Five Hottest Food Trends at Expo West

Expo West

Natural Products Expo West 2014 was an incredible show of natural, organic, and healthy food and beverage manufacturing, ingredients, and in many ways – the future of the food industry, given that healthier food has moved from trend to societal shift.  The natural, organic and healthy products food industry is growing nearly three times higher than the food industry average, per Penton. I had the privilege of attending with 67,000 of my closest friends and 2,600 exhibitors. Expo West was an enlightening window to emerging food industry trends.

1. Gluten-free continues to expGlutenlode, up 20% versus last year, driven by perceived health benefits and better diagnosing of celiac disease. New brands, new food categories, and improved organoleptics were virtually everywhere. Per NPD, 30% of consumers want to reduce the amount of gluten they are eating, and gluten-free foods’ household penetration has leaped to 11%, more than doubling since 2010, per Nielsen.  The tidal wave is projected to continue as the foodservice sector (restaurants and institutions) catches up with consumer demand at retail. Even Pillsbury has jumped into the space with gluten-free dough (et tu, Doughboy?) as has Columbus’ Donato’s with its gluten-free Donato’s and Sonoma Flatbreads brands. Gluten-free is projected to grow by 22% annually through 2016, per Mintel.

nongmo2. Non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) verified food offerings have tripled since last year, in response to growing consumer demand, as well as organic manufacturers’ efforts. Regardless of where you stand on the contentious GMO discussion, consumers are responding. 93% of Americans said that foods that have been genetically modified or engineered should be identified, per a recent New York Times poll and non-GMO has recently surpassed ‘organic’ among consumers’ desired food claims. Whole Foods’ requirement of GMO labeling on all products in U.S. and Canada by 2018, will also drive non-GMO consumer awareness. Promising, except only 11% of consumers say they are willing to pay more.     

Non-GMO food and beverages are projected to grow at a 13% compound annual growth rate for the next few years and account for 30% of retail sales by 2017, even without mandatory labeling, per Packaged Facts. General Mills, Smart Balance, Ben and Jerry’s, Chipotle, and Kashi have all taken proactive stances on GMOs by either eliminating them or pushing for increased labeling. To help manufacturers and consumers with product and ingredient sourcing, the verification body, the Non-GMO Project has established a centralized database. Buckeye brag:  Marzetti launched Mamma Bella GMO free garlic breads, led by Fisher alum Adam Koenigsberg.

popcorn3. Proteins, Popcorn, Chia and Kale were prevalent in multiple categories. New protein-rich or enhanced products targeted to consumers who are reducing or eliminating red (or all) meat from their diets included yogurts (whey and soy proteins), snack bars (almond and pea protein isolate), and pancakes (oats, quinoa, and whey). Popcorn, with its better-for-you consumer perception, was featured by over 25 companies in every mainstream and exotic flavor. Most intriguing were Popcorn Indiana’s fit brand, positioned as a low-calorie option, and chip’ins, a popcorn-based extruded snack chip. Chia continues to be a hot omega-3 rich and filling superfood in many bars, yogurts, drinks, as well as seeds alone. And kale, which has grown four-fold since 2008, is the hot supergreen in raw snacks, chips, sauces, dressings, and disturbingly: macaroons.

money plate4. More Funding, Investments and Acquisitions – The health and wellness segment’s rapid growth is attracting interest and investment from multiple sources. Major food companies are penetrating the segment via acquisition and joint ventures, such as Coca-Cola (Zico and Honest Tea). Heinz (Hain Celestial), and Campbell Soup (Plum Organics), and the sector has become a darling of private equity leaders such as Sherbrooke Capital (Food Should Taste Good) and Alliance Consumer Growth (EVOL brand). There is also an explosion of funding available for smaller companies through food incubators and crowd-funding platforms, with over 25 new food and agriculture funding sources launched last year. This foretells both continued growth among increasingly well-capitalized companies, as well as improved product quality and rate of innovation.

