Natural Products Expo West 2018: A Wonderland of Innovation & Inspiration
Natural Products Expo West. The world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event (ever?). You know it’s going to be big. You know it’s going to be inspiring. And you know it’s going be… delicious.
As certified “veterans” of the show this year, we had our eye on a few key trends going into the event… and the breadth of innovation and ideas exceeded our expectations. Expo West really is the best place to see what is coming down the pipeline in so many different categories. We were very happy to be a part of it.
From organic, to natural, to innovative, to sustainable, we encountered a mind-boggling variety of interesting (and tasty) products. Here are some highlights, trends and patterns that really stood out to us—as well as some thoughts on what to expect moving forward.
Beverages took over the Expo this year—and the bathroom lines proved it! We filled ourselves with beverages of all sorts: alternative dairy, kombucha, flavored waters, coffee and more; so much so, that we skipped lunch a day or two.
The big trend in beverages? Value-added.
Kombucha (the fermented tea beverage that is said to have benefits similar to probiotic supplements) exploded onto the scene last year, and while it didn’t have quite the same presence this go-round, it was still well-represented. Brands like humm® are focusing on making kombucha more approachable—with innovative offerings that mask some of the polarizing vinegar taste. Additionally, as is the case with most foods and beverages these days, we saw a sharp increase in claims around lower sugar throughout the category.
What else? So. Much. Caffeine. Coffee, and its higher-caffeinated sister, cold brew, were out in full force. If it wasn’t a single-serve beverage, it was a flavor or a new delivery method (hello, So Delicious® Cold Brew ice cream!) Again, it’s value-added because it offers the caffeine consumers are craving throughout the day, and it tastes great, too. La Colombe® was serving up coffee on draft––another new form to explore in and outside of coffee in general.
Finally, we stood face-to-face (and lips-to-glass) with the future of dairy. Alternative dairy beverages—nut milks, oat blends, whatever you want to call them—are here and they are BIG. We enjoyed exploring new players (our favorite in both taste and delivery was from Elmhurst® – SO GOOD) as well as new offerings from established brands in the business. This is an exciting category with lots of innovation, increased competition and growing expectations—from consumers that are carefully reading ingredient lists, critiquing taste and expecting more functional benefits. It’s going to be fun to watch where this fast-growing category goes.
There was no shortage of brands introducing more environmentally friendly packaging, marketing sustainable processes and promoting environmental missions. One of the newest entrants making a splash in this area is Seed Phytonutrients®. Besides having an awesome name, the maker of natural-origin hair, face and body-care products also introduced the first ever shower-friendly, post-consumer recycled paper bottle.
As cool as that is, perhaps the most memorable innovation this year came from Patagonia®. Yes, that Patagonia®. The well-known clothing/outdoorsy lifestyle brand announced the launch of Patagonia Provisions®—a new line of food and beverages. Their goals with this new entry are the same as with everything they do: make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and perhaps most importantly, inspire solutions to the environmental crisis. It’s a fascinating case-study-in-the-making for any brand looking to expand into new categories. By staying true to the brand’s core equities, we think Patagonia Provisions® has a great shot at being successful and we’re excited to see how it does—and how far Patagonia® might take the brand in the future.
Ice Cream! Get your Ice Cream!
We mentioned some ice cream above, but it deserves it’s own category. It’s been a race to the top ever since Halo Top came in and introduced a whole new pint (we’re talking about ~300 calories per pint). Arctic Zero® entered the category with their own low-calorie version. But then there are also brands taking a more nostalgic, indulgent approach and going extra decadent—but still keeping it natural and organic. Talenti Gelato® and Coolhaus® for example, both launched new flavor offerings at Expo this year.
Beauty/body care is trending all over the place lately. While there were many companies showcasing the latest and greatest in natural beauty products, the ones that seemed to stand out the most were from companies traditionally focused on household cleaning products. Think: Mrs. Meyer’s®, Method® and 7th Generation®. These brands are leveraging their brand essences and expanding into lotions, shampoos, conditioners and more. For example, Mrs. Meyer’s body care products® support their “clean day” proposition and are meant to be used together as part of a regimen to put your best, foot, arm… and whole body… forward. We can get on board with that!
Candy We Can Get Behind
So you’re telling me I can basically eat a pack of peanut butter cups and feel good about it? Classic candies and even everyday chewing gum are getting a better-for-you lift. Unreal® introduced a line of chocolate peanut butter/almond butter + cups and gems that are non-gmo certified, use fair trade, sustainable and organic ingredients and have nothing artificial… and they taste “unreal” good. Simply Gum® has also entered the market with natural gum and mints. There’s nothing artificial and the packaging is definitely one to brag about.
Plant-Based Protein Continues to Grow
Just when you thought you couldn’t be surprised (and delighted) with more foods and snacks with protein, Modern Table® strikes. They premiered their new lentil, rice and pea-based protein line of mac and cheese and pastas. In addition to being delicious, they offer an amazing 21g of complete protein giving families a clean, gluten-free way to not miss out on comfort food. And speaking of comfort food, SmashPack® launched a chocolate pudding line in a re-sealable, squeeze pouch. No spoons needed!
Other Noteworthy Product Trends
• Beans (cereal, chips, dips)
• Novelty Packaging
• Alternative Sweeteners
• Probiotics & Prebiotics
• Coconut (water, jerky, ice cream, milk, flavor and more)
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?
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, Power Bar® just introduced a jerky and nut snack bar. Still protein-forward. Similar delivery method. Still the same brand equity. But the new category 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!
Overall, Expo West 2018 exceeded all our expectations. We did a ton of trend-spotting, built new relationships with innovators across categories, 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.
What did you think about Expo West 2018? We’d love to hear about it.
Lauren Selman is a VP, Strategy at Seed Strategy where she blends business-minded thinking and detail-oriented management to lead valiant strategic initiatives.
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