What's in store for natural product shoppers? Delicious Living magazine's Editor in Chief, Radha Marcum, offers an inside look at the hottest consumer trends seen at Expo East.
I must have walked at least 50 indoor miles at last week’s Natural Products Expo in Boston, speaking with companies from every corner of the industry—from long-established brands like Bob’s Red Mill (who had just returned from an international porridge-making contest) to superfood kid-snack startup Sea Snax. What’s hot for consumers? Two megatrends still reign in the naturals space: Functionality and Feel-Good Indulgence.
Whether or not Whole Foods’ recent nutrient-dense diet (ANDI) campaign has anything to do with it, the superfood trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Although quinoa and acai have hit the mainstream (I even saw “acai” listed as a sweater color in a recent Patagonia catalogue), other antioxidant-, vitamin-, and mineral-rich foods are just getting going, including seaweed, chia seed, and other exotic berries such as goji and golden berries. Will lucuma, maca, yakon, and camu camu follow suit?
I was completely hooked by Sea Snax. I spent nearly 30 minutes talking with Jin Jun, the company’s cofounder, who believes that seaweed is the perfect food for kids and moms. “Seaweed clears impurities from the body,” she explained. The Sea Snax contain just three ingredients: seaweed, olive oil, and salt (perhap’s Pollan’s rules are having an effect on the snack category?). They are delicious.
Coconut was everywhere. Coconut-water brand O.N.E. pushed samples of their next juice-box line for kids at the main show floor entrance. And brand new Kelapo debuted its organic, fair-trade coconut oil sourced from Sri Lanka. The pumpkin cake made with their coconut oil was hands-down the best I’ve ever tasted.
Functional also meant health-focused. Aside from the blossoming gluten-free category (you’ll see the term slapped on personal care and supplement bottles now—“gluten-washing” anyone?), digestion- and immune-enhancing products continue to grow. Green Valley Organic, an offshoot of longstanding goat-milk brand Redwood Hill Farms, showcased their new organic lactose-free kefir and yogurt line, tasty options for the lactose intolerant who want to avoid the growth hormones and antibiotics in conventional dairy.
Raw foods, often marketed as more digestible and nutrient-intact, also had an excellent showing. I visited with Ojio, a company that just launched in April. Their raw and vegan line includes about 50 products sourced from South and Central America, the Pacific Rim and Asia, and India.
There’s no stopping the chocolate-is-healthy craze, from raw nibs (fave: Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Sweet Cocoa Nibs) to fancy “natural” candy bars—with marketing focused heavily on cocoa’s antioxidants. Also crossing over both mega-trends were companies like NoOodles who make a “no-calorie noodle” from glucomannan (derived from the Asian konjac root) designed to satisfy comfort-food cravings with little to no impact on your waistline.
I was thrilled to see increased focus on sourcing and ingredient safety. As Kevin Williams of Pure Branding said during Wednesday’s Organic Summit, “toxic anxiety” is on the rise. Recent studies link pesticides to ADHD, autism, and other harmful effects on children’s development. GMOs are also under greater scrutiny thanks to recent efforts by the Non GMO Project. Many brands are taking heed—and many cannot honestly reassure consumers. Yet. But with Non-GMO Project labeling and mobile tools like the Good Guide, greater transparency is inevitable.