Most days out of the year, it might be easy to associate Anaheim with Disneyland. But each March, the city swells with visitors focused on one thing: the Natural Products Expo West from New Hope Network.
For 36 years, this tradeshow has brought throngs of people together in the convention center adjacent to the the happiest place on earth to introduce, sample and evaluate what’s new in natural products. A mix of natural and specialty foods hobnob with supplements and natural body care up and down the aisles.
If size is an indication of the health of the industry, then natural products are booming—New Hope Natural Products Expo West has outgrown the 813,000 square foot exhibit area of the convention center. In 2017, the convention center will add on 200,000 square feet to accommodate the natural products industry tradeshow growth. This year’s attendance topped 77,000, up from 71,000 in 2015. Exhibitors eager to share their wares grew too, as 3000 companies exhibited, up from 2700 in 2015, with more than 600 of those exhibiting for the first time.
Walking Expo West calls all of your senses to high alert—the sheer number of people packed into the aisles, the rhythmic pulse of percussion in one booth, the smell of freshly baked pizza released from another booth.
The power of the natural products industry extends beyond what might have been perceived at one point as fringe, since many of the large brands have swooped into the show with their own offerings or scooped up smaller brands to get a toehold in the industry.
Make no doubt, the natural products industry is influencing the specialty food market — some trends from 2015 even leapt into the 2016 Fancy Food Show earlier this year.
Hot Trends and Favorites
Vegan Egg Replacer
Vegan egg powder cropped up in several places for different purposes. Follow Your Heart’s plant-based egg powder made its way into breakfast burritos and quiche showing ideas for implementation using this “Best New Special Diet Food” NEXTY nominated product, distributed in packets of yellow powder that when combined with black salt mimics eggs. Over at the Sioux Natural booth, they featured Veggan, egg replacement powder formulated for use in baking, created to contain the protein profile of eggs, also nominated for a NEXTY award in the “Best New Ingredient” category.
Vegan Dairy Products
Cookbook author and blogger-come-entrepreneur Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko’s Kitchen created a devilishly good vegan butter that you might be hard-pressed to guess isn’t the real thing and that nabbed the NEXTY award for “Best New Special Diet Food.” Tal Ronnen’s Kite Hill Creamery concocts almond milk products including a cream cheese-like spread with a slightly softer consistency available in plain or chive.
Three years ago, turmeric began creeping from supplements into teas. This anti-inflammatory spice is continuing its conquest as RISHI Tea’s Turmeric Ginger Chai Concentrate nabbed a NEXTY for “Best New Organic Food or Beverage.”
Golden Milk showed itself to be a micro trend within a trend, as several companies introduced this traditional Ayurvedic tonic of turmeric, spices, and warm milk including a date sweetened Golden Milk mix from Gaia Herbs while Rebbl and Califia Farms make Golden Milk available in ready-to-drink bottles. Temple Turmeric drinks redeveloped their packaging and added new flavors including Matcha to their mix. Also evidenced in the products that fall into the “if two trends had a baby” category Blue Monkey released their Turmeric Coconut Chips.
Speaking of matcha, several tea companies debuted matcha ready-to-drink beverages and the trend expanded beyond the tea world as Califia Farms and Rebbl Tonic both released bottled Matcha Lattes. Where this ongoing trend continues to pick up speed is in edibles. Vegan Rob’s brand samples Spinach and Matcha Kettle Chips. Blue Monkey offered Matcha Coconut Chips and Chapul sampled a surprisingly good Matcha Goji & Nori cricket flour nutrition bar to name just a few applications. Matcha lovers, be advised that some of the products featuring this beloved tea have just enough to color the product green and include a name and claim on the packaging.
The pretzel comeback is real and popping up in a gluten-free buffalo-style flavor sampled by mega-brand Glutino. Pressels delivers a thin flat pretzel chip in flavors like Everything that tastes like a pretzel bagel chip.
Over at Justin’s, they introduced individual packs of pretzel sticks with signature nut butters in Classic Almond, Maple Almond, and Chocolate Hazelnut. For the sweet and salty set, pretzel sticks cleverly replace popsicle sticks in Salti Sweet Ice Cream Bars. While pretzel bun company Pretzilla didn’t exhibit at Expo West, their mini pretzel buns made an appearance at the Beyond Meat booth in “chicken” salad sliders.
Speaking of Beyond Meat, they handed out samples of their pea protein chicken-style strips tossed into tasty chicken salad sliders that featured Sir Kensington’s new Fabanaise. Hodo Soy offered Sichuan mapo tofu, traditionally served with pork. Foodies served tasty meatless “hamburger” seitan patties. Gardein’s newest products included breakfast pockets with meat-free sausage and vegan egg replacer. And, trade group Plant-Based Foods Association launched this weekend at Expo West as an indication of how this trend has morphed into a hot area of product growth continuing to come into its own.
