ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Mushrooms, chickpeas and dates were among ingredients featured in an array of innovation at Natural Products Expo West. Brands exhibiting at the event, held March 8-12 in Anaheim, highlighted new applications spanning a range of product categories.

“Expo West is all about innovation,” said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president and market leader at Informa Markets’ New Hope Network, which produces the Natural Products Expo tradeshows. “We’re seeing unique ingredients, new formats and formulations… helping consumers meet very specific health and wellness needs.”

Sales of natural, organic and functional food and beverage products in the United States are on pace to surpass $220 billion by 2024. That’s up from $100 billion 10 years ago, Ms. Mast said during a presentation at the event.

“Natural and organic and functional food and beverages … now make up 25% of total food and beverage sales, so it’s still small compared to conventional food and beverage, but it’s growing once again at a much higher rate,” she added.

Citing Nutrition Business Journal estimates, she said natural, organic and functional food and beverage sales grew 7.2% to $187 billion last year, on top of 9% growth in 2020. Organic food and beverage sales increased 6% to $50.7 billion, and functional food and beverage sales advanced 8.3% to $84 billion, Ms. Mast said.

“The pursuit of wellness really is driving this industry,” she said. “Consumers have changed. They’re paying more attention to their health and wellness. They’re investigating new brands. They’re cooking more at home. And this is creating more longer-term opportunity for this industry.”

Trending at Expo West were mushrooms in many forms. Brands showcased snacks such as crisps and jerky made with shiitake, king oyster and portobello mushrooms. Functional fungi such as reishi, lion’s mane and chaga appeared in numerous beverage formulations, from ready-to-drink tonics to coffee and tea blends promoting such benefits as brain health, calming effects and more. Mushrooms also add a savory flavor and meaty texture to meals on display.

Chickpeas were used in a variety of snacks and pantry staples spotted at the show. The versatile bean is the base of plant-based yogurt and frozen desserts. Spreads and condiments on display included allergen-free alternatives to mayonnaise, tzatziki and peanut butter. Chickpeas also replaced grains in comfort foods such as pasta, pizza and cookie dough. New at Expo West was Chickease, a brand of cooked snackable chickpeas in grab-and-go pouches with flavors including classic, barbecue and Tex Mex.

Dates are used as a nutritious sweetener in several new applications including chocolate, protein bars, frozen desserts and pudding. Good Food For Good offered a line of organic ketchup and barbecue sauces sweetened with dates. Rollin’ n Bowlin’ presented snack packs of pitted dates featuring a peanut butter or almond butter filling. Joolies debuted diced dates coated in chocolate. Several brands also showed bottled date syrup.

Other exhibitors featured kelp as a key ingredient, which may play a role in sustainably nourishing the growing global population. The zero-input crop requires no freshwater, fertilizer or dry land to grow, and it filters carbon and nitrogen from the water. Additionally, kelp contains vitamins and minerals including zinc, calcium, folate, potassium and iron. At Expo West, 12 Tides introduced its range of puffed kelp chips, and Ocean’s Balance showed sea greens in an assortment of sauces and seasonings. Atlantic Sea Farms markets thaw-and-eat kelp, pureed kelp cubes and fermented seaweed. Kelpie Chips are fried and seasoned seaweed snacks in flavors including apple cinnamon, pizza and chipotle.

Jackfruit, a large Southeast Asian tree fruit, is the main ingredient in Jack & Annie’s, a brand of frozen and refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives. Upton’s Naturals offers shredded and seasoned jackfruit as a stand-in for pork or chicken in tacos, salads and sandwiches. Amazi Foods produces dried jackfruit chews that “taste like grown-up fruit rollups,” according to the company. Seril’s Chakka Chips are crunchy and cooked in coconut oil, reminiscent of its Indian founder’s favorite childhood snack.

Another emerging ingredient spotted at Expo West is sacha inchi, a seed native to certain parts of South America and the Caribbean, which appeared in an organic meat substitute, crunchy puffed snacks and cooking oil. Starseed launched a line of single-serve packets of sacha inchi butter positioned as a performance nutrition product for endurance athletes. Sacha inchi protein also may be found in the formulations for Mid-Day Squares'  functional chocolate products.