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Expo West: The events, the trends, and the just plain odd

Record breaking attendance at 2014 event
Record breaking attendance at 2014 eventNew Hope Media

Natural Products Expo West is a whirlwind of companies, products, and natural foods crammed into three days. Since I have already penned my top 20 gluten-free product picks, I want to share my favorite events surrounding the expo, talk about trends, and cover some of the odd products I encountered.

Trends, trends, trends. Every year brings new trends and old ones remain with a slight face lift. Gluten free and Paleo products were forefront with everything from whoopie pies to dog treats. Coconut products are still big (drinks, chips, caramels, etc.), as is: kale and sriracha flavored everything. Dried fruit snacks were prevalent, as were hummus, and alternate forms of sugar in drinks, baking mixes, in liquid form, and by the bag. A number of companies unveiled refreshed packaging and logos along with B Corporation certification.

There were lots of drinks this year that were really weird and made me wonder if they are part of a growing trend, or a passing fad. This year brought: algae milk, artichoke water, birch tree water, cactus water, and dehydrated coconut water powder.

I tried the birch water from Byarozavik and it actually tasted pretty good, like a non-fizzy version of Fresca with naturally occurring electrolytes, but it does contain xylitol. The dehydrated coconut water powder from Coco Hydro was interesting, but to me its sweetness was overwhelming. I didn't try the cactus or artichoke water because neither sounded or looked appealing. The hands down weirdest thing I tried was vegan smoked salmon from Sophie's Kitchen. While it smelled on point, it was like eating a piece of pink plastic. Chapul's cricket bars weren't far behind on the odd meter, but I couldn't bring myself to try them.

I attended two great events at this year's expo. One was a breakfast sponsored by Boulder Brands that showcased Udi's Gluten Free, Glutino Foods, and Earth Balance gluten-free products. No empty seats were to be found and guests were treated to live music, Suja Juices, smoothies, pancakes, eggs, potatoes, passed hot bites, assorted muffins, bars and toaster pastries, and a toaster station full of breads and bagels too. It was hog heaven for someone like me who usually can't find many safe breakfast options.

The second event was sponsored by Whole Planet Foundation and Think Thin and it raised $65,000 for its cause. The Whole Planet Foundation, along with Grameen America and other finance partners provide micro loans for more than 250,000 women in 59 countries. These inspirational women can turn $200 into a thriving business that allows them to not only support their families, but the community as well. It was overwhelming to learn about these women and how determined they are to make a positive change in their lives.

I was also on hand to enjoy the musical styling of Michael Franti at the yoga session sponsored by Bhatki Chai. Although I didn't participate in the yoga session, I did do a little dancing to Say Hey (I Love You), which is a great way to start the day. There were the most adorable kids on stage singing and dancing too.

The date has been set for Expo West 2015 and I will definitely be there to see what new products, events, and trends it brings.