This guest blog post is written by Chris Warne, associate publisher of SmartBrief’s Food & Beverage Group.

Outside the Natural Products Expo West Show 2011

Natural Products Expo West attracts an eclectic and passionate crowd to Anaheim, Calif., each year, which makes it different from every other food industry trade show I’ve attended in my 25 years in the industry. Most noticeable is the promotion frenzy from exhibitors outside the expo with exhibitor tents, food samples, live music, a hay wagon and cardboard cutouts of tree huggers, obviously saving the endangered species of palm trees in Southern California. And at what other show do you park in a remote Disneyland lot? ( I parked in Woody 4B). The whole Expo West experience is a wonderful clashing of cultures, all in the name of health and wellness.

From the show floor

Product trends are many at Natural Product Expo West. Most obvious is the continued explosion of gluten-free options and new products. Most product categories have made the effort to grab their slice of the gluten-free pie, but there is room for debate about whether the demand is warranted. It is estimated that the percentage of the population that seeks out gluten-free products exceeds the percentage that actually needs them, whether related to celiac disease, wheat allergies or wheat intolerance. With less than 1% of the U.S. population actually suffering from celiac disease, will the rush to get gluten-free products on the shelves pay off for food marketers? It’s worth keeping an eye on.

What Expo West trends mean for restaurants

Consumer demand and legislative demand will ensure that restaurant operators innovate and adapt. But the decision to offer gluten-free menu items, for example, is not as simple as substituting rice flour for wheat flour in a recipe or quinoa for pasta on the menu. In order to adhere to the strictest guidelines you must prepare food in a separate area and utilize different equipment. So, before you invest in the required resources, estimate your return on investment and whether it makes sense for you to maintain a true gluten-free environment for your customers. As more and more consumers go gluten-free by choice, it’s worth investigating.

What were your takeaways from Expo West this year?

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One Response to “A peek at the Natural Products Expo West”

  1. Tara says:

    I have celiac disease and am gluten free along with 2 of my family members. I love the fact that now gluten free products are becoming more popular and just recently 4 of my friends I know have been diagnosed with it as well. Most people love to eat gluten free because its the cool thing to do and they think they are going to loose weight. If you make meals gluten free then I highly recommend that you will make a high profit. Coming from a daughter who's dad is in the restaurant business, I give it a thumbs up!!!!

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