Convention Report: Natural Products Expo West 2016


Every spring I provide a service to you, our dear readers. With my friend Dale, I go to the massive Natural Products Expo West and sample hundreds of new “healthy” snacks so you don’t have to. When the day draws to a close I, inevitably, regret downing all those bizarre gluten-free power bars, matcha-soy lattes, puffed tortilla chips and stevia sodas. Each year I come to the same general conclusion: it’s all just a load of highly processed stuff loaded with sugar. The products in a “health” food store can be just as unhealthy as the aisle of a conventional supermarket.


The so called “natural” food business is cut-throat. At the convention thousands of vendors are competing for extremely limited shelf space while operating on razor-thin margins. Trends come and go just as rapidly as hemlines rise and fall in the fashion world. So what products will you find in your local Whole Foods in the coming year? Here’s what I observed:

  • We’ve passed peak kale. In fact I’d say there’s a full-on kale backlash. The smart folks have moved on to moringa and seaweed.
  • We may also have passed peak kombucha. Matcha is the new kombucha.
  • Gluten is still in jail but is eligible for parole. I think America’s current favorite food villain is going to switch soon to . . .
  • Sugar. Sugar is the new gluten. Since sugar is such a phenomenal preservative it will be interesting to see how these manufacturers can come up with shelf stable sugar free products. Those products, I predict, will be just as unhealthy as the many gluten free snacks out there.
  • The ascendancy of Korean food. There was an entire aisle devoted to Korean products, something I was very pleased to see.

A final note. Let me say how much I appreciate companies that staff their convention booths with knowledgeable employees (such as King Arthur Flour and Gustos Specialty Foods). Lesser companies hire attractive people who don’t know anything about the products they are representing.

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  1. When are they going to have a “Minimally processed, minimally packaged (recycled/recyclable packaging), chemical free, small carbon footprint, humanly raised, so on and so forth” food expo???!!!

    Define Natural, right……………

    Interesting info, thanks, I do like me a good Kind Bar! (=

    • Kind Bar was very generous with the swag, by the way. T-shirts, bags, in-booth DJ (I kid you not). I also didn’t mention all the free booze that was flowing at the end of the day. And, yeah, I think that word “natural” is just a replacement for the 70s word “health”. Not sure what it means.

  2. @drbrew–lol; we already have those. They’re called farmer’s markets. 🙂

    @rootsimple–aack! Not peak kombucha already! I just got hooked! 😉 And my chickens will be very disappointed if we have indeed passed peak kale. Unless they get all the excess, of course…

  3. I also failed to note that Kamut is the new quinoa. I’m sure the folks in South America enduring quinoa shortages (no laughing matter) will be happy to hear this.

  4. Nice shout-out to King Arthur Flour. The folks at the KAF store here in Vermont are very knowledgeable and very, very helpful. If you or your readers are ever in the extreme Northeast U.S., it’s worth a visit.

    • My King Arthur sourdough starter is the most forgiving sourdough starter ever, it will sit patiently in the fridge waiting to be fed for weeks at a time, them come to life and make a fine pizza crust or baguette no problem them go back in the fridge to wait for the next time, and don’t get me started on the flour……………There is a difference for sure!

    • Big props for King Arthur!

      I bet the store is wonderful but being an entire country away I doubt I’ll ever see it. I have, however, called the Bakers’ Hotline and gotten authoritative advice and patient problem solving on any number of occasions.

      These folks are committed to returning baking to American homes! And why shouldn’t they be? They’re all co-owners invested in their company and the health of their industry.

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