The natural, organic and functional food industry has never been stronger, according to Carlotta Mast, executive director of content for New Hope Network.
“Natural, organic and functional is still a relatively small piece of the pie, but it’s growing at a much faster rate than total food,” Mast said during a state-of-the-industry presentation at Natural Products Expo West, which took place March 10-13 in Anaheim, California. “I think this is reflected in our conventional grocery stores, the Krogers and Targets and Safeways of the world, where you’re seeing retailers taking space from conventional products and actually growing their natural, organic and functional sets because that’s where consumer demand is and where we’re seeing growth.”
Sales of natural and organic food and beverage products in the United States surged nearly 11 percent last year to $67.2 billion.
A key theme behind a number of trends in product development displayed at Expo West is a back-to-basics approach to food.
“More and more consumers, as their trust in the products they buy wanes, are paying more attention, reading food labels and scrutinizing their purchases,” Mast said. “They’re looking for products that get back to a simpler way, a pre-industrialized food system that focuses on whole nutrient-dense ingredients and a closer-to-nature approach to processing.”
According to top trends spotted at Expo West 2017, a number of brands are touting the use of sprouting in product development. New crackers, chips and bread are made with seeds, grains and beans that have been sprouted to improve the bioavailability and absorption of nutrients.
Sprouted grain bread is the specialty of such exhibitors as Silver Hills Bakery, Abbotsford, British Columbia, and Angelic Bakehouse, Cadahy, Wisconsin, which is introducing bread crisps made using its proprietary sprouting method.

Primizie Snacks, Austin, Texas, is introducing a line of thick-cut crispbreads made with organic sprouted grains such as amaranth, quinoa and sorghum. Varieties include ancient grains, green harvest, rustic beets and smoked cheddar.
Partners, A Tasteful Choice Co., Kent, Washington, is launching Blue Star Farms Organic Sprouted Lentil & Ancient Grains snack crackers, which include sprouted lentil, millet, sorghum and chia seeds. With 12 grams of plant-based protein per serving, new Almond Butter Power Bites from Soul Sprout, Longmont, Colo., are made with sprouted nuts and seeds and available in chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie dough varieties. A line of Almond Butter Big Bites includes cacao almond and cinnamon flavors.
New from Simple Mills, Chicago, is a line of sprouted seed crackers featuring a blend of sprouted sunflower, flax and chia seeds. With 3 grams of protein per serving, flavors include original, everything, jalapeño and garlic and herb.

Quinoa Gains Proliferation Status

A menu adoption cycle from Datassential offers insight on how popular some specific ancient grains have become in America. For example, sorghum, farro and quinoa all are on different levels in the cycle.
Sorghum is still in the “inception” level, where ingredients start to appear in fine-dining establishments and authentic ethnic restaurants, according to Mark DiDomenico, director, client solutions for Datassential, Farro has risen to the “adoption” level, where an ingredient starts appearing on menus in fast-casual restaurants.
Quinoa’s penetration rate on menus reached 8.8 percent in 2016. It works in many different applications, including salads and burgers, DiDomenico said. Wendy’s, for example, calls out quinoa in a Mediterranean chicken salad. Quinoa is “firmly” in the proliferation level of the menu adoption cycle, he said. Achieving proliferation status means an ingredient is being picked up by restaurant chains on a national scale.

Ardent Mills is launching its Great Plains Quinoa with the largest quinoa growing network in North America, according to a recent company announcement. Ardent Mills will bring transparency, ground breaking scale and the consistent quality needed to support the mainstream growth of quinoa with consumers, food manufacturers, bakeries, retailers and restaurants in the US and Canada.
Quinoa farmer Joe Dutcheshen explains, "We are very excited about the relationship we now have with Ardent Mills. We have seen the positive impact their commitment to double organic wheat acres has had on North American farmers and the organic wheat supply and know that level of commitment will have a similar impact in the quinoa market."
Both the Dutcheshen family and Ardent Mills have a long history with quinoa in North America. Joe Dutcheshen began evaluating different varieties of South American quinoa seeds on his family farm in 1992.
Ardent Mills began promoting quinoa as the star of its Ancient Grains line in 2007.
Leading the movement in ancient grains, quinoa usage has shown double-digit growth in entrées, sides and kids' menus, according to Technomic Inc.'s MenuMonitor 2016 Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad Consumer Trend report. From 2012 to 2016, sales from products containing quinoa have grown sevenfold. Quinoa continues to surge in usage and is increasingly included in nutrition bars, ready-to-eat cereal, oatmeal, gluten-free foods, tortilla chips, crackers, snacks, prepared dinners and side dishes, all in a variety of packaging. 
"The quinoa market is often affected by South American supply challenges and spikes in pricing," says Mike Veal, Ardent Mills vice president of marketing, "with all the unique aspects and certainty of this program, we are introducing locally grown quinoa under our new Ardent Mills Great Plains Quinoa brand. This will help clearly define our quinoa as grown in North America along with all the assurances that are available from Ardent Mills. Assurances include supporting North American family farms in the program and our commitment to food safety, quality, supply and transparency. We are also committed to price predictability and can offer up to a two-year price guarantee."
Ardent Mills Great Plains Quinoa line includes seeds, whole grain flour, flakes, crisps, custom multigrain blends and mixes.