Food Trends Spotted at ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo

I’ve  just returned from the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association in Boston – the ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.  It was a great conference to hear the latest science, reconnect with my dietitian colleagues and learn about new products.

Beyond the scientific sessions, the conference attracts all the major food and beverage manufacturers (and small niche companies) that want to showcase their offerings to registered dietitians.   I’ll be posting more about the conference in the weeks to come, but for now, here are some of the trends I spotted on the Expo floor.

For starters, two big buzz words were CLEAN and CONSCIOUS .


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Products boasted about clean labels (no artificial ingredients or colors) and touted multiple free-from claims. Perhaps the biggest was GLUTEN-FREE. In fact, there was an entire gluten-free pavilion where all of the exhibitors with gluten-free products assembled in one big area. It’s great that they are more options now for people with celiac disease, but a lot of the products on display were not really so healthful.  I saw an awful lot of gluten-free sweets, including brownies…

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Gluten-free cookies…

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Gluten-free donuts…

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Gluten-free ladyfingers for making your own Tiramisu or other desserts.

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I’m happy that people with celiac can enjoy a greater variety of foods — including favorite desserts that they’ve had to eliminate after their diagnosis.  But  I’d like to see more efforts in creating gluten-free grain products that are high in fiber (which is often low in gluten-free baked goods), or products made with nutritious grains that are naturally gluten free.   Gluten-free diets can be fairly restrictive, which makes it even more important to eat nutrient-rich foods.  Plus, I’d hate to see other people snatching up these foods just because “gluten-free” is on the label.  The trendy term carries a health halo and many people who don’t have celiac may assume that these sweets are somehow healthier options.  They’re not.  See my previous articles on the topic: Gluten-free is Latest Diet Craze and The Blinding Light of Health Halos.

Another product that I feel conflicted about is Gimme Chocolates — billed as the world’s first nutritionally enhanced candy.  So a fourth trend I found was FORTIFIED SNACKS.

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Gimme Chocolates are rice puff balls coated in neon-colored chocolate and infused with different nutrients — vitamin D, omega 3, probiotics and calcium. I know the argument of…well, if you’re going to eat candy, why not make it nutritious. And it’s true that most Americans need more vitamin D and calcium in their diets.  But I just can’t excited about this product. I think candy should be candy.  I don’t think we should try and turn it in to something it’s not. We shouldn’t feel so virtuous that we’re eating something “good” that we slack off in trying to get these nutrients in other TRULY good-for-you  foods. Fortifying a product with one single nutrient doesn’t suddenly transform it into a nutritious food.

The Gimme Omega 3 candies are made with Salba — the white version of chia seeds that are quickly gaining superstar status (not deserving, in my opinion).  The promotional materials that were distributed at the Gimme booth said Salba provides 8x more omega 3’s than salmon.  Well, I sure don’t want people to be grabbing handfuls of these candies instead of salmon.  Plus, the form of omega 3 in Salba is quite different than what you’ll find in salmon – so it’s not even a fair comparison.  Salba contains ALA omega 3, while salmon contains EPA and DHA omega 3 ( and that’s what you want to aim for.)

Do you think I’m wrong about these candies?  What do you think about Gimme Chocolates?

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I’d be more likely to snack on some of the new products I sampled from Cabot Cheese. I liked these portion-controlled, reduced-fat snack bars, including Habanero cheddar cheese….

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and reduced-fat Pepper Jack cheese.

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Speaking of portion control, I liked these MU Measure Up Bowls that can help people measure portions to prevent super sizing….

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I thought Dr. Praeger’s offered some interesting products, including different types of veggie burgers, sweet potato pancakes, falafel flats and fish sticks.

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And take a look at these cute broccoli “nuggets” for kids.  So a fifth trend, if you’re keeping track, is MEATLESS MEALS.  A lot of new vegetarian and vegan products were on display.

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Wrapping up, trend six is FUNCTIONAL BEVERAGES. I just couldn’t believe the various drinks on display — from superfruit juices and nutrient-spiked energy drinks to pumped up protein drinks.

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Protein seems to be the new darling in drinks, and here’s just one example:  protein-fortified water from the folks that make Muscle Milk.

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My favorite booths on the exhibit floor were showcasing products that didn’t have a fancy label or nutrition claim on the front of the package.  Believe me, there were wonderful displays from the industry groups representing strawberries, blueberries,  raspberries, raisins, avocados, mushrooms, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and other fresh, whole foods.

To my fellow RDs, what food trends did you spot at FNCE this year?

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  • Janet – All the trends you observed are spot on and I loved seeing so many whole foods represented at the Expo – more than I’ve ever seen at FNCE (vs. just packaged foods.) Saw many nutrition profiling systems and private front-of-package labeling as well as online tools to help consumers shop and eat right. Have a feeling that next year in San Diego, we’ll be seeing a lot more digital “self help” items and every food company/commodity group will have it’s own app by then.

  • Lori Pereyra

    Great post Janet! I completely agree with you on all points, especially the beautified candies and empty gluten-free calories. Not necessary if you ask me. Only gives people the permission to over-indulge as “it is good for me so more is better”. Missing the mark on mindful and deliberate eating. The other thing I noticed was all the pretty packaging…the cute colors and images designed to impress and inspire you to buy the product. Clever advertising for sure. Who wouldn’t want to drink a “hello beautiful” beverage on a less than stellar body image day?! No matter what is inside the package (*sigh*). As a side note, I was at the social media workshop on Sat. and discovered your blog there – love it! Inspiring me to inch closer to setting up my own. 🙂

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  • You are spot-on with the FNCE food trends! I remarked to a coworker that there has never been a better time to require a gluten-free diet, although it has its own unhealthy landmines. I enjoyed seeing some of the healthier snack bars with just a few ingredients (LaraBar & KIND). Lastly, biggest line in the whole convention center? Chobani greek yogurt. 🙂

    I enjoyed meeting you and attending the boot camp. Thanks for a great seminar!

