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.
Mini and skinless popcorn
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.
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.
Over the ten miles we covered during three days of the Expo we saw other notable items:
There’s so much more to share! Watch this space for more greats finds and trends from the 2017 Natural Products Expo.