Food Trends Spotted at the National Restaurant Association Show 2018

I just returned from roaming the exhibits at the National Restaurant Association Show 2018, which was right here in Chicago.

It’s a huge show and there’s so much to report on, and I hope to go back again in the next few days to visit more exhibits and attend some of the sessions before the end of the show.  But for now, some of the major trends I spotted included plant-based protein, probiotics, fermented foods, craft coffee, tea (matcha and more), gluten-free and technology — from 3-D food printers to robotics.  Food as experience and entertainment was huge, including #coffeeinacone — a South African company that sells what they describe as the world’s most instagrammable coffee.

There’s so much to share, but for today I’ll focus on some of the plant-based options and technology.

One of the most intriguing products I tried was from Ocean Hugger Foods.  The CEO was on hand to sample Ahimi, the world’s first-plant-based alternative to raw tuna that can be used for sushi, sashimi, ceviche and poke bowls.  It was quite tasty and surprisingly similar in taste and texture to tuna.  It wouldn’t quite cut it for me, I love real tuna. But I liked the creativity and the passion of the founders.

The folks from Beyond Meat introduced their first plant-based sausage, which I tried during a press briefing in the morning with sauerkraut and it was delicious.  The Beyond Sausage was one of the FABI Award winners this year, and their exhibit was consistently packed.  Although not  everyone was a fan.  When stopping by the booth later after trying it earlier in the morning, I overheard some attendees who were standing in line for the brats that were on the grill.  Once they found out they were “fake” they didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

The company behind Just Mayo introduced Just Scramble, a plant-based egg substitute made from mung bean.  They also served an egg patty in an egg sandwich for the press briefing in the morning.

Looks like jackfruit is getting into foodservice.  I saw several exhibits promoting this plant-based meat alternative and showcasing multiple applications, including jackfruit tacos.

Plant-based beverages were also featured in multiple booths, including this brand-new dairy-free yogurt drink from Califia.  It’s made from almond milk with added probiotics.  Look for it coming to a supermarket near you this summer.

Technology was a major focus at the show and there’s a session on the Future of Restaurants that I hope to attend.  A German company called Procusini demonstrated their 3-D food printer that can make chocolate, marzipan, pasta and other customized creations.

Robotics are also moving into restaurants, including this “server” from Bear Robotics.

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Compilation of 2018 Food Trends: A Collection of Predictions for the New Year

Mushrooms at farmers market by Chris Goldberg on flickr

As we approach 2018, there’s been an onslaught of predictions on what we’ll be eating in the coming year.  Have you had a hard time keeping up with all of these food trend predictions? Me too. It’s been my tradition to assemble these lists, and I’ve done that for the last several years, including here and here.  So once again I’m compiling all of the food trend lists I’ve spotted to try and capture the 2018 trends.  Hope it’s helpful to you.  And let me know if there’s something I’ve missed.

Update:  Here are some additional compilation lists for 2018 food trends that were published after my original post —

Eater Literally Every Single Food Trend Prediction to Take Over 2018
Global Food Forum 2018 Food Trends
Produce Retailer Tracking Food Trends 2018


edamame and snap peas
puffed and popped snacks
ube (purple yams)
seaweed and algae
specialty meats (nose to tail butchery, responsibly raised)
jianbing (Chinese street food breakfast crepes)
arepa (Venezuelan bread)
persimmons, figs
timut pepper (Nepal)
labneh, cottage cheese
Hispanic-style cheeses (queso blanco and fresco)
raclette cheese


Raclette cheese in cheese cave by Andrew McFarlane on flickr

Flavors and ingredients

floral flavors (orchid, lavender, elderflower, hibiscus, rosewater), edible flowers
new hot sauces
zhug (Israeli-Yemenite condiment)
black garlic
super powders (moringa, matcha, maca root)
sugar alternatives

Bubble waffle cone by Jeff Amador on flickr


vegan desserts
Thai-rolled ice cream
boozy ice cream and shakes
raw cookie dough
filled doughnuts
bubble waffle
cotton candy
savory desserts
smoked dessert ingredients
Indian-infused desserts
avocado desserts
nitro desserts
feel-good treats

Cold brew coffee by Oleksii Leonov on flickr


evolved coffee (with “superpowers,” nitro and cold brew, spiced, maca-fortified)
hard cider and root beer
cheese tea
Earl Grey, specialized tea (green tea, tea bars)
kolsch (German brew)

Jianbing or Chinese breakfast crepe by srei on flickr


Native American
Middle Eastern
Indian street food
Upscale Korean

Mini falafel by Paul Saad on flickr


plant-based (including meat and dairy alternatives)
fermentation and gut-friendly foods
brain fuel, nueronutrition, biohacking
eating according to your DNA
self-care food (personalization)
souping over juicing

