Welcome back to part 2 of my Trendspotting at Expo West 2019 roundup, a 2-part series that covers the fun finds and emerging trends I found at this year’s show. In case you missed part one, you can check it out here.
On Monday we talked about cutting back on sugar, functional beverages to boost cognitive performance, energy and gut health, and the massive growth of CBD in the wellness space. Today, it’s time to talk clean, simple labels, allergen-free eating, and brands that are about more than just the products they sell. As you read, you’ll probably notice that many of these trends overlap with each other, especially the low-sugar and allergen-free ones. It was common to see products ticking multiple trend boxes, and you’ll see what I mean in a moment. Let’s get started!
6. Over-processing is out, simple ingredients are in
Over the years we’ve managed to make the concept of “healthy food” pretty complicated. We know it’s in our best interests to avoid processed foods, but typically what’s been positioned as “convenience food” is often among the most processed. Thankfully, more new products are popping up with ingredient lists that are short and simple, catering to the interests of those of us who want to know exactly what we’re eating and drinking. Larabar and RX bar stick out in my mind as early examples of this, but they’re not the only brands catering to consumer demand for simplicity.
One of many examples I found in the savoury category: Peckish. If you love hard boiled eggs but never seem to have any ready when you want them on the go, Peckish is for you! This company’s hard-boiled organic, free-range eggs are sold in convenient snack-size packs (2 eggs per pack) with a variety of seasoning mixes to dip the eggs in. There’s flavours like Everything (similar to Everything Bagel seasoning), Salt + Pepitas (pumpkin seeds, sea salt, black pepper) and Maple Waffles (quinoa crispies, maple and coconut sugar, and sea salt). Peckish snacks are non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free, contain nothing artificial, and each pack provides about 12g protein.
Another trend-within-the-trend I noticed was the number of simple-ingredient products featuring less-common ancient grains such as amaranth and sorghum. Both gluten-free, these have been used in the traditional cooking of other countries for ages, but are just growing in popularity here now – perhaps due to the number of people preferring gluten-free diets. One example is i am(aranth), a line of gluten-free crispy popped amaranth snacks. They come in sweet and savoury flavours, and in the format of bars, sticks, bites, chocolate-covered cups, wafers, nut and seed mixes, brownies, crisps and cookies. Who would have thought such a little grain (which is technically a pseudograin) could be so versatile?!
Then there’s good old oats, another simple staple that several brands are making more convenient – and healthy – to consume. I remember the “conventional brand” single-serve oatmeal packets that I ate in university being high in added sugar, and even now, it’s super important to read labels just to be sure you’re not getting more than you bargained for. Two that I vetted during Expo were the single-serve overnight oat tubs from Mush, as well as a similar jar format overnight oats from Maker Oats.
With flavours like Coconut Cold Brew, Dark Cacao, Vanilla Bean and Wild Blueberry, Mush’s oat tubs are non-GMO, dairy-free, high in protein and contain no added sugars. Dates provide natural sweetness (although not in an overpowering way – there’s 10g/serving), and the ingredients are simple with about 6 per flavour. These come pre-made with liquid and need to be kept in the fridge, but if a non-perishable alternative is what you prefer, Maker Oats come in a reusable jar (and a larger bag format, if you prefer) and allow you to add whatever liquid you like. They’re organic, non-GMO, contain no added sugars, and you’ve got a choice of 3 flavours: Banana Coffee, Mulberry + Chia, and Apple + Coconut. Again, the ingredients are simple, whole and nutrient dense – think mulberries, chia seeds, flax, apples, bananas, dates, golden berries.
Lastly on this trend, we need to talk about bars – a category that has been FULL of processed ingredients since demand for on-the-go convenience began. Despite being given labels like “nutrition bars” and “protein bars”, we all know some of these are no more nutritious than a Mars Bar or pack of M&Ms. To the credit of the makers behind them, there are a lot of things to solve for – shelf stability, ingredients that stay together through a variety of temperatures, cost, taste, texture, appearance – not an easy feat! But it was very promising to see a few brands proving that bars can have cleaner formulations and still taste great.
One example I discovered was OHi, a Hawaiian-inspired, paleo and vegan-friendly superfood bar. These are made of exclusively whole food non-GMO ingredients, and are free of gluten, soy, dairy and grains. Flavours include Almond Crunch, Coconut Macadamia, Super Green and Double Chocolate, and you won’t find preservatives or anything artificial on the label. Oh, and there’s only about 8g sugar per bar, which is a lot lower than others.
