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The food and beverage flavor trends that dominated Natural Products Expo East 2017

In which New Hope Network editors make sense of the flurry of natural, edible new products we observed at Natural Products Expo East.

6 Min Read
The food and beverage flavor trends that dominated Natural Products Expo East 2017

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.

4th & Heart Chocti Chocolate Ghee Spread Coffee Guarana
Forager Project Good Plant Fat Coconut & Cashew Mango
Know Brainer Ketogenic Creamer Almond & Coconut Milk

2. Oats

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!

Grainful Chana Masala
Spice Trail Snacks Marrakesh Crunch
Maker Overnight Oats

3. Meaty

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.

PaleoEthics Super Serum Protein High Performance Beef Protein
Wilde Brand Chicken Chips Barbecue
Serenity Kids Uncured Bacon with Organic Kale & Butternut Squash

4. Seaweed 

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.

Blue Evolution Foods
Ocean’s Balance Kelp Puree
Ocean’s Halo Miso Broth

5. Bubbles

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.

Rise Brewing Co. Seasonal Nitro Lemonade Coffee
Chameleon Cold-Brew Sparkling Cold-Brew Coffee Ginger
Kevita Master Brew Kombucha Roots Beer

6. Maple

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.

Sap! Maple Soda and Seltzer Water
Purely Elizabeth Maple + Almond Butter Granola
Drink Maple Raspberry Lemon Maple Water

7. Cardamom

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. 

Betsy’s Best Gourmet Cashew Butter with Cardamom & Chia Seeds
Revolution Gelato Dairy-Free Cardamom Kiss
Pukka Organic Detox Tea

8. Beets

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.

Rhythm Superfoods Coconut Sugar Beet Chips
Jacob’s Raw Probiotic Cultured Wellness Shot Beet Ginger Boost
Plant Snacks Cassava Crunch Beet with Goat Cheese Yuca Root Chips

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.

Cusa Tea Mango Green Tea
Three Twins Slim Twin Organic Mint Chip
SOUND Sparkling Tea

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About the Author(s)

Jenna Blumenfeld


Jenna Blumenfeld lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she reports on the natural products industry, sustainable agriculture, and all things plant based. 

Jessie Shafer, RD

Director of Influence & Health Education, New Hope Network

Jessie Shafer, RD, is New Hope Network's director of influence and health education. In this role, Jessie curates opportunities and appropriate partnerships for New Hope's health and wellness influencer audience, as well as health practitioner and nutrition expert audience. Jessie is a Northwestern University graduate, registered dietitian, and long-time health journalist, having worked for more than 17 years at four major publishing houses on consumer-facing health brands, including Meredith Corporation and August Home Publishing and holding the role of editor-in-chief of Delicious Living for four years. Jessie and her husband relocated from Iowa to Colorado in 2015 where they enjoy riding their bike, hiking in the mountains and being mom to a cute and curious toddler. 

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