Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '06 Trends: Food and sports nutrition

We're almost done with our Summer Market coverage -- whew. What follows is a very select summary of edible foods that caught our wandering editors' eyes (and tongues).

We’re almost done with our Summer Market coverage — whew. What follows is a very select summary of edible product that caught our wandering editors’ eyes and it is by no means complete! So if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on Kinetic Koffee shots to see you, too tired from all the food and energy snack sampling to care, didn’t think your product was trend-setting, or we were just plain clueless — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for food and sports nutrition:

If there was an overall trend with food this year, it would have to be “anything goes.” Whether it’s meals for the backcountry or energy drinks for long runs, companies continue to experiment with a seemingly endless variety of unexpected flavors and textures.

With energy drinks, the trend is toward lighter, less intense alternatives to super sweet drinks like Gatorade. For example, the new PowerBar Sun Tea Endurance Sport Drink delivers a subtle flavor of tea without being overly sweet. Blended for energy and hydration, each packet of powder (for 20 ounces of water) delivers more sodium than the old recipes, 480 mg of sodium and 42 grams of carbohydrates, so it’s powered right for long, sweaty endeavors.

The outdoor industry is still on its caffeine kick, and you can get your fix in every shape and form of food. Clif Bar‘s Shot Bloks were a big draw for folks dashing through the Salt Palace, and the new cola flavor, a new sibling in the caffeinated flavors that include Black Cherry and Orange, also has 50 mg of caffeine per serving (three Bloks). If you’d rather have a cocktail instead of cola, there’s a new margarita-flavored Shot Blok with added sodium to prevent cramping. Hey, it’s just like a margarita with extra salt on the rim!

PureFit, yet another protein bar that features all natural ingredients, could qualify for labeling as “vegan-approved” but apparently bees are unfairly treated during the honey production process, according to vegan/animal rights activists. We did not interview the bees and are not quite sure how you treat a bee unfairly, but there you have it. As for the bottom line, the bars are fairly tasty, although they do have a slightly chalky aftertaste — perhaps this is a result of bees sabotaging the mix? We thought the peanut butter was good, and the chocolate brownie wasn’t bad either, although it was a bit artificial tasting, some thought. The almond crunch ain’t bad either

Also on the energy bar front was Larabar, featuring the same concept as Clif Bar’s nectar bars — all raw, unprocessed ingredients in the shape of an energy bar, which have already become quite popular on the trail. The Larabars come in a wide variety of flavors, taste really good and are moist too. We also find it nice to know that we can pronounce all the ingredients without resorting to a chemical chart and science dictionary. New was the same company’s Mayabars, which are more dessert than trail food since they are cake-like gourmet dark chocolate blends. Yum.

Those who prefer a cup of coffee to go with their caffeine should check out the new Java Juice packets containing liquid coffee bean extract. You just add this thick liquid to 12 ounces of hot water, stir, let it breathe for 30 seconds and — voila! — a cup of what tastes like rich, gourmet coffee. Since Java Juice requires only hot water — not boiling water — it’s quicker to prepare than traditional brewed or pressed coffee, and you can save stove fuel. Also, the packages of extract are durable, so they won’t burst in your backpack. However, don’t make the mistake one of our team did and drink a packet straight. Ohmigoodness, powered for days and puckering for hours!

Speaking of coffee, Double Latte is one of three new PowerBar gel flavors. There’s also Plain and Caramel, and each has been improved to be thinner to go down easier, and all have more sodium than normal gels too to improve electrolyte intake. Some folks felt the Plain was still awfully sweat with a bit of a bite in the after-taste, while others said it would gain a regular place in the cabinet.

In another bar category is the ProBar, which has expanded from its Original and then Whole Berry and Banana to add three new ones to its baked, vegan, raw, organic bars: Apple, Lemon and Kola. Surprisingly, the apple flavor was less sweet than the others and yet still fruitier. Quite nice. These are still a fav of the SNEWS® team.

If you prefer yerba mate as your source of caffeine, Guayaki just introduced mint, raspberry and traditional flavors in 16-ounce bottles. You can feel good about it being low in sugar and calories, plus you’ll be supporting indigenous communities and reforestation projects in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

As it did last year, TeaTech was pushing its green tea “energy drink” and made quite a show of emphasizing Eastern philosophy with the energy drink concept (that’s eastern as in Asia, not South Carolina or New England). Strangely though, the company seemed intent on promoting the Splenda version for American consumers, even though it offered a natural cane juice version. The cane juice version tastes better in our opinion, but both taste quite nice.

As for backcountry meals, a couple of things stood out at the show. One was Natural High‘s “I Can’t Believe It’s Pizza,” a deep-dish 10-inch pizza prepared in a fry pan. And the other was Jose’s Chicken Mole from Backpacker’s Pantry. This tasty no-cook meal combines chili and dark chocolate sauce with rice and chicken. Of course, there’s nothing quite like the company’s Pad Thai at 12,000 feet, we think.