#FNCE Food Trends: Trendspotting at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo 2017

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) just wrapped up. It was a special one. We celebrated our 100th anniversary as the nation’s largest association of food and nutrition professionals. It was also the biggest conference in our 100-year history: 13,000 dietetics professionals attended!  It was also in my home town in Chicago, which was rather nice!

I had the great privilege to present this year: Second Century Communications Tools for Dietitians. It was a lot of fun and I hope it was inspiring to the dietitians in the audience.

I also spent quite a bit of time walking the aisles of the exhibit hall to spot food trends — one of my favorite parts of the annual meeting (besides connecting with good friends). So what did I think were the big trends?  Plant-based was an overarching trend, including a “reducetarian” approach of combining meat and plant protein, such as the Blend Burger that blends mushrooms with ground beef, or the pasta dish I had at the Lentils booth that combined ground meat and lentils.  It’s about cutting down, not out.

Specific trends I spotted included gut-friendly foods, nuts in multiple forms, allergen-free foods, convenient single-serve snacks, new look at grains, good fats get better, old-school foods with a modern twist and farmer as hero.  Virtual reality was also a trend, offering attendees a peek at the journey from farm to glass for Fairlife Milk and Tropicana Orange Juice, or a viewpoint of a bee from the National Honey Board. I also noticed several Amazon.com only products and founder-led brands, such as Rachel Pauls Happy Bars.

I was live-tweeting some trends from the exhibit floor and I had one dietitian reply to me on Twitter saying she wished there were more whole food vendors at the conference.  Really?  I thought there were quite a few.  Wild blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, prunes, pears, peaches, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and avocados were all there.  You could find eggs, lentils, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, honey, whole grains and fresh salad mixes.  Come on!  It’s so easy to criticize “big food,” but there were lots of whole fresh foods on display — along with companies introducing better-for-you options that happen to come in a box, can or package.

Gut-Friendly Foods

The exhibit floor featured a Healthy Gut Pavilion that was full of products positioned to promote digestive health — from probiotics and fiber to low FODMAP foods.  I talked about low FODMAP foods as a trend last year, but it’s grown even more.  These foods are low in types of carbohydrates that aggregate IBS and other digestive issues.  I liked these trail mixes featured above from Fody Foods that include nuts, banana chips, coconut chips, dark chocolate chips and cranberries.  The Rachel Pauls’ Happy Bars are also low FODMAP.

Probiotics dominated the Pavilion, including these probiotic shots from Good Belly and barley products offering prebiotic dietary fiber from Freedom Foods, a company from Australia.  Now we know that a combination of probiotics and prebiotics (or the fuel for beneficial organisms) is really what we need.

Nuts in Multiple Forms

Nuts are enjoying this new era of “good fats” and I spotted several nut vendors, including Yumbutter that promoted nut butters in pouches (also fortified with probiotic cultures), the first peanut milk from Elmhurst, and unique peanut puffs called P-Nuff Crunch by Perfect Life Nutrition (another interesting founder story). A Japanese company called Daily Nuts & Fruits, Inc. promoted individual servings of nuts targeted for different demographics (from kids to seniors) and different combinations of nut mixtures.  I think it’s good to think of nuts as a regimen product because of all the benefits they deliver.

Free-From Top Allergens

Several exhibitors touted the absence of the top 8 allergens: eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish. One of those vendors was Cybele’s Free to Eat Pasta, which were innovative “superfood” pastas, including the rotini below that’s made from red lentils, pumpkin and butternut squash.  It was really tasty.

Made Good and Ona Bizzy Bee both made “school safe” snacks without common allergens like peanuts or tree nuts.

Convenient Single-Serve Snacks 

There were many products designed for healthy eating on the go.  These Flap Jacked Mighty Muffins with Probiotics (again!) were a unique product that you add water and microwave for an instant muffin.  I’m not sure about this one. But it contains 20 grams of protein, and we know that’s a draw today for consumers.

Another product in a cup are these innovative frozen desserts from Daily Harvest, a subscription service that delivers the frozen cups to your doorstep for mixing up at home.  The Salted Caramel with sweet potato, banana, dates, coconut, pumpkin seed, and chia was really delicious.

Rise Buddy baked rice chips, in flavors like Pizza, BBQ, Sea Salt and Sour Cream & Onion, were marketed as “healthy junk food,” which was a turn off for me. Yes they’re made from brown rice and are gluten-free, but these are not a nutrient-dense snack by any stretch (similar to the Veggie Straws that I’ve written about previously.)  I didn’t even taste these, but I was not a fan.

This was an interesting product from Cocoburg, a company that was also exhibiting coconut jerky.  Their latest product is Nothing But Coconut, which was described as the world’s first dried young coconut strips.

 New Look at Grains

Glad to see so many grain products on display — let’s hope people are getting over their bread phobia.  Sprouted grains seem to be the next “whole grain.”


Good Fats Get Better

Conversations around oils are getting more detailed, including the amounts and levels of specific fatty acids.  Safflower oil is getting more attention, along with oleic acid.  A company called Oleico was touting the science, along with flavor-infused safflower oils like Provencal-style, Creole and Mediterranean-style.

Old School Foods Make Modern Comeback

Remember cottage cheese?  Well it’s back and sporting a new look.  It struck me how certain old-fashioned foods are putting on  new face to inspire the next generation.  Muuna served single-serve containers of cottage cheese in fruit flavors.  I loved the peach.   Wasa crackers (since 1919) are another old-school food that is suddenly shining bright — more relevant than ever.

Farmers as Heroes

Maybe my favorite trend of all was the focus on the farmer.  Increasingly consumers care about where food comes from and how it was grown.  That’s why farmers are the new celebrity chefs.  Farmers were featured in the pistachios booth (even though a cardboard cutout) and a real blueberry grower was on hand to answer questions at the wild blueberry booth.  Don’t you love her big button declaring “I’m a blueberry grower.”  But best of all was the cranberry bog built by Ocean Spray.  This over-sized exhibit that allowed actual interaction with a cranberry bog was the hit of the exhibits!


Did you attend FNCE 2017?  Let me know what you thought were the big food trends and I’ll link here.

Updated with links to other FNCE trend-tracking articles:

Dawn Jackson Blatner for Huffington Post

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