RODALE NEWS, ANAHEIM, CA—The last few months have been a bit of a bummer for consumers who care about their health. The USDA's approval of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets was a blow to consumers seeking food grown without toxic pesticides or understudied genetic manipulation. Also, research continued to find that plastics and conventional personal-care products are loaded with chemicals linked to serious health issues. But all is not lost for those of us who want food and products that don't threaten our health: Innovation is alive and well among makers of health, organic, and natural products.
THE DETAILS: That innovation was on grand display at Natural Products Expo West over the weekend, where nearly 60,000 members of the natural products industry gathered from all around the world for the largest trade show of its kind. Buyers for major retailers came to find the latest and greatest in organic food and innovative green products of all kinds. The sold-out show featured 3,533 exhibits, with about 600 of them certified organic. "The record number of booths at this year's Expo West is proof positive of industry growth and translates to healthier food choices on store shelves," says Adam Andersen, show manager. "Year after year, we continue to offer businesses within the healthy lifestyle marketplace a premier place to launch new products and the opportunity to build community."
See some of the products and other Expo sights on our NPEW blog.
Bottom line: if you're looking for options that will help you live healthy and organic, there are plenty of marketers who want to fulfill your requests. And despite a traumatized economy and rising food and gas prices, consumers are boldly voting with their dollars for healthy, organic choices. The natural products industry experienced a growth of 6 percent in 2010, compared with 2009 numbers. Nutrition industry sales totaled $115 billion in the United States in 2010. The organic industry alone rings up $26 billion a year. With that in mind, you can see why the Expo West floor was a mob scene this year. Rodale editors walked nearly a combined 40 miles to find the best of the best at the show, and yeah, our feet are still tired!
We found organic powerhouses like Nature's Path, Stonyfield, and Organic Valley, companies that have made it a mission to sell food free of toxic pesticides and GMOs. But along with the big names in organic, we were introduced to the wares of first-time entrepreneurs—from moms who created healthier ways to pack kid lunches to investment-bank–bound frat boys turned urban mushroom-growers—who are taking matters into their own hands in order to provide nontoxic options to the public.
WHAT IT MEANS: Less plastic, fewer chemicals, more consumer control. That's what Expo West was all about this year.
Here are three main themes we discovered at Expo West:
Organic as mainstream. Expo West served as an indicator of the state of organic in 2011. Less than a year after the President's Cancer Panel recommended eating organic to prevent disease, Expo West's Organic Pavilion area, where only certified-organic products can be on display, was crowded with interested buyers looking to get these products into more stores. The main point? More companies large and small are shifting to certified organic, because organic certification ascertains that food is grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides linked to diseases that cost the U.S. millions a year. Expect more and more organic food choices to show up in your local stores. (Among the meat eaters in Rodale.com's brigade at the Expo, Organic Valley Summer Sausage came out a clear winner.)
Innovation in packaging. There's no doubt that Seventh Generation stole the show with its new liquid laundry detergent and plastic-light packaging. For goodness' sake, it uses 66 percent less plastic! The new 4X concentrated liquid detergent is housed not in plastic, but in a bottle made mostly of recycled cardboard, with an interior plastic bag that can be recycled anywhere grocery story bags are accepted. It will be available starting March 16. To emphasize its use of recycled-cardboard content, the company set up a cardboard café outside the Anaheim Convention Center, where tired Expo-goers could rest on benches made of shipping boxes. (You can see a picture of it on our Expo blog.) A company rep told Rodale.com that Seventh Generation's next wave of detergent bottles will be mostly made of the cardboard boxes used to ship products to Expo West.
But more sustainable packaging isn't limited to the laundry room: Green cleaning powerhouse Ecover also announced it will be packaging goods in bottles manufactured from components of Brazilian sugar cane ethanol, not oil, beginning in May. And, in the cases of Eco Lunchbox and Lunchskins, mothers' concern about kids' exposure to plastics chemicals helped fuel these start-up companies that provide nontoxic solutions for packing kids' lunches.
Focus on DIY in a stagnant economy. Organic is a good deal if you factor in the benefits to your health and to the environment. When the sticker price is an issue, buying in bulk can bring the cost down. And the husband-and-wife duo behind Blue Lotus Goods offer beautifully designed organic-cotton produce bags so you can do that in style. They have different bags for different bulk purchases, whether it's veggies and apples or grains and beans. And here's a helpful tip we learned from them: You can store washed greens in a moistened cotton bag for up to a week and they'll stay crisp. Beyond that, you can use the bags to store organic dried beans and other healthy treats and avoid being exposed to plastic chemicals. Sure, buying dried beans and whipping up a big pot of DIY soup is more work than simply cracking open canned soup and tossing it into the microwave. But you save money and avoid chemical exposure when you make your own food from whole ingredients.
Back to the Roots offers another way to take healthy living into your own hands. Two University of California–Berkeley graduates bound for life in corporate business invented a way to use recycled coffee grounds to grow chemical-free, gourmet mushrooms. They tell us they're enjoying life as urban mushroom-growers more than they would have as corporate bankers. The product comes in a coffee-grounds–based growing medium inside a bag in a cardboard box. It's already inoculated with oyster mushroom spawn (some call it seed to avoid confusion), so you just slit the bag, add water, and watch the mushrooms grow within 10 days, the company founders tell us. What's left in the end is an amazing organic garden soil amendment. Not too shabby, considering those coffee grounds were landfill bound before these boys came around!
Published on: March 14, 2011