Trendspotting at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo: Year of the Bean

PicMonkey bean Collage

I just returned from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2014 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Atlanta.  It’s always one of my favorite trendspotting events of the year. The conference — known as FNCE — brought together more than 8,000 registered dietitian nutritionists, nutrition science researchers, policy makers, and other industry leaders, along with more than 350 exhibitors.

The exhibit floor featured several specialty pavilions: gluten-free, natural and organic, diabetes and California Fresh (food products, services and technologies from 14 California-based exhibitors).  I’ve gathered up some of my favorite finds here.  Please note:  I was not compensated by any of these companies to write this post and do not have any type of marketing relationship with them (although Bob’s Red Mill does send me new products every now and then).  These are simply products that I personally enjoyed or thought they represented a trend and had an interesting story to tell.

Bean Bonanza

One trend that I spotted right away was the prominence of beans or legumes, including peas and lentils.  These plant-based proteins were everywhere — in crackers, chips, pasta, hummus, meat alternatives, nut-free butters and more.  This trend will just keep get bigger.  The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (pulses are another name for legumes, which include beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas).

The two major industry groups representing beans and pulses include:  USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and US Dry Bean Council.  Pictured above is one of the items featured at the exhibit for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, it was a delicious lentil cupcake topped with a frosting made with the Sneaky Chef’s No-Nut Butter that’s a creamy mixture of whipped golden peas.  It was pretty amazing.  They’ve promised to include the recipe on their website — so I will keep you posted.  It’s a winner.

Harvest Snaps were showcasing crisps made with lentils, including Lentil Snaps in Tomato Basil and Onion Thyme flavors.  The snacks touted 40% less fat, good source of fiber and less sodium than traditional potato chips.  I especially enjoyed the bean pastas from Explore Asian, including the black bean pasta pictured above.  These were tasty.  I’m totally into my vegetable spiralizer and enjoy making veggie pasta impostors.  But now I’m excited to explore  more of these bean pastas, which are gluten-free and high in protein and fiber.

Bob’s Red Mill Heritage Beans included mung, adzuki, orca and cranberry beans.  Excited to try these. Perhaps my favorite bean product of all was Eat Well Embrace Life  hummus.  I’ve never seen such creative hummus flavors (including the latest varieties: sriracha carrot and beet hummus) and they’re all made with different types of beans beyond the traditional chickpeas — including white beans, lentils, black beans and edamame.  I especially liked the individual portions of hummus with crackers.

Beanitos has been out ahead of the bean trend with bean-based chips.  The company’s latest offerings are bean puffs, including hot chili lime, white cheddar and real cheezy (although I’m less enthusiastic about these).

A bean-based product I thought was truly neat is called Neat, dubbed “a healthy replacement for meat.” This creative meat alternative is made from pecans, chickpeas, oats and spices. You mix it with water and eggs (or a vegan egg mix made by Neat) and then cook it in a single flat layer in a skillet until it browns on both sides.  Then you chop it up to resemble ground beef.  The company was serving it in vegan nachos when I stopped by.

PicMonkeyneat Collage

What I especially liked about this product was the people behind it.  Many of my favorite products at FNCE were made by small start-up companies and the founder was at the booth handing out samples.  These folks were passionate about their creations.  They were authentic, sincere. They had a story to tell.  Here’s the story of Neat.

Good-for-You Convenience 

Another major trend I saw at FNCE was healthier versions of frozen and packaged foods.  Here are two of my favorites.

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Luvo offers better-for-you frozen entrees, flatbreads, burritos, breakfasts and yogurt bars with some real star power behind the company (partners include Derek Jeter and Jennifer Garner).  Not sure why I’m just learning about these products, but I am.  Again, this company has a story — a purpose behind the products.  And they may highlight “be good to you,” but the focus is all about the taste — and they didn’t disappoint.  I loved the cherry tomato and mozzarella flatbread (with a packet of balsamic glaze that you add after baking) and the chicken chile verde with polenta and black beans.  The company has embarked on a partnership with Delta airlines — which is such a good idea.  Airline food could use an upgrade.

Cook Simple is trying to redefine the boxed dinner.  This was another example of a passionate founder who had a story to tell.  I adored the husband and wife duo dishing up the samples.  I like this idea (a healthier hamburger helper) and their creative interpretations, including cowboy chili with quinoa and cinnamon, coconut curry and New Orleans jambalaya.

Healthy Kids Foods

Many exhibitors were showcasing healthier kids foods, especially snacks.  Well, this is rather important — I would say.


Bolthouse Farm Kids introduced several fun options, including these veggie snackers featuring baby-cut carrots with chili lime and ranch seasoning.  They also showcased new smoothies and fruit tubes.  Way to go.

Portion Control

Beyond food, I also saw several exhibitors showcasing ways to control portions and teach nutrition with specially designed plates, bowls and cups.  Here are a few examples.

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In addition to portion control dishes, a product called MealEnders claimed to be the antidote for overeating.  These are “signaling lozenges” to eat after a meal to fight the urge to overeat.   Here’s how the company explained how it works:

MealEnders’ active-taste formula rewards and resets your taste buds, freeing you from the temptation to overindulge.  First the delicious Reward Layer treats you to the sweet taste of dessert – a signal we typically associate with the end of a meal.  Then the Inner Core’s Active-Taste Layer releases a proprietary blend of gentle, cool tingling sensations on the tongue, which engage the trigeminal nerve, distracting your brain from the urge to continue overeating.  You can feel your MealEnder go to work instantly.

Could this be the new Sensa?  The company claims the lozenges are a tool for mindful eating.  I’m curious what my mindful eating colleagues think of this new product. mindful eating candy

So, did you attend FNCE this year?  What were the trends that you spotted?  Any favorite products?

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  • I just won a giveaway with 3 packages of Neat products and I’m thrilled to be trying them! I went to the company website to learn more about the products and they seem like a high-quality company that really cares.

    • That’s great Kaylin. The founder just couldn’t be nicer! And when you watch the video, they created the product because their two young daughters decided they were vegetarian and the mom was trying to find protein-rich meals they would eat.

  • Lindsay

    Hi Janet! Love your blog! I’m an RD as well but unfortunately did not get to go to FNCE this year so thanks for all the updates and trends. I’m actually writing a research paper on plate and portion sizes. Do you happen to know the specific names of the plate companies you saw at FNCE?

    • Hi Lindsay, Thanks for your nice comments. I can find out the companies for you. I didn’t go into the details for these products, but they’re all listed as exhibitors at FNCE. You can download the app and search for list of exhibitors. Let me see what I can find. There were several vendors, including a nutritionist from Australia that I chatted with.

      • Lindsay

        great, thank you! I’ll certainly look at the list from FNCE. Let me know if you find anything!

  • Deanna Segrave-Daly

    Great summary of trends – it was definitely the year of the bean for sure. I can’t wait to try those orca beans from Bob’s Red Mill.

  • USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council

    It was great running into you at FNCE! Here’s the recipe for the Maple Glazed Lentil Gingerbread Cupcakes with No-Nut Butter Frosting:

  • Cindy

    I have been asked to review Mealenders. i noted that the front of the package says ‘Dietitian Approved’ Just what are we approving? Anyone done any extensive research on this product? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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