Hot and Not Hot at the Natural Product Expo 2023

by Jay Berglind

I attended the Natural Product Expo this year for the umpteenth time. It sure has changed brand woodstock and the hemp and Birkenstock and pachouli are pretty much gone. Someone told me it is now as well attended as the National Restaurant show in Chicago and I believe. The difference is it is in a much smaller space .But they do keep adding more and more sections to the show and it’s kind of an Easter egg hunt to get to all the different areas.

Some general impressions, with a acknowledgment of observational bias.

Hot: Mocktails. I saw at least 10 of these, either NA spirits or pre-mixed cocktails with no alcohol. As a dedicated cocktail drinker and ex-bartender I can honestly say they have come a long way. They still have long way to go. BUT Guinness N.A. should give them all hope

Hot: Gut Biome. A lot of brands focusing on functional foods that impact gut flora. This issues continues to grow even as the science around it evolves. The understanding of how the gut works and its impact on health has changed greatly. Fermented foods particularly, and formulations and delivery system in general, to creating the condition that are key to gut health.

Not Hot: Functional Foods, Water edition. The pH claims are still out there but not a lot left

Not Hot: Meat substitutes. That is, product that tries to mimic meat as closely as possible. Just two years ago, Alt-proteins were the belle of the ball, driven in large part by the significant amount of VC funding going into the category. But the lack of sales growth, not just for Beyond and Impossible but for most of the start ups has

Hot: Fiber. Related to gut, there were lots of products bulking up the aisles. Health benefits are indisputable and consumers get it. The challenge for brands is to put in/increase fiber into places it hasn’t been before. Formulators seek the most minimal impacts

Not Hot: Kombucha. This trend has died and is now a novelty item. My quality of life remains unaffected.

Hot: Vegetarian. This is an emeritus winner and reflects as well as anything the show’s roots. The quality and selection continue to improve. I had a sense that vegan claims have been actually tamped down but I’m not sure and I wouldn’t bet on it.

Not hot CBD: Comparatively, very few brands pushing CBD, I wonder to what extent the legalization of marijuana has to do with this, as the ingredient is available in many more formats now.

Outright surprise: A company called Both selling hybrid meat and meat substitute.

Hot: Environment. Another emeritus. The E in ESG remains strong, even while brands reposition their societal good commitments (see below). Sustainability is probably the most common and strongest theme, which in itself is fine, but the issue has ambiguity problems and many larger brands have engaged in greenwashing.

Not Hot: Protein. Protein has been huge at the show for years despite the fact that Americans get more than enough of it. Its about time people calmed down about protein.

Hot: Mushrooms: As an ingredient, fungi are everywhere. Jerky, energy bar, milk tea, etc. A variety of uses and types, including cordyceps of The Last of Us fame.

Not Hot: Probiotics: Among the changes in the science, gastroenterology weighed in with insight that factors like sugars and stomach acid greatly reduce the effectiveness of probiotics, basically killing off most of the bacteria before it can do any good. . And so the types of foods have adjusted, with more and more emphasis on prebiotics like fermented foods. Brands will continue to adapt.

Not Hot: Cause Forward Branding. While environmental commitments remain strong, many brands have dialed back or even eschewed a societal good component to their brand identity. Five years ago, every booth gave an elevator speech on the particular cause they were supporting. For better or worse,

I always thought of the NPEW show as a food show, revealing more about me and my mindset than the show itself, but the wellness aspect remains. The products in the non-foods categories do reflect the same trends as the food but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them. For me, the purpose of attending was two-fold. One the keeping up on trends and secondly, now that Aegis Foods has launched, looking at booth concepts for aesthetics and effectiveness. Next year I will be on the other side of the display table!

About the author: Jay Berglind is the Publisher of fork pitch and the CEO of Aegis Foods, a producer of pasteurized and other value added egg products.

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