Reflections on Natural Products Expo West 2013
As editors of Vegetarians in Paradise, we've attended the Natural Products Expo West as press for the last 12 years. During that time we've watched this convention grow from a one-floor exhibit space to cover three huge floors and become the top-rated natural products trade show in the U.S.
This year's affair attracted over 63,000 visitors and 2428 businesses displaying their wares in 390,000 square feet of floor space. Our purpose every year is to discover what new vegan products are available and inform our readers in two of our features: Vegetarian Food Companies and our VeggieTaster who taste-tests these products.
As we roamed the aisles of the Anaheim Convention Center, we couldn't help noticing different food trends each year. One year the Atkins Diet craze was so strong, the convention was filled with a preponderance of vendors offering low-carb foods. A year later the low-carb signs were a rarity.
Antioxidant beverages like acai and other berries were the rage one year, while numerous variations of bottled water were featured the next season. Although we spent two full days walking through the exhibits, we found we could not possibly see all of them. Still, it was easy to spot a few emerging trends.
Coconut water made a visible splash throughout the convention floor. In most instances it was pure and natural without any additives. A few vendors decided to blend it with other juices like pineapple and orange or flavoring ingredients like ginger. Others tried to push natural to the limit by adding an array of sweeteners. Hopefully, there are still some coconuts left in Thailand for people to enjoy.
When we first started coming to the Expo, only a handful of vendors offered gluten-free baking mixes, cookies, and breads. Anyone walking the convention this year couldn't take more than two steps without encountering a gluten-free sign and a product that was certified gluten-free. Foreign visitors might draw the conclusion that Americans suffer terribly from gluten-related ailments.
Making its first appearance in this show was the non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) certification provided by NON-GMO PROJECT Although California voters faced a blizzard of negative ads and voted down GMO labeling, the battle continues with organizations certifying that GMOs do not appear in a particular product.
Whole Foods Market announced at the event that it is committed to full GMO transparency by 2018. This move by a national retailer makes GMO labeling laws unnecessary. Food companies will quickly realize that a non-GMO label is essential in selling their products.
When we began attending these annual shows, we would ask exhibitors, "Is your product vegan?" In most instances the representatives would stare at us blankly or ask us with a puzzled look, "What's vegan?"
As the years roll by, more and more people have developed vegan awareness. At this conference, only one of the numerous vendors we met was unaware of the meaning of "vegan."
The VEGAN REVOLUTION has begun. More and more vegan products are appearing on the shelves, not only at health food stores, but also in mainstream supermarkets. At this show we found new delicious vegan products: nondairy cheese substitutes, burgers, frankfurters, chicken-less patties, pizzas, snacks, sweeteners, frozen desserts, chocolate, marshmallows, and candy.
Companies are finding it expedient to market an entire line of vegan products, while others find it necessary to include a few vegan items in their offerings.
VEGAN is the trend and buzzword that now dominates trade shows like this.
In Part 2 of this report we will report on our food discoveries.