Natural Products Expo West 2017 recap and favorite finds

Diane Sanfilippo Events and Workshops, Press and Media 0 Comments

As many of you have seen through my posts on Instagram, this past weekend I was in Anaheim, CA for Natural Products Expo West with my friend Jenny Castaneda of Paleo Foodie Kitchen and Meal Prep Genius.

Expo West 2017 Recap, Review, & Trends | Diane SanfilippoExpo West is a trade show for those in the natural foods and health industry. While it isn't open to the public, attendees range from retailers and wholesalers, to manufacturers, health practitioners, and members of the press.

I am able to attend Expo West either as a health practitioner (which I did last year) or as a member of the press. This year I selected the press option since it was an easier process to submit (and was free to attend this way).

There really is no difference in these badges aside from the wording on them and how vendors may approach or respond to you as a result of the category into which you fall. I heard there was a press room/oasis, but we didn't get a chance to check that out – maybe next year!

Note: To be approved as a member of the press to attend Expo West, you need to submit proof of your reach/social media following as well as submit your blog for review. If you think you might qualify to attend in any capacity, please visit the website for the event – I am not able to personally review your information to let you know whether or not you'd be approved.

On to the good stuff!

Expo West 2017 Trends

Note that these are trends Jenny and I spotted as we walked the expo floor. There were probably others that simply didn't hit our radars as we ignored certain types of products and also didn't spend much time looking at supplements or a lot of skincare.

Chickpeas everywhere. Literally everywhere.

(I didn't take any photos of any of the chickpea-based products because we didn't sample any of them!)

From chickpea flour-based items to whole chickpeas made into snacks, you name it, we saw it made with chickpeas. Even mayonnaise. Yes, really.

My hunch is that these “high” protein, gluten-free, high-starch legumes have simply become a new favorite for their versatility. Gluten-free folks can enjoy them and they add protein (though you know I'd argue not that much, relatively speaking when compared with carb load) to foods for those who don't eat animals.

The starchy nature of chickpeas lends them to a lot of various culinary applications, and creating crunch is only the beginning.

Another trend with chickpeas is Aquafaba, which is the liquid left behind after garbanzo beans are soaked, and it can be used as an emulsifier, to replace egg whites in some recipes, as a binder, a thickener, or to provide a gelatin-like effect.

One prominent product that uses the chickpea-water, known as Aquafaba, is Sir Kensington's new egg-free/vegan-friendly Fabanasie. I didn't taste this as I'm not allergic to eggs and therefore have no reason to want this product, but I imagine for those who are allergic, this is a welcome innovation.

A close follower to the chickpea trend was quinoa, but somehow it was a bit behind, most likely because it's less starchy and doesn't lend itself to as many snacks as a result. Quinoa was featured in a lot of bars and chocolate products for texture and, once again, gluten-free crunch.

 I don't have more specific call-outs here since we didn't eat the chickpea-based products, but there were tons!

Bone broth and collagen – whether straight up or mixed in – it was everywhere.

Broth is the new black.

We've seen it in the Paleo and real food worlds for a while now, but it's exploding more and more. No longer is broth reserved for soups or sipping, it's finding its way into cold drinks, smoothies and shakes as “bone broth protein powder,” and supplements all around.

While I'm completely pro-broth in its whole form, I do question the validity and value of adding too much of it in the powdered form to our diets. But, you all seem to love your protein powders, so there's that.

Some notable brands in this category:

Note: I did taste the new, Nexty award-winning Drinkable Veggies from Bonafide and while I didn't personally care for them, I know lots of folks did! I already know that I don't care for cold vegetable soups like gazpacho, so the fact that I didn't like these isn't too surprising, but I was hoping to like them after hearing so much about them. I found the vinegar in them to add an extra level of an off-putting flavor – these simply weren't for me.

Fermented/Probiotic – from kraut and kvass to chips and coconut water.

Yes, really. It seems that bacteria are taking over, and I'm okay with it. We've probably strayed too far from eating as many fermented foods as we should be in the last say 30 – 50 years. And, while making our own fermented foods at home is ideal for bacterial purposes, these products may be a good way to get us on board with the idea and serve as a gateway to home fermenting for many.

