More than 3,000 exhibitors showed off their wares at the 2014 Natural Products Expo West this weekend, from health food to many better-for-you (but still not-so-good-for-you) renditions of popular snack foods. This year’s Expo West buzzed with the energy of a recovering economy and venture capital, including an escalator that advertised dozens of recent acquisitions.
From the array of offerings, including yogurt, popcorn, chia seeds, bars, coconut and plenty of “free-from” foods, emerged three key trends with likely staying power, thanks to their health benefits and alignment with current tastes and demographic trends.
Companies play up plant-based proteins
Proteins derived from grains, seeds, nuts and beans are not new to the natural foods industry. But the phrase “plant-based protein” popped up often as a value proposition, often alongside paleo and/or gluten-free claims. Love Grown Foods blends beans into its brown rice-based O-shaped cereal. Kind makes “plant-based” a key message in its Strong line of savory nut bars featuring Jalapeno and Hickory Smoked flavors.
The meatless meats segment had a strong presence, particularly in Mexican flavors. The Beyond Meat booth offered samples of tacos made with “beef” crumbles made from pea protein and amaranth. Soy-free Neat uses pecan meal and garbanzo beans in its gluten-free meatless mix. Hodo Soy aims to sway meat-lovers over to the vegetarian side with its spicy organic tofu-based sofritas, which Chipotle restaurants offer as a vegetarian option in its burritos.
Tolerant Foods pulled off a miracle, creating organic pastas made with only one ingredient: black beans or lentils — both allergen-friendly and high protein. Ellie Friedmann, wife of company founder Tom Friedmann, said, “My husband Tom and I wanted to create a pasta that people with most any allergy could eat with confidence.”
Ethnic spices heat up the snack aisle
Zouq’s Firey Sticks incorporate two major themes from 2014 ExpoWest: spice and snacks. Made in India, their matchstick-sized crunchy, fried potato snacks sear the mouth with an addictive quality shared by Kettle Brand‘s new Sriracha potato chips. Hope Foods introduced a line of ethnic hummus flavors, including thai curry and sriracha flavors.
BARE introduced Chile Lime Apple Chips, a flavor ripe for crossover to the Hispanic market as a healthy snacking option. Meanwhile in the popcorn aisle, Kickstarter-backed Pop Art Popcorn added a coconut curry popcorn to the mix, alongside Cobra Corn‘s popular curry popcorn.
A bevy of better-for-you beverages
From botanicals to tinctures and glass-bottled coconut water, artfully designed drinks lined the aisles at ExpoWest. From its roots as a farmers market brand, Urban Moonshine turned the know-how of founder/herbalist Jovial King into an organic bitters and herbal tonics brand that could turn this niche mainstream. Retro bottles made a big comeback, with several brands showcasing products in apothecary-style glass bottles. Old time soda shop flavors, such as cherry cola and root beer, came to life in Organic Fair’s brightly-labeled bottles with vintage appeal. Health-Ade Kombucha also turned to apothecary-style bottles, as did Owl’s Brew, which offers “tea crafted for cocktails,” which blend teas with fruit and herbal flavors. “Unlike standard mixers, Owl’s Brew pairs with a range spirits, and even beers,” said Maria Littlefield, partner and COO.
On the lighter side of hydration, fizz and color took center stage in several elegant, clear-bottled beverage. Gengi-su Japanese Tart Tonic (funded via Kickstarter), jax coco (which British Vogue dubbed the “chicest coconut water on the market”) and Sipp organic pear beverages accented with ginger, citrus and floral notes.
Caffeine fiends were thrilled to see Clover Organics partnering with Blue Bottle Coffee on a new coffee milk beverage with roasted chicory and cane sugar, packaged in a milk carton. Two cold coffee beverages hailed from Austin, Texas, both with beautifully retro branding: glass-bottled Chameleon Cold Brew black coffee and High Brew Coffee‘s sexy, slim cans of flavored brews. Coffee trends tipped into the freezer case, too. Brewla from Brooklyn launched a line of “specialty brewed bars” with flavors themed around “anything you can brew.”
For food entrepreneurs wanting to tap into the next big trend, think crossover. All bets are off when combining sweet and savory, cereals and vegetables, meats and fruits. Whatever your imagination can dream up is worth testing as consumers continue seeking better, faster and cleaner foods for themselves and their children.
As a personal think tank for Good Food entrepreneurs, writer and strategist Susie Wyshak connects people who make and love real food with what they need. Find Susie at NuttyFig.com.