After spending four days walking the trade show floor of the 38th annual Natural Products Expo West in March 2018, the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, I was completely charged. With a record-setting 85,000 attendees, and over 3,500 exhibiting companies, the experience was full of everything: enthusiasm, meetings, new connections, reunions, overwhelm, waste, head shaking, new insights, validation, hope and more. To have such intensive immersion in the natural food and products market is an opportunity, and I was (and am still) determined to make the most of it.
While there is a lot to celebrate (and I will definitely get to that), there is even more that disappoints – products and brands that are far from natural, organic, or healthy (seemingly oxymoronic). The term natural can be thrown on anything. Some brands are calling their products organic without certification (always check the label and/or ask), and everyone has their own definition of what healthy might be, so this opens the door to many new products entering the market and filling our store shelves that are incredibly misleading to the average consumer, creating even more confusion around what we should eat and what’s actually good for us.
Trends and themes that I’m choosing to highlight, for better or for worse:
BIG FOOD. The presence of Big Food at Expo was bigger than ever with many larger conventional brands making their way into the “healthy” market. I do believe that it’s important to recognize and encourage any change that a company makes in a healthier direction, because all progress matters, but I still find myself feeling impatient (ok, outraged) at how slow and small the steps are at times – and how much attention they receive from their actual actions, which are also often just marketing stunts.
PACKAGING. Food packaging comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, made from all sorts of materials. Although, there is a trend forward in buying organic, and caring what is in the food by choice, most of us do not pay much attention to what kind of wrapping is used around our beverages, bars, chips, frozen foods etc. The chemicals in them can be dangerous and compromise what we are eating, and it becomes persistent in our environment. If a product is claiming to be healthier/better, it would make so much sense to include a healthier/better packaging option as well – there are always options.
WASTE. The amount of food waste and cups and plates and spoons and bowls, so much of it plastic, at a show that is said to focus on consuming healthier, is astounding. The trash cans are everywhere and are overflowing. There are much kinder ways to sample. A show such as Expo West should be composting, (insisting if single-use items are used that they be compostable!) and suggesting ways to use reusables (shout out to Revive Kombucha for using little glass shot glasses!).
B CORP. We are proud to be a founding Canadian Certified B Corporation and it was incredible to see how many companies are proudly displaying their certification as a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. As B Corps, we are legally required to consider the impact of our decisions on employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Here’s to moving the needle forward constantly, and creating a community of leaders driving a global movement using business as a force for good.
BEST IN SHOW. Although there were many incredible brands and innovative products at the show, I want to highlight a short list that stood out to me as exceptional, inspiring, forward thinking, and incredibly delicious. Specifically, below are my best in show picks that are all smaller businesses/brands, with an innovative product, in smart, beautiful packaging, that are vegan and certified organic – and the people were kind and passionate about what they are bringing to market with purpose and pride. Look out for them, and support!
IOTA Organic Roasted Sunflower Kernals Small batch, artisinal flavours, and a great source of gluten-free, plant-based protein. Like us, they believe small can be mighty!
Zen Basil You’re likely familiar with basil leaves, but have you tried basil seeds? Zen Basil is a delightful plant-based basil seed prebiotic drink with natural fiber, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Gluten-free and keto friendly.
Hu Kitchen There are few things I enjoy more than a great piece of organic, vegan, fairly-traded, dark chocolate, and this is one of my favourites. It’s paleo, free from soy lecithin, refined sugar, cane sugar, and sugar alcohols.
Pan’s Mushroom Jerky No meat, no soy, just mushrooms! (And a few other ingredients like organic coconut sugar, avocado oil, Himalayan pink sea salt, and organic spices). Amazing travel snack!
Revive Kombucha A family owned craft kombucha brewery that launched at the Sonoma County California Farmer’s Market in 2010. Their mission has always been to sustainably produce the best tasting kombucha with the highest quality ingredients and innovative craft brewing techniques. Bonus points for serving their kombucha from a fun booth with a lovely and enthusiastic team, using glass shot glasses instead of disposables!
Om Organic Mushroom Nutrition Harnessing and distilling the amazing, all-natural micronutrient benefits of the mushroom kingdom. These powerful single species and functional mushroom powder blends are designed to promote immunity, vitality, and energy. They sell what they grow.
Drakes Organic Vodka Moscow Mule Sorbet A frozen push pop made with real gluten-free, USDA organic, and certified Non-GMO vodka.
As for trends, there are some more positive ones….
Fermented everything (not just kraut and kombucha, but supplements and personal care too)
Paleo, Keto and lots of brands getting on the Free From Foods category
Written in 2016, but still relevant, is our post detailing the trends we are rooting for in food – get on the bandwagon!
Trends can be healthy…they can lead us to better places. Dial in to what feels good to you, and don’t just follow, but lead!