More than 2,700 companies from all over the world attended the 2022 edition – finally in person – of Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, between 8 and 12 March. The fair, known as the hub of innovation for emerging brands, start-ups and multinationals in the food & beverage sector, lived up to expectations and we at AromataGroup have identified five particularly interesting macro-trends shaping the f&b arena.
Consumer behaviour and habits are changing and the pandemic has certainly accelerated this change. A survey conducted by New Hope Network on the participants of the fair has revealed the main stresses on which innovation is focused. The ‘plant-based’ mantra dominates, followed by ‘clean-label‘ and responsible supply chain, and there is a growing interest in socially or ecologically ‘committed’ companies.
Here below the 5 macro inspirations that we have identified, coming from the show:
1 – The natural and organic food and drink segment is growing much faster than the industry average. The growth is due to consumers’ increasing interest in health and wellness. New Hope Network predicts that sales of organic and natural foods will exceed USD 300 billion by 2024. Interesting innovations in the allergen-free field include Bolognese sauce from Good Food For Good Inc. (Toronto), totally plant-based, prepared with organic sunflower seeds; or the line of ready meals offered by All Clean Food Llc, free of the 14 major allergens (the pasta is prepared with rice and quinoa flours).
2 – Sustainability is confirmed as a key pillar for innovation. From regenerative agriculture – Navitas Organic presented a cocoa powder produced by farmers using holistic and indigenous practices to protect biodiversity and natural resources – to reducing emissions, sustainability-focused innovation dominates Natural Products Expo West 2022. Particularly in the plant-based segment, where sustainable innovation in terms of nuggets, ice cream and cheese is all about ingredients such as jackfruit, lentils, chickpeas and sunflower seeds. Highlights in the sector include ‘liquid vegetable mozzarella’ created specifically for pizza by the famous Myoko’s Creamery (cultured cashew milk); egg alternatives Just Eggs and Wunder Eggs; and vegetable scallops by Mind Blown. The zero-waste upcycling trend deserves a special mention, such as Renewal Mills, which creates baked goods from plant-based dairy waste. One such example is Renewal Mills, which creates baked goods from vegetable milk waste, including pea milk (made from yellow pea protein), served in cans and bottled with a hydrogen system to enhance creaminess.
3 – DEI – Diversity, Equity, Inclusion – imperatives also permeate F&B innovation, with inclusive recipes going beyond mere ethnic inspiration. The number of companies run by women, or owned by ethnic minorities, LGBTQ or veterans, has increased exponentially, enriching the innovation stage. One example above all? The ‘banana ketchup’ inspired by a typical Filipino sauce made of bananas, sweet peppers, herbs and spices.
4 – The functional is working more and more and has certainly benefited from the pandemic. Nootropics’ (‘smart drugs and smart nutrients’), i.e. substances that improve people’s cognitive functions, such as L-theanine and green tea extract, are increasingly popular. But the innovations presented at Expo West include more than just snacks to improve attention spans and concentration: from increasing energy and regulating mood, to improving sleep and relaxation, increasing libido and sexual energy, and controlling hormonal balance, there is a wide range on offer. An Israeli company, Upland Snacks, has developed a freeze-drying process that combines fruit, vegetables, spices, seeds and cereals into bite-sized snacks.
5 – Brands are also re-inventing the concept of ‘comfort foods’ to respond with renewed solutions to the ‘nostalgic’ trend that we always see emerging in times of instability.
Emerging ingredients? Jackfruit certainly, which is a popular (and very cheap) ingredient in traditional South East Asian cuisines, but is becoming increasingly important for the plant-based sector, given its versatility and texture. Sacha Inchi, a creeper native to Peru whose nuts have more protein than pork and whose oil is one of the most valuable dietary sources of plant-based Omega 3. Notable functional ingredients include ashwagandha (also known as ‘winter cherry’ or ‘Indian ginseng’), which has seen a 162% increase in sales both in store and online.