71,000 attendees. 2,700 exhibiting companies. All packed into the Anaheim Convention Center for the Natural Products Expo West. This three day health foods and products Woodstock let thousands view, learn, shamelessly hawk and sample a vast array of natural (and some not-quite-so-natural), organic, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO foods, ingredients, spices, waters, cosmetics, treatments and more. Think of a mid-sized city crammed into a convention center and you get the idea. Thankfully, we braved all this, walking 12 miles in two days (yes, we counted our steps) so that you wouldn’t have to.
The good: We were amazed at the entrepreneurial energy of an army of vendors offering some very innovative and healthy products. Along the way, we discovered some excellent ideas from small and growing companies, like Love Grown Foods, The Chia Co, the Jackalope Good Food Company, Zuke’s animal products and Just Hemp Foods, to cite a few great examples (there’s more in our recommendation list below). Their products are mind-alteringly delicious, damned good for you, and run by very cool, smart and genuinely nice people with hearts as big as their hopes and dreams.
The not so good: What was once a fringe industry (“damned hippie food!”) has gone mainstream. Some once smaller companies have emerged to become really big, and corporate food giants are taking notice. Both were present. Don’t get us wrong – some big companies, such as Hain Celestial, were very good to us, welcoming mere mortals such as ourselves into their large and wonderfully rustic booth. But some exhibitors rudely ignored our requests for a conversation, likely because our badge didn’t read ‘Whole Foods’, ‘Kroger’, ‘Walmart’ or some other big retailer. Whatever.
Then there’s gluten. Don’t get us wrong. Gluten awareness is a very good thing, and it’s great that so many food companies are embracing gluten-free foods. But we saw a ton of small and large companies offering what amounted to gluten-free, fattening junk snack food with no nutritional value. And don’t get us started on heavily salted, deep-fried kale chips – there seemed to be hundreds of booths marketing this amazing wonder food. May God have mercy on us all.
We’ve chronicled Rita’s issues with FODMAP, lactose, and gluten allergies in other blogs. To our surprise, many exhibitors marketing gluten-free foods were clueless about FODMAP issues, which to us is a missed opportunity. But we were pleased to meet with some exhibitors who not only knew a lot about FODMAP intolerance, but offer solutions to help the millions of people who suffer from this and other food allergies.
It saddens us to think that of the 2,700 companies large and small exhibiting at the Natural Products Expo, many won’t be around a year from now. For example, an executive with Invo Coconut Water told us that little more than a year or two ago, there were only five companies selling this product. This year, 57 exhibitors marketed coconut water products. Our hunch is that by next year, less than half of those companies will be in business. Such is the world of capitalism.
Still, we were deliriously exhausted by the energy we felt, the things we saw and learned, the people we met and products we sampled. Companies that barely have any shelf presence in our local grocery stores, like Justin’s handy single-serve packs of almond and peanut butter, had a huge booth straddling both sides of the aisle. It’s a hint that their business, and the natural products industry, is much larger than most of us can imagine.
Of the thousands of companies whose booths we visited over two days, below are our favorites. Many of the best ideas we saw are from start-ups and little guys, and you can be sure that we’re cheering them on. Take a few minutes to click on their links and discover them for yourself.
Gluten and FODMAP-Free Foods
Jackalope Good Food Company – A small bakery in Temecula, California with big dreams offering incredible, paleo breads and baking mix recipes. We give them a standing ovation.
Love Grown Foods – When two very smart, ambitious and visionary college kids fall in love, great things can happen. They’ve built a company that’s every bit as passionate about teaching kids how to eat and live healthy lives as they are about their wonderful foods. We’re huge fans of these genuine, warm people and their great breakfast products.
Salba Chia – An outstanding source for non-GMO chia seed products (including handy snack packs) for our on-the-go lives. Salba was a big discovery for us at the Expo.
Simple Mills – We’ve become such big fans of this wonderful company, which offers almond flour, coconut nectar-based baking mixes that are out of this world. The bread and muffin mixes are wonderfully nutritious and habit-formingly delicious. Who knew that baking could be this much fun? For health-conscious families and people with food allergies, Simple Mills is a godsend. And their team are the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
The Chia Co – We went crazy as soon as we tried out this Australian/US company’s chia oatmeals and chia pod ready-to-eat breakfasts and healthy snacks. Super healthy, super good. (We have deep lust for their Chia Pod cups. And without guilt – they are nutritious as they are delicious.) Oh, and having super surfer Kelly Slater as your spokesperson doesn’t hurt. These guys totally get it. Your homework assignment: run to your local store and try out their products. Now.
Go Macro – Two thumbs up. Go Macro not only offers a line of protein and energy macro food bars for just about every need, including FODMAP and gluten intolerance. They also taste great and are perfect for ardent athletes like cyclists who need a source of sustainable and easy to digest fuel for their activities.
Rise Bars – At the Expo and on too many grocery shelves, you can buy “protein” bars that are little more than candy hyped as “natural.” Rise Bar products are an exception. They use these ingredients that are known as “real food” (featuring words that you can actually pronounce). Healthy and good tasting bars, nice people and best of all, they’re from our home town of Irvine, California.
