If the vast show floor at Natural Products Expo West is a bellwether for food trends that will unfold in the near future, we have a lot to look forward to and, philosophically speaking, quite a bit to think about.

The event brought together approximately 2,000 exhibiting companies (547 of which were first-timers) and more than 60,000 industry members March 8–11 at the Anaheim Convention Center, in California. It showcased natural and organic foods, vitamins, herbs, supplements, and health and beauty products; it also featured a natural and organic wine and beer expo, as well as products for children and pets.

What was on people’s minds? From comments made by featured speakers to the ubiquitous signage on many food products, it was fairly clear that we mistrust labeling and are somewhat afraid of our food supply. Non-GMO (genetically modified organism) labels were plastered everywhere. Practically the first words out of the mouths of floor vendors as they handed out the latest and greatest soy-based meat replacement samples were, “This is made with 100% organic, non-GMO crops . . .”

In that way, much of the message at this event was about what is not in our food. Marketing messages for many products hung on the fact that they were raw, vegan, non-GMO or wheat/soy/gluten/sugar–free, among other “negative” descriptors. “People just want safe, clean food,” said Carlotta Mast, editor in chief of NewHope360.com and New Hope Natural Media, in the state-of-the-industry panel she co-hosted.

There is growth across all sectors of this industry, but especially in categories such as functional food and beverages; natural and organic food and beverages; natural and organic personal care; dietary supplements; and specialty and sport supplementation and nutrition, all of which “are growing wildly,” reported Mast.

Other categories to watch are protein replacement and whole foods in pill or powder form (supplements with no synthetic ingredients). Omega-3s and probiotics are the archetypes of this space. One company even had a product with a straw that was lined with probiotics. You simply put it into a cool beverage and sip the organisms straight into your system!

Another trend has to do with what Mast called the “brain space,” meaning products targeted toward memory, alertness, mood and insomnia. Energy drinks—both natural and “Red Bullish”—are expected to continue climbing in popularity, but with an emphasis on “calming energy” versus hard-charging intensity.


Here’s a List of What Appears to Be Trending Food-Wise:

  • plant-based diet foods (must be non-GMO)
  • international influences (these are boosting flavor profiles in everything from popcorn to pickled vegetables; the big three this year: Indian, Korean and Mexican)
  • popcorn and pickled vegetables (ubiquitous!)
  • granola (back in a big way, from any flavor you could imagine to “granola chips” and “clusters”—the megachunks we all pick out of the cereal box first)
  • chips and crackers made from vegetables, alternative grains, seeds and legumes (e.g., kale, quinoa, flax, hemp, lentils, chickpeas, sweet potatoes)
  • flax milk, flaxseed butter
  • freeze-dried fruit snacks, freeze-dried superfruits
  • natural and organic energy bars
  • flavored, Stevia-sweetened waters and vitamin waters (many of them actually tasty, which could bode well for them as sugary-soda replacements)
  • meat substitutes (people still want their burgers, stir-fries and tacos—they just don’t want the meat)
  • alternative cheeses made from rice and nuts
  • dairy-free products
  • vegan products
  • whole-grain, gluten-free breakfast foods such as waffles, pancakes, English muffins and bagels
  • ginger in all forms
  • flavored peanut butters and other nut butters