While sheets of snacking seaweed may be a trend past its prime, nori hasn’t lost its appeal as seaweed cropped up in fresh ways. Vegan Rob’s branded seaweed flutes were hollow in the middle leading to a satisfying crunch. My stand-out favorite find at Expo West, the one that rose above everything sampled were seaweed crisps where almonds or toasted quinoa get sandwiched between two sheets of nori on top and on bottom for one savory umami flavor bomb—two brands showcased this style snack including Korean company, Organica with their puffed quinoa crunch and Sea Point Farms with almond sesame and pumpkin seed sesame flavors.
By no means is this a new trend, but you would be hard-pressed to walk down any aisle and not see at least one jerky company offering their wares. Some sampled tough chewy offerings—but the trend definitely is tending toward a tender approach—jerky without the jerking. Over at Tanka, they featured buffalo jerky and trail mix pairings. And, Vegetarian Plus sampled Soy Jerky—so new that the first shipment was sent to the convention center for sampling and they came in delectable flavor-forward offerings like Five Spice or zippy Black Pepper with a tendon-like texture.
Pulse Pasta and Breadcrumbs
Since the United Nations dubbed 2016 as the International Year of Pulses, it comes as no surprise to see beans and legumes taking up more space on the plate. If Modern Table Meals was ahead of its time a few years ago with their gluten-free bean pastas, more companies will enter the space including corn and quinoa pasta manufacturer, Ancient Harvest, launching their Pow bean and lentil protein pasta line at Expo West. While falafel and hummus are traditional dishes employing garbanzos, Ta-Dah! offers tasty popper-sized gluten-free falafel balls stuffed with hummus in flavors like Harissa Hummus and Lemony Roasted Garlic. Watusee introduced a first-to-market panko breadcrumb replacement in their coarsely ground crunchy Chickpea Crumbs.
While Dan Barber’s Blue Hill Yogurt has gained greater distribution of its vegetable flavored yogurts in flavors like Sweet Potato or Parsnip, the eyebrow raiser of the show for yogurt is literally heating up the game. Noosa’s Blackberry Serrano yogurt features a modern take to the fruit on top approach with a jammy fruit laced with spice. Chobani’s Flip yogurt line featured two flavors that bring the heat with Pineapple Chipotle and Sriracha Mango.
Several companies proudly announced this free from addition to their packaging including Califia Farms. Suncoast Gold used this attribute as one of its key selling features for their line of Macadamia Milks. Foxy’s Thoughtful Ice Creams took it one step further including the prebiotic inulin and probiotics in their no carrageenan, less sweet ice cream available in flavors like Rocky Road Less Traveled.
Shortform for medium chain triglycerides and naturally occurring in coconut oil, this description began to pop in conversations and products. Specialty oil company La Tourangelle mentioned it as an attribute for their sunflower and coconut oil Suncoco spray and liquid, developed for chefs to cook at high heat while preserving the MCTs in the coconut oil without a strong aftertaste. Whole e Nature served vegan superdrinks with MCT oil too.
Hanging with Hot Honey
The spicy honey trend has made its way into natural as Jacobson Salt Company introduced their hot honey with scorpion chili that they suggest works well in cocktails and on salmon. Glorybee sampled their habanero-flavored honey, both sweet with a kick at the end.
More Choices in Chips
Encroaching the space of the crunchy potato, Jica Chips launched the first jicama chip in sweet and savory flavors such as Cinnamon Sugar and Chili Lime. Jackson’s Honest Chips introduced ridged red potato chips. Hardbite chips added carrot, beet, and sweet onion chips to their line-up.
Keeping up with Kombucha
Dr. Townshend’s Teas debuted their Citrus Hops kombucha yielded a dry, malty flavor in their brown apothecary-style bottles. Wild Tonic is bottling the first jun kombucha—honey-fermented with effervescence and lighter profiles than traditional kombucha, available in Cilantro Ginger Lime and Blackberry Mint flavors.
Ones to Watch
As a plant-based protein alternative, tropical jackfruit’s texture makes a compelling case when substituted for pulled pork. Upton’s Naturals offers jackfruit two ways, in barbecue flavor and also in chili lime carnitas. The Jackfruit Company showcased it in shredded, meatballs, nuggets, and tenders.
Is it coffee? Is it tea? Two new companies teased that idea in interesting ways. Wize Monkey steeped coffee leaves like tea, describing the process as similar to oolong, lightly caffeinated with the appeal of multiple steepings and an earthy pu erh-like flavor profile. Javazen brings together coffee and tea in the cup with flavors such as Balance, a blend of ground coffee, cacao nibs, matcha, vanilla and cinnamon.
Chickpea juice—the liquid leftover in cans of chickpeas holds interesting properties that are only now being explored. Known as aquafaba, Sir Kensington’s debuted their Fabanaise vegan mayonnaise in plain and chipotle flavors, made with aquafaba.
Grain-free Flour Tortillas
Siete makes cassava coconut flour tortillas for the grain-free set that taste akin to all-purpose flour tortillas, flexible enough for making soft tacos. They also make almond flour tortillas.