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Natural Products Expo West 2023: Mainstreaming the Organic Marketplace

March 21, 2023
The NPEW event, formerly known for its tie-dye clad company executives, appears to be ushering in a new era of mainstream venture capitalists looking for the next big thing.

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.

Golden Nest RTD Cold Brew Mushroom Coffee: Black Unsweetened, Black with Organic Sugar, Oat Milk Latte (all are dairy free)
  • Elari Tigernut Root milks: Another plant-based “milk,” this one from the tigernut root, which has some unique nutritional benefits, plus they’re nut- and dairy-free
  • Several lines of “healthy sodas,” including: Rowdy Mermaid (with 200mg ashwagandha) and My Muse (with adaptogens and antioxidants)
  • Gut Nuts: fermented almonds
  • Lovo Chocolate: Bars made from specialty milks (almond milk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk)
  • Hayday Canning (yes, canned foods with an intriguing tag line: Canned Food for a New Generation): Tomato Alla Vodka Cannellini Beans, Kimchi Sesame Navy Beans, Harissa Lemon Chickpeas, Enchilada Black Beans, Coconut Curry Chickpeas, Apricot Glazed Black Beans (we hope the suggested price of $4.49-$4.99 per 15 oz. can doesn’t impede trial)
  • Johnny Pops: Organic ices made with patented technology which allows customers to mix and match flavors with every bite (Rainbow Fruit Stacks, Star Spangled Flag, Summer Sunrise)
  • Dole (yes, the company known for fruit) is going into some intriguing categories, including Probiotic Fruit Sodas and Good Crunch Pineapple Bites.
  • Rudolph Foods/Southern Recipe: Turning pork rinds into croutons
  • Three Little Pigs: Ready to heat entrees in creamy mushroom chicken, red wine braised beef
  • Reed’s: Long a proponent of ginger in its sodas, the company now offers gumdrops, ginger bears, crystallized ginger slices, crystallized mini baking bits
  • The Republic of Tea: Theo & Thea teas that could be desserts, in bananas foster, blood orange spice, mint chip crème, caramel coconut
  • Tea Drops: Ube latte tea Kit (made with organic sugar and includes a creamer packet) and Matcha Boba Kit (along with two wellness drops, Digest or Chill)
  • Maka WheatGrass Superfood Beverage: In hibiscus passionfruit, mango, lemon, coconut pineapple
  • Two new almond snacks: Calbee San Joaquin Almond Chips (in sea salt, hickory smoked, wasabi ranch) and Good Measure Almond Crisps (a blood sugar-friendly snack in cheddar and sriracha)
  • Scout: Seafood snacks on the go in Chili Crisp, Chili Jalapeno, Za’atar
  • Nutiva: Coconut spreads in vanilla, chocolate, almond, all organic
  • The Daily Crave: Ready to Eat Fries in Himalayan pink salt, Taco Dil-licious
  • Nichols Farms: Flavored No Shell Pistachios in garlic & garden herb, jalapeno lime, roasted salted, cocoa cookie
  • Henrietta Said: Jumbo Roasted Peanuts in Original Buffalo, Nashville Hot Chicken, Ancho Kimchi, Lemon Pepper (the products are in an eye popping stand up resealable pouch)
  • Newman’s Own: Spices and seasonings, launched last year, now 10 new varieties (all organic) including Elote Street Corn, Herbes De Provence, Indian Style Curry, Churro with Rich Chocolate
  • Uncanny Snacks: Pistachios, peanuts & almonds, mixed nuts, cashews and salted almonds
  • About the Author

    Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

    Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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