This year’s Natural Products Expo West registered record numbers of both attendees and exhibitors. In fact, the March event showcased more than 2,400 companies catering to the latest trends and demands in natural and organic foods, beverages and consumer products. 
Once again, allergen-free products represented a prominent trend, and introductions were not limited to the increasingly popular gluten-free positioning. In fact, numerous products touted their elimination of dairy, soy and tree nuts; many boasted a lack of all eight of the top allergens. 
For a sweeter snack, Sun Cups may bear a strong resemblance to the candy bars that blend peanut butter and chocolate; however, the treats from Seth Ellis Chocolatier LLC promise no nuts or gluten and, instead, feature sunflower butter. Options in the range include Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Mint and Milk Chocolate Caramel—all with no gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, corn or soy. 
Intelligent Protein Snacks not only are free of gluten, but promise 7g of protein per serving; however, setting the chips apart is the addition of egg whites in their ingredients. The range includes Barbeque, Sea Salt & Black Pepper, Cinnamon Sugar and Aged White Cheddar varieties, the latter being the only item in the line with a dairy component.
Simple Squares took the notion of a clean label a step further by promising only five simple ingredients in its organic snack bars. Varieties include Cinna-Clove, Coconut, Coffee, Ginger, Rosemary and Sage, and each is completely free of wheat, gluten, dairy, corn and soy. 
A number of companies even reformulated their product lines to remove xanthan gum. One company’s representative noted that one of its R&D department personnel was having migraines and—after some research—developers realized the company’s xanthan gum was sourced from corn. The company completely revamped its line—and, while this demonstrates a small company’s dexterity in ingredient sourcing—it also may hint at consumer sensitivities.
Organic, in the minds of many consumers, is all but synonymous with natural. But, manufacturers displaying their products at this year’s Expo had a new buzzword in their sites: non-GMO foods. 
As a spokesperson with Nature’s Path explained, “Now that consumers know that genetic modification can be in their foods, they want the right to know through a label.” Although non-GMO verification has yet to become a regulated claim, its strength as a trend is evident: Whole Foods Market has announced it will carry only non-GMO products by 2018. 
Placement in Whole Foods has long been something of the “white whale” for exhibitors at this particular expo. However, with natural and allergen-free products in such demand, it should be little surprise that exhibitors are finding interest in an increasing number of venues, and these are not necessarily the smaller, natural health food stores of the past. Exhibitors noted a distinct interest from mainstream supermarkets, with Kroger, Costco and even Wal-Mart among those looking to stock these items—all in efforts to capitalize on the health and wellness positioning that has long been at the center of Whole Foods Market’s entire brand positioning. Those mainstream supermarkets have established natural-store-within-a-store concepts that are ripe channels for these manufacturers. 
Zola, for instance, has seen notable success with its coconut waters on Whole Foods’ shelves, but the company’s line can now be found among the beverages in Safeway stores nationally. As Steven Kessler, a co-founder of Steaz organic tea, explained, one out of 10 conventional grocery shoppers were at one time seeking on-trend natural and specialty items; now, that number might be as large as two out of the same 10. 
Indeed, this year’s Expo West saw an array of new beverages, including teas, kombucha, chia drinks and coconut water, as well as a continued growth in those sweetened with stevia. Even suppliers could be found, displaying lines of all-natural, zero-calorie, organic stevia products for a natural alternative to sugar. 
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