Cooking Techniques

branded foods (with branding iron)
cowboy cooking (charred, smoked, open fire)

Food Production

cellular agriculture
clean label 2.0
radical transparency


Food Lifestyle


culinary heritage, nostalgia, throwback dishes
knowing a food’s provenance
food halls
visual food experiences
political plating (food waste, hunger relief)
cooking robots
everyday food-tech (voice activated devices like Google Home)
grocery delivery



Sources with links to trend reports:

Baum + Whiteman
National Restaurant Association
CCD Innovation
Sterling-Rice Group
Phil Lempert
Whole Foods
Fine Dining Lovers
The Daily Meal
Unilever Food Solutions

Food Management

Food Navigator

Innova Market Insights


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#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 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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Food Trends from Natural Products Expo East 2017: What’s Driving Industry Innovation

One of the biggest trade shows for the natural and organic food industry is happening now in Baltimore.  Oh how I wish I could attend the Natural Products Expo East — it’s an amazing place for trend tracking.  In fact, the brands exhibiting at this show are at the core of trends and consumer values — such as transparency, social purpose and environmental stewardship.  More and more mainstream grocery stores are stocking these products,  and that’s why these startups and niche brands are on the exhibit floor — to get national distribution.

Even though I wasn’t able to attend, I’ve been monitoring the coverage and watching the posts of some of my nutrition colleagues who are walking the exhibit floor or staffing some of the booths. Here’s a look at the major food trends from Expo East, including the 10 macro trends identified by the New Hope Network, organizers of the Expo, that are driving innovation in the natural and organic industry.

1. The plant revolution: Environmental and health concerns related to the production and consumption of animal products has moved purposefully plant-based foods, once relegated to the vegan and vegetarian minority, mainstream. Innovative new meat and dairy alternatives improve upon taste and texture, therefore widening the appeal of a plant-based way of eating.

2. Wholegrarian shopper: Taking a back-to-basics approach to health, brands across food, beverage, supplements and personal care continue to meet consumer demand for products with pronounceable ingredients and minimal or alternative processing.

3. Protein redefined: The next generation of protein products emphasizes quality and transparency, with claims like grass-fed and organic, or utilizes interesting or blended sources of proteins.

4. Inherently functional: The newest products spin adaptogenic herbs and other naturally functional ingredients like maca and mushrooms into snacks, treats, supplements and even beauty products that address the modern lifestyle concerns of stress and vitality.

5. Probiotics 2: Probiotics, it is being discovered, are for more than just digestive health. The evolution of science around the role of the microbiome in human health is leading to higher bacteria counts in products, probiotic strains that target specific health benefits and a better understanding of the role of prebiotics.

6. The verified brand: Smart brands earn consumer trust by telling the story of their purpose and demonstrating that they use safe, fair and environmentally friendly practices. Emerging certification programs being adopted by natural brands—like Glyphosate Residue Free, Demeter Biodynamic, Made Safe and C.L.E.A.N—move further down the supply chain to address safety and ingredient integrity.  The Detox Project launched the Glyphosate Residue Free certification seal last year and Chosen Foods is one of the brands using this seal on its avocado oil and spreads.

7. Nutrition customized: Creative delivery formats and formulations give nutrition products appeal to consumers of different ages with a variety of needs. The convergence of supplements and food, as well as an ever-expanding selection of age- and gender-specific supplements, are evidence of this trend.

8. Getting crafty: Desire for clean ingredients and transparency are fueling a DIY movement among consumers, a la the continued rise of essential oils and herbal blends.

9. Snackification: Millennials in particular are fond of snacking because brands are tapping into their desire for creative, quick eats that deliver on both taste and nutrition.

10. Sugar vilified: The war on sugar has reached a new level. Some brands are responding with products that are unsweetened or low in sugar. Other brands use alternative sweeteners like monk fruit or go back to basics with small amounts of cane sugar, honey or maple.

The New Hope Network also identified 8 natural food trends that are most likely to resonate with shoppers, along with companies that are performing well within each category.

1. Environmental expectations:  Consumers are increasingly expecting or demanding companies to make commitments to the environment as a part of their business.  Better performing products include Bare, which makes cocoa banana chips with carbon neutral practices, and Quinn, a maker of ready-to-pop popcorn that comes in a compostable bag.

2. Waste not, want not: Food waste has emerged as a major issue. Giving rise to “ugly produce” and companies like Forager that produces chips using leftover pulp from making juice, and Misfit Juicery that makes cold-pressed juices with at least 70% fruits or vegetables that farmers can’t seek or leftover scraps from manufacturers of products such as carrot sticks or watermelon cubes. One Potato Snacks displayed Uglies Kettle Chips, made from surplus and rejected potatoes with minor imperfections.