So what’s the catch? Refrigeration. OHi recommends keeping the bars chilled for optimal freshness, which makes sense given the no-preservative thing. This isn’t the case with most conventional products, which undergo a drying process to remove the natural moisture that would make them perish faster. Refrigerated bars are becoming more common, and if you ask me, I’d far rather find a way to keep my bars refrigerated than opt for a highly processed one that looks the same 10 years from now as it does today. Wouldn’t you?
If you’re interested in exploring a few more better-for-you options, check out…
- Stoka Bars – Paleo, keto, vegan, non-GMO, and low-GI with sweetness coming from erythritol and stevia
- Verb Bars – Gluten-free, vegan and only 90 calories each, these are an energy bar with green tea as a natural caffeine source. The rest of the ingredients are simple and whole, and each bar has only 5-6g sugar.
- Primal Kitchen Protein Bars – These were released late last year, but still worth a mention. With only 2g sugar each and about 8g protein per bar from cage-free eggs and almonds, they’re keto friendly and free of gluten, grains, soy and dairy.
7. Our fascination with gut health is (still) growing
There’s no doubt that the gut is a topic keeping a lot of scientists, medical professionals, and the wellness media very busy these days. There’s so much to be discovered about the microbiome, but what we know for sure is that its condition affects so many aspects of our health – digestion, energy levels, mental state, skin condition, immune system – just to name a few. The variety of wellness products available to improve gut function was relatively limited a few years ago, but now there are so many more ways to optimize digestion – instead of, or in addition to, simply taking your probiotics every day.
Of course, lifestyle factors like stress management play a big role in gut health, but get ready to hear a lot more about prebiotics and probiotics (I talked about the differences between these here), postbiotics, synbiotics, and botanicals like aloe, slippery elm, dandelion and ginger. A few product examples include…
- Coconut Cult probiotic-rich yogurt – This is not the kind of yogurt you eat in tablespoon-sized servings, not a jar at a time! Known in LA as being a bit of a bougey yogurt due to its price tag (about $20 for an 8oz, 8-serving jar), Coconut Cult contains 25 billion probiotics per 2 tbsp serving and has a tangy, slightly sour flavour. It comes in 5 different flavours and is intended to be taken as a replacement for a probiotic supplement.
- Picaflor fermented hot sauce – The whole food ingredients for these live-culture hot sauces come from a certified organic family farm in Colorado. The owners practice regenerative farming which enhances the health of the soil – and the farm’s ecosystem overall. The ingredients are naturally fermented and never pasteurized so that spicy food fanatics (raises hand) get the benefits of probiotic bacteria.
- Counter Culture probiotic cleaning products – That’s right, probiotics can be beneficial in your household products too! I’ll let you read about how these work if you’re interested, but in short, the idea here is that rather than killing ALL bacteria (harmful and helpful), the products work to create a healthy microbial balance – and of course, get rid of the nasties you don’t want in your house.
- Gutsii Prebiotic Chocolate – These chocolate bars are some of the cleanest flavoured ones I’ve found, with the core ingredients being cocoa, inulin (which is rich in digestion-friendly fiber very common in bars and other snacks), vanilla, dried fruit and cocoa butter. That’s right – no sweeteners. At only 1-2g sugar per bar and a whopping 9-11g of prebiotic fiber, the net carbs of these are low making them a keto-friendly option.
- Kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented veggies of all kinds. I was surprised to see SO many kombucha companies at Expo, but clearly, the buzz is still alive and flavours are getting more interesting. There was also a growing variety of fermented veggie providers which I’m 100% in support of, and I certainly did my fair share of tasting every time I came across a booth with samples!
On a related note, there’s also a growing number of fermented superfoods popping up, including New Chapter’s Fermented Turmeric Booster Powder, Fermented Maca Booster Powder, and Fermented Aloe Booster Powder. While not all fermented products are specifically targeted at digestion, the idea here is that the main ingredient (or herbs/botanicals in the case of turmeric, maca and aloe) are fermented with probiotics in order to make them as digestible as possible. This makes their valuable nutrients easier for our bodies to absorb and use.
8. Eating allergen-free isn’t as hard as it used to be
…and soon, maybe you won’t feel like the high maintenance one when you ask which menu items are gluten and dairy free at restaurants. I’ve talked about a lot of brands with offerings free of gluten, soy, corn and dairy, and with these being among the most common allergens, other companies, big and small, are following suit.
