The natural/organic marketplace has undergone transition in the past few years, and that change is evident in what we saw at Natural Products Expo West (NPEW). Many years ago, the show was full of “company executives” in tie-dye shirts and sandals hawking crunchy granola … then it became more of a formal but still niche natural & organic marketplace … and now that market has become fully mainstream and big business, just like the show.
And with just as many venture capitalists walking the aisles as buyers for natural food stores.
This year’s NPEW, March 7-11 in Anaheim, Calif., was as vibrant as ever, with more than 3,000 exhibitors, including almost 900 first-time exhibitors and more than 65,000 attendees (up from 57,000 in 2022 but still below the pre-pandemic/2019 total of 85,000).
While NPEW still has its share of up-and-coming companies with a single product, many of which may not be around in two or three years, there are many big names there (Nestle, General Mills, Danone, Chobani), some of which have been there for a decade or more.
On the buying side of the equation, the little, independent natural food stores are disappearing, replaced by organic mega retailers like Whole Foods, organic sections in some grocery stores and, in others, organic products interspersed with regular ones. And there’s just as much discussion about omnichannel. And private label/store brand organics. It’s all becoming mainstream.
Some other observations:
- Values are more important than value to this group. It seems many exhibitors had a cause or charity, and in many cases they were as evident and promoted as the company’s products.
- Upcycling is growing. Many companies were using “ugly” produce or farm/field discarded ingredients to take a stand against food waste.
- Regenerative agriculture was being promoted. And it’s not just talk anymore: The Regenerative Organic Alliance has a process to certify farms. In addition to its embrace by many small companies, General Mills has long associated itself with this mission.
- Among sweeteners, stevia may be on the wane as some consumers question how natural it is. Some companies are beginning to flag their products “no stevia added.” Monk fruit looked more widely used at this show. And there is a weak trend in beverages to develop mid/low sugar products, despite last year’s trend toward “zero sugar” beverages. Dates are a rising star for sweetening, and other fruits also are being used.
- There was a noticeable decrease in products with CBD; in fact, one beverage company that launched a line of products with CBD several years ago launched the same line without CBD “due to the uncertainty of the market,” he said.
Interesting products we found at NPEW this year
This year’s rendition had plenty of intriguing products, from both start-ups and established companies. Below is what we considered some of the more unique products. Some of these products were launched in 2022, while others may not be on shelf (or available on-line) until later this year.