Sunny start to Natural Product Expo 2015 at Anaheim Convention Center

Sunny start to Natural Product Expo 2015 at Anaheim Convention Center

If there were any doubts, lay them aside:  Expo, with emphasis on Natural Product Expo, is mainstream.

On my visit last week to Anaheim, I met and mingled with the throng of exhibitors and attendees. “Throng”:  yes, an expected 60,000 metastasized into 72,000 according to official estimates.  This attendance alone indicates the growing clout and some would say coronation of natural as mainstream. You have plenty of food professionals attending who certainly make that point. Gone are the days when natural takes a backseat to anyone.

What really stood out? Several categories and exhibitors bear noting.

Snacking – Long poo-pooed as culinary second thoughts and dietary bedevilments, snacks are now seen as healthy. Or more precisely “healthy” for today’s lifestyle.  You name any leading natural brand and they have a foot in this near-fast-food door. And as noted from Fancy Food in San Francisco, the flavors, tastes and textures keep improving.  Crunchy Flamous® falafel chips, Good Bean (bean-based chips) Hampton Creek Cookie Dough (for people who can’t wait to bake!), Lundberg Multigrain Chips, or returning to California Kashi snack bars and chips — all are putting forward delicious and healthy snacks.   Eating fast and healthy is no longer an oxymoron for these brands.

Snacks at Expo - you'll find beans, (bacon), kale and chia inside

Snacks at Expo – you’ll find beans, (bacon), kale and chia inside

Probiotic – Yes, probiotics have been around for a decade or more. Now, the bar has been raised for greater bioactivity, better formats (GoodBelly, dairy and gluten free drinks) and Greek yogurt for every occasion. Chobani had a delight-filled booth with many chefs presenting their ideas to place its yogurts on white table cloth menus — and not just for dessert. In fact, Chobani hit two of the big themes, snacking and probiotics in its Chobani Gorgonzola Crostini.

Two bagger: Chobani Gorgonzola Crostini

Two bagger: Chobani Gorgonzola Crostini

Good Belly, probiotics without the worries

Good Belly, probiotics without the worries

Finally, with the increasing consumer and trade scrutiny of all ingredients, one of the key trends is Supply Chain Verification. Whether your business is tea, cookies, jerky or soup, you have to be worried about where every ingredient comes from. Between USDA Organic, certified organic, soy-free, gluten-free, kosher or Non-GMO Project Verified someone has to do the testing and manufacturers and marketers have to unfailingly document the provenance of all contents. Layer on top of this HACCP controls and one readily sees why these products have higher costs and higher prices.

Then, of course, there is a counter movement to simplicity.  For example, take a look at this Rise Bar ingredient statement: three ingredients:  almonds, honey and whey protein. Impressive and easy for consumers to understand!

Rise Bar: almonds, honey, whey protein = easy to understand and produce

Rise Bar: almonds, honey, whey protein = easy to understand and produce

I believe that to continue the industry’s apparent growth, the natural channel must identify and focus on identifying WHO are its customers that value these certifications and WHAT specific benefits consumers need to know about. Specific consumers buy products which offer specific and easily understood benefits from superior and certified ingredients.

That’s my summary. If you have another vantage point, something I missed or mis-interpreted, please feel free to comment here, write me at: johnwiest@wiestco.com or phone me at (415) 928-3130.

– John