Ohio Buckeye5. Ohio was well represented by many of our friends at 19 companies. In addition to the aforementioned Marzetti and Donato’s, Almondina, Avitae, Bunker Hill Cheese (Heini’s), Eurochoc Americas Corp., Fit Organic, Fremont Authentic Brands, Garden of Flavor, Gaslamp Popcorn (Rudolph Foods), Graeter’s, Herbal Science, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, 1-2-3 Gluten Free, R.A.W. Real and Wonderful, Swurves, Trophy Nut, Unistraw, and Wyandot  Snacks exhibited, all of whom we expect are gearing up for the surge in new business… and hiring talented Buckeyes.

Meet the Expert


Tammy Katz is an Adjunct Professor of Brand Management at the Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University, and Chief Executive Officer of Katz Marketing Solutions, a marketing and brand management consulting firm.  She is particularly interested in brand management, marketing strategy, commercialization, corporate outreach, and consumer-driven innovation.

New FDA Label Proposals

FDA Nutrition labels

Last week the Food and Drug Administration announced two major food policy proposals to amend serving sizes and update the Nutrition Facts panel found on packaged foods. Several other government-industry nutrition communication initiatives have been discussed recently, including school feeding programs, advertising standards for foods targeting children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and menu calorie labeling in chain restaurants, among others. These are all examples of food policy acting as health policy.

This leads us to ask three questions;

1. How do consumers learn about nutrition? From multiple places on the food label, by comparing products in stores, by viewing media including the Internet, and asking friends and family.

    • We are in an increasingly complex market place, due in part to the food industry looking for an edge in marketing.
    • The Nutrition Facts label is viewed as “government controlled” and a public health communication tool with high credibility.
    • An overhaul of the nutrition label can be empowering for citizens, enabling them, for example, to more easily compare products.

 2. Will these new labels help? Clearer and more realistic messages, new evidence from nutrition science and (hopefully) a new series of education efforts to help consumers learn more. But this is only half of the problem –consumers do not have the same food access.

    • Consistent messages matter – what a product describes on the front of the package should align with what the consumer can read in the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list.
    • Focusing on the individual consumer ignores some of the structural barriers to healthy eating, be they based on physical, economic, cultural/social, time use, and safe access.

 3. Why now? Continued concern over obesity, changing dietary patterns (the old Nutrition Facts came out 20 years ago), and different ways of getting information (think smart phones in the grocery aisle).

    • We are bombarded with food advertising everywhere, we notice some of it but not all, sometimes we think a lot about our food choices other times not so much.
    • Healthy eating includes both awareness and education, supply and demand around a healthy diet and access to healthy foods. While many focus on fruits and vegetables (not covered by these label proposals) these changes apply to packaged food.
    • The attention provided by these new label proposals provides an opportunity to energize healthy food access educational programming.

FDA’s new labeling proposals should enhance efforts to increase healthy food access.  For example, managers of small stores should find it easier to stock healthy items and encourage customers to make better nutritional choices and groups that focus on healthy cooking and shopping skills for community members will benefit from easier to read labels.  But this will require education, attention and adaptation. Current examples of groups trying to do this in Central Ohio include;


Meet the Experts

Neal Hooker Dr. Neal Hooker is a Professor of Food Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University. His research explores public policy, marketing and management issues within global food supply chains. He is particularly interested in how safety, nutrition and sustainability attributes are communicated, controlled, and (where appropriate) certified. He studies firm and consumer responses to food policy.

jill clark Dr. Jill Clark’s work focuses on local food policy and planning that addresses community public health objectives and the viability of small and mid-size farms. Here in Columbus, she is part of the Fresh Foods Here, a healthy corner store collaborative. Dr. Clark chairs the United Way of Central Ohio’s Nutrition and Fitness Results Committee, which focuses on the ability of Central Ohioans to maintain healthy nutrition and fitness, and she chairs the Franklin County Local Food Council’s policy working group.