Accelerator
March 13, 2019
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Natural Products Expo West 2019: Five Trends That Will Define the Future of Food

We were thrilled once again to attend Expo West and witness the latest natural, organic and healthy products coming down the pike—it truly is like a real-life peak into the future.

We interacted with an insane number of intriguing (and delicious!) products. If our stomachs were the judges, let’s just say the show did not disappoint.

Here are some highlights, trends and patterns that caught our eyes as innovators.

 

 

Gut as the Gateway to Overall Health

As our understanding of the link between gut health and overall health increases (not to mention witnessing the rise of buzzy terms like “microbiome”), we’re seeing a plethora of new prebiotic and probiotic products spanning nearly all categories and formats. This includes everything from powders and beverages to desserts, chips, pet care and even cleaning products.

Culture Republik was one eye-catching example of this trend. A product that combines delicious ice cream with artsy culture AND healthy support for your microbiome? Sign us up! From their live-culture-packed ice cream to their bold and artfully designed packages, and their support of a good cause (more on that later), there’s no doubt that we could all scream for this ice cream.

Uplift Food was another intriguing find. As the first minority investment for Mondelēz International’s new SnackFutures innovation hub, Uplift Foods promises to help improve your mood with their unique supplement powder. Made with real food goodness like pumpkin seed protein, mushrooms, green banana flour and sacha inchi seeds, this nutrient-dense powder is packed with prebiotic fiber—plus protein, fiber, polyphenols, antioxidants and whole-food-derived vitamins and minerals.

In the beverage space, there were many function-forward, gut-focused products on display, including So Good So You’s Probiotic Wellness Shots and Karuna’s Super Food Whole Plant Smoothies, both of which promise to deliver benefits like endurance, detoxification or rejuvenation.

Similarly, MegaFood showcased a new line of shelf-stable probiotic supplements designed to deliver targeted options to meet unique needs—like digestive health, immune defense, mood and energy.

In snacking, there were several interesting offerings including Farmhouse Culture’s Kraut Krisps, which tout 1 billion probiotics, PROBAR’s PROBAR Live probiotic nutrition bar, and GoodBe’s probiotic-packed refrigerated yogurt bars.

Perhaps the most unique example of the proliferation of pro and prebiotics came from a cleaning brand called Counter Culture. (What a great name!) Counter Culture is shaking things up with their Probiotic All Purpose Cleaner that cleans surfaces while working to balance the bacteria in your home. The brand is breaking category conventions in a big way by claiming they “proudly DON’T KILL 99.9% of bacteria” in their quest to provide a healthy “microbiHOME.”

 

Food as a Force for Good

Food is powerful. Thanks to high consumer demand, many brands are waking up to the impact food can have on people and our planet—whether through growing, sourcing, donating profits or reducing waste

The Real is charting new territory by expanding fair trade and single origin sourcing to more than just coffee and tea—right down to the specific farm the product came from. Think Himalayan sea salt, popped quinoa, raw coconut and cane sugars and Basmati rice—all at an affordable price point.

Another rising theme in this space is “upcycling,” which involves transforming by-products or otherwise wasted ingredients into worthwhile products with strong environmental value. In this camp, we were drawn to new flavors of Barnana Banana Bites, which are made from “ugly” bananas, and Regrained granola bars, made with spent brewing grains.

And then, of course, there are those brands that donate a portion of their proceeds to support a good cause. In the case of Culture Republick, it’s to support local artists and community arts. The Soulfull Project donates a warm cereal to a local food bank for every cereal purchased. And for every This Saves Lives Bar purchased, the company sends a packet of nutrient dense peanut paste to help treat malnutrition in children in need.

 

Plant-Based is Permanent

Plant-based products are here to stay. The category is large—and still growing—and major taste improvements are helping to make these products more mainstream than ever. More and more products are delivering faux meat and dairy experiences that are closer to “the real thing,” plus delicious veggie-forward entrees that appeal to the masses. This means that they aren’t just targeting vegans and vegetarians anymore, they’re tapping into a more widespread desire for options that fit “flexitarian” diets.

