We were at the Natural Products Expo East show in Baltimore, MD a few weeks ago where over 1,500 brands were on showcase for more than 29,000 attendees. It’s amazing to see how the show grows each year! The food trends we see at Expo East usually echo a lot of the trends we see at Expo West. (In case you missed our video from this spring, watch it here: Top Trends at Expo West.)
Before we get into our top trends, let’s talk about the amazing growth the natural food category is experiencing. Natural foods is booming! Combined U.S. sales of natural, organic and functional foods and beverages increased 6.5% to $143 billion in 2017 according to New Hope Media while the food industry as a whole only grew about 1.1%. (Source: OTA 2018 Industry Survey)
Not only is the natural food category growing, it’s setting the standard for how food is grown and made. Certified organic, Fair Trade, clean label, sustainable seafood, regenerative agriculture and more are all movements and missions that have ignited the wave of change we’re starting to see throughout the entire food industry.
But we’re not just seeing environmental and socially responsible trends start in natural foods. We’re also seeing more flavor and packaging innovation come from this highly entrepreneurial sector. The amazing innovation from these small business owners is why we always make sure to attend Expo East – to see the trends and meet some of the new companies and concepts that will, no doubt, be household names in a few years.
Here are the top food trends we saw at Expo East 2018:
Vegetables and mushrooms continue to be big at the show. Four Sigmatic, which already has somewhat of a cult following, showed one of many innovative ways to enjoy the health benefits of mushrooms, in fall-favorite latte mixes! And Cece’s Veggie Company’s veggie meals, which launched at Expo East, are showing how vegetables can have a center-of-the-plate focus. As consumers look to eat more plants and fewer animal products, we expect vegetables will continue to be a trending item at future shows.
2. Fat is Back
Fat is showing up in new and exciting ways. Our Expo West Trends Video from last March highlighted alternative fats being used in snacks but now we’re even seeing it called out in other items such as Love Good Fats’ snack bars. It’s a great time to capitalize on the great flavor, function and health benefits certain fats can provide.
3. Plant-Based Protein
While vegan and vegetarian eaters may comprise a small segment of the population – only 6% of the population identify themselves as vegetarians and 3% as vegans (source: Gallop) – the plant-based food offerings available at retail have doubled between 2009 and 2013 (source: Mintel). And the momentum appears to continue as we saw even more plant-based offerings at Expo East this year. Be sure to watch out for Alpha Foods’ burritos and pot pies. They were a hit at the show!
4. Snack Food Evolution
The snack food category shows no sign of slowing down. Organic snacks were up 9% in 2017 according to IRI. Alternative options such as dried fruit and nuts show a lot of growth and a myriad of available flavor combinations are creating options for every taste bud out there. Chili-based flavors seemed to be the most popular this year along with combining savory and sweet. The most interesting snack we saw at the show was Taali’s Water Lily Pops, a popped lotus seed snack that’s popular in India. We are betting it could easily replace your popcorn addiction. (Try them!)
5. The Beverage Boom Continues
Beverages continue to boom in the natural foods sector. Organic beverage sales rose 10.5% ($5.9 billion) according to the OTA and fresh juice has been the primary driver. Kombucha and flavored waters continue to be strong as well and we saw numerous examples of them at the show. However, the most unique new beverage at Expo East, we think, was Treo Birch Water. Birch water is a low-calorie drink (only 10 calories per serving!) with a slightly sweet taste and a natural source of minerals.
6. A Ready-to-Eat Revolution in Frozen
The frozen foods aisle has been needing some disruption for a while and new and old companies are answering the call. A product that caught our attention at Expo East was Wildscape, a division of Nestle. They’re introducing a completely new concept to the frozen foods section. Their ready-to-eat containers look like they came from your favorite take-out place, not the frozen food aisle! And, what’s inside is even more exciting; on-trend ingredients and flavors such as cauliflower and chickpeas, freekah, Peri Peri, turmeric and more.
7. Ethnic Flavors Excite
Ethnic flavors are showing up in all food categories, especially snack foods and ready-to-eat products. Innova Market Insights notes there’s been a 20% increase in food and beverages launched with global flavors from 2013-2017. We loved the genius idea behind Haven’s Kitchen Sauces, fresh ingredients, ethnic-inspired flavors an innovative packaging that reduces waste. BOOM! We can’t wait to see how this company grows in the coming years.
8. Food is Medicine
Ancient ingredients, especially those used in Ayurvedic medicine, continue to gain popularity in many functional and everyday foods. Turmeric has been going strong for a few years and still had a good presence at the show. Ginger is another ingredient that has become well established. However, an emerging ingredient to watch is ashwagandha, a root plant that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to help the body cope with stress. According to Nielsen, ashwagandha, while still a niche ingredient, had triple-digit growth in 2017.