Food Trends from Natural Products Expo East 2017: What’s Driving Industry Innovation

One of the biggest trade shows for the natural and organic food industry is happening now in Baltimore.  Oh how I wish I could attend the Natural Products Expo East — it’s an amazing place for trend tracking.  In fact, the brands exhibiting at this show are at the core of trends and consumer values — such as transparency, social purpose and environmental stewardship.  More and more mainstream grocery stores are stocking these products,  and that’s why these startups and niche brands are on the exhibit floor — to get national distribution.

Even though I wasn’t able to attend, I’ve been monitoring the coverage and watching the posts of some of my nutrition colleagues who are walking the exhibit floor or staffing some of the booths. Here’s a look at the major food trends from Expo East, including the 10 macro trends identified by the New Hope Network, organizers of the Expo, that are driving innovation in the natural and organic industry.

1. The plant revolution: Environmental and health concerns related to the production and consumption of animal products has moved purposefully plant-based foods, once relegated to the vegan and vegetarian minority, mainstream. Innovative new meat and dairy alternatives improve upon taste and texture, therefore widening the appeal of a plant-based way of eating.


2. Wholegrarian shopper: Taking a back-to-basics approach to health, brands across food, beverage, supplements and personal care continue to meet consumer demand for products with pronounceable ingredients and minimal or alternative processing.

3. Protein redefined: The next generation of protein products emphasizes quality and transparency, with claims like grass-fed and organic, or utilizes interesting or blended sources of proteins.

4. Inherently functional: The newest products spin adaptogenic herbs and other naturally functional ingredients like maca and mushrooms into snacks, treats, supplements and even beauty products that address the modern lifestyle concerns of stress and vitality.

5. Probiotics 2: Probiotics, it is being discovered, are for more than just digestive health. The evolution of science around the role of the microbiome in human health is leading to higher bacteria counts in products, probiotic strains that target specific health benefits and a better understanding of the role of prebiotics.

6. The verified brand: Smart brands earn consumer trust by telling the story of their purpose and demonstrating that they use safe, fair and environmentally friendly practices. Emerging certification programs being adopted by natural brands—like Glyphosate Residue Free, Demeter Biodynamic, Made Safe and C.L.E.A.N—move further down the supply chain to address safety and ingredient integrity.  The Detox Project launched the Glyphosate Residue Free certification seal last year and Chosen Foods is one of the brands using this seal on its avocado oil and spreads.

7. Nutrition customized: Creative delivery formats and formulations give nutrition products appeal to consumers of different ages with a variety of needs. The convergence of supplements and food, as well as an ever-expanding selection of age- and gender-specific supplements, are evidence of this trend.

8. Getting crafty: Desire for clean ingredients and transparency are fueling a DIY movement among consumers, a la the continued rise of essential oils and herbal blends.

9. Snackification: Millennials in particular are fond of snacking because brands are tapping into their desire for creative, quick eats that deliver on both taste and nutrition.

10. Sugar vilified: The war on sugar has reached a new level. Some brands are responding with products that are unsweetened or low in sugar. Other brands use alternative sweeteners like monk fruit or go back to basics with small amounts of cane sugar, honey or maple.

The New Hope Network also identified 8 natural food trends that are most likely to resonate with shoppers, along with companies that are performing well within each category.

1. Environmental expectations:  Consumers are increasingly expecting or demanding companies to make commitments to the environment as a part of their business.  Better performing products include Bare, which makes cocoa banana chips with carbon neutral practices, and Quinn, a maker of ready-to-pop popcorn that comes in a compostable bag.

2. Waste not, want not: Food waste has emerged as a major issue. Giving rise to “ugly produce” and companies like Forager that produces chips using leftover pulp from making juice, and Misfit Juicery that makes cold-pressed juices with at least 70% fruits or vegetables that farmers can’t seek or leftover scraps from manufacturers of products such as carrot sticks or watermelon cubes. One Potato Snacks displayed Uglies Kettle Chips, made from surplus and rejected potatoes with minor imperfections.

3. Feed me:  A growing population and desire to use less water, land and other resources has driven innovations, such as Thrive, an ultra omega-9 algae cooking oil maker, Ripple, a plant-based milk made using pea protein, and Lotus Foods, which grows rice on volcanic soils using resource-conserving practices.

4. Collaboration economy:  Companies are attempting to fix the problems in the food system by collaborating with multiple stakeholders in the supply chain, including farmers, manufacturers and retailers. Examples here include Endangered Species, which gives 10% of its profits to partners who protect wildlife, Teatulia, a tea maker that helps rehabilitate land in Bangladesh where its product comes from, and community Seafood, a frozen fish filet producer whose product is harvested by local fishermen.

5. Speed scratch:  Consumers are seeking healthy, quick-cooking meals that are more convenient like a snack but are also satisfying as a hot meal.  Companies who are doing well in this area include Ellyndale Naturals, Grainful, and Sweet Earth.

6. Putting a face on farmers and the food system:  Technology is helping telling a fuller story about products, allowing shoppers to scan a package and learn exactly where the food was grown or produced.  Examples cited include One Degree Organics, Bellucci, and Safe Catch Tuna, which is traceable and uses testing standards that are stricter than what FDA requires.

7. Regeneration: Regenerative agriculture puts emphasis on maintaining the health of soil.  Companies touting regenerative practices include Epic and Back to the Roots.  Another related buzzword is Biodynamic, which refers to foods made with ingredients that use regenerative agriculture.  One of the brands exhibiting at Expo East is White Leaf Provisions, which makes a biodynamic apple and pear sauce.

8. The purposeful brand:  Consumers now value brands with a purpose, which has sparked a new generation of companies created with a social cause they hope to fix.  Examples include Sol Simple, a maker of dried fruits and cashews that traces back the ingredients to its small farmers in Nicaragua, the Sunshine Nut Company and Mavuno Fruit.

For more on the food trends at Natural Foods Expo East, check out:

Food Business News

 

Images:  Courtesy of manufacturers

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