A few brands of note in this category: 

  • Farmhouse Culture (a brand I've loved for many years since buying their products locally at the San Francisco farmers market before they were available nationally! I even modeled the sauerkraut recipe in Practical Paleo after their smoked jalapeño flavor)
  • Brew Dr. Kombucha (I loved their seasonal mango habañero flavor!)
  • Doctor D's sparkling probiotic drinks (super light and not too sweet water kefir drinks)
  • Harmless Harvest coconut water (I didn't try this one, but it's now available with a probiotic line that has sugar added but I was informed that a future line will not)
  • Vermont Village apple cider and sipping vinegars (which tasted too sweet to me but would be excellent as a splash in sparkling water for those looking to get away from soda)

Cold brew coffee is coming up!

I'm decidedly loyal to my hands-down favorite organic, fair trade cold brew coffee, Chameleon Cold Brew (the concentrates are all unsweetened and mocha is my favorite of them though I love them all) in the cold brew coffee category, but I can understand the need for variety and options.

There are so many options now, not all are organic, so that may be a limiting factor for a variety of reasons, that you'd be hard-pressed to not find a favorite locally.

Some other brands we saw were: Grady's Cold Brew (tasty and a hint of sweetness from chicory without sweetener added – we were able to purchase this on the east coast but it should be available nationally), Confluence Coffee Co, FogDog Cold Brew, and High Brew Coffee (I found this one to taste artificial and too sweet for me). Note that last three I either didn't taste or can't recall loving enough to have snapped a photo.

Categories that are jammed!

(Read: please don't make a new product in this category unless you are really, really innovating something. No, really.)

Granola, nuts, and nut butters.

Maybe I'm jaded when it comes to product innovation and this seems like a scarcity mindset – as if there isn't room for more/everyone. But that's not the case. I think there's usually lots of room for all kinds of products. The problem is when I find myself eye-rolling at another. Freaking. Nut. Butter. It's just tired and unless you're innovating, just stop. You're adding noise, not value.

Seriously people, it's almost all been done. Unless you're making something super allergen-free-friendly or using a creative new ingredient base (like banana chips as Bubba's Fine Foods is rocking), please just don't bring a new granola, nut, or nut butter product to market.

We don't need more plain or flavored nuts.

In the nut butter department, you've got stiff competition with brands like Justin's, Barney Butter, Maranatha, Artisana, and store brands like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. There does, however seem to be room for some new alternatives like innovative seed or coconut butters. I've only seen a handful of those like the Maple Tahini from Maple Guild which isn't released yet (their Maple Cream product is also phenomenal, but be aware that it's purely a sweetener!) and Niki's Coconut Butter.

Chips and popcorn. And chips. And popcorn. And more popcorn.

Not surprisingly, there are tons of chips and popcorn options at the Natural Products Expo. What we found most exciting were new options for those cooked in high quality oils and fats like coconut oil and ghee!

But we can always use more of… Chips cooked in better oils/fats!

You've heard me talking about my favorite coconut-oil cooked chip brand around, Jackson's Honest Chips, for many years now.

They were the first brand I tried and loved that cooked their chips in coconut oil starting back many years. They have both potato and corn chip options.

Another coconut oil-cooked tortilla chip we saw was from Good Lovin' Foods. While the texture of the Good Lovin' Tortilla Chips (very thick!) wasn't my favorite overall (I prefer both Jackson's and Siete over these), they were a good choice and use coconut oil, so if you can't find the others and can find these, go for them.

We've now got some amazing grain-free tortilla chips cooked in avocado oil from our friends (and truly an amazing family) over at Siete Foods (the chips are currently exclusive to Whole Foods but I imagine that's going to change very soon).

The Siete grain-free, Paleo-friendly tortilla chips are cooked in avocado oil, which I'd argue is superior to any seed oils like sunflower and of course over soybean, canola, or any other vegetable oil. My favorite of the Siete Foods chips are the lime flavor and I love, love, love them with my Instant Pot Chili recipe… but I digress.

That said, my ideal choice for any cooking fats will alway be more saturated, so the Jackson's coconut oil chips get my top pick for “healthiest” when we're looking at chips. The Siete chips are thinner and crispier than the Jackson's (and I do love the lime & sea salt flavor) but Jackson's Salsa Fresca flavor (I've dubbed them a “healthy Dorito”) are hands down my favorite healthier chips around.