Gluten-free, grain-free, and alternative flours
If you haven’t yet heard of cassava and plantains, you will this year! Cassava (a potato-like vegetable with less starch) and plantains (like a more starchy, less-sweet banana) are becoming much more common, both as flours and as ready-made products like tortillas, chips, baked goods and other snacks. The same is also the case for amaranth, sorghum, tigernut, cashews and coconut. Actually, let’s face it – coconut’s already everywhere.
A few examples of companies embracing these ingredients include…
- Siete – Perhaps most famous for irresistible grain-free tortilla chips, this is one of the first grain-free, paleo-friendly brands I learned about a few years ago and their product line has continued to grow over time. In addition to chips, they’ve also got a ton of tortilla options (almond flour, cassava + coconut, chickpea flour, cashew flour, and cassava + chia), as well as sauces and cashew-based dips. (Seriously, what kind of fiesta are you having without hot sauce and queso?) You can pick between two cashew queso flavours and 4 hot sauces, and if you ask me, the chipotle one is hands-down the BEST.
- Pamela’s – This is your one-stop-shop for all things gluten-free, and more recently, grain-free baking. The grain-free line of flours includes cassava, almond, tigernut, coconut, and a 4-nut blend, all of which are paleo-friendly.
- Positively Plantain Tortillas – Wondering if you can make a grain-free tortilla with just 3 ingredients and have it behave just like a regular tortilla? It’s possible! And Positively Plantain Tortillas do it with just plantains, baking powder and Celtic sea salt. They’re also doing good by giving back, sending 10% of profits to 3 charitable organizations.
Almond milk might be your go-to now, but get ready to see more options containing macadamia nuts, cashews, oats, hemp and coconut. If you prefer a dairy-free diet and don’t want to worry about questionable additives and preservatives in your nut milk, coffee creamers, etc, check out Mooala, Milkadamia, Califia Farms (now with Oat Milk Barista Blend!), Laird Superfood, Nutpods and Picnik.
9. Transparency in sourcing, packaging and giving back as a competitive advantage
I know this is a very wide topic and each of the three components could easily be talked about independently, but for the sake of wrapping up this post I’m going to tackle them together. In addition to being forthcoming about ingredients, I think brands that are also up front about their sourcing and production practices, supplier relationships, and corporate social responsibilities are going to gain a competitive advantage over other large-scale companies that compete primarily on price. This is already happening, according to Accenture data from the publication From Me to We: The Rise of the Purpose-Driven Brand. The trust factor is huge, and the studies show that it matters when it comes to our purchase decisions.
Ultimately, I think the brands that win will be the ones that stand for more than the products they sell, and the ones that not only share their mission but also consistently walk their talk. A few examples include…
The Soulfull Project: breakfast for everyone
This company’s story sends chills down my spine and I highly recommend giving it a read here. For every serving of The Soulfull Project’s wholesome, non-GMO hot breakfast cereals purchased, they match by donating a serving of 4-Grain cereal to a food bank in the same region. That means you can not only give back, but have that impact felt directly in your own community.
Maker Oats: Responsible packaging
As mentioned above, these overnight oats are available in glass jars instead of single-use cups, and the full-size carton is 100% recyclable. Added bonus: The lid is BPA-free so you can wash and reuse the jar as many times as you like. I’ve been storing my homemade body butters and sea salt scrubs inside!
Taza: Setting transparency standards for the chocolate industry
Taza created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program. Instead of dealing with middlemen, the company has direct relationships with their organic cacao farmers. Wages that are higher than Fair Trade, good working conditions, and sustainable sourcing are all disclosed in their Transparency Report which you can check out here.
Spinster Sisters: cruelty-free and ecologically-sound
This Colorado company is PETA certified, EWG verified, and committed to minimal-waste practices in their 100% wind-powered production facility and retail stores. Ingredients for the line of natural personal care products are sustainably sourced and packaging is kept minimal in order to reduce environmental footprint. More about this here. Spinster Sisters creates clean, non-toxic bath and body products that’ll make you smell great – and you can feel great about supporting the business, too.
Acure: high quality, no toxins, no cruelty
In addition to sourcing high-quality, effective ingredients and making these products available to consumers like you and me at a near-unbeatable price, Acure’s lineup is vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens, sulphates and phthalates. The company also holds its suppliers to high standards and gives back to charitable organizations that align with similar values.
Alright, that’s a wrap! As I said on Monday, I feel as though I barely scratched the surface of Expo this year and next time, definitely need more than a day to get around to more of the exhibitors. But with the 9 trends I’ve just shared in mind, are there any others that you think will grow this year? Any that you’re excited to learn more about, and any you already can’t stand? Chime in by leaving a comment below!