  • Excellent post and spot on as usual, Janet. Lovely meeting you, by the way. Did you see the protein ice cream? On one hand, I can see some applications but it is still ice cream after all and I’d much rather council people on finding protein in other places, such as whole foods. This was my first trip to FNCE and the food expo so I was slightly overwhelmed and didn’t know what to make of it all. Thank you for summary!

  • Janet, it was great to see you in Boston! Enjoyed your NE specialty group session – thanks for the inspiration and I loved your “coat of arms” idea. Great food for thought and business planning. I agree with you on the food trends spotted and appreciate all the photos!

    I enjoyed the specialized group areas, including local New England companies, such as Welch’s, Cabot, and Stoneyfield Farms, as well as the gluten-free area, etc.. Products with probiotics as well as omega-3s still seemed to be popular on the Expo floor.

    Thanks for the great FNCE review!

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  • Wow! Loved the photos of the Expo, you did a great job with the photos and the description. It is such an overwhelming event, you did a great job capturing the excitement!
    Great write up, it shows that even as nutritionists, we have to be detectives in order to sort out which new products are excellent and which are simply glorified junk foods. My favorite new food from the expo was the kind bar. The snack portion control bowls were clever also. I missed the Oodles of Noodles salads and Starbucks oatmeal that were there last year! Excellent job, thanks for the overview!

  • Great post Janet! I saw similar trends as well – clean, conscious eating, gluten free, “all natural” and some free froms. It will be interesting to compare this with what Expo West reveals in March.

  • Great post! I was unable to attend FNCE this year so I appreciate your recap of the top trends.

  • Janet, so nice to meet you in person! Great wrap-up (and I’m super impressed by the timeliness of your post!). One thing I was happy to see that I hadn’t a few years ago (the last time I was at FNCE) was the natural food section and inclusion of so many healthy fats – pistachios, avocados, walnuts, almonds, olive oils. And as Torey mentioned, the Chobani booth was great – always knew I could get a nutritious and delicious snack there!

  • great comments and you are bang on.

    Things like Salba and good Chia are great whole foods and are used in misleading ways when adding to candies or other “BFY” items.

  • Great post! I agree the point on candy should be real candy and not camouflaged as healthy food. I am for meatless but great tasting food. I do not quite like the functional beverages such as protein water though. Water should just be water. Eat protein from proper source is my principle.

  • So interesting! The minute you said “neon-colored” I was out as far as Gimme goes. Neon-colored and nutritional cannot possibly go hand in hand.

  • The Gluten Free insanity has truly reached a new level. I try pointing the seriousness of those who have Celiac disease and MUST follow the diet versus the “faddies” thinking it’s a weight loss diet out on my site. I agree with you Janet, LOTS of SWEETS?! I was asked whether or not gluten free cupcakes would be healthier? I am so disappointed I missed FNCE, would’ve loved to have gone. Next year is a must. The new water with Protein, really? What happened to eating REAL FOOD? I’m sure I’ll start receiving questions about this one. I’ve been following Dr.Praeger’s products for years, anything new? What’s your opinion?
    Thanks for the updated info!

  • LBC

    Okay, so I confess to having been totally confused about the gluten-free thing. I mean, I knew it was a problem for people with celiac disease, but I couldn’t figure out how it was bad for the rest of us. So, I was right: That it’s not? (She writes as she eats cheese tortellini for lunch.)

    I’m totally with you, especially on the candy. People seem to be confused enough about food without graying the area between food and candy. I’m no candy-phobe. I like my peanut M&M’s as much as the next girl, but they’re not health food. No amount of enrichment and vitamin-packing is going to change the fact that they’re basically little balls of fat and sugar. Candy should be allowed to be honest about what it is, and people shouldn’t be encouraged to fool themselves about what they’re eating.

    I’ve always had mixed feelings on drinks. Personally, I stick to the basics: Water, milk, tea. Sometimes coffee or juice. Soda on rare occasions (and only the stuff I really like). I don’t pretend that stuff that tastes like soda isn’t soda, though. I’m afraid I suspect most power drinks are hype and that one could get the same benefits drinking normal things. Whatever happened to good old cran-grape juice?

  • Great summary Janet. I too felt there were more wholesome items this year. I really liked the expo as it seemed less about big companies and more about ingredients. I blogged about my FNCE favorites here http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com/2010/11/5-fnce-favorites.html, we overlapped on the MU bowl. Thanks for reminding people gluten free isn’t necessarily synonomous with healthy (or low cal). I didn’t arrive until Sunday, sorry I missed your Saturday workshop, any way to partake in that after the face or remotely?

  • Lisa Schmitt

    I’m so happy to have found your blog and twitter feed. I’m a nutrition student and this was my first trip to FNCE. Your recap of the trends are right on. I was focused on the gluten-free products, as the hospital I am interning at is adding GF to their therapeutic diets. I too found all the ready-made products, especially the cookies and snacks, to be too good to be true. I enjoyed the cooking demo with Marlisa, the GF cookbook author. She seemed to have created some really delicious sounding recipes using other grains.

  • Excellent post. Thanks for sharing it.

    Julie
    LifeSpace Nutrition

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  • After attending FNCE for so many years, I always leave reminded that whole, natural, minimally processed foods are the ones that stick around… and that’s good news for consumers who get frustrated wading through the latest claims. Loved your recap-as always, right on target. Great seeing you in Boston!

  • Looks like a cool convention and you had fun there. I am hoping to go next year.

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