I got the chance to be the nutrition Lois Lane (as a member of the press) at Natural Products Expo West (#ExpoWest) this past weekend. While I didn’t heed the very sage advice of my girl Chris@WhatIRunInto to fully attack the 3,000 exhibitors and 1.6 MM square foot coverage of the Anaheim Convention Center, I did pick up on a few themes of what I believe the natural products industry will be bringing to market in 2014.
1. Non-GMO Status There’s no doubt that the debate about genetically modified foods is a hot topic right now. Foods that have had their DNA altered by changes made to their genes outside of nature’s influence may have some benefits – such as helping to serve the demand of the growing world population via increased crop yield or altering nutrient content which may help allergenic populations but because the science is still developing the risks on both the environment and human health are not fully understood or proven.
It seems that businesses know that people are curious and want to know more about genetically modified ingredients and businesses who do not use GMO’s are proudly letting people know.
2. Gluten Free, Raw and Paleo. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Gluten Free was one of the top trends I predicted in 2013 and it’s continued into 2014. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely people who need gluten free products in order to ensure adequate nutrient absorption and long-term complications from gluten sensitivity and those numbers are astounding (per celiaccentral.org):
- It is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans (1% of the population) has Celiac Disease and
- 18 million people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (6 times more people than have Celiac Disease)
There’s no doubt that “gluten free” is definitely one of the most heard health-related media sound bites heard right now and it’s definitely achieved “diet fad” status. How many people have you heard that are “going gluten free” just because they heard it’s a way to lose weight (rather than having the health need to protect their intestines from being damaged)? Companies hear the same messages that consumers hear and want to feed those that are hungry to be the healthiest.
“Raw” and “Paleo” were buzzwords on many products and in elevator pitches made by vendors.
3. Coconut Everything. You name it, it was coconut. Coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil, dried coconut in snacks and even Coconut Bacon.
Coconut oil has enjoyed a resurgence within the vegan and paleo communities recently. There have been many claims attributed to coconut oil beyond its effects on cholesterol levels such as in the recent trend of on oral oil pulling (swishing around oil in the mouth for 20 minutes to remove toxins and bacteria from the mouth and teeth before it can reach other parts of the body). If you like coconut, this is your year. Personally, I despise coconut so this is definitely not my year.
4. Juices, Juicing and Juice-Related Products People just don’t want to chew their fruits and vegetables and they want their fancy designer (read: expensive and status building) juices to give them all the nutrition they need. I’m the first to admit that even as a dietitian that I’m a lazy eater – I’m a firm believer that a salad always tastes better when someone else makes it and I have definitely paid handsomely for that convenience and it seems I’m not the only one.
Fancy packaged juices, the equipment that may help you make them at home (like Vitamix, Nutribullet and the Ninja) and additives (nutrient rich powders – flax seed, chia seed, protein etc.) are hot. I always advocate eating fruits and vegetables instead of drinking them but with the busy lives that many of us lead, I understand the need for juices as a dietary supplement NOT a dietary staple or meal replacement.
5. Specialty Snack Foods I’m a snacker so seeing all the different kind of snacks available made me happy. I switch between the need for savory and sweet snacks and there were plenty of each to choose from but the big trends I saw were:
- Fancy Popcorn:
I’m not talking about just adding some sprinkled cheese or black pepper on your popcorn we’re talking making popcorn sexy. Some took it literally like SexyPop (made by the creator of Pirates Booty and Veggie Booty – if you’re a parent you’ve had either one or both of these in your house at sometime).
SexyPop further enhanced my #3 trend with a coconut flavored popcorn. The people at the booth were hilarious (they’re New Yorkers so what would you expect?). Picture Pop Gourmet Popcorn also debuted their official Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce popcorn (the only popcorn company officially licensed to use the name). I remembered them from last year (their blue cheese popcorn was fabulous). I only wish I had a sample to take home with me.
- Nuts and No Nuts:
While nut allergies may be on the rise (and there were plenty of nut-free offerings on the floor). Nuts were fancy. Spiced and sweetened in all different ways, they were everywhere. I like nuts but the fava bean snack definitely caught my eye too (although there was no chianti – I couldn’t resist).
