March marks the last gasp of winter months and the long-awaited annual Natural Products Expo West, the “coming out” party for new products. So once again, the tireless FoodTrients team made its way up and down the miles of aisles at California’s Anaheim Convention Center. The Expo was held from March 8-11 and we were there to discover (and taste) new natural products and uncover the latest food trends.
This event showcases over 3,500 exhibitors, of which 600 were there for the first time, hoping to sell their products into stores across the country. These consist of manufacturers, marketers, and entrepreneurs of all stripes from companies as large as ConAgra to start-up ventures by a couple of recent UCLA grads. They are all vying for the attention of the 85,000 attendees, making the Natural Products Expo West the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products trade show.
The FoodTrients strategy is to seek out the most innovative companies and products, and report back to you on what’s coming soon to stores in your neighborhood. Here is just a sliver of what we found:
Plant-based products – From cheese and spreads to burgers and ice cream. People are looking for more vegan options that are not only healthy, but easier on the environment. Snow Monkey frozen desserts made with super foods like goji berries, matcha green tea and cacao give traditional dairy-based ice cream a run for its money.
International and enhanced flavors – Your pantry can be filled with Moroccan harissa sauce from Mina to spice up your meat and egg dishes or instant Vietnamese pho noodle soup like we tasted in the Savory Choice booth. In an ever-expanding world, global flavors are here to stay. We saw so many exotic spices and creative products introducing all kinds of new and delicious ingredients. Simply Beyond introduced organic spray-on herbs to amp up flavor with garlic, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro and lemongrass options. Vinegars and oils took center stage, too, with tasting and pairings that rival fine wines. Sparrow Lane and Ariston both introduced vinegars and oils infused with herbs, fruits and spices that can add panache to any dish.
Stress and sleep solutions – Consumers have been bombarded for years with products to ‘increase energy’ such as caffeine-loaded energy drinks and bars, but things are tipping toward the other end of the spectrum with products to help relieve stress and promote ‘wakeful calm.’ We tasted a new drink from Gold Thread plant-based tonics called Lavender Bliss that’s formulated with chamomile, linden flowers, saffron and lavender to help aid relaxation.
Berry Sleepy is a supplement made with extracts of three fruits that can help you drift off. Passion fruit contains serotonin, a mild sedative. Goji berries contain magnesium and thiamin, for high-quality rest. Tart cherries have optimal levels of melatonin to help maintain sleep.
Products with a conscience – Many consumers, Millennials especially, prefer to buy products from companies that conduct their business with values they share, particularly with regard to the environment. The story behind the company is important to them—they want to feel that their purchase of a product will not only benefit them, but serve a higher purpose.
One company we saw was 24 Mantra Organic which offers a large line of organic foods from India. Their products include dals, rice mixes, ready to cook entrees, cookies, teas and more. Not only are they committed to providing delicious, wholesome food, but their philosophy is to create a sustainable livelihood for farmers.
We also tasted biodynamically produced applesauce from White Leaf Provisions. Biodynamic farming takes organic even further. The Demeter certification is a huge commitment to the well-being of the Earth. Requirements include practices such as careful attention to the health of the soil, 10% of a farm set aside for bio-diversity and irrigation that is fish-friendly and doesn’t interfere with migration.
CBD – With medical and/or recreational marijuana legal in 30 states, exhibitors marketing therapeutic forms of cannabis and its cousin hemp were more in evidence than ever. CBD is short for cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. There are creams for external use to aid in pain management as well as oils for ingesting to help the body deal with stress, mood, pain, immune function and appetite—even for pets! We have also seen more skin-care and beauty products incorporating CBD oil into their formulas.
This is a fairly new category, and the manufacturers are cautious with their claims with messages such as: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.”
However, companies such as NuLeaf Naturals and others have been conducting research into how cannabidiol affects the body and documenting results in order for their products to be in compliance with Federal Law as a supplement. The category is fast evolving because consumers are becoming more confident in production practices and they are experiencing the benefits. Other companies we saw include Evo Hemp and Sana Hemp.
Minimizing waste – Efforts to reduce waste are not only in food production, but packaging is a big concern, too. We saw bread made from coffee grounds from Alvarado Street Bakery and kettle cooked Uglies chips made from potatoes not cosmetically perfect enough for store produce shelves or other brands of chips. A portion of sales of Uglies chips also helps the company fight hunger. They have partnered with Vivakids, which funds schools in the Dominican Republic whose students live in poverty.
