BALTIMORE — More than 1,550 brands packed into the Baltimore Convention Center last week to show off the latest innovations in the organic and natural food and beverage space at this year's Natural Products Expo East.
More than 29,000 attendees visited the booths at the 35th annual conference to taste the newest products and talk about the up-and-coming trends in the industry today. From singer Katy Perry's enthusiasm for Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar — of which she is part owner — to a large secured room for all of the CBD products with drug-sniffing dogs patrolling nearby, the show floor was full of the next big things in food and drink.
Here are some trends that stood out on the floor this year.
CBD and hemp presence grows
Food and beverage companies have been rapidly adding cannabis to their products and that fact was evident on the show floor this year.
"It is hard to take three steps without seeing a booth that is CBD, hemp," Lee Sosin, chief marketing officer of Green Roads, told Food Dive in an interview.
From CBD coffee and bottled drinks to hemp bars and milk, there were more than 50 CBD and hemp booths on the trade show floor this year. Although regulations are still up in the air as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decides on next steps for the substance, many manufacturers are going full speed ahead.
Sosin said it wasn’t surprising to see so many products boasting the substance at the show since the growth of the segment has been so explosive. Green Roads offers CBD coffee and tea, as well as oils and topicals. He said they will be launching CBD coffee K-cups in the fall, something that will "tap into the morning ritual for millions of people."
Several companies launched CBD and hemp products on the show floor. Manitoba Harvest, the world’s largest hemp foods manufacturer which was bought by Tilray for $317 million this year, unveiled a hemp milk at Expo this year.
"We've been the leader in hemp for the last 21 years, and even as the pie gets bigger and there are so many more players, we still want to be the leader," Anne Thompson, vice president of marketing at Manitoba Harvest, told Food Dive. "We consider ourselves to be innovators, we always want to be saying 'how do we stay really relevant for consumers and move at the speed of hemp?'"
Weller, which makes CBD-infused food and beverages, debuted a new CBD drink mix at the show. Co-founder Matt Oscamou told Food Dive the company has more than 1,000 points of distribution and is continuing to add more. He said his company has benefited from the growth of the segment — and the increasing competition.
"We consider ourselves to be innovators. We always want to be saying, 'How do we stay really relevant for consumers and move at the speed of hemp?'"
Vice president of marketing, Manitoba Harvest
"We hope that there is more and more great CBD products that come onto the market that are reliable and trustworthy and that we all grow together," he said in an interview. "When the consumers have options, everybody wins. The more high-quality we get out there and the varied kinds of products, the better."
A recent Rabobank report found that CBD has been entering food and beverage products at an "astounding pace." The retail value of all U.S. hemp products last year was estimated at $820 million, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
David Holmes, who started SpikedSeltzer and sold it to AB InBev in 2016, is now the CEO of PLNT Blend Beverages, which makes a line of hemp-infused beverages. He agreed that it helps the category as more companies come in the space.
"I never look at anybody as a competitor necessarily. From Spiked, we were actually happy when somebody else entered the market because then it justifies your category," Holmes said. "If we were the only product in the market, Target wouldn’t have a section for these things. You will continue to see brands coming in and disreputable brands going out."
Raising the bar
In the grocery store, a staggering number of brands, ingredients and bar flavors fill the shelves.
And judging from the booths at Expo East, those bar aisles are about to get more crowded. Everyone seems to be getting into the bar business lately, from Nestlé’s Sweet Earth brand — better known for its plant-based items — to One Brands, which has been making energy bars for 20 years. Several brands told Food Dive they are responding to consumer demand for something convenient, nutritious and tasty.
One Brands, which was recently acquired by Hershey for $397 million, debuted One PLANT at the show. The plant-based bar is sold in Chocolate Peanut Butter and Banana Nut Bread varieties.
Marketing manager Brian Wisniewski told Food Dive One Brands saw the opportunity for a plant-based bar, so it worked hard to develop the flavors offered at the show. And, he said, it’s apparent from the response that the new products are a winner.
“It’s gone over really really well," Wisniewski said. "Everyone who tastes it can’t believe it’s got 12 grams of protein and 1 gram of sugar.”
