Food trends from Expo West
I have been dilatory in posting over the past few days and embarrassingly dilatory about approving comments. I’m way, way behind, but I’ll get caught up ultimately. So, if you have a comment doing time in comment Purgatory, don’t despair. I will get to it. Ultimately.
My excuse for not devoting my normal amount of attention to this blog is that I’ve been extremely busy as of late. MD and I made a quick trip to Seattle to work on our world-changing project, then came back and spent a couple of days at the zoo that is Expo West (more about which momentarily), then the Seattle team came to us and we continued to work. During all this, MD had a concert in which she had to perform Mozart’s Requiem and Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna (my favorite piece of choral music) along with a couple of lesser pieces. And tomorrow we drive back to Tahoe. So, we’ve been busy little beavers and this blog has suffered.
Expo West has got to be the world’s largest natural foods expo. It takes place every year at about this time in Anaheim. And every year at about this time we drag ourselves to it. The photo at the top of this blog represents one tiny little portion of this gathering. To see how huge it is, take a look at the photo below of the map of the thing.
Find the red You-are-here arrow on the top middle left. The picture at the top of this post is looking to the left from that spot on this map. And you can see only a short space down, kind of to where the aisle turns. Imagine that view in each direction, then add a couple of floors made of several large multiple gymnasium-sized rooms, and you can kind of get the picture. There are thousands of exhibitors and thousands of attendees. It is one monster extravaganza of foods, supplements, beauty supplies, and anything else you might imagine having anything to do with diet, health, food and natural clothing.
I hate to go to the thing because I hate throngs of milling people and I hate the exhibitors always trying to sell you something. But I also really enjoy it because I find new stuff and I learn a lot. And there are the booth babes, to boot. Although not so many this year. Times are tough and booth babes are costly.
Each time I go to Expo West, I notice trends. And this year was no different. So, for what it’s worth, here are the trends I noticed after God only knows how many hours spent and miles walked traipsing through the giant Anaheim Convention Center.
There were a multitude of tea purveyors. There was black tea, green tea, white tea, herbal teas of every description, and a dozen kinds of maté. Way, way more tea than I’ve ever seen. I guess the spate of recent studies that have appeared showing the purported health benefits of drinking some kind of tea has not been lost on tea vendors. They were there in droves. And all were babbling about studies demonstrating how tea cures this or that disease. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that all of the studies they were using were observational studies and not worth a flip for proving that tea helps anything.
Agave was the big new product this year. Last year there were a few vendors; this year they were everywhere. They were selling agave syrup, agave nectar, agave crystals, agave this and agave that. An entire other group of vendors was promoting various products sweetened with agave. For those of you who don’t know, agave is the latest entry into the caloric-sweetener sweepstakes. It comes in a variety of forms – syrup, nectar, crystals – from the agave plant, a succulent plant found mainly in Mexico. The claim to fame of this sweetener, which was emblazoned on banners, literature, labels and just about everywhere, is that it is a low-glycemic sweetener. And it is was being touted as a great food for diabetics and any others with glucose-intolerance problems. And it is indeed low-glycemic because it is composed of about 90 percent fructose. If you think high-fructose corn syrup is bad at 55 percent fructose, just imagine what Agave syrup can do for you. Yet all these ignorant people are ga ga over it as if it were the second coming. My advice is to avoid it like death. But be prepared to be seeing it everywhere.
There were a lot of products made with xylitol on display. Products that are probably pretty good, but that I would never have imagined. Nose spray, for example. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is antibacterial, which is why it is in gums that dentists recommend. It actually prevents tooth decay because of its antibacterial properties. It does the same thing if sprayed into the nose, a place where a lot of bacteria live. I saw a product made of xylitol that was to be dissovled in water and used in a Neti pot to irrigate sinuses, which, like the nose spray, makes sense. There have been randomized control trials showing the benefit of xylitol for prevention of tooth decay and prevention of ear infections in kids. I didn’t see any papers showing studies on the nose sprays or other products, but it’s a reasonable assumption that they probably work. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate using them. Based on the number of vendors I saw, expect to see a lot of xylitol-containing products in the days to come.
