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Expo West Trendwatch

One of my favorite things attending any trade show is trying to spot trends. Sometimes they jump right out at you, since you'll find a number of exhibitors with the same idea; others are more elusive and don't occur to you until later, after the show, or during a conversation with someone who saw it more clearly.

These few are the ones I spotted wandering the dozens of aisles and thousands of booths:

Chocolate in Everything: Chocolate — or more specifically, cacao —is showing up in some offbeat places. The salty snacks category now has more than a few chip options offering the power of flavanols. Even stranger, we found it in tea. The Republic of Tea has just rolled out a number of cocoa-infused teas for home brewing. The photo at left shows one of the varieties which also includes coconut. With a splash of milk, it tastes like an Almond Joy candy bar. Which reminds me of our second trend...

Coconut Everywhere!: Coconut water was a big hit several years ago, and volume has grown steadily as consumers tapped into the message that the liquid from green coconuts could be a great source of antioxidants and other nutrients. We saw the trend a mile away and wrote about it in our print publication, SN Whole Health. Today, not only is there a profusion of coconut waters, there are new coconut non-dairy drinks, frozen novelties made with coconut milk and, of course, coconut extract in unexpected places, like tea.

Coffee Fruit: What's the next big antioxidant? Why, the fruit of the coffee plant. This skin and pulp combination that surrounds the bean is traditionally discarded after the berries are picked. Now, some enterprising beverage makers are touting the power of the coffee fruit. One manufacturer, Bai, claims their infusions have up to 4,000 ORAC units, the scale by which antioxidant intensity is measured. In comparison, acai contains 100 ORAC units, and blueberries measure a meager 24 ORAC units. There's a sustainability message here, too, since these drinks utilize was what was once left on the ground in the bean-picking process.


Sex and Romance: Hey, hey! Cool it! We're next to Disneyland! But yes, there is an unabashed, frank presence of products devoted to intimate times. One company, Good Clean Love, offers cheeky but earnest products such as the "Love Kit", a two-piece set of all-natural oils (pictured right). Another company, Sinclair Institute, is showing off its line of Natural Contours European-designed personal massagers. With all the romantic foods (chocolate, strawberries, champagne) that supermarkets already offer, we can see the more daring ones taking the extra step to expand into this area.

What's heartening is that even before the show, the volume of press releases and calls we got at the office told us that something was up. Indeed, after two or three years of recession-related inactivity, there seems to be pent-up demand for new products — ones that go beyond simple line extensions and packaging changes. We need a few swigs of that coffee fruit stuff just to keep up.