Protein, pulses and sugar-free beverages were top trends at Expo East
EY
November 8, 2016
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Health and nutrition trends are top drivers of product development in the food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry, and a number of new and growing trends were on display at the 31st annual Natural Products Expo East. More than 1,450 exhibiting brands and 28,000 attendees packed the show Sept. 21-24 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“As a whole, the natural products industry is experiencing rapid growth of 9% per year, which has spurred increased interest in emerging brands and a rise in mergers and acquisitions. Expo East is one of the biggest events for spotting new trends and seeing brands in action. Walking the show floor, attendees are surrounded by products and companies poised for growth,” Adam Andersen, managing director for Expo East producer New Hope Network said in a news release.

“Companies are having trouble innovating at a pace that will take advantage of the emerging consumer preferences for better-for-you, so they accelerate through acquisitions or joint ventures,” said EY Americas Consumer Product Leader for Transaction Advisory Services Greg Stemler. “Many have also decided to incubate certain emerging concepts with corporate venture funds. It is yet to be seen if the venturing approach will be effective in generating growth.”

Here’s a look at three top trends from this year’s Expo East:

Jerky, other meat snacks, get a gourmet twist

Plant-based proteins are gaining popularity as more consumers seek alternatives to animal protein, but meat snacks still made a strong showing at Expo East. These next-generation meat offerings go well beyond classic beef jerky and included several new products that launched at the Expo. Country Archer Jerky Company used the show to debut its line of Protein Bars, which launched in Target and are expected to have national distribution by the end of this year, Director of Marketing PJ Roustan said. The bars are similar to jerky, consisting mainly of meat, while the new bars launched by Hershey-owned Krave Pure Foods contain a mix of meat and grains in flavors such as Black Cherry Barbecue Pork and Wild Blueberry Beef.

“Snacking is the fastest growing occasion in food and meat snacks are a very hot category; big players are looking to enter the category in the case of Hershey acquiring Krave or Conagra Brands seeking to refresh the Slim Jim brand,” Stemler said.

Epic, which launched in 2013 with a meat bar as its main product, also showcased a new snack product at the Expo. The company launched its pork rinds and cracklings in Whole Foods in September, putting the classic American snack in a new light by focusing on how the use of pork skin furthers the brand’s “snout-to-tail” commitment.

Snack brands celebrate the Year of the Pulse

Three years ago, the United Nations declared that 2016 would be the International Year of Pulses, and snack brands appear to have taken the decree to heart. A range of chickpea, bean, pea and lentil snacks were on display at Expo East. UK-based Hippeas launched in the US this summer with its line of chickpea puffs that feature flavors such as Vegan White Cheddar and Maple Haze with a light, crunchy texture that will be familiar to fans of packaged snacks. Biena Snacks also specializes in chickpea snacks, with a line of simply roasted chickpeas sprinkled with seasonings such as salt or cinnamon. Pea protein was a popular ingredient as well, appearing in products such as Protes protein chips and in GoodBelly’s line of protein shakes, which also include chickpea protein.

Sugar-free beverages provide alternatives to soda, juice

Another hot trend this year was beverages designed to offer consumers an alternative to sugary sodas and juices. Rather than using artificial sweeteners, which can leave a bad taste in consumer’ mouths (both literally and figuratively), more brands are going the unsweetened route.

"The trend toward sugar-free and less-processed foods is here to stay.  Today’s consumer is more aware of the ingredients in food and beverages, and they are demanding more transparency of the manufacturing process and the supply chain,” Stemler said.

Reliant Recovery Water boasts oxygen and electrolytes in both an unflavored variety and three flavored options, which use natural ingredients such as lemongrass or mint for flavoring. Spindrift showed off its line of unsweetened sparkling waters, while one of the newest companies at the Expo, Wonder+Well, featured an option aimed at children. The line of three unsweetened waters are flavored with fruit and come packaged in 6.75-ounce juice boxes.

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