This year’s Natural Products Expo West was a huge success. More than 3,000 brand and 80,000 people attended the 4-day show in Anaheim. Buyers from retailers ranging from Costco to Whole Foods Market strolled the halls looking for the hottest products to stock on their shelves.
I personally sampled dozens (possibly hundreds) of products, shipping back a huge box loaded with snacks, drinks and bars. I got a taste of some of the top product trends.
Stick ’em Up
Meat sticks once were a stale category – a snack you might grab at the convenience store counter but wouldn’t necessarily seek out. Not anymore. The new generation of meat stick is anything but boring. Sticks now are available in a wide range of flavors and sizes – from foot-long to miniature. And most brands now offer no-sugar and lower-sodium options.
Once available only in standard flavors like teriyaki and peppercorn, you can find meat sticks in exotic and exciting flavors like Krave‘s Black Cherry BBQ, The New Primal‘s Chicken & Maple and Country Archer‘s Mango Habenero. Along with a large assortment of flavors, sticks are available in a variety of meats, including chicken, beef, turkey and venison. A growing number of brands, including Primal Spirit and Krave, also offer plant-based sticks.
For those who might turn up their nose at these sticks, Baja Vida‘s nitrate-free sticks are crafted by a Michelin-star chef.
Buzzing about Honey
There were a number brands with honey products.In some cases, the sweet, sticky substance is used as a key ingredient, including Honey Mama’s Blonde Truffle bars and Honey Stinger Energy Gels. Beebad Energy Drink touts itself as the first honey-sweetened energy drink. Other brands sell it in its pure form, including Nature Nates Honey & Co and Bee Harmony Honey. Hive to Table Honey Farms calls itself the first vertically-integrated honey company, with its own bee hives, packaging company and four brands under one roof: Jamies Hive To Table Honey, Kelley’s Local Texas Honey, Fischer’s Raw Honey and Zeigler’s Uniquely Souter Honey.
Sweet as Sugar Free
Low-sugar and sugar-free sweet treats were everywhere at the show. From candy brands like Yumy Candy and SweetSmart to ice cream brands like Two Spoons Creamery and N!ck’s, there are more options than ever before for those who want healthier options to satisfy their sweet tooth. SkinnyDipped makes low-sugar chocolate covered peanut cups and says “You can have your cup and eat it too.” Brands like JOYRIDE Uncommon Sweets take out sugar altogether, replacing it with alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia extract and sugar alcohol.
Two innovative standouts at the show include SKU alum Funky Mello – a vegan marshmallow cream – and Whipnotic – a whipped cream that uses a patented swirl technology to infuse all-natural fruit juices into keto-friendly whipped cream without corn syrup.
While some brands positioned themselves as better-for-you versions of desserts, others, like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and American Licorice Co (Red Vines, Sour Punch Twists), aren’t afraid to play up their indulgence factor. “We make unforgettable, crave-worthy flavors that bring people together,” says Jeni’s. There were several plant-based ice creams, including SKU alum Green Girl Bakeshop, Eclipse and CoolHaus, for those looking for dairy-free options without sacrificing flavor.
A growing number of beverage brands are focusing on the mind rather than just boosting energy. Rowdy Mermaid, for example includes hotanicals, fruits, herbs and mushrooms in its kombucha and sparkling topics to boost clarity. Sunwink‘s sparkling tonics and powders are designed to destress in addition to de-bloating and detoxing. Although they didn’t have a booth this year, SKU brand Leisure Project touts itself as “hydration made happier.” Emotional Utility Beverage offers flavors like Euphoric and Focused “to help shift mood and mindsets.”
Are you Nuts?
Nuts were everywhere this year. Brands showcases showcased a wide variety of nuts in every imaginable flavor and form. SKU alum Karma Nuts offer wrapped cashews, while Daily Crunch Snacks showcased its sprouted almonds and nut and fruit mixes. Many exhibitors sell bulk nuts, Mixed Nuts Inc. has been dry roasting, flavoring, and packaging a full line of nuts, seeds, dried fruits in bulk as well as retail products under the Premium Orchard brand.
There were some interesting new nut butters. A nutty standout was BNutty, which makes peanut butters in such flavors as Irresistible Pretzel, Simple Salty Caramel and Totally Toffee. NutRaw’s Pistachio Butters come in interesting combos with macadamia nuts as well as cashews and almonds.
Walnut brands, a long ignored nut, is getting its due as brands have discovered how to eliminate the bitter taste. Unbound Snacks and Crazy Go Nuts are among the brands selling walnut butters and snacks.
For many years, the canned fish category has been pretty boring. There now are several innovative new fish products on the market. Pescavore Seafood has created jerky snacks made from whole-cut yellowfin tuna in such flavors as Caribbean jerk and Island Teryaki. Scout – which calls itself the future of tinned fish – sells a wide range of sustainable seafood products including multipacks of tuna, rainbow trout, lobster, wild albacore tuna, wild yellowtail, wild pink salmon and mussels. Scout recently launched crunchy Scout Seafood Snacks in such flavors as Chile Crisp and Za’atar. Safe Catch only buys tuna from captains whose fish come from managed and sustainable tuna stocks.
And for tuna lovers who don’t eat fish, Tuno offers a plant-based alternative that looks like the real thing, right down to the cans it comes in.
Cheers to Mocktails
The number of alcohol-free brands continues to grow as more sober-curious consumers seek options, whether they’re eliminating alcohol altogether or reducing the amount they drink.
SKU brands Mocktail Club and Hella Cocktail Co. were among the brands offering non-alcoholic RTC cocktails, while brands like Partake Brewing and Molson Coors showcased non-alcoholic beers. Still in its infancy, beverages crafted with hopes are gaining traction. Hop Wtr touts itself as a sparkling, non-alcoholic mood-boosting beverage with a proprietary blend of stress-busting hops, adaptogens and “nootropics bursts.”
Innovation isn’t isolate to food and beverage. There were several brands showcasing personal-care product brands for below the waist. SKU alum DUDE Wipes showed off such products as DUDE Powder Menthol Chill talc-free deodorizing body powder and Shea Butter Smooth wipes. The Honey Pot Co.’s products include Cucumber Aloe Wash and wipes and Bergamot Rose Foaming Wash. Hempress & Harper offers sustainable single-use personal-care products using the the power of hemp.