What are the major trends shaping the natural and organic products industry today? The Food Institute checked in with industry analysts on the floor at Expo East 2023 to glean the top trends and takeaways from the show.
“Functional foods and beverages dominated many aisles to help consumers achieve balance in their diets in a time-starved world,” said Andrew Fleming, SVP of Natural Channel at sales and marketing agency Acosta.
The beverage category specifically offered a wide variety of new products with functional benefits, “especially for digestive health and sports nutrition,” along with unique coffees and teas, “many with additional benefits promoting hydration, energy, or focus,” said Shannon Weis, Lead Consultant, Insights Account Manager at retail data science company 84.51°.
“Functional beverages continue to be a high area of growth,” added Scott Dicker, Director of Market Insights at data technology company SPINS. “Seeing the rise of non-energy functional beverages continues to showcase demand for a new generation of consumers who tend to be drinking less alcohol but still enjoy social, special drinks.”
Standout functional beverages include Centr, which uses branded ingredients to address a variety of non-energy health focuses, and Super Nirvana, a water made with hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), a naturally occurring chemical that may promote muscle growth. “HMB is an ingredient that I think has a ton of potential to gain mainstream attention in an aging population,” Dicker said.
On the food side, functional mushrooms and apoptogenic herbs led the way. “Both of these functional ingredients are meeting increased demand for health focus involving overall wellness with an emphasis on cognition, stress, and mood support,” Dicker added.
Sustainability initiatives including regenerative agriculture and upcycled ingredients were also top of mind among exhibitors and attendees.
“Sustainability and climate awareness have always been important but continue to be a dominating component of retailers’ criteria in sourcing items,” said Fleming. “Regenerative agriculture [is] a hot topic with manufacturers and independent natural industry alliances working to offer continued education and awareness.”
“While the Regenerative Organic Alliance has been around since 2017, Expo East 2023 featured many products that have the Regenerative Organic Certification,” added Weis. “This organization’s mission is to improve the health of our planet, especially the soil, on animal welfare and social fairness.”
“Prebiotic, probiotic, and gut health continue to dominate the beverage space as more and more offerings are providing entry-level opportunities for new consumers,” Fleming said.
“Fermented foods that are good for you, especially the gut, really stood out to me,” added Weis. “In particular, fermented nuts were an unexpected product that really would elevate snacking, a charcuterie board, or traditional recipes with an additional punch of umami.”
“International areas of the expo hall provided some unique taste experiences that allowed consumers to bring international foods they’ve experienced abroad to their kitchens at home,” said Fleming.
Dicker echoed this observation, noting that global flavors are making their way into every category. “Specifically, we are seeing things like meals, snacks, and even candy. This is catering to an ever more diverse customer base showcasing the power of different offerings that can drive new shoppers to categories.”
Another standout was “sophistication in the non-alcoholic beverages area with interesting mocktails, that could easily turn into alcoholic cocktails,” said Weis. “The alcohol-free space is capitalizing on this abstinence/sober curious trend.”
“Mocktails were well displayed as consumers crave new innovations beyond the soda water and lime alternatives when out and about without wanting to drink,” observed Dicker, adding that Sovi was the “best tasting non-alcohol wine that is comparable in taste to real thing—not always easy to replicate.”
Other Noteworthy Trends
Weis observed a much larger focus on clean labels across categories. “This was seen from granola bars to new concepts like salad bars, to beverages, to sweet and savory snacks, condiments, and spices. There was also innovation in packaging with sustainable, compostable, and refillable options.”
There was a proliferation of plant-based products at the show. “We saw several delicious [cheese] options, especially in the artisanal, aged cheeses, and spreadable varieties,” said Weis. “There were also numerous vegan baked goods—cookies, cakes, donuts, and cupcakes were most prevalent.”
Dicker observed substantial opportunities for snacks and candy to carve out new market share. “Sour may be the new sweet as candies look to incorporate new flavors and products that may ditch some need for an abundance of sugar.”
“There were also some unusual grains, such as teff from Ethiopia, suitable for a vegan diet which is gluten-free, nut-free, and zero sugar added,” said Weis. “These types of products help elevate the experience many consumers are looking for with premium flavors and unique, beneficial offerings.”
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