Trend Spotting at Expo West

Expo West 2016 halls

Expo West, the largest natural products trade show in the United States, takes place annually at the Anaheim Convention Center, and 2016 marked its biggest year of growth yet, with 3,000 exhibiting companies (including more than 600 first-time exhibitors) and 77,000 attendees. The massive, sprawling event has grown so large it encompasses the entire convention center and has now spilled over into the adjacent Hilton and Marriott hotels.

The natural products industry is currently exploding with innovative products that emphasize sustainability, lifestyle, nutrition, transparency and convenience. Products that use simple ingredients, whole and sprouted grains, dye-free colors and flavors, and “natural” forms of ingredients (cane sugar or honey in place of refined sugar, etc.) were prevalent at the show, as was a continued move away from fillers, stabilizers and preservatives.

Walking the Expo West floors, you’ll see a mix of everything from small mom-and-pop startups to massive industry players such as Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour. Young companies use Expo West as a launching pad for their businesses while more established companies strive to keep up with ever-changing consumer demand.

The overall industry has seen a shift in consumer opinion in which food is judged not only on its flavor, but also as something that contributes directly to our health and well-being. Many consumers now look for organic products with short ingredient lists, and knowing the story behind each product’s creation is becoming very important to them.

Our favorite part of Expo West is that it provides a “sneak peek” of what to expect from the natural products industry. This year’s event introduced a number of interesting trends we saw repeatedly throughout the show.

dailya blue cheeze

One particularly hot trend was innovative vegan and gluten-free products. For the second year in a row, these products continue to expand and push boundaries in terms of taste and texture. Miyoko’s Kitchen introduced vegan butter made from coconut oil and cashews as well as a cashew-based “mozzarella” that puts regular milk-based cheeses to shame. Vegan dressings from Daiya Foods in blue “cheeze,” Caesar and ranch were exceptional in both flavor and dairy-like creaminess. Amy’s Kitchen, known for its vegetarian products, introduced a cheese and black bean enchilada meal made with plant-based vegan cheese.

Desserts made with a focus on healthful ingredients are on an upward trend. Standouts included Cookie Dough’s grab-and-go raw brownie dessert, which is made with whole grains and has the added benefit of being low glycemic. Enjoy Life Foods’ ProBurst Bites™ are protein-packed vegan truffles that are also free of the top eight allergens. Dark chocolate spreads from Freedom Foods, Pascha Chocolate and Nutiva offered a healthful, creamy spin on Nutella. Vegan premade frostings from Miss Jones Baking Co. and Wholesome were so unbelievably creamy they made us double-check the ingredient list.

Companies are looking beyond almonds to make nondairy milk products, using cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and even vegetables to create creamy milks. Notable entries from Nutraw Foods and NüMoo Foods (pistachio milk), Malk Organics (pecan milk), Milkadamia and Suncoast Gold (macadamia  nut milk), and Veggemo (pea protein milk) are blazing new nut- and plant-based trails.

HailMerryNuts also invaded the snack aisle in unique ways thanks to several companies that introduced nutrient-rich nut-based dips and spreads. Examples included a probiotic cashew spread from Leaf Cuisine, almond spreads from La Onda and a cashew hummus from Hail Merry.

Oats were another notable ingredient at the show. We saw protein-packed oat-based meals and sides from Grainful, while portable oatmeal cups were on hand from Modern Oats and Bob’s Red Mill. GF Harvest’s new GoPacks make office oatmeal a real possibility. They’re designed for use with a Keurig machine: Simply tear open the top, fill with hot water (4 ounces), stir and enjoy. These packs are six inches wide and 1 inch thick and fold flat for easy transportation.

Hilarys bites Expo West 2016Vegetable-based products were another hot trend at the show. Jica Chips, made from jicama, serve as a new alternative to potato chips. Packing that same satisfactory crunch, they contain more fiber than oatmeal, as much potassium as bananas and are also low glycemic. Belicious combines fruits, grains and veggies to create nutritional on-the-go pouches loaded with fiber and protein. Hilary’s Eat Well introduced new veggie bites—available in Mediterranean, broccoli casserole and spicy mesquite—provide quick, healthy snacks for busy individuals. Veggie Fries, which combine carrots, broccoli, chickpeas and beans, were another notable contender.

Probiotics had a huge showing at Expo West, showing up in everything from flavored waters to granola. “Gut health shots” from Farmhouse Culture and kimchi shots from Wildbrine put consumers in control to make gut health a priority. Eat Pops showcased a line of “good for you” fruit- and vegetable-based frozen popsicles that are designed to nourish the body and maintain gut health.

The natural products industry continues to surprise and inspire with its creative spirit to keep reaching higher.