If you can't do corn or you want a thinner, grain-free chip, then go for the Siete chips! You really can't go wrong with either of those. They're both fantastic for different taste and ingredient reasons.

Also of note: both of the families who run Jackson's and Siete Foods are some of the hands-down most kind, down-to-earth, hard-working, and generous people I've met. I can't say enough good things about these two companies!

Notable brands of popcorn cooked in better oils/fats:

A few brands are also releasing olive oil-cooked chips and popcorn, which is AOK in my book.

Jerky

There were tons of packaged meat options everywhere at Expo this year.

A few notable jerky brands:

  • Epic bars, bits, and pork rinds
  • The New Primal jerky and sticks
  • Krave Jerky while not specifically targeted at the Paleo scene, they have some that I like that are gluten-free (Black Cherry BBQ pork jerky comes to mind but I believe there's at least one other gluten-free flavor)

Keep reading to see the jerky-type product we were both super excited about, though it hadn't been released yet, so we couldn't taste it!

Ingredient trends

Monkfruit sweetener and sunflower oil.

My personal take on monkfruit is that I don't care for the taste of it, nor am I a big fan of calorie-free sweeteners in general. I use green stevia powder very sparingly at home from time to time, but when I say sparingly, I mean sparingly – maybe 1/8 teaspoon randomly in a smoothie. I understand their place for some folks, but I think adding sweetness in general should add calories to foods. Maybe I'll change my tune on that down the road, but for now, that's my take.

Sunflower oil is definitely a hotly debated ingredient in the Paleo scene, but I'm still not opting to bring it into my home on a regular basis. I may eat it in a food product on-the-go now and then, but I wouldn't go out of my way to purchase items that use it to keep on-hand for myself.

The fatty acid profile of standard sunflower oil is high in PUFAs, which I recommend avoiding as much as possible.

High oleic sunflower oil may be less problematic as its fatty acid profile is much richer in MUFAs (for which olive oil is often touted). As far as I know, high-oleic sunflower oil is considered pretty “Paleo-friendly” and products that contain it will be able to be certified as Paleo through The Paleo Foundation.

Note: If you are a food manufacturer or marketer of foods that you think could apply for a Paleo certification, definitely check out that link. It may also only take a small ingredient tweak or shift to have this certification apply to your product, and it's a worthwhile endeavor.

Furthermore, sourcing cold or expeller-pressed sunflower oil is critical if you're going to consume it in order to avoid the hexane chemical extraction that's typically used otherwise.

Products I'm most excited about

No, these aren't all Paleo friendly or #21DSD. They're the things I tried that I loved the most. Everything here is gluten-free, however, but proceed with caution depending on your own needs.

Gum-free alternative / dairy-free / nut milks and coffee creamers

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Diane Sanfilippo & Laird Hamilton My #1 personal favorite product in this category was the Laird Superfood Creamer – in fact, it's probably one of the things I was most excited about trying at Expo.

This powdered creamer product, backed by big wave surfing legend Laird Hamilton, does need to either be blended into a hot drink or mixed with some hot water before mixing into a cold drink. That said, I find it to be super convenient for travel or a good option for someone who doesn't want to use a fresh nut milk without additives or who can't find them locally (they're typically sold cold).

The ingredients in the Laird product are: Coconut Milk Powder, Organic Dried Coconut Nectar, AquaminTM (Calcified Marine Algae), Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Organic Red Palm Oil. I asked for more info on the AquaminTM and was told the purpose of it was to add calcium to the product, which is common in milk-replacing beverages.

Clean-ingredient nut milks and alternative, dairy-free milks.

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Favorite! Laird Superfood CreamerBrands like Three Trees, Elmhurst (milked almonds, cashews, and more), Pop & Bottle (new product pictured below), Malk and Rebel Mylk (coconut-based and hopefully we'll get a clean coffee creamer from them soon).

Some of these may include natural flavors, which may be extracts used to help make the milks taste more like the nuts from which they're made. You know how mild and nearly bland home made almond milk is? Well, food makers want to keep theirs tasting better than that, so they amp it up a bit.

While likely not problematic, especially in an unsweetened food item, these additives used to enhance flavors may play with our own sense of taste and over-stimulate our palates, leading us to expect those same bold flavors in homemade versions and hence leaving us disappointed with the most honestly real thing. Sigh.

