The natural and organic products industry has truly penetrated the mainstream. These formerly niche categories are increasingly being viewed as simply the food and beverage industry.
Drawing an estimated 85,000 industry professionals, the 37th annual Natural Products Expo West in California featured more than 3,000 exhibiting companies. It’s THE show for industry professionals to get their first glimpse of the products that will fuel the conversation for the next 12 months and beyond. It’s a chance to see popular trends refined and new categories emerge. Some highlights and trends we noticed from this year’s show include:
Transparency has moved from a marketing buzzword to an essential way of doing business, as consumers are increasingly taking note of ingredients, sourcing practices and manufacturing processes behind the products they purchase. A couple trends include transparent packaging for consumers to be able to immediately see inside to the product and simple ingredients highlighted on packaging so consumers can quickly scan.
Going back to a “simpler way of life”, consumers are focusing on whole, nutrient-dense ingredients. Superfoods continue to be highlighted in products and manufacturers are looking for new ways to use these foods’ benefits in snacks.
Our always-on culture is constantly in need of fuel, but are demanding snacks that are nutritious and convenient. Better-for-you snacks are going beyond eliminating artificial ingredients and added sugars. The newest trend in snacking is formulating products that deliver whole foods including vegetables, fruits and clean meats in a convenient package. Another snack trend: savory flavors. In a category packed with sweet foods, brands are incorporating savory and global flavors into snack products.
Already one of the dominant trends in the beverage industry, probiotics were virtually everywhere at this year’s event, with brands showcasing them as both a focus of new products and as an added ingredient to existing drinks. Outside of beverages, peanut butter, popcorn and lollipops were just some of the snacks featuring probiotics.
Joining the likes of zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice is a crop of new products featuring vegetables in new and innovative ways. These plants to packaged products are appealing to consumers who are looking for clean food with simple ingredients. Plant-enhanced products also offer convenience, with half of US adults who purchase fresh vegetables agreeing that products containing vegetables are a great way to meet their daily vegetable intake, according to a 2016 Mintel report. The amount of new plant-based products launched at the show is likely an indication of growing consumer demand for dairy-free options too. While nut milks are still quite popular, plant-based yogurts seem to be exploding in popularity too.
A number of brands are celebrating the use of sprouting in product development. New crackers, chips and bread are made with seeds, grains and beans that have been sprouted to improve the absorption of nutrients.
Several products featured at Expo West promoted brain benefits, such as improved cognitive function and increased mental clarity and focus. This health benefit appeals to numerous generations giving it mass appeal.
Consumers are actively searching for mission-based brands. According to a Mintel’s Consumer Trend study, this desire stems from consumers’ frustration with the lack of action in government. This frustration with “the system” finds some consumers open to companies and brands that help to make a difference in society. In return, companies that have ethical or environmental policies that are communicated well could see more consumer loyalty, which is especially important in the fast-changing natural and organic food and drink sector.
It was very clear at Expo West that brands have heard consumers’ request for more snacks without sugar loud and clear. Almost every food and drink manufacturer is prioritizing cutting sugar or finding alternative sweeteners. A focus on cutting back on sugar (even in chocolate) was evident at the show. From products highlighting “low-sugar” or “no-sugar” to a proliferation of sugar alternatives – especially monk fruit sweeteners – reducing or eliminating sugar is clearly a priority when it comes to new natural and organic products.
We’re nearing turmeric-level buzz for mushrooms in the industry. Manufacturers are taking advantage of the natural health benefits of mushrooms and incorporating them into snack bars, supplements and beverages. Look for this trend to continue a quick rise as consumers are more informed on the natural benefits.