March 20, 2017
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Expo West 2017: Good Food, New Ideas, Delicious Opportunities

Natural Products Expo West. The world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event. You know it’s going to be big. You know it’s going to be inspiring. And you know it’s going be… delicious.

But we had no idea this year’s show would set new records with 80,000+ attendees! There were over 3,000 brand exhibitors in attendance, and 600 of them were first-timers. It felt great to see this blossoming generation of innovators in action, shaping the future of healthy products—a future that we’re proud and excited to be a part of.

From organic, to natural, to innovative, to sustainable, we encountered a mind-boggling breadth of interesting (and tasty) products at Expo West. Here are some highlights, trends and patterns that really stood out to us, as well as some thoughts on what to expect moving forward.

Inside-Out Health

Health-conscious brands are embracing the idea of holistic wellness—from the inside out. For instance, Hint, an all-natural flavored water brand, is also selling all-natural sunscreen… balancing the idea of inner wellness with outer wellness.

Burt's Bees Protein PowderBurt’s Bees is also… ahem… “catching the buzz” when it comes to holistic wellness. And with their new daily plant-based protein shake you might say they’ve gone… “outside in”? Burt’s has always embraced the idea of connecting people with the beauty of nature. So it’s interesting to see how they’ve been able to expand into a new category, while staying within this core equity. We think it’s a great move by Burt’s and we’re excited to see where things lead!

Sustainably Good
Sustainability is becoming a sustained trend in this industry. We saw environmentally conscious claims around packaging, preparation/processing and ingredients. Beyond the physical aspects of the product, we noticed a lot of brands pledging to reinvest a percentage of their profits back into a worthwhile cause.

Innocent Chocolate pledges to use 100% of its profits to preserve the planet and help others
Moreover, brands are finding interesting ways to link health with sustainability. For instance, Innocent Chocolate’s crazy-good chocolate is made with almost NO sugar… and all proceeds (all!) go towards great causes including child obesity.

Box of Simple Mills Fine Ground Sea Salt Crackers
Inspirational Origins
Whether it’s an innovation director at a food company who spots an opportunity, or a young woman who discovers the benefits of cutting gluten (like Simple Mills, based in Chicago), the passion, purpose and character of a brand really comes to life when you hear its origin story first hand. These messages were carried through in the brand voice as well as into the products offered.

On-Pack Power
We were reminded again and again that truly great design has the power to both differentiate and add taste appeal. A few of the standouts included Kashi’s updated packaging, Hippeas chickpea-based snacks and Bolthouse Farms plant milk.

Lineup of Bolthouse Farms new plant milk

In addition, we saw a lot of products offering multiple packaging formats, in multiple serving sizes. Because when it comes to healthy food… one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. For example, nut butter in both a single-serve dipping cup and a single-serve packet so you can easily squeeze it on the carrier of your choice.

Girls Just Wanna Feel Good (and have fun)
One of Seed’s goals at this year’s show was to zero in on brands that were finding new ways to engage women. Brands that simplify and enrich daily rituals—like showering or family meals—will not only help women solve challenges in the home, but also help with the other related challenges (stress, guilt, work/life balance, etc.).

Several brands really stood out in this regard:

Can of Nature's Origin aromatherapy
Nature’s Bounty has a new aromatherapy brand called Nature’s Origin. Aromatherapy is a growing category that women know, but for many, it’s not fully integrated into everyday life. From travel diffusers, to oil drops that create a spa-like experience in your morning shower, Nature’s Origin was really delivering on this “elevated everyday experience” that many women seek today.

Horizon Good & Go cheese and crackersAlso, Horizon Organic has a new line of cheese and crackers that make it easier for organic-leaning moms to get suitable options into their kids’ lunch boxes. It’s a challenge many of these moms (and dads!) face today, and this makes it easier to stay “organic” on an everyday basis.

Cartons of Sir Bananas Banana Milk
We saw several examples of bananas being reimagined and reborn into interesting new food forms. For instance, Sir Bananas milk from White Wave. Also, Justin’s—known for organic nut butters—is now offering a peanut butter and banana chip snack.

Could these be the first bold steps toward a new “banana renaissance”? (is that a… banana-ssance?) Time will tell. But we’ll definitely be watching.

A collection of snack bites from a variety of different brands
Bites Over Bars
When it comes to the healthy snack aisle, bars have had the spotlight for years. But there’s a new food form in town: bites. Naturally delicious morsels of goodness in flexible, re-sealable, minimalistic packaging… so you can choose how many to eat and when.

Popcorn, Get Your Popcorn!
Selection of popcorn varieties from Boom Chicka Pop
Popcorn––savory, sweet, naked and more––was “popping” up all over the expo. Flavor extensions offer an almost limitless pipeline of new ideas and new usage occasions. Boom Chicka Pop stole the show with their wide variety of options, all boasting guilt-free claims like: whole-grain energy, low calorie, non-GMO and gluten-free.

Other Noteworthy Product Trends

Prebiotics (especially from fermented veggies)
Detox drinks (hello, kombucha!)
Bone broth
Portable frozen fruit
Alternative jerky forms (e.g., coconut meat)
Sweet hummus
Portable protein
Tiger nut flour
Value-based foods

Opportunity Areas
When you put a host of delicious innovations (and innovators) under one roof, the result is inspiring to say the least. It definitely got us thinking about new opportunities and potential growth strategies.

One thing we noticed, was that certain brands focus on doing ONE thing really well (popcorn, beverages, peanut butter, yogurt, etc.). What if these companies could do more?

Box of Nature's Path Love Crunch snack bars We think there’s potential for niche players to expand into adjacent categories, with close-in products that still leverage their core competencies. For example, Love Crunch granola by Nature’s Path just introduced a bar format. Still granola. Still the same brand equity. But the new format has the potential to significantly expand usage.

While big companies have more resources to push the envelope in terms of product form, we believe that even small companies can make subtle, cross-category moves that will open doors to new consumers. The key is staying close in, while still creating a new and distinctive product. In any case, we expect all this new innovation to make the market more and more competitive… and more exciting!

Mind: Blown

Overall, Expo West 2017 exceeded all our expectations. We did a ton of trend-spotting during our three-day walkathon. We built new relationships with innovators across categories, we ran into old friends (and made some new ones), and learned about so many up-and-coming brands with the passion, ingenuity and tenacity to become the next movers and shakers of the industry.

Not to mention… free food. Lots of it.

What were your experiences at Expo West 2017? We’d love to hear all about it. Seed will also be attending the upcoming Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC this June. Hope to see you there!

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