Trendspotting at Expo West 2022
by Julie Zagars, Managing Director of Naturally Boulder
Every year, the new products and innovations launched at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA are a preview of what will soon appear on the shelves of your favorite grocery retailer. The emerging trends will soon become your new favorite snacks and meal staples. Read on for a glimpse into the future!
If you a follow a keto diet, or any grain-free plan, you’re about to discover a bounty of clearly-labeled new products. This is also great news for anyone who is avoiding gluten. Bubba’s Fine Foods, Purely Elizabeth, and SeedWise all featured grain-free un-granolas. Look for seed cluster snacks and glazed nut mixes, too. Chocxo, CanDo, and Hungry Buddah are ready to meet your sweets cravings with dark chocolate peanut butter cups, almond butter chocolate chip bars, and soft lemon blueberry bars. (Happily, many of these companies are moving away from an all-stevia approach and are embracing other blends of sweeteners instead.)
Many of us are actively searching for ways to reduce our sugar consumption. Smart Sweets has heard that call and answered it with their Sweet Fish, which contain 3 grams of sugar per 50 gram bag, sweetening them with sugar alcohols in a fiber-rich candy colored with fruit and vegetable juices, so you can kick sugar and keep candy. Lily’s Gummy Bears are Sweet Fruity Friends colored with concentrates of apple, blackcurrent, carrot, lemon, pumpkin, radish, and saffron. Doesn’t that sound so much better than red dye #40?
Consider this the equivalent of blending kale into your smoothie, so you can’t really taste it and yet can benefit from its nutritional boost. Simple Mills is crafting gluten-free Honey Cinnamon Sweet Thins with watermelon seed flour for a light, crispy crunch. Ka-Pop! is making gluten-free dill-pickle-flavored puffed Rings with sorghum, an ancient super grain. Mozaics Real Veggie Chips feature green peas, yellow peas, and black beans in a gluten-free cruncher. B Fine Foods offers up gluten-free Savory Simple Saba Chips, powered by the sustainable, low sugar saba banana. On the sweeter side, Eat The Change has a hit on their hands with the brand new Cosmic Carrot Chews, which are flavored carrot jerky pouches in options such as Apple Cinnamon Asteroid, Orange Mango Moonbeam, and — our favorite – Sour Cherry Berry Blast Off. Plant-based and vegan Zing bars have always gotten high marks for being created by a nutritionist; their Dark Chocolate Coconut bar is a smart balance of fiber and protein with a taste you’ll genuinely enjoy. Superfoods are also sneaking into sweet snacks with certified organic acai superfood plant-based protein bars from Acai Roots and chocolate quinoa crisps from Undercover.
Barnana has been at this game for years, cleverly transforming so-called “imperfect” bananas that would otherwise go to waste into craveable treats like their Peanut Butter Cup Dipped Banana Bites. This March, they introduced their grain-free Organic Crunchy Plantain Nuggets and Organic Plantain Crisps, both made with coconut oil and salt – and that’s it for their uncomplicated ingredient list. Uglies celebrates the extra humble spud with gluten-free, non-GMO Project Verified Kettle Chips in Sea Salt and Salt and Vinegar. The Upcycled Certified booth featured scores of brands including beverages, chips, cookies, and even cashew fruit meat from Caju Love and a squeeze pack of cauliflower and hemp seed dairy-free cheese from Grounded, all from brands striving to keep usable ingredients from going to waste just because they fall short of being picture-perfect.
With their launch a few years ago, Alter Eco deserves kudos for first introducing Organic Truffles individually wrapped in wrappers that are 100% compostable in your backyard. The cardboard for their box comes from responsible sources and is crafted with wind energy. The truffles are made with clean ingredients, without any fake sweeteners or additives, and the carbon-neutral supply chain restores forests. Oh, and those truffles are melt-in-your-mouth perfection. They’ve extended this same smart packaging to their new Keto Bombs, in flavors including the scrumptious Dark Chocolate Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Almond Butter. It’s inspiring to see other brands evaluate their packaging and find ways to improve their footprint, too: both Gimmie and Ocean’s Halo now offer roasted seaweed snacks in slim packs, without the inner plastic tray, which allows them to flatten the package and fit five packs into the space previously occupied by just one. Switching out their exterior packaging allows them to retain product integrity in a more compact, earth-friendlier package. Kickstarter darling Last Object also exhibited at Expo West, promoting their reusable alternatives to conventional cotton swabs, facial cotton rounds, and cotton tissues.
EMBRACING REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE AND CLIMATE-FRIENDLY PRACTICES
Of the 2750+ exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West, 53 brands explicitly support regenerative agriculture — that’s just under 2% of all exhibitors in this growing category. Dr. Bronner’s has branched out beyond body care to organic and Fair Trade Certified chocolate bars, working with cocoa farmers on regenerative organic agriculture and its many benefits, including biodiversity, soil fertility, and better farmer livelihoods. Each box of Airly Oat Clouds Snack Crackers removes greenhouse gasses from the air as their oats are grown on Zero CO2 Emission farms and they invest in carbon credits to offset their footprint from the production process. Moonshot Snacks makes climate-friendly organic crackers, with an eye on their supply chain: their wheat is grown only 2 miles from the mill where it becomes flour. The mill is only 85 miles away from the bakery where this flour is transformed into delicious Moonshot snacks. And their visionary farmers engage in regenerative agriculture practices including cover cropping, reducing tillage, and rotating crops. Today’s consumers are eager to learn more about how the products they’re buying are striving toward climate-friendly practices and these brands are smart to provide the education and flavors they’re craving.