Read your ingredients, know what you're getting, and make a choice as you see fit.

 Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Clean Alternative / Dairy-Free Milks Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Clean Alternative / Dairy-Free Milks Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Clean Alternative / Dairy-Free Milks Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Rebel Mylk

New dairy-free and Paleo-friendly dressings and sauces.

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Primal Kitchen Caesar DressingPrimal Kitchen. Caesar and Green Goddess dressings join the salad-saucing lineup from Primal Kitchen that already includes Ranch, Greek, and Honey Mustard.  The dressings are avocado-oil based, which is a massive improvement over the standard soy/canola/vegetable-oil based junk that lines most grocery store shelves. Primal Kitchen has also added a vegan and egg-allergy friendly egg-free mayonnaise as I mentioned earlier, for those who can't eat eggs but want the junk-free mayo we've come to love from Primal Kitchen.

The New Primal. The company is introducing a line of clean-ingredient, Paleo-friendly meat marinades (not yet released) including Classic, Spicy, and a Citrus Herb varieties. I'll be excited to try these once they're out!

Chicken chips from Wilde Brands.

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Chicken ChipsI spotted some chicken chips that I didn't get to try since they weren't yet released at the time of the Expo, but they were high protein and low-ish carb (for chips) so they seem like a really appealing snack option. The chips use tapioca starch for crispiness and are cooked in coconut oil, so they sound legit! I can't speak to how they taste just yet, but hopefully I can get a sample soon.

Maple Cream and Maple Tahini from Maple Guild.

We tasted a maple tahini butter that was delicious though a bit too sweet for our palates and saw a handful of other fun nut-free goodies.

Cauliflower-based pizza crust from Caulipower.

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Nuco Coconut WrapsYum. Just yum. Not Paleo or dairy-free, but gluten-free, grain-free and delicious!

Nuco Coconut Wraps

For a grain-free, gluten-free wrap alternative from a solid company who is sourcing their coconut directly and sustainably from Thailand. I'm going to try these at home soon and will let you know how they fare.

Jica chips

The sea salt flavor are made from simply jicama, olive oil, and sea salt.

Goat-milk based products

For those of us who don't tolerate cow dairy, goat dairy can be a great alternative. A couple of products I discovered at Expo west were:

Diane Goes to Expo West 2017 | Treats & Sweets Samples

Little Secrets Gourmet Chocolate Candy

A cleaner alternative to M&Ms. Yum. Their peanut butter filled ones are delish!

Yum Earth Organic Candy

While not healthy and definitely sugary, if you want a GMO-free candy option for Halloween or a special occasion (of if you're a gluten-free adult who misses black licorice or sour punch straws), these were really yummy. This brand has new packaging introduced at Expo, so what you may find if you click on the product name above may be older packaging but it's the same product line.

Pascha allgergen-free chocolate chips

I've known about this company for a while but it's worth mentioning here. For those who are looking for dairy and soy-free chocolate chips that are high quality and taste amazing, these are the best. They're not only allergen-free, they're delicious on their own. The company makes bars as well that are delicious.

Heavenly Organics Peanut Butter Patties

Imagine the honey mints we all love from Trader Joe's (which Heavenly also makes) mashed up with a peanut butter cup. So, basically, the best thing on earth. Yeah, these are amazing but they're hard to find in stores for some reason. I've linked the product name to the company's website where you can order or maybe you can find where they're sold via their site.

What I'm hoping to see more of next year:

  • Low sugar, no sugar, and keto-friendly real food products, not just supplements or drinks.
  • Cauliflower-based stuff. The shift to gluten-free and grain-free has been great, but this would be a cool category to explore further
  • Healthy convenience foods – fresh/cold/refrigerated items with clean ingredients. I don't know exactly what this would be, but there's room for innovation there. Maybe veggie dipper kits ready-made with Primal Kitchen dressing or organic hard boiled eggs sold with a couple of Primal Kitchen mayonnaise packets. A girl can dream…
  • Clean sauces – there seems to be room for some more soy, canola, vegetable oil and crap-free sauces.

 That's it for this year! I look forward to seeing what comes up next year at Expo West!

Which products are you most excited to try? What do you hope I find more of next year?! Comment below and let me know!

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