Think of this a viewpoint from 30,000 feet. Actually, that’s literally the case because I’m writing this on the plane home from the 2012 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif.

First order of business. Okay New Hope Natural Media. All respect for a brother media company but please stop having the show over weekends. That said – thank you for a really great show. Each year seems to get better and the organizers do a fantastic job. This year, more than 60,000 attendees (another record) visited more than 3,000 exhibitors and tried interesting new foods and beverages.

I enjoyed doing a three-day version of “the wave” with all those people on the show floor. We surged to and fro and moved from booth to booth. The excitement of foodies in their element is exhilarating and the show charges my engines for the rest of the year. That it’s in California also doesn’t hurt (but don’t tell my fellow Texans I admit that).

This year’s show was one of the best – not just because of the palpable energy but because there actually were a number of obvious new trends. Here are a few that caught my attention.

Gluten Free

The 1 to 3 percent of the U.S. population with celiac disease can rest easy that just about nothing is denied them. Thanks to a consumer market that snaps up enough gluten-free product to account for 10 times the number of people who actually become ill from the gluten proteins in wheat (and for a very few, oats and barley), I think we now can accept that the trend – after some roller-coastering – is on a slow, steady climb likely to continue for another five to 10 years. After that, it should reach a solid plateau, but I don’t see the market plummeting and serving only those with the disease.


Vegetarian has been ramping up. Yet now the total ditching of all products derived from something with a face is really growing and hitting the mainstream. Many items from even the big guys are now touting “no animal products.”

Me? I’m an ex-vegetarian. But I still eat a predominantly veggie diet and to see more stuff is a selfish source of pleasure. And the offerings have improved over the years. Just one admonishment to vegan and vegetarian food companies. ENOUGH WITH ALL THE FRICKIN’ GARLIC ALREADY!! Where in the veggie bible does it say that, when removing meat, one must replace it with an equal amount of garlic powder?


This is a surprising turn of events for a little desert seed. Chia (also known as salva, short for its botanical name of Salva hispanica) did not strike me as having potential to be the next big ingredient when it started to trickle out a few years ago. Granted, it gained a lot of popular kitsch in 2008 with the Barack Obama Chia Pet, and it is a legitimately healthful ingredient, especially as an amazingly concentrated source of plant omega oils. But what are its uses? Turns out it can go into just about anything. I saw mostly chia snacks, such as chips, but there were at least a half a dozen chia beverages. Guess how many were actually good? One, believe it or not! (And you thought I was going to totally dis it, right?) Seriously, Chia/Vie ( has a smooth fruit juice-chia blend that really worked.

Greek Yogurt

I’m pleased to say the Greek yogurt trend has gone cold. However, it’s not what you think. The number of competitors has doubled but now they’re freezing it. There were about six brands of frozen Greek yogurt on display.

At the end of the day—for processed yogurt—nothing in the craze has come close to the yogurt from the guys who started the trend here: The Three Greek Gods (a.k.a., the Tselios brothers). Although now under the Hain-Celestial umbrella, the boys are still in town and their yogurt is still heavenly. It’s a staple in my fridge and although the sale to the “big guys” killed their seriously addictive frozen yogurts (an utterly DUMB move, Hain-C!), the price point is lower, distribution wider and there’s been no change in the superior quality.

My recommendation? Take some Three Greek Gods and put it in the freezer until they start making their own frogurt again. (Hopefully, they’ll bring back the baklava-flavored one first!)

Peas Pay Attention

About five years ago, Pulse Canada graciously invited me to participate in one of their conferences on peas, beans, lentils and chick peas—those typically dried legumes known as “pulses.” For years, I’d known that legumes were high in protein, fiber and micronutrients, and make an excellent flour. They’re also naturally sweet and highly versatile. What I didn’t know was why American processors had not yet snapped to peas.

As an archaeologist in a previous life, I can tell you that humans have lived off legumes for about 12,000 years. I predicted that the proverbial cat would soon be out of the bag. And I’m proud to say, I was right. Pea flour and pea protein use has taken off like Jack’s beanstalk and there are now dozens of new products using this cheap, highly nutritious and ingredient. Moreover, it’s even super-ecologically responsible. Crackers, chips, breads, beverages … it’s all about to take a sharp turn upward, folks.

These are just a few of the trends I observed. Thanks again, NatExpo—a good time was had by all; lots of good food, good info and good trendspotting. And there are far worse things than hanging out with a few thousand patchouli –wearing hippies (nod to my buds at Dr. Kracker, Sambazon and Guayaki here), tasting yummy foods and drinking good bevs.

And an end-note, special thanks, too, to Anaheim’s Thuyen Viet restaurant at 1740 S. Euclid. Amazing vegetarian food (I went three times in a row!), friendly service and—right there on the menu—is an option to go garlic free.