Takeaways From Natural Products Expo East

Posted October 19, 2022 by Alyssa Stahr

I love good takeout just as much as the next person, and now that I’ve had some time to reflect on Natural Products Expo East, I may have more questions than predictions about the future of the natural food and beverage industry.

My time in Philadelphia started with the Thursday morning keynote: The State of Natural and Organic. Resiliency was the theme for the natural products industry, which has risen above COVID and is outpacing growth of all products, according to speaker Kathryn Peters from SPINS. Natural product shoppers buy online at nearly two times the rate of all shoppers, but a record percentage climb of inflation and an industry left with questions as to how to define itself was reflected on the show floor in a number of ways. 

Peters asked, “How can we meet unique needs?” Consumers are shifting from “take the bad out” to “put the good in,” and they’re focused on food and beverages that make them feel good and food as medicine. That was evident in the number of functional beverages that were marketed toward mood. Can Headspace Coffee’s Good Mood Brew with lion’s mane and ashwagandha really make a difference in our morning happiness?

Does Happy Being’s immune boosting and gut healthy beverage qualify as something that “just might be the world’s healthiest drink?” I saw more beverages in Philadelphia than in recent memory, and it will be interesting to see who can translate best from the booth to a winner on store shelves with consumers.

Another question raised in the keynote: “Are manufacturers really answering the call of consumers?” The majority of Americans aren’t adhering to a diet with a dedicated label, according to Nick McCoy from Whipstitch Capital, yet I saw a ton of keto-friendly products vying for distribution. Is there a disconnect there? We’re looking at labels and individual ingredients more than ever before, but as far as marketing toward a certain diet, I’m not convinced the two are connecting. 

The keynote’s predictions for 2030 and beyond did mirror what I saw at Natural Product Expo East in a number of ways, however. The U.S. population is becoming more diverse, and multiracial households will accelerate food trends further. There was a definite shift to a focus on diversity, ethnically-inspired plant-based food and a more diverse business owner showing at the booths. 

Economic forces and the trend toward greater self-awareness are also fueling buying habits that support positive mental health. The focus on not just the physical aspect of what we’re eating and drinking but the mental aspect was a huge theme throughout the show.

Stress and anxiety/depression were the No. 1 (41%) and No. 2 (37%), experiential conditions regularly experienced by consumers, according to the Nutrition Business Journal Consumer Survey, powered by the Suzy survey platform collected the week of June 10, 2022. Nearly half of U.S. consumers said they plan to eat healthier, and an astounding 86% said they look at the nutritional label when purchasing. Whether what they’re saying and what they’re actually purchasing is yet to be seen, but if anything’s clear by what I saw at Natural Products Expo East, an industry that is struggling to define itself is leading to innovation like we’ve never seen in 2023.

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