This Year’s Food Trends at Expowest

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Every year, I prepare my stomach and my brain in mid-March for the colossal gathering of the skyrocketing natural products industry at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. At this convention, anyone who is anyone, or wants to be anyone, in the natural products industry, gathers at the Anaheim Convention Center to exhibit, network, gather intel, and taste. The convention takes over the city of Anaheim for that weekend and swarms around the convention center and neighboring hotels like bees around a hive. This is where products are born, companies are noticed, and trends are validated….at least until next year.

Below are the new, enduring, and outgoing trends that I observed at this year’s Expowest. Much of the expo’s focus is on food, as is my own focus, so please excuse the absence of mention of any home & beauty products and supplements.

Let’s start with the trends that are still around and going strong. I won’t spend too much time on them since you’re probably already familiar with them.

ENDURING TRENDS

  1. Gluten-free. Of course gluten-free is still everywhere. That one ain’t going away anytime soon. In fact it’s now more the rule than the exception at Expowest for food exhibitors to be gluten-free. Maybe they should start a section especially for non-gluten-free vendors 😉
  2. Protein, paleo. We’re still starving for more protein, less carbs. This drives a lot of the innovation I’ll mention below, as well as some of the enduring trends from last year.
  3. Enhanced peanut butter. This stuff isn’t your childhood Jiffy. It’s organic, mixed with superfoods like chia seeds, flavored, or in powder form. Peanut butter smoothies anyone?
  4. Jerky. There were still all kinds of meat jerky, and other forms of meat snacks like meat and veggie bars
  5. Coconut. In all it’s wonderful liquid, oil, and food forms. One company even sells these small coconuts that you can poke with a plastic straw and drink straight!
  6. Coffee
  7. Chocolate
  8. Granola
  9. Popcorn

NEW TRENDS

  1. Hemp, hemp, hemp. There was hemp in all forms: oil, water, burgers, tofu, milk, energy bars, cereal, clothes, protein powder, and of course the seeds themselves. Hemp is high in healthy fats and protein, two other established current trends, so it’s not surprising the applications of hemp are growing.
  2. Spicy sauces. There were a lot of sriracha flavored-snacks and foods. And a lot of bbq sauce. Alongside the focus on protein-filled foods comes the need to prepare them in new, interesting, and convenient ways. Therefore enter the pre-made sauce trend with a little kick to it.
  3. Fermented foods. How’s your micro biome these days? This year has been the year of gut bacteria and all the effects it has on your overall health. Fermented foods, which include kombucha, kimchi and kefir, help to add back some of that good bacteria to your gut, as do probiotics, which made an appearance in foods ranging from chocolate to breakfast burritos.
  4. What kind of water? No it’s not enough just to drink plain filtered water anymore. Now there are upgrades. Lots of ’em. There’s alkaline water, lithia water, antioxidant water, maple water, birch water, and of course, the ubiquitous coconut water. Each of these waters offers different health benefits, from balancing your body’s pH, to providing super-hydration and electrolytes.
  5. Vegetable-based gluten-free pastas. This year, in line with the good ol’ paleo trend, gluten-free pastas have taken a step up and aren’t made from the same starch sources of yesterday (rice, corn, tapioca, etc). Now they’re made of protein-rich plant sources like lentils and chickpeas, which is great if they can get the consistency right. About half of the ones I tasted weren’t too mushy or chalky. This company wasn’t at Expo, but one of my favorite veggie-based pasta companies (actually they make complete meals out of their veggie pastas) is Hungry Root – check out our product review here.
  6. Alternative dairy. Of course Daiya was there in full force with their dairy-free machine, pumping out samples of their new salad dressings and dips, pizzas, mac & cheese, cheesecake, spreads and good old cheese blocks. And there were a handful of other vegan cheese purveyers. But what I found more interesting is the number of alternative milks. It’s not just about almond milk and soy milk anymore, there’s veggie milk (from pea protein, tapioca starch and potato starch), macadamia milk, and even camel milk. All with different claims about being less irritable to our allergies and intolerances and emulating the dairy milk taste and texture.
  7. There are a few trends that made an appearance at Expowest, but I was surprised weren’t as dominating as I thought they’d be: ghee (I only came across one vendor), bone broth (only a few), and vegetable-based flours. Maybe next year?

ON THEIR WAY OUT?

What goes up must come down. A few super hot trends of yesteryear made a pretty meager showing at this year’s Expo:

  1. Kale chips. Oh kale had its day and a very long day it was. I only saw one vendor of kale chips, although kale is still a common ingredient now being included in a lot of other foods
  2. Snack bars. There were still a decent number of energy and nutrition bar vendors, but this category didn’t dominate like it has in recent years.
  3. Ancient grains. This is a surprising one. Although individual ancient grains are being included as ingredients (e.g. millet, quinoa, buckwheat), there were far fewer foods that were proudly waving the ancient grain banner as their main unique selling point.

What are your favorite food trends? Stay tuned for individual product reviews on some of our favorite items at Expowest!

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