Invo Coconut Water – We mentioned that the Expo was overrun by companies hawking coconut water, the product du jour at the show. Invo might not be a name you know, but they’ve been around quite a long time. Theirs might be the best tasting coconut water we’ve ever tried. And Invo’s drinks are made with not-from-concentrate coconut water that has been high pressure processed (HPP) rather than pasteurized. It’s the real thing.
Kohana Coffee – Of the many vendors marketing coffee at the Expo (including very cool companies like Marley Coffee, mon), Kohana Coffee inspired us. Their organic, cold-brewed sustainable coffees are excellent. And we love their island vibe.
Rebel Kitchen – All hail business start-ups! The Expo was the coming out party for this new and very promising company. Their USDA organic, vegan, non-GMO coconut mylk (no, that’s not a typo) beverages totally rocked our world.
Wai Koko Coconut Water – Named after their favorite Hanalei Bay surf break on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Wai Koko coconut water is just plain awesome. For the Hawaiians, the water from the coconut is often referred to as “noelani” which translates as “dew from the heavens.” One sip and we agree: Wai Koko’s product is all that and more. Epic.
Supplements, Protein Powder and Additives
Just Hemp Foods – This new Canadian company blew us away. We’ve read about the nutritional virtues of hemp, and now we’re believers. Their hemp seeds (our favorite: their hulled hemp seeds – serious yummage), hemp protein powder and other products are great for people with food allergies, and just plain great, period. amazon.com, here we come.
Nutiva – Every morning, we sprinkle Nutiva chia seeds into our breakfast. But that’s just the start. Nutiva is an outstanding source for organic superfoods, including coconut oil and flour, hemp seed and protein powder, chia seed and red palm oil, and more. The company embodies a real food manifesto. Any company that is passionate about what they do and make, instead of being fixated on making money, gets our vote.
Sprout Living – We’re big believers in protein powder to enhance our diet. The team at Sprout Living take protein powder in a totally new direction, offering a variety of organic, vegan, multi-source and superfood-based powders for any need. Very cool company. Visit their website to learn from some leading chefs and experts using their products, along with their outstanding blog.
Sun Warrior – Genuinely nice people offering genuinely great plant-based foods and supplements, including protein powders, supergreens, recovery and immunity supplements. In a world with "whey" too much soy- and milk-based protein powders, these guys totally get it. Step into the light and give Sun Warrior’s products a serious look. We love them.
Swerve Sweetener – Finding the ideal sweetener has been a huge challenge for us. We’re cynical about the various oligosaccharides (xylitol, mannitol, sucralose, inulin, etc.). And sugar, while simple and relatively digestible, isn’t without its issues. So what to do? After meeting with Ms. Andress Blackwell, Swerve’s extremely smart and savvy CEO, we were convinced that their erythritol-based sweetener is safe for people with food allergies. She is very educated on FODMAPs and other food allergens, and we concluded that Swerve is definitely worth trying. Impressive.
Confections and Snacks
ChocXO Chocolatier – A chocolate company? Yes, a chocolate company. An incredible chocolate company, one focused on producing world-class, bespoke bean-to-bar chocolate products. After visiting their booth at the Expo, we toured ChocXO’s plant in Irvine California, and were blown away at what we saw (and tasted). While we view chocolate as something for a special occasion, we bought their wonderful, unsweetened roasted cocoa nibs (crushed cocoa beans). There’s more nutrition in cocoa than we knew. As if we needed another justification for enjoying unbelievably great chocolate…
Jolly Llama – We were looking for an all-natural, dairy free frozen treat for our elderly mom. At the Expo, we found an amazingly great, dairy, gluten and nut-free solution in Jolly Llama frozen pops. Oh, and did we mention they’re outrageously delicious? One word: YES.
You Are Loved Foods – This little gem of a company offers paleo friendly, low glycemic, low sugar, low carb, gluten free, low-FODMAP friendly, low-fat foods that taste amazing. If that’s not a mouthful, then you’ll have to try You Are Loved Foods’ delicious products, like their vegan cinnamon almond protein bites. We did. Our palates and bodies thanked us big-time.
Zuke’s – This might be the coolest company we saw at Expo West. First, their products extended the life of our beloved kitty. Everyone at Zuke’s is passionate about animals. Their founder started the company to offer healthy, honestly nutritious and natural foods for dogs and cats. Let’s just say we’re huge fans. Anyone who cares about our four-footed pals like the folks at Zuke’s do is an epic WIN.
Stay tuned. Over the next few weeks, we will highlight a few of the companies mentioned above. Mahalo!
DISCLAIMER: This blog is 100 percent natural, organic, vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, FODMAP-free, dairy-free, low glycemic and paleo friendly. Its text does not contain either soy or whey. No animals were harmed (or even teased) in the making of any and all drafts of this blog, although we frequently petted and played with our two kitties while writing this. We also made sure to stand frequently while writing and editing this blog. If you suffer from nut allergies, please note that we did munch on raw, unsalted almonds, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds along with a few tangerines during the course of writing this. This blog was not printed on recycled paper, because it's not printed at all. Also, no electrons were harmed in the transmission of this blog over the Internet.
There. We feel better now.
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