From customized eating approaches to rethinking sweetness, here’s our take on the trends reflected in today’s food culture on display at this year’s Natural Products Expo West.

Spices in spoonsEvery year, we attend Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA, looking for the latest standouts in emerging foods and beverages. This year’s show, which took place March 9-11, offered granular examples of an explosively changing marketplace, perhaps not as much in terms of breakout trends but as fertile proving grounds for how today’s leading food and beverage trends are being expressed and experimented with. Reflective of today’s food culture, we continue to see that what were once progressive callouts like organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, no hormones, etc., remain “greens fee” distinctions for baseline consideration as a “natural product” in today’s marketplace.

In addition to today’s now-commonplace progressive distinctions, our analysts identified five key themes at this year’s show with particular attention to transparent production, sourcing practices and social/community missions as the “next step” in capturing consumer attention in the natural marketplace.

The five key themes identified this year are:

  • Customized eating approaches
  • Sustainability/mission
  • Good digestion
  • Inflammation busters
  • Rethinking sweetness

 SIETE grain free tortilla

Customized eating approaches. Consumers today express perspectives on eating styles and dieting that reflect acceptance of individualized health and wellness approaches. Where quick weight loss was once the stated goal, today consumers talk about sustainable changes to their eating habits in line with their individual needs and desire for lifelong wellness. Experimenting with different ways of eating speaks to consumer interest in finding the right approach for them — and even an enjoyment of eating differently for personal discovery. Allergen-free, grain-free, dairy-free, vegan, paleo and FODMAP popped at Natural Products Expo West this year.

 Annies bunny grahams Sustainability/mission. Driven by concerns over personal health and the greater good (well-being, stewardship of the earth, worker rights and animal welfare), consumers expect food and beverage companies to act with greater integrity and transparency as they innovate and drive change by example. Ethical sourcing and social missions engage consumer desire to vote with their dollars — brands with Certified B Corp, 1% for the Planet, Women Owned, Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade Certified were in high representation at Expo West. Even mainstream brands are getting involved through efforts including regenerative agriculture, renewable energy and transitional organic.

 Coconut cultGood digestion. Consumers increasingly believe that digestion and health of the microbiome is becoming symbolic of one’s overall health and wellness. This is supported by mainstreaming interest in probiotic-rich cultured and fermented foods, such as yogurt, kombucha and fermented vegetables, which contain gut-friendly “good bacteria.” Products seen at Expo that link to good digestion beliefs: The Coconut Cult Probiotic Coconut Yogurt, A2 milk from The a2 Milk Company and Farmhouse Culture’s Gut Shots.

Buddha cbd teaInflammation busters. Among consumers, awareness is growing about how inflammation can lead to health imbalances over the long term in addition to immediate discomfort that often appears as a lack of energy. Products that cue reduced inflammation, such as those containing CBD, MCT oil, adaptogens or collagen, were numerous at Expo. These ingredients underscore consumer interest in products they believe may provide inherent wellness benefits and natural energy. Products with a focus on energy were significant at the show and often overlapped with those containing inflammation-calming ingredients.

SAPRethinking sweetness. While current perspectives on wellness embrace the notion of balance (e.g., indulgences such as sugar can have a place in consumer food experiences), added or refined sugars have become symbolic of desires to avoid hyperprocessed foods. As consumers gain a more sophisticated understanding of sweetener benefits and applications, they are turning to more natural sources of sweetness, such as monk fruit, coconut palm sugar, pure maple syrup, dates or raw local honey, for their purported nutritional benefits in comparison to corn syrup and other industrial, processed sugars. Expo demonstrated that the landscape of natural and minimally processed sweeteners is getting expansive, deriving sweetness from foods consumers perceive as “real ingredients."

Natural Products Expo West remains a wonderful venue for exploring emerging food and beverage products, distinctions and ingredients expressive of progressive food culture. Products and brands seen reflect our belief that progressive health and wellness consumers continue to pave the way for such products, sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with mainstream consumers who are hungry for guidance and direction.

As shoppers, progressives are no longer thinking about condition management (lowering cholesterol or blood pressure) or dieting (low fat, low carb) but are focused on real, quality food, positive nutrition, fresh, less processed foods and beverages — and fun. Their impact will continue to influence the market, expressed as rising consumer interest in transparent production, ingredient-sourcing practices and progressive social and community corporate missions.

For more information on Hartman Retainer Services (who typically comprise our staff visiting the likes of Expo and who track dozens of food and beverage trends), click here: Hartman Retainer Services Overview