SOPHISTICATED NUTS, SEEDS, and NUT-FREE SNACKS
Sure, you can still grab a handful of plain almonds or pistachios. Or you can embrace bold flavors like Unbound’s Roasted and Seasoned Walnuts in Cinnamon or Butter Toffee; Crazy Go Nuts dresses up their walnuts in Coconut and Oatmeal Cookie flavors. Octonuts Roasted Almonds are made with extra virgin olive oil and lemon while Daily Crunch offers Cacao and Sea Salt Sprout Almonds. BobbySue’s Nuts combine almonds, cashews, pecans, and olives for a non-GMO, gluten-free Mediterranean medley. The crunchy sprouted mung beans from Crunchsters in Tangy Balsamic or Beyond Bacon are both terrific allergy-friendly, plant-based toppers for your favorite avocado toast. Starseed Sacha Inchi Caramelized Seeds are organic, vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free. Tosi’s organic SuperPops combine pumpkin seeds, puffed brown rice, puffed quinoa, white sesame seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, puffed amaranth, and puffed millet into nut-free clusters that are crunchy and satisfying.
You’ll soon find new ways to incorporate mushrooms into your snacks, your supplements, your soups, and your salads! Om Mushroom Superfood has long offered a variety of ways to incorporate mushrooms into your hot cocoa, coffee, or smoothie. Their bone broths and veggie broth packets provide on-the-go convenience and their Master Blend protein powders include 10 mushroom species, three botanical adaptogens, and 21 grams of plant protein, in Creamy Vanilla and Creamy Chocolate. Plant People shared vegan and gluten-free WonderBurn and WonderDay mushroom gummies and a sugar-free Mushroom Coffee Mix for Metabolism and Focus. Kefir company Lifeway introduced three vegan organic shots with their new Mushroom Oat beverages, featuring adaptogenic cultured oat milk: Calm with Reishi Vanilla, Focus with Lion’s Mane Golden Milk, and Support with Troop Mix Wildberry. Smallhold is building a localized network of organic farms to provide more mushrooms to restaurants and grocers, focusing on Lion’s Mane, Blue Oyster, Yellow Oyster and Royal Trumpet mushrooms. Mushroom Crisps are the hot new gluten-free, non-GMO snack from Roam, as they flavor whole shiitake mushrooms with cool and zesty Ranch, in a commercially compostable package. Culture Shrooms starts with a dark roast of Guatemalan and Papua New Guinea 50/50 coffee, made with alkaline water and a dose of potassium, and infuses it with Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Turkey Tail Mushrooms to yield your favorite new cold brew, packaged in a glass bottle.
HEMP AND CBD PRODUCTS
The 2022 version of Expo West included only a small fraction of the brands we saw even just a few years ago – and that made the remaining companies and their hero products stand out all the more. Caliper’s Flavored CBD Powder dissolves right on your tongue – no beverage required! Or if you’d prefer to mix a powder into your favorite hot or cold drink, their dissolvable CBD powder mixes more smoothly and is the only clinically proven fast-acting CBD product. Weller’s line of CBD sparkling beverages now includes the new Peach Mango Sparkling Water (which could be enjoyed solo or crafted into a cocktail). Charlotte’s Web is responding to requests from medical professionals and truck drivers in launching their THC-free Mango Peach gummies with 15 mg of plant-based cannabinoids in two gummies.
ALTERNATIVES THAT DON’T FEEL LIKE SACRIFICES
Consumers with restricted diets have better-tasting options than ever before. Eclipse offered a show highlight: “ice cream” crafted from potatoes, cassava, and corn, which mimicked the flavor and mouthfeel of conventional dairy ice cream shockingly well while appealing to a dairy-free audience. Increasingly, “gluten-free” is listed as just one feature of many, rather than being the primary selling point of the product. The pastry chef-crafted, gluten-free Keto Dark Chocolate Brownie from Salvation Snack Foods is so decadent, you’ll savor it whether or not you have dietary limitations. Similarly, you won’t necessarily buy the Hail Mary Key Lime Pie Citrus Cups only because they’re Paleo-friendly, gluten-free, and dairy-free – you’ll want to devour them because they’re delicious and those other elements are bonuses!
The future of food is exciting and bright! Look for these trends, tastes, and textures to appear on the shelves of your favorite grocery retailers in the next 3 – 6 months or explore the websites of these companies to find direct-to-consumer options if you would like to sample them sooner.
Julie Zagars is the Managing Director of Naturally Boulder, the trade association for the natural and organic products community in Colorado.