I just returned from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE). This is the annual conference of my professional organization of registered dietitians, and this year I was involved in a couple of the educational sessions, including one for students called Job Searches in the Social Media Era. I always love talking to students and inspiring them to embrace social media. I also moderated a session on visual food storytelling with my RD colleagues and friends Regan Jones and Holley Grainger, and helped coordinate a pre-FNCE workshop on food photography with Regan and Liz Weiss.
Besides all of the stimulating sessions, another fun highlight is the expo — which is a treasure trove for trend tracking. Big buzz words this year: gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher, protein, soy-free, wheat-free, and high-fiber. I’m not necessarily endorsing any of these products (although I did really like a few of them), but I’m using them to illustrate the major trends that I saw emerge from the expo. Some are positive trends — others, not so much. Either way, here’s what I thought were the top 10 food trends at FNCE this year.
1. Beans get boastful.
Legumes are in luck. They’re showing up in all sorts of products — getting out of the can and into the refrigerated case, and built into hummus and other dips, chips, crackers and snacks. The protein halo certainly helps — but beans truly have a lot to boast about. I especially liked the Better Bean (particularly the Wholly Chipotle Bean Dip). These fresh, ready-to-eat beans deserve their claims of superiority. This was hands-down my favorite product on the exhibit floor this year. I was also intrigued by a new company called Eat Well Enjoy Life that displayed a full line of flavorful hummus made with beans beyond chickpeas — edamame, white beans, black beans, red lentils and yellow lentils. They also featured a “Better for You” hummus made with Greek yogurt in place of some of the tahini. And I loved the individual, on-the-go packets of hummus.
2. Protein flexes its muscle.
The power of protein was clearly evident at the expo. Lots of products touted high-protein on the label — including protein shots, shakes and bars. It was a competition of grams — who had the most grams of protein per serving. And who had the better protein — I saw claims for “complete” protein, “organic” protein, and “sugar free” protein. Some products boldly declared “no soy,” others promoted protein for kids, or the amount of arginine per serving. “Protein per calories” was another claim. For instance, Taco Bell showcased its Protein Power Menu, featuring 20 grams of protein for under 450 calories. Blue Bunny sampled NutriPlus ice cream that touted 9 grams of protein and 17 vitamins and minerals.
3. Nuts and seeds show up in new places.
Playing off the protein trend, nuts and seeds were big — including Better ‘ n Chocolate line of chocolate flavored peanut butter spreads. Seeds were showing up in all sorts of places, including lots of crackers from Mary’s Gone Crackers. Hemp seeds were displayed in a raw shelled form and in a protein powder (is hemp the new chia?). Dole introduced individual packets of chia seeds that can be taken on-the-go and mixed into foods or stirred into drinks.
4. Vegetables go undercover.
I was struck by the number of products that promoted tasty ways to eat your vegetables, such as hidden inside a muffin. U-Be-Living-Smart sampled Karma-ffin (part karma, part muffin), which contains a full serving of fruits and vegetables per muffin. Garden Lites had similar Veggie Muffins, including these zucchini chocolate muffins positioned as “healthy indulgence.” Both lines were promoted as gluten-free, rich in fiber, and made with fresh vegetables.
5. Fruits get squeezey.
The squeezable fruit pouches, especially applesauce, have been a trend for awhile. Dole premiered a new line of Fruit Squish’ems! made with a variety of fruits. I also spotted fruit yogurt in the squeezable packets.
6. Ancient grains go mainstream.
Bob’s Red Mill had an extensive display of ancient grains — they’re truly an amazing company with an extensive line of whole grains. Hodgson Mill introduced a new line of flavored quinoa and brown rice mixes, which will hopefully make it easier for people to choose these whole grains as a dinnertime option. The United Sorghum Checkoff Program was at the expo promoting sorghum as a “smart choice.” Perhaps this gluten-free whole grain (dubbed the sustainable grain) will be the next big ancient grain?
7. New superfoods from faraway places.
Navitas Naturals had an interesting display of “superfoods,” including many from Peru. That’s why they tapped dietitian Manuel Villacorta, author of Peruvian Power Foods, to talk more about these foods — including dried yacon, which is an ancient South American tuber known as the “apple of the earth.” The dried yacon slices were promoted as a source of inulin, which acts as a prebiotic.
8. Getting more culture.
Probiotics were popular — certainly celebrated by the many yogurt companies at the expo. But these beneficial cultures were found in other foods and beverages, including this enhanced water from GoLive, which also touted prebiotics. Expect to see the combination of probiotics and prebiotics (or fuel to help the probiotics grow) to get greater exposure.
9. Portion control.
No doubt, obesity was a dominant topic throughout the conference, so ways to address the problem were top of mind. This included tableware companies who offered up special dishes to help guide portions and MyPlate servings.
10. Flavor showdown.
With Americans’ palates getting more adventurous (especially Millennials), companies are clamoring for the next big flavor. Lay’s sampled Cheesy Garlic Bread potato chips (winner of its flavor contest), and the uber trendy Kimchi was one of the newest flavors of tortilla chips from Food Should Taste Good.
Did you go to FNCE? Let me know what you thought were the biggest trends. I’ll link to your article or blog post. In the meantime, here’s what others are saying: