What We Saw at the Natural Products Expo East

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by Clark Driftmier

This past week we attended the Natural Products Expo East, held each Fall in Baltimore. Amid the crab cakes, the shimmering waters of the Baltimore Inner Harbor and the Tall Ships, Expo East provided ample evidence of the growth and dynamism of natural, organic and clean-label products. A compressed blog post cannot do justice to this burgeoning show and its 1,500 exhibitors and 30,000 attendees, but below are 13 trends and observations about Expo East and some of its key trends and products.

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1.       The “Snackification” of Expo

·       More than ever, new products at Expo mean new snacks. The explosion of natural, organic and clean-label snacks extends to every type of ingredient and formula, packed in a wide range of convenient snackable formats. These introductions mirror the increasing snacking in the American diet as well as the ongoing evolution toward multi-occasion food consumption each day in a variety of forms and flavors.

2.       Rising Ingredients – Chickpeas; Nuts; Quinoa

·       Chickpea-based products were everywhere at Expo in a myriad of permutations. There were also multiple brands made with nuts combined with various blends, spices, flavors and coatings. Quinoa is also exploding in popularity, driven by its healthful properties and protein, but also by the significant increase in supply from North America farms, expanding supply beyond quinoa’s traditional home in South America.

3.       Bringing Up Baby

·       Millennials have moved into both prime parenting years as well as prime business & entrepreneurial years. This confluence of family and professional growth is leading to a spike in new and innovative baby and toddler products, from foods to clothing to diapers to baby-centric supplements to personal care products.

4.       ‘Til the Cows Come Home

·       Organic and non-hormone dairy continues to expand, not only with established leaders such as Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, but also with a new herd of small-scale start-up dairy brands. These smaller artisan or “craft” brands have introduced new products in all of the major dairy categories such as milk, yogurt, cheese and frozen desserts. Many of these brands focus on “grass fed” as a key product attribute and differentiator.

5.       New Proteins on the Block

·       The continued consumer interest in proteins in all forms has helped to spur new forms of proteins, including mushroom-based proteins, new sources of plant-based proteins and derivative items such as protein powders made from bone broth.

6.       Protein Product Transformations – From Powders to Drinks & Drinks to Powders

·       Speaking of protein, several protein powder brands have extended their products into shelf-stable drinks, while at the same time other protein drink brands have expanded into powders. Protein is expanding from here to there, from there to here, and everywhere in between.

7.       Charcoal Makes its Mark

·       Natural-style charcoal products are expanding in well-known formats (e.g. briquets for barbecue), in newer ways such as for purifiers for personal water systems to filter out contaminants and toxins, and in really new ways including as an ingredient in toothpaste.

8.       Chunks of Pink Rock

·       Himalayan Pink Salt is now found throughout the store (and on the Expo show floor), including as an ingredient in foods, as a branded retail product in the spice aisle, as a personal care product in the supplements section and as a bulk product sold by commodity suppliers.

9.       New Products for New Personal Appearance Trends

·       The popularity of tattoos has created a new specialty market in skin care items specifically for tattooed skin, while the popularity of beards and hirsute fashion has led to growth in beard and facial hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners, gels and creams.

10.   Keeping it Young

·       The strong desire to maintain youth and vitality continues to fuel new product introductions. We noticed 4 sub-sets of “stay young” products: 1) Brain health products to retain & improve memory & brain function; 2) Joint health products to aid mobility and reduce the effects of inflammation; 3) Skin health products to retain skin suppleness and clarity; and 4) “Calming” type products to reduce stress, improve sleep and improve mental well-being.

11.   Regenerative Products – For Me; For the Earth.

·       “Regenerative” is a growing term for natural products, both for the Self (“helping me regenerate my health, vitality, diet, alertness, nutrition”), also for the Earth (“I want to support products that nurture the earth and replenish resources”).

12.   “Quiet” Branding – Names, Imagery, Colors, etc that are Simple, Personal, Minimal

·       Amid the “loud & proud” branding of many natural products, which shout the benefits and reasons to buy, other products have intentionally developed quiet themes, simple names, muted colors, minimal graphics and a sensibility of quietly talking - not shouting - to consumers. Sometimes a quiet truth speaks louder than a bullhorn.

13.   A bundle of Reusable Grocery Bags.

·       The passage of “no disposable bag” laws in hundreds of municipalities, along with the desire of consumers to end the dumping of used bags into the environment, has helped to create a growing category of reusable shopping bags, which stores buy for their customers and which consumers purchase directly. There is also a growing promotional market for branded logo bags, which brands buy to hand out at sampling events, 10K and marathon races, music concerts and such. We are all converting from “disposable bag” people to “sturdy reusable bag” people.