Preparations for this year’s Natural Products Expo West edition of Natural Foods Merchandiser actually began in November when we emailed every food exhibitor (who had signed up at the time) with one question: What new products do you plan to debut at Expo West 2013? By doing so, along with offering you a sneak peek at the newest offerings on the floor, we hoped to discover ingredients and trends that might shape this year’s event. From more than 200 responses, the overwhelming theme was clear: seeds. Yes, you know the ones: coconut, chia and quinoa. By themselves, these ingredients may seem like old news, but the many ways they’re popping up in products ranging from pizza crust to walnut butter is certainly cutting edge.
Rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats, chia, quinoa, and coconut are now being used in finished products to boost nutrition and are also replacing dairy and gluten ingredients in foods for gluten-free, vegan and raw eaters. “We seem to have gone to extremes with functional approaches to nutrition and are hungry for a slowdown, a paring back,” says Marc Brush, editor-in-chief of Nutrition Business Journal. “Anything with a naturally functional claim—chia, quinoa and coconut fill that bill—will do well in this environment for quite some time. These inherently nutritious ingredients might actually recharge the functional industry, as long as it proves willing to expand beyond its heavily engineered roots. We will continue to see outsize growth for these categories and the companies that play there.” NBJ reports that sales for chia swelled 170 percent in the natural channel in 2012. (It does not currently track quinoa or coconut sales.)