Lake Forest, CA —This year brought most of Mareya Ibrahim, aka The Fit Foodie’s 2014 food and beverage trend predictions to life, including the popularity of Brussels sprouts and their kale sprout babies; allergen-free labeling featured front and center, proving gluten-free and dairy-free are here to stay; ‘smart’ snacks and drinks made with flax, chia, hemp like Way Better Snacks and seaweed with companies like Sea Snax, who have experienced 1,000+% sales growth recently; and zero calorie, natural sweeteners going mainstream, especially stevia – which made its debut in Coke’s ‘Life’ and Pepsi’s ‘True’ this year.
What does she see in her crystal ball for 2015? The 20-year natural products industry veteran, chef, author and founder of EatCleaner.com anticipates steep growth in functional nutrition, organics and process-driven products with some surprising, bizarre ingredients getting a foothold that reads right out of a Survivor episode.
1) MAGICAL MUSHROOM BLENDS
This isn’t a scene out of a 60’s hallucination. Mushrooms are getting unearthed for their powerhouse composition, richness in B vitamins, minerals, digestibility and low calories but they are getting more and more popular for their ability to mimic meat texture and possibly help with lower glycemic responses, according to a 2014 study by the University of Buffalo. In 2015, expect to see more mushroom blends on menus and in products, and even in school lunches where pilot programs, like one in Cincinnati, helped prove the case that kids are happy to dig into a ‘shroom burger. Mushroom blend consumption will increase for its deft ability to blend into meat mixtures seamlessly to boost nutrient density while lowering calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium and cost. You’ll also see more varieties take the limelight, including shiitake and oyster mushrooms for their culinary contributions and a magical substance called Beta-glucans, which is said to boost immunity and help with allergy resistance.
Sandra Carter, Ph.D, MPH, CEO of Mushroom Matrix, a mushroom powder brand with blends for everything that ails you, says it’s the ‘next new kale’ and sales are skyrocketing. “We have experienced a growth of over 200% this year in sales and have projections for another 300 percent growth next year. We see so many companies adding our mushroom powders to their products, from sports bars to smoothie mixes to capsules and other foods.”
2) ORGANIC ADULT BEVERAGES
With the ongoing double-digit growth in organics, the trend is also spilling into your cocktail and wine glass, too. Cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides, preservatives or flavors, consumers are becoming just as conscientious about what they imbibe as what they eat. Organic wine is getting better, beer and cider companies are getting on board, and organic spirits are now available in most categories, including vodka, gin, liqueurs, whiskey, tequila and rum.
Brian Smith, Chief Wine Officer at Club W, says expect to see the biggest growth ever in quality, organic wines over the next 12 months. “We have seen a lot more conversation happening about bio dynamics and organics in the US than ever before. What used to be viewed as hippie and cuckoo is now taken very seriously. Small to medium sized producers will push the trends from labels like Hobo Wine Company and Horse and Plow. “After tasting everything my favorite producers have in barrel over this past weekend, I'm even more excited for what's in the hopper from the 2014 harvest,” notes Smith.
Hard Cider is also one of the biggest beverage trends in the adult bevvy arena with the category posting 100 percent gains each year for the past three years, making it the fastest growing beverage sector in the US. Newcomer Sonoma Hard Cider, which launched in 2013, has already exceeded goals in its first year with 75,000 cases and landed in 23 markets. In 2015, they are on deck to triple their sales according to CEO and Cidermaster, David Cordtz. On making his product organic, he adds “I believe going organic in alcoholic beverages is the same reason it’s getting popular for all categories – whether its non-alcoholic beverages or food. The millennial demographic cares what they consume. They care if they are organic have quality ingredients. People who are drinking hard cider are part of that demographic and want to know that they are consuming a product with quality ingredients.”
Square One Organic Vodka, a pioneer in the organic vodka category, blends its spirits with its 100% organic rye and different infusions, like basil, herbal and their new release, bergamot, adding their own herbal benefits. “When creating new spirits, I look at the spirit and what it can bring to creative cocktail development and I've found that choosing organic ingredients takes in the bigger picture of things -- caring for the earth, ingredient integrity and creating a luscious new cocktail experience,” notes Allison Evanow, Founder of Square One Organic Vodka, “and the number of organic spirits has grown 10-fold since we launched 8 years ago.”
