by RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
With more than 80,000 attendees, hour-long waits in taxi lines, and more pushing and shoving on a trade show floor than you've ever seen, Expo West is not for the faint of heart. But retail dietitians should attend this event every few years to get a glimpse of the trends their buyers are seeing, and to identify that one truly healthy product that might sell on grocery store shelves.
Here are my insights on the 2016 Expo West, which was held last week.
Insight #1: Foods I thought were out.
Superfoods, goji and raw. Superfood feels dated, and is a term not talked about much in the media or health professional circles. But superfood is still being used extensively in the natural foods arena. While walking the show floor with Molly Bray, former retail RD at Jewel Osco, she commented that if superfood is going to be used, it definitely needs to be regulated to provide consumers with a clear understand of what the term means. Goji berries were prevalent on the show floor, included in trail mixes and powered and added to puffed and preformed cookies, crackers and snacks. If it's processed and packaged, I don't know that consumers will believe it's raw, yet many of the brands touting this claim appeared far from fresh or raw. It appears that raw may be merging with the sprouted trend (more on this below).
Insight #2: Entering the marketplace.
Pork jerky, beef jerky, turkey jerky, hand cut jerky, chef-inspired jerky -- any possible way to think about jerky was presented at Expo West. Clearly, manufacturers are capitalizing on consumers' high interest in protein and the full acceptance of snacking as a meal occasion. At the opposite end of the jerky spectrum were all the vegetable protein options. Pastas with peas, lentils and beans are the latest twist on foods with higher protein. The question remains whether consumers will adopt the flavors that go along with these vegetable protein foods. More and more meat analogs are entering the marketing, providing competition for brands like Boca Burger. “Sprouted” was everywhere as well, with the most extreme example being sprouted watermelon seeds in a raw bar application. The jury is out on whether sprouted grains are truly whole grains, if they have a distinct health benefit, and whether this benefit remains after the sprouted products are processed into food products (think bread or bars), but it's definitely a consumer trend that's on the rise. Gut health is definitely peaking, and booths focused on both food and supplements as it relates to gut health. My favorite fermented food brand is shown here, Mother in Law’s Kimchi. Beets and turmeric were two other ingredients prevalent on the Expo West show floor.
Insight #3: There can't be room on the shelf.
Seriously, if I see one more new water or coconut beverage or energy drink, I will implode. Raw bars, energy bars, bars for kids, heart health bars – enough already. There just can't be room on the grocery store shelf or in consumers' stomachs for one more beverage or bar.
Insight #4: Clean Label Confusion.
Manufacturers' labels claim products are pure and simple, and "free from" labeling is becoming more and more common on packages. The challenge for retail RDs is sifting through the clutter and hype to find products that have actually been formulated to use fewer artificial ingredients and less processing, and which also have a positive nutrition profile.