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

Enjoy this?

share it



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 

Enjoy this?

share it



30 Trendy Food-Related Buzzwords

Le Cirque dessert: Panna Cotta with Grapefruit Foam Surrounded by Cotton Candy

Ok, I admit it.  I’ve taken a break from blogging.  Life gets in the way, that’s for sure.

But I’m back.  Trying to post more often here on Nutrition Unplugged — and trying to do more of my additional writing for other outlets.

What’s easy for me to write about is food trends.  There’s a lot to tackle on the nutrition front, more fad diets and crazy product claims than ever.   That’s for another day.  In the meantime, wanted to share some of the food-related buzzwords that restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman recently identified for the first half of 2017.  I’ve certainly seen evidence of these trends at some of the recent shows I’ve attended, including the National Restaurant Association Show.

So here you go…

For Sweets:

Cotton candy on desserts
Thai rolled ice cream
Globalized ice cream flavors
Bubble waffle ice cream cones
Alcohol-infused desserts

One-Item Specialty Restaurants:

Cream Cheese
Iced Tea
Raw cookie dough

Flavor and Ingredients:

Syringes for injecting flavor (into sushi, frozen desserts, fried snacks)
Charred bitter flavors
Blended burgers to reduce meat content
Plant/vegetable “butchers”
Plant-based everything
Up-cycling, or making food from kitchen discards
Sushi burgers in rice cakes
Purple yams (use)
“Goth foods” turned black using activated charcoal
Philippine cuisine
Modern Indian fast-casual dining
Frozecco and Frose

Photo credits:  Tweber1 for cotton candy dessert, Stu_spivack for churros

Enjoy this?

share it



Trendspotting at National Restaurant Association Show 2017: What’s New and Next on Menus #NRAShow17

I love to go to the National Restaurant Association Show, which is always in Chicago — lucky for me.  It’s a great opportunity to spot the latest food trends.  Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co. in Atlanta spoke again this year.  Here’s a look at some of trends she highlighted in her session, along with a few of the trends I spotted on the exhibit floor.

Plants on Plates

A rise in “reducetarians” and “flexitarians” has inspired chefs to experiment with plant-forward dishes — from a cauliflower burger at Hard Rock Cafe and spicy buffalo cauliflower at California Pizza Kitchen to a broccoli sandwich at No. 7 Subs.  Kruse said if you want to sell a vegetable-forward dish, “treat it with the same innovation, creativity, flavor enhancements and culinary hooks that you would lavish upon an animal protein item.”

While walking through the exhibits, I definitely noticed that the plant-based protein trend was hitting the restaurant world in a big way. Two exhibitors showcased Jackfruit for foodservice (pulled pork, tacos, nachos and more), and there was a huge crowd gathered at the much-lauded Beyond Meat’s booth.


Going Global

Restaurateurs are reaping the rewards of globalization, Kruse said, and one of the latest global flavors gaining favor in U.S. restaurants is Indian fare.  I sure noticed that on exhibit floor — from Indian street snacks called Chaat to frozen Indian appetizers conveniently packaged for restaurant operators.

I also spotted this sushi robot made in Japan.  How cool is that?  Kruse said katsu, similar to a Japanese schnitzel, is going to be the next big thing.

Snacks Appeal

With over half of the population swapping meals for snacks, downsized portions are in demand, Kruse said. The fastest growing day part in restaurants is the afternoon snack period, she said. Here are some of the snacks I spotted — from 100-calorie packs of better-for-you jerky inspired by Chicago chefs to quinoa snack cups and Mediterranean-style dips.

A few other interesting items I enjoyed on the exhibit floor — tea, living greens, and the golden berry from Equador.

Here’s a look at the top innovations at the NRA Show, the 2017 Food and Beverage Awards — including the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat.  Other winners include Manifesto Cookies and several bakeries.  I spotted Manifesto Cookies on the exhibit floor and bread was everywhere.  Maybe that’s a good sign that people are coming back to bread.

More on NRA trends from Restaurant Business and Food Business News.

