With heated GMO labeling debates headlining mainstream media in the United States, American consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about conventional food practices and are seeking organic and natural options more than ever before. This consumer awakening has driven a passionate, innovative marketplace of “conscious capitalism,” a term that has come to embody business practices that are driven by a higher purpose to benefit both people and the planet.

One could certainly see evidence of this rapidly growing conscious capitalism movement at the 28th annual Natural Products Expo East, held in Baltimore, Maryland, September 25 – 28, with over 24,000 attendees, 1,200 exhibitors, including 400 first-time exhibitors—an almost 10 percent increase over 2012.

The exhibit floor was full of inspiring stories and new products that reflect the fastest growing conscious consumer trends. There were dozens of new organic company launches and Non-GMO Verified signs as far as the eye could see. According to the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org), 225 companies at Expo East had at least one Non-GMO Verified product and over 500 products are being verified per month.

Gluten-free products, as well as many with superfoods such as coconut, chia and ancient grains including quinoa also had a big showing. Even veggies such as kale were given superstar status, with everyone walking around with reusable bags from Brad’s Raw, proudly declaring that “Kale is Kool.”

Presenting the keynote address for Expo East was founder and chairman of Conscious Capitalism, Professor Raj Sisodia. Co-author of the best selling book, Conscious Capitalism (written with Whole Food’s CEO John Mackey), Sisodia offered insights for companies looking to build a successful, mission-driven business. Additionally, New Hope Natural Media, producers of Expo East and Expo West, announced the launch of the NEXT Accelerator and NEXT Trend, part of a portfolio of resources to help natural products companies grow and succeed in the marketplace.

New Organic Products

Out of the many new products launched this year, there are several that stood out. One of these was Cloud Top Organic Frozen Yogurt’s new Vegan, Soy Free Coconut Milk Frozen Yogurt. Food service operations can mix this soft serve base with any of the 16 organic flavors, ranging from kiwi and pumpkin, to salted caramel and chai. With the consumer craze for coconut these days, this creamy, yet healthy, treat is bound to do well with the non-vegans as well. There were a vast variety of vegetables on display. Consumers are looking to add more fresh produce to their diet, and several companies have found tasty ways to sneak veggies into everything. One example is Veggie-Gos, a new chewy dried fruit and vegetable puree snack. It is similar to fruit leather, but with added vegetables like spinach, beets and sweet potatoes. Some of the flavors also have flax seed to add omega 3’s and each bar is only 20 calories.

With popularity of the kale chip, other veggies are joining the spotlight. Wonderfully Raw’s new crispy dehydrated Brussel Bytes and Snip Chips (made from parsnips) are full of the nutrients one would get from eating raw vegetables but are dressed up in creative culinary flavors like Tamarind Apple, Chili Pumpkin Seed, Dill Pickle and Cheesy Herb Truffle.

The best name award, however, has to go to Green Mustache. This fun-loving brand makes organic, non-GMO verified superfood fruit and veggie smoothies for kids, especially those who are picky eaters. Each smoothie contains chia seed, a serving of fruit, plus a full serving of greens such as kale and spinach. They come in four “stachalichious” flavors that taste so yummy kids will be happy to drink their vegetables.

Another category that has been trending ever since it was featured on the Dr. Oz show is fermented vegetables. Farmhouse Culture, a raw, organic kraut company, debuted several “wildly imaginative” flavors ranging from smoked Jalapeño to Horseradish Leek and Ginger Beet.

Naked Salsa also debuted an artisanal assortment, with organic gourmet salsas in eight foodie-worthy flavors such as Black Silk Espresso, Rustic Blue Cheese, Oaxaca White Chocolate and California Burnt Sage. These salsas taste so fresh that you would never guess they came from a jar.

Grass-fed dairy has also seen a huge surge in the U.S. marketplace. Maple Hill Creamery not only launched the first 100 percent grass-fed organic yogurt, but the company is also working with Pennsylvania Certified Organic to create a standard for grass-fed products, which are currently unregulated. Their amazing Orange Crème Drinkable Yogurt won a Best of East Press Award.

As always, there is the quest for the best low-cal natural sweetener. Four out of five adults sweeten their beverages but sweeteners are usually full of calories or artificial junk. To provide a healthy answer to this, Madhava developed Organic Agave Five, which has only five calories per serving and is made with organic agave, stevia and monkfruit. This combo gives it a low-calorie sweetness without the aftertaste often associated with stevia.

With demand for gluten-free on the rise, quinoa is being seen more and more as protein-packed, value-add substitute for wheat. Ancient Harvest recently developed a Supergrain Mac & Cheese, made with quinoa and corn and will also soon be launching a line of Culinary Quinoa Blends with flavors ranging from Sea Salt and Herb to Indian Curry. And sprouted grains are still popular. Bio Kinetics new sprouted organic baby cereal line features sprouted quinoa, sprouted brown rice and sprouted wheat.

While this is just a small sampling of what was at Expo East, it gives one the idea of the level of innovation taking place. As the conscious consumer and conscious capitalism movements continue to gain ground, we will undoubtedly see a huge growth of healthier, organic products on the market made with social and environmental responsibility.