Expo West through the Retail RD Lens
By RDBA Executive Director, Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Last month, Expo West drew more than 70,000 attendees to Anaheim, California. We checked in with two RDBA members who attended the show to better understand the event from a retail dietitian’s point-of-view.
Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, and Healthy Living Manager at Meijer, decided she and team member, Tina Miller, MS, RD, should attend the event as their consumer base is asking for more better-for-you products. According to Steinbach, “It was a real eye opener to see how many people are just focused on organic/natural/non-GMO as the core issue regarding food choice.” Shari attended a few educational sessions, including one with Bettina Siegel, the mom who started the “pink slime” petition that went viral in 2012. Vani Hari, known to many as Food Babe, also attended this session. Shari voiced her opinion during the Q&A session, stating that she “did not feel the fear mongering was helping consumers who are trying to feed their families on a budget and get a wholesome meal on the table. By calling everything toxic, they are made to feel guilty and scared about issues that may not even have a scientific basis.”
Molly Bray, RD, LDN from Jewel Osco was invited by the company’s Organic and Specialty Foods Category Manager to attend and provide feedback on any interesting products she found. According to Bray, the show “was a great way to meet vendors and try some products that I wouldn’t normally purchase and taste myself.”
When asked the key food trends visible at the show, Steinbach replied, “While the healthy eating movement is growing, special diet tribes (gluten free, Paleo, vegan) are also growing.” As to specific foods and nutrients, Shari indicated coconut, protein, whole grains, and water were the most visible on the show floor. Molly noticed “a large amount of kimchi and sauerkraut-like items. Fermented foods were popular.” Bray was most fascinated by protein bars made with ground crickets and an umami spray that added intense low sodium umami flavor to any food.
Steinbach’s recommendation is for retail RDs to attend Expo West “every few years to understand this growing food sector and to understand the consumer mindset of the attendees.” Bray agrees. She comments, “I would absolutely recommend Expo West to other retail RDs. This show is indescribable. There were four floors of new and leading natural food brands. Most leading brands use this show as a stage to present their new lines and products, so it was a great way to stay updated.”