Growing interest in raw foodism is being matched by a raft of new raw food products. But is raw food “the new gluten-free” as some retailers say? Jim Manson has been finding out.
Raw foodism is hardly new. Its origins go back as far as the 1890s, to a series of experiments carried out by the Swiss inventor of muesli, Dr Maxilmilian Bircher-Benner. After studying the effects of eating raw fruit and vegetables, Bircher-Benner opened a clinic called ‘Vital Force’ which adopted the principle that people should “pattern their lives after the logic determined by nature”. As far as food went, that meant eating it in as close to its natural state as possible.
Today, the raw foodism movement has swathes of followers around the world and has spawned dedicated cafes, clubs, magazines and festivals.
The growth of the raw foodism movement has also inspired raw food enthusiasts to launch branded raw food lines. This process has accelerated in the last few years and the raw category is now big news for many natural products retailers. For others it’s still, well, the raw recruit – something that goes well in trendy parts of London and Brighton, but hasn’t caught on here.
Keep it short
Alan Martin, owner of Food for Thought (with stores in Guildford and Kingston Upon Thames) recognizes both descriptions. “I do hear there’s a north-south divide with things like raw, but I really do see it as an opportunity for all independents. For one thing, raw foods offer margins close to supplements. And because their shelf-life is too short you won’t find them online. For me, the shorter the shelf life the better.
“Add to that the fact that there are lots of specialist, local suppliers to chose from and you have something that feeds perfectly into the local shop ethos. The suppliers of raw food tend to be people with a real passion for what they’re doing – you get a nice home-made feel, but the highest quality.”
Martin sees a shift in the way his customers are coming to raw. “Whereas once it was a preserve of the hard-core raw foodists, now lots of our customers see raw simply as a by-word for great quality food, with the least done to it.
“Whereas once it was a preserve of the hard-core raw foodists, now lots of our customers see raw simply as a by-word for great quality food, with the least done to it”
Martin says most health food retailers are selling raw food products already. “If you’re selling Carley’s, or Nakd or Viridian’s Coconut Oil you’re selling raw products. But often, they’re not being merchandised as raw and they get stuck in grocery.”
The new gluten-free
With a growing raft of raw products – from nut betters, to chocolate, crisps and crackers to ‘cake pots’ – there’s an opportunity to maximize the opportunity of the raw category, says Martin. “For Food For Thought raw has become the new gluten-free. But to get it there we needed to batch-up raw products together and merchandise it strongly – it’s the best way to sell raw at the moment. You can also do simple things like include signs that ask questions such ‘did you know raw is the least processed food type of all?’
“It’s a lot about education, and getting people to try things. Doing an in-store tasting of products from Raw Chocolate Pie Company – we served them sliced on crackers on a ‘dessert board’ – was a great way of telling the story of a lovely Cornish company and about the benefits of raw.”
Another store that has been getting into raw foods in a bigger way is Beanfreaks in Cardiff. As well as creating a raw food focus in-store, Beanfreaks recently recruited a raw food specialist to its team. Suzie Gibbon became a raw convert when she was living in her native California. She sees the growing interest in raw as being in direct relation to “people’s dissatisfaction with their state of being and their health – and the fact that regular allopathic medicine isn’t working for them”.
Gibbons says that around 80% of people coming into the store for the first time are experiencing some kind of digestive issue. “That really isn’t surprising when you think that most regular food is better described as ‘food-like products’ that lead directly to a whole range of absorption problems. 60% of our energy goes on digestion, 30% on other bodily functions – leaving 5-10% for everything else, including the healing process. It’s little wonder that lots of people struggle to stay well. Raw foods contain enzymes that are destroyed in food processing, so they really can help with digestion and all the vital processes that it supports in the body.”
Gibbon admits that “lots of customers now get raw, but others don’t”. To help spread the word she has produced a booklet to explain the principles and benefits of raw foods, in particular their ability to balance out pH. She adds: “Most of the foods we eat are acid forming, leading to inflammation that is responsible for so many of the chronic illnesses people have today. Staying well boils down a lot of the time balancing the two sides of our body chemistry – the acid and the alkaline – and raw delivers on that.”
“Staying well boils down a lot of the time balancing the two sides of our body chemistry – the acid and the alkaline – and raw delivers on that”
So which branded raw foods are currently selling well in Kingston and Cardiff. Alan Martin: “Raw Health probably offers the deepest range of raw foods currently, and they sell well. Our own BonPom range – a good percentage of which is raw and vegan – is selling well here and elsewhere. The Raw Chocololate Pie Company and Ombar are two other standouts.” Suzie Gibbon flags up raw kale chips – Happy Kale, Inspiral and New York Natural – and raw chocolate, “often the entry point into raw foods”.
Uber cool brand Inspiral – home to the trendy Inspiral Lounge and café – continues to inspire with creative new raw launches. Best known in the health food trade for its kale chips, the brand also offers an innovative range of raw snacks, crackers and bites – and, wait for it, raw cake pots.
Nua look for 50-piece range
Nua Naturals is the new name for Ireland’s Raw Kitchen, supplier of raw and organic products from around the world. Look out for the company’s colourful new packages of Kale crisps, Hot Chocolate, Maca, Cacao, Acai, and Chia seeds – just a handful of products from its 50 plus piece range.
Sun, seed and brand
Sun & Seed produces a great range of raw nut and seed spreads with a twist. Bored with a standard butter? – then try Organic Raw Hemp Seed Butter or maybe Organic Raw Black Sesame Tahini. The whole range is Soil Association certified.
Are your bits Nakd?
Nakd bars have been one of the big success stories of the raw food phenomenon. Now the brand is rolling out a range of Nakd Bits in Cocoa Orange, Berry Delight and Cocoa Delight versions. Warning: Google ‘Nakd Bits’ with care!
Nearly two thirds of this innovative range of superfoods, snacks and supplements – created by retailer Alan Martin and Robert Stiedle – is raw vegan. If you’ve got demanding customers looking for things like raw organic cane juice crystals or raw baobab powder this is a range to look at.
Alive and kicking
With its strapline ‘Food That Lives’, The Living Food Kitchen is keen to emphasize the raw food credentials of its growing range of desserts, dips, drinks and granolas.