During March 8-12, 2018, approximately 80,000 industry professionals attended Expo West – the grocery industry’s largest annual show in North America. The exhibition had 3,100 natural products exhibitors ranging from mom-and-pop startups to internationally-recognized brands. The key event themes pertaining to food and nutrition focused on transparency about sourcing, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility; regenerative organic agriculture; and enhancing the nutritional value of meal components, snacks, and indulgence products.
Transparency about Sourcing, Sustainability, and Corporate Social Responsibility
As the farm-to-table movement continues to evolve, natural foods consumers are demanding greater transparency about ingredient sourcing and manufacturing locations. Educated consumers are not interested in products with vague claims that may be mass-produced by unidentified co-manufacturers. To increase transparency, more natural products manufacturers are placing ingredient sourcing facts prominently on their food packages, and using these claims to validate product quality.
Natural products competitors are also highlighting sustainable sourcing practices and socially responsible motives to increase transparency. Annie’s focuses on sustainable sourcing by only using 10 ingredients that account for ~80% of its total ingredient purchases. Additionally, Annie’s is a founding member of the Climate Collaborative and uses regenerative agriculture, responsible manufacturing, and sustainable packing to combat climate change. Chobani is committed to reducing its environmental impact by working closely with local farms to ensure humane treatment of cows. The Chobani Foundation supports the community through yogurt food bank donations and community events, and works to improve childhood nutrition and wellness. This new wave of messaging about sustainability and corporate social responsibility goes beyond making consumers feel comfortable about ingredient sourcing. The messages let people know that their food choices benefit the environment and their communities.
Regenerative Organic Agriculture
Many natural foods companies have joined the movement to save the Earth’s soil and reverse climate change through regenerative agriculture. This practice takes organic farming and associated product claims to the next level by ensuring that ingredients are sourced from areas that follow strict guidelines about soil usage. Guidelines focus on crop rotation, efforts to maintain microbial diversity in soil, and grazing rotation to prevent soil overuse. The goal of regenerative agriculture is to reverse hundreds of years of damage to the Earth’s soil and climate. Estimates indicate that nearly half of the Earth’s top soil has been lost in the past two centuries to overuse and harmful agricultural practices.
Natural products manufacturers who adhere to regenerative agriculture presented their messages on a grand scale at Expo West. These companies ranged from startups to some of the largest CPG manufacturers. General Mill’s entire booth focused on education about the state of the earth’s soil and how they intend to apply regenerative agriculture to as many of their products as possible. Patagonia Provisions sought to call attention to the degree which mass produced foods wreak havoc on delicate soil ecosystems that may take decades to recover.
Enhancing Nutritional Value
Over the past decade, enhanced nutrition was commonly demonstrated by protein bars for post-workout recovery, or sports drinks filled with electrolytes. While these products are still available, these older models have been replaced by items that eliminate sugars or synthetic ingredients and include functional nutrition. Innovators are building in functional benefits that may work in conjunction with a consumers’ need. Redd offers a chocolate energy bar that includes protein, caffeine, and superfoods for optimal workouts. The Truth Bar incorporates prebiotics and probiotics in a simple snack to deliver digestive health benefits. Ancient Harvest’s Pow! Pasta has green lentils to provide more protein than traditional wheat pasta so that consumers can experience greater nutrition and flavors.
The key trends conveyed at Expo West illustrate the need for food product manufacturers to update product messaging and positioning statements for the next generation of consumers. These consumers have, and demand, greater access than ever before to nutritional transparency. They desire to purchase nutritious products that are manufactured by companies with verifiable environmental and social practices.