ANAHEIM, CALIF. — More than 2,700 companies are slated to exhibit at Natural Products Expo West, taking place March 8-12 in Anaheim. The event, hosted by Informa Markets’ New Hope Network, returns after two years off due to the pandemic.
A so-called Super Bowl for the natural products industry, Expo West typically offers the first glimpse of cutting-edge innovation created by emerging and established brands. Product developers are addressing new consumer challenges and needs, said Jessica Rubino, executive director of content at New Hope Network, Boulder, Colo.
“Consumer behaviors are changing, and with that comes the opportunity for the natural products industry not just to meet consumers where they are, but also to predict where they’re heading,” Ms. Rubino said. “It has been a time to rethink how we connect, how we do business and how we create meaningful solutions for people and planet. Hence, an inspiring approach to innovation has taken shape — one that is much more about solutions than novelty and that makes promises for a brighter future, rather than just surviving the chaos of today.”
Ahead of the show, a panel of experts discussed trends and new products to watch during a digital presentation. Speakers included Scott Dicker, data analyst at SPINS; Amanda Hartt, market research manager at New Hope Network; and Adrienne Smith, content director at New Hope Network.
As consumers pursue personalized approaches to wellness, natural, organic and functional products are driving most of the growth in the food and beverage marketplace, Mr. Dicker said.
“Maybe the hottest functional ingredient right now is ashwagandha … growing at 162% both in store and online,” Mr. Dicker said.
Nootropics, substances that are marketed as improving cognitive function, such as L-theanine and green tea extract, also are trending.
“People have diminishing attention spans, and nootropics are becoming very popular to help them focus if they’re working from home or have other distractions of life,” he added.
Functional food and beverage products debuting at Expo West address a range of needs, including energy, sleep, mood and brain health, Ms. Smith said. A ready-to-drink beverage launched by Free Rain, New York, contains maca root to “nourish libido, enhance sexual energy and support hormonal balance,” she said.
Upland Snacks, Petach-Tikva, Israel, has developed freeze-drying technology that binds fruits, vegetables and grains into bite-size, crunchy snacks. The brand’s mango pineapple superfood bites contain sunflower seeds, quinoa, chia seeds and turmeric.
U Calming Co., San Diego, creates calming tonics incorporating kava, ashwagandha, L-theanine, chamomile and lemon balm to promote relaxation.
“We were stressed before the pandemic,” Ms. Hartt said. “It’s just become amplified.”
Various attributes are driving growth in organic foods and beverages, Ms. Smith said, citing “gluten-free, vegan, functional mushrooms, superfoods” and noting organic has become a baseline or standard for natural products.
“This is particularly true in those stalwart center-aisle categories where brands are making it so easy for consumers to choose organic and then getting those other benefits on the side,” she said. “These include things like baking mixes, breakfast cereals, sauces, oils, and of course other basic grocery products like dairy creamers, eggs and chicken.”
She shared as an example Good Food For Good Inc., Toronto, which has introduced a Bolognese-style, organic plant-based sauce made with pumpkin seeds. All Clean Food, LLC, Minnetonka, Minn., has created a range of organic pasta dinners that are free from the top 14 allergens. A porcini mushroom pasta dish is made with white rice and quinoa flours, porcini mushroom powder, herbs and spices.
Several exhibitors have received a Regenerative Organic Certified seal, indicating ingredients were produced by methods that advance soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. Navitas Organics, Navato, Calif., has debuted a Regenerative Organic Certified cacao powder. The company partners with farmers who use holistic and indigenous practices that increase biodiversity and preserve natural resources.
Philosopher Foods, Santa Cruz, Calif., launched the first-to-market Regenerative Organic Certified stone-ground chocolate coconut butter. Cattle graze on coconut estates, converting weeds and grass into manure, which stimulates growth of plant roots and sequesters carbon dioxide, according to New Hope Network.
“It’s also certified glyphosate-free,” Ms. Smith noted.
Suggesting “carbon is the new calorie,” speakers reviewed brands and new products homing in on climate and sustainability. Airly, St, Louis, markets cheddar cheese crackers made with ingredients produced using regenerative agriculture practices. The company offsets the carbon that is produced in making the crackers.
“It also has this great seed-to-shelf accounting of its carbon capture, and it does all of this at a really accessible price point,” Ms. Smith said.
