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Building a better Creamsicle

I’ll admit that I was a big ice cream fan as a kid.  Still am.  That’s why my eyes lit up when a press release came across the transom connecting Creamsicles with the supplement maker Amazing Grass that markets a line of “GREENSuperFoods.”  Forget the proverbial probiotic Ho-Ho, I thought.  This is good-for-you junk food  you can really sink your teeth into!

Alas, it was not to be.  Amazing Grass has used the flavor profile of the Creamsicle coating, that bright orange flavor from the halcyon days of youth, for the latest of its powdered products. Let me add that Amazing Grass makes a fine product, with a poweful combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes, and their Dreamsiscle flavor is only one of many offerings.  Junk food this is not.

Still, the fact that I thought this at first says something about the state of the market.  One of standout quotes from this year’s Nutracon was from Mike Bush of Ganeden, when he said, “We don’t think a probiotic Ho-Ho is the best idea.”

The idea of trying to improve a mainstream food that might not be so healthy to begin with is not new.  And, from a mainstream food perspective, it seems to have merit; cutting the fat, salt and calories of many prepared foods could have a huge cumulative impact, given how much of this food is consumed.  Think of it this way, driving a Prius is a great thing for the environment, but incrementally improving the cars that the other 95% of the world drives would have a far greater impact than building a better Prius.

There is a continuing movement in the natural foods business toward improving the nutritional profiles of categories that have not been thought of as including many healthy choices, such as snack crackers or other snack foods.  Pirate Brands is a good example of this with its Pirate Booty Popcorn and other snacks that have no trans fat and less overall fat than their mainstream counterparts.  And the company is far from alone; it seems as if the samples of crackers and other snack products festooning the booths at the Expo West show in March could have filled a semi trailer.

So it’s only one more step to go beyond improving nutritional profiles to adding functional ingredients such as probiotics, omega-3s, astaxanthin or what have you.

Yet a strong argument can be made for the idea that a company, especially one in this business, ought to stand for something beyond the bottom line.  That commitment, that message, is part of the brand on which the bottom line rests.  If you allow your ingredient to be placed in a fat- and sugar-packed snack cake, what might that say about your commitment to your consumers’ health?

The regulators in Europe have made a clear choice.  The Nutritient Profiles regulation states in effect that a junk food as defined by its nutritional properties (think potato chips for the sake of argument) cannot be called “healthy” no matter how many functional ingredients might be packed in there.  “Healthy,” in other words, depends on delivery system.

The issue is less clear here in the United States.  I don’t have the answer, and do think it seems counterintuitive to try to improve the nutrient profile of a Whoopie Pie.  Let indulgent junk be what it is. 

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