3) COLD AND PRESSED
The trend in bevvies has gone cold, proving that it’s not just about the product. it’s the process, too. Cold-pressed juices and coffee are hot – no pun intended – where flavor and nutrient density rein king. When it comes to juices, cold-pressed varieties claim to keep more of the enzymes and vitamins intact that usually get eradicated with traditional heat packaged varieties. Suja, named #3 in Forbes Most Promising Companies in 2014, is driving a surge in the category with its line of organic & cold-pressured juices, smoothies & teas sprouting up at Whole Foods across the country. Juice Press, which markets its line of cold-pressed juices, smoothies and coffee ships everyone in the US from their website, sprang from the 21+ popular café locations in NYC.
According to Brian Lee, Director of Business Development for Circle Up a leader in equity-based crowd funding the rise in cold-brewed coffee, which keeps the acidity lower and flavor smoother than heat brewing, is particularly exciting. “The trend, which has gained a lot of popularity in boutique coffee shops in the San Francisco Bay Area will likely translate into more crafted grab-n-go varieties, which is exciting for the category,” notes Lee. Look for trendsetters like Blue Bottle with their New Orleans blend in an old fashioned milk carton popping up coast to coast. Califia Farms, bottling up an old fashioned look with unique packaging, has a full line of cold brewed coffees ranging in flavor and size including single serving coffee-for-dessert varieties like salted caramel and cocoa noir. The question is, will anyone give Starbucks Frappuccino a run for it’s over $1.1 billion in annual RTD sales?
4) BEYOND SOY MEAT-LESS MEAT
Flesh-free alternatives will continue to show up on menus and in school cafeterias everywhere, but there will be a shift in what those substitutes are made from as the industry seeks ways to satiate the more than 100 million Americans turning to more vegetarian and vegan meals, according to a Harris Interactive Study.
Brands like Beyond Meat make their soy-free "Beyond Beef" crumbles from non-GMO pea protein isolate, among other ingredients. The company has an impressive investor backing, including the one and only Bill Gates, so you know they’re onto something big. “I tasted the “Beyond Beef” crumbles at the California School Nutrition Association Convention this past week and couldn’t help but thinking how all those unsuspecting kids would have no idea that their sloppy joes were made mostly from pea protein. More veggies on their plates!” adds Ibrahim.
Neat, which launched in late 2013, makes meat-free ‘mixes’ using whole foods like nuts, beans and gluten-free oats and cornmeal. Just add eggs and water to the pre-seasoned blends, like Mexican Mix, and voila, meat-free meat-like filling for your tacos, burritos and other carnivorous cooking endeavors. As allergen-sensitive consumers seek out new options, 2015 will find manufacturers stepping up to soy-free sources that provide protein and still keep the consistency of the ‘real deal,’ while reducing cholesterol and saturated fat content.
5) CRICKET CUISINE
The FDA allows a certain amount of insect parts in your packaged goods, but some manufacturers are featuring them as their star ingredient. The industry is literally hopping with cricket powder, getting popular for their nutrient density, inexpensive nature and low-on-the-food-chain environmentally conscious status. You’ll find this in brands like Chapul bars, made popular on the show “The Shark Tank,” with the selling points that cricket powder has 15% more iron than spinach, 2 times more protein than beef and as much vitamin B12 as salmon.
Exo protein bars, created by two Ivy leaguers who received over $1 million in start up funding just recently, say the bars are just the start of their insect cuisine. The bars are Paleo friendly, gluten, soy, dairy and grain-free with 10 grams of protein per serving. Don’t be surprised if cricket burgers start showing up at your local retailer, too.
Six Foods is taking pre-orders for their Chirps Chips, touted as being high protein, baked not fried, made with rice, beans and chock full of crickets, set to release in February 2015 - gluten-free and GMO-free, of course. Is that a bug leg in your teeth?
6) GOURMET MEAT SNACKS
The Paleo push has given way to a lot of new products that are protein rich, especially snacks. The fact is, with 2/3rds of the US population deemed overweight or obese, manufacturers will keep pushing on better-for-you convenience foods using higher protein content to balance out carbs and sugar.
Boasting sales of 400% increase year over year, Krave Jerky takes interesting culinary flavor profiles like Basil Citrus Turkey and Black Cherry Barbecue Pork and makes the jerky foodies have always hoped for, without the nitrates, nitrites and shoe-leather like consistency. Expect to see new offerings in different formats as the line has exploded to 20,000+ locations around the country.
