If it’s March, it must be time for Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA. Billed rightfully as, “the the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event.” Along with the FoodTrients team, I once again took to the miles of aisles and the more than a million square feet of exhibit space at the Anaheim Convention Center to find the most significant trends. This year’s show was the biggest in the 37-year history of the Natural Products Expo—estimates of 82,000 to 85,000 attendees (vs. 77,000 last year) and 3,100 exhibitors, including 500 newcomers. As overwhelming as these numbers can be, one of the great pleasures of attending this show is interfacing with the exhibitors, whose level of ingenuity is enviable and whose passion is infectious.
Millennials Are Driving New Trends
Many of the trends we’ve observed over the years have been so successful that they are now mainstream and can be found everywhere from Whole Foods to Target. Consumer demand for safer, more functional foods is driving tremendous growth in the natural products industry, and companies are responding. The growing need to accommodate special diets — Gluten Free, Dairy Free, GMO Free, Meat Free, Wheat Free, Sugar Free and more – is another big driver behind many of these new products.
This year a growing number of snacks, drinks and meals are packed with protein, vitamins, immune boosters, healing herbs, and even more ancient grains. Many of these new super-products are designed for, and often by, Millennials, the most ethnically diverse generation and largest segment of Americans. Though they have matured in an age of uncertainty with regard to food safety and products, they are educated, optimistic and idealistic. They are also busy, savvy and discerning shoppers who insist on transparency, verified certifications, quality nutrition, and companies with values and purpose.
As always, there is something for everyone at this show, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, sensitive to gluten, diabetic or simply seeking foods to help you live your healthiest and longest life. Here’s a sampling of what we sipped, tasted and saw, with more detailed product and category profiles to come in future weeks.
Functional Foods Are the Name of the Game
A chip is no longer just a chip. It must contain soy or other vegetable protein, whole grains and healing herbs. For example, there are potato chips from Vegan Rob’s flavored with wild mushrooms and their Brussels sprouts puffs, and delicious sauces and soups from Le Grand made of organic superfoods such as kale, spinach and broccoli that are vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free and sulfite-free. There are also coffees, teas and juices that contain vitamins, herbs, probiotics and more.
Enhanced coffee, tea, juices and beverages
There was an ocean of new drinks at the show—probably the largest single category. Some were wonderfully refreshing, some more on the medicinal side. However, whether you drink coffee, tea, soda, juice, drinkable vinegar or smoothies, there are versions enhanced with probiotics, prebiotics, protein and antioxidants.
- Suja makes organic juice blends that contain billions of probiotics per bottle in flavors like Sweet Beets and Berry Goodness as well as a new line of drinking vinegars in flavors like Ginger Turmeric and Grapefruit Jalapeñ
- While we’re on the subject of vinegar, one of my favorite products, Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, has come out with a new natural energy shot that should be available soon.
- Rebbl makes a line of organic coconut milk-based beverages that are powered by herbs including reishi, maca and ashwagandha in flavors like cold-brew coffee, chocolate and chai.
- We saw a number of cold brew coffees and teas including a selection from Select Squirrel, which offers ready-to-drink organic black coffee in maple/brown sugar and cinnamon/brown sugar flavors as well as cold brew, ready-to-drink organic teas.
- Of course, if you just want unadulterated lemonade or soda, there were plenty of those, too. Sipp Sparkling Organics come in flavors like Ruby Rose, which is grapefruit and rosemary flavored, sweetened with honey, and Lemon Flower flavored with elderflower and tarragon. Honeydrop Lemonade cold pressed, raw honey lemonades contain just four ingredients each and come in flavors like Basil Lemonade and Echinacea Lemonade.
- We also saw kombucha on tap, black water in formulations to boost energy, focus or mood, and oxygenated water. Bottoms up!
Mini and skinless popcorn
- In the, “Who knew this was a problem, but it’s a good idea” department, we saw Pipcorn mini popcorn that is “kind to teeth and easier on stomachs” in various flavors including rosemary, ghee and truffle.
- Newpop is skinless popcorn made without butter, oil or salt. It’s low calorie, gluten-free and non-GMO. It comes in cinnamon sweet, hot and sweet, and lightly salted flavors. The texture reminded us of ‘popped’ cereals we enjoyed as kids.
- A number of functional adult snacks and even meals are available in the twist-off-top squeeze packs that are commonly associated with baby food. Many of these are designed specifically for active adults. They’re convenient, nutritious and easy to grab on the go.
- nomva is a line of refrigerated probiotic smoothies made with organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables created by Millennials for Millennials (even though their line probably will appeal to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, too) — they’re quick, easy, delicious nutrition that’s easy to carry wherever you go. The product is never heated, contains natural fiber, no added sugars and is vegan. It’s available in six varieties including Strawnana, Tropicarrot and Kale Yeah.
- Homemade Harvey is organic fruit with clean label ingredients for adults on the go. Each shelf-stable pack is 100 calories or less.
- Munk Pack is a line of oatmeal fruit squeezes in five flavors such as Peach Chia Vanilla and Blueberry Acai Flax geared toward backpackers or anyone seeking portable, healthy, great-tasting food.
Nut butters, milk and spreads
As in the last few years, the variety of nut butters was astonishing—peanut, sunflower, almond, cashew, pistachio, sesame. We tasted nut butters flavored with honey, maple, chocolate, espresso, raspberries and bananas. You’re probably familiar with almond and soy milk, but we sampled cashew milk and banana milk. The benefits of various nut milk products are that they are compatible with paleo diets — meaning they are vegan, gluten-free and non-dairy.
- We sampled paleo vegan gelato from Vixen Kitchen, which gets its creamy texture from organic raw cashews.
- Then there were vegan spreads from Leaf Cuisine that use cashews as a base in flavors like smoky ‘Goudha’ and Garlicky Herb that really hit the spot.
- LaOnda makes gluten-free, soy-free vegan almond-based dips that were also delicious in regular, Habanera and Roasted Garlic varieties.
- Kite Hill sells almond milk ricotta-filled ravioli, almond milk cream cheese style spreads, yogurt and artisanal almond milk ‘cheeses,’ all so good you don’t miss the dairy.
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas cropped up everywhere! We saw them as an ingredient (and source of protein) in chips, puffed up into Hippeas snacks and a number of roasted snacks in various flavors from companies such as Biena Foods.
- A company called Banza makes chickpea flour into high protein, high fiber dried pasta in shapes from angel hair to ziti. The samples they handed out were perfectly al dente.
- Vana Life Foods presented a hearty, shelf-stable, microwavable entree containing Green Chickpeas with sweet potato in a coconut/lime/cilantro sauce as part of their Legume Bowls products.
Over the ten miles we covered during three days of the Expo we saw other notable items:
- Pitaya smoothies made from shocking pink dragon fruit
- Cayenne pepper plantain strips
- Organic tsampa, a Himalayan-style barley that can be eaten hot or cold
- Ancient grain, gluten-free pizza flour
- Probiotic sriracha
- Environmental Working Group (EWG) verified skin products like Sea-Kind made from fermented extracts of sea plants, algae and micro-nutrients
- We stopped by the Sunflower Meadows Herb Farm booth and met experienced herbalist Doug Taylor who scans the iris of your eye to determine your body’s needs and deficiencies, and then recommends a regimen of herbs to correct the conditions. We all tried it and found it fascinating!
There’s so much more to share! Watch this space for more greats finds and trends from the 2017 Natural Products Expo.