Trade shows like this weekend's Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim are ideal for studying the brilliant beginnings and soon-to-be lifeless remains of capitalism. It's here that you can almost taste product success in the the tiniest nibbles of caramelized peanut and sea salt-sprinkled milk chocolate bars, which inevitably will require a focused one-two elbow punch to procure at the packed Expo tasting tables. It's also here that you can forecast the likest flops by gauging how full those tasting cups of “water for kids” (ya, it's your basic H2O) remain.

The event is not open to the general public, but not to worry. Your local grocer will likely be on hand to peruse table after table of energy drinks and snack bars, looking for that next feel-good combo that you didn't even know you absolutely must have. Perhaps this year the “it” product will be DeBug, a drink touted as a “a daily defense booster” by the manufacturer, although we can't seem to get the image of the Orkin man out of our head.

Each year there's also some hot trend like the acai berry, which Squid Ink witnessed at a recent Expo in an unsettling number of forms, including bubblegum (we'd rather take our antioxidants in fermented grape form). Judging by this year's list of new products, attendees will be honing their taste buds for vegan and gluten free products like Hail Merry raw macaroons and the new gluten-free version of a Big Mouth, a chocolate covered brown rice crispy bars layered with caramel and peanut butter. The Irvine chocolate maker Xan Confections also dubs their assorted “LadybuG” truffles the “perfect replacement for the discontinued Joseph Schmidt Truffles.” Granted, we haven't tried a LadybuG, but claiming that a truffle named after a beetle, cute as it may be, is on equal standing with anything from the famed former San Francisco chocolatier is just asking for a taste-off challenge (right, no more Schmidt truffles).

Thankfully, there are always a few promising new products to assuage the unpleasant aftertaste of cheese-free cheese puffs. King Arthur flour will be there with its new unbleached cake flour (and hopefully some sort of lovely tea cake for sampling), as will tasting shots of Extravagonzo's spicy chili and roasted garlic infused olive oils (despite the cheesy name, the company makes a terrific selection of salad and roasted-veggie-worthy oils). But we're betting the Green & Black's chocolate stand will be the most popular again this year. Because when you can nibble away at your milk chocolate bar in peace, why bother with the Big Mouths?

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