Top Trends from Natural Products Expo West 2014
This past weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West, one of the nation’s largest natural product conventions. This blog post will highlight some of the top trends that I discovered by walking every inch of the conference and chatting with hundreds of vendors. Some trends were pretty obvious, others were noticeable only by attending the conventions year after year.
Top Trends From Natural Products Expo West 2014
1) Gluten-Free and Non-GMO
Last year, I reported that both Gluten Free and Non-GMO were very big trends at the 2013 Natural Products Expo. In 2014 Gluten-Free and Non-GMO were omnipresent at the conference, not just emerging trends. Both Gluten-Free and Non-GMO were once the fringe and nerdy products at the conference. This year Non-GMO and Gluten-Free are the cool kids.
Major brands and start-ups are trying to integrate both of these hot trends into their products offering. Non-GMO seemed to be a requirement to enter the conference hall this year, with Gluten-Free providing extra street cred. Brands like Pilsbury, Stony Field Farms wrapped themselves around the non-GMO and Gluten-Free labels, as if it was their idea the whole time.
2) Meat Alternatives
Meat alternatives that simulated the look, mouth texture and flavor of real meat were hot this year. I personally tasted over 15 different chicken patties, tenders and strips. Most of these products used course plant based ingredients to simulate the texture of muscle meat. Some of meat alternatives were bad, while others were delicious and tasted like meat. The key market opportunity is not with vegetarians, but with the general population who wants to eat less animal protein.
The vendor who had the best marketing campaign at the show was Beyond Meat, who sampled their “chicken” strips and ground “beef.” They set up their booth to simulate a Taco Bell restaurant and made a call to action for Taco bell to carry meat alternatives.
For me, the ground beef alternative tasted just like Taco Bell’s Beef, just less salty. The chicken was about 80% similar to real chicken. If I was trying to save my calories and meat intake for the weekend, I could see myself using this product….or ordering the meat alternative in a Taco Bell burrito.
3) High-End Warm and Serve Meals
The ready to serve meal trend was big in the 70’s and 90’s, although the trend is re-emerging. This time, you are seeing high-quality “Boil in a pouch” or “Just Warm” meals that are fairly sophisticated in their flavor layering. For example, Fish People had some really delicious fish dishes like Salmon Chowder and Albacore Tuna with lemon grass. All you have to do is drop the bag in a pot of boiling water, no clean-up. Another concept was pre-made pancake batter that is served in the pouch, ready to pour. The pancakes were delicious.
4) Milk Alternatives Goes Nuts
This year milk alternatives could be found on every aisle of the conference floor. Some of the milk products were being marketed as health beverages and others as milk alternatives. The major types of milk were hazelnut, coconut (major trend on it’s own right), hemp and almond. My favorite hazelnut at the show is made by Pacific Foods.
5) Coffee Drinks
Coffee and coffee drinks are in style and they were in force at the Natural products expo. Coffee is the bellweather of the conference this year. You could see each of the major trends ebb their way into the coffee product portfolio. For example, Non-GMO, coconut, milk alternative, fair trade, and sugar alternatives could be found in any of the coffee drinks including Marley’s Coffee, High Brew and So Delicious.
6) I am going Coconuts
Coconut makes its way into most drinks, oils, syrups, snacks, and energy products. Coconut oil is the biggest standout, it was touted as an elixir for anything that ails you. My favorite coconut products were produced by Carrington Farms Coconut Cooking Oil, a healtier alternative.
7) Peanut Butter Alternatives
Nut Butters are emerging as a big trend this year, this is especially true with hazelnut spreads. Start-up nut butter companies are emerging with healthier alternatives to peanut butter, Nutella and almond butters. Again just mix your favorite trend to these nut butters like non-GMO, gluten-free, additive free, organic. My favorite nut-butter at the show was Justine’s Hazelnut spread.
8) Non-Italian Olive Oil
Italian olive oil will start to decline due to two big trends. First, California olive oil emerge in the U.S. market because it is local, with less of a carbon footprint and it is tasty. Second, Tunisia accounts for more of the olives that go into Italian olive oil than Italian grapes. Fact. Tunisian olive oil is being grown, pressed and marketed directly to the United States. Tunisian Oil may be the cheaper alternative to Italian oil with the same great taste.
9) Grow Your Own
The trend of hyper-local ingredients is driving consumer and restaurants to grow their own produce. I noticed several “Grow Your Own” produce at home kits at the conference. I tried out the mushrooms and micro-greens kits and the final product was delicious. These kits make it easier for consumers to grow their own ingredients. Think chia-pet. Mushroom man had my favorite set-up with mushroom in a box.
10) Sugar Alternatives
I met quite a few vendors who were showcasing sugar alternatives, such Suchero, or products with sugar alternatives whole organic cane sugar or beet sugar.