There were a fair number of non-caloric sweeteners on display. Most were made of combinations of RebA, the active ingredient in stevia, and other non-caloric sweeteners. I saw a lot of erythritol and erythritol combinations as well. If numbers of vendors are any indication, expect to see a bunch of non-caloric sweeteners hitting the shelves.
Coconut milk and oil
In what I view as an extremely positive trend, there were a zillion purveyors of coconut milk and products made from coconut milk. In the past, there weren’t many, but this year they were everywhere. There were a bunch of companies making ice creams and gelato made of coconut milk. These aren’t low-carb by any stretch, but they are still more healthful (in my opinion) than regular ice cream because of all the great fats in coconut milk and oil. I took one for the team and tried several of these, and I can tell you that they were delicious. There were also outfits selling coconut milk that was like regular cow’s milk. It didn’t taste quite the same, but it wasn’t far off the mark. I thought it tasted better, but others might disagree. The milk comes in cartons just like regular milk. There were chocolates and any other product you could think of that would normally be made of milk or dairy made of coconut milk or oil.
In what I would consider another positive trend, there were way, way fewer companies selling soy products than ever before. Since I’ve been attending Expo West soy has been everywhere and in everything. All of a sudden, this year it’s kind of taken a powder. There were a handful of people there selling soy-based products, but not anywhere near what has been there in past years.
Every year there are people there selling nuts. This year they wre all over the place. I’ve never seen so many nuts on display.
Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the low-fat nature of products. Previously it was much more visible with banners and stickers on anything that could make the claim, but not so much this year. Many more products were advertised as having no added sugar or sugar-free than were advertised as being low-fat. I think the times they are a changing.
Strangely, there was more emphasis on low-cholesterol than I’ve noticed in the past few years. More emphasis, in fact, than there was on low-fat. There were many products on display that proudly proclaimed their cholesterol-lowering properties. The one that took the cake is pictured below. The company makes tortilla chips that allegedly lower cholesterol. Now you know what to do if your cholesterol is a little high: go face down in these chips. Not! Actually, they would probably do you less harm than taking a statin.
Meat and eggs
Yet another positive trend was the large increase in the number of vendors selling both fresh and processed meats. Way more vendors than in the past. And a large number selling eggs. I saw many booths that had packets containing two hard boiled eggs and a little salt and pepper. A good kind of fast food, if you ask me.
I was expecting there to be a zillion people selling resveratrol, but there weren’t many. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone selling just the raw stuff. The only vendors I found selling it were selling their own proprietary versions in which resveratrol was mixed with other compounds. Given all the press lately about resveratrol I was really surprised at how little there was.
All the krill oil sellers were there, and I spent a good amount of time with them. They all had large booths, so it was apparent that krill oil has been very, very good to them all. I finally learned all the distinctions between all the oils available and will be doing a post on them as soon as I have a little time to go over all the papers I’ve pulled to make sure I am accurate.
It’s hard to say, but if I had to bet, I would bet that there were slightly fewer this year than last. They were still there, and they were still obnoxious, but just not in the numbers as before. At least it appeared that way.
One of the things that constantly amazes me about Expo West and all the other natural food and health food shows I go to is how typically American all the people look who are selling this stuff. They truly are a mirror of American. The vast majority are overweight and they don’t look like the picture of health, yet there they are pimping products that are supposed to make the purchasers of them healthy. If I looked like most of these people, I would hire someone who at least look lean, trim and healthy to man my booth, but these people don’t. Most are definately not walking advertisements for their products.
Here are a couple of photos to show you what I mean. These pictures give you an idea of what a typical booth at Expo West looks like and typical people working these booths. I didn’t pick these just because they were hawking vegetarian products, I picked them because I happened to have my camera at hand and they were right across the aisles from one another. They were not out of the ordinary. They look like most of the vendors.
I plan to dragoon MD into doing most of the driving tomorrow so that I can catch up on my medical reading (as much as I can anyway while keeping a close eye on the road). When we get home, I’ll get back on my normal schedule of posting. Hang in there ’til then.