Texture is what differentiates the new Woke bar from ghee company 4th & Heart, said junior marketer Tatiana Nesello. The bar — made from a cashew butter base with an egg white coating, and includes collagen and ghee — will be coming to stores next year. Nesello said Expo East serves as one of the brand’s big test runs, and the formula will be tweaked before the bars hit the market.
“We wanted to expose the brand to new areas, especially those that are up and coming.”
Junior marketer, 4th & Heart
The flavors — chocolate-coated Peanut Butter, Dark Chocti and Cookie Dough — all boast high levels of protein, fiber and iron, and are free of lactose and soy. They also have a unique buttery crumbliness when eaten.
“We wanted to expose the brand to new areas, especially those that are up and coming,” Nesello told Food Dive. “With all of the bars out there, we’ve never heard of a bar with ghee.”
Another brand adding bars is Nestle’s Sweet Earth. The brand debuted plant-based POGO bars, which stands for Power on the Go. Joe Frindt, Sweet Earth’s director of sales in the Northeast, told Food Dive POGO bars are actually designed as an upscale version of J.M. Smucker’s Uncrustables, a frozen (and crustless) peanut butter and jelly sandwich for kids.
“We see it as a grab-and-go snack, and we’re marketing it toward the snacking audience,” Sweet Earth Marketing Manager Jesse Curtis told Food Dive.
POGO bars don’t have much in common with Uncrustables. Both are frozen, but Sweet Earth’s product looks like a protein bar (Uncrustables are round) and has several diverse flavors that make them attractive for adults. These include Figgy — fig and tart cherry filling inside a cherry-beet crust that is topped with oats and chia seeds — and Dulce — the caramel and banana filling inside a cocoa trust topped with puffed quinoa.
Curtis said the Expo East crowd loved the look and taste of the bars. They have nothing artificial and their vibrant colors come from the fruits and vegetables inside them. Plus, they are high in protein and fiber, and contain 1 billion CFUs of probiotics.
“This is really going to be something people purchase when they’re on the go,” Curtis told Food Dive.
Much room for mushroom
While mushrooms are often maligned and avoided by many U.S. consumers, the popular fungus is gaining popularity in a food synonymous with meat: jerky.
Booths throughout Expo East like South Mill Champs displayed the mushroom in other forms such as bars, crisps and even with coffee, but it was the chewy snack that is grabbing the attention of both upstart and more established companies. South Mill Champs, which has been growing fresh mushrooms for 80 years, had on display its mushroom with meats such as filet mignon and turkey and fruits such as berries.
"People just haven't known until recently the true value of a mushroom. Now it seems everyone is using them in some form. I've seen a shampoo using them recently," David Eberwein, Shrooms Snacks' director of innovation, told Food Dive.
The global mushroom market is projected to jump from $34.1 billion in 2015 to $69.3 billion by the end of 2024 amid growing consumer interest in functional foods and food as medicine. Mushrooms are touted for a host of benefits, including antioxidants, essential vitamins, their role in boosting immunity and fiber. Increasingly, foods using the mushroom have included them into snacks and other items that are portable — removing the need to prepare and cook them.
"People just haven't known until recently the true value of a mushroom. Now it seems everyone is using them in some form."
Director of innovation, Shrooms Snacks
The usefulness of the mushroom has attracted the interest of Big Food in recent years. In 2017, Kellogg invested through its VC arm in MycoTechnology, a Colorado firm making vegan shiitake mushroom-based protein. General Mills has invested $3 million in Purely Elizabeth, a company using functional mushroom powder in its wellness bars.
When Michael Pan, the founder of Pan's Mushroom Jerky, was traveling throughout Malaysia several years ago he was offered a rich, savory snack that he thought was pork-based. He discovered that it was a family recipe featuring shiitake mushrooms, and the idea for his product was born. Pan, whose product first hit the market in 2018 and now is in 600 stores, said his experience working with mushroom caused him to realize just how polarizing the fungus is with its mushy texture and sometimes offputting flavor.
"Our product is more subtle," Pan said in an interview. "We try to encourage people that I get that you don't like mushrooms but please give us a try."