Every year thousands of vendors and manufacturers gather in Anaheim at the Natural Products Expo West to showcase the latest and greatest in natural, organic, allergy-conscious and healthy products.
This year we turned to seasoned Expo West veteran Nancy Trent, founder of marketing and communications firm Trent & Company, to give us a tour of some of her favorite healthy food and drink products to watch out for on the horizon.
1. Drinking to your Health: Probiotics and Bone Broth
Probiotics have been in our collective consciousness for a while now—brands like Activia are household names. But Trent predicts that this year will see an increase in industry attention and consumer interest, especially in a higher-end capacity.
“There is no doubt that there’s a very heavy emphasis right now on probiotics—this year I think is really going to mark the start of a real awareness of probiotics and there are some of them that are absolutely a luxury item,”Trent said, pointing to Quebec-based drinkable formula Bio-K as an example of probiotics businesses putting a higher emphasis on quality and effectiveness.
Any time a trend really kicks off it tends to diffuse throughout many disparate sectors of the industry. Trent sees this happening with probiotics and cautions that some critical thinking will be in order for consumers to choose which products are the real deal and which are cashing in on buzzword trends.
“I call it the ‘probiotic wars,’” she said. “As an industry matures there’s this phenomenon called ‘bimodal synergy’ and I think that probiotics are an example of this. The high-end products like Bio-K and the probiotics that are in something like a hot dog bun—there’s literally a brand that has probiotics in hot dog buns—those kinds of companies are going to be doing really well.”
Bone broth is another drinkables trend picking up major steam—major natural and organic brand Pacific Foods in particular debuted ready-to-use bone broth in an array of flavors at this year’s Expo West.
“There’s nutritional benefits to it and that comfort food factor,” Trent said. “Bone broth and restaurants that specialize in that are becoming bigger and bigger.”
But perhaps the most interesting and unexpected development: the appearance of both probiotics and bone broth in the craft cocktail scene, the ultimate creative marriage of trendy high-end cool and a healthy lifestyle commitment that’s extending well beyond that morning smoothie.
2. Mushroom Mania: Where Meaty Flavor Meets Nutrition
“More people are shrooming than they have in a while and I really think that mushrooms are the new kale,” says Trent. Is kale really on its way out? All signs point to yes—and McDonald’s recent announcement that it’s adding kale to its menu only promises to aid in the leafy green’s oversaturation and market fatigue. But mushrooms are primed to step up to—or lie down on— the plate.
“There are a million kinds of mushrooms that have been used in many societies through the ages for healing purposes and I suspect there’s going to be a lot more use of that—people are getting more sophisticated about mushrooms,” Trent said, leading us to brands like San Diego-based supplement brand Mushroom Matrix, which turns mushrooms into a powder form to be added to foods and beverages as a potent nutrition booster and vegetarian source of Vitamin D. “I think that this whole idea of making food healing and understanding the medicinal values of food and ingredients is going to be more and more important as time goes on.”
In addition to the supplements aisle, Trent predicted mushrooms and their brethren gaining more visibility everywhere from fresh produce to the frozen foods aisle as a soy-free alternative protein source, citing brands like the UK-based Quorn which uses a fermented fungus mycoprotein as its base for chicken and beef substitute products.
“People are trying to eat more veggies, but seeking more alternatives for plant-based protein,” Trent said. “There was a time when there were the snowcap mushrooms and then there were portobellos and now there are many more in most grocery stores you go into—they’re mainstreaming mushrooms.”
3. Back to Basics: Trading Exotic Grains for Close to Home Legumes
“Our country seems to be very interested in going around the world and finding real ‘exotica’ – the pitch for exotica at all time high,” Trent noted. “I listen to some companies telling me about different grains and different things from other countries and I’m thinking, ‘But why are they more healthy than things we have here?’ It’s always interesting to try it, but we have to make sure these things are really healthy.”
As an alternative to this trend, Trent points out that some brands are getting back to basics, looking in our own backyard for solid food bases and coming back with gold in the form of the humble bean. From ready-to-use brands like Better Beans to snack brands like Beanitos and Snack Out Loud, beans are getting into the spotlight as a trend in their own right.
“The more you research the quality of the nutrition in beans, the more you want to eat more beans,” she said. “I grew up hearing that beans were a very poor choice and nothing could be further from the truth. I’m so excited and delighted that they’re coming up with so many cool brands.”
4. Fermented Foods Continue Their Rise
Trent is 100 percent on-board with the prediction for fermented foods to grow rapidly and catch significant consumer interest throughout 2015.
“One thing we can totally not forget about is fermented foods,” she said, noting an increase in the presence of kombucha brands, along with sauerkraut. She also noted brands like Wildbrine not only embracing fermentation, but challenging expectations with unique flavor profiles that give traditional products like sauerkraut and kimchi a more modern and fresh (so to speak) update.
5. The End of Coconut Water and the Rise of Cactus Water
“I’m really worried about the coconut situation around the world—you have to give the coconut crops around the world a minute,” Trent said. “But I’m so glad that the whole coconut water thing started, because if it hadn’t been for that we wouldn’t have nopal water.”
Trent predicts that brands like True Nopal Cactus Water, extracted from the prickly pear fruit of the nopal cactus, are going to be the next big thing to replace today’s omnipresent coconut water. With half the calories, sugars and carbohydrates of coconut water, she foresees a lot of appeal to health and fitness enthusiasts—and the drought-resistant nature of the cactus makes it an appealing option for consumers concerned with sustainability.
6. Allergy Consciousness: Trusting in Legacy Brands
“I think that with allergy free companies, there seem to be more of them popping up every day,” Trent said. But she noted that there are some concerns with that. Much like the probiotic situation, a more mature and diverse gluten-free and allergen-free market can also mean quality products mixed in with buzzword-packed products that don’t always live up to their claims, leading to consumers with some major trust issues.
“When you’re faced with a situation like food allergies, you really have to trust companies,” she said. “Just because something says gluten-free doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still look at the label and question it.”
Trent explained that while consumers have a much greater choice in products, those with allergies and sensitivities are increasingly turning toward more established brands like Freedom Foods and Dr. Schar that have spent decades building a reputation in the allergy-conscious space.
“I’m seeing what I’m going to call ‘legacy brands’ gaining in popularity,” she said. “If you have allergies it could be life threatening, so people are saying: I can’t let just any person make my allergy-free stuff.”
Nancy Trent is a writer and speaker, a lifelong health advocate, a globe-trotting trend watcher and the founder and president of Trent & Company, a New York-based marketing communications firm. Trent & Company grew out of Nancy’s personal commitment to helping people live longer and healthier lives. A former journalist for New York Magazine, Nancy has written seven books on healthy lifestyles, serves on the editorial boards of several magazines and travels around the world speaking at conferences and trade shows on trends in the marketplace. She is a recognized expert in public relations with more than 30 years of experience creating and managing highly successful campaigns. Nancy can be reached at (212) 966-0024 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit www.trentandcompany.com.