From Niche to Mainstream: Natural and Organic Trends That Will Strike it Big in 2014

African super foods, bee-free vegan ‘honey’ and drinkable grains are just some of the trends that the Sterling-Rice Group predict will merge from the natural and organic space into mainstream grocery and foodservice.  Some of these trends are just beginning to evolve (like the algae milk) while others have already made their mark, like beets. No doubt, 2014 has been the year of the beet. Here’s a look at the list, along with some of the new products representing each trend.

1.  Lentils

enjoy-life-plentils


Could lentils be the new chickpea?  These tinier legumes, the star of many Middle Eastern dishes, are branching out in everything from snack chips to pasta and waffles. I love lentils, but I prepare actual lentils — so I’m not sure I’ll be snapping up some of these products just because they contain some ground up lentil powder.  Eat the actual beans, people!  The lentil trend is catching on due to the growing  demand for products high in protein and fiber and free of gluten and soy.  Expect lentils to keep showing up in both familiar and new forms as consumers continue their quests for new plant-based protein sources as well as protein-fortified items.

2. Gut Health

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Digestive health has become a major trend, with multiple products now promising to keep our gut flora flourishing.  Probiotics and prebiotics have moved beyond just yogurt and are popping up in dairy-free beverages, tea, breakfast cereal and even cookies. “To find an ingredient like that in a format as familiar as a cookie is a rather fun delivery system, much more than a pill or other supplement from the medicine cabinet,” said Christie Wood, culinary strategist for Sterling-Rice Group.

cherry bomb

3. Beets

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I’ve already written about the massive beet trend, and it seems to be still going strong.  With their regal ruby hue and subtle sweetness, these earthy gems have left the salad bowl and are showing up in sports drinks, juices, yogurt, kefir and individual packages designed for snacking on the go, like these Veggie-Go’s Cinnamon Spiced Beet fruit and vegetable strips.  Whether eaten raw, pickled or roasted, beets pack a nutrition and flavor punch that consumers are digging.

4. Drinkable Grains

quinoa smoothie

Now you can sip your cereal with products like Quinoa Smoothies and Oat Drinks. Even though these drinkable grains may be convenient, I think they’re an inferior substitute for the real thing.  For instance, a look at Sneaky Pete’s Oat Beverage (Apple) contains the following ingredients:  filtered water, erythritol (natural sweetener), evaporated cane juice, oat bran concentrate, citric acid, natural apple flavoring and other flavors and stevia extract.  Sure, it offers 3 grams of fiber.  But this is not oatmeal in a bottle.  That’s a little sneaky to me, Pete.

oat beverage

5. Bee-free Honey

bee free honey

This bee-less honey  (or “honee” on the label) is being promoted as a plant-based, vegan-friendly substitute for honey.  It’s also trying to appeal to folks concerned about colony collapse disorder and the resulting increase in honey sourced from China.  Although I was intrigued by a comment from the director of the Honey and Pollination Center at UC Davis that was left on this Food Business News article about the product: The product is pure sugar syrup.  Cheap to make and beautifully packaged to evoke honey and bees, the company owners justified their product by saying they have purposely mis-spelled honey.  I have no trouble with syrups that are honey substitutes and say just that.  For people seeking honey flavor, but cannot or prier not to eat honey, there are many items already on the shelf.  However, to continue to ‘sell’ this product as though it could be helpful in cooling colony collapse disorder or removing stress from the bees, is simply misleading at best.  Products like this should be acknowledged and questioned — not urged into a trend in an already beleaguered industry.”  So, a bit of a honey squabble.  The Bee-Free Honey is available in ancho chile, mint, chocolate and slippery elm flavors.

6. Top-Notch Toppers

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Companies are now touting nutritional benefits to products that were traditionally designed to deliver flavor, such as sauces and salad dressings.  Protein is a big benefactor — now appearing in all sorts of products, including this protein dressing and dip from Tru Table. Sterling-Rice says look for this trend to go sweet with calcium-rich chocolate and caramel sundae sauces and creamy, high-protein cake frosting.

7. Grass-fed/Running Wild

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Animal welfare is a growing consumer concern, so companies are increasing highlighting attributes such as “grass-fed.”  Beyond grass-fed steaks, this message of humane treatment is showing up on dairy products ( happily grass-fed cows), pastured chickens and eggs,  pen-free pigs and wild-caught fish.  Expect this trend to continue to go mainstream in foodservice (similar to Chipotle) and supermarkets.

8. African Superfoods

kuli kuli bars powder

Africa is predicted to be next new source of super food and culinary inspiration.  Baobab, moringa,  peri peri peppers and teff are appearing in snack bars, tea and fruit snacks.  “Africa is viewed as an all-natural untouched hotbed of pure ingredients and pure sourcing,” said Christie Wood, culinary strategist at Sterling-Rice Group. “This is the next area of exploration for secret health food that have been keeping native people alive for generations and millennia,” said Kara Nielsen, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group.

9. Non-GMO

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With the biotechnology debate raging on, the GMO-Free Project stamp has become the hottest badge of honor to display on the front of a package.  Sterling-Rice Group says a GMO-free verification is easier and quicker to obtain than a USDA organic certification, so they predict more companies will purse this label as consumer pressure mounts.

10. Algae Milk

algae _boris

Algae milk may be the next big drink in non-dairy, boasting benefits such as fiber, protein, and omega -3 (vegan source of DHA), predicts Sterling-Rice Group.  It may also be part of a bigger culinary trend in sea vegetables, including seaweed, kelp and spiralina. “It’s got some impressive nutrition facts. It’s free of gluten, lactose, soy — all the things folks with allergies are looking out for. And it has this amazing sustainable production story.  The taste is milk, not offensive at all.” said Christine Wood.

Images:  products courtesy of manufacturers, algae courtesy of _boris on flickr

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