Ms. Hartt highlighted several exhibitors pioneering in sustainable packaging. Zen Beverage Co., Irvine, Calif., is a bottled water company using recycled, certified Ocean Bound Plastic to help restore coastal environments. The company said it is on track to rescue 50 million lbs of ocean-bound plastic by 2025. Cocojune Products, New York, packages its organic, dairy-free yogurt products in paper-based cups and is working toward a compostable option, Ms. Hartt said.
Another trend discussed during the presentation is a celebration of diversity in the natural products industry, as historically underrepresented entrepreneurs gain more shelf space and support.
“Over the past couple years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in women, minority, NGLCC (National LGBT Chamber of Commerce certified) and veteran-owned businesses,” Mr. Dicker said. “You’re going to see it all over the show floor.”
Fila Manila Filipino American Kitchen, Laurel Springs, NJ, produces pantry staples inspired by the Philippines’ most iconic dishes. The latest launch is banana ketchup, a tomato-less condiment made with bananas, bell pepper, herbs and spices.
A Dozen Cousins, Los Angeles, offers convenient meal staples based on Creole, Caribbean and Latin American recipes. Recent additions include ready-to-eat rice cooked in bone broth and seasoning sauces for meat and rice.
San Francisco-based Twrl Milk Tea is a plant-based twist on a popular Taiwanese beverage. The canned lattes are made with organic, fair-trade tea and pea milk and infused with nitrogen, which creates a creamy taste.
Sanzo, New York, is a sparkling water brand featuring Asian fruit flavors such as calamansi, yuzu and lychee, with no added sugar, artificial flavors or preservatives. The startup was “founded by a Filipino American who saw an opportunity to offer a clean label option,” Ms. Hartt said, adding, “His goal was simple, to celebrate high-quality Asian flavors that have for decades have been masked by added sugars.”
Continued innovation in ingredients and forms, as well as improvements in taste, texture and nutrition, will propel the plant-based food and beverage category forward, Mr. Dicker said.
“Plant-based has certainly been one of the biggest trends that we’ve seen in the industry over the past five years, and we are continuing to see it grow,” Mr. Dicker said. “I know there’s been a little bit of a plateau after the huge growth that was experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. It kind of came back to baseline, and now we’re expecting more modest but continued growth.”
Contributing to the momentum are concerns related to health, environment, animal welfare and dietary limitations, he said.
Chi Foods, Santa Barbara, Calif., produces a range of organic, plant-based grounds made from sacha inchi, a nutritious nut with more protein than pork, according to the company.
From Vancouver, BC-based Big Mountain Foods, the Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble features a blend of organic lion’s mane, portabello and shiitake mushrooms, plus pea protein, carrots, coconut oil and hemp seeds.
Miyoko’s Creamery, Petaluma, Calif., developed a liquid vegan pizza mozzarella formulated with cultured cashew milk that “melts, bubbles and browns,” according to the company.
Expect to see more plant-forward formulations not necessarily aiming to replace or mimic animal products. Ms. Hartt cited jackfruit as an emerging ingredient, used as the base in a chewy snack offered by Amazi Foods, Bethesda, Md.
Eliminating animal products is not the only solution for combatting climate change, according to a number of brands set to showcase sustainable meat and dairy innovation. Mr. Dicker noted pockets of growth particularly around grass-fed and fair-trade claims.
Force of Nature, Austin, Texas, focuses on regenerative meats. The brand’s Lonestar Blend Wild Boar and Beef Sausage is made with holistically raised, grass-fed beef and wild boar, an invasive species contributing to water pollution and crop destruction.
Neptune Snacks, Seattle, offers sustainably sourced fish jerky. The company uses imperfect and undersized cuts or surplus species such as the locally abundant Wild Alaska Pollock and Pacific Rockfish, reducing waste along the supply chain.
Applegate Farms, a Bridgewater, NJ-based subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp., introduced the Do Good Dog, a hot dog made with beef raised on verified regenerative grasslands. The cattle that supply the beef for the Do Good Dog are part of a system contributing to the regeneration of up to 260,000 acres of US grasslands, according to the Savory Institute, an organization committed to facilitating large-scale regeneration of the world’s grasslands.
“I love this product just because of the huge potential impact it could have on our meat industry,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s showing a way to make mass market produced products like hot dogs better. How can we do it in a better way with more care for animals and more care for land resources?”