Wondering what to expect next in the world of natural wellness products? What’s a fad vs here to stay? From CBD to sugar-free, here’s a roundup of the common themes, plus new, innovative products I found while trendspotting at Expo West 2019.
When I started blogging in 2010, the Canadian Health Food Association’s annual trade shows quickly became must-attend events on my calendar. They were great opportunities to meet the people behind the brands I loved, and the ones I wanted to share with you. All throughout my CHFA show-going days, I also knew about this “other one” – the biggest and most talked about show of them all. It was Expo West, hosted by New Hope. This show takes place every year in Anaheim, and while I was dying to check it out, the timing and travel costs never quite worked in my favour. Fast forward to now, and living in LA makes all those logistics far less complicated. Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing my first Expo, and it most certainly was, in all ways, an experience!
To set the stage, imagine a 4 day event at the Anaheim Convention center, the surrounding hotels, gardens, patios and parking areas. Picture over 85,000 attendees, 3,500+ exhibiting companies, 132+ countries represented, plus tons of education sessions, keynotes, fitness events and panel discussions. I was there with my co-workers for one day and as you probably guessed, only scratched the surface. While exhausting and somewhat overwhelming, it was also a ton of fun and I’m excited to share some of the highlights with you.
As I decompressed after the event, looked back through photos, and sorted through all the product samples that found their way home with me, I managed to fit most of the noteworthy finds into 9 trends or themes. There’s a lot to say about each one, so today I’ll cover the first 5 and Thursday’s follow-up post will cover the rest. Without further delay, let’s get started!
1. Goodbye, sugar.
This one’s up first because it’s a trend that I hope soon becomes the norm! Looking at the last 20 years alone, we’ve seen waves of each macronutrient (protein, fat and carbs) become the darling that everyone wants more of, or the demon everyone wants to avoid. A few examples: The low fat craze created demand for fat-free everything, the Atkins diet made protein the preference and carbs the problem child, and the more recent re-popularization of the ketogenic diet has made fat fabulous again. The fact that we’re still eating all 3 macronutrients in some ratio or another suggests that they each have their merits, but there’s one thing that science continually indicates to be detrimental to our health: it’s sugar.
In response to the science and the sugar-conscious consumer, more companies are exploring the use of natural, whole food sweeteners like raw honey, maple and cane sugar in their products, as well as those with lower glycemic impact such as monkfruit, erythritol and stevia. Dates, coconut nectar and honey were common in a lot of the bars I found (more about bars in part 2 of this recap), often relied on as the key ingredient that binds the bar together. However, sugar is sugar and it was rare to find any of these bars with less than 13 grams of it – even if naturally-occurring.
Of course, sugar sneaks into a lot of foods that don’t seem very sweet, including condiments and savoury snacks. A few examples of brands proving that this just isn’t necessary are Primal Kitchen with new sugar-free condiments (ketchup, steak sauce, BBQ sauce and dressings), as well as Chomps, Nick’s Sticks and Country Archer with sugar-free/no added sugar jerky. As an added bonus, these brands use 100% grass fed beef and free-range antibiotic-free, hormone-free turkey and chicken, and if you were to take a peek in my snack stash, you’d find a solid assortment of flavours. Having not been much of a “jerky person” in the past, it’s safe to say things have now changed because of these brands!
2. Versatile, better-for-you fats
As we’ve established, the ketogenic diet is hot right now. So are healthy fats, and keto or not, fat is something we all need – particularly for cognitive health. But as we all know, not all fats are created equal. Some are more nutrient-dense choices than others due to their makeup of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat, and simply cooking with one of the healthier options at too high a temperature can negate its benefits.
Luckily, there are some great high-heat fat choices that not only promote good health, but also make foods prepared with them taste absolutely delicious. Coconut oil and avocado oil are two we’ve heard a lot about already, but if you haven’t yet hopped on the ghee (aka clarified butter) train, I promise it’s worth a try. 4th & Heart was the first brand I ever cooked with and one I recommend for multiple reasons. Their ghee comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows in New Zealand, and is available in solid, oil and sprayable formats, as well as to-go packs. Think of it just like rich, golden butter, only dairy-free and lactose-free. (Can’t find 4th & Heart? Thrive Market, Organic Valley and Vital Farms have great ghee too!)
