Food Entrepreneurs Aim to Reinvent Household Staples

Kevin Powell, a 35-year-old veteran, had gained weight during his time in the army. But once back home, he refused to eat the vegetables his wife would make for him. As a way to incorporate them into his diet, she developed a special ketchup made from spinach, carrots, squash and tomatoes.

That recipe led Powell and partner Abraham Kanarck to launch True Made, a food company that sells ketchup, barbeque and spicy sauces made from natural ingredients. All are gluten free and vegan and made without GMO’s.

“A lot of gourmet ketchups don’t really taste like ketchup,” Powell said. “There is a very defined taste that ketchup has and most fell short of that taste. That’s what makes us different.”

And popular. The company launched eight months ago and already sells in more than 100 stores across the five New York boroughs, and is expanding to 70 more.

On Tuesday, Powell and Kanarck showcased their sauces at the Food Trends Experience section of this year’s International Restaurant and Foodservice Show at the Javits Center in New York. From sea salt, to kosher chocolate and Greek yogurt, this specialty section of the show highlighted innovative products.

“The majority of them are healthy options, gluten free, dairy free, and different sauces that are being used now because customers are wanting those products in their food,” said Amy Reimer, the show’s public relations manager.

Most of the 75 companies exhibiting at the Food Trends Experience pavilion, now in its third year, are less than two years old, said Reimer. Many are entrepreneurs like Powell who turned their personal quest for healthy eating into a business.

Confused bystanders stopped by Joe Ciminera’s stand wondering how cheese could possibly be non-dairy. Ciminera’s selection of products includes creamy spreads in different flavors, such as ricotta, mac n’ cheese and spicy cheddar, as well as crumbly grated vegan cheese made of blended nuts, organic vegetables and spices. The 42-year-old former chef started making his own substitute for cheese after he became allergic to dairy and gluten and didn’t like the existing vegan products he tried.

“I was buying what was on the market and was startled by what they put in it,” said Ciminera, referring to vegan cheese. Many added carrageenan, a natural food additive extracted from red seaweed that has been associated with intestinal lesions and even tumors.

More Americans like Ciminera are cutting animal products out of their diets, hoping to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and the food industry is trying to keep up with the demand. Maarten de Vreede, COO of Cater for You Food Service, which supplies schools and other large institutions, has been coming to the show for the last five years, on the hunt for products that are healthy and appealing to children.

“You need to continue to be innovative and offer something that is interesting,” Vreede said. He added that the health-conscious trend has been consistent for the past few years, but he has noticed the emergence of more independent entrepreneurs pushing their products on the market.

Anshu Dua and Shiraz Noor aim to reinvent the way Americans consume yogurt. (The Ink NYC / Valerie Dekimpe)
Anshu Dua and Shiraz Noor aim to reinvent the way Americans consume yogurt. (The Ink/Valerie Dekimpe)

Anshu Dua, 36, and Shiraz Noor, 28, have set themselves the ambitious task of reinventing how Americans consume yogurt, responding to the growing awareness that the dairy product is often high in sugar. Instead, the Indian-American duo is offering savory non-GMO, sugar- and gluten-free yogurt, inspired by ‘chaat,’ an Indian street food.

“That’s what we are imitating, but in a modern, American way,” Dua said. “We are trying to make yogurt fun again. When was the last time you had fun eating yogurt?”

Coming in four flavors, cucumber-mint, mango-chili, ginger and tamarind-date, the yogurt is topped with cereal-like crunchy puffed lentils. Their Chaat Co was selected as one of the top 15 most exciting new products on display during this year’s show. Despite having launched in January of this year, the yogurt and puffed lentil pack is already sold in 60 stores on the east coast.

Other exhibitors like Renata Malmbeck are also promoting foreign products this year. Malmbeck was offering Brazilian cheesy bread bites, traditionally made with tapioca starch instead of wheat. And it sells.

“Can you believe it’s naturally gluten-free?” she asked a customer, referring to the soft and airy texture of the bread.

“It’s a bigger success than I thought it would be,” Malmbeck said.

For Powell, the ketchup maker, the success of his sauces grew from a simple intention: make his diet tasty while also nourishing. He is now thinking of expanding into the granola bar business.

“It’s about how we can make other food categories healthier,” he said. “Put good food in it, take all the crap out and make it taste good.”