Our Top 10 Gluten-Free Finds at Expo West

We ate our way through as many gluten-free products as we could get our hands on at last week’s Natural Products Expo West. (And yes, we do love our jobs.) In no particular order, here are our top 10 favorite gluten-free finds.

1. Cookies Con Amore Gluten-Free Linzer Cookies

Cookies Con Amore Easter BasketCookies Con Amore launched several new flavors of their “glutenetto” linzer cookies at Expo West, and a single bite of one convinced us that these cookies are indeed made with amore. With a short, buttery crumb surrounding a sweet-tart jam filling, Cookies Con Amore’s linzer tasted just like the wheat version of this classic cookie. We’d put them on our cookie tray any day.

2. Mr. Cheese-O’s

Mr. Cheese O's Gluten-Free Cheese Snacks

These salty, crunchy cheese snacks were so delicious, we’ve already priced a 18-bag case of them on Amazon. Then again, we’re not sure we can trust ourselves not to burn through an entire case of these addicting little snacks in a week. Made with quinoa, oat bran and brown rice, the “O’s” are corn free and made with real cheese. Available in four flavors: Sweet Chili, Original, Cheddar and Tuscan Herb.

3. Zemas Madhouse Sweet Potato Pancake Mix

Zemas Madhouse Sweet Potato Pancake Mix

We ate a lot of pancakes at Expo West, but the sweet potato pancakes made from a Zemas Madhouse mix stood out from the pack. These carrot-colored flapjacks were creamy, lush, and slightly sweet without being cloying.  We think they’d work as a sweet breakfast with whipped cream and powdered sugar or as a savory one with crumbled goat cheese and bacon.

4. Canyon Bakehouse Brownie Bites

Canyon Bakehouse Gluten-Free Brownie Bites

This brand-new offering from Canyon Bakehouse elicited an “Oh. My. God.” from one of our editors. Fudgy brownie lovers will flip for these moist, oh-so-chocolaty mini-brownies. Expo West visitors got an exclusive first taste of this new product; look for them in stores and online starting May 1st.

5. Natural Decadence Herb Stuffing Mix

Natural Decadence Stuffing Mix

At Expo West, we ate cookies, crackers, muffins, bagels and pizza, but nothing brought us to our knees quite like Natural Decadence’s Herb Stuffing Mix. The warm, soft, savory stuffing brought back memories of our family Thanksgiving dinners, and one bite made us instantly forget we were crammed into a crowded convention center with 60,000 other people. Good news for multiple-allergy families: The stuffing is also egg, dairy, and nut free.

6. Surf Sweets Candies

Surf Sweet Jelly Beans

We fell hard for these organic, gluten-free and allergen-friendly candies at Expo West. While most gummy bears taste like vaguely fruit-flavored bits of rubber, Surf Sweets’ version actually tasted like fruit, with a pleasantly chewy (not rubbery) texture.  The gummy bears were a revelation, but the jelly beans stole the show: With their bright, not-too-sweet fruity flavors and perfect texture, we may never buy another brand of jelly beans again.

7. Wtrmln Wtr

Wtrmln Wtr at Expo West

This watermelon water, or “Wtrmln Wtr,” admittedly sounds like something out of a Portlandia sketch: Cold-pressed, never heated, no preservatives or sugar, made from hand-peeled watermelon. But as ridiculous as it may sound, this cool, crisp, watermelon-packed drink was wickedly refreshing—exactly what we needed during a long day of walking around in the hot California sun. On a beach trip or on a scorching summer day, we’re betting nothing would taste better.

8. Lucy’s Brownie Crisps


Lucy's Brownie Crisps

Are you the kind of person who snags the corner pieces of brownies to enjoy those crispy, chocolaty edges? Us too. That’s why we love Lucy’s new brownie crisps, which offer a crispy-crunchy take on the classic brownie. In addition to being gluten-free, the crisps are vegan and free from dairy, eggs, peanuts or tree nuts. We think they’d be divine crumbled over vanilla ice cream.

9. Love Grown Foods’ Mighty Flakes

Love Grown Foods Mighty Flakes

On the list of things we never would’ve thought of, bean-based flaked cereal has to be pretty close to the top. But Love Grown Foods’ Mighty Flakes, made with navy beans, lentils and garbanzo beans, were surprisingly good, with a hearty crunch and just the right amount of sweetness.

10. Russo’s Pizza

Russo's Gluten-Free Pizza

Gluten-free pizza options were everywhere at Expo West, and we ate everything from margherita pizzas to gluten-free bagel pizzas. Our favorite of the bunch? Russo’s Gluten-Free Mulberry Pizza, which was packed with four different types of meat and an abundance of mozzarella cheese. The crust was crispy, the toppings were plentiful, and we couldn’t help but smile as we ate a slice.