In other fat news, Nutiva recently launched a follow-up to their organic MCT oil: organic MCT powder in 3 flavours. If you’re not a fan of the consistency that MCT oil creates in your Bulletproof-esque coffees or other beverages, or if you want to add MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) to other recipes, the powder is a convenient way to do it. One thing that sets Nutiva apart here is that their organic MCT powder is also blended with acacia fiber – and there’s a good reason for it. Some people find that their digestive systems don’t initially love MCT oil (wink wink), but the acacia fiber helps to make consuming it more gentle on the gut.
One really interesting (and unexpected) fat source I found was Thrive Algae Oil. Like some of the others above, algae oil has a high smoke point making it a good high-heat cooking choice. It’s light and neutral in taste so you can use it in everything from salad dressings and baking to roasting and frying, and it has more monounsaturated fat (the good kind) and less saturated fat (the not so good kind) than other healthy oils. This particular brand (not to be confused with the Thrive Market that I work for – it’s entirely separate) is also sustainably sourced from the sap of chestnut trees. Crazy right? I had no idea that algae oil could come from trees, but it does, and you can read more about the process here.
Finally, there’s Phat Fudge. If you want a sweet treat that’s also good for you, you’re going to love this! The vegan version is a mix of tahini, coconut butter and coconut oil, stirred with other whole foods like cacao, turmeric, maca, cinnamon, vanilla and coconut nectar. (The original non-vegan version includes grass-fed butter and honey.) Phat Fudge comes in pouches for added convenience, making it a great pick as an on-the-go snack, or a fuel source for fat-fueled athletes.
3. Eating more plants
While veganism might not be right for everyone, I think we’d all agree everyone could benefit from eating a little more plant-based – and our planet would, too. There’s a lot of brands making this easier, whether you’re looking for the most meat-like burger to feed a die-hard carnivore, or just a convenient way to get in an extra serving or two of fruits and vegetables each day.
Starting with burgers and meat-like products, there’s products like the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods. (To geek out on the ingredients and process behind developing this very meat-like burger, check out this article.) You might be accustomed to seeing vegan-friendly burgers filled with soy blends and not much else, but several of the exhibitors at Expo had no-soy or less-soy-filled options. Their alternatives use less-processed ingredients such as jackfruit, mushrooms, beets, nuts and legumes – all of which have a similar meaty texture when in ground form.
When it comes to fish, companies like Good Catch are making waves (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) with “seafood” that resembles real fish – but with plant-powered, protein-rich, sustainably sourced ingredients instead. This includes their proprietary 6-legume blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans. Before you go thinking that all those beans could be tough on digestion, don’t worry. Mixing such a wide variety of legumes and the thorough cooking that happens as part of the production process helps to reduce lectin content and increase digestibility.
The other important ingredient in Good Catch’s products is algae oil. Unlike the tree-sourced algae oil I mentioned above, Good Catch sources theirs from the sea which helps to bring that distinct seafood-like taste to the legume blend. It also boosts the DHA content of the products, so you can still get a dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids without actually eating fish. I haven’t tried any Good Catch for myself yet, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious!
Of course, this wouldn’t be a trend roundup without a shoutout to one of the darling veggies of the moment, cauliflower. Perhaps most commonly seen at Expo in pizza crust (from Caulipower Pizza and Cali’flower Foods), it’s also coming in chip, pasta, and dairy-free sauce form. The cauliflower crisps below are one example from Hippie Snacks, and come in 2 flavours – original and ranch. Ingredients-wise, you’re getting cauliflower, pumpkin seeds, coconut milk, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sesame seeds, sea salt and mustard flour.
Finally, some brands are now making it possible to drink your veggies as soup, just as you would a juice or smoothie. The simple purees are packaged bottles, minus the sugar you’ll find in many fruit smoothies and juices. Medlie (launching March 20th) and Tio Gazpacho have several flavours in their lineup of blended veggies, and in case you wondered, yes, they’re free of sneaky sugars. (Adding sugar to soup is nonsense, but it still happens!) Of course, these soups need to be kept chilled for freshness, but I’d be skeptical about a product containing just veggies that didn’t need refrigeration. Wouldn’t you?
4. CBD, hemp extracts, and products targeting the endocannabanoid system
There’s no denying that CBD products are blowing up in popularity, and walking the halls at Expo West further reinforced that there’s a ton of innovation happening in this area. From balms, lotions, oils, capsules and sprays to foods infused with CBD and hemp, there are heaps of health applications that brands have been quick to cater for now that CBD is becoming more accepted and mainstream.
Just in case you haven’t read much about CBD yet, here’s a quick primer:
- Both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa, but they’re different plants.
