Over 60,000 food and drink industry professionals and over 3,000 vendors from all over the world gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center over the weekend. All, flocked there to check out this year's latest in the specialty food market at Natural Products Expo West, the biggest natural products trade show in America. International companies specializing in organic foods, non-GMO foods, gluten free foods, vegan foods, paleo foods and any possible sub-genre of these foods are represented at this food and drink event of massive proportions.
All three floors of the convention center could barely contain this year's event, not to mention every single of its parking lots nearby (hour long search for super far parking anyone?). Probably due to the fact that this billion dollar industry is growing uncontrollably by the second since everybody wants a slice of that sweet gluten free, vegan, BPA-free, sugar free etc. business pie. If you're the type of person that eagerly looks forwards to grocery shopping and spends hours reading labels before buying food, consider this a marathon made just for you! This is basically the place where your favorite almond milk, soy free veggie burger and tapioca vegan cheese got their start and this is your one chance a year to taste the future of natural products. Oh yeah, you only exactly six hours to taste everything by the way so start training now for next year.
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Observations this year include the reign of coconut water and its byproducts. There was a different brand of coconut water from a different country-Thailand (buttery), Philippines (grassy), Brazil (earthy)-at every other corner, including more brands that are doing raw cold pressed versions that came pretty close to replicating a freshly cracked coconut by the beach. There were salted caramel coconut chips, coconut milk caramels and caramelized coconut jams.
Imitation soy-based fake meat are holding up steadily, I spotted canned soy tuna and thinly shaved soy salmon strips this year, unfortunately they still haven't figured out how to get rid of that plastic-y flavor and textured in texturized soy protein though. A huge trend this year is the savory-fication of products that we have accustomed to eat sweet. For example, savory dried cauliflower and nut curry bars and parsnip flavored yogurt. Also, good news for you carnivore paleo diet followers, your excessive meat consumption has now been recognized by companies and they are now appealing to you! Meaning convenient shelf-stable ground lamb and fruit bars and turkey and fruit bars will be available for your carnivorous ways soon. Gluten free is at its peak with gluten free pizzas up everywhere. While kale chips appear to be on the decline, brussels sprout chips is the future. Pints of Pacific Northwest single-varietal apple juices helped wash all the bites and samples down. Mexico had an entire aisle to themselves with some Mexican health foods like artichoke water and Mexican natural foods like blue agave fiber, red cactus fruit water (like Gatorade), mango paste and vanilla products making the crossover into the American health food market.
Weirdest product of questionable taste awards goes to algae milk, algae oil, grasshopper protein bars and raw camel milk. While best free food swag award goes too Dave's Killer Bread of Oregon for their bread paraphernalia guitar picks.
Based on the 50 pounds (at least) of free natural food swag that included full containers of organic yogurt, tofu, cookies and enough cans of coconut water to last me two months, I would say this event was a smashing success! Too bad that they started limiting the amount of swag allowed to take home to "one bag" a person this year, which only resulted in a lot of wasted perfectly good food. Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!