The FoodChain team sample a selection of new and innovative foods and drink

Groovy, baby
The Groovy Food Company is bringing innovation and decadence to the agave category with two new range launches – Organic Agave Chocolate Sauces and Flavoured Agave Nectar Sauces.

The new products join The Groovy Food Company’s best-selling original agave varieties and represent its brand mission to provide natural and free from alternatives to everyday cupboard staples across the supermarket. Aimed at health-conscious consumers who still want great taste and quality, both launches offer luxury without compromise on ingredients and sourcing.
The team chose the Chocolate Orange Organic Agave Flavoured Sauce and the Organic Agave Honey Flavoured Sauce for their test. “I was very impressed with how sweet these were, as it meant I didn’t need to use too much. I really enjoyed the Honey flavour when drizzled on my porridge and I wouldn’t hesitate to use this wherever I use normal honey. The Chocolate Orange gave my breakfast a marvellous boost of flavour – can’t wait to try it on ice cream!”

Snacking just got real!
With ‘free from’ one of the biggest and fastest growing food trends at the moment, increased demand for healthier snacking is driving innovation from brands such as Eat Real, which has experienced phenomenal growth in the four years since its launch. Core to Eat Real’s range of plant, pulse and grain-based snacks are its gluten-free and lactose-free Hummus, Lentil and Quinoa Chips, which are all suitable for Vegan, Kosher and Halal diets.

Available in a wide choice of classic and contemporary flavours – including Mango & Mint, Sweet Chilli, Paprika, Sundried Tomato & Roasted Garlic and Sour Cream & Chive – they’re big on taste, texture and crunch.

Eat Real also offers the popular Quinoa Corn Puffs, and the Kale, Tomato & Spinach flavoured Veggie Straws. Potato-based, gluten-free Cheezie Straws are a new variant of the popular Veggie Straws, and pack a punch with their authentic Vegan-friendly cheese flavour.
“I absolutely loved the Cheezie Straws – they had an excellent crispy yet light texture and a great savoury, cheesy flavour – I found myself reaching for them far too often and the bag didn’t last long, so I was glad they only had 147 calories per 28g serving.”

“The Eat Real Mango & Mint Lentil Chips were so good,” added a second tester. “Firstly, it was a lovely big bag, and I liked the wavy shapes of the chips. Their aroma immediately reminded me of poppadums with mint raita and mango chutney. They had a nice texture to crunch, and once opened I couldn’t stop nibbling them, they were very moreish, which I think signifies they were a good snack! As they’re made from real, natural ingredients with no added nasties, I didn’t feel too guilty about it.”

Get in the Lotus position
Forward thinking snacking brand Guruji has introduced an innovative range of popped lotus seed snacks to the market. Hailed as a credible alternative to popcorn and crisps, Guruji’s product range includes four variants: Smoky Thai, Cheesy Vegan, Lightly Salted and Salt & Cacao.

Founder Akhil Kumar is confident that Guruji will resonate with the UK’s health-conscious consumers, commenting: “With Guruji, we have taken all the health properties of the seeds and made them exciting for a Western audience, by layering them with punchy gourmet flavours specifically designed for this market.”

Guruji’s popped Lotus seeds are handmade in the UK, naturally gluten-free, vegan, low in calories and are a source of plant-based protein. They also have a sustainable life-cycle and are hand-farmed; no machinery is used in the process meaning their product is not extruded. Lotus seeds are grown using natural water supplies.
Our testers really were surprised by the Guruji products: “I tried Salt & Cacao and once opened I couldn’t stop popping them in – what a fantastic snack! They are the perfect size to eat one or two at a time, with a nice crunchy texture and slightly sweet and slightly salty flavour, a great combo… Five simple ingredients and nothing artificial. Love.”

Chocolate with benefits
Family owned UK brand, Lovely Fodder, have created a ‘better-for-you’ chocolate bar called Benefit Chocolate. This innovative vegan snack comes from the brand behind Benefit Drinks and shares its ethos, combining the very best ingredients with added ‘benefits’ to create functional, yet indulgent bars of chocolate.

