Last weekend, we took a trip to Baltimore for Natural Products Expo East 2017, where hundreds of exhibitors came out from all over the country (and, in some cases, the world) to show the industry what they have to offer. While events like this are a magnet for unique, one-of-a-kind products, there were still some emerging trends that caught our attention. Here are eight trends that we noticed beginning to sweep the natural foods category:
Alternative Ingredients for Special Diets
Can’t have dairy? Fronana and Revolution Gelato are here to make sure that you can still enjoy a creamy, frozen treat. Can’t have meat? Jackfruit is finally coming into its own as a remarkably meat-like option – the samples of BBQ pulled jackfruit from the Jackfruit Company were practically indistinguishable from chicken or pork. Can’t have eggs, wheat, fish, milk, soy, shellfish, peanuts, or tree nuts? The dietitian behind Crunchy Kitchen feels your pain. After developing severe allergies following the birth of her daughter, she and her husband developed a line of wraps and waffles that feature plantains as a primary ingredient and are free of the top eight allergens.
While kombucha has been rapidly growing in popularity as a bottled beverage, we weren’t anticipating the sheer volume of kombucha brands present at the expo. Flavored with everything from lavender to cola, we are getting far more varieties of the fermented tea than we’ve ever seen before. If the expo is any indicator of what’s to come, we could soon see kombucha move out of the niche health space and expand even further into the mainstream.
With the demand for natural sweeteners continuing to grow, beverages that feature ingredients like maple and honey are taking off. Maple also pairs well with fruit, giving producers a wide range of options for flavor combinations.
Nuts and Seeds
The rhetoric around nut allergies is changing, and it’s probably not a coincidence that we are now seeing more and more products featuring nuts. For those whose systems can handle them, nuts are a very healthy snack that can be eaten raw or, increasingly, used as an alternative to dairy.
One of the more surprising trends that we noticed was a push for organic eggs. While several brands were selling eggs in traditional cartons, some brands are highlighting the specialness of their product by using alternative packaging, like bags.
With McDonald’s selling bottled McCafe drinks, the market is clearly embracing ready-to-drink coffee. Most brands are attempting to differentiate their product in some way, whether in packaging (ie., selling in cans rather than bottles), flavor profile (ie., removing the bitterness for a softer taste), or properites (ie., combining the coffee with an energy drink).
It’s arguable that brands like Yoplait pioneered this area years ago with products like Go-Gurt, but with the success of GoGo Squeeze (both with consumers and with valuable corporate partners), many more brands are coming out with drinkable products in pouches. Some brands like Once Upon a Farm have developed more traditional products like squeezable fruit blends and puddings, while others are using the packaging for more unusual snacks. Serenity Kids, for example, is using the packaging for savory meat-and-vegetable pastes.
Possibly due in part to the popularity of kombucha, tea also made a major splash at the show. Instagram favorite Fit Tea was there, as was Moonshine Tea (which partners with children’s charities), and Cusa Tea. Like the RTD coffee category, tea brands are setting themselves apart by offering some kind of added value. Fit Tea is for dieting and detoxing, for example, and Cusa Tea is a convenient choice as a premium instant tea.