With more than 70,000 attendees annually, Natural Products Expo West is the largest natural products tradeshow in the world. In many ways it feels more akin to a music festival than an industry event. In the triangle of buildings where the show is held, people crowd every spare surface, laptops (and often drinks) in hand. Music plays at all hours from the central outdoor stage and seemingly endless lines curve between food trucks.
This massive size and scope is compounded when you enter the convention center. Booths rise tall in every direction and round, carousel-like signs hang from the ceilings. The exhibit halls buzz with chatter and excitement. Every natural product you’ve ever seen and many you’ve never dreamed of are on display. Smiling booth attendees offer samples of everything from savory yogurt to probiotic crackers, to mayonnaise made with the leftover water from cooking chickpeas.
It’s hard to center yourself amongst this chaos much less make sense of the bigger picture. To streamline the process, we’re sharing the trends from Expo West that will likely shape the natural products industry in the coming months.
Vegetables Shift to Center of the Plate
Move to the side, meat – vegetables are in the spotlight now. Veggies were featured prominently at EXPO, replacing grains in traditional snack foods like chips, popcorn and tater tots. This focus on veggies is mirrored in fine dining menus that offer cauliflower steak entrees and top-selling cookbooks, which are moving away from meat-centric dishes. Instead, meat acts as a condiment or accent to a wealth of produce.
Waste Not – Scraps Become Flavor
What was once considered waste is now being reinvented and put to use as culinary stables. Many influential brands are embracing ‘Reduce Waste’ as a sustainability mantra. One prominent example is the ‘no-bone’ broth trend, a vegan alternative to bone broths that is being popularized by companies like King’s Broth Carts. Chef Matt Weingarten takes sustainability one step further at his farm-to-counter restaurant chain Dig Inn Eatery by using vegetable scraps to create a waste-free version.
Brands are looking to seeds as the next superpower ingredient to elevate products. Sorry chia – lesser known alternatives like watermelon, hemp, flax, pumpkin and sacha inchi are taking center stage in this year’s crop of new products. Even once-popular seeds that had lost their luster, like sunflower and sesame, are making a reoccurrence. Superseeds appeared in everything at Expo from crackers, energy bars and cereals to beverages, bowls and baby food.
Packaging is the New Sustainability Frontier
Brands are responding to consumer demand for trust and transparency by creating more sustainable packaging. New research shows that chemicals from packaging can migrate to food and may cause certain cancers. Industry groups like the Sustainable Foods Trade Association are now measuring safety of packaging and providing guidance and approval while nonprofits like “Protect Our Breasts” are promoting safer packaging in personal care and food products. What to look for next? Cooperative changes in ‘squeezable’ packaging.
Keeping It Real
Brands are shifting from the recent ‘minimally processed’ trend to a more au natural approach fueled by nutritionists and recent reports. Companies are striving to deliver food in its natural form – grown slowly and free from unnecessary human intervention. That means no sugar, no additives, just PURE food.
We want to hear from you! Let us know what you think of a trend or share your own in the comment section below.
Written by Ashley Greco