How I spent my Saturday trying hundreds of new food products. Spoiler: I got a belly ache.
This year I made a career change and left the HR world for health food products. Part of my gig is to check out new food products, so my employers sent me to the annual Canadian Health Foods Association (CHFA) tradeshow in downtown Toronto.
They told me to wear comfy shoes, arrive hungry, and bring a large bag.
After picking up my badge, I followed the roving packs of (mostly) white women in their 30’s and 40’s through the endless aisles of curated vendor booths that ranged from polished and flashy, to downhome ma & pa gimmicky. Before I had made it onto the main floor of the tradeshow, I had already filled half my backpack and my stomach felt full. I realized that maybe I had underestimated the scope of this event…
By the third hour, I was too tired to try samples to which the vendor’s response was just a knowing nod and a first full of samples to take home. I had tried mushroom and beet sauces, followed immediately by fair trade chocolates flavored like teas, only moving on to a stall that was giving out samples of coconut jerky. In total, I spent over five hours sampling a dizzying array of various foods and here are some of the biggest trends that I noticed:
#1 Plant Based Everything
I remember when going vegetarian was a strong political statement and only hippies in California dared to go vegan. Today you can find any snack veganized. Vegan has become a term that is synonymic with healthy, and marketers are reformulating everything to be plant-based, regardless of the overall health benefits. Dried coconut chunks have been doused in sugars and spices to make a jerky substitute, while pea proteins are mixed into everything from chips to pizzas as a way to provide protein without adding animal products. Tiger nuts have been whipped into a creamy sugary consistency to make a frozen dessert and wine gummies are vegan-friendly now too.
#2 Old Sugars are New Again
Sugar is still king for snacks, but it’s hiding under more wholesome and old-fashioned sounding names. Dates, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrate has exploded onto ingredient lists. You won’t find high fructose corn syrup anywhere, but that doesn’t mean that the overall sugar content of foods has decreased.
#3 The New Heros: Mushrooms and Adaptogens
The tropical vibrant colors of superfoods such as goji, dragon fruit, and acai have been dethroned by the muted earth tones of turmeric, reishi, and tulsi. I tried several concoctions of mushroom lattes and elixirs, which had their musty flavors masked by a generous amount of sugar and sweeteners. Tea is an outdated term, replaced by “wellness drinks” were all touting the relaxing and calming benefits of tulsi. Ashwagandha and other adaptogens were powdered and sometimes found mixed into a bar, but nothing too groundbreaking yet.
#4 Still Going Strong: Bars
It seems like every health-conscious soccer mom and working female has come out with a new health bar. Most formulas are: date paste + nut/seed butter + fruit/chocolate bits. A surprising amount uses gluten-free oats, which is dismaying as a non-grain eater. When I asked one vendor what made her line of bars different from the slew of the others available, she launched into a well-rehearsed pitch about her company is focused on putting love back into their community. Huh. Well, I guess my palate isn’t refined enough to detect the love.