- Cannabinoids are compounds found in hemp that can affect the immune and central nervous systems.
- Phytocannabinoids are a type of cannabinoid, produced by the hemp plant. Hemp produces 80+ of them.
- Hemp produces the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), which isn’t psychoactive. By contrast, tetrahydrocannabinol is the cannabinoid found in marijuana which IS psychoactive.
- In other words, CBD won’t get you high, but it does appear to have significant wellness benefits, especially related to reducing stress, relieving pain and inflammation, and promoting relaxation and focus.
Admittedly I haven’t ventured too far into experimentation within these products myself, but one brand that’s been on my radar for the past year is Charlotte’s Web. This Colorado-based, family-run business uses all parts of the hemp plant – flower, stem and leaf – with the theory that the whole plant is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Their harvesting, processing and production methods maximize concentration and quality, as well as the health benefits. Charlotte’s Web’s product line includes varying strengths of CBD oil, balm, capsules and cream, and their new soon-to-launch gummies.
5. Functional beverages to boost energy, brainpower and gut health
There was a lot of cold brew coffee being given out to power attendees and exhibitors through the show, but I also noticed a wide variety of functional beverages that offer benefits beyond hydration – many of which were also low in their sugar content. If sweetened, the sources tended to be fruit juices and the lower-GI ones mentioned previously – monk fruit, erythritol, xylitol and stevia.
As for those added benefits, the main themes were energy, mental focus and concentration, and gut health. One example was Four Sigmatic, which just added Focus Shots and lattes to their lineup of functional mushroom elixirs and coffees. The shots contain lion’s mane (a mushroom known for its ability to promote mental focus, among many other things), rhodiola for additional cognitive support, and guayusa as a natural source of caffeine. (Don’t worry – it’s not a crazy amount. The dose is roughly equivalent to the amount you’d get in a cup of green tea.) Unlike energy drinks, the sugar content isn’t off the charts – there’s only 5g per shot, and it comes from pineapple juice, lime juice and stevia.
Moving on to gut health, the kombucha trend isn’t showing any signs of dying out in the near future. But there’s also a world of digestive bitters to which companies like Bitter Love are part of. The brand’s sparkling bitters are made of carbonated water, their herbal bitter blend, and real fruit juice with no added sweeteners. Other ingredients found in drinks touting gut health and anti-inflammatory benefits included ginger, honey, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, moringa and maca.
Over in the category of energy drinks, caffeine from plant-based sources including yerba mate, guayusa, panax ginseng, rhodiola, schisandra and astragalus seems to be on the rise – largely because these sources tend to create a more gradual rise in alertness. In other words, consuming them is less likely to leave you feeling jittery like you might after too much coffee.
On a related note, I spotted a lot of unsweetened and sweetened iced teas (with and without caffeine), as well as some innovative products like Cusa Tea‘s instant tea packets. don’t be mislead – these don’t taste like what you might expect from an instant tea! The leaves are sourced from small farms in remote valleys, limiting their exposure to pollution and toxins, then left in the sun to dry. Then, they’re cold-steeped in order to retain the largest amount of antioxidants, nutrients and flavour. Next, the steeped tea is dehydrated which creates the dehydrated powder you’ll find in Cusa Tea’s instant organic tea sachets. The ingredients are simple – just tea, fruit and spices – and the flavour is absolutely delicious. Better yet, the powder dissolves just as well in cold water as it does hot, so you can enjoy them year-round – even on the hottest days of summer.
Finally, we can’t end this section without mentioning collagen, popularized for its potential gut health and beauty benefits. Vital Proteins is one of the OG collagen brands, famous for its top-selling grass-fed collagen peptides. Since launch years ago, the product line has grown with other related products, including other collagen types and beverages with beauty benefits. Most recently the company introduced 5 flavours of collagen water, each bottle containing 10g collagen and 3g or less sugar from real fruit juice. Lemon Ginger was my favourite flavour, closely followed by Strawberry Lemon. The flavouring isn’t very strong, but it’s enough to make staying hydrated a bit more tasty!
Alright, that’s enough for part 1. Stay tuned for 4 more trends coming up this Thursday including what’s new in gut health and allergen-free eating. I’ll also tell you about a few brands that are winning by doing the right thing. From being up-front and transparent about their products to giving back, they’re setting an example in the industry for how business should be done.
In the meantime, tell me: Do any of the above trends surprise you? Anything you’re excited to see grow, or wish would go away?