Natural Product Expo: Product Reviews

Shift CollaborativeGeneral, Market Research

Jalapeno chips

The amount of free samples and giveaways from the Natural Product Expo loaded us with lots of strange and wonderful treats. As an opportunity to challenge our Writing Team, we all took a product and found creative ways to write a product review. Have fun reading some of the interesting ways we decided to review some peculiar products.

BRAD’s Veggie Air-Crisped

by Tim Colbert

The crowded snack food market is ready for something delicious, organic, and healthy. If the product I was forced to endure is any indication, we’re in for quite the wait.

Let’s begin with the packaging. While terrible it far outpaced that which lurked within. A confusing maelstrom of typefaces, type sizes, capitalization (or lack thereof) imparts an anxiety-inducing brand introduction. One knows where not to look when confronted with:

BRAD’s Plant based veggie Air-Crisped Never Baked or Fried chips Sweet Potato made with veggies seeds, herbs & spices*

The palate, sadly, is far more aggressively aggrieved than the eye . Bravely (foolishly?) , one plunges ahead and encounters a crisp (the air having admirably done its duty), wafer-thin, sweet-potato-colored, sesame seed-bespeckled chip that tastes, remarkably, of nothing.

One charitably could opine that they are as flavorless as sawdust, but that’s being unkind to trees, not befitting our organic proclivities.

How, how can this be? Further investigation reveals an astonishing 14 listed ingredients that through some misguided alchemy produce zero flavor. The fulsome promise of “maple syrup, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract” has been cruelly broken by the clueless food scientists lurking within the company’s Pipersville, Pennsylvania facility.

And not to be a pedant, but one would safely assume that a certified organic company, with its attendant lure of simplicity, honesty, and of-the-earth goodness, would have the decency to actually include, you know, sweet potatoes in its BRAD’s Plant based veggie Air-Crisped Never Baked or Fried chips Sweet Potato made with veggies seeds, herbs & spices*.

Yams. Check. Carrots. Check. Yet nary a sweet potato. Is there a sweet potato shortage within the Commonwealth? Are the denizens of Pipersville responding to a modern-day redux of the Great Irish Potato Famine (only sweeter)?

Brad’s is very comfortable exhorting us to “Snack with Purpose.” Hey Brad, try this one on for size: “Label With Truth.” If this is the future of organic, please, dear reader, sell your bonds.

Franklin Baker’s Organic Coconut Chips
by Eric Sloss

To kang asukal, Sweet as to love, To kang Painting, I Love you painted
lyrics of Kundiman, a Filipino love song

At first glance, the shape of Franklin Baker’s Organic Coconut Chips look like dried shredded potatoes chips, but, the smell of coconut wafts once the bag rips open. The chips are made from coconuts in the Philippines, the small, wondrous island state in Asia. Each coconut chip is tinier than the package presents. You wouldn’t want to take these chips to your buddy’s football party. They are not a hearty snack you can dip in queso. But one could imagine that if in fact each chip had a little more weight and depth, they would be a delectable delight paired with something even more sweeter like chocolate icing or whipped topping.

While eating these crispy minis, I imagine sitting near the white beaches of Boracay at a small table, alone, sipping Palawan Wit with my Organic Coconut Chips all huddled in a small blue glass tea-cup on the table in front of me. At times, I would take a sip and gather a few chips between my thumb and pointer finger and every so often pop them into my mouth to complement the swill. I would smile ever so slightly with every bite to passerbys, while people splash and play in the warm ocean water.

The fact that they are gluten free, GMO free, trans fat free, and unbleached is a plus. They are USDA certified organic, which gives you no excuse to avoid them for unhealthy reasons. The packaging notes there are no sulphates, but for me that doesn’t matter because I don’t know what sulphates are, anyway.

More than 130 calories a serving can huddle nicely in the palm of your hand. The chips are noted on the front of the package to be “salted flavor.” I can’t tell, by any single bite, if in fact there is actual salt or they are “flavored” with a taste like salt. Sometimes, with other snacks  you can feel the crunch of salt crack between your teeth. The ingredients claim there is sea salt on this strips of the dried golden coconut meat but I could be fooled. For this review, the only crunch I can detect is the actual chip itself. But don’t let my pessimism fool you, I find these chips simply delicious.

Much like how the beautiful revolutionary song of the Philippines “Kundiman” describes a love for one forgotten, I found the chips “Sweet as love” – a delightful experience ready to top any of my salads, soups or kare-kare.

Toothsome Sestina
By Cynthia Closkey

Long morning sliding slowly along,

With lunchtime hovering so far away.

How to make it through? Perhaps a snack

Would fend off the pangs of hunger.

Something crunchy, something to savor,

Or something sweet? Why not both?


It would surely be too much to hope for both.

And yet, such flavors could get along,

Should go well together. I savor

The thought, let it transport me away.

