Natural Products Expo West, just completed in Anaheim, bills itself as the largest natural and organic trade show in the world. At 1 million+ square feet, almost 2500 exhibitors and 63,000 attendees, it is certainly large by any measure. Having just finished walking most of those 1 million square feet, while my feet are temporarily elevated I have assembled an (unscientific) list of 10 noteworthy observations from the show (in no particular order).
1) Gluten-Free – – sure, it’s been a reliable presence for years, but it now seems that every other product at the show carried a gluten-free claim. For the most part, the products were delicious. Clearly this trend is maturing nicely and is here to stay.
2) Kale! Yes, kale. In all of its green, seaweed-tasting glory, manifested in all manner of baked goods, chips, and more. Let’s check back in about 3 years to see how this trend hangs in there.
3) Bars, bars, bars and more bars. Energy, fruit equivalence, satiety, muscle-enhancing, alertness, virility – – you name it, there’s a bar for it. Conservatively more than 100 entries. The good news: most of them actually taste very good. The bad news: there’s not enough shelf space in the world for all of them to survive.
4) Jerky – long a pariah at natural foods (aka aspiring vegan) shows, the snacks-with-parents segment was alive and well at Expo West 2013. Beef, turkey, chicken, bison, and many other animals as well as faux-meat soy product, this was a year where the trucker target was well-served. A regular Von Dutch treat, if you will.
5) the non-GMO conversation – Whole Foods changed the conversation at Expo West. By announcing its commitment to labelling all products that contain genetically modified organisms by 2018, WF elevated this topic from a subject you might bring up to show off your Euro-knowledge, to a regular (functional) water cooler staple. Everyone was talking about it; this announcement could be the tipping point in establishing non-GMO as a mainstream desired consumer benefit.
6) fewer ‘free from’ claims – with the obvious exception of non-GMO, there didn’t seem to be as many ‘free from’ or ‘less’ (fat, calories, sugar, etc) claims. Instead, it was all about what was in the foods – – whether protein, antioxidants, minerals, or any of a lot of other things.
7) Chips – apparently, at this show if a food was left unattended, someone came along and zapped it with the chip gun. How many things can you make into a chip? In addition to the now-mainstream PopChips, there were also falafel chips, pineapple coconut chips, chia chips, cookie chips, spinach chips, lentil chips, and yes, Virginia, there are kale chips too — lots of them.
8) High-end chocolates – – right up there in abundance with chips and nutrition bars, it seemed that every time you turned around, some smiling young person was shoving a piece of $7/bar chocolate in your face (which of course, you were too polite to refuse). The venerable gourmet segment pioneered by the likes of Lindt, now goes for $2-3/oz (and more) after being reinvented about 10 years ago with the unique entries from companies like Vosges (e.g. bacon, chile inclusions) and competitors have been piling in ever since. Mostly excellent products; again the sad part is that not all will survive.
9) Raw foods – this is an increasingly common theme for many new natural/organic products (and companies); it’s about foods that are the ultimate in closeness to nature – – unprocessed and uncooked. In a variety of different products – -and candidly there were a few I’m not sure I’d ingest before a 4 hour flight. The concept was really brought to life for me when a spokesperson for a nut and seed bar (with raw chia seeds!) explained that if he unwrapped his bar and planted it, it would grow. And all those childhood fears of orange trees growing in my stomach suddenly came rushing back.
10) Naturally enhanced – – I’m talking about the incredible variety of beverages (and just maybe also about some of the attendees). In a continuing crusade to provide the world with healthier and perhaps more politically correct alternatives to sugar/HFCS-sweetened drinks, Expo West really came through. Coconut or oatmeal (or chia) based, probiotic, macrobiotic, kombucha, it goes on and on and on – and this doesn’t even include the supplements. Yowza.
The only downside to the show was the sheer number, depth and quality of displays. Would have loved another few days – well, there’s always next year.