Remember chia pets? Rinsing your hair with beer? Food that's just food — no soy protein isolate, xanthan gum, red dye No. 40 or mystery ingredients from the Amazon rain forest?
Well, chia is back, big time (the seeds, not the chia pets). And so is regular old food. We recently spent hours plodding the floors — along with 60,000 others — at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, the biggest health food trade show in the world. The overarching theme we saw: What's old is new again.
Your grandmother would recognize a lot of these hot trends: Foods produced by local farmers. Skin products with ingredients that aren't nine syllables long or start with prefixes like dimethyl or phenol. Products for sale in packages that can be recycled or composted. (Compostable baby diapers, anyone?)
In years past, the exhibit hall brimmed with bottles of vitamin, mineral and herb supplements. Now the supplement segment has shrunk.
"There is growing distrust" of all things synthetic, says Carlotta Mast, an editor at New Hope Natural Media, the company based in Boulder, Colo., that produces the Expo. "That is driving the idea of 'Just eat real food.'" She says the purification ethos extends to that shrunken supplement sector: The number of multi-nutrient formulas is shrinking, edged out by single-ingredient pills of
Here's what jumped out at us:
Healthier snacking: Natural products manufacturers want a piece of the grazing market. In place of the traditional NFL Sunday snacks of soda and cheese nachos, they are proffering more exotic flavored waters and chips. Some of our favorite beverages: mint-flavored water by Metromint and Blackwater — yes, it's pitch black and tastes, well, like black water — from Vancouver, Canada-based Blackwater Innovations Corp. The water's infused with fulvic acid, a supposed health-enhancer. (So clearly the miracle-supplement market isn't stone cold dead.)
To go with those non-sodas? Sweet-potato chips, kale chips, bean chips, banana chips — anything-but-corn chips, in fact, as corn becomes a new devil of the health food world. Consumers want traditional foods like chips and crackers to snack on at home but would like to feel less guilty about eating them, says Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for New Hope Natural Media.
They're salty. They're crunchy! And the bean chips have a pleasing (truly) lingering mouth feel.
Fruit and vegetable drinks: What a smorgasbord. Just as well: A late afternoon energy shot gave us the strength to make another pass across the 24,300-square-foot exhibit floor. The yoga drink Bikram Balance, a blend of fruits and vegetables, aims to restore electrolytes after you bow and murmur "namaste." Fruitasia, a new fruit-and-veggie energy shot, is touted as having three servings of vegetables and two servngs of fruit in 3 fluid ounces.
Natural baby foods: Today's parents are passionate about their offspring learning to like fruits and vegetables. Businesses are responding. Plum Organics has grab-and-go fruit and vegetable squeeze packs of puréed food (such as a blend of blueberry, pear and purple carrot) that babies can drink or be spoon-fed from.
"It's about introducing babies to flavors so they become foodies," insists Katie Sobel, director of marketing and communication for Plum Organics. Not to say plug into the hottest health trends: Plum is infusing some of its products with Greek yogurt (more protein than regular yogurt) and ancient grains such as quinoa (fewer food
Everything is coming up coconuts: Coconut flavor was popular back when kitchen appliances were harvest gold and avocado green. Now it's back. Among the many items we spotted: Jamaican musician Ziggy Marley's Coco'Mon, a coconut cooking oil, one of many coconut-based products in his food line, Ziggy Marley Organics. Other companies are making coconut palm sugar, coconut water, dehydrated coconut to make your own coconut water at home (no Earth-unfriendly plastic bottles to recycle).
Chia seeds: The same seedlings you spread on a clay figurine to make a green Shrek are now being used in food products because of the high levels ofomega-3 fats they contain. We saw FruitChia bars, Mamma Chia beverages and Crunchy Flax With Chia cereal. One company is hedging its bets with Coconut Chia granola — that's two trends rolled into one.
Recyclable packaging: Corporate consciousness is a big selling point in the natural-products biz. Naked Pizza's new frozen pizza not only has probiotics and agave fiber in its crust and zero sugar in its sauce, but the box also comes from a manufacturer that uses only recycled materials.
And here's an odd one: Recent UC Berkeley business grads Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora are selling a "Back to the Roots" kit to grow your own mushrooms. They drive around the Bay Area collecting used coffee grounds as the medium for growing the mushrooms in a box. ("We diverted 1 million pounds of coffee grounds last year," Arora said, proudly.)
Still hot: Some of the big fads are continuing strong. Probiotics are booming; gluten-free is growing; the Greek economy may be tanking, but Greek yogurt is making plenty of money for some businesses over here.