6 grocery trends from last March's Natural Products Expo West

Gina Acosta
Managing Editor
Gina Acosta  profile picture
"Mother Nature" at the Avafina Organics booth had a starring role at this year's Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, Calif.

If you really want to know which product trends will dominate the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry over the next year, let me tell you about my goody bag after having attended Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., in March. It contained:

• Salted caramel Reishi mushroom protein bars.

• Barbecue-flavored protein crisps.

• Tahini granola.

• Fruit roll-ups infused with cannabis.

• Pineapple-flavored coconut chips.

• Organic chickpea puffs.

• Chocolate chip cookies made with coconut sugar.

• Plant-based protein water.

• Dried jackfruit strips.

• And lots of foods and beverages loaded with “calming” ingredients

Nearly 90,000 attendees from 136 countries were treated to samples of many of these innovative products at the 39th-annual Natural Products Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“Every year at Expo West we foster the connection between emerging brands who are impacting the landscape and industry pioneers who have paved the way for decades,” said Lacey Gautier, group show director at New Hope Network, the Boulder, Colo.-based organization that stages the show. “This event highlights the importance of community engagement and the role everyone plays to create a more sustainable packaged goods industry. With so much to celebrate in organic agriculture and ethical business practices, you can feel the energy throughout the campus.”

On display throughout the trade show were exhibits from branded and private label manufacturers showcasing the latest in food and beverage, beauty and home, and supplements and nutrition. But it wasn’t just the booths that made a statement about where retail and CPG are going.

Expo West attendees who were hungry could snack on vegan hot dogs at the convention center snack bar. Condiments were locally made ketchup and mustard. Food was served on recycled paper plates with wooden forks. Plastic cups and dinnerware were verboten.

This year, walking the vast trade show spread across multiple convention center halls and hotels, six notable CPG trends stood out:

Plant-based: There’s no doubt that vegan and plant-based products continue to dominate the focus of innovation in CPG. Companies showcased a broad assortment of meat, dairy and egg alternatives, but the plant-based trend has also accelerated in the frozen dessert, water, grab-and-go and fresh categories. For example, exhibitors such as Chef’d gave samples of its meal kits, but none contained meat (all were vegan). Other companies that make grab-and-go salads for grocery and convenience stores also touted their meat-free meals. Samples of vegan “ice cream” and “gelato” were everywhere. Booths showcasing meat products overall were few and far between at Expo this year.

Protein: If you thought that the Keto diet trend was no different than the Atkins fad, think again. Companies are doubling down on both Keto and Paleo products, which feature foods and beverages heavy on the protein and low on the carbs. At Expo West, everything from sugar-free protein bars to low-carb granola, shake mix, meal kits and sweeteners made with monk fruit were promoted as being “Keto-” or “Paleo-friendly.” Even veteran brands such as Bob’s Red Mill and private label suppliers such as B&G Foods are getting into the low-carb diet biz by launching protein bars and cauliflower rice products.

Coconut: It seemed as though every aisle at Expo West had foods or beverages with coconut in it. Coconut protein water, savory coconut crisps, coconut sugar breads, coconut salad dressing, coconut curry bars. If last year’s Expo West, was all about turmeric, this year’s biggest ingredient trend seemed to be coconut. 

CBD: I was expecting to see a lot of innovation in hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products, and I was not disappointed. Industrial hemp was legalized in the recent Farm Bill, but CBD is not a federally approved additive for food and beverage. Still, many show booths displayed coffee and meal replacement bars infused with hemp or cannabidiol.  

Digestive: Startups and veteran brands alike are convinced that digestive health is a significant trend in 2019. Food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers at Expo West showed off new products that go beyond having lots of fiber and probiotic ingredients. Beverages and foods containing prebiotics and fermented foods were ubiquitous. Kombucha is still a very hot beverage trend. Products containing Reishi mushroom claimed to have inflammation-fighting effects on the digestive system.

Calming: Perhaps the most surprising trend I saw was the number of beverages, foods and supplements designed to calm or reduce stress and anxiety. I’m talking about “calming” salad dressings containing chamomile, gummy supplements that calm nerves, coffee that is designed to reduce anxiety and not rev you up, and sleep-inducing sparkling water for bedtime.