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The Future of Food Is Now: Expo West 2019 Recap

Meghan Shookman, Senior Brand Manager of Innovation for Prepared Foods
Original version posted on The Shooks Life March 11, 2019.

Meghan Shookman - Expo West

The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it. And woah, was I inspired by all the creators stirring up the food industry at Natural Products Expo West. What’s truly powerful though, is realizing that you aren’t just a bystander. You have the power to create whatever reality you desire. All these innovations started with one step into the unknown. One brave soul had the courage to listen to the hollerings of their heart and ignore any doubts, missteps or naysayers to charge ahead and create something completely new to the world. Pretty cool, huh?

As a brand marketer and food enthusiast, I’m taking inspo from all the creative juices flowing at this year's natural & organics food show. In case you’re new to the biz, Natural Products Expo West is the largest natural and organics trade show in the country, focused on up and coming food trends, including beverage, beauty and household goods. It’s essentially a crystal ball for the future of food. Though I’ve worked in CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketing for six years and spent another six in advertising for major food companies, this was my first time at “the big show."

Hungry for more? Read on for my take on the top 2019 food trends at Natural Products Expo West, along with my fave new products you’ll soon find on shelves.

Top Trends at Natural Products Expo West 2019

Expo West - pili

Fat Is Friend, Sugar Is Foe

Move over "low fat" and "fat-free" fads. Fat is seeing its heyday with coconut, avocados and nuts ruling the roost.

As the Keto diet grows in popularity, so do high fat and low carb product launches. One example of the growing infatuation with fat is the pili nut. The pili nut (pronounced “peel-y”) reigns from Southeast Asia and is best described as a combination of the macadamia nut and cashew. It’s touted as having the highest fat and lowest carb ratio of any other nut, making this buttery nut a fan favorite for Keto followers.

Best of Show: 
My favorites in fat were Pili Hunters Lions Mane Pili Nut Butter with Pumpkin Spice and Lavva plant-based yogurt, made with a combination of pili nuts, coconut cream, plantains and vegan probiotics. Trust me, I’ve tried plenty of non-dairy yogurts—and have been far from satisfied—this one is the creamiest, most legit version.

Other notables:
Modern Pop Avocado-Based Ice Cream Bars — Dang Keto Bars — Picnik Butter Coffee — Bonafide Keto Broth — Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Ghee

Plants Gone Wild

More and more people are evolving the Meatless Monday trend into Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and beyond. While true vegans and vegetarians are still a small segment of the population, a growing segment describe themselves as “flexitarians” who are trying to consume less meat for a variety of health, environmental and sustainability reasons.

Meat analogs have gained a lot of attention recently with launches from Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger and Good Catch. Thanks to science, these products deliver plant-based interpretations of meat that replicate the taste, texture, and appearance of traditional meat and even seafood! And for those not ready to leap into vegetarian versions of their favorite burgers and sausages, there’s an emerging category of blended meats that include a combination of traditional meat with vegetables, grains or beans.

Best of Show
The Beyond Burger continues to be my OG favorite for it’s smoky flavor and juicy patty colored with beet juice. New this year is Beyond Beef, which replicates traditional ground beef, lending versatility to this pea-protein meat analog. On the blended front, Teton Waters Ranch recently launched Burger Blends patties that are made with grass-fed beef and mushrooms. As a mushroom lover, I was immediately sold on the big flavor and didn’t notice a significant textural difference. 'Shrooms alone were another popular ingredient showing up everyone at Expo.

Other notables:
Good Catch Plant-Based Tuna (such a killer replica) — Just Eggs Plant-Based Eggs (texture on point, but flavor needs work) — Oat Milks from Elmhurst — Quaker and Pacific Foods

Expo west - upcycled

Reduce,  Reuse and Upcycle

There’s ever evolving concern for the environment and it goes beyond the reduce, reuse and recycle of yesteryear. Upcycling is the new recycling.

Not familiar with upcycling? You’re not alone. We all know the definition of recycling–the practice of processing an item for reuse, returning it back to the cycle of contributing to society rather than becoming trash. But when we recycle something like a plastic bottle, it often becomes yet another thing that will eventually go to a landfill. Upcycling, on the other hand, makes use of material without degrading the quality or composition of the material for future use. Upcycling not only reduces waste, but also reduces the need to create new input material. It’s a win-win. 

Best of Show:
Regrained Supergrains leverages upcycling by rescuing grains that would otherwise go to waste in the brewing process. The brewing process reduces the sugars in the grains and makes available a high protein, high fiber, micronutrient-rich grain that is then made into a Supergrain flour. That prebiotic flour, becomes a delicious granola bar.

Other notables:
Barnana New Plantain Chips — OrganicGirl Cold-Pressed Juices — Alvarado St. Bakery Sprouted Wheat and Coffee Flour Bread

A Microbiome Feeding Frenzy: Probiotics on Fleek

Whole Foods included probiotics in their list of top trends and it was clear at Expo that probiotics are getting the same fanfare that protein has been receiving the past couple of years. Consumers are increasingly interested in digestive health and seeking probiotics beyond traditional yogurts.

In particular, new strains of probiotics are making shelf-stable application possible in everything from granolas to nut butters to soups. Expect for probiotics to infiltrate other unexpected categories like cleaners and skincare, too.

Best of Show:
The most surprising source of probiotics for me? A line of probiotic cleansing tonics from Counter Culture. In the same way probiotics work to clean your digestive track, they also help to break down dirt and grease. Who knew?

For a more expected (and delicious) source of probiotics, you absolutely MUST try Clio Greek yogurt bars. These bars are like decadent cheesecake. Made with full-fat Greek yogurt (remember fat = friend) dipped in a thin layer of chocolate (sugar = foe) with only 150 calories and 8g of protein.

Other notables:
Gutzy Fruit & Botanical Snacks — Odwalla Smoobucha Smoothie and Kambucha Blend — Culture Repupblik Probiotic Ice Cream — Mother Dirt Probiotic Skincare

Expo west - sleep

Experiential Nutrition

The lines between food and supplement are blurring as people seek more from the foods they eat. Think immunity, sleep and stress aids. And yes, that includes the latest buzz: CBD.

People are on the go more than ever and to counteract the flurry of activity, 80% say they’re looking for functional benefits in foods and beverages rather than supplements. As a result, the $60 billion functional food and beverage category is growing at 8%. Notable is the wealth of experiential beverage “shooters” that deliver instant gratification via tiny bottles of single-use elixirs, the application of adaptogens in packaged goods and lattes, as well as sweets infused with CBD or sleep-enhancing melatonin.

Best of Show:
Nestle debuted Goodnight snack clusters at Natural Products Expo West to help consumers sleep better via sweet treats formulated with magnesium, L-theanine and casein protein. The bite-sized snacks include a marshmallow-like cherry interior that’s lightly coated in milk or dark chocolate. I’m already daydreaming of having another one of these permissible bedtime chocolates.

Other notables:
Vital Proteins Collagen Shots — Siren Snacks R&R Bites with CBD — Navitas Superfood Wellness Shots and Latte Mixes

What are your thoughts on the show and the future of food? Anything I missed? What new developments are you celebrating (or shunning)?

Let’s keep the dialogue going!

Published March 18, 2019.

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