Natural Products Expo West 2013: Top 4 Trends in Natural & Organics

Natural Products Expo West 2013I’m just back from Expo West 2013, where I was looking for the latest trends in organics, natural and eco-friendly eating. Here are 4 of the top trends that seemed to stand out:  

Trend #1: Our (Natural) Sweet Tooth Reigns

This first trend I noticed within about 10 minutes of arriving: it seems that organic and natural folks have as big a sweet tooth as the rest of America. While I certainly like the fact that the sugar may be organic, or the product may contain stevia (an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener) instead of say, aspartame my first thought as I cruised the Fresh Pavillion on Day 1 was ... things sure tasted sweet.  Agave, too, was everywhere. This sugared trend continued in the main expo hall: aisles teemed with sweetened foods from granola to energy bars, smoothies and energizing pouches, desserts to chocolate.

While I absolutely applaud the cleaner ingredients - and in many cases - noble sourcing, the caveat for health professionals and the public is clear: many “organic and natural” products still qualify as indulgences - comparable in sugars (and salt and saturated fats) as conventional - so be sure to read the label. Especially if you are watching your weight. As a good rule of thumb, the American Heart Association recommends no more the 10% of your total calories come from added sugars per day-which I easily sailed over as I sampled my way through the Expo.

Trend #2: Greek Yogurt 2.0

Chobani's new Flip line pairs their greek yogurts with a variety of toppings

While I did sample some deliciously simple Greek yogurts, there’s a whole lotta newness in this space. Blessed by a health halo and a darling of dietitians for years (thanks to its high protein content, probiotics, and calcium and vitamin D), Greek-style yogurt was everywhere - but in its newer, more adulterated forms. Many products I saw seemed more akin to dessert than a nourishing staple; Greek yogurt coated pretzels, dessert bars, pouches & yogurt drinks filled the Expo. And Greek yogurt packaged with a side of sprinkle-in sweets was big too, like Chobani’s new line of Flips, with indulgent flavors like chocolate-coconut-granola and key lime graham cracker.

Powerful Yogurt for Men: Find Your Inner Abs

Great marketing props go to Powerful Yogurt: This brand new macho Greek yogurt for men boasts 25 grams per cup in original plain, dark manly packaging, and a hefty 8-oz. serving-a nice change from traditional yogurts, which seem to be whittling their sizes down on a regular basis. Other flavors have 20 grams of protein (compared with 10-14 grams for a standard 5-6 oz. cup of Greek yogurt), and are sweetened with a combo of sugar and stevia to keep the carbs and calories down.

Mama Chia squeeze pouches embody several trends at Expo West

Trend #3: Hot Ingredients & Packaging

In addition to agave, gluten-free, chia, and all things coconut were also on the hot list. Closely tied to the gluten-free trend was quinoa. This, to me,  is a good thing, as it's rich in protein and iron, quick cooking, and a delicious gluten free alternative that's a lean and green addition to any diet. Chickpeas were another strong trend: in flours, snacks, and main courses (tied to another hot trend-vegan). And when it comes to new packaging, get ready for a sea of pouches for grownups, from fruit purees to energy boosts to breakfasts. This Mamma Chia Squeeze was a great example of how many of these trends came together.

Saffron Road's sustainably sourced chickpeas pack plant protein and ethnic flair into snacks-two worthy trends.

My two top picks for lean and green super-snacks go to two chickpea products that I love for portability, sustainability, and kid friendly protein rich snacking. First round of kudos go to  Hope Hummus , who debuted their brand new portable hummus tubes; as a mom and a frequent traveler, thank you! These held up stunningly during our family's Disneyland escapades the next day. The uber tasty  Saffron Road Crunchy Chickpeas also should be a pantry staple: made from sustainably-sourced organic chickpeas, these are a great alternative if you’re craving a plant protein snack (with 6 grams of protein per serving). With no refrigeration needed, these are perfect for portioning out on-the-go in advance and stashing in your briefcase, desk or gym bag.

Trend #4: “Better for You” Popcorn and Chips

These tomato Snapz were satisfying, delicious, and may just be the next best thing for getting your lycopene

The quest to clean up chip’s reputation as junk food has been in the works a while, and the chips I crunched my way through continue to move that trend forward: with ingredients including lentil or garbanzo flour (boosting protein a bit), dehydrated vegetables (which may add a few more phytochemicals), seeds (like chia!), and  root vegetables. My personal favorite was a new company from the UK called Snapz whose dehydrated fruits like tomatoes proved one of the best taste experiences of the Expo. And the ingredient list couldn't be simpler: tomatoes. Well done, chaps.

With California lemon peel, sea salt and canola oil, Quinn had me at first bite.

Then there was popcorn. By itself, simple (non-GMO)  popcorn earns high marks for lean and green: at just 93 calories for a hefty 3 cup serving, it counts as a whole grain and is packed with antioxidants.  Quinn Popcorn earns my “best in show” green star award for turning microwave popcorn on its head. Fueled by two parents on a mission to make microwave popcorn healthy (read about the problems with traditional microwave popcorn here), Quinn popcorn starts with non-GMO corn, no rbST added cheese, 100% natural ingredients that sound like they come from your kitchen. The real innovation is the clean bag technology: Made from a 100% all natural bag that’s compostable, wth zero of the potentially harmful chemicals found in traditional microwave popcorn bags. And the taste? Innovative and fresh. Suffice to say I raised a few eyebrows as a 'oohed' and 'ahhed' my way through every sample of their booth.

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What other trends are you seeing in natural and organics? Or what's your takeaway from the Expo if you attended? I'd love to hear your take!