The best way to avoid adding to landfill is to eliminate disposable packaging altogether. Bee’s Wrap Sustainable Food Storage is made with certified organic textiles infused with bee’s wax and sustainable jojoba oil. The cloths can be used over and over to wrap snacks, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, bread, leftovers and keep them fresh. When the wraps wear out, they are fully biodegradable and compostable.
OTHER NOTABLE SIGHTINGS
Oceans of beverages – Kombucha is a family of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks intended as functional beverages for their healthful probiotic qualities. Historically, one has had to be very determined to quaff these beverages due to their strong vinegary taste.
However, manufacturers have developed flavors that taste as good as they are good for you. Humm Kombucha comes in flavors such as pomegranate lemonade, blueberry mint, chai and mango passion fruit. Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha also offers deliciously unusual flavor combinations like, blueberry basil, cilantro ginger lime, lavender love and raspberry goji rose. They also have a hard version that contains 5.6% alcohol by volume. Many of the kombucha companies were also sampling their products on tap.
More waters – We’re familiar with milk-based kefir, so kefir water was a new one for us. These dairy-free beverages from The Water Kefir People proved refreshing and contain live cultures. Flavors include dragon fruit, strawberry basil, original root beer and more. Hello Water introduced a fiber-infused water in flavors of mixed berry, lemon lime, pineapple coconut, orange mango, and cucumber lime. We even found a caffeinated water by “3” enhanced with enhanced pH and infused with electrolytes.
Tonics are beverages containing herbs and other essences that are said to enhance health and well-being—a category to watch! These often overlap with teas, sodas and other beverages that have herbal additives. Turveda is a young company where we tasted their turmeric curcumin tonics, which are based on ancient Ayurvedic recipes. We loved the sparkling turmeric ginger lemon tonic. They also are introducing sparkling turmeric matcha tonic and sparkling turmeric chili mango.
Teas – Naturewise was sampling a line of organic tea-based energy drinks that are made with ashwaganha, a purported ‘super herb’ that enhances focus, increases endurance and improves mood. They showed flavors including tropical white tea, cherry lime rooibos and berry guayusa.
You’ve heard of black tea, green tea and white tea. We sampled purple tea for the first time. Purple tea is grown in Kenya at high altitudes (4,500-7,000 feet above sea level) and the ultraviolet rays from the sun turn the leaves purple, loading them with antioxidants and polyphenols. Kabaki Kenyan Purple Tea and Purpose Purple Tea offer sweetened and unsweetened versions, and both companies donate a percentage of the sales supports the lives of the tea farmers, in keeping with the ‘products with a conscience’ trend.
Jackfruit – Frightening to look at and with an aroma similar to dirty socks, jackfruit is highly nutritious and tastes infinitely better than it smells. It’s loaded with nutritional benefits—rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Most of the applications we’ve seen for jackfruit have been in salads and desserts (check out my recipe for Sweet Potato Jackfruit Delight), it’s also a tasty meat substitute. At the Upton’s Naturals booth we tasted ready-to-serve Sriracha jackfruit, Italian flavor and chili lime, available in pouches. Jackfruit tacos, anyone?
Cauliflower – This cruciferous vegetable has been on the radar for a while and rightly so. It’s high in vitamin C, contains iron and provides fiber. It can be roasted as “steaks,” substituted for rice, or boiled and mashed in place of potatoes. We saw cauliflower in many interesting forms at the Expo — Gluten-free pizza crust with only 60 calories and 1 net carb per serving from Califlour Foods was one, and another delicious pizza we tasted was from Caulipower. Caulipower also introduced Cauli-Flour, a “flour” you can use in your favorite recipes.
CeCe’s Veggie Noodle Company has a line of spiralized veggie “pastas” made from carrots, zucchini and beets as well as ready-to-cook cauliflower rice. For those munchies moments we crunched on Vegan Rob’s Cauliflower Puffs, and we couldn’t resist the delicious cauliflower crackers from From the Ground Up introduced by Halen Brands. From the Ground Up also offers cauliflower puffs and pretzels that are worth trying.
Avocado as condiment –
Who doesn’t love avocados? The GoAvo company showed off all-natural avocado based condiments and eggless mayonnaise alternatives in original, jalapeño and basil varieties. These come in a stand-on-its-head tube and are great for sandwiches, dips and salads like tuna or egg.
Hot honey – Mike’s Hot Honey is such a simple idea: honey infused with hot chilies. They were sampling it poured over goat cheese, but there are so many applications, including sauces, salad dressing, dips and—pizza!
This report is just the tip of the iceberg, but I will be expanding on many of these food trends throughout the year.