Natural Products Expo West, produced by New Hope Natural Media, showcased a record number of new natural and organic product launches and provided a lively, articulate community platform for brands, retailers and influencers in the natural, organic and healthy living sector. It’s a showcase for emerging trends, and the atmosphere germinates meaningful conversations about topics relevant to our industry.

Topping both exhibitor and attendee records, Expo West drew more than 63,000 industry members and 2,428 exhibiting companies at the Anaheim Convention Center, March 7–10, 2013, in Anaheim, California. A positive takeaway and clear summary of the event’s buzz came from Carlotta Mast, editor in chief of and Natural Foods Merchandiser, when she shared during an industry panel that “we’re getting back to the notion that what we put in our bodies matters and makes us feel good.” A simple, but profound, statement that could signal a sea change in food product development.

Many of the products at this year’s expo had significantly pared-down ingredient lists (recognizable and minimally processed), which supports Mast’s read on a more back-to-basics marketplace. Look for that theme to trickle into the mainstream and perhaps make your job as a fitness professional a little bit easier.

News from educational sessions and from the press room:

  • Whole Foods Market used the event as a platform to announce its pledge to remove all GMO (genetically modified organism) products from its shelves by 2018. People literally cheered.
  • The natural foods industry has seen tremendous growth and will continue on that trajectory. According to Nutrition Business Journal editor in chief Marc Brush, who moderated the “State of the Industry” panel, this was a $56 billion per year industry 10 years ago; in 2011 it was worth $126 billion; it is projected to reach $261 billion by 2021. Each year, the natural and organic food segment grabs a bigger slice of the overall pie, from categories such as supplements and functional foods.
  • Food vs. “phood” was a trend identified by Brush as one of three clues to the industry’s future. The “ph” stands for “pharma.” In short, he sees the industry on track to emphasize “more food and less medicine” because the [end user’s] desire for cleaner food has “enough traction to marginalize supplements.”
  • Consolidation is on the horizon in the supplement category. Brush sees a shift coming from privately owned companies to bigger players.
  • Meal replacements and sports nutrition (in short, convenient protein) rule the roost in the supplement category.
  • Personalized medicine will emerge as a major influencer. Brush’s third and final clue to the future was based on the growing ease (and declining expense) of obtaining detailed personal health knowledge through DNA testing and then modifying personal habits and product purchases to support the findings and improve outcomes.

Product Trends

What’s Hot

  • Anything in a squeeze pouch, including yogurt, puréed fruits and vegetables. Kids love them, but they’re made for adults, too; they are very convenient (throw one or two in your gym bag); and they can actually be very nutrient dense. This delivery method is poised to proliferate. The products go down almost too easily when you’re squeezing them into your mouth, so reading labels carefully for serving sizes and ingredients will be paramount.
  • Greek yogurt: the craze continues. The number of these creamy products at least doubled over the last year, many with added freeze-dried fruits, granolas, nuts or flavorings.
  • Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, quinoa, amaranth, pumpkin and others. Chia gets a special shout-out, as it showed up across a range of products, including bread, chips, cereal and smoothie mixes. Look to it for high fiber, plus protein and omega-3 boosts.
  • Hydration. From vitamin-fortified waters, plain bottled water, coconut water, kombucha, and hot and cold teas (including a delicious cold mate) to customized/designer sodas and a product called kvass (vegetables that are fermented and juiced for a super tangy and lively flavor), stevia-sweetened or sugar-free varieties marked the trend.
  • Turmeric! This aromatic product of a rhizome in the ginger family played the starring role in product lines ranging from hydration to rice, grain and alternative-grain mixes to smoothie-ready packs and squeeze-pouch concoctions. It was everywhere.
  • Berries/Superfruits. Maqui (a “new” superfruit from Chile that was made into a beverage), açaí, camu-camu and pomegranate were either freeze dried, heat dried, served fresh or squeezed into juices.
  • Smoothie additives/Snack power packs. Ready-made snack mixes and scoopable mixes contain combinations of superfruits, seeds, nuts and other powerful ingredients that can be added to a smoothie to bolster nutritional value.
  • Freeze-dried fruits and veggies, for use as snacks and flavor “pops” in whatever you’re cooking.
  • Botanicals, herbs and oils (red palm and coconut made an impression).
  • Alternative grains such as buckwheat groats, salba, millet, kamut, popcorn, triticale and spelt.
  • Vegan and vegan “crossover” products (for meat and dairy eaters).
  • Umami—a meaty or savory taste derived from glutamate proteins or other similar compounds. Umami completes the flavor spectrum of sweet, sour, salty and bitter and is emerging as a flavor additive. You can achieve it naturally with good cooking technique, but it is showing up as a separate ingredient, most notably monosodium glutamate or MSG. Watch for it on food labels, as many people can’t tolerate it in their diets.
  • What’s Not Hot

  • Gluten! It was seriously challenging to find products containing gluten in the expo. Almost all packaging expressly stated “Gluten-free!”
  • GMOs, as evidenced by Whole Foods’ announcement to ban it within a few years.
´╗┐Wanted: SpongeBob Square PantsÔäó and Nickelodeon®


´╗┐´╗┐, who were called out with a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and five other groups for “impersonating a responsible media company while aggressively marketing obesity to kids.” Showing front and profile mug shots of a disheveled SpongeBob with bloodshot eyes and heavy 5 o’clock shadow, the ad warns, “Approach with caution! SpongeBob may be armed with nutritionally dangerous foods!” Brands on Nickelodeon’s client roster include Cocoa Puffs®, Air Heads® candies and Chuck E. Cheese®.

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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