Trends from the Natural Products Expo East

The Natural Products Expo East, held last month in Baltimore, showcased thousands of new products for health and wellness as usual. But there were also some interesting trends worth taking note of. Sustainable and Free-Trade are making aggressive inroads, cherries are back, and editor David Feder admits he was wrong about the popularity of açai.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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The February issue of Wellness Foods is the first annual Wellness Health Trends issue. We called upon a number of expert sources to compile the data presented, broken into the categories of Health Management, Weight Management, Aging (including); and Childhood Nutrition. Included are the subcategories Immunity, Cancer,  Heart Disease, Arthritis, Energy, Obesity/Diabetes.

Wellness food processors - and those of us who serve them - have a big job staying ahead of the curve when it comes to tracking current trends and anticipating new ones. That's why we hope you'll find this issue a useful tool as you work toward developing products and ideas through 2007 and into 2008 and beyond.

When you look at top research group trend reports, definite ingredient patterns emerge. Extracts of exotic fruits and herbs are being rolled out by nutraceutical manufacturers by the scores. Synthetics, even if perfect chemical analogues to their natural counterparts, have begun swimming against the tide.
More, the trendiest ingredients for health and wellness are playing to social and ecological health and wellness too. Organic, natural and fair-trade aspect are being rapidly incorporated into the manufacture and marketing of wellness ingredients and products.

There are few better venues for trend watching than new product and new ingredient expos. The Natural Products Expo East and Healthy Foods Conference, held in October in Baltimore, Md., showcased scores of the products representing the strength of the trends and the ingredients key to fulfilling them.
At the Supply Side West International Trade Show and Conference, held in Las Vegas a couple of weeks later, thousands of nutraceutical ingredients were dominated by the stand-outs that have made it to the mainstream: green tea, açai, pomegranate, lycopene, omega oils, soy, flax, fibers (such as inulin and resistant starch) and probiotics.

Here's where I have to admit I as wrong about something: I did not think the Brazilian palm fruit açai would be the success it has been. As rich a source of antioxidants as it is, "weird and hard to pronounce" doesn't seem the stuff trends are made of. Yet the number of products with açai has jumped about fivefold. Of course, you have to credit flavor and that amazing royal purple color, too.

Açai's success speaks to the strength of antioxidants: The ability of these compounds to contribute to improved health along a broad front, and the effective communication of this over the past several years, made them a household word.

Goji berries are where açai was last year. Although they've been touted for a while, they stayed under the radar, lurking about for years, and never got much play. That's changed. At both shows there were dozens of products featuring goji and sources of goji and goji extracts, acting as weather vanes for the mainstreaming of such once-odd ingredients. Mangosteen lies somewhere in the middle of the trend thermometer. As with açai, the Southeast Asian fruit came out of nowhere, paused, and now appears to be gaining good ground.

With all these nutraceuticals driving the trends to make foods and beverages healthier, one more thing remains: Convincing processors to make broader use of them. At a recent "Regulations for Nutraceuticals" conference sponsored by Intertech-Pira Corp., Portland, Maine (www.intertechusa.com), I learned the answer to a question that's bugged me for years: Why are nutraceuticals featured so predominantly in beverages and bars?

The answer is labeling. It's easier to put more dramatic health claims on these beverages and bars because they can be marketed as dietary supplements. I applaud manufacturers like Nature's Path. The two companies are breaking impressive ground with ready-to-eat cereal products making smart use of good-for-you ingredients. We need more visionaries like these in food processing.

Note: Speaking of trends, as a baby boomer I'm tickled pink (and blue, orange and red) - Fizzies are back! And this time, they're healthy. Those instant soda-pop tablets of my youth, now made by Amerilab Technologies Inc., are calorie-free and provide 100 percent of daily vitamin C needs. Sweet!

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