The Natural Products Expo in Anaheim just wrapped up this past weekend and I came home with a new understanding of natural food trends about to hit the market. The Natural Products Expo is the world’s largest trade show for natural, organic and healthy food products. The trade show featured over 2000 vendors all displaying and providing samples of their products. This show is where companies reveal their new products and you have the opportunity to see the latest food trends about to hit the market. This is a two part blog post. This first post will cover major trends that I observed at the show. The second post will cover my favorite new products by category. The following are the Top 10 Food Trends I observed at Natural Foods Expo West:
#1 – Non-GMO is Sexy
Perhaps the largest and omnipresent trend at the Natural Products Expo was products embracing Non-GMO as a core principal of their product’s branding. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. GMO foods are developed through genetically engineering to improve production, such as disease resistance and yield There is much controversy around this topic, but the tide of public opinion appears to be driving food producers away from GMO. In fact, the CEO from Whole Foods announced at the show that they will require the labeling of all GMO products by 2018. As I walked through the conference, the Non-GMO logo was everywhere. A company that really embraced the Non-GMO movement was a edamame producer called Eda-Zen. During my interview they told me how hard it was to find over-seas farms that could produce Non-GMO edamame. As a result, they worked with a farm in the United States where they could monitor and control cultivation. This is the only edamame producer in the world that is made in the USA and GMO free. They clearly have a competitive advantage in the market. By the way, I thought that their edamame had a very clean and fresh flavor.
#2 – Yogurt Alternatives are Trending
Yogurt was big at the Natural Products Expo with all types of packaging styles, from squeeze pouches to traditional cups, Gluten Free to Greek. Although, the trend that stood out to me was yogurt alternatives. For example a company called Elli is producing Quark, which is a German liquid cheese, processed into yogurt consistency. I sampled all of their flavors and preferred Quark over standard yogurt or kefir. Why? Quark is slightly creamier texture and does not have the tang of Greek yogurt. This product is also very versatile for cooking purposes.
#3 – Gluten-Free is the New Norm
I could not throw a brick through the Natural Foods Expo hall without hitting a gluten-free product. Many vendors either featured gluten-free in their core product line-up or took the efforts to eliminate gluten from their recipes. It was obvious that gluten free has hit a maturity point in the market and has turned into an key marketing point.
One of the gluten-free products to really hit maturity was in the frozen food and pizza products. Several of the vendors went out of their way to ask me if their pizza “tasted gluten-free.” One of my favorites was Chef Anthony Russo’s line of frozen pizza. In the past I have been less than impressed by gluten free pizza crust. Although, this pizza actually had a pleasant bounce to its thin crust and did not leave behind the tell-tale “gluten-free after taste.”
#3 – Kale and Quinoa Move from Fringe to the Main Stream
I counted over seven different vendors that were selling kale chips and at least 30 vendors displaying variations of Quinoa at the Natural Foods Expo. I can remember the time less than two years ago that consuming Kale and Quinoa was left to the “Farmer’s Market Crowd.” If you follow Pinterest, everyone is making homemade Kale Chips in their oven. The vendors have caught on and the expo was packed with kale chip vendors, peddling all types of flavored kale from sea salt to coconut. Remember coconut flavoring, I will come back to this point later. I liked the kale chips at Rhythm Superfoods, they nailed the flavoring.
Quinoa has erupted in the fine dining scene recently, introducing many consumers to this previously unheard of product. Quinoa is a seed from a grass like crop. Prepared as a dish, Quinoa is light, fluffy and might remind you of couscous. Many of the Quinoa trends at the show focused on prepackaged meals where you add a seasoning pack, similar to Rice-a-Roni.
#4 Coconuts Everywhere and in Everything!
Coconut seems to have become the flavoring choice of many products at the show, from health waters, to snacks and even kale chips. While walking through the Natural Foods Expo hall, I found this trend to be a little annoying and overplayed. I don’t think Coconut will be the cool flavoring by this time next year.
#5 – Snack Market is Saturated, but Differentiation Emerge
There was a serious saturation in the snack chip market and that includes everything from traditional baked chips to a sea of flavored pop-corn. A brand that provided something different was a company called Half Pops, which featured a half popped popcorn. If you are like me, you look at the bottom of the popcorn bag for these little treasures. They are a healthy substitute to Corn Nuts.
The other differentiating product was egg-white chips. Yes you read that right, a brand called Ips has perfected a baking process that creates chips out of healthy egg whites. I was pleasantly surprised by their light and crispy texture and pleasant subtle flavor. I would purchase these.
#6 – Rise of the Natural Health and Energy Beverages
One of the trends at the show was health and energy drinks made with natural ingredients. This trend has been around for years, but it was in full bloom at the show. One of the products that best displayed this trend was Blue Buddha Herbal Tea. This beverages which provides natural functional supplements for energy, skin, and immunity. For example the “Vitality” tea uses a combination of Green Tea, Ashwaganham, Gooseberry, Maitake mushroom, and hibiscus to provide a natural energy boost.
There was also heavy focus on natural energy drinks. The brand that popped out for me was Steaz, who displayed a line of natural green tea drinks and natural green tea energy shots. I took an energy shot half way through the show and it gave me a very gentle energy uplift and gentle downshift when it wore off.
#7 Ice Cream Market gets Competitive
The ice cream market is getting a run for its money from a couple market differentiators, mainly from gelato and ice cream with natural sweeteners. I counted about six different gelato vendors, although my favorite was from a vendor called Talenti, who made a gelato pop dipped in chocolate :). Another interesting brand was Agave Dream, which produces an ice cream made with agave nectar instead of sugar. This product is great for anyone with glycemic issues.
#8 Artisanal Dry Tea Impresses
I had several cups of coffee and tea at the event. The best tea producers could tell me exactly were their ingredients were sourced and how the flavor profiles developed through the tea blending process. A good example of a boutique tea producer is T Salon, who places a special focus on craft blends, aromatics, and the sustainability of her products. I smelled her teas dry and was pretty impressed by the natural aromatics on the nose. In tea form, the flavor was silky smooth with complex flavor layers. I prefer coffee over tea, but this tea could make me a tea snob instead.
#9 – Natural Protein Supplements Evolve
There was many natural whey protein vendors at the show, with application in powders, beverages and bars. There is clearly an active market for pure protein in the fitness market; although, I think there may be shift occurring to main stream consumers. The product with the best approach was Body Crunch by Body 360. This product converted whey protein into little crunchy pebbles that stay crunchy when they are mixed with liquids or even cooked. For example you can drop them in oatmeal to provide a protein crunch or on French toast to make cinnamon toast crunch. The easy culinary uses of this product is X-Factor that will help make protein supplements go main stream.
#10 –Muesli is better than Oatmeal
There was a lot of oatmeal floating around the expo and to be honest, it was all getting a little repetitive. What got me excited was the a couple vendors sampling muesli, which is uncooked rolled outs, fruit and nuts. This product is common in Europe, although I think there is an unmet demand for this product with healthy lifestyle consumers in the United States.The stand out was a a brand called Seven Sunday, which produces muesli with fun ingredients like Ginger Pear Macadamia. If you have never eaten muesli it goes great with yogurt, milk or sprinkled on top of anything.
Natural Products Expo West Site: http://www.expowest.com/ew13/public/enter.aspx
There will be another Natural Products Expo on the East Coast, check out their site as well: http://www.expoeast.com/expoeast2013/public/enter.aspx