The Natural Products Expo West/Nutracon/Supply Expo, held March 8-11 in Anaheim, Calif., and packed 3,160-plus exhibitors of health and wellness products and ingredients into the Anaheim Convention Center. This year's show drew nearly 50,000 attendees -- a record -- and reflected the continued worldwide increase in growth of the natural and organic products industry.
The number and coverage of the seminar offerings also was expanded, included more than 70 seminars, highlighted by keynote speaker Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation." Schlosser spoke on the conflict-laden driving forces of food, economy and culture.
"We always enjoy the Natural Foods Expo," says Kent Spalding, director of marketing for Barbara's Bakery Inc. (www.barbarasbakery.com), Petaluma, Calif. "It is an opportunity to both highlight new products and rekindle old relationships. We not only learn about the latest industry trends, we get the chance to tailor our participation in the show to those trends. This year we were able to showcase Barbara's Bakery's focus on healthful portion control, introducing our Barbara's 100 Calorie Organic Mini Cookies and a new convenience line of 1-oz Snackimal six-packs. Overall, it was a terrific show for us."
"We're known mostly as a produce company, but this show allows us to present the produce complements we make," says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's World Variety Produce (www.melissas.com), Los Angeles. "But this show allows us to present the produce complements we make to complete meals. We also get to showcase those items we provide that fill the emerging natural and organic food segments in mainstream supermarkets."
Let it be said, this year's expo worked: "The show generated a lot more sales than usual for us," noted Jawaid Motiwala and Mohamed Ibrahim, co-owners of Kool Freeze Premium Products Inc. (www.koolfreeze.com). The Ontario, Calif., exotic ice cream makers' booth entertained a steady stream of traffic in spite of being relegated to the "Hot Trends" basement. Multiple daily announcements struggled, sometimes in vain, to get the message across that the downstairs venue existed.
An increase in ingredient exhibitors was a welcome addition. "Supply Expo is an ideal opportunity to meet with a full cross-section of our customers, including food, beverage and supplement makers," says Robert Berman, senior marketing manager of new business development for DSM Nutritional Products Inc. (www.nutraaccess.com), Parsippany, N.J. "We also were able to see what's new in all of our segments and meet with the individuals who have a big influence on end users, such as retailers and health practitioners. This year, our new satiety ingredient, Fabuless, was received incredibly well drawing a constant stream of visitors to the booth to learn about it."
So how about those trends, huh? I wrote last year that superfruit goji was worth watching, and I was right: The sheer number of products featuring the Asian wolfberry escalated geometrically. Beverages, cereals, trail mixes, bars, confections…if this keeps up, goji c. 2008 will replicate açai c. 2006.
Here's another superfruit to watch: mulberries. The indestructible and ubiquitous trees are like weeds from Mexico to the Northern plains, yet never could break through the stigma of being a botanical pest. However, the sudden appearance of several different companies offering products with mulberries tripped my radar.
Yerba maté is still a growing ingredient trend and expert formulators have bragging rights. The bitter herbal stimulant has been added to a plethora of beverages without sacrificing flavor. Other interesting beverage offerings included Italthai Inc.'s Golden Kiwifruit juice and Signs & Wonders Inc.'s peanut milk which, in spite of a promotion campaign that positively reeks of snake oil, is a tasty product.
Green tea and chocolate are still strong food and beverage components, although without any great leap in numbers or product variety over last year. Still, I must throw in a couple of shameless plugs for two chocolate products I'm amazed avoided DEA classification as Schedule 1 addictive drugs.
Choctal Inc. (www.choctal.com), Pasadena, Calif., ice creams, made with chocolate from Ghana, Borneo, Costa Rica and Santo Domingo, are exactly what chocolate ice cream should be -- rich as Donald Trump, dense yet smooth and only just sweet. Look for more info on those in a future issue.
From sultry Choctal shift to whimsical Sweetriot (www.sweetriot.com), New York. The company makes little tins of chocolate-covered cocoa bean bits. I've had chocolate-covered cocoa bean bits. If you don't get the balance between cocoa and covering right, you can end up with chocolate-dipped gravel. Sweetriot nailed it. These little currant-size bits are perfect, like chocolate pop rocks.
One curious trend is the sweetener stevia, derived from the leaf of a Brazilian plant. Around for a few years, landed on the scene with a big footprint and, frankly, I just don't get it. I've yet to taste a product with stevia that didn't come off the worse in flavor. The products offered at the show this year were no exception, a fact supported by comments I heard at every booth featuring it.
The only good thing about the ubiquity of stevia was that it was balanced by an impressive surge in agave sweeteners. Agave syrup and fructose crystals come from the same cactus that gives us tequila. The flavor notes mimic table sugar nicely, but with fewer calories since it is a stronger sweetener than the sucrose-glucose polymer in our sugar bowls. (For more on agave, check out "Nutrition Beyond the Trends: Sweeter than Cactus.")
Melissa's is playing a big part in the agave trend. Its Good Life Foods line includes more than a dozen agave-sweetened marinades, dressings and sauces.
The Natural Products Expo show, and its East Coast iteration in the fall, are organized and managed by the Fresh Ideas Group (www.freshideasgroup.com), Boulder, Colo. They constitute the best place to go trend watching for healthful foods, beverages and ingredients.