From CBD to Zero-Calorie Sweeteners, the 2019 Expo West saw New Food Brands Disrupting with Products that Promote Wellness

EXPO West
EXPO West
Expo West

From probiotic beverages to cauliflower carb substitutes, the number of disruptive food brands jockeying for attention at the annual Natural Products Expo West is only increasing year after year. For the 2019 event, more venues were added to the convention space to accommodate the
huge uptick in eager exhibitors. This year we saw some trends that were very predictable as well as others that are taking the food industry by surprise.

The real question about many of the trends we saw is which ones will take hold and appeal to emerging consumer desires and tastes.

The Expected:

  • CBD: If there were a word to summarize the entire convention, CBD would be it. Despite uncertainty about regulations and labeling requirements, CBD products were everywhere across food categories, ranging from protein bars to alkaline waters to sodas. While there is certainly buzz around cannabis and the CBD market, their longevity as a viable industry remains to be seen—and we have yet to realize if CBD is just another food fad, or if it really is positioned to play a big role on future grocery shelves. Some reports are predicting the CBD market to reach $22 billion by 2022, actually outpacing the cannabis market. But there is still risk—are companies and brands getting too ahead of themselves before all regulatory clearance is said and done?
  • Plant-Based Foods: The prevalence of plant-based alternatives to animal products continues to rise and engage a widespread audience. In particular, consumer brands launching dairy-free alternatives, such as ice cream and plant-based milks, were ubiquitous at this year’s Expo West. While ice cream is fairly easy to make delicious without dairy, as brands like Coolhaus and Halo Top have demonstrated, tasty innovations for milk alternatives are still emerging. Oat Milk is for sure the most prominent, tasty and a fan-favorite. Several different brands made a play in this space at Expo West, with oatmeal powerhouse Quaker demoing their new offering alongside more niche competitors like Elmhurst, which is broadly focused on the plant-based milk space, and European transplant Oatly, which exclusively offers oat milk. While plant-based diary is certainly popular, plant-based meat alternatives are also continuing to gain prominence, with Beyond Meat, Impossible Burgers and others. These stands drew sizable crowds at this year’s event, marking the significant mainstream adoption of these products that were, once upon a time, seen as a niche market offering. With the continued growth of the market, and widespread expansion of products, it appears that plant-based foods are here to stay. We believe this market will continue to grow in size and demand in coming years.
  • Continued Growth in Non-Soda Beverages. From nitro brews to kombucha to sparkling water flavored with natural ingredients, the trend towards tasty but healthy soda alternatives is only becoming increasingly significant. Spindrift attracted significant attention at this year’s show, illustrating that products emphasizing natural ingredients have tremendous appeal. The question is with so many brands trying to fill this niche, who will come out on top? Moreover, will natural, highly health-focused products that aren’t quite as tasty (e.g., kombucha) have any long-term staying power?

The Unexpected:

  • Limited Keto: Despite being one of the biggest diet trends of 2018, few brands were emphasizing Ketogenic products at this year’s Expo West. While protein-heavy and low-carb offerings were as prevalent as ever, products specifically labeling themselves as Keto were few and far between. Looking forward to the remainder of 2019, it will be interesting to see if this lack of Keto at one of the industry’s largest events forecasted the death of 2018’s buzziest diet.
  • Reduced/Zero Sugar: After years of skepticism in the “zero-calorie sweetener” market, reduced and zero-sugar products are making an unexpected resurgence for 2019. Many brands are opting for stevia and monk fruit as a substitute, and promoting the sweeteners on their labels and within their messaging, providing significantly more visibility for the ingredients than ever before. While artificial sweeteners have long been out of favor, consumers are becoming more aware of the distinction between natural and artificial alternatives, and as a result, are adopting natural sugars as the new healthy preference.

As the dust settles around Expo West 2019, it remains to be seen which of these emerging companies will cut through the noise and become viable long-term brands. As usual, there is always the question of which trends will truly impact the market. We know that some will fundamentally change the way we eat, and that others will fade quickly.

While the number one driver that makes or breaks a food trend typically comes down to the answer of one single question, “Does it taste good?” – all of these trends mark a significant movement towards wellness. From CBD to non-dairy to less sugar—these products are all prioritizing more than just taste—they’re assessing the way food makes us feel after we eat it. The main question we’re asking after this year’s conference centers around just that—is the “feeling” food leaves us with becoming just as important as taste? 

We’ve seen this “feeling” trend come to life for two of our clients, both of which were at Expo West—Thrive Algae Oil and Brainiac Kids Whole Milk Yogurt. Not only do they deliver on delicious taste, they also provide unique health benefits that leave you feeling better– from the highest level of good fats of any oil for Thrive to the key nutrients needed for kids’ brain development in the case of Brainiac Kids.