More than 10,000 RDs gathered in Philadelphia this year for the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ (FNCE®). They attended educational sessions, networked, and tasted new and nutritious food products in the Expo Hall. For the third year in a row, I was there for Today’s Dietitian to bring you a rundown of the latest, greatest food trends from the convention.
Plant-based was the mega-trend of the conference. I sampled snacks made from broad beans and chickpeas, burgers made with pea protein and beets, pizzas made with cauliflower crust, and a soy-based faux canned tuna. Amid all those packaged plant foods were the plants themselves including California Strawberries, Wild Blueberries, Pacific Northwest Canned Pears, and Tomato Wellness, which featured lycopene, vitamin C, and other nutritional benefits of tomato products … and the Produce for Better Health Foundation Have a Plant team was there to remind everyone that, despite the rise in plant-based eating, consumers still need our help to get enough fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables into their diets each day.
Trends and Countertrends
I spent an afternoon trend tracking with colleague, Janet Helm, MS, RDN, chief food and nutrition strategist at Weber Shandwick and author of the blog Nutrition Unplugged. Together, we noticed some interesting trends and countertrends. “There’s a universal truth in trend tracking that for every trend there’s a countertrend, which means for every development, there’s most likely one headed in the opposite direction,” Helm said.
Milk and grain products were the most glaring examples of that.
Plant-Based Milks vs Dairy Milks
Helm and I spotted a variety of plant-based milks at the Expo, including hemp, pistachio, and black sesame seed milks from Three Trees and Silk’s Oat Yeah Oatmilk, yet, according to Helm, “there were dairy milks embracing their realness and touting value-added ingredients.” Some of those value-added dairy milks included Horizon Organic Growing Years Whole Milk, aimed at children aged 1 to 5, which contains prebiotics, DHA, and choline; a2 Milk, which comes from cows that produce only the A2 protein and no A1 (a2 Milk may help some people avoid gastrointestinal discomfort); and Meyenberg Goat Milk, comparable in flavor and nutrition to cow’s milk but easier for some people to digest due to its smaller-sized fat particles.
“Dairy-free was trending in frozen desserts, too,” Helm said, “yet one ice cream brand (Beckon Ice Cream) boasted about being ‘Dairy Full & Lactose Free.’”
Grain-Free Is the New Gluten-Free
The Paleo and keto crazes have undoubtedly fueled demand for grain-free products. The Expo Hall was brimming with breads, wraps, and tortillas made with grain alternatives like potato, almond, and chickpea flours. At the Expo were Potapas tortillas made with dehydrated potatoes and billed as a great-tasting alternative to flour and corn; Barely Bread 100% grain-free sliced loaves, bagels, rolls, and baguettes with almond flour; Soozy’s Grain-Free donuts and muffins made with blanched almond flour, arrowroot flour, and coconut flour (the chocolate flavor was my favorite); Simple Mills Almond Flour Bars; Siete Grain Free Tortillas made with almond flour, cashew flour, chickpea flour, and cassava flour; and Maria and Ricardo’s grain-free Veggie Tortillas made with tapioca flour and real vegetables including cauliflower, zucchini, and sweet potato.
Despite that virtual sea of grain-free everything, Helm said, “Other products showcased super grains, such as sprouted and fresh pressed grains in breads, wraps, and pizza crusts.”
Examples of that countertrend were Angelic Bakehouse’s Sprouted Whole Grain 7-Grain Bread and 7 Sprouted Whole Grains Flatzza Flatbread Pizza Crust (both with reduced-sodium options and touted as “sproutstanding”), and Silver Hills Bakery Organic Sprouted Power bagels, whole grain breads, and English muffins.
There were plenty more hot ticket items, including these below.
Seeds and Nuts
Nuts have held their ground at past FNCE®s as a sustainable plant-based protein source, and they were still on display this year. At the Wonderful Pistachios booth, I sampled their newest shelled flavors, Chili Roasted and Honey Roasted, but seeds—from pumpkin and sesame to hemp—made a big splash, too. Powered by protein, good fats, and nutrients like zinc, I loved the clean flavor and crunch of SuperSeedz Gourmet Pumpkin Seeds (Sea Salt was my top pick), and I sampled plenty of other seed-centric products including 88 Acres Seed Butter, Seed Bars, and Seed’Nola, and Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Granola.
Cauliflower has been the “it” vegetable for the past few FNCE®s, and I don’t see its popularity waning any time soon. This nutritious cruciferous veggie is now available in pizza crusts, the breading on chicken tenders, and in savory sauces. CauliPower, the fastest-growing frozen pizza in the country, was there to sample a few of its pizza flavors and introduce New Chick On The Block, frozen chicken tenders made with a gluten-free coating of rice flour, dried cauliflower, and brown rice. I tried Cali’flour Foods Supreme Veggie Pizza made with a cauliflower crust and Do Anything Foods vegan Cauliflower Alfredo sauce.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization define probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” I spotted those beneficial bugs in supplements such as Country Life’s Gut Connection Digestive Balance capsules and in various products including Farmhouse Culture’s Gut Shot beverage (they contain natural probiotics from organic veggies and are touted as “a daily shot for a happy gut”). The Cultured Snacking Co. featured its soon-to-be-released single-serve, squeezable Probiotic Nutbutters, made with yogurt and available in Almond Dark Chocolate and Almond Vanilla Chai varieties.
Making an equally big splash this year were prebiotics, defined as nondigestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. The Global Prebiotic Association had a booth at the Expo Hall (check out its site for helpful prebiotic resources), as did Jarrow Formulas, which showcased its prebiotic powders and capsules; Beneo, an ingredient company that makes two prebiotic fibers from chicory root, inulin, and oligofructose; and Uplift Food, founded by dietitian Kara Landau, APD/AN, who sampled her soon-to-be-released Gut Happy Cookies made with probiotics and prebiotics.
At FNCE® 2018, there were several meal kit companies in attendance. I didn’t see too many this year, but one company that caught my eye was Imperfect Foods, a grocery service on a mission to fight food waste by selling ugly produce, off-sized eggs, and other imperfect foods that might otherwise be thrown away. Kudos to Imperfect Foods!
— Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, is a mom of two with a specialty in family nutrition. She’s the voice behind the family food podcast Liz’s Healthy Table, and the blog and website by the same name. Liz has written several cookbooks, including No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy Kid-Tested Recipes From the Meal Makeover Moms, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time!, and the playful new coloring book series Color, Cook, Eat!. Liz hosts the Meal Makeovers video series for CNN Accent Health, which runs in doctor’s offices nationwide.