- Lesser Known Snack Options:
If you’re not into chips, nuts or popcorn, there are still snacks available for you. From Biena’s roasted chickpeas (I’m a huge fan), to I Heart Keenwah (made from quinoa – last year’s trend still continues) and to the Dorito’s-like addictiveness of the thermal flash processed Eatrageous (yes, I said processed but they were delicious), crunchy snacks are available savory and sweet in many different varieties.
- Frozen Desserts
There’s more than ice cream or frozen yogurt coming your way. Two product teams that I met last year ProYo (high protein frozen yogurt) and Halo Top Creamery (high protein ice cream), are finally making their way to wider distribution. These two were my favorites of the bunch. I’m still hoping that maybe some day Chobani will get the hint and bring Chobani Soho to the West Coast.
6. Alternative Protein Bars: While this could have fallen under Specialty Snacks – I found it interesting that meat was being showcased as protein bar source. There were at least two protein bars with a meat base (vs. a whey or casein protein base) like the Omni Bar. The fact that this was being marketed differently than a jerky caught my eye. I don’t eat beef so I have no idea if it’s any good but it definitely gives additional support to the Paleo trend described in Trend #2.
7. Superfoods Superfoods are those foods with proposed health benefits. The company Navitas Naturals had a gorgeous booth that matched their simple and inviting packaging (I’ve bought my chia seeds from this company before I even met Julie Morris at the Murad event I attended a few weeks ago – blog post still pending about that amazing event). There are so many non-traditional fruits and vegetables that are being brought to the forefront and the big one I learned about was baobab fruit.
Baobab is this year’s acai or pomegranate. Baobab has been used in Africa for centuries for medicinal purposes and is high in Vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants. I’ve tried OneBar before and was surprised to learn that it has baobab as it’s main superfood. My interest in lesser known superfoods has been piqued.
8. Hip Business Locations While people come to Hollywood to make it big in the entertainment business, in the natural foods and products industry it seems that 4 places are hot – Texas, Northern California, Colorado (Boulder especially) and Brooklyn, NY.
I didn’t just add Brooklyn because it’s awesome (and the home in my heart) but because I met a ton of vendors not just from NYC but from Brooklyn specifically. There’s some great brain power going on in all four of the areas I mentioned. It makes me itch to want to get to Texas (especially Austin). I was hoping to meet up with one Boulder-based entrepreneur, Alicia from Rizebox. I received my first women’s running inspiration kit last week and it was awesome. I knew Alicia was coming to ExpoWest to source more great product for future Rizebox offerings (blog post about Rizebox is coming soon).
9. Women Owned Businesses Maybe I’m looking at this through a biased lens but I saw many women owned businesses at Expo West.
Not only Loren Brill from SweetLoren’s but the following companies were also solely female: Wholeme, Mama Bare, Credible Cravings, Owl’s Brew, SweetSpot Labs, Flip and Tumble, Bamboobies, Scotch Naturals and Chicopops (started by a nurse and a company who caters to “freaks foodies, freaks, professionals, geeks, moms, dads, kids, grads, spoiled dogs, greedy hogs, and everyone in-between” wins in my book) were some of the ones that caught my eye.
In addition, don’t let me forget to mention that Iron Chef Cat Cora (who was on hand to promote the launch of her own Mediterranean foods line) upped the female factor a bit. I geeked out a little bit meeting Cat and I’m happy to report that not only is she as beautiful as she is talented, she’s also so unbelievably nice!
10. Social Responsibility This was my top trend from #ExpoWest 2013 and I’m thrilled to say that the shine of the Ben & Jerry’s or the Tom’s effect hasn’t gone off the apple yet.
There were many companies that made their giving back to the environment, the community or the world’s population a part of their company mission statement. Soapbox Soaps and 2 Degrees were two of the companies that showed a commitment to doing more.
There you have it – those are my Top 10 #ExpoWest Natural Product Trends for 2014. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts!
Disclaimer: I was given a press pass to #ExpoWest and received samples from some but not all companies exhibiting. I am under no obligation to write about any company or product that I encountered at #ExpoWest. All opinions offered are absolutely my own.