Anaheim, Calif., welcomed back Natural Products Expo West this week, after sending everyone home two years when the pandemic entered our lives and forever changed us…or maybe not. Expo, which continues through Saturday, has been busier than ever and most folks are not wearing a mask. Proof of vaccination or a negative covid test are required to enter any expo-related spaces. I must admit, on the first day, when only select halls were open, the aisles were so packed, it was hard to move. I wore my mask and also left after awhile as it was an unpleasant experience. It was better the next day when all halls were open. The positive news is that the industry is booming and there’s a lot of activity taking place.
In fact, during the past two years, many manufacturers took the time to focus, prioritize and invest. There were 2,750 exhibitors this year with 625 first timers. Like with many expos, I sampled, selectively. It was no surprise that the dominant theme was plant based (not CBD), sometimes to the point of being humorous. (Think plant-based ketchup!)
I do agree with what Andrew Fleming, senior vice president at Acosta said during the opening keynote session. “Everything starts here and blossoms and grows out of here.”
Here are five plant-based products that caught my eye on the show floor.
CHKP Foods is rolling out chickpea-based yogurt. Each flavor—Blueberry, Plain, Strawberry and Vanilla-- provides 5 to 6 grams of protein per 5.3-ounce cup, which is one of its marketing features. This sets it apart from other plant-based yogurt-style products made from coconut or oats. The product is 100% vegan, gluten free and non-GMO. Plain has no sugars. The others have 8 grams or less of total sugars, which come from the fruit and real sugar. Monkfruit extract helps keep the product sweet without contributing calories.
The product also comes with a story. The founders are Middle East natives who grew up with chickpeas as a staple food. They always admired the taste, versatility and nutritiousness of these plant-based powerhouses. They have set out to use chickpeas to craft dairy-free products that are not “alternatives” to dairy, rather they are just another delicious, nutritious choice to be made without sacrifice or compromise.
Forager Project, which describes itself as an organic plant-based creamery, is entering the kids’ space with cashewmilk-based yogurt in 3.2-ounce pouches. It contains probiotics and is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, D and B12.
There were way too many plant-based ice creams at Expo. Smart marketers know that to compete in this space, you must differentiate. The world does not need another plant-based vanilla ice cream. One way to differentiate is with creative novelties and desserts. Revolution Gelato now offers plant-based gelato pies. They are debuting in Turtle and Pumpkin flavors.
There were also way too many plant-based cheeses. To a cheese aficionado like me, most don’t even pass the smell test. One company stands out because it’s a dairy.
Saputo Dairy USA is bringing its range of Vitalite branded vegan-certified, dairy-free cheese alternatives to the U.S. marketplace. The launch of the Vitalite brand into the States follows the success it has had in the dairy-free category in the U.K. since 2003. The retail line includes mozzarella-style shreds and slices, cheddar-style shreds and slices, parmesan-style grated topping and cream cheese-style spread.
Brad Panarese, director of U.S. marketing and brand management told me last night at a media tasting event, “It was time to come to the U.S. market.”
Dairies making non-dairy options of dairy foods that they excel in tend to have an upper hand in this space. They understand the science and process behind making the real deal, especially cheese.
The final concept that stood out is functional beverages, a space dairies need to get into now. Pop & Bottle, which has the tagline of “a new way to latte,” is rolling out organic shelf-stable coffee and tea lattes made with either oats or almonds.
The innovation does not stop there. The beverages include functional ingredients, such as antioxidants, adaptogens and even marine-based collagen. (The latter is why the drinks are labeled dairy free and not vegan.)
In early February I featured Lifeway Foods’ new Lifeway MSHRM Oat line. This is another example of a dairy making a dairy-free product. The new line of adaptogenic functional mushroom beverages is the latest addition to the company’s extensive portfolio of cultured oat beverages. In addition to containing 10 live and active probiotic cultures plus heart-healthy beta-glucans, the new product line features a variety of functional mushrooms and adaptogens, and will be offered in three unique flavor combinations. They are:
Calm: This reishi mushroom and vanilla flavored drink is designed to decrease stress and anxiety while boosting mood
Support: This is a blend of adaptogenic mushrooms and aronia berry for immune support
Focus: This drink is formulated with the stress-reducing adaptogens in Lion’s Mane mushroom, and L-Theanine from green tea, turmeric and ginger to relax and boost your mood
“The release of our Lifeway MSHRM Oat comes at a time when consumers are seeking out innovative, functional beverages that taste great and include ingredients at the forefront of health research,” said Julie Smolyansky, CEO. “With so much focus on the mental health crisis and the promising research around functional mushroom ingredients, I’m proud to offer these wellness options for everyone to enjoy and add to their self-care toolkits.”
I really wish such functional beverages were made with dairy proteins.
Speaking of dairy, the “real” dairy message from the expo floor is doing dairy properly. Innovators are jumping on the grass-fed, regenerative agriculture movement. That’s because it is the right thing to do. In fact, there’s a non-dairy ice cream player that now sells grass-fed dairy ice cream.
I am happy to report that dairy is alive at Expo West. I will continue to feature new dairy innovations from expo over the next few weeks. There were MANY!
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