Enjoy this?

share it



The Troubling Rise of Orthorexia, Or When Healthy Eating Becomes an Obsession

Young woman getting having her green smoothie after training

Sandwiched between sessions on reducing cardiovascular disease risk, boosting brain health and treating childhood obesity at the recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston, was a different type of presentation about the harms of taking healthy eating to an extreme – and the room was packed.

In a cavernous convention hall, an estimated 4,000 registered dietitians listened intently to three experts discuss orthorexia nervosa, a term coined by one of the panelists Dr. Steven Bratman to describe an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. The condition, not yet classified as a full-fledged eating disorder (although Bratman has proposed diagnostic criteria), is increasingly on the radar of health care professionals. It clearly struck a chord with the audience.

During the 90-minute panel, the topic was trending on Twitter, and it became one of the most talked about sessions at the conference.  Orthorexia was the topic of my latest column for U.S. News & World Report  How To Tell if You Have Orthorexia.  And I’ve been thrilled to see it get picked up by Yahoo,  MSN and SmartBrief.

The condition differs from anorexia nervosa, in which people’s distorted self-image causes them to severely restrict calories for fear of becoming fat . With orthorexia nervosa, or more commonly referred to as simply “orthorexia” (“ortho” means right; “orexia” means  hunger), the goal isn’t necessarily thinness, but a desire to be pure, clean and healthy. In his presentation, Bratman described orthorexia as a “disease in search of a virtue.”

It’s about good intentions that have gone too far. It’s when a desire to eat right totally takes over someone’s life – leading to anxiety, guilt, self-judgment and often social isolation.

“Your identity should not depend on you being the healthiest eater in the room,” said co-panelist Marci Evans, a registered dietitian, eating disorders specialist and body image expert who owns a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The third panelist was Jessica Setnick, a registered dietitian and eating disorders expert in Dallas, Texas.


Jessica Setnick, Steven Bratman, Marci Evans

“Unfortunately, it’s become socially acceptable to be obsessive about food,” Evans told me for my U.S. News article.

So why are we seeing a rise in orthorexia?  Many factors are at play.  First, there’s no shortage of trendy wellness bloggers who espouse an “eat like me, look like me” approach.  I’ve written about this issue in the past.  Just because certain bloggers are photogenic and have a large Instagram following, it does not mean they’re doling out good advice.  So often their focus is on what to avoid.  Or they make it seem like there’s only a very narrow range of foods that are permitted if you want to “eat clean.”

Evans said people’s tendency to bucket foods into good and bad categories – and their eating into good and bad days – may be adding to the problem. Even our society’s laser-focus on health without emphasizing the pleasures and enjoyment of food, and the hero-worshipping of certain “miracle” foods, are contributing factors , too.

Of course, just because you’ve decided to become vegan, go paleo, try a detox cleanse or follow a strict eating regimen, doesn’t mean you have orthorexia.  The problem is when your eating becomes increasingly restrictive and it starts to negatively impact your self-worth, happiness and well-being.

If you’re wondering if your healthy eating has become unhealthy, Evans suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more time thinking about your food choices than you wish you were?
  • Do you find that the main barometer of how you feel about yourself on any given day is based on how you’ve eaten?
  • Do you tend to demonize certain foods and think you cannot eat the foods you enjoy?
  • Are you flooded with anxiety, shame, guilt or negative physical sensations when you eat something that is not on your list of permitted foods?
  • Do you feel like your eating has become compulsive instead of an active choice?
  • Are you increasingly eliminating more foods and adding to your list of food rules to try and achieve the same health benefit?
  • As you cut out more foods and try to eat healthier, has your fear of disease gotten worse?
  • Does your eating regimen make it hard for you to interact with friends, family or colleagues?
  • Are you likely to stay home from a social event over a fear of what type of food would be served?
  • Is your eating adding to your overall stress?
  • Has a medical professional told you that you’re experiencing negative health symptoms because of your strict diet?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be a red flag. Evans recommends reaching out to a registered dietitian – and potentially a mental health counselor – so you can be evaluated for orthorexia. Your food choices should not be a reflection of your morality or value, she says. A registered dietitian can help reduce these food fears and create an approach to eating that is flexible, less rigid and pleasurable.


Enjoy this?

share it



Copyright 2021 Nutrition Unplugged
Design by cre8d