ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Mushrooms, mocktails and mochi were abundant among new products highlighted at Natural Products Expo West. More than 65,000 registered attendees gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center March 7-11 for a taste of the latest innovations from 3,000 exhibiting companies, including nearly 900 first-timers.
Ahead of the event, a team of trend forecasters assembled by Informa Markets’ New Hope Network identified the themes gaining traction across the natural, organic and functional foods marketplace, largely centering on environmental sustainability, supply chain transparency and holistic health and wellness.
“It’s always tempting to zero in on the year’s hottest innovations or the latest go-to ingredients, but it’s important to recognize that these trends are reflections and manifestations of the much broader cultural forces that are truly driving today’s natural products industry,” said Jessica Rubino, vice president of content at New Hope Network, which produces the Natural Products Expos. “These big-picture trends exist on a continuum, and Natural Products Expo West offers a front-row seat to observe their evolution.”
Many brands exhibiting at Expo West presented functional beverages positioned to deliver benefits ranging from hydration, energy, relaxation and more. Several formulations incorporate L-theanine, an amino acid in green tea, as well as herbs and mushrooms linked to stress reduction. Hiyo, billed as a “social tonic,” is a sparkling seltzer blending ashwagandha, L-theanine, lion’s mane, cordyceps, ginger and turmeric. Rambler energy drinks are caffeinated with yaupon, a native North American plant recently named by Whole Foods Market as a trending ingredient. The BAD Tea Co., Los Angeles, shared its “extra-caffeinated” ready-to-drink teas with L-theanine. Tapping into consumer demand for energy, several snack bar brands include caffeine in recipes for an extra boost.
Alcohol-free elixirs and zero-proof canned cocktails feature complex flavor profiles, sophisticated packaging and, in some cases, cannabis or adaptogens to provide a boozeless buzz. Debuting at the show, Medase is a brand of hemp-infused mocktails sweetened with organic agave. Flavors include Moscow mule and margarita. Three Spirit Drinks offers a collection of “mood making” alcohol alternatives made with functional additions such as lion’s mane, Melon Hüll hops, schisandra, lemon balm, valerian and damiana.
Mocktail Club, described as “premium non-alcohol cocktails” inspired by founder Pauline Idogho’s travels, has apple cider vinegar, tea and a touch of agave. Varieties include Manhattan Berry, Capri Spritz, Bombay Fire and Havana Twist. Mixoloshe is a line of low-calorie canned drinks offering modern spins on speakeasy staples like old-fashioned and gin and tonic.
Numerous beverages and snacks spotted at the show are formulated to support digestive wellness. Sunsweet Growers, Yuba City, Calif., unveiled an elevated take on prune juice. Soft drinks such as Mayawell, wildwonder and poppi are among beverages positioned as good for the gut, touting such as ingredients as agave inulin, chicory root fiber, Jerusalem artichoke and apple cider vinegar, while the new Mighty Pop brand claims to contain prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
Los Angeles-based startup Supergut displayed its line of nutrition shakes and bars formulated with a proprietary resistant starch fiber blend that has been linked to boosting metabolic health, regulating digestion, improving mood and more, according to the company. Also exhibiting were BelliWelli, a brand of soft-baked nutrition bars developed for the millions of Americans suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and other gut health issues; Rowdy, a brand of protein bars with prebiotic fiber; and Core Foods, a maker of refrigerated bars containing prebiotic starch and probiotic cultures.
Gut Nuts, a brand of fermented almonds, is positioned as a “postbiotic snack.”
Additional applications included canned kombucha geared toward children, cultured cream cheese and gluten-free crackers based on green banana flour, which is rich in prebiotic resistant starch.
A handful of brands at Expo West introduced new candy products including low- or no-sugar claims and plant-based formulas. Katje’s, a German brand, and Healthy Hippo, based in Canada, are expanding into the United States with gelatin-free gummies (the latter uses monk fruit as its sole sweetener). Sweet Haven sampled its assortment of plant-based confections, including chewy fruit candy and filled chocolate truffles. The maker of Simply Gum unveiled a line of soft gummies in flavors including sour apple cherry and peach raspberry. Better Sour, a new gummy candy brand featuring globally-inspired sour flavors, also debuted.
Other new candy brands seen at the show include Oomph, Suckerz, TidBits and Joyride. Bon AppéSweet highlighted its date-sweetened chocolate bars, and Wild West unveiled its line of dark chocolate sweetened with an organic blend of powdered date, mulberry, peach and mango.
Another prominent theme in product development is global flavors. Japanese miso barbecue sauce, Filipino banana ketchup and Indian street food-inspired dips are among condiments created by Asian American founders seeking to increase representation on grocery store shelves.
Several startups showed various spins on chili crisp, an infused chili oil with crunchy bits. Asian-inspired applications also included mochi, dumplings, ramen and bubble tea in convenient forms. Multiple brands including Copper Cow Coffee, Nguyen Coffee Supply and Sang launched Vietnamese coffee in ground, pour-over or ready-to-drink formats.
Flavors such as ube, matcha, red bean and black sesame appeared in a number of products, from oatmeal to ice cream. Sanzo, the sparkling water brand featuring Asian-inspired flavors, expanded its lineup with the addition of pomelo, a citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia.
Fun meets functional
Emerging brands are reimagining millennial childhood staples, often with attributes such as higher protein, lower sugar and no artificial flavors or colors. New twists on Lunchables, Uncrustables, Cheez-It and Oreo were seen at the show. The Froot Thief, with its “real fruit whips,” offers a no-added-sugar alternative to classic fruit-flavored snacks. Magic Spoon, the maker of grain-free, low-sugar breakfast cereal, sampled its range of offerings inspired by “the flavors and nostalgia of Saturday morning cartoons.”
Kiddiwinks markets a line of canned plant-based milk made with chickpeas, oats and chicory root. Available in chocolate and vanilla flavors, the products are described as “a twist on a childhood classic minus the cow and sugar overload.”
SuperFat, a brand of keto-friendly spreads and snacks, revealed the latest addition to its portfolio, a boxed macaroni and cheese made with gluten-free lupini bean pasta that is high in fiber and protein, according to the company.
Functional meets fungal
Mushrooms in many forms were seen at the show, masquerading as meat in jerky products promoted by Pan’s and Moku as well as cutlets and steaks served by Meati. Shroom Junkie, a new milk alternative, is made with pea protein fermented by shiitake mushroom mycelia.
Fun-Gal Snacks is the maker of Popadelics, a line of crunchy shiitake caps that are vacuum fried and seasoned with flavors including truffle Parmesan and Thai chili.
Coffee and tea on display at the show are made with medicinal mushroom extracts promising to improve focus and immunity.