Friday, March 15, 2024

Expo West 2024: Ten observations for all food industry professionals and five for the dairy industry


The global consumer wellness market is estimated to be valued at $1.8 trillion by McKinsey. The company’s latest Future of Wellness research surveyed more than 5,000 consumers across China, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many of those wellness products were on display—many made their debut—this week at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. 

Observation #1: Just because you can make it, does not mean you should. 

McKinsey reports that the global consumer wellness market is no stranger to fads, which can sometimes surface with limited clinical research or credibility. That is true of about half of the new products that debuted at Expo. 

“Today, consumers are no longer simply trying out these wellness trends and hoping for the best, but rather asking, ‘What does the science say?,’” according to the McKinsey report. 

You can download the whitepaper HERE.

McKinsey estimates that the wellness market reached $480 billion in the U.S., growing at 5% to 10% per year, with 82% of U.S. consumers now considering wellness a top or important priority in their everyday lives.

Observation #2: The “supposedly” better-for-you beverage business is out of control, with the majority of products targeted to Gen Z and millennials. And back to observation #1, just because you can put all that stuff into a can or bottle, does not mean you should. Further, most of that “stuff” is not backed by science. 

McKinsey reports that Gen Z and millennial consumers are now purchasing more wellness products and services than older generations. These products are targeted to health, sleep, nutrition, fitness, appearance and mindfulness.

The WHITE PAPER provides demographic data. 

Observation #3: While beverages may be big for Gen Z and millennials, snacks are big for older consumers, with many designed for healthy aging.
McKinsey agrees. Demand for products and services that support healthy aging and longevity is on the rise.

Observation #4: Products designed for varied “times” of life for women is booming, too. 

There were beverages, snacks and supplements for pregnancy and post-partum, and for all four stages of menopause: pre-, peri-, the long pauses, and the post.

McKinsey reports that women’s health has historically been underserved and underfunded. That is changing. But again, science matters, and many of the products at Expo were not backed by peer-reviewed research.

Observation #5: There’s real fear of the Ozempic factor by food and beverage companies. 
Thus, as a result, there’s more marketing at weight management and changing bad eating habits once the weight-loss pill subscription runs out. 

McKinsey research shows that weight management is top of mind for consumers in the U.S., with nearly one in three adults reporting that they struggle with obesity. Three out of five U.S. consumers in the McKinsey survey said they are currently trying to lose weight.

Observation #6: Gut health is mainstream and it’s going to continue to grow. Probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics and all types of funky fermented foods were everywhere…and in all shapes and forms. Of course there were plenty of gut-friendly (or so they claimed) beverages and snacks, but there were also condiments, cookies and even bread. Think kimchi, kombucha and yogurt. 

My favorite fermented innovation was snacking almonds. There was also a new sour dough pasta. The product was not necessarily playing in the gut healthy space, but was riding the fermented/ cultured flavor trend. 
McKinsey reports that more than 80% of consumers in China, the United Kingdom and the United States consider gut health to be important, and over 50% anticipate making it a higher priority in the next two to three years.

The remaining four observations are: 
Observation #7: Kids’ foods and beverages are hot, hot, hot. Even during inflationary times, parents are willing to spend more on only the best for their kiddos. 

Observation #8: Banana is becoming the new coconut. It’s being promoted for potassium content, hydration and, most importantly, affordability and reliable supply chains. 

Observation #9: Protein remains a talking point, with “complete” and “quality” protein messaging become more dominant in the plant-based space. This means that real meat, real dairy and real eggs need to up their game with marketing protein. 

Observation #10: Real meat, real dairy and real eggs were everywhere. They came with organic, regenerative agriculture or other sustainable claims. And, these claims were backed with numbers, something many of the plant-based products are not able to do because of the large number of ingredients in the formulations. Simple labels makes it easier to make sustainability claims. 

Let’s Talk Dairy. 

Dairy Observation #1: Danone North America was noticeably missing from the show. All other key natural and organic dairy players were there and shining! There were also a number of new players proudly displaying their innovations containing real dairy. 

Here’s one of my favorites. Once Upon a Farm, a childhood nutrition company, is entering the dairy category with real dairy! The company is launching organic A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes. Available in three flavors—Banana Crème, Strawberry Crème and Triple Berry--these organic whole milk shakes are made with farm-fresh fruits and veggies, A2/A2 organic whole milk and no added sugar. These sippable shakes use organic A2/A2 grass-based whole milk sourced from Alexandre Family Farm. 

In addition, Once Upon a Farm will release a second product line in its dairy portfolio--Whole Milk Smoothies—this spring. Varieties are Banana Berry Blast, Mango Pear-adise and Orange Squeeze. The whole milk smoothies compliment the brand’s existing Dairy-Free Smoothie line. 

“At Once Upon a Farm, we are committed to maximizing nutrition for our customers, little and big,” says Jennifer Garner, co-founder and chief brand officer. (Yes, it’s the actress.) “This announcement is so exciting we are dancing in the barn. We are launching scrumptious, sumptuous, A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes, in partnership with Alexandre Family Farms. You asked and boy, are we excited to share with you.”

Dairy Observation #2: There were way too many alt-milk brands. Might there be a correlation between Danone pulling two of its plant-based milks (Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Dairy Free Wondermilk) from the U.S. and not being at Expo? 

Plant-based dairy marketer Miyoko’s had scaled down its booth size and Daiya, likely the leader in the alt-dairy products with its many varied offerings, was also notably not at Expo. Could it be because:

“We’ve seen the pendulum go from alt-dairy back to real dairy, but it has to be clean label,” said Julie Smolyansky, personal friend, amazing woman and CEO of Lifeway Foods. 

The company will be modifying its product portfolio to give consumers what they want. 

Dairy Observation #3: Salty snacks with dairy flavor profiles and featuring dairy proteins continues to proliferate. 

Dairy Observation #4: Ditto with prepared foods, in particular pizza. Nothing beats the melt of real cheese. 

Dairy Observation #5: Dairy innovation was alive and thriving at Expo. New products will be featured over the next few weeks as a Daily Dose of Dairy. Butter innovations were numerous, and came from the U.S., Ireland, New Zealand and more. There was a kefir with collagen and fruit and veggie yogurt pouches for adults. Canned Vietnamese coffee made with sweetened condensed milk was available from many domestic beverage manufacturers and importers. 

And, this is why it’s important to walk up and down every aisle and take it all in. That last aisle—5700—of Hall E, a half dozen or so booths away from me exiting Expo for the year, there was Alamance Foods. I got a sneak peek and taste of the company’s new whipped cream cheese. Wowza. It was amazing. 

Put Expo West 2025 on your calendar. Dairy will likely have a stronger presence next year thanks to efforts by Dairy Management Inc., at this year’s show. The checkoff-funded organization debuted its new innovation tool geared toward assisting dairy entrepreneurs. The program—Innovate with Dairy--is designed to be a one-stop shop for anyone seeking information about the innovation process. The tool gives entrepreneurs access to more than 250 vetted dairy resources, including many leading researchers and professors who comprise the checkoff-founded Dairy Foods Research Centers network. 

The DMI team met with dairy innovators at Expo West and hosted a seminar about Innovate with Dairy. Four companies--Amazing Ice Cream, Darigold, Fiscalini Farmstead and Spare Tonic—were hosted by DMI in an Undeniably Dairy booth. Their products were also displayed in two innovation cabinets. To learn more about Innovate with Dairy, link HERE.

Also, plan to attend IDDBA in Houston this June. See you there!

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