The Natural Scene: Will these Food Trends Shape 2014?

As a former food editor and evaluator of the natural products scene, many times I've wished for a crystal ball to help me determine the next big food product. While there have been plenty of surprises (who could have predicted chia would make its way from infomercial novelty to functional food?) through the years I've landed on a formula for helping me determine what will stick around and what will likely fade away.  It seems when innovation meets a market need, a brand is on to something. Sprinkle in quality ingredients at a fair value and success is nearly guaranteed. Based on my not-so-scientific analysis, here's a look at the some of the trends I'll be following this year. Insect protein. Beetles for breakfast anyone? Ten years ago, this idea was total yuck. Fast forward to tomorrow and I won't be surprised if we're sprinkling crushed crickets on our cereal. Think I've missed the mark? Consider that most of the world eats insects in one form or another and the reasons are simple:  they're nutritious, sustainable and cheap. I know of at least one innovative company that's experimenting with cricket meal for use in a nutrition bar (think of it like cricket flour). This may be the perfect entry for American consumers who are likely not ready to bight down on bits of antennae or hindlegs in their food snacks—at least, not before noon!

Hyper convenience. On-the-go consumers have long fantasized about the perfect meal in a pill. Pop it, and keep going. While I'll never totally understand this mentality since meal times are built in excuses for taking a break, who's not been hit with hunger pangs and nowhere to turn? Airport terminals, malls, suburbia—these are common danger zones. Convenience foods save the day, and we're learning that the more portable and nutritious a product, the more likely consumers will give it a try… even if it doesn't entirely deliver on flavor. Any early Power Bar fans out there? Manufacturers are experimenting with convenient ways to deliver nutrition that break out from the now boring bar.  I've seen fortified ice cream cups, and yogurty push pops, but what's catching my attention is the pouch.  Similar to the bar, pouches are great for on-the-go, and can be filled with just about anything. Offerings currently are primarily fruity but I see protein-fortified formulations and possibly even savory options in the horizon.

Pale-eee-ohhhhhh! Blame Crossfit Boxes or simply consider Paleo a rebound from the high-carbohydrate low fat days of our past. Consumers are experimenting with this entirely new style of eating, and I think it will stick around. Why? Much about the Paleo diet is based on sound wisdom. The eating plan emphasizes sustainable meat sources such as buffalo and grass fed beef and encourages consumers to look to whole food sources for daily nutrition.

Big brands appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach before marketing to the Paleo crowd, but smaller companies aren't holding back. Snack formulations emphasize transparency, better-for-you ingredients and minimal sweeteners. Who doesn't like that? Expect more convenient food products such as cereals, cookies and bars made with just nuts, seeds and berries that are Paleo ready even if they're not ready to call out their primal appeal.

Kelsey Blackwell is former Senior Editor of New Hope Natural Media, publisher of Natural Foods Merchandiser and New Hope 360, leading print and online trade publications serving the natural and organic products industry. She is currently based in the San Francisco Bay area.