gourmet industry, in fact the energy product market has become so pervasive that there is a growing segment of specialty food and drink companies like Perky Jerky, marketing their offerings as “energy products.” In addition, more and more gourmet retailers are stocking these kinds of products.

According to Pirko, there is definitely room in the gourmet marketplace for speciality energy food and drink products. “The breakthroughs could come if [a company] can authentically make some claims if there really is an ingredient that catches the public’s fancy,” Pirko said. He acknowledged, however, that the ongoing FDA investigation might affect those who are attempting to market less-proven energy products, because retailers themselves could be more hesitant to stock their shelves with an unknown commodity in an ever-changing market.

Still, this uncertainty is not stopping many gourmet companies from stepping up to that challenge. This includes companies like Turbo Truffle, a caffeine-infused gourmet chocolate brand, and ENERGMAX, a line of natural gourmet energy bars.

loadebars-stackedLoAdebar, a company which makes loaded energy bars, is clearly making an effort to differentiate itself from the larger energy food and drink market and show that the arena has room for more options than just Rockstar and Red Bull. This month, LoAdebar is bringing its products to Natural Products Expo East, the premier marketplace for natural, organic and healthy gourmet products.

“There is definitely a place for natural healthy energy food, and that is not just for people with busy active lifestyles,” said Norma Maloney, owner of LoAdebar. Maloney noted that these products can be practical supplements for those on-the-go. “Most of the energy bars in the marketplace are not tasty, they are not simple and have too many fillers. My goal with LoAdebar has been to complement the healthy lifestyle choices with a snack that combines great taste and good nutrition.”

Maloney said that at times people “expect magic” from energy products and that this is the place where the FDA could help to give consumers more realistic expectations from their products. At venues such as Expo East, Maloney works to highlight her company’s products, letting retailers and consumers know LoAdebar can serve as a good tasting, good for you product that is also a good energy boost.

Still, even though he does not see the market itself closing any time soon, Pirko argues that the more ingrained the big dogs are in consumers’ minds, the harder it will be for smaller companies to make inroads. “If you are going to try and take on Red Bull and Monster, you are going to need a big trust fund,” he said, “It’s probably going to be a little trust fund when you are done.”

Nibblins Celebrates a Decade of Helping its Community Make Great Culinary Experiences at Home

Nibblins-SRBy Lorrie Baumann

Susan Dolinar’s Nibblins store is located in rural Winchester, Va., about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is where Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania come together. The town of about 25,000 people is home to commuters who work in Washington as well as people who both live and work locally. The town sees frequent visits from tourists who stop by during their tours of nearby Civil War battlefields as well as college students from Shenandoah University and people from surrounding rural areas who prefer to shop in the smaller city as opposed to the Washington metroplex.

“We’re in sort of a rural area, so we draw people from an hour away,” says Owner Susan Dolinar.
Nibblins, located in the Rutherford Crossing shopping center, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. Started as a holiday-season cart that operated in a local shopping mall, Nibblins now has about 4,500 square feet of display space for kitchenware and specialty food products, including a candy counter that does a brisk trade in house-made fudge. (Dolinar actually makes the fudge herself in a nearby commercial kitchen.) “It’s amazing how many people like fudge,” she says.
The shop also has a 600-sq.-ft. kitchen where classes are offered for both children and adults. This summer, Nibblins is offering very successful children’s day camps, each with its own culinary theme. For June’s Italian-themed day camp, youngsters aged 8 to 12 made pizza and stromboli from scratch. “They were there with their hands in the dough, mixing the oil into the flour with their fingers,” Dolinar says. “With kids, I have them do as much as possible with their hands, while with adults I might teach them how to use the food processor.”
“Even the picky eaters ate everything they made,” adds Nibblins Marketing Director Elise Stine. “The parents sneaked in early and tried to sneak bites off the kids’ plates, and then they wanted the recipes.”
In July, the kids’ camp concentrated on American foods, while August’s kids’ camp has an international theme. Adult classes cover a wide range of topics, with titles like “Oodles of Noodles,” “The Thrill of the Grill” and “Tribute to Julia Child.”
The classes are taught by local chefs and caterers. The Thai cuisine instructor is a woman whose husband was a missionary in Thailand for 17 years. An Indian woman with a pastry degree teaches both Indian cooking and pastry. Other classes are taught by a local food blogger as well as other members of Nibblins staff. “Almost everyone who works here has some sort of culinary training,” Stine says.
Outside the class kitchen, the store sells both gourmet foods and professional cookware, including Bakers Edge, All-Clad, Le Creuset and Revol. Shun knives are particularly popular. “We actually outfit most of the chefs in the area with their knives,” Stine says.
The gourmet food items offered include products from Robert Rothschild Farm, Jelly Belly and Stonewall Kitchen. However, Nibblins also offers a number of products that are made locally, many for which Nibblins is the exclusive retailer. These products feed Virginians’ hunger for buying local, Dolinar says.
Local products include creamed honey made by the monks at Holy Cross Abbey and sold under the Monastery Honey brand, hot sauces and buffalo sauces for chicken wings concocted by local chefs, Virginia peanuts sourced from Feridies, Route 11 potato chips that are made just a few minutes down the road and jams with interesting flavors from The Essential Table. “It’s really kind of fun; we’re the first retailer to carry it,” Dolinar says of The Essential Table jams. “Virginia’s big on buying local.”


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