Some years, you wander the booths lined up at the Anaheim Convention Center, and wonder if there really is anything new and noteworthy. It’s like the natural and organic industry pauses to take a collective breath, agrees to let the latest trends play out, and gets ready for the next big thing.
This was not that year. This year, Expo West delivered trends, and lots of them.
2017 could have been called “The Year of the Bone Broth” or “Probiotics Profilgate” due to the sheer number of vendors offering these nutritious bugs promising better gut health. Less obvious, nestled among more than 3,100 exhibits, you could spot the rise of the mushroom and the return of the vegetable, among many other simmering new directions.
With trade shows, we believe you often have to look at the consumer truth behind the trends. What does the trend mean for you? How might the trend impact you even when your work doesn’t directly relate to that product or category? How could the trends affect you and your job?
We spent 4 days exploring the exhibits, tasting hundreds of products, talking with entrepreneurs, salespeople, and brand managers. Here’s what we came away with...
1. Put a Stick in It
What: Sometimes innovation can come in the form of a popsicle stick. We saw a range of products this year show up in portable, easier to handle and eat forms. This included Pie Pop’s ice cream treats, Modern Pop’s fresh take on the fruit popsicle, and Brewla’s coffee beverages frozen on a stick. Even various jerky makers turned increasingly to bars, finger sausages, and sticks.
Truth: People crave portability and easy to eat foods. It doesn’t matter if they are “mainstream” conventional or natural and organic. Everyone is leading busy lives and wants to have foods they enjoy and that they can take with them. Additionally, finger foods and products on sticks are often more engaging and fun to eat. Consider the list of products – pies, popsicles, and coffee – all on sticks. What’s not to enjoy and love about those?
What It Means For You: Consider how you can make your product more convenient through portability or clean eating. Jerky is a bit messy to eat, but a stick or a bar of meat is a cleaner way to get a similar taste experience. No, it’s not your original jerky product but it’s in the same category. So if you have a potentially messy eating experience, how can you innovate to clean it up? Or is there a way to radically alter your product and create something new? Pie Pops is a mash-up of an ice cream bar with creamy pie flavors. It’s creating something entirely new, and unlike a slice of pie or a pint of ice cream, it’s on a stick so you can eat it while doing something else.
2. Even Natural/Organic Consumers Have a Foot in the Familiar
What: We tasted a lot of new flavors – from florals and botanicals to Asian peppers. What seems to be happening is that these new flavors that may be on-trend are being paired with recognizable flavors and forms. It creates something new but not so new that the consumer doesn’t recognize it. Take Noosa’s new line of flavors - Strawberry Hibiscus sounds ‘safer’ to try than just a Hibiscus flavor. It makes the floral flavor more accessible, even for the adventurous eater. Similarly, Korean Barbecue was introduced by Kettle and Kind in their products. That’s much less scary than the harder to pronounce but on-trend Gojuchang. A third example are Millet Tots from Rollin Greens. It’s Tots without the Tater. The form is still familiar, a crispy nugget tot, but the main ingredient is what’s new.
Truth: Consumers, regardless of category and type of shopper, are more comfortable with something familiar than something completely new.
What It Means for You: As you cook up new flavors and even new ways of preparing or shaping your product, make sure you leave something recognizable, familiar, and safe for your consumers. That will make it that much easier to give something new a try. Got a new form? Give it a popular flavor from your main line. Want to bring in a new flavor? Don’t mess with the form and see how you might be able to marry it to an existing, recognizable, and safe flavor. Of course, always make sure it tastes great!
3. Make My Core Healthy Inside and Out
What: The focus on core strength has expanded to making sure your core is healthy as well as strong. Probiotics have been around for a while as a trend but this year it really exploded along with bone broth and collagen. The number of Bone Broth vendors went from 3 last year to more than 10 this year. In a category that’s so new and with a product that is so straight-forward, it’s challenging to stand out. We found several noteworthy offerings – the first from LA-based Brothee which roasts their bones to create a broth that’s truly rich and earthy in flavor. Bonafide Provisions is bottling their broth with pureed roasted vegetables for a healthy and more convenient way to get the nutrients of broth. And Epic continues their bone broth with some awesome flavors.
