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Expo West highlights: ‘Unless you've literally pulled it out of the ground yourself and stuck it in a box, don't call it all-natural’

By Elaine WATSON , 17-Mar-2014
Last updated on 17-Mar-2014 at 05:51 GMT

Justin Prochnow:
Justin Prochnow: "If you're using GMOs and making natural claims, there's a good chance you'll get sued."

If it’s in the natural channel today, it could be in food, drug and mass merchandise stores tomorrow, so food and beverage trend-spotters were out in force at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim on March 6-9. 

The FoodNavigator-USA team spent three days wandering round the exhibition halls, chatting to delegates, and tuning into education sessions to get a sense of what's hot, what's not, and what's keeping the industry awake at night.

Here are the highlights from our coverage:

1 - Everyone is talking about GMOs: Whether you’re for or against, this issue is not going away

Half of the 15,000 items certified by the Non GMO Project are already certified organic. Click HERE .

Most consumers remain clueless about GMOs, but ask them what they think - and they say they are worried. Click HERE .

Among consumers who claim to be avoiding GMOs, 70% say it is because they are concerned about the impact on their health and well-being. Half say they want to know what goes into their food; 36% are concerned about possible environmental impacts; and 30% do not want to support companies that use GMOs.

Click HERE to see what the anti-GMO activists were saying at the show.

Click HERE to read an in-depth analysis of the GMO debate at Expo West, plus a crop scientist’s take on the anti-GMO camp’s claims.

2 - If you're using GMOs and making natural claims, there's a good chance you'll get sued

Keen to avoid legal headaches? Click HERE for highlights from a session chaired by UNPA president Loren Israelsen (LI) and Denver-based attorney Justin Prochnow (JP):

  • "I tell my clients that unless you've literally pulled it out of the ground yourself and stuck it in a box, don't call it all-natural." (JP)
  • "At the next Expo West you'll see the word 'natural' being used far less. I think we're seeing the end of the golden age of natural. We'll see more words like 'Simply' instead." (LI)
  • "Anyone using the term 'evaporated cane juice' on food labels is a potential target for a lawsuit. You face a big risk of getting sued." (JP)

3 - Health and wellness products are outselling their conventional counterparts

According to Supermarket News, three of four food retailers saw sales in health and wellness related categories increase last year, with nearly 41% seeing sales increases of 10% or more. A further 22% reported sales increases of 7-9% in these categories.

The number of exhibitors making non-GMO claims about their products was noticeably higher than it was last year

The top trends were gluten-free/allergen-free and non-GMO, particularly products with a Non-GMO Project certified stamp.

Click HERE for details.

4 - ‘Ancient wisdom, transcendent transparency and value shopping…’

When it comes to food culture, we will probably "spend the next 20 years undoing what we did in the last 50", according to Len Monheit, executive director, strategic development at New Hope Natural Media.

Click HERE for New Hope’s take on trends such as ‘simple nutrition’ and ‘tell me everything’…

5- If your brand was a person, who would it be?

While the new breed of progressive, ‘Choiceful’ shoppers (click here ) accounts for an estimated 21% of the population, the influence they have over food culture - and the choices made by ‘mid-market’ shoppers - is disproportionate, according to branding expert Amazon Advertising.

Scores of products at the show highlighted their high protein credentials. One of our favorites was ProYo, the protein-packed frozen yogurt snack developed by Nathan Carey

Click HERE to find out more.

6 - Millennials are not pantry stockers anymore. They are thinking about what’s for dinner tonight when they walk into a supermarket

Six of the top 10 banners on Planet Retail’s fastest-growing US retailer list are small-box formats, a fact not lost on Jim Nielsen, COO of Sprouts Farmers Market, and Chris Sherrell, former CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market, who is about to launch a new chain of stores with a footprint of around 24,000-28,000 sq ft called Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets, with 40-50% of sales generated by perishable products.

The bottom line, according to Sherrell and Nielsen, is that Millennials are not pantry stockers anymore. They are thinking about what’s for dinner tonight when they walk into a supermarket, and many traditional grocery stores are not making things easy for them. They are too big, and too focused on packaged staples.

Click HERE and HERE for details.

7 - But they’ll still buy frozen if the offer is right…  

While the ‘perimeter’ might be where all the action is at Sprouts and Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets, we were excited to see some innovative new players in the frozen case at Expo West.

Check out Luvo , Good Food Made Simple , Beyond Meat and EVOL .

8 - Protein is hot

The number of products highlighting protein content prominently on the front of pack definitely seemed higher this year.

We were blown away by the number of booths devoted to popcorn

Click HERE for details.

9 - And so is popcorn…

If protein was a hot trend at the show, we were blown away by the number of booths devoted to popcorn (around 30).

Click HERE for more.

10 - Stevia gaining ground...

Finally, stevia is creeping into more and more product formulations.

Click HERE to read about Cargill’s new ViaTech range, which launched at the show and promised to open up completely new territory for formulators with sugar reductions of “50, 60, 75 or in some cases 100%”.

What were the leading dietary supplement players up to at Expo West? Check out interviews with MegaFood , Gaia Herbs , Wiley's Finest  and Suisse Wellness  at our sister site NutraIngredients-USA .