For three days last week, the Anaheim Convention Center played host to the latest information, trends and products in the natural products industry, a segment valued at $110 billion, noted Patrick Rea, publisher of Nutrition Business Journal, during his address on the state of the industry to open Natural Products Expo West 2011. According to organizers, the 2011 Expo West featured the largest number of exhibitors in its history, with more than 3,500 booths displaying products focused on such trends as natural/organic, gluten-/allergen-free and healthy.

Antioxidant-rich Superfoods continued to be an area of distinct interest, with acai, baobab, chia seeds, goji berry and sea buckthorn all making their way into various foods and beverages. Beverages, in fact, enjoyed a particular focus, notably beverages with benefits. Activate Drinks, for instance, debuted three new flavors in its Better For You range: Lulo Pear, Blueberry Pomegranate and Raspberry Citrus, each promising vitamins and electrolytes.

Assure Food and Beverage Co. likewise embraced Superfruits, with its line of all-natural, low-calorie functional beverages, said to be infused with natural vitamins sourced from fruits and vegetables. The line included Goji Lemonade, Peach Mango, Raspberry Acai and Pomegranate Blueberry.

Sea Buckthorn Berry and Seed Oils harvested in the Tibetan Plateau were on-hand from SeabuckWonders. The USDA-certified-organic products found in the supplement aisles were naturally fortified with more than 190 bioactive nutrients and minerals, including omega-7, which a company representative noted is a "special nutrient that may protect, replenish, moisten and restore the skin and mucus membranes that line the digestive and urogenital tracts."

Digestive benefits proved the selling point for a wide variety of product introductions. Lifeway introduced ProBugs Organic Whole Milk Kefir, a drinkable dairy product with probiotics and promising to promote overall healthy digestion. Available in such flavors as Sublime Slime Lime, the gluten-free, "yogurt-like" smoothie includes among its ingredients milk (organic), organic cane juice, organic inulin, and vitamins A and D3.

However, yogurt was not just for children -- or even humans. Yoghund frozen yogurt treats provided dogs with a treat made from real yogurt and featuring probiotics for the pup's digestive health. Nature's Milk likewise focused on the canine consumer with its goat milk products, among them a protein-rich, bite-sized bone.

For the human audience looking for protein, Clickco LLC thought it beneficial to incorporate it into a coffee-flavored drink mix. Click was described as “the world's first espresso protein drink mix." Varieties included Mocha and Vanilla Latte, and the natural product promised 15g of protein (17% of the recommended daily value) and 23 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A (20%), C (30%), D (20%), E (20%), K (20%) and B12 (20%), plus calcium and magnesium, to name just a few -- all augmented by a double shot of espresso (150mg of caffeine per serving).

While the stimulating effects of caffeine may be in demand from a great number of consumers, there has been a spate of beverages purporting to promote calm, restful relaxation, something of a direct backlash against the proliferation of energy drinks, it seems. One example, Chillout Natural Calming Drink from Ex Drinks LLC, incorporated such ingredients as chamomile; valerian (an herb "used since Roman times and known for its ability to maintain a feeling of calmness"); lemon balm (for a soothing aroma); vitamins C and B (3, 6, 7 and 12); and a natural fruit sweetener listed as "Fruit Up" on the label. The sweetener, the label claims, is "a natural fruit sweetener extracted entirely from fruits without using chemicals or other additives;" fructose, glucose and sucrose are the second, third and fourth ingredients listed on the ingredient legend, and the company claims the drink has a “low" glycemic index rating of 34.

Mixing two of the hotter trends of recent years, Tisano introduced Chocolate Tea, boasting “the sweet aroma and rich taste of chocolate without the fat or calories." In fact, the company noted the product is naturally fat and calorie free. Positioned as a healthy alternative to coffee and tea, this herbal tea is claimed to feature the benefits of dark chocolate without the guilt. Tisano noted the product contains over 300 compounds, including tannins, catechins, polyphenols and other antioxidant agents, plus theobromine to "provide a mild, long-lasting boost with a mood-improving effect."

Of course, one of the biggest trends at Expo West in recent years has been allergen-free products, and this year was no exception. In fact, no fewer than three seminars were held on the gluten-free trend, alone; while the number of gluten-free introductions appeared to be fewer, the positioning was easy to find – rather difficult to avoid, in fact – and there may be a reason behind the lack of new gluten-free products on display: the lack of a standard in the U.S., which per a seminar on the topic by Shelley Case, R.D., could be as much as two years away, if not longer.

As for the gluten-free products that were available at this year's Expo West, Bakery On Main added Soft & Chewy Gluten-free Granola Bars made with certified gluten-free amaranth, quinoa, oats, flax and chia seeds, for a product promising to be a “great source" of whole grains and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. For gluten-free consumers seeking a calcium fortification, Natural Dynamix introduced Adult Gummy Calcium DX, a gluten-free confection with natural colors and flavors and vitamin D3 for calcium absorption.

As the gluten-free market currently stands, the segment is valued at $2.64 billion (according to 2010 sales), but projections indicate the gluten-free market will reach $5.5 billion by 2015, per statistics from a seminar hosted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. As that seminar explained, the gluten-free segment still has room to grow (non-digestive issues, such as migraines and fertility concerns, were regarded as a notably unexplored selling point, commented Josh Kohnstamm, president of Kohnstamm Communications), but there could be some roadblocks: the lack of a U.S. standard; the fear about cross-contamination in foodservice environments; and the fear that the gluten-free consumer may not understand how such contamination can occur. However, within the latter issue could be opportunity: pre-packaged, gluten-free products ready to prepare with minimal risk of cross-contamination.

From the March 21, 2011, Prepared Foods E-dition