Collagen really came about as a trend nutrient this year. Not only is it in bone broth but there are bars and supplements that also deliver this restorative, complete protein.
Probiotics have literally gone to the dogs. Yes, maybe you’ve heard about giving yogurt to dogs to help soothe their digestive tracts, but now there are probiotic treats for dogs along with probiotics available for humans in everything from ice cream to oatmeal and bars. And that’s on top of the drinks in which probiotics already are.
Truth: Consumers continue to hear about the importance of core strength. From CrossFit to Corepower Yoga to Pilates classes, it’s all about core, physical strength. Add the Whole30 Program to the mix and you begin to understand that your core drives the rest of your body. The message? Keep your core strong physically and nutritionally for better health and living.
What It Means For You: Products that obviously or naturally have probiotics in them will probably be around for a while, whereas the others might not have the same shelf life. It’s okay to add the latest nutrient into your product, even if it has nothing to do with the nutrient in its natural state. Keep in mind your run at shelf may not be as strong as offering something that intuitively makes sense to the consumer.
4. Vegetables Stand Out Loud and Proud
What: It seems like vegetables might finally be getting their moment in the sun. We saw some of the usual suspects: pickled vegetables, shredded vegetables masquerading as ‘pasta,’ and, of course, vegetable juice blended into fruit juice and incorporated into Green smoothies. Vegetables have always had to hide behind the juice, the ‘pasta’ alternative, etc.
This year, however, we saw vegetables come forward and take their rightful place at the table. Bonafide Provisions introduced a drinking broth blended with pureed roast vegetables. It delivered a richer flavor, that had complex notes from the roasted vegetables with a sweet undernote, and yet, was drinkable because it was lightly thinned with broth.
Dreaming Cow, yogurt makers out of Atlanta, have introduced a drinkable yogurt (all the craze in the yogurt category – just look in your local supermarket) called Lush. The Lush product combines yogurt with fruit and vegetable puree and juice. The mixture creates a drinking yogurt that doesn’t hit you with one flavor, instead it unveils the flavors in layers, often leaving you with a pleasant finish that might actually be a vegetable.
Truth: In addition to savory flavors going into sweet categories, there’s only so much that can be done with fruit, particularly as people are concerned about sugar levels. Using vegetables brings in a new range of flavor combinations and tastes.
What It Means For You: Taste will always be king in the U.S. So if you plan on making a fortune from your field of rutabagas, you must have a product that people will still want to eat or drink. Ground it in the familiar (Truth #2) so that people will be willing to give it a try. Once they try it, a great taste will bring them back for more.
5. Trust in My Elders aka “Good Enough for Grandma...”
What: You might remember Michael Pollan advising us to only eat foods that our Grandma would recognize. That philosophy now extends to remedies and preventative care that an elder in our family might have practiced. As Bone Broth gained traction a few years ago, we heard stories about how grandma would sip broth to help ward off a cold or to remain strong. This year, we saw several natural preventatives and remedies inspired by ancestral recipes. This included the spice mix brand Pranayums, using an Indian spice blend inspired by the founder’s auntie. GinBao, drunk hot or cold, provides an alternative to bone broth for internal health and well-being. And RePear offers the cooling properties of pear to help soothe and ease a cold. This too is based on Chinese Medicine principles and time-proven recipes.
Truth: In many cultures, we hear of elders living long, healthy lives. So why wouldn’t we do what they did? There’s no one as savvy as grandma so if it was good enough for her, why shouldn’t it work for me?
What It Means For You: What old-world remedies and naturally-derived cure-alls exist in your product line or brand’s history that could be renewed? Is there a new category for you to explore based on the teachings of Eastern medicine? This is where it’s important to be true and authentic to the source in order for consumers to buy into what you are offering.
There was a lot more that we experienced at the show and would love to share with you. Email us at email@example.com and we’ll share specific products (meat chips anyone?), additional trends, and answer your questions.
We also covered the Fancy Food Show in January 2017. Here are the 9 Truths Not Trends from that gathering.