I’m brought back to attention by hunger.

It’s time for a snack.


I open a Laver Almond Snack.

What is this puzzle? I see both

Almonds and sesame seeds, and my hunger

Grows. The treats lie along

Their tiny trays.  Far and away

The strangest looking snack, a vision most savory.


The first bite. It is savory,

Dried seaweed with but a hint of salt. A snack

Entirely crisp, and so light it might float away

In a breeze. The almonds taste both

Oily and sweet. The flavor slides along

My tongue, crunches in my teeth, yet does not sate my hunger.


I try another, and one more. My hunger

Remains. Each bite reveals yet more savory

Flavors, and sweet too, and I crunch along

Eating piece after piece of my tiny snack.

Two tiny trays full, I devour them both.

My appetite does not fade away.


Now the pack is empty. Morning has faded away,

But not so my hunger.

My wish for something both

Tenderly sweet and lightly savory

Led me to what seemed the ideal snack.

Yet I am unsatisfied. The day drifts, and hunger comes along.


Still the morning drifts along.

Still I dream of a satisfying snack.

On I search for something savory.


KiiNoi! Brand Honey-Mustard Jalapeno Quinoa Superfood Snack
By Andrew Gordon

Quinoa has a stigma of being difficult to pronounce and tasting like a dirty old tree branch. That’s why KiiNoi! Brand Honey-Mustard Jalapeno Quinoa Superfood Snack decided to ditch the actual spelling of the “superfood” in favor of a phonetic spelling, and threw in as many adjectives as possible to distract from stigma.

And I must say, it worked. I was drawn to snack not because of the fact that it was made with quinoa, but in spite of it. It was the unique sounding combination of honey mustard and jalapeno…two foods on the savory side of the spectrum, and from different ethnic/regional flavor profile origins.

I popped open the bag to find some round, golden pellets. Sampling them, they reminded me of a less greasy version of cheeseballs. And the combination of flavors was delightful! Tangy and a little bit spicy, but not too much of either. The texture reminded me more of pre-milk cereal balls than of chips. But more importantly, it tasted to me like a junk food, and not like a superfood, which would make this item both “mom and kid approved” (or whatever Kix used to say).

Is the health benefit oversold? Perhaps. But upon looking at the nutrition facts, I learned that there was a decent amount of calcium and iron, as well as a protein. I wouldn’t recommend this as a meal alternative or a pre- or post-workout energy replacement. But as a tasty snack that you can feel good about, you bet!




By Therese Joseph

“U Gottabee Nutz,” the package of cashews taunts me, as I examine it closely, noting its bright orange color, a background pattern that I think I’ve seen as a wallpaper’s modern interpretation of leaves, and a tribal mask that looks like it could appear in a cartoon version of Indiana Jones. “U Gottabee Nutz,” the mask taunts again. Nutz? Nuts to try these cashews? Or nuts to not try them?

Caramel and sea salt – the flavor that’s available to me. Sea salt, the modern diet’s fad of health-conscious food – like eating avocado on toast. Healthier for its lower sodium levels and yet also not so healthy because it lacks iodine, a necessary nutrient needed for the balanced functioning of your thyroid. Iodine, only found in your everyday, normal table salt – not in sea salt.

Caramel on cashews makes me feel like I’m missing an apple.

I open the sample size package to find less than a dozen full-size cashews, and a great quantity of crushed cashews. I take my first bite, anticipating the savory flavor of sea salt, but it never comes. The sweet caramel rises to the top, turning my savory snack into a sweet, crunchy dessert.

Where are the apples?

An immigrant’s entrepreneurship legacy. Move to America. Work in an artichoke field. Buy a Franciscan winery. Open the Sabstiani Cannery. Publish a cookbook. Pass it on to your children, to your children’s children. As the American Dream seems to have broken, dare to continue forward by creating a snack that reminds you of being on vacation. You got to be nuts to try. But you also got to be nuts to succeed.

I’ve devoured all of the full-size cashews, and a few of the crushed cashews. The sample size is truly a sample, like a piece of chicken on a toothpick. – just enough to make you buy the full meal.

The voice inside my head repeats, “If only I had an apple.”


U GOTTABEE NUTZ Smoky Bacon + Blue Cheese
By Sarah Mayer

For most of my life I’ve been told, “bacon is bad for you,” and blue cheese is my Nana’s favorite, not mine.  So, when I was given a package of Smoky Bacon & Blue Cheese Almonds, I was skeptical at best and worried I’d ruin my diet at worst.

I pushed those dangerous thoughts to the back of my psyche and tossed a few fatty almonds into my mouth. And then a few more. And then a few more. Before I knew it my hand was hitting an empty bag.

I did some research after my fateful collision with this bag of U GottaBee Nutz. Countless articles about fat and its benefits later and you can now consider me a proponent of healthy fat is good fat. I will buy your tasty almonds again.