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Natural Products Expo East 2021 Shows Innovation Is Alive and Well

Oct. 21, 2021
Natural Products Expo East, one of the first in-person shows since the pandemic, had plenty of novelty.

Innovation and new product development appear to have not lost a step during the pandemic, based on one and a half days at Natural Products Expo East (NPEE), which was held Sept. 22-25 at the Pennsylvania Expo Center in Philadelphia.

The new location itself was a great improvement over previous NPEEs held in Baltimore. Notable, too, was the fact that organizers were able to pull off an in-person show while new variants of Covid raised concern and two other falls shows – the Fancy Foods Show and Private Label Trade Show – were canceled or rescheduled into next year.

Although significantly smaller than its sister show, Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), there were more than 800 exhibitors and over 15,000 registered attendees at NPEE (compared to 85,000 attendees at NPEW in 2019). There also was a great vibe and a lot of enthusiasm throughout the expo. People who attended were there to conduct business. One also could register and attend NPEE virtually, listen to the presentations and visit certain exhibitors on the virtual platform.

NPEE took all the safety precautions one could think of for the first trade show I attended in-person since the start of the pandemic:

  • They required everyone to show proof of vaccination.
  • They removed all carpeting from the aisles of the expo (allowing for more thorough nighttime cleaning).
  • The booths were well spaced out and there were large portions of the expo floor that were unused.
  • Some exhibitors took extra safety precautions including plastic shields and individually wrapping amples for tasting.

There was a good number of exhibitors there who introduced products back in the first quarter of 2020 (they probably were planning to unveil them at NPEW in March 2020 until it was canceled) as well as companies that made introductions in 2021.

Plant-based analogues continue to be hot, and a number of products were among standouts that caught my eye:

  • Oddlygood Oat Yoghurt Alternatives: From Finland dairy Valio, in Vanilla, Blueberry, Raspberry and Coconut.
  • Speka: There are a lot of protein bars out there, but this one is made of cottage cheese and delivers 8g of protein.
  • Elmhurst 1925: Plant Based Pistachio Barista Edition and Pistachio Crème Oat creamers.
  • Teva Deli’s vegan burgers: Among its line of plant-based analogues is the Algae Burger, claiming to be the first algae-based burger in the world.
  • Actual Veggies: A line of burgers made with vegetables that lend a color to the product names (Green Burger, Purple Burger, Orange Burger and Black Burger).
  • Brite Belly: These plant-based Asian dishes (in Gyoza, Bulgogi Fried Rice, Beef Curry, Grilled Beef and Mapo Tofu) currently are only in the Korea market, but they're looking for U.S. distributors.
  • RevoluGreen! Vegan Protein: Also a novel lineup looking for looking for U.S. distributors, these European products include Meatballs with Tomato Sauce, Beef-Style Burger, Chicken-Style Burger, Strips Mediterranean Style and Mediterranean Style Brownie.
  • Meatless Farms: A large array of products, including Ground Beef, Burgers, Breakfast Patties, Breakfast Sausages, Chick’N Cutlets, Chick’N Nuggets and Meatballs.
  • Food Earth: The six-product line of organic, ready-to-heat Indian meals consists of Vegetable Biryani, Chick Peas Curry, Split Lentic Curry, Red Kidney Bean Curry, Potatoes and Pea Curry, Eggplant Curry (all, except the biryani come with steamed rice.)

Some other products that got my attention:

  • Simply Good Jars: Ready-to-eat salad in jars in Southwestern Cobb, Chicken Quinoa, Smoked Salmon, Heavenly Pesto and Simply Greek.
  • Wuju: Believed to be one of the first dry soy sauce seasoning mixes.
  • Nona Lim Stir Fry Kits: Teriyaki Ramen or Pad Thai ready in 15 minutes.
  • Bush’s: Yes, the venerable American bean company debuted two varieties of organic soups -- Hearty Vegetable and White Beans Vegetable – plus two organic bowl toppers (Curried Chickpeas and Zesty Black Beans). It's great to see Bush’s branching out.
  • Fila Manila (Filipino American Kitchen): The Filipino Sauce & Marinade in Smooth Mild Peanut, Mild Tamari Soy, Hot Tamari Soy (with Chili) and Tomato Sauce was a winner in both the Nexty awards and the Slam Pitch – a company to watch in the future.

There was a lot of activity on the floor's No Alcohol arena (a category that got turbocharged during the pandemic). One group that caught my eye (and those of the judges, since they were a Nexty Award winner) was Ritual Zero Proof with its Gin Alternative, Tequila Alternative, Rum Alternative and Whiskey Alternative.

Some other interesting beverages:

  • Pocas RTD Bubble Tea: Flavors were Matcha, Brown Sugar, Taro and Honeydew, all with tapioca pearls.
  • Oaza Hydrate Your Coffee: RTD cold brew coffee plus electrolytes in Black, Oat Milk and Cacao Mocha.
  • True North Energy Seltzer: Providing immunity support in Watermelon Mist, Cucumber Lime, White Peach Pear, Mandarin Yuzu, Black Cherry and Grapefruit Lemonade.
  • Happy Being: A line of RTD iced white teas infused with clinically studied nutrients, all making an immune support claim, in blueberry raspberry, peach rose and lemon grass mint.
  • Saint James RTD Organic Green Teas: From the founder of Arizona Tea, in 500ml aseptic packages in Original, Passionfruit & Peach, Blueberry & Raspberry and Pineapple & Mango.

There were several beverage products with eye-catching graphics, including Roar Complete Hydration Organic Waters, Mananalu waters in an aluminum bottle (a way to ditch plastic) and Recess, a line of sparkling waters infused with hemp extract and adaptogens for calm and clarity.

Some other products I considered innovative:

  • Kalahari Crisps: Simply spiced top round beef, sliced and roasted to a perfect crunch in Original, Rosemary Citrus and Southwest Verde.
  • Brewer’s Chips: Sea Salt or Rosemary chips made from upcycled grains.
  • Nicholas Farms No Shell Pistachios: Jalapeno Lime, Garlic Garden Herbs, Cocoa Cookie.
  • Yolele Fonio Chips: Bringing in West African flavors is a trend we have noted at previous shows. These come in Afro-Funk (Dawadwa & Ginger), Greens (Moringa & Baobab), Yassa! (Chili, Onion & Lime) and Sea Salt.
  • That’s It Cunchables: Fruit snacks for kids in Apple + Pumpkin Seeds.

More than ever, I saw innovations (both as products and ingredients) around pumpkin. When asked why, the common response was that people are continuing to look for protein, and pumpkin seeds have more protein than other seeds. In addition to That's It Cunchables (above) were Patch Organics Pumpkin Seed Milk and a flavor infused line of pumpkin seeds from Pizootz.

And we can't forget the pets, since they are an important market for some of the processors in our industry and their numbers grew during the pandemic. Pure Bison Jerky developed all natural freeze-dried bison treats for pets in Bison Heart, Bison Lung, Bison Liver and Bison Tripe.

About the Author

Leslie Herzog

Leslie Herzog is vice president of operations & research services at The Understanding & Insight Group LLC, a business development and products research technology company practicing in the innovation and product design space for more than 17 years. He's also a longtime member of our Editorial Advisory Board.