Snake up and down the aisles at Expo East and you'll be met with thousands of novel natural products that prioritize sustainability and innovation, and (for the most part) deliver on taste, mission and convenience. Sample incessantly, like New Hope Network editors Jessie Shafer and Jenna Blumenfeld recently did during their time at Expo, and in addition to a stomachache, you'll end up with a fairly robust knowledge of the rising flavors and ingredients sure to make waves in the natural industry.
It's a worthy endeavor to identify food trends. Not only does trend tracking give manufacturers, retailers and suppliers an idea of what will sell over the next year, but food trends also serve as a litmus test to identify the zeitgeist of cultural eating habits. In essence, food trends are a mirror. Hold them up and you'll see your customers—and yourself—reflected right back.
1. Full fat
Low-fat claims are so early ‘90s. Thanks in part to the paleo and ketogenic diets, products that contain high levels of fats from nuts or dairy (never trans fats!) are covetable additions to a healthy diet—even when paired with delectable ingredients such as chocolate and vanilla. This trend manifests across grocery categories, from shelf-stable to refrigerated and from beverages to yogurt.
It’s tough to call oats an Expo East 2017 trend—they’re such a staple ingredient in breakfasts across the United States. But in almost every aisle, oats kept appearing as the star in new products that promised improved convenience, elevated taste and novel applications in savory side dishes and snacks. Why the renewed zeal for oats? For one, like chicken or tofu, oats have little taste by themselves, offering a perfect base for flavorful spices, herbs and sweeteners. Another theory: On the trend-forward social media platform Instagram, tutorials for overnight oats have appeared in droves!
The plant-based trend was ubiquitous at Expo East 2017, and there were plenty of new vegan brands that featured ingredients like seitan, cultured nuts, tofu and more. But the companies that showcased meat in their products did so with pride. Using paleo-perfect packaging that highlighted responsible sourcing (cage-free, antibiotic-free and particularly grass-fed), these companies recognize there is important consumer demand for more conscious meat products on store shelves.
Attendees of Natural Products Expo are no strangers to seaweed flavor profiles. We’ve seen this ingredient manifest in products like snacks and bars—often masked with strong spices. But at Expo East 2017, seaweed brands deemed consumers’ palates ready for more of this salty, briny ingredient in condiments, broths and even pasta. There was even a no-holds-barred product that packaged pureed kelp in all its... um... kelpiness? We particularly love this trend due to the opportunities associated with seaweed’s sustainability factor.
Yes, we realize that bubbles in beverages are more of a texture attribute than a flavor attribute, but this tongue-tingling trend appeared everywhere at Expo East—from coffee to kombucha to tea. Why the renewed fixation on bubbles? It’s important to note that these products ain’t your grand-mama’s soda. The trendiest iteration of bubbles included silky nitro coffee, carbonated coffee with unexpected flavor add-ins (coffee plus citrus—trust us, it works) and kombucha designed to help non-drinkers averse to sour flavors embrace this probiotic bubbly tea.
Whether you embrace all things pumpkin spice or are so over the PSL hype that you relegate it to “basic” status, word on the street is that maple is the newest fall flavor penetrating everything from yogurts to coffee. Unlike the debate over whether pumpkin spice products actually do—or should?—contain real pumpkin, maple-flavored products carry a certain authenticity as a naturally sweetened, naturally flavored treat wrapped in all the flannel-clad goodness of fall comfort.
This strong and aromatic Indian spice has long been a natural in curries, stews and baked goods, but at Expo East 2017, we spotted cardamom making its way into new product categories, such as nut butter and ice cream. With a flavor profile that can go in both sweet and savory directions, this Ayurvedic spice contributes a unique “je ne sais quoi” that is anything but mild, slightly polarizing, warming and floral, making it a “notice-me” addition that we certainly did.
Did you feel the beet at Expo East? It was there, making its earthy, nutrient-dense, deep crimson presence known. Like cauliflower and kale, beets are one of those veggies that just. won’t. quit. And we’re kind of proud of the innovative resilience of these good ol’ nutrition powerhouses as we spotted them in several beverages and snacks. Some in the industry may feel “beet” over the head with the nutritional benefits of this vibrant root veggie, but an enthusiastic wave of consumers is embracing beets’ potential to boost everything from brain health to athletic performance, proving there is power in consistent messaging repeated over and over again.
9. Not too sweet
It used to be that consumers puckered and shuddered at the taste of something sour, sprinkling spoonfuls of sugar over their cereal and grapefruit. But as fashions change over time, so do acceptable flavor profiles. Too-sweet products are as outdated as shoulder pads, and taste buds “in-the-know” are shunning products that either smack of saccharin sweetness or contain beaucoup amounts of added sugars. Sugar’s so-last-season reputation has made room for products formulated for a fan base that puts low- to moderately (and always naturally) sugared products right in the sweet spot.
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