How do you make a health food like Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt—high in calcium, probiotic cultures and more digestible than cow’s milk—even healthier? Add heart-healthy Omega 3 essential fatty acids. It’s the same great taste (in Strawberry, Raspberry, and Black Currant)—but it’s no longer vegetarian due to the fish oil.
ExpoWest is the Mother of All Trade Shows for organic and natural products, at least in the U.S. Held annually in March in Anaheim, California, this year’s show drew more than 40,000 attendees. If ever there is a trade show where one should “go with the flow,” this is it. Relax, drift around, try products, and let people tell you their stories: everybody exhibiting here has one, and most are interesting, if distinctly non-mainstream. Freshly returned from this exhausting but exhilarating four-day extravaganza of foods, cosmetics, and supplements, I eagerly report on some of the hottest trends in these industries.
Bottled Waters are still enjoying tremendous popularity. This year’s show included brands from A to Z: AquariusWater Company’s water has been purified, oxygenated, and mineral-balanced; Zaqua is an electrolyte-added water with a very high pH. There were several well-known brands, such as Fiji and Penta, but there were many more unfamiliar names, including Spartacus Natural MineralWater, Kona Deep (water from three thousand foot-deep currents off the Hawai’ian coast that’s been desalinated), and my pick for this year’s most unusual water, H2Om, called “Water with Intention.” Based on The Hidden Messages in Water, a book published in Japan, this water is “infused” with sound and music, and is available in either the “Love” or “Perfect Health” variety, soon to be joined by several other styles.
Probiotics have become big news (probiotics are “friendly” bacteria like Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus). Most people know that some yogurts contain them, but they’re seeing increased consumption in the form of other foods and supplements, too. Lifeway Kefir and Helios Nutrition (makers of organic kefir) were both touting the virtues of their probiotic-laden beverages, while Essential Formulas, Incorporated was promoting Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 PLUS and his probiotic skin care products.
The number of companies providing organics and naturals geared toward Babies and Children continues to grow. Frozen baby food was the most common type (such as Plum Organics or Nummy Nums, which bills its products as “all natural baby cuisine”); but the ambitious Bohemian Baby, based in the Los Angeles area, makes fresh organic baby food and will ship it to you or deliver it to your door. Organic lollipops from Yummy Earth, CanDo Kid organic snack bars, Allergy Friendly Foods (shelf-stable allergen-free meals for children), and even ChildLife Essentials, makers of supplements specifically for kids, were all at the show. And lest you think there were only foods geared toward little ones, think again! Under the Nile had certified organic Egyptian cotton clothing and products, while Fresh Baby offers cookbooks, baby food kits, and more, all designed so you can make baby food at home.
Gluten is the food allergy of the moment, so manufacturers are rushing to put the words “Gluten-free” on their product labels. When the product is juice or eggs, you have to wonder, but there are some legitimate entries into this field. Among them: Mary’s Gone Crackers, with organic, whole-grain, vegan, gluten-free crackers (click here for our review). Gertrude and Bronner’s Magic Alpsnack is a snack bar made with hemp nuts, almonds, and dried fruit, and Enjoy Life Natural Brands spotlighted their gluten-free cereals.
Omega Fatty Acids, having been recognized as healthy, are being thrown into a range of foods with reckless abandon. Omega 3’s are found chiefly in fish that inhabit colder waters; Omega 6’s can be gleaned from grains, plant-based oils, poultry, and eggs. The body cannot make either substance on its own. Understanding this, manufacturers of foods as diverse as yogurt and salad dressing are incorporating omega fatty acids into their products, although the emphasis seems to be on Omega 3’s, which are generally less available from food sources. Woodstock Water Buffalo Company sells water buffalo yogurt, including a new line with Omega 3’s (click here for our review). Renee’s Gourmet Wellness Dressings, which include a Roasted Garlic Caesar and Fig Balsamic, incorporate Omega 3’s; and Fruit Essentials offers surprisingly good Omega Bits Fortified Cranberry Pieces with the same fatty acid. There are even some companies putting fatty acids into chocolate—more on that later. One caveat: as fish oils are a primary source of Omega 3’s, some products that include these fatty acids may no longer be vegetarian, such as Woodstock Water Buffalo Company’s yogurt.
“Heat and Serve” Prepared Foods, all natural or organic, will be hitting your store shelves in increased numbers. Many of these are meatless, such as VegeUSA’s excellent Vegetarian Chicken Steak or Helen’s Kitchen Basil Pesto Farfalle with Chicken Flavor Tofu Steaks. An especially clever idea was brought to the show by Grace’s Kitchen, which features meals for two that can be finished at home in 30 minutes or less, for under ten dollars per person. Meals include the likes of Wild Salmon Cakes with a tarragon mustard sauce and toasted orzo with petite green peas. Guiltless Gourmet sampled their new wraps, which include a lovely Mediterranean Spinach variety, as well as Dessert Bowls, which have fewer calories, less fat, and ingredients far better for you than their big-name national competitor.
Nutrition/Sports/Energy Bars. Yup, there’s still a bewildering variety in your local natural foods store, and a new contender for your dollars seems to come out every other day. Gluten-free, vegan, and raw food bars are especially big now. Attempting to grab your attention are choices like Think Products’ Think Organic bar (Apricot & Coconut is my favorite); Bonk Breaker (that’s both the company and product name, referring to the depletion of glycogen and blood sugar while exercising, leaving one feeling disoriented and weak), who offers a fine peanut butter and jelly energy bar that actually tastes like peanut butter and jelly; and LäraBars, weighing in with Cinnamon Roll, Cocoa Mole, and Banana Cookie, among others.
Other smaller-scale indicators of what’s on manufacturers’ minds included trans-fat free foods, vegan foods (other than nutrition bars), foods made with hemp, antioxidants, organic beer and wine, and the up-and-coming stars of the fruit world: mangosteens and black currants (noni juice, Goji berries, and açaí juice/sorbet are still around, but less of a presence than they were last year). There were a good handful of smaller-scale ice cream makers, including Mashti Malone (click here for our review), Palapa Azul (look for our review in the May issue), and Zambeedo. Finally, there were the “chococeuticals,” chocolate (usually in bar form) fortified with everything from Omega 3’s to green tea to grape extract in an attempt to convince consumers that chocolate can be healthy as well as indulgent.
I hope to return to ExpoWest next year to discover what’s new in organics and naturals. Meantime, look for these trends where you shop; some of these products are coming soon to a store near you and some are already there!