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Trends from Expo West 2014

Natural Products Expo West is the Consumer Electronics Show of food. Miles of vendors hock their wares to a crowd of early adopters willing to risk a serious case of gut rot to get their hands on the latest culinary innovations. My gut was one of those, so I wanted to give you my readout on the trends I’m seeing sweep the natural and organic products industry.

Savory Invades the Sweet Market

Talk about a welcome trend! All of those news reports about how sugar makes you sick, fat, and ugly are finally causing food companies to reformulate. The blockbuster of the show in my opinion was the rollout of the new Kind & Strong bars which are almond protein bars in savory flavors such as BBQ, Spicy Thai, and Honey Mustard. Apparently Kind’s research team found that people were sick of the saccharin sweet meal and energy bars flooding the market, so they developed this new line and it’s a huge success, as was evidenced by the massive crowd of people on the Kind & Strong side and the wide-open space on the other side of the booth with their sweet bars.

Several other booths were finding success in the savory trend, too. Yumbutter reported that samplers were excited to try their Spicy Thai peanut butter saying “Oh good, I’m sick of sugar right now.” Around the corner from them we enjoyed Indian lentil waffles from Health’n Spice in Jalapeno Garlic and Cajun. That’s right, spicy waffles that you can top with salsa, sour cream, or a chutney. Now if someone would just make Macedonian french toast, I’d consider it a revolution.

Convenience is King

Just like those pre-made waffles, it appears that many in the natural foods sector are giving up on slow food and going for convenient options. I know this will be heartbreaking for some, but it’s insane to think that our culture would get over the 24/7 busy-body lifestyle if we just brow-beat them with enough Michael Pollan books. As I said before, if organic is to take over, then it needs to be in vending machines and gas stations.

One of the big hits in this category was Modern Table Meals, featuring a variety of kid-friendly ready-made meals that include lentil pasta, a spice pack and a sauce packet, all in one pouch (which really could’ve been in a recyclable box, but meh, why let all that petroleum go to waste). It was delicious and I'd imagine busy health-conscious moms will go nuts for it.

Throughout the show we were running across organic vegetarian tamales, GMO free pupusas, squeeze pouches of almond butter mixes, a natural alternative to Lunchables, and a lactose-free protein drink from Organic Valley. Everything, pre-made and ready in minutes, if not instantly, which means that organic is getting easier.

Sell the Ingredients and the Dream

It used to be that you wanted to “sell the dream” which means you place on your package the perfect picture of your food when it’s prepped and ready to eat. Well that’s still a pretty good idea, but with people afraid of the mystery contents in processed foods, it helps to go a step further. Eating whole foods is equated with nutrition, so bars like Kind are rocking with their see-through packaging that shows whole almonds and seeds. For those that can’t have transparent packaging, they’re opting to show the ingredients on the package. Products like Theo’s classic chocolate bars and the new Terra Chips bags are like the Chinese menu of packaging saying “Look, this is what you’re actually eating! It’s not wood pulp!” and it makes for beautiful design.

Food Cult Takeover

Step aside Moms&Brands biddies! The food tribes have entered the Expo! If Expo West were a large game of Civilization, you’d have territories for Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, “Skinny”, Paleo, Raw, and possibly a section carved out for those with dreadlocks who only eat food with the correct energy (who are now outnumbered by the suits with slicked-back hair). If you want to have insta-fans, just start a food company making delicious food in one or several of those categories, because as with all food trends, the first-to-market usually tastes like dog food because the tribe has no choice but to eat it. You don’t have to be first, you just have to be the best!

Or if you already have a food company and want to be disingenuous, figure out which one of those categories your food fits into and then claim to be making food for that tribe as if that were the plan all along. Like the fried cheese snacks that we were handed whose packaging read”gluten free!” Seriously? It’s fried cheese. How could it be anything but?


So there’s my readout from the show. Did you attend? If so, tell us your thoughts and observations. We’d love to hear’em.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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