Expo East

Indulgent innovations for health-conscious consumers emerged as a top trend at Natural Products Expo East. Quinoa, broccoli and black beans star in such unexpected products as cookies and brownies, and frozen dessert makers are churning out treats with less fat, fewer calories and more protein than traditional ice cream.

Touting the trademarked term “Fit Frozen Desserts,” San Diego-based Arctic Zero makes low-glycemic, lactose-free, gluten-free treats with whey protein, organic cane sugar, chicory root and monk fruit. The flagship line of 150-calorie pints features 10 flavors, including cappuccino, chocolate peanut butter, salted caramel and vanilla maple. Earlier this year, the brand introduced a new line of 300-calorie “chunky” pints featuring inclusions, with such varieties as chocolate chip cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, and key lime pie with graham cracker crumbles.

Founder Greg Holtman developed the product for his diabetic mother and sister, said Amit Pandhi, chief executive officer of Arctic Zero.

“His whole life, he grew up with them eating artificially sweetened products and just a lot of junk he never felt was healthy,” Pandhi told Food Business News during an interview at Expo East, held Sept. 16-19 in Baltimore. “So one day he bought a soft-serve machine, put it in his garage and taught himself how to make a product he could share and enjoy with them. And that’s how Arctic Zero was born.”

In August, Arctic Zero landed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, having posted three-year growth of 175% with sales of $8.9 million in 2014. Pandhi said the business is doubling this year and is set to double next year. The products are sold in natural grocers, including Whole Foods Market and Sprouts, as well as such conventional retailers as Wal-Mart and Kroger.

“We’ve been strong in natural, and we’ve been there for a while, so to be able to spread the word in a new channel takes different strategies,” Pandhi said. “I also think the natural consumer and natural stores are willing to try new products a little more easily. When you see a different product on the shelf at a conventional store, you might not always try it. We want to be a brand that’s approachable.”

To support brand building efforts, Arctic Zero in June hired Karen Moyer, a former senior brand manager at Kashi, as vice-president of marketing. The company also recently debuted a packaging and logo redesign across its portfolio of products.

Since launching in 2010, Arctic Zero has been joined by several other better-for-you brands in the frozen aisle. At Expo East, ice cream companies such as Brio and Graeter’s showcased low-glycemic, reduced-calorie products.

“I think we probably will continue to see more competition,” Pandhi said. “But … I welcome competition. I think it makes everyone better. And I also think there’s a lot of room.

“I think there are so many people who have given up eating ice cream or given up the dessert aisle, and increased brand awareness is just good for everyone. The rising tide floats all ships.”