Donna Berry 2019PHILADELPHIA – Unnar Helgi Danielsson, founder of Thor’s Skyr, Newville, Pa., was waving attendees at Natural Products Expo East into the company’s open-format booth encouraging them to sample his company’s high-protein, low-sugar skyr. The dairy-alternative players located nearby did not deter him from emphasizing the smooth mouthfeel of real dairy, “somewhere between a soft cheese and Greek yogurt,” he said.

That consistency, along with the skyr’s nutrient dense profile — 17 to 19 grams of protein, depending on the flavor, and only 1 gram of added sugar per serving — is something not achievable in plant-based alternatives. And that’s the type of messaging exhibitors of dairy, eggs and meat communicated at the in-person gathering Sept. 22-25 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Sales across the natural and organic products industry increased this past year and there’s room for growth and innovation, for both conventional and plant-based alternatives. Sales of natural and organic foods grew three times faster than sales of conventional foods, according to the market researcher SPINS, Chicago.

Conscious consumers are placing a premium on ensuring their health and well-being, and increasingly are looking toward social responsibility and sustainability. Some shoppers are making more holistic choices by seeking maintainable diets featuring whole, minimally processed foods to construct a strategy that works for their health goals. This demand is driving nutrition-focused innovation.

The world’s most pressing problems revolve around the earth and people, said Nick McCoy, managing partner, Whipstitch Capital, Framingham, Mass. This is fueling growth of plant-based products. While consumers initially sought plant-based foods for their health benefit, the positive impacts to the environment are undeniable, he said.

Dairy, egg and meat marketers have taken note, and are not sitting by the wayside during the plant-based revolution. In the meat category, SPINS data show that for the 52-week period ended Aug. 8, 2021, animal welfare claims were up 7.5%, organic ingredients up 2.3%, non-GMO up 10.3%, grass fed up 7.4% and pasture raised up 4.3%. In dairy, animal welfare claims were up 3.3%, followed by fair trade labeling (+2.2%) and non-GMO (+0.5%).

Egg producers are active in the claim space, too. Utopihen Farms, for example, is a new brand of eggs from the fourth-generation Weaver family farm, New Holland, Pa. The various eggs speak to consumer concerns around value, quality and allergies, such as organic, pasture-raised and soy free. Pasture-raised is a term defined by Humane Farm Animal Care, the organization behind the Certified Humane mark featured on Utopihen Farms’ egg cartons. The standards require the birds have daily access to pasture for at least six hours and they must have enough space to spread their wings. The brand currently works with 24 family farms in the area around the company’s headquarters in Pennsylvania, which is why the eggs are first rolling out in the eastern US. Plans are to expand into the Midwest later this year and eventually to the West Coast.