More than 3,800 natural food and beverage makers gathered to showcase their wares to nearly 67,000 registered attendees at the Natural Products Expo West 2023, held March 9-11 in the Anaheim Convention Center. KeyLeaf’s Vice President of Global Sales & Business Development, Justin White, was there on the Expo floor and shared some thoughts and observations after attending what might be best described as the “super bowl” of natural food and beverage trade shows.
The show was super busy; you could even say overwhelmingly busy. I don't think they could have squeezed in one more booth. 67,000 people had registered to attend the event and there was no parking for miles around. This level of attendance tells us that there's still a big demand for this space and that natural products, as well as plant-based products, are still in high demand.
Wholesalers and retailers:
Expo West is basically a retailer show. Thousands of brands were presenting their products to retailers, with the main goal to get more purchase orders. Retailers were there looking for new ideas and new products to purchase.
Beverage trends: Canned water
One “big thing” as far as beverages were concerned was canned water. One marketing consultant at the show explained to KeyLeaf that drinking canned water is becoming a health and lifestyle choice for young people in a social setting - it makes it cool for them to drink flavored sparkling water from a flashy can instead of drinking alcohol or sugary drinks. The label graphics and logos were all eye catching and looked similar to beer cans and energy drinks.
Plant based analogs still strong:
There were many companies displaying beef, chicken, and fish analogs, so plant-based meat products didn’t disappear as some in the media have reported. There is still demand there. We also noted a variety of natural food products made with less processing.
There seemed to be quite a bit of interest on products formulated with mushrooms as ingredients, such as mushroom milk, but I don't know if there was necessarily one particular product that was causing excitement – the excitement was spread out over a variety of products.
Many of the industry people that KeyLeaf interacts with were there. We met with some of the companies in the precision fermentation, nutrition, protein and climate tech segments who wanted to talk with us regarding our R&D, extraction, or oil processing services. The show provided a great opportunity to connect and reconnect with companies that we have worked with over the years.
The show is about bringing food brands that are natural, environmentally friendly, and sustainable to the marketplace. The official theme of this year's show was “Growth reimagined”, which includes shaking off limiting stereotypes such as “‘all natural products taste like cardboard” or are only for ”crunchy granola types”. According to show organizers, these stereotypes have long haunted the industry, but no longer apply.
Boosting natural foods I.Q.
Beyond Brands made presentations on the benefits of upcycled ingredients, and also on the importance of practicing regenerative agriculture. I believe it will be up to the brands to demand that regenerative agriculture be used by their suppliers, and the farmers will need to adjust accordingly how they grow their crops.
Based on the heavy turnout and interest we witnessed, we returned from Expo West with a very positive feeling about the future of the natural food, beverage, nutrition and personal care space. The brands have refined their products and professionalized their messaging so they can reach a broader audience. On top of that, and perhaps most importantly, the plant-based foods and beverages I sampled were all very flavorful products; and in this industry nothing succeeds like good flavor.
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