Co-Written by Moira Allison

This year, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE®) drew more than 11,000 food and nutrition professionals from all corners of the country to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Our FoodMinds team of registered dietitians was on-the-ground attending sessions and scoping out the hottest trends, latest products and new innovations in the food and nutrition landscape. Below are some of the major themes that emerged from the conference and expo.

Plant-Based Presence Grows

The plant-forward movement stole the show this year – it’s no question that nutrition professionals and brands agree that Americans need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Numerous companies showcased plant-based foods and beverages to incorporate in any balanced meal (or plate). In fact, there were so many plant-based features, we’re going to break it down for you:

  • Legume-based foods and snacks. From pastas to salad toppers and better-for-you snack options, the benefits of beans have taken the spotlight as a high protein and fibrous alternative to conventional options.
  • Beverages, creamers and ice cream alternatives. Almond, cashew, coconut, banana, oat, pecan, peanut, sesame – the list goes on. Brands are continuing to innovate in the plant-based beverage and frozen indulgence space.
  • Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds are the higher-protein, healthy fat champions of the plant-forward food movement. Almond, cashew, chia, hemp, pecan, peanut, sesame, sunflower and walnut were just a few highlighted as the primary ingredient in jams, spreads and snacks (not to mention beverages). Plus, there’s a new Amazonian nut in town!
  • Sprouted grains. Buns, bagels, wraps, baguettes, crisps and breads – these products and companies have “sprouted” in popularity from last year to appeal to the increased focus on gut-health and alternative grains.

Technology Gets Personal

This year, a section of the expo floor was exclusively devoted to technology for nutrition practice – innovation and personalization tools held more prominence than ever. As technology advances, we saw tools – from scanners, wearables, genetic and microbiome testing – that translate unique health metrics into customized meal plans, shoppable recipes and applications that are revolutionizing insurance reimbursement to streamline the Nutrition Care Process. While this technology is just the tip of the iceberg, this space continues to expand and shows great promise in advancing the field of dietetics.

Focus on FODMAP Expands

While the topic of gut health is no stranger to FNCE®, this year we saw a surge in low FODMAP brands showcasing entire portfolios dedicated to this increasingly popular eating style, and established companies unveiling FODMAP-friendly SKUs so consumers can still savor the familiar flavors.

Free-From Takes the Stage

The rise in food sensitivities in the time of the ingredient-conscious consumer has brands heeding the call for “free-from” and “allergy-friendly” packaged foods as they strive to differentiate themselves from competitors. Companies that offer product lines free-from common allergens were prominent on the expo floor this year, promising to deliver safe products free-from food allergens, but not free-from taste.

Protein-Packed Products Remain Prominent

Protein continued to have a presence on the expo floor this year. Pancakes, cookies, pasta and yogurt (just to name a few) met their higher-protein counterparts in nearly every aisle.

Creativity Curates Engagement

The expo hall is a main attraction for attendees who stop in for a quick, sample-filled lunch or to learn more about the latest products each year. Companies continued to take advantage of the foot traffic and captured the attention of expo explorers using a variety of techniques, including:

  • Props and photo opportunities. Attendees stepped in front of the camera with unique props designed to encourage brand-identified photos and posts on social media. There was even the opportunity for attendees to have a professional headshot taken.
  • Samples. From bite-sized to full bowls, companies dished out a taste of their products as standalone or as part of a healthy recipe.
  • Raffles. Brands offered up the chance to win big ticket items like high-end kitchenware and fashion pieces in exchange for a badge scan.
  • Immersive experiences. To diversify in an expo hall full of giveaways and samples, some brands utilized immersive experiences like cooking demonstrations, real-time presentations and activities that transplanted attendees from the expo hall to harvest or the hatchery.
  • Takeaways. Companies continued to give away branded merchandise and collateral such as pins, stickers, recipe cards, handouts, etc.

Brands Unite to Form Meaningful Partnerships

Brands partnered together to create unique satellite experiences for dietitians to supplement FNCE® programming. From meal occasions to workout classes, dietitians were invited to network with their peers and learn more about brands’ missions, values and nutrition, health and wellness initiatives.

Interdisciplinary Approaches Influence Health Outcomes

From strength/conditioning specialists and chefs to public health experts and marketing executives, many sessions showcased how a cross-collaborative approach to nutrition, health and wellness can strengthen the quality of the team and improve health outcomes. More and more, dietitians are teaming up with professionals outside their sector to ensure clients/patients are receiving the most effective care.

Hot Topics Open Doors to Unexpected Opportunities

What do cannabis, food porn, politics, blockchain and telehealth have in common? Although seemingly not much, sessions, experiences and workshops that highlighted how these hot (and sometimes controversial) topics are creating opportunities and a need for dietitians in unexpected places. These served as an inspirational reminder for seasoned and novice nutrition professionals that dietetics is ever-evolving, and the field is expanding with opportunities in non-traditional roles.

It’s clearly an exciting time to be in the nutrition and dietetics profession. This year, we’re leaving Washington, D.C. with full bellies (and suitcases), invigorated minds and an abundance of ideas. There are only 365 days until October 26, 2019 – we’ll see you in Philadelphia!

Disclaimer: The trends identified in this report do not reflect the opinion of our clients or authors’ personal point-of-views.

This article appeared in Food Thoughts. View the full article here.

For more insights on communication and brand strategy, industry trends and more, subscribe today to the Weekly Buzz here