What We Saw and Ate at Expo West 2015

Gluten-Free Living spent last Friday and Saturday at Natural Products Expo West in sunny Anaheim, California. Our goal? Discover new trends, seek out the best new companies and find the very best gluten-free products for our readers.

Gluten-Free Living at Expo West

Since Expo West isn’t open to the public, it’s our job to be our readers’ eyes and ears on the ground. From Udi’s new rye bread to kombucha to cricket flour, here’s a taste of what we saw and ate at Expo.

The Arena at Expo West

New product launches

Several companies were launching new products at Expo, including gluten-free versions of popular childhood favorite Lance sandwich crackers.


We also got a first look at Udi’s new gluten-free rye bread and Canyon Bakehouse’s new line of gluten-free bagels.

Udi's new gluten-free rye bread
Udi’s new gluten-free rye bread.

Schar was serving their new gluten-free croissants fresh out of the oven along with piping-hot cups of coffee. We found the croissants’ buttery, crispy outer crust impressive, with exactly the right amount of richness: any more and it would have been too indulgent, any less and it wouldn’t have been a croissant. Don’t expect the same experience you’d find in Paris—Schar’s version does lack the airy, ultrathin flaky layers that mark a gluten-containing croissant—but the end result is truly commendable, especially when served straight from the oven.

Pizza and pancake takeover

We couldn’t move 10 feet at Expo without running into either a gluten-free pizza or a pancake. These two products both had a strong gluten-free showing at Expo, and we ended up sampling multigrain pancakes, sweet potato pancakes, pancakes from a box and pancakes from a pouch as well as frozen pizzas, flatbread pizzas and bagel pizzas.


One standout was Batter World, which sells ready-made batter in resealable pouches. The batter is purchased frozen; once thawed, it keeps in the refrigerator for about a week. We think the ready-to-cook batter is perfect for getting kids in the kitchen, and the handy pour spout would make creating shaped pancakes a breeze. Be careful when shopping, however: Only one variety is gluten-free.

Bob’s Red Mill brings bevy of new products—and a band

Bob's Red Mill's band at Expo West
Bob and the Bob’s Red Mill Band

Of all the companies at Expo, no one put a smile on our face quite like Bob’s Red Mill. In addition to bringing a wealth of new products, Bob himself brought a big band to Expo and paraded around the convention center. After spending a few hours packed in a convention center with 60,000+ other attendees, dancing around with Bob’s band was a welcome respite from thrown elbows and long lines for the restroom.


New Gluten-Free products from Bob’s Red Mill. The new coconut sugar is in the center, next to the whey protein.

On the food front, we’re most excited about Bob’s new coconut sugar. An official from the company that we spoke to said the sugar “tasted like butterscotch,” with no recognizable coconut flavor. We’re betting the sugar would taste amazing in a chewy, crispy-edged cookie, and we’re planning to buy a bag and start experimenting.


The company also brought their new gluten-free baking flour to Expo, which the company said can be used as a straight substitute for all-purpose flour in recipes. Though it’s not ideal for bread recipes, it’s reportedly good for cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. We haven’t started experimenting with the new flour yet; if you have, let us know your experiences in the comments.

Beverages gone wild

When you attend Expo West, you talk. A lot. And you eat. A lot. And you walk around in the hot California sun. A lot.

So hydration can be an issue—but not this year, thanks to all the beverage offerings at the show.

By the end of the show, we had sampled kombucha, cherry juice, ginger beer, gac fruit juice tea, cold-brew coffee, watermelon water, matcha green tea, kefir, drinking vinegar and six different flavors of coconut water. In the upcoming months, we expect to see the beverage case at our local grocery and convenience stores make room for alternative beverage options.

Bean-based mania

Bean Stalks from Mediterranean SnacksHealthy, filling, protein-packed beans are making their way into an increasing number of products. Although we’ve seen our fair share of bean-based crackers and dips, Expo West brought a massive wave of new bean products. Mediterranean Snacks launched their new Bean Stalk snack line at the expo, while Love Grown Foods showed off their new bean-based cereal.


One standout that we saw (but didn’t taste, unfortunately) was Tolerant’s line of bean-based pasta. We’re betting the black bean pasta in particular would make for a stunning bowl of pasta.

Jiminy cricket flour

The most unusual product we tried at Expo West? Exo protein bars made from cricket flour. They may not be for everyone, but hey, crickets are gluten-free…


That’s not the end of our coverage of Expo West: Be sure to come back tomorrow to see our picks for our top 10 favorite gluten-free products.