Trendspotting at the Natural Products Expo can be a key to growth
One type of value we deliver to our customers at Label Insight is the ability to tap into our robust product attribute data to uncover emerging consumer trends that can help grow their business. Related to emerging consumer trends, I had the opportunity to attend the recent Natural Products Expo in Baltimore, MD that showcased new products from some of the world’s most innovative natural food manufacturers. Although the insight I gained was not powered by our intellectual property or machine learning, it provided a compelling view into a number of interesting trends that might just turn into the “next big thing”.
Walking through the Natural Products Expo was a little like taking a quick journey around the world. Inside the massive convention center, colorful booths showcasing products with thoughtfully sourced ingredients and geographically specific origin stories lined each corridor, manned by friendly attendants eager to discuss what makes their product unique. This trend was striking; the first few booths alone were pushing items touting provenances from Finland down to the Philippines and around to India. Changing culinary lenses is one of the main ways we are able to experience a new culture without having to buy an expensive plane ticket. It’s natural that this trend would percolate into the snack food industry as consumers seek more exotic flavors that also suit the convenience needs of their increasingly fast-paced lives. Chocolate from the far north of Scandinavia, tikka and chai-spiced water lily puffs, Ayurvedic honeys, and South African biltong jerky were just a few of the products using distinctive locales as inspiration.
Products that invoked childhood nostalgia were also in abundance at Expo East. With consumers ever-focused on a healthier diet, these snacks called forth the taste of days gone by while still offering increased nutritional benefits. Some of this came in the form of the unique packaging of trending food items: juice box-style fruit-infused waters, squeeze pouches of yogurt, rolls of fruit-and-veggie-only gummy strips. There was no shortage of granola bars featuring vibrant sheaths and kid-inspired flavors, like birthday cake and chocolate banana, while also flaunting superfood additives and high protein claims. Better-for-you snack cakes and muffins reminiscent of after school snack time were stacked high in colorful wrappers while healthier baking mixes featuring cassava flour and carob sat on the next booth over. Wholesome snacking is certainly in its heyday.
Another vein of the better-for-you trend seen at Expo was the revival of “real” ingredients in packaged food. Full fat ice creams, ghee, and butter were found at many booths, while others advertised their use of “nine ingredients or less” or “no powdered ingredients” when it came to milk or eggs. Baked goods and bars that were free from hydrogenated oils and refined sugar also seemed to be highly trending. Some even called for refrigeration, boosting their status as whole, fresh food. As consumers lean into good fats, whole foods, and fewer processed ingredients, snack brands are trying to replicate these characteristics while still maintaining their ability to provide a quick, on-the-go bite.
On the non-foods side, the hot ingredient ubiquitous at the Expo was undoubtedly cannabidiol, or CBD. Found in everything from gummy supplements to topical creams, hair oils to facial serums, this trending chemical was the active ingredient in a cornucopia of products. CBD is said to help with both chronic and acute pain, depression, anxiety, acne, and heart health, and might even have anti-carcinogenic properties. The modern miracle drug is favored by those who prefer a more natural, plant-based solution to ailments that otherwise might require prescription medication. Although science has yet to fully back CDB as a cure-all, consumers are still clearly eager to put it to the test in various facets of their own lives.
I was impressed by the innovation I saw at the Expo this year. Although my exposure to these new products was fleeting, 100% of the products featured at the Expo have now been added to our Label Insight database for analysis that will provide unique insight and value to our customers for months (if not years) to come.