Trends and New Products from Natural Products Expo West
Posted March 22, 2022
Natural Products Expo West was terrifyingly crowded. It was a welcome sign for the food industry, but I’ll be honest, it had me worried. After two years of either no trade shows or poorly attended trade shows, being shoulder to shoulder with so many strangers from around the world gave me pause for what I was potentially catching and potentially bringing home to my family.
It must have been a similar feeling for retail buyers at the show. After years of rationalizing SKUs and limiting options on store shelves due to COVID and supply chain issues, they were now tasked with figuring out their comfort level for bringing new products to store shelves. Were consumers ready to buy new products again? Can a supermarket run a safe sampling program? How do stores introduce new products to consumers shopping online?
These were all questions every retailer must have been asking as they perused the crowded aisles of the largest natural and organic food trade show in the United States. Only time will tell how retailers answered these questions, but judging by the sheer number of attendees and exhibitors at the show, it was clear that all parties were at least willing to try to bring innovation back to store shelves.
What to expect on store shelves this year
After spending two and a half days sampling, chatting and analyzing the products being introduced at the show, it became clear that manufacturers and retailers were banking on consumers’ appetites for the following types of products.
1. Fake Chicken: It was everywhere, so much so that it seemed like the players in the plant-based meat space decided that they’ve conquered ground beef and were now ready to move onto chicken. In the last couple of years, I’ve had countless chicken alternatives, and they’ve all been pretty terrible. At this year’s show, I probably had three outstanding takes on birdless chicken.
2. Asian Cuisine: From prepared sauces to packaged upscale ramens, Asian cuisine had a moment at this year’s show. I tasted countless sauces that will find their way into my pantry, and although prepared meals aren’t my thing, I was impressed at how legitimate some of the microwaveable ramens tasted.
3. Natural Sweeteners: The whole gang was there: honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, monk fruit and the new kids on the block: erythritol and allulose. The sweetener aisle is going to get very crowded this year, but you won’t see me opting for anything other than honey. Some of the sweeteners claiming to be “natural” are derived from commercial corn and heavily manufactured to transform into a format usable in food manufacturing. No thank you.
My favorite products
What’s trending in the food industry is often not what tempts my taste buds. As I look at my food choices in 2022, I’m focused on less meat and more healthy snacks that aren’t nuts and seeds, which I love, but probably eat way too much of. Not surprisingly, my three favorite products at Natural Products Expo West aligned with my dietary goals this year.
1. 12 Tides Organic Kelp Snacks: It’s like a pork rind, but without the slaughter of pigs. Sign me up! I’ve always been a fan of seaweed snacks, but this one gave me the necessary crunch I want from a salty snack.
2. Daring Plant-Based Chicken: I’m not a vegetarian, but I have tried to only eat meat at dinner time. For lunch, I’ve found my go-to beef alternative in Gardein meatballs, and now I’ve found my chicken alternative. Daring nailed it with this fake chicken product, which bonus, also had an ingredient list that didn’t terrify me.
3. Loma Linda Tuno: One of the OGs of plant-based foods wowed me with a tuna alternative cleverly called Tuno. Disclaimer: I love a good tuna salad, and the sample I tried was a good tuna salad. It tasted great, but I’m not sure how the product will taste without the mayo and mustard. Still, at the very least, it’s a great product to make a plant-based tuna melt, which is all I need.
Natural Products Expo West’s crowded aisles brought with it a fair share of concern for me, but I’m happy to report I returned from the show healthy. Fingers crossed the show marked a true return to normal for the food industry and business travel.
CATEGORY: Brightly Creative