Healthy living and eating grows ever popular as evidence by the throngs of people from all over who crowded into the Anaheim Convention Center to learn about the products featured at Natural Products Expo West, March 8-10.

The 33rd year old expo that started out small but has blossomed along with the industry of organic, healthy and natural products,  welcomed around 63,000 visitors to review products from 2,428 companies, an increase of 10 percent from the previous year. More than 600 of those companies were first- timers – a strong, compelling number that reflects continued interest in the industry, said spokeswoman Heather Smith. The Nutracon and Engredea trade  show  for  ingredients, packaging and equipment shared space with the expo and reported a record attendance with 275 exhibitors and 9,000 buyers.

“Originally we were in  the main convention center halls,” said Smith. “Now we’ve gone down into Hall E, which is hot products, and this year we sold out of that space in record time so that we have this whole next new product pavilion in these ball rooms. We’re taking over more and more space because of these new brands and new products.”

The afternoon before the expo launch, fledgling vendors had a chance to display their certified organic products at the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace tent set up outside the convention center.

One popular booth featured taste testing of Chilean wines “I’m all out of wine,” said a smiling Jakob Pippin as he stood behind a tasting area splattered red with wine stains. The booth had seen a lot of foot traffic just two hours into the event. California is a huge market for Chilean wines, noted Pippin.

A contingency of vendors from Chile filled one row of the venue to promote products such as tea, herbs, wine, olive oil and baby food. Some are just starting out, others like Hernan  Peralta’s company Garden of the Andes is well established. The family-owned business exports its premium organic teas to 27 countries around the world, including Japan, where the No.1 favorite flavor is peppermint, Peralta said.

Heavy      hitter       Whole Foods   Market    announced its      commitment   to  full transparency  by   2018   for genetically-modified  organism (GMO). “This compelling news  is  an  important  next step for the industry, possible legislation and  ultimately consumers,” said Fred Linder, president of New Hope Natural Media, the event’s owner.

A major target of new product development at this year’s expo incorporated digestive health, immunity  and probiotics. Paleo diet and plant based diets are also trending  right  now, according to Smith. Also big this year were gluten free and other   allergen-free products that seek to meet the growing demand among consumers who have mild to severe reactions to some food ingredients. Other vendors showcased a spread of sprouted and fermented foods, healthy snacks, vegan products and child-conscious items.

“People   love   our   frozen yogurt,”   said   Kathy   Kim, owner and founder of Cloud Top Yogurt as she handed out samples of the chilly desert.

Kim pointed out key selling points for her product.  It  is certified organic, has  a  nice texture and  tastes good,  she said. The company also has a vegan coconut version that is dairy-free and soy-free.

Evidence of the rising popularity  of  coconuts  was everywhere. Vendors  touted their nutritional value and taste and displayed products such as coconut water, oil and cookies. The water is great for hydration, oil can be used to smooth your skin or cook your dinner and cookies satisfy a sweet tooth. For  celebrity watchers, there was  even  sample  popcorn flavored with brand new Ziggy Marley’s Coco’mon  flavored coconut oils in lemon ginger, curry or orange almond. Expo West is with no doubt a west coast showcase for innovative food products.