BLOG: Top 10 Trends at Natural Products Expo West

By April 10, 2018In the News

The Natural Products Show unveils the top natural trends within the food industry such as sustainability, meatless meat and vegan foods. Product developers look for clean label ingredients like Citri-Fi®, a natural citrus fiber with high water holding capacity and emulsification properties, to improve texture and nutrition of these natural food products. Fiberstar’s technical sales manager, Nesha, shares her insights.

Natural Fruit Smoothies

The first thing you notice as you enter the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim is the incredible crowd. The area in front of the convention center is packed with people, tents, food trucks, a bandstand and cars trying to drop people close to the doors of the convention hall. While navigating the crowd, even an extrovert like myself wants to turn around and head back to the car—which is parked several miles away. There is a man walking behind me who is juggling a large floral arrangement and several boxes. So I offer to help him carry his items. I walk him as far as the hotel where I am going to pick up my badge. His partner arrives just as I am handing off a box and the flowers. I glance at my FitBit and notice I have already logged 7000 steps which is almost to my goal. I forge into the hotel to get my badge.

After I clear the entrance requirements, I make my way inside. I see a lot of spokespeople handing out samples of their products. Last year, there were costumed goddesses and cows doling out samples. This year seems to be a little more casual. I meander around one of 8 to 10 glass displays highlighting new product launches and quickly realize that Citri-Fi, a natural citrus fiber is an ideal solution for this market due to its natural functionality and clean label. Afterwards, I head up to the New Products Expo on the third floor of the convention center. Assuming it will be slightly less crowded than the main floor of the Expo, I decide to start at the top and work my way down.

Vegan Foods
Once I get upstairs, I realize I’m wrong. The aisles are nearly impassable from the crowd of people. The new products floor is comprised of companies who are trying to find brokers to get them into the grocery stores. Everywhere I look, I see vegan products such as vegan “chicken nuggets” as well as vegan ice cream, sauces and baked goods. There is even vegan jerky. From a food scientist perspective, vegan products can be difficult to formulate. Removing eggs and butter from a cookie, for example, requires a systems approach. The binding and humectant properties of the egg are key to creating quality products. However, once the egg is reduced or removed, the texture is compromised. Citri-Fi, a natural citrus fiber contains high surface area which binds the moisture and improves the texture of the product over its shelf-life. For vegan “chicken” nuggets, Citri-Fi will hang on to the moisture of the nugget, especially under heat lamps to maintain a moist and juicy morsel.

Sustainability is a big buzz word. There are products touting cruelty-free farm animals and free range chicken and beef. One of the most interesting booths is the “cricket protein.” The argument for eating this protein is one of sustainability. Insect biomass is one of the most plentiful sources of protein on earth and insects do not require a lot of natural resources to raise. Intellectually, I know that the seafood I like so well – shrimp, lobster and crab – are essentially the insects of the ocean, but I can’t bring myself to actually try them. Maybe next year…

Specialty Dairy Foods
There are a lot of specialty dairies represented on this floor showing products ranging from specialty dessert style whole milk yogurt, kefir to gelato and ice cream. These companies talk about small batch processing, specialty ingredients and regional flavors. Chatting with one company, Gelato Fiasco (isn’t that a fantastic name?), I sample their strawberry cheesecake gelato. I love how flavorful and creamy the gelato is. Citri-Fi is an excellent natural choice for ice cream, yogurt and kefir. With Citri-Fi’s naturally occurring pectin, this natural ingredient can texturize yogurt and kefir, and control syneresis over the shelf-life of the product. It is a natural emulsifier, and, because it is freeze-thaw stable, this natural fiber can improve the abuse tolerance of a natural label ice cream. So many ice creams turn to sand immediately after opening the package. Citri-Fi can eliminate that because it hangs onto water so well during the temperature cycling of the freezer. Enjoying my strawberry cheesecake treat, I head downstairs.

