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Reflections on the Annual Food and Nutrition Conference
CircleUpNovember.20.20185 min read

Reflections on the Annual Food & Nutrition Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the Annual Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Washington D.C., where I had the opportunity to see some newly emerging dietary trends. The conference is an annual gathering of nutritionists and dietitians; brands have the opportunity to reach this community by showcasing healthy, better-for-you products. According to the organizers of the conference, over 20 million clients are counseled by Registered Dietitian Nutritionists every year (nearly half do so in order to “be healthier and eat better.”*

Nutrition professionals have a unique perspective into what is plaguing customers when it comes to health and wellness; they are trusted advisors, who often work as or alongside physical trainers and can recommend a path to health for many different types of clients.

I went to the conference in order to get a peek into this world of dietitians and nutritions and to see how food/beverage startups are positioning themselves to people who are trusted to provide quality information about health and wellness.  

Focus on Gut Health

One of the things I noticed at the conference was an emphasis on gut health. Probiotics and prebiotics were everywhere – in bars, yogurts, drinks, etc. With over 32 million physician office visits related specifically to diseases of the digestive system, it is easy to see why this matters so much. On the brand side, there were 3 main approaches to gut-health that I noticed at the conference.

  1. Low-FODMAP: several companies have embraced the low-FODMAP diet, which avoids short-chain carbohydrates to treat the symptoms associated with digestive discomfort. Companies like Enjoy Life Foods are specifically promoting products that fall within this diet.
  2. Prebiotics / probiotics: first of all, it took me a while to understand the difference between the two. Prebiotics are effectively food for probiotics (live bacteria). Adding a small amount of probiotics (through food) may help healthy bacteria to grow and proliferate. Instead of avoiding certain foods, this trend focuses on adding the good things back to our guts. In recent years, the meteoric success of kombucha is evidence of the rise of probiotics.
  3. Gluten-free: last but not least, many brands are building big businesses by creating only gluten-free products. While not a new trend, gluten-free remains relevant for gut health because gluten specifically is the most prominent culprit in causing the major gut health diseases, including Celiac Disease. For many people experiencing gut issues, gluten is often the first thing that they cut out to see if symptoms improve.

Interestingly, I didn’t see too many companies leading with non-GMO or organic as an attribute to helping with gut health. Perhaps these claims are dated or expected by consumers, but they weren’t specifically associated with better gut health.

The focus on gut health has effectively brought digestive diseases into the open – these issues are no longer to be discussed with any shame or in secret. Talking about it is the first step in solving it, and I’m looking forward to the brands that emerge as winners to solve this very personal and often debilitating pain point.

A Custom Diet that’s Right for You

Personalization and customization is trend we see in many consumer products segments. From fashion and accessories to beauty and wellness, it is increasingly important for customers to find and purchase products specific to their needs. This trend was really apparent at FNCE this year, with food and beverages available for those with varying dietary needs. There were products specifically addressing low-sugar, high-fat, high-fiber, high-protein, keto, vegan, vegetarian, and low-FODMAP diets.

In the past, there was often one diet that was in vogue – a new way to lose weight and look better. Think of the Atkins or the South Beach Body or even Weight Watchers. Today, it’s much more about finding the right diet for an individual’s body type.

I went into the FNCE conference trying to figure out, “what will the next diet trend by?” and I left feeling that there’s likely going to be several diet trends we’ll see in the next several years that will service specific needs. Companies that nail down a process for not only innovation but also customization are ones to watch.

New(ish) Products

I also thought FNCE was an opportunity for brands to release new products in a quieter way and get immediate feedback from dietary influencers. At shows like Expo, there’s so much noise when it comes to new product releases, it can be difficult to gather real feedback. I would recommend soft releases at shows like FNCE to all companies that are working on a new product.

Some new/early products that stood out to me are below. It’s especially interesting to see incumbents embracing some fairly new product categories.  

  • Quaker Oats Oat Milk: I think that the meteoritic rise of Oatly has impressed many large brands; Quaker is the first to launch its line of oat-based milks. This product line makes a lot of sense for Quaker – they have the supply chain locked down, and they can benefit greatly from Pepsi’s distribution, if they ever launch (ready-to-drink) RTD products.
  • Prego Sensitive Recipe Pasta Sauce: positioned as low-FODMAP approved, this sauce is made for people avoiding onions and garlic due to gastrointestinal issues. I think it’s smart that their tag line is “sensitive” instead of “low-FODMAP” which opens up the market to be much broader.
  • Enjoy Life Foods: another company jumping on the “low-FODMAP” bandwagon, Enjoy Life announced that 22 products meet the certification.  
  • Mooala Strawberry-Banana Milk: this new flavor would be perfect for smoothies.
  • Pacific Foods Bone Broth: it was interesting to see the expansion into bone broths, though I’m not really sure what the difference between stock and bone broth is…
  • Rhythm Foods Carrot Sticks: I love to see more vegetables being incorporated into snacking. I’m really excited that people are eating more products like this; it’s a move in the right direction, but I still think fresh carrots are better than processed carrot sticks.

CircleUp and its subsidiaries may be affiliated with certain companies listed above. This article and the information herein should not be considered investment advice or recommendations