3. Feed me:  A growing population and desire to use less water, land and other resources has driven innovations, such as Thrive, an ultra omega-9 algae cooking oil maker, Ripple, a plant-based milk made using pea protein, and Lotus Foods, which grows rice on volcanic soils using resource-conserving practices.

4. Collaboration economy:  Companies are attempting to fix the problems in the food system by collaborating with multiple stakeholders in the supply chain, including farmers, manufacturers and retailers. Examples here include Endangered Species, which gives 10% of its profits to partners who protect wildlife, Teatulia, a tea maker that helps rehabilitate land in Bangladesh where its product comes from, and community Seafood, a frozen fish filet producer whose product is harvested by local fishermen.

5. Speed scratch:  Consumers are seeking healthy, quick-cooking meals that are more convenient like a snack but are also satisfying as a hot meal.  Companies who are doing well in this area include Ellyndale Naturals, Grainful, and Sweet Earth.

6. Putting a face on farmers and the food system:  Technology is helping telling a fuller story about products, allowing shoppers to scan a package and learn exactly where the food was grown or produced.  Examples cited include One Degree Organics, Bellucci, and Safe Catch Tuna, which is traceable and uses testing standards that are stricter than what FDA requires.

7. Regeneration: Regenerative agriculture puts emphasis on maintaining the health of soil.  Companies touting regenerative practices include Epic and Back to the Roots.  Another related buzzword is Biodynamic, which refers to foods made with ingredients that use regenerative agriculture.  One of the brands exhibiting at Expo East is White Leaf Provisions, which makes a biodynamic apple and pear sauce.

8. The purposeful brand:  Consumers now value brands with a purpose, which has sparked a new generation of companies created with a social cause they hope to fix.  Examples include Sol Simple, a maker of dried fruits and cashews that traces back the ingredients to its small farmers in Nicaragua, the Sunshine Nut Company and Mavuno Fruit.

For more on the food trends at Natural Foods Expo East, check out:

Food Business News


Images:  Courtesy of manufacturers

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall as Dietitians

Just like the country is incredibly polarized on the topic of politics today, it appears that my profession is in a similar place.  And that’s too bad.

It used to be that as registered dietitians, our critical comments were reserved for non-credentialed, self-proclaimed “experts” who made unsubstantiated claims, distorted the science or sold questionable (and often dangerous) products.  And  I’ve done my fair share of correcting myths and warning about these individuals here on Nutrition Unplugged — from Jillian Michaels and Gwyneth Paltrow to online healthy eating gurus who started the “eat like me, look like me” trend. Now I feel like we’re turning on ourselves.

It’s a strange time.  The science of nutrition is rapidly evolving and dietitians have entered into some exciting new practice areas — expanding their offerings and serving clients in entirely new ways.  In fact, I’ll be addressing this topic at our upcoming Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in October during a session entitled Second Century Communication Tools for Dietitians.   So that’s all great.

But what’s not great is our public squabbles.  It’s more common than I ever realized to see some dietitians publicly shame or bully other dietitians on social media because they disagree with their message.  Dietitians are getting attacked because they recommend organic foods to their clients, have taken a stance against GMO, or recommend specific dietary supplements and eating styles.  Or other RDs are being accused of fear-mongering for encouraging and congratulating food companies for removing artificial ingredients.

I’ve often quoted Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”  That’s so true.  You can’t come up with your own facts.  However, there’s room for opinions — and we need to respect that.  There are some shades of grey in nutrition, which I’ve written about before here.  As professionals, we can hold different food philosophies and points of view on food issues. Choosing to eat primarily local, organically-grown or GMO-free foods — or even opting to avoid all animal products — is a personal decision.  And if a dietitian holds those beliefs and wants to encourage the clients he or she counsels to do the same, they shouldn’t be attacked for it — especially by a colleague.

When nutrition professionals fight among themselves, the public gets even more confused.  That was the motivation behind the creation of the True Health Initiative.  I love the mission of this movement to show how health professionals agree on more than they disagree on.  Let’s celebrate what we agree on and elevate the evidence-based truths.  We’re not as far apart as the public may think.

My wish is that the fighting among dietitians will stop.  We may disagree with a message, but let’s don’t condemn the messenger.   We may have a different point of view than a colleague, but there’s no room for bullying in our profession.  We are better than that.

Let’s agree to disagree on certain topics.  Let’s be respectful.

We all stand for science.  And united we should stand.

Photo credits:  United We Stand by Twn on Flickr; Daniel Moynihan quote by Josephine Stenudd on Flickr 

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