The natural products convention called "Expo West" has been the darling of the organic and natural foods industry since 1981 when 3,000 people attended. The trade show, which took place March 11-13, now lures some 55,000 attendees—manufacturers large and small and retailers and distributors from around the world—to parade and peruse the latest in healthy and environmentally-friendly products. It's a bit like what would happen if Whole Foods fell down the rabbit hole and ate the bite of cake that grew Alice in Wonderland to over 9 feet tall. It's a circus, to say the least, but even within the madness, a few gems always stick out. Check out which products and trends you will no doubt be seeing on store shelves soon enough, and which to avoid.
Best Overall Product: Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry
Sixty six. That's the percentage of plastic reduced in Seventh Gen's newest product and the number of loads of laundry you can clean with the 4X liquid concentrate. You have to give props where props are due, and the forward thinking minds at the mega-household brand have delivered nothing short of genius in their newest packaging innovation in partnership with Ecologic. Instead of plastic, they've managed to simulate their liquid laundry container through a 100 percent recycled-fiber card stock. It's a paper bottle. There is a plastic spout/lid and a plastic bag inside to hold the super-concentrated liquid, but the shell is completely recyclable or compostable.
Most Innovative Product: Big Tree Farms CocoHydro
Big Tree Farms is at the forefront of sourcing great, real food and developing authentic community relationships by working hand in hand with thousands of family farms throughout Indonesia. They have a source for one of the hottest Expo food trends, too: Coconut. You'll see all sorts of coconut incarnations this year, and surely you're already familiar with popular coconut waters that come in the shipping nightmare, tetra-paks, which are fuel inefficient and create excess waste. And, O.N.E. coconut water brand just recalled a bunch of products because of mold contamination. BTF's CocoHydro evaporated coconut water powder is more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than the single-serve coconut waters, contains no added sugars and delivers a much smoother flavor. Simply add to water for a blast of electrolytes and deliciousness.
Best Organic Product: Rhythm Superfoods
So long trans-fat laden potato and corn chips and hello... kale? Yep. The trend continues. These raw, vegan snack foods are made with the world's most important leafy green vegetable. Rhythm Superfoods offers 5 unbelievably tasty organic "chips" including Mango Habanero, Texas BBQ, Zesty Nacho, Bombay Curry and the incredibly delicious, Kool Ranch. Take that, Doritos.
Best Vegan Product: Food For Lovers Vegan Queso
Texas brings vegans a yummy, creamy and cheesy queso dip made from the old natural foodie standard, nutritional yeast. It's spicy and versatile and contains ingredients we can actually pronounce. It's soy free, too. And we have a feeling there will be plenty more surprises coming from these vegan food lovers.
Best Snack: Stephen James Luxury Organics
Stephen James makes a totally raw, organic and super delicious way to refuel. We love that their five energy bars contain no hexane-soy, like Clif Bars, and they're not overly mushy and fruity like Lara Bars. These are crunchy, crispy and perfectly balanced with powerful superseeds, Himalayan salt and ingredients like Sencha green tea and raw cacao.
Best Kids Product: Green Toys
We don't want to see any more factory-produced baby food. Feed kids real food--please!--but DO let them play with Green Toys! Green Toys are made entirely (entirely!) from recycled milk jugs. Standard dump trucks, cars and tea sets will stand the test of time and are very reasonably priced. The products meet the FDA food contact standards, and they even make kid-sized tableware that's BPA, melamine and phthalate free.
Best Specialty Food: DeLallo
You may not know the name, but if you've nibbled at an olive bar, you've likely eaten DeLallo products. Started in 1950, this family-run brand works directly with their growers, picking and packing each and every product to ensure quality and consistency from olives to pastas. They are no frills and no gimmicks, and no one does it better.
Best SuperFood: Nutiva Chia Seeds
We're skipping voting on a supplement this year and directing you to eat superfoods for super health. John Roulac and company have a sixth sense when it comes to nutritious foods. Their hemp and coconut products are industry staples already, but they've got another food you simply must add to your diet, and that's chia. It's an ancient super seed loaded with healthy Omega-fatty acids, protein and fiber. It's tasty and an oh-so-fun reason to sing the Chia Pet theme song ("Ch-ch-ch-Chia!").
The good people at No-Miss have been making the only eco, vegan-friendly nail polish that works for quite some time. They consistently launch great colors like the gorgeous new "Lyon's Lexi" and now they've added some adorable lip-glosses and eye shadows. It's truly an indulgent, feel-good No-Miss.
OK, Taylor, you had us with your old-timey cute-as-a-button booth replete with converted old radio cabinets on wheels and your ragtime outfits. Then we actually tried your incredible organic botanical sodas. Chai Cola? 'Nuff said. These organic elixirs are what Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper and the ilk started out as—medicinal tonics. Real herbs and spices kettle-brewed with love gives us a reason to indulge in the healing magic of bubbles like it was 1911.
Best Skin Care Product: Inesscents Bliss Mists
Freshen up, smell great and support a southern Oregon family business? Yes, please. We love the newest spray essential oil Bliss Mists blends made with organic grape alcohol from Inesscents. Check out the Temple Blossom, Liquid Sunshine or 7th Level. And, their mango seed body butter is to die for, too.
Worst Product: Honest Tea CocoaNova
Ew, Honest Tea. It's bad enough you're selling your business to Coca-Cola, but what in the world is that cold coffee-chocolate-chicory stuff? Stick with teas, please.
Worst "See, We're Healthy" Product: Cinnabon Cinnamon Almonds
Really, Cinnabon? You throw some cinnamon sugar on almonds and expect us to overlook the fact that your greasy-gross-heart-attack-diabetes-causing-triple-bypass "buns" aren't the most egregious food-ish things on Earth?
Worst Publicity Stunt Ever: Organic Valley Horse Rides
This marked my 13th visit to Expo West and my 23rd visit overall to the New Hope Media production (Expo East takes place in the fall in Baltimore), and I've seen a lot of crazy stunts over the years. But the horse-drawn carriage that Organic Valley had outside the convention center was the most unnecessary choice ever. It's hot as heck for those horses, noisy and frightening, and oh, yeah, completely inhumane to force horses to lug people around like it was Little House on the Prairie days for your marketing campaign. It's a convention about health; let people walk.
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Photo: Soothing Touch