Expo West is a massive trade show for natural companies to show off their product innovations and connect with other businesses. With thousands of booths sampling their products, if you can think of a category they were there. With all of those products, how do you make sense of the trends? Fear not, as we are here to break it down and talk about what is new and trending in naturals.
As far as functional ingredients go, Mushrooms reigned supreme at Expo West. Many popular adaptogens come from mushrooms including Lion’s Mane, Reishi, and more. Benefits of these fungus superfoods span almost all consumer need states. According to the Evergi consumer wellness survey, 51% of consumers agree that functional foods are medicine, so it’s no wonder these mushrooms are on the rise. These adaptogenic mushrooms can be used for relaxation, focus, immunity support and more. At Expo West we saw these fun-guys (see what I did there) in everything from functional beverages and foods to supplements.
Mushrooms have begun to appear across many drink mixes and powders. Many of these are simple adaptogen blends that can be mixed into beverages to add those functional ingredients to your beverage of choice. Four Sigmatic premiered their functional coffee creamer (Nexty Best New Functional Food or Beverage Award Winner) in multiple varieties infused with different mushrooms for the different occasions of gut health, focus, and balance. Additionally, we saw Om Mushroom Superfoods Mushroom and Botanical Powder that is meant to be mixed into protein beverages.
We know that functional beverages are on the rise, and many of them use mushrooms to give the beverages their intended functionality. Rowdy Mermaid released their adaptogenic tonics (stepping outside of their kombucha box) using reishi, lion’s mane, and other mushrooms in multiple flavor blends. Additionally, Confidence released a non-carbonated mood-boosting beverage that uses mushrooms and vitamins to deliver functionality.
While functional beverages and mixes are becoming more standard at these events, we were surprised to see some new entries that are just straight-up dried mushrooms. Eat the Change has created mushroom jerky in five different flavors, including Maple Mustard. In addition to being nutritious dried snacks, by using bruised “undesirable” mushrooms Eat the Change is able to prevent food waste leading to a more sustainable snack. Something which leads us nicely into our next trend.
Speaking of sustainability, with climate change continuing to rage on and consumers looking for ways they can have a greater impact, it's no wonder we saw innovation push toward sustainability at Expo West. According to the Evergi consumer wellness survey, 60% of consumers are concerned about global warming and therefore may be more inclined to purchase sustainable products. Sustainability however is such a broad term and factors into different areas of food production. Many of the innovations we saw centered around packaging, upcycling, and an increase in plant-based alternatives.
One of the biggest issues plaguing our planet is the massive amount of plastic waste that we use. One of the obvious sources is water bottles, fear not though as there were multiple companies attempting to improve sustainability through packaging in recyclable containers. Some of these products were just simple water cans, similar to what Dasani and other brands have done with packaged water in the past. Gen Z Water directly targets the youngest generation with packaging covered in Gen Z motifs that range from fish in cowboy hats to sloths and rainbows. While already available in select retailers, it's still to be determined whether these aluminum water bottles are here to stay.
One of the largest areas of pollution that most people do not think about is food waste. Companies throw away thousands of pounds of food a year when producing consumer goods. According to the Upcycled Food Association “Over 30% of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste, and that's a big problem for society and the planet”. Some companies are attempting to combat this food waste problem by taking discarded food scraps and turning them into something new. These products help ensure nothing is going to waste and are also incredibly innovative. Waju is an upcycled flavored water that takes the water from freeze-dried fruits and turns it into beverages packed with vitamins and minerals. Another company, Pulp Pantry (Nexty Best New Savory or Salty Snack Winner), takes dehydrated vegetables otherwise discarded and turns them into a salty snack. Even further there is a fish company Kvaroy that takes their salmon trimmings and upcycles them into hot dogs that actually taste and cook like a traditional hotdog. This is by no means an exhaustive list of upcycled products available on the market, but as the climate crisis continues this is a space I’d expect to see increasing innovations.
According to the Evergi consumer wellness data, 5.3% of consumers follow a plant-based diet. While this may seem niche, this is by no means a small category. Plant-based sales are driven often by the “flexitarians” or those who occasionally try to eat plant-based. That being said, this year at expo west saw quite a bit of innovation in plant-based foods. The battle to produce a plant-based cheese that behaves like traditional cheese continues to rage on. We’re also seeing more plant-based fish hitting the market ranging from salmon and tuna to scallops. Furthermore, we’re beginning to see more convenience-focused items hit the category to make plant-based eating easier and more delicious.
Plant-based cheese is not new to the consumer; the market has multiple brands producing various forms and flavors of cheese. These plant-based cheeses meet the needs of both the vegan consumer as well as the lactose-intolerant consumer. Imitating traditional cheeses’ texture and meltability continues to be a challenge, that Myokos is attempting to solve with their mozzarella substitute. The product comes in a liquid form and is meant to be cooked to achieve the melted gooey texture you'd want on a pizza. Myokos success in this area has attributed to winning them a Nexty for Best New Product Supporting a Plant-Based Lifestyle. Further innovation can be found in varying types of plant-based cheeses that were not previously available. Plant Ahead has brought forth a plant-based feta cheese that has the same texture and flavor as the traditional offering. There was also a variety of spreadable plant-based cheeses at Expo West suggesting the plant-based cheese category still has a lot of elbow room to grow.
Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and other companies have brought the plant-based meat market to the mainstream consumer but what about other protein sources? Fish is the next plant-based alternative to hit the market. While many may not see a need for plant-based fish, microplastics and rising mercury levels in fish are threatening the longevity and sustainability of the fish industry. Expo West saw multiple plant-based fish companies sampling their products. There were multiple plant-based tuna offerings available. Additionally, we saw plant-based smoked salmon from Sophies Kitchen as well as Save da Sea. We are also beginning to see more diverse options such as Nexty Winner for Best New Frozen Product The Plant-Based Sea Food Co.’s plant-based dusted scallops. The plant-based seafood category is relatively new however the potential for growth and innovation is there.
One of the things likely holding the plant-based category back is the lack of convenient options. With consumers going back to work and having less time at home, many may be opting for easy pre-made meals. Expo West saw many variations of plant-based meals that could be quickly made providing a convenient plant-based experience. Komo Plant-based Foods showcased an entire line of plant-based comfort food including lasagna “chicken” pot pie and a shepherd's pie. Big Mountain Foods won a Nexty (Best New Special Diet Food) for their Lion’s Mane Mushroom crumble that can be easily cooked and served with pasta, rice, or even just on a tortilla chip. Plant-based convenience even came in the form of a “Do Anything Sauce” available in multiple flavors like cauliflower alfredo and kale pesto. Plant-based convenience is on the rise as consumers return to normal life and have less time to worry about their health.
This was just a brief summary of some of the trends we spotted at Expo West but look forward to deeper dives on these topics and more in the coming months!
10% of Americans bought plant-based meat in the last 3 months. It's no longer a niche trend for vegans and vegetarians.
The trends of drinking smarter and drinking less alcohol are driven by consumers keeping health and wellness in mind.