It’s no secret that Natural Products Expo West is a food lover’s dream. From kids’ gummies and lollipops to puffed cheese snacks, and from naturally-sweetened chocolates to gluten-free pasta. My goodness, you could really spend days walking the aisles and still not see everything. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, except it’s all food.
So what were the show’s food trends, and where might you expand? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Our team brought home a ton of snacks for our category expert, Armand Ansari, to try. I could barely carry the box marked “snacks” for him. We sat down after the show to go through each product and why it matters. It really is all about “better-for-you” snacking – something consumers are continually seeking, especially as everyone heads back into the office or classroom – the grab-and-go healthy snack.
The extruded snack phase is continuing, but this time it feels like there are more options than ever before. It used to be only be popped corn, but we saw popped cheese, popped eggs, popped rice, popped chickpeas, popped everything that can be popped. But these companies are also not shy about flavor either. As sometimes these popped snacks can have some interesting base flavor profile notes, you need a sharp or popular flavor to go with them. We see lots of sweet heat, sea salt, chipotle, BBQ, black peppercorn, smoky bacon bourbon, and even some sweet options like salted caramel and snickerdoodle. PHOTO
(Check out our wrap-up of the Winter Fancy Food Fest of 2020 – right before COVID shut down our food conferences for two years!)
Seeds, Nuts, Legumes and Grains
I love this trend. It’s always been a ‘thing’: using nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains in foods – but it seems to have exploded in recent years just as the “plant-based diet” and full “Layered Wellness” trend has gained ground. It’s about going back to the ‘au natural’ of our diets. We saw seeds, nuts, and grains used in a variety of ways for crackers and bread, also used in trail/snack mixes and cereals. Some of the options we saw used were:
- Flax seeds
- Brown rice
- Mung beans
- Green peas
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Amaranth seeds
Honestly, it really felt like the use of seeds and grains was endless. And they really are. If you want to create something like this, they can be delicious on their own or a natural seasoning can add that pop of flavors consumers sometimes want.
We’ll have more on this idea in the “Main Dishes” paragraph below.
Fruits were everywhere! I love this idea because growing up, dried apricots were my favorite thing. Even now, if they’re anywhere, I’ll bolt to grab a handful. But I loved the idea of getting our natural sugar and fruit in a portable, non-messy, snack form. The strips, pieces, and chips of dried fruits were to die for. Solely might have been my favorite brand because you never lost the luscious taste of the fruit, but it was sometimes paired with a wonderful flavor. While I wasn’t able to grab some of their Mango strips with chili and salt, they’re on my list to grab when I’m out “in the wild” on my own. However, I never was able to grab some of the passionfruit chips showcased in the various booths which disappoints me to no end – they’re so pretty!
One interesting thing we saw was the use of coconut in products. It seemed to be the main ingredient in a lot of snacks or desserts. Now, I’m a firm believer that coconut is a “love it” or “hate it” ingredient, vary rarely are people inconclusive about their feelings regarding the ingredient. We saw coconut chips, coconut cluster bites, and macaroons in a lot of places. Most often these products featured other indulgent flavor twists: dark chocolate and key lime, cinnamon, maple, etc. So as a “hater” of the coconut ingredient, I was pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of some of these products.
Naturally Sweet: Honey & Dates
Naturally sweetened was the way to go. While this is NATURAL Products Expo West and it was to be expected, I think it really rose to the occasion this year. Using honey and dates to naturally sweeten everything from chocolate bars to sauces. I love the Heavenly Organics chocolate patties; they had a mint version of them which I loved because I love minty foods.
But the brand that knocked it out of the park for me was Organic Real Bar. They had honey-sweetened chocolate snack bar-style options- Like the almond cacao nib and the chocolate bar itself. They also dove into the realm of SEVERAL of the above-mentioned trends. Their mango banana and strawberry-banana bars feature cashew butters, date paste for sweetening, quinoa, chia seeds, pea protein for a protein boost and of course they’re delicious fruits. I cannot speak highly enough of this brand and I cannot wait to see what else they come up with. They’re only available for purchase online now, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some when they come to retail.
Pasta is so often a comfort food, but in today’s world that doesn’t mean it needs to go against your diet! Zero-calorie, gluten-free noodles, KETO-Friendly, low-carb, you name it – people were making it in the pasta realm. Kernza, chickpea, green pea, flaxseed, lentils, and quinoa were popular bases, but also veggies additions were popular too. Things like zucchinis (and of course zoodles), spinach, cauliflower, mushrooms, red peppers, and others were also popular in the pasta space. So carb-watchers be on the hunt for new options at your local trend-forward grocery!
We also found this really great mac and cheese product from GOODLES. It’s packed with protein and has the Clean Label Purity award – a better-for-you mac n cheese! It was delightful if I do say so myself!
Authenticity is key. It always has been, and it always will be. Bringing the slow-roasted flavor note, or the tomato varietal variations is always key. That’s what we saw at the show. If you’ve got a flavor varietal, make sure it tastes real. And even in vegan sauces, which saw a few of, it’s got to taste authentic, slow-cooked, delicious. That’s what consumers expect today!
And as mentioned above, some sauces were even sweetened with dates or date paste!
Plant-Based: blog coming soon!
And of course, I cannot leave off the plant-based foods section. However, my colleague, Matt McGuffey, is busy writing away on a blog encompassing all these insights. This will be posted in the coming weeks. But let’s just say, “winner, winner, chicken dinner!” There were tons of tasty chicken products at the show – I have a few favorites, but honestly, so many were delicious. And we saw the continued rise of plant-based seafood products. This was something my team and I focused on in our seminar, but also something that was leading the way in the plant-based space at the show. I’ll let Matt lead you down that plant-based rabbit hole in his post, so keep your eyes open!