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Saturday's Trend Round Up

Each day on the show floor brings new insights into how the many moving parts in the natural foods industry can process emerging consumer demand and turn out products that answer the call. There were two trends that we saw in the aisles yesterday that will soon be coming to a store near you:

Flexitarian Soy: Soy regularly gets into trouble. Studies come out against it, only to be answered by research refuting the original findings. Nevertheless, soy remains the dominant alternative protein of choice for vegans and vegetarians — and now, it seems, flexitarians.

That last term was coined recently to describe those people who might also call themselves "casual vegetarians." They don't follow a rigorous no-meat diet, but they have cut down on their meat consumption, either for health or ethical reasons. Judging from some of the products we're seeing here, it seems as if soy manufacturers are poised to deliver a soy product that increases the acceptance factor of these part-timers.

First, from Vitasoy/Nasoya, comes a line that's been fortified with essential vitamins (particularly B12) that are primarily found in meat, and often at risk in a vegetarian diet. The second comes from Harmony Foods, which is introducing a dry soy mix that is extremely flexible (after all, flexitarian eaters must desire flexibility) and can be shaped into patties, balls or crumbles, simply by adding water.

What's more — and here's the kicker — the latter product is flavored to mimic certain animal proteins, such as chicken. So, these optional vegetarian consumers will be able to find a compromise between their actions and their desires.

Then there's product redesign: An impressive number of manufacturers are unveiling new graphics, updated logos and more ecological packaging at the show. Among the big ones we found were Nature's Path, the Canada-based maker of cereals and cereal bars. Their new boxes are 30% smaller now, though they contain the same amount of product. What's more, the dimensions of the boxes won't require retailers to reset shelves or change planograms, One of the side benefits for companies undertaking such a program is that, if the work with retailers, they'll likely be ablr to get one or two more facings of their products onto shelves.

Over at Barbara's Bakery, the company's iconic puffin no longer gets top billing in the graphics. We learned that the new design will harken back to the company's founding, and its California roots, with a bucolic image and a craft-paper shade of brown threading throughout.

We'll note that all of the products mentioned are either just coming to market or are going into distribution right after the show. The fact that many manufacturers time their efforts to Expo West indicates the importance they give the show as a marketplace of ideas. For this reporter, this makes wandering the aisle more like a treasure hunt for seek out the new and improved items your customers are going to soon see.