The excitement is palpable as the countdown to Natural Products Expo West rushes forth. Not only does the Expo West buzz focus on new products, innovations and opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves over the course of the week in Anaheim, but it also holds questions about where the natural products industry is going and how to encourage its growth and sustainability into the future.
Many of these questions can be answered by delving into the macro forces and related trends that are driving the industry today. Some of these trends are to be expected and are obviously bigger than others. We know, for example, that the plant-based movement will continue its meteoric growth, represented by a wide range of products created to appeal to the large cross-section of people who are increasingly concerned not only about their own health but also that of the planet.
Along these same lines, consumers will continue to opt for better-for-you options to their favorite foods with cleaner and healthier ingredients. Think sugar alternatives and functional and nutrient-dense add-ins. Also count on the fact that the increasingly chaotic rhythm of modern life means the need to nourish our bodies and minds has never been more important. And, of course, we continue to celebrate organics as a growing standard, rather than a passing trend in this industry.
Taking these “truths” and others as a starting point, here we delve into the natural products industry trends framework developed by the New Hope Network content and NEXT data and insights teams to identify some of the specific natural food, health and nutrition trends that will grow this year and be on display at Natural Products Expo West.
1. Plant-based ethics.
Plant-based eating has gone from outlier to ethos in recent years as people incorporate more plants and plant-based proteins into their diets. While the health ramifications of eating more vegetables and plants has long been driving this trend, the conversations of the future will place an increasing importance on the macro trend of “Plant-based Ethics.” Brands that tell these stories will stand out above the rest.
Concern for animal welfare, after all, is finally moving mainstream in a technological age in which people can no longer close their eyes and ears to animal mistreatment. Brands such as V-dog Vegan Dog Food and The Meatless Farm Co. present the benefits of meatless consumption through an anti-cruelty, environmental lens. Conversely, the plant-based brand behind Just Egg, promotes its mission of creating a more just food system in part by working to develop scalable cultured meat made from cells, rather than live, confined animals.
Plant-based ethics also extends to plant-based environmentalism with brands including Zego Foods using only sustainably cultivated black rice (in collaboration with Lotus Foods) in its cereal. Kelp-centric brands such as Akua promote the sustainability and environmental benefits of this sea crop. And many brands are starting to release impact reports every year detailing waste reduction efforts, water use and climate change-related data.
2. Responsible meat and dairy protein.
While the surge of plant-based eating has led to an explosion of meat alternatives, the growing emphasis on ethical consumerism is also driving growth in responsible meat and dairy products. Longstanding brands and newcomers alike—think Epic Provisions, Force of Nature, Truly Grass Fed, Shenandoah Valley Organic and Maple Hill Creamery, among others—are promoting the ethical treatment of animals, highlighting transparency and traceability and championing environmental practices such as regenerative farming.
Within this macro force trend, all things point to the sea as the next frontier for sustainably sourced animal products—many of which are being sold in the single-serving tins that are commonly used in European countries such as Spain and Portugal for top-tier fish and shellfish preserves. Both Patagonia Provisions and Freshé sell such products with a focus on sustainable fishing practices and transparency.
Certified B Corporation Luke’s Lobster offers ready-to-eat lobster kits that are traceable down to the harbor of origin, promoting an “ocean to plate” sensibility. Similarly, Safe Catch conducts mercury testing on all of its sustainably fished seafood (every single fish), the results of which are published on the package.
3. Sugar vilified.
Things aren’t looking up for our old friend refined sugar—now blamed for a plethora of modern diseases. Even so, Americans’ unwillingness to forsake sweet indulgences, along with the popularity of low- and no-sugar diets is leading to ongoing development of alternative sweeteners.
Stevia still rules in this regard, but pushback from some consumers about its distinctive aftertaste, as well as that of other commonly used alt sugars such as erythritol and even monk fruit, has sparked a return to natural cane sugar substitutes such as honey, tapioca, coconut and maple sugars, along with nutritional powerhouse dates.
This Natural Products Expo West, keep an eye out for brands using emerging ingredients including allulose—Nubocha plant-based gelato is one example—and lesser-known sweeteners such as the palmyra blossom nectar found in Wholebeing Health Foods organic latte mixes.
4. Responsible packaging.
We are very excited about the new innovations in packaging that will undoubtedly be on display at Natural Products Expo West. Sustainable packaging is not only the No. 1 concern of consumers, according to a survey conducted by the Climate Collaborative, but it is also top-of-mind for the many brands that are making it their mission to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic and seek more sustainable solutions to eliminate waste. The compostable pouch used by Sun & Swell Foods for its Clean Cookie Bites is exemplary, as are the plant-based tea wrappers from Numi Organic Tea.
Eliminating waste is top of mind for New Hope Network as well, as reflected by its commitment to the elimination of single-use plastic at the Natural Products Expos by 2022.
5. Diversifying of America.
There are many emerging trends that fall under the macro trend of the “Diversifying of America,” but the growing focus on female-specific health and wellness products is one that is particularly exciting and that has been a long time coming. Whether it’s supplements or foods, new products are reflecting the increasingly open conversations that are taking place around the topic of women’s health in society and the lifting of long-held reluctance to talk about issues including fertility, lactation, sexuality, menstruation, menopause, etc.
Some of the new products that reflect this trend include Nutri-Rich Corp.'s Prenatal multivitamins, which not only contain a hard-to-find blend of many important nutrients thought to promote healthy fetal development and fertility, but also rely on a delivery system designed to not exacerbate nausea or other sensitivities during pregnancy. Ah! Yes Vaginal Moisturizer is a certified organic and hypoallergenic product that works to restore the natural protective acidity of the vagina; and ReNew Life Herholistic Menopause Partner is part of a line of probiotic products developed to address different female reproductive phases in life.
6. The quest for rest.
The chaos of modern life has pushed us to our limits, taxing our energy and peace of mind and putting a premium on sleep—something that we now understand to have a huge impact on our overall health and well-being. We have finally figured out that the more we sleep, the healthier we are both physically and mentally.
The natural products industry has responded with an outpouring of foods, beverages and supplements designed to encourage sleep, relaxation, recovery, destressing and calm, while incorporating the importance of sleep into their storytelling and missions.
Sleep-promoting supplements are a huge category—many of them containing cannabinoids and melatonin for a good night’s rest—while more and more food brands boast functional botanicals like ashwagandha, valerian root, chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, holy basil (tulsi) and tart cherry juice, among others, for stress relief, relaxation, calm and also revitalization.
Standout products in both categories include the new Hemp & Herbs Calm from Gaia Herbs, a blend of full-spectrum hemp extract, passionflower, milky oats and other herbs traditionally used to support tranquility; as well as Dewdrop’s Pretty Balance sparkling functional beverage, with ashwagandha for stress-relief, along with superfood moringa.
7. A healthy microbiome.
Microbiome has become a buzzword in recent years as we begin to understand the importance of a healthy microbiome and the gut-brain/gut-heart connection. Although we are still in the initial stages of comprehending the true complexity of these biological systems, supplement brands in particular are beginning to respond with more advanced and specific formulations. This means that we are seeing stronger growth in products containing both prebiotics and probiotics, than just probiotics alone, not only in supplements, but in foods and beverages as well.
That being said, food products containing probiotics or prebiotics alone are still going strong, with fermented products like The Living Apothecary’s Fruit-ful Water Kefir and Cleveland Kitchen’s Hail Caesar fermented salad dressing, sharing the category with this innovative take on good, old-fashioned fiber from Organic India. The company’s new Psyllium Pre & Probiotic Fiber also has ayurvedic botanicals for optimum gut-health and well-being.