Clean Label Trends and Themes from Natural Products Expo West

by Heather

Clean Label Trends and Themes from Natural Products Expo West

Natural Products Expo West (NPEW) in Anaheim was incredible earlier this month, where InsightsNow and our partner, CuliNex, exhibited. Our teams enjoyed a few amazing days of product discovery, networking and industry trend discussions. We also began building our new Naturally Trending™ database. Read on to learn more about what we learned, and what we were up to at NPEW.


Highlights from Natural Products Expo West

Our team divided and conquered to cover the huge floor of this expo down in Anaheim. And through our mingling, and our building of the Naturally Trending database, we learned a lot and uncovered some highlights. We found that nearly everything at the show was, of course, extensions of clean label. In our recent webinar, “Trend-Spotting at NPEW,” we delved deeper into themes like the evolution of clean label (a space we’ve been working in for quite some time), the consumer demand for healthier alternatives like plant-based products, new ingredients in natural products, functional waters and other functional beverages, and sustainability at all stages of production.


The Continued Rise of Plant-Based Proteins

At the show, we once again saw lots of options for plant-based proteins from meat replacements, to alternative dairy products, to plant-based egg substitutes. Dairy alternatives were especially prevalent at the expo. We saw new products like No Cow protein bars, the Not Milk beverage joint venture with Kraft Heinz, and so many nut milks! Another new trend we noticed was plant-based protein replacements for seafood, like the Sophie’s Kitchen Plant-Based Smoked Salmon. We covered many of those added to our Naturally Trending database in our recent webinar with CuliNex.

As this category continues to grow, we continue to look to our Clean Label Enthusiasts™ community to help our clients identify trends in the marketplace. It is interesting to note, that many of the clean label products we saw rising in importance at the show had been identified by this research community years prior, showing how important it is for companies to leverage the right market research to stay on trend.


New Ingredient Trends

Speaking of trends, ancient grains, seeds and legumes were a big theme at the show. We also saw emerging ingredients like sweet potato flour and lots of products incorporating hemp. And we saw even more alternative sweeteners, with coconut palm sugar featured more prominently than ever before. Check out the Naturally Trending database, or “Trend-Spotting at NPEW recording for more!


Functional Waters and Other Beverages

Water, water, water—it was everywhere at NPEW. A top theme for water was the addition of functional ingredients… water to help with energy, sleep, mental acuity, and a wide variety of wellness-related issues.

We also saw “clean” energy beverages, like those providing a boost from tea extracts, yerba mate and coffee fruit, that claim to minimize the highs and lows of traditional caffeinated drinks. There is also a continued expansion of non-alcoholic beverages, often positioned as alternatives for social occasions or unwinding, with notable functional ingredients like CBD, L-theanine and adaptogens.


Sustainability at All Stages

Functional ingredient additions weren’t the only change we saw going on with water and other beverages. Sustainable beverage packaging, like metal cans, was everywhere—including a vast majority of the water packaging designed for reuse. And sustainability goes beyond the beverage markets too… Our CRO Greg Stucky attended “Beans for Life: Why We Believe in the Bean” where, among many other bean-based topics, the speakers touched on sustainability benefits talking about environmental practices from the can to the crop rotation.

We saw many bamboo-related products created to save trees, like toilet paper and also packaging. Environmentally-friendly packaging was a core theme throughout the show, like the Death Water “Death to Plastic”. There was also an increased awareness of location of production and shipping in regard to the carbon footprint of products. We also saw an emphasis on zero waste—especially in terms of working with farmers to ensure management of water used in production, cleaning and other processes. Another new theme was upcycling as a core value proposition. For example, companies like The Ugly Company are leveraging the upcycle association to help promote dried fruit snacks which are made from the bruised and broken fruit, not able to be sold in stores.


How to Know When to Innovate

With all these trends, among all the other trends, and trends that we haven’t yet seen, how do brands stay ahead of the curve with consumers? Through the InsightsNow Naturally Trending database, and keeping our finger on the pulse of product trends, we are able to understand movement in the marketplace. Through the right market research approaches, food and beverage companies can dig into deeper understanding of exactly the kind of innovations their customers are looking for from their product lines. Is your product encompassing the sustainability practices that are rising in importance to consumers—and, importantly, are you communicating that to your consumers in the right way? Have you explored ingredient replacements that may have greater appeal AND save money? Is your product incorporating the functional benefits that appeal the most to your target market? Behavioral market research can help you find the answers.