One big player, Daiya, is crushing it in the world of plant-based dairy, delivering mouthwatering cheese and ice cream (and newly launched frozen burritos!), without the expected taste and texture compromises typically associated with alternative dairy products.

The meat substitutes category was sizzling as Impossible Foods launched their new-and-improved Impossible Burger—swapping wheat protein for soy protein to deliver an improved taste and texture experience (while also making it gluten-free)—and, needless to say, it was “selling” like hot cakes! Rival Beyond Meat also debuted their Beyond Beef Crumbles, a plant-based ground beef substitute made of pea, rice and mung bean protein. And others like No Evil Foods are putting up some serious competition when it comes to flavor and texture.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention oat milk—it’s on fire! And now it’s spreading like crazy into adjacent categories like oat milk yogurt, ice cream and coffee pairings, thanks to brands like Nancy’s, Totes Oats (from Hakuna Banana) and La Colombe, respectively.

There was also a wide variety of products moving away from stealth nutrition, instead leading with vegetable flavors as the hero. Top of mind in this space is the kids’ brand Fresh Bellies, providing veggie-forward foods for “palates in training.” These offerings “celebrate the savory” in hopes kids will actually develop a taste for healthy food right from the start.

Other products that caught our attention in the plant-based space include Modern Table’s new Vegan Mac, made with their classic lentil-based and protein-packed pasta and New Barn Organics’ new creamy, almond-based buttery spread.

So whether you’re a hardcore vegan or a meatless Mondays kind of person… options to fit your needs abound.

 

The Future is Ancient

Want to see the future of food? Then look to the past. There is a strong desire for many to go back to our collective roots—and to a better understanding of how food works in harmony with our bodies to nourish and heal (versus the last 70 or so years, where much of the focus was on feeding masses and offering cheap options, often void of nutrition). Many of these super-food ingredients have been utilized around the world for hundreds of years, but are just now coming back en vogue in the U.S. market.

Beyond the many interesting kombuchas and mushroom powders we saw, there were brands pushing into completely new spaces. For example, Yes Cacao combines adaptogens + super herbs + botanicals into a delicious chocolate bar—with each line delivering a different functional vibe (like Bliss Out made with gaba, turmeric and kava). Additionally, I am (aranth) makes super seed snacks that harness the power of amaranth to bring energy, strength and the capacity to heal with love. Finally, monk fruit is continuing its slow ascent as a preferred alternative sweetener.

 

The Drive to Thrive

The days of “diet starts tomorrow” are being replaced by the days of striving to live a holistically healthy lifestyle. Many entrants are moving into spaces like vitality, mental health and emotional wellness.

We saw a slew of functional beverages reflecting this trend. Top ingredients include Vitamin B complex, MCT, collagen, CBD, Citicoline, L-Theanine… and the list goes on.

For example, Vital Proteins has expanded its full line of collagen-based products to include a line of collagen waters that help support a healthy glow (along with healthy hair and skin and even muscle recovery).

Pop & Bottle now has new oat milk lattes (oh, hello again, oat milk!) with ingredients like nootropics to support brain function and adaptogens to aid stress defense (plus killer packaging, too).

Other offerings that caught our eye in this space include Gaia Herbs’ Agile Mind, BrainJuice, Brainiac kids’ yogurt with proprietary “BrainPack,” Flow Glow with CBD and blk. mineral water.

 

Overall, Expo West 2019 was one of the best natural products shows we’ve experienced. We trend-spotted, built new relationships, caught up with old friends and learned about many up-and-coming brands that have the passion, ingenuity and tenacity to become the next movers and shakers of the industry. Oh, and we got free food. Lots of it.

 

Erin Mahorney is a Senior Strategist at Seed Strategy where she combines her artistic intuition with extensive marketing experience to help clients create masterpieces of innovation.

Edited by Adam SiegelIn addition to being the Editor of The Accelerator, Adam is a Creative Director that draws upon his diverse experience in advertising, research and innovation to craft breakthrough creative and winning concept copy.

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