Epic Bar puts meat in the forefront with their blend of grass fed beef, turkey, lamb and bison with nuts and dried fruit for an epicurean jerky-like bar, and about 13 grams of protein. “I discovered Epic Bars at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim when they first showcased their products and knew they were onto something special with their tasty flavor profiles and pleasing texture. The saturated bar category needs something new like this,” notes Ibrahim. Their newest release, the Hunter & Gatherer combos are jerky and sides of nuts and berries are merchandised in a cool little picnic-like package and marketed as a ‘modern whole food snack’.
Chomps are packaged like your gas station variety of meat sticks, but they’re made from 100% grass fed beef, without any artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. As jerky sales rose 46 percent from 2009 through 2013, to $1.24 billion, according to IRI market data, expect to see more clean meat snack products catch onto the trend and pay attention to bacon. Its popularity is not subsiding, and will very likely show up in shelf stable, jerky form – from smoked to chocolate dipped - at a market near you.
7) THE NEXT NEW SUPERFRUIT
We’ve seen the industry fall in love with one superfruit after another – from pomegranates to acai, goji to mangosteen, boasting their ORAC levels like sports team statistics. In 2015, look for the next superhero fruit – baobab – pronounced ‘bowbab’, which outperformed all of the other tested superfruits in recent ORAC rankings performed by Brunswick Laboratories.
Baobab is also an excellent source of fiber and is said to have the highest plant source of calcium as stated on baobabfoods.com, who also make a baobab drink mix powder.
According to Tina Chan, Founder and CEO of Powbab, the makers of baobab powder, chews and cold-pressed oils, they source their baobab superfruit from Africa. The company claims their products boost energy and immunity, with more antioxidants than acai berry on a per gram basis and 12 different minerals and vitamins including potassium, calcium, thiamin and other trace minerals and vitamins.
Today, it’s available in everything from powders to supplements, making it easy to include in baked goods, added to smoothies and oatmeal and chewed like healthy candy. Over the next 12 months, look for it in ready-to-drink beverages, as an addition to protein powders and in prepared baked goods and cereals as the ‘it’ superfruit.
8) THE ‘IT’ VEGGIE
Kale has been the darling of the veggie world for the last few years, graduating from homely garnish to the star of Michelin ranked plates. Now, for 2015, which green will hail queen? Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles is predicting a rainbow based on recent year-over-year growth, including mini sweet peppers, Sunflowerchokes, Kalettes (aka kale sprouts) and Romanesco. “Colorful veggies, including chard, carrots and cauliflower in vibrant pink, green, purple and peach hues, will also get very popular as they elevate the appearance of finished dishes. We eat with our eyes first, so its no wonder these colorful characters are getting more attention,” comments produce guru, Robert Schueller, Director of PR for Melissa’s Produce.
Schueller also suggests that the popularity of Latin-inspired flavors will give way to veggies like jicama, tomatillo and chile peppers getting more of a featured place in the limelight, with Shishito, Padron and Habaneros taking center stage.
For True Foods restaurants founder and acclaimed naturopath, Dr. Andrew Weil, his bet is on sweet potatoes. “It’s showing up on a lot more menus as a featured ingredient instead of just a side dish. It’s relatively low in glycemic index and very filling. We make a sweet potato pie here at the restaurant and it’s one of my favorite dishes,” adds Dr. Weil.
We can only hope for more veggies becoming the hero of plates nationwide in 2015.
Chef Mareya is also known as "The Fit Foodie," a nationally recognized food safety and clean eating expert, an award-winning entrepreneur, television chef, author and inventor. She is the creator of EatCleaner.com, the premier lifestyle destination for fit food information. Her book "The Clean Eating Handbook" was released in May 2013 and is being touted as the 'go-to' guide for anyone looking to eat cleaner and get leaner. This year she is launching “The Real Dish” a Podcast Show featuring fit food and lifestyle guests. She is a contributor to “The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life” by Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman. She is a featured chef on the Emmy-nominated cooking show Recipe Rehab, eHow.com, Livestrong.com and is the local food expert for San Diego Channel 6 News. Her back-page column, "The Fit Foodie", appears in Edible Orange County Magazine. Mareya is also active in the community and was the recipient of the 2013 Women Making a Difference Award presented by California Senator Lou Correa for demonstrating extraordinary dedication and contributions to public health and well being. She is also the winner of the World’s Best Technology Gold Prize, and the Disney iParenting Award, and was a finalist for Inc. Magazine’s Newpreneur of the Year Award.