ANAHEIM, Calif. — Beet burgers. Mushroom burgers. Anything-but-meat burgers. Keto ice cream. Superfoods. CBD-infused water, beverages, and health and beauty products. Food and drinks to promote gut health.
These were just a few of the products and trends on display at the 39th annual Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event.
Approximately 86,000 members of the natural products industry gathered in Southern California to view products from more than 3,600 exhibitors, including 600 first-time exhibitors of goods designed for natural grocers, supermarkets, gourmet shops and even convenience stores.
No doubt many of the people at Expo West 2019 were true believers, working to drive positive change in the consumer product goods industry. Despite the Woodstock aura throughout the sprawling Anaheim Convention Center, though, buyers and sellers were definitely here to do business for their mutual gain.
“Every year at Expo West, we foster the connection between emerging brands that are impacting the landscape and industry pioneers who have paved the way for decades,” said Lacey Gautier, group show director for New Hope Network, the event’s organizer.
“This event highlights the importance of community engagement and the role everyone plays to create a more sustainable packaged goods industry,” Gautier continued. “With so much to celebrate in organic agriculture and ethical business practices, you can feel the energy throughout the campus.”
While CBD and hemp-based emerging products drew a lot of attention, there were plenty of mainstream natural and organic products on display, too — from plant-based protein to organic snacks to functional beverages to other products boasting alternative and innovative ingredients.
Focus on Snacks
On the snacks front, Expo West featured lots of companies showing off products made with organic, clean-label ingredients that are currently being sold in grocery stores, but are also likely to find their way onto convenience store shelves.
RW Garcia, a family-owned better-for-you snack brand is excited about its national launch of organic corn chips. Its USDA-certified organic and non-GMO alternative corn chips are packed with flavor and crunch, according to Vice President of Marketing Genelle Chetcuti.
The 8.25-ounce bags come in four varieties: Organic Yellow, Organic Blue, Bar-B-Q and Organic Chili Cheese. They are currently stocked at such supermarket chains as H-E-B, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Harris Teeter, Randalls and Vons.
“Innovation is in our DNA, from when we launched our first organic tortilla chips in 1982 before better-for-you snacking was really a thing, to when we become the first snack company to receive Non-GMO Project verification,” said Chetcuti.
Snack food company Made Good used Expo West to introduce two new varieties of organic crispy squares (Caramel and Strawberry), a sweet and salty granola bar, and Good To Go keto-friendly, high-fiber snack bars made with almond flour, available in four varieties.
KIND, a familiar convenience store brand in the bars category, displayed several new items that extend the brand’s wholesome image into new areas. Jon Lesser, vice president of marketing, pointed to several items that will be ready for retail launch in May or June of this year.
KIND Simple Crunch — available in Oats & Honey, Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate & Oats — features 100 percent whole-grain oats as its No. 1 ingredient, one of only seven ingredients total. Also set to be unveiled this spring are KIND Breakfast Bars with probiotics. Made with five grains, these bars are gluten free and enhance the company’s growing breakfast platform.
“One-third of consumers are interested in gut and digestive aids,” noted Lesser.
Another familiar c-store brand in the bars category, Clif Bar debuted gluten- and dairy-free Whole Lotta Bars at Expo West. Each bar features 10 grams of plant-based protein and no sugar added. They come in Salted Dark Chocolate, Spiced Almond Ginger and Roasted Peanut Chocolate varieties.
Other products being spotlighted by Clif Bar were its Sweet & Salty Energy Bars, with a new Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt variety; non-GMO Luna nutrition bars; and Energy Granola in Cinnamon Almond and Blueberry Crunch varieties.
Also on the expo floor, Conagra Brands displayed its wide-ranging portfolio of natural and better-for-you brands, including Duke’s meat snacks, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop ready-to-eat popcorn, Udi’s gluten-free sweet potato crust pizza, Glutino gluten-free foods and Gardein meatless products.
Conagra Brands’ innovations showcased at Expo West 2019 included:
Gardein: Breakfast Saus'age, Breakfast Bowls, Sliced Italian Saus'age, Alternative Protein Nuggets and Wings, Skillet Meals
Glutino: Super Stuffed Cookies, Covered Pretzels, Pretzel Sticks, Pretzel Twists
“We are showing more new products than we traditionally do as we’ve made a commitment to have a bigger innovation pipeline and bring more things to market faster than in previous years,” company spokesperson Burke Raine told Convenience Store News.
Another large company, General Mills, also had a slate of new product launches from its varied natural brands, such as Annie’s, Epic Provisions, Cascadian Farm, Larabar and Muir Glen.
Cascadian Farm launched its first new boxed cereal in two years. Honey Vanilla Crunch is a gluten-free dry cereal made with sweet potatoes and chickpeas.
Cascadian Farm is one of General Mills’ first natural and organic brands, according to Molly Wulff, who added that the brand is also introducing fruit-infused nutrition bars made with such ingredients as sweet potatoes, beets, blueberries, carrots and apples.
Focus on Beverages
In the beverages arena, Essentia Water discussed the findings of a clinical study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that showed its water provides more effective rehydration than other leading bottled waters.
“These scientific findings reinforce feedback we’ve heard for several years from doctors, athletes and all kinds of overachievers aiming to be at the top of their game,” said CEO Ken Uptain.
Essentia Water is now in its third year in the convenience channel. Uptain and Chief Strategy Officer Neil Kimberly reported that the ionized bottled water continues to gain share in the growing premium water category.
“Retailers understand that premium water is driving growth in their beverage category,” noted Kimberly.
Not surprising, kombucha drinks were all over the Expo West show floor. California-based Revive was showing new shelf-stable sparkling kombucha in 12-ounce cans.
“We see opportunities to grow this business as traditional carbonated soft drinks decline,” said CEO Sean J. Lovett. Previously, the company produced 12-ounce refrigerated glass bottles, but Lovett feels the new cans open up opportunities for growth. The canned line boasts lower sugar and calories, and comes in four varieties: Cherry Hibiscus, Citrus Ginger, Mango Orange and Strawberry Lemon.
Plant-based beverages also were a big trend at this year’s event. Califia Farms launched Ubermilk, a nutritious line of oat milk beverages billed as a good source of protein and other essential nutrients. Available in spring 2019 in three varieties — Unsweetened, Unsweetened Vanilla and Chocolate — Ubermilk has 8 grams of plant-based protein per serving.
Califia Farms will also roll out refreshed Nitro Draft Latte packaging with a new twistable, resealable cap in May of this year, according to Senior Communications Manager Lauren Castillon. Nitro Draft Latte Cold Brews are available in three varieties — Latte, Mocha and New Orleans. In addition, a new Oat Barista Blend launched last month, and an Unsweetened Oatmilk launch is planned for April.
According to the company, alternative milk has seen 52 percent growth since 2013. While almond milk is leading the category, sales of “other” non-dairy milks have soared by 515 percent and are forecasted to nearly double in size over the next five years.
The popularity of oat milk was also evident at Nestle’s Natural Bliss booth where the brand was debuting Natural Bliss Oat Milk, made with real oat milk, cane sugar and natural vanilla flavor.
Another new plant-based offering from the brand is Natural Bliss Half & Half, made with half almond milk and half coconut cream. The brand also has a new dairy-based offering, Natural Bliss Toasted Coconut, made with real milk and extracts of real coconut.
Spokesperson Ana Defendini noted the potential of these products in the convenience channel.
Natural Products Expo West took place March 5-9 at the Anaheim Convention Center.