Natural Products Expo West 2014 Breaks Records

Natural Products Expo West is one of the few trade shows that grows every year; and so does the natural products category niche. The show concluded a record-breaking run March 6-9 at the Anaheim Convention Center claiming 67,000 attendees, a 5 percent increase over even last year's show, more than 2,600 exhibiting companies and the most first-time exhibitors in the event’s history.

The only down side to that may be the show might have to move to a bigger venue next year, ending a 34-year run in Anaheim. That was rumored but the event organizers have said nothing official.

“The move toward natural, organic and healthy products is not a fad, but a societal shift that is poised to grow to $226 billion by 2018 with an annual growth rate of 8.6 percent,” the show's promoters said. But they're speaking of the “natural products industry,” if there is such a thing. Food & beverage products are the biggest component of Nat West, but there are sizable contingents of dietary supplements and beauty, household and pet products.

On the food and beverage side, the show runs the gamut from mainstream-but-healthy (Chobani and Stonyfield Farm had large displays) to one-product wonders hoping to get noticed. In the latter category, several smaller companies answered the question: How many things can you get milk from?

Soy and almond milk are so mainstream now that hardly anyone notices those products in the booths of longtime proponents WhiteWave Foods (Silk), Hain Celestial (Soy Dream and WestSoy), Blue Diamond Growers (Almond Breeze) and Eden Foods (Edensoy) – all of whom were at the show.

If you can get milk out of an almond, other nuts can't be far behind. Cashew Dream was one answer from Hain Celestial, whose entire product line fits well into this show. Rice milk has been available for a few years, but Hain made that product more novel with new Sprouted Rice Dream.

Flax milk was debuted by Flax USA. SunOpta  unveiled new packaging for its years-old Sol sunflower milk.

Taking it back at least to mammalian milk, Desert Farms offered visitors the earthy taste of camel.

And of course there was plenty of coconut milk … although coconut water, currently a red-hot category, was much more in evidence. The straight stuff was offered by vendors such as Vita Coco, Minoku, Zico (acquired late last year by Coca-Cola Co.) and Naked (owned by PepsiCo).

VitaCoco niched its namesake coconut water to kids via Vita Coco Kids – in Paradise Punch, Very Cherry Beach and Apple Island. And it debuted coffee-flavored drinks still based in the coconut nectar in latte, mocha and vanilla flavors.

Zola, which started out in acai and other superfruit drinks, now has a coconut water.

If coconut is a popular flavor or base for water, how would it do in bacon – or as a substitute for bacon? Phoney Baloney's used coconut to create this piggy-less, cholesterol-free bacon substitute.

Back to water: How many variations of water can you make? Besides all those coconut waters, there was a contingent of maple water people. Yes, water from maple trees, a weak and seasonal version of the sap before it gets turned into maple syrup.

Maple Sweet Water from Kiki "contains all the ingredients to nourish the tree," says company literature. "This drink is literally filtered by nature." It does contain 5 percent sugar and a lightly maple flavor, both of which were pleasant. All the maple waters boast low calories, electrolytes and other naturally occurring vitamins and nutrients.

Maple water also flowed from the booths of Vertical Water, Happy Tree Maple Water and SEVA.

Then there was Olive Water. "We recover the bioactive nutrients that are lost during the production of olive oil to bring you only its nourishing essentials," according to the eponymous company."Every bottle [16.9 oz.] delivers the heart-loving antioxidants of a quarter-liter of extra virgin olive oil, without the bitter taste, fat and calories." Olive Water contains 10 calories per serving.

Representing the cactus water category were Caliwater – "powered by the superfruit of the prickly pear cactus" -- and True Nopal Cactus Water (truenopal.com) – "for thousands of years, the people of the Sonoran desert have used the nopal cactus (prickly pear) for medicinal and nutritional purposes."

Deo barley water was the hydration answer from Daves BW LLC. Vinegar water, not uncommon in Asia, was being poured by Pok Pok Som of Portland, Ore. Aloe water also is popular in Asia and was demonstrated by a handful of booth at Nat West.

And, as in past years, there were a couple companies offering alkaline water. Giving water a negative charge allegedly increases its oxidation reduction potential (-ORP), thereby neutralizing those free radicals running around your body. Or so they say.

Even the show's organizers acknowledge, "Many Natural Products Expo West first-time exhibitors are ‘home cooks,’ passionate moms and nutrition-focused athletes who have launched their own products." The event's Next Accelerator, which was launched in September 2013, is an online community that connects startups with the information, expertise, advisors, service providers, partners and education they need to ensure product success.

Key trends identified by the show's organizers for the year ahead include:

  • The health & wellness consumers. The healthy eating movement is spreading across all demographic groups. Five distinct consumer segments, differentiated by lifestyles, behaviors, attitudes and beliefs about health and wellness, have been created for the industry.
  • Convenience & Accessibility. The importance of making nutritious, clean food more accessible and convenient across multi-dimensional demographics and how will it affect the health and wellness of all Americans.
  • Labeling Transparency. Consumers are asking for transparency with regard to food product labels, claims and certifications, including non-GMO and organic.
  • Food Tribes: The growing gluten-free, vegan, paleo and other special diet communities are fueling the healthy eating movement and changing the way people view food and community.
  • The future of personalized health. With nutrigenomic advances and the rise of food intolerances and autoimmune diseases, we are learning that one person’s “medicine” is another’s “poison.”

The Natural Products Expo West “Best of West: Press Awards” went to Luvo (for its Chicken Chili Verde), Barbara’s Bakery (for Multigrain Squares) and Dave’s Killer Bread (for 21 Whole Grains and Seeds).

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