As I left for my first Natural Products Expo West over a decade ago, my boss at the time advised me to “keep an open mind and don’t taste anything.” Trained in mainstream food science, I was indeed amazed to see exhibitors’ products from outside my experience. Products ranged from the novel to the illegal, and a few items did have a shockingly bad taste.
Since then, exhibitor offerings have evolved and become more sophisticated. Cancer-curing and drug-mimicking products are long gone, and products are at least edible, if not downright delicious.
This year’s 3,162 exhibitors offered intriguing new products such as Horizon Dairy’s DHA-fortified milk line and Tea-n-Crumpets’ whole-wheat crumpets, which are a cross between a pancake and an English muffin.
Like the ebb and flow of water in a river delta, trends from past years faded to a trickle, merged with other tributaries or grew to a torrent. Gluten-free products remained very strong (though some still would benefit from a food scientists’ touch for improved sensory quality), and symbiotic products combining probiotic bacteria with prebiotic fibers appeared in many forms. Dietary fiber was “hot” in general: a number of items combined it with calcium “for improved calcium absorption,” and it was at the heart of ever-popular “colon-cleansing” products.
A flood of ingredients and products targeted glycemic control, including sweeteners such as stevia, agave syrup and fruit pastes. Products for weight control and energy remained prominent, with products showcasing “specialty ingredients” including medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which is a lipid for Parkinson’s disease specifically mentioned by one exhibitor. Fruit was bigger than ever, ranging from blueberries to gac fruit.
The “raw food” movement gained ground, although most foods were nut-filled bars bound by fruit pastes. An exception was a clever line of vegan ice creams by Tomberlies. One statement listed “young Thai coconut, filtered water, organic raw cashews, organic raw agave syrup and organic whole vanilla beans.” Coconut milk (aka water) appeared in a number of products, and I was informed that it was beneficial because it was like blood serum; a not very credible claim, I mused.
The show remains a creative Wild West of claims and products that push the envelope (or go a bit beyond). Since returning to the office, I have performed an Internet search on coconut water; it showed that, in a pinch, it actually has been used for intravenous feedings.
Man! I have to work on that “open mind” thing.