Raw kale, fair-trade coffee beans, vegan chocolate... a waft of spirulina. Ah, yes, entrepreneurship was in the air at Natural Products Expo East 2011 in Baltimore, where 355 first-time expo exhibitors proved that innovation is thriving.

The best part? These manufacturers didn’t just go for “new” for novelty’s sake; they launched products that cater to increasing demand for special diets, sustainability, and healthy convenience. Here are the winners.

Best Packaging: Tiny Fruits by Little Duck Organics

Little Duck Organics Tiny FruitsIn January 2010, Zak Normandin—a father of three—founded Little Duck Organics with a simple mission: to introduce a truly healthy, organic kids snack company. And Little Duck's recent packaging and website redesign couldn’t do a better job of relaying its message in an engaging and innovative way. “I’m really drawn to the story of a company and the culture of startups,” says Normandin, whose background is in natural food packaging design. “It was always my mission to create a bold, fun brand. We do everything in house.” In addition to the USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified fruit snacks, Normandin is introducing Mighty Oats, a line of ancient-grain-based cereals, with no added sugar and the company’s signature organic fruit.


Best New Food: Hibiscus Lemon LunaPops by LunaPops

Hibiscus-lemon Luna PopsWhen Jonathan and Dina Mills’ kids requested a blue raspberry popsicle—and really thought blue raspberries existed—the Mills knew there was a problem with artificial color-laden snacks and decided to launch LunaPops. Inspired by traditional Mexican paletas, these small-batch fruit- and dairy-based popsicles source milk from local farms and are free from artificial colors and flavors. And you can’t beat the global-inspired flavors: Milk Chocolate Chai, Pomegranate Blueberry, and the latest flavor, Hibiscus Lemon. “We loved the concept of paletas, but wanted to make them all natural and add flavors from all over the world,” says Jonathan Mills. “Natural is a priority but we also want it to taste great.”


Best New Health & Beauty: Fair Trade Ethiopian Coffee Scrub by Planet Botanicals

Fair-trade-certified Ethiopian Coffee ScrubWith consumers becoming more interested in the origin of their personal care, Planet Botanicals’ luscious new body scrub stood out among this year’s health and beauty offerings by sourcing fair-trade, antioxidant-rich coffee beans from Ethiopia. “We try to source most of our African ingredients directly from African families and cooperatives,” says founder Michele Gilfoil. The company gets its Ethiopian fair-trade and organic coffee from roasters in the northeast, and directly sources other key ingredients in the line, which now includes several USDA Organic SKUs: baobab, rare East African shea butter, and rooibos.  


Best New Supplements/Herbs: Vega Sport Performance System by Sequel Naturals

Vega Electrolyte HydratorVega has upped the ante in the sports supplement category with a safe, effective vegan alternative formulated by pro triathlete Brendan Brazier. The first complete, all-natural and plant-based sport performance system uses whole grain brown rice, green pea, hemp, alfalfa and spirulina. Vega’s post-workout protein bar incorporates Vega’s SaviSeed (sacha inchi seed), which the company also recently launched, to also help aid with mental recovery thanks to tryptophan. For Brazier, education is critical to consumers embracing plant-based protein. “Ignorance is our only competition,” he says.  


Most Innovative: Vampire Killer - Brad's Raw Leafy Kale by Brad’s Raw Foods

Brad's Raw Leafy Kale - Vampire KillerRaw ingredients invaded the packaged foods category at Natural Products Expo West this year, and the trend was a force to be reckoned with in Baltimore: Brad's Raw Foods received accolades for raw kale chips with cashew-based vegan cheese. Bonus: Brad’s donates two cents from each purchase to the Your 2 Cents Fund, a program that helps grow the organic industry by uniting producers, consumers, researchers and educators.


Best of Press: Daily Dose of Dark by NibMor Chocolate

Daily Dose of Dark by NibMor ChocolateFor anyone who’s ever struggled to eat just one square of chocolate when presented with a whole bar (yes, that’s you... and you, too), NibMor has the perfect solution: A “daily dose” portion, or the perfectly sized square of 70-percent cocoa-content chocolate to deliver cocoa’s health benefits without the temptation to overeat. And it’s the same luscious organic, vegan, and refined sugar-free chocolate we fell in love with after New York City-based NibMor owners Jennifer Love and Heather Terry launched in 2009.


Best of Press: Tea Enhancers by Catalyst Gourmet

Tea Enhancers by Catalyst GourmetCatalyst Gourmet introduced its exotic sugar- and gluten-free tea enhancers as a simple way to transform basic natural foods and beverages into exotic, gourmet flavors. A much-needed alternative to drinks high in sugar and calories, the flavor enhancers are also versatile, adding flavors to oatmeal or fruit salads. The line features Enchanting Chai, Tantalizing Turmeric, Gourmet Ginger and Fennel Fusion, available in a superconvenient and beautifully packaged sample-sized set.


Best New Green/Environmentally-friendly: Snack Time by ChicoBag

Snack Time by ChicoBagConvenience and healthy snacks have been top on our radar this year, so it's no wonder the well-known manufacturer of reusable shopping bags introduced its latest offering in Baltimore: Convenient, snack-sized bags, meant to tote everything from sandwiches to carrot sticks and perfect for kids' lunches.