• The Protein Bar is enriched with almond butter, coconut and pea protein which contributes to the maintenance of normal bones and muscle mass.
• The Vitamins Bar gives you 50 per cent of your recommended daily intake of 12 vitamins which all contribute to the normal function of the immune system.
• The Energy Bar delivers three key B vitamins including B5, B6 and B12 which contribute to a normal energy yielding metabolism.
“I liked the appearance of these 40g bars immediately, the size is great as an individual bar, and the packaging was simple yet sophisticated. I was impressed with the high levels of cacao as I am aware of its health benefits. Taste wise, all the bars had a good, strong chocolatey flavour – my favourite was the Protein bar, as the almond butter and coconut gave it a little added dimension of sweetness and interest. I would buy these as both a treat for myself, but also I think they would make excellent gifts – just the right size to slip in a card and provide a friend with a guilt-free treat.”

A taste of Japan
Founded in 1976 in London, Japan Centre is one of the largest and most influential Japanese stores in Europe. With a passion for supplying the best authentic goods, the Japan Centre has a range of over 3000 products spanning food, drink, and lifestyle. In-store experts make Japanese sushi and hot souzai, and the fishmonger and butcher counters serve fresh produce cut the traditional Japanese way. The in-store bakery serves a large selection of hand made and hard to find Japanese pastries and breads, which are baked daily.

In 2005 Japan Centre launched an online store, to bring a slice of Japan to those outside of London and the UK. Over 30 new items are added to the website weekly, sourced straight from Japan, making it the number one destination for those interested in the very best of Japanese food and culture.
The Testing Team were lucky enough to try a wide selection of items from The Japan Centre, including Japan Centre Red Miso, Japan Centre White Miso, Bibigo Sliced Kimchi, Yutaka Korean Kimchi, Amazake and Osato Natto Ichibuan. “The Bibigo Sliced Kimchi and the Yutaka Korean Kimchi were surprise hits for me as I really loved them!” said our tester. “I can definitely see why it’s Korea’s favourite food. I knew it was spicy fermented cabbage but had no idea what to use it for, so I Googled and discovered Kimchi pizza. It’s now one of my go-to meals of the week. I also find myself using the Bibigo Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste quite frequently – it adds such a good heat and flavour.”

Our vegetarian tester was impressed with the Red and White Miso too. “The red miso had great colour and a good rich taste, while the white was a little bit sweet so added an interesting element. I also loved the Amazake drink, but the Osato Natto Ichibuan (fermented soy beans) were a bit of a challenge – but my husband loved them!”

Shake it up
Bam Organic is challenging – and aiming to significantly expand – the protein drink market with two new all-natural 25g protein shakes, a major pack redesign and more national listings. The additions to the brand’s ‘Active’ high protein range are Banoffee (the first of its kind in the UK) and Chocolate. Both these shakes and their stablemate Vanilla offer a ‘clean’ alternative to the refined sugar and artificial ingredients found in many protein drinks.

Now certified by Informed Sport, one of the world’s leading quality assurance programmes for sports nutrition, Bam Organic’s cartons have also had a significant refresh. This gives greater prominence to the company’s ‘No Refined Sugar’ approach, while using foil to enhance shelf stand-out and drive home all-important premium and ‘fresh’ cues. In addition, the company’s cartons are all made from FSC-certified raw material and are 100 per cent recyclable. The outer boxes are also made from sustainable and fully recyclable board.
“I immediately liked how these shakes are made with British milk and contain no artificial additives, and the use of honey instead of refined sugar was a real plus point. The fact they’re ready to drink made them very convenient, and easy to throw in my gym bag. The Banoffee flavour wasn’t over sweet, and had a good hit of fresh tasting banana with toffee as an undertone. It wasn’t thick and gloopy either – it was easy to drink and refreshing when chilled.”