Trends From the Food and Nutrition Expo

As a Registered Dietitian, I travel annually to my professional association’s conference and exposition. This year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo took place in Atlanta, and having just returned, I thought I’d share what I observed from the exposition part of the meeting. The expo is the tradeshow part of the conference, where attendees get to taste new products and chat with manufacturer representatives about products. Here are three of the trends I found pervasive on the expo floor this year…

prunes / plums
Olivier Bacquet / Prunes/Plums / CC BY 2.0

Protein power

Protein is enjoying a heyday in nutrition circles these days, a fact that certainly isn’t lost on food manufacturers. If there’s a way to pump more protein into processed foods, someone will find a way to do it! But I was pleased to see a wide variety of exhibits for foods that inherently contain protein. Everyone from nut boards (and there are quite a few of them!) to seafood promoters were touting their protein credentials. The aroma of fish cooking at 9 am may not have helped drive traffic to their exhibit, but the seafood folks talked lean protein with attendees non-stop each day.

Check out the “clearing house” of nutrition info on many types of nuts at the Int’l. Tree Nut Council’s website (lots of resource materials and links to studies). Grains are a decent source of protein as well, of course, and cereal makers are not missing a beat. General Mills, for example, sampled their Cheerios Protein varieties (a tad on the sweet side for me, but a decent 7g protein per serving—11g if you include a half cup of milk with it).

All about that bar

Apparently, pretty much anything can be made into bar form. Brands that you don’t normally associate with bars are even rolling out their spins on bar-shaped snacks. Campbells, for example, has launched a new V-8 branded protein bar. Whoa! A beverage brand crossed over to a bar? The idea is to leverage the veggie appeal of the V-8 brand and probably to get more consumers who don’t drink V-8 juice products to start identifying with the brand. These are basically amped-up granola bars.

I like to make my own granola bars usually with whole food ingredients, but lots of folks need the convenience of a boxed product. From a company started by two dietitians come Zing Bars. These bars are gluten- and soy-free (some are also vegan), and contain a good dose of protein and fiber, along with a clean ingredient list.

On-the-go fruit snacks

Included in the portable food trend is fruit, and yes, whole fruit is still a viable and nutritious option that will always remain popular. However, if you want to mix it up a bit, you can opt for other variations on the fruit theme. Fruit-in-a-pouch isn’t completely new, but the idea seems to be spreading. These are basically apple-and-fruit-sauces in a little portable pouch that make it easy to just squeeze the sauce into one’s mouth. That delivery concept doesn’t appeal to me, but I could see that it might be a good sports product (easy to take along on a run or hike). Motts and Powerbar have versions.

Dried fruit never goes out of style, but it does seem to be more hip than it has been in the past. While I still call them prunes (and learned a healthy respect for them from my prune-loving mother), you can get your “dried plums” in single-prune packages (perfect for a purse or gym bag) or in small 60-calorie portions from Sunsweet, which also sells them diced into chewy bits (called Amazins) that are perfect or adding to granola or homemade protein bars! They are also available in a mixed berry version if prunes aren’t your thing. I happen to LOVE dried fruit, so this is easy for me to support. Do keep portion control in mind though, as the calories in dried fruit add up quickly.