Savory Sauces
It is lunchtime. I thought a lot of people would be off grabbing a bite, but, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The main floor is so packed, it is actually difficult to walk. The usual suspects are here. Boulder Brands has a large booth. Bai Brands is handing out Bai waters which is really nice, as I’m really thirsty from sampling upstairs. The booths on the main floor which are more established companies appear much more elaborate compared to the ones upstairs. Several RVs set up on the floor display products and demonstrations including one featuring vegan barbecue. Citri-Fi works well in barbecue sauce as a texturant. There are several companies trying to replace modified starches with native starches to varying degrees of success due to process stability challenges. Citri-Fi can be used in place to improve the sauce thickness and stability under varying food processing conditions. Starch often muddies up the flavor release of barbecue sauce, but due to the Citri-Fi, the flavor pops nicely while improving the mouthfeel and texture.

I notice that the trends on this floor are similar to trends upstairs, but, one thing that stands out is the prevalence of coconut snacks. If you haven’t tried them, chips made from coconut are tasty. They are crisp and only slightly sweet. There are samples galore of these type of products, so I grab several. Coconut flour is also becoming more common in gluten-free options. Coconut flour doesn’t have the same binding properties as wheat flour so glutinous (sweet) rice flour is fairly commonly used. This can cause the product to really dry out over time. Citri-Fi’s high water holding capacity and binding improves the gluten-free baked goods texture over shelf-life which is key for high quality foods.

Paleo Friendly
Also, I notice the signage talking about “Paleo” friendly. The number of companies that cater to this lifestyle is fairly staggering. People following this lifestyle do not eat grains or legumes, so making snack options that fit within this lifestyle isn’t easy. I suddenly feel old remembering when Atkins was huge and everyone was going low-carb and sugar-free. I think the differences between these two lifestyles are subtle.

Gluten-free is also a standout on the main floor. This continues to be a trend. And the quality of gluten-free products is increasing. I know this has made several of my friends who need gluten-free options very happy. They now have a choice when it comes to the grocery aisle, where they never did prior to 2010. Gluten-free baked goods can benefit from the water binding ability of Citri-Fi not to mention the natural emulsification properties. Binding water tightly helps with the shelf-life eating qualities.

Ethnic Variety
One of my favorite trends is the shear choice of regional cuisines. There were a lot of South East Asian food, Indian food and African food everywhere. There were frozen options, canned products and amazing sauces. For instance, there were quite a few coconut milk based sauces. Typically, these sauces contain several spices and suffer from separation issues. Citri-Fi’s high surface area binds the oil to minimize this type of separation. Citri-Fi greatly improves the emulsion of the sauce. A few years ago, the IBIE show featured Brazilian cheese puffs. It was nice to see this company peddling these treats at this show. The one I got was a little wilted and dry. It makes me think of restaurants reconstituting rolls or bread sticks in a heating drawer. The samples at the end of the shift are often dry and crumbly, where the first samples were fantastic. This would be another excellent application for Citri-Fi. The other standout on the main floor was the number of beverage manufacturers. Maple or birch water, Bai antioxidant water, pH adjusted water and smoothies are all represented well.

Healthy Beverages
I head downstairs to see the bottom floor of the convention. These are smaller booths, but it is just as packed as the upper floors. There are many HPP processed smoothie type drinks available downstairs, along with gluten free snacks. Using Citri-Fi in the smoothie applications is beneficial. Manufacturers can extend expensive fruit pulp, with a less expensive fruit pulp, and get excellent mouthfeel and flavor release. And for those trying to replace carrageenan, Citri-Fi in conjunction with gellan gum can fully replace this ingredient while maintaining mouthfeel and stabilization.

Meatless Meat
Jack fruit meat replacement products are everywhere. For instance, one company is offering sandwiches made up of their “pulled pork.” The smell is amazing, and the texture is incredible. But, I wonder if the samples at the end of the day are very different from fresh samples. Controlling moisture in the system is probably very important. Citri-Fi is recommended in vegetarian meat products to bind that moisture and oil which improves the eating experience especially since most of these products are reconstituted.

At this point, I look at my FitBit and see I have walked 25,272 steps. That is more than double my daily goal. My feet are absolutely killing me so I decide it’s time to head out. My walk through the crowds outside at the food truck booths takes quite a bit of time. There are a lot of yogurt samples and vegan meats to try on the way out. The band has started to play reggae at the bandstand and the center court. I wish I could stay—mainly for the great samples and fun people who attend the show. By the time I get back to my car, I have walked almost 30,000 steps. I hope that my FitBit doesn’t expect this every day!

–Author: Nesha Zalesny (Technical Sales Manager)