Friday, March 10, 2023

Five Observations at Natural Products Expo West 2023 for Dairy Foods Manufacturers and Marketers


“It’s like a family reunion.” That’s how my colleague Monica Watrous with Food Business News described the vibe at this year’s Natural Products Expo West taking place in Anaheim, California, until tomorrow, Saturday, March 11, 2023. I agree. And it’s a family reunion where we are all on the same page in terms of formulating food for the better good of people and the planet. (OK, there’s a few outliers. They are in every family!)

Nestlé USA sponsored an educational session on Thursday titled “Eat Like Your Life Depends On It, Because It Does.” Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Ward addressed the nutritional needs through various life stages and emphasized that “as quality of diet declines, obesity increases.” With those in the 2- to 18-year range, “it is clearly a public health concern as these [trends in poor diet] tend to track into adulthood.”

She emphasized, “They don’t get enough dairy.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!


“Teens are not equipped to think about their health in the long term. ‘We’ need to do it for them and give them the nutrients to help them out,” she said. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Registered Dietitian Jim White, said, “Sustainability is a high priority for younger consumers. And, ‘health is their wealth.’”  OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Ward added that older adults (over 65 years of age), “They want you to take their money. They are very hungry for your innovation. Older adults need more protein.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Doctors are recommending “food as medicine,” more than ever before, according to White. This, of course, is music to ears of registered dietitians who have long been encouraging their patients to change their eating habits rather than popping another pill. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

“We need more products with fewer ingredients,” said White. “We need these food to be as close to ‘whole’ foods as possible.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!
Doug Munk, senior director of innovation strategy at Nestlé USA, “Consumers are more mindful about what they eat and drink than ever before, be it seeking options that support their dietary needs, provide comfort, offer convenience or are made in a responsible and sustainable way.

With that said, here are my five key take-aways from this year’s Expo. 

1. The world does not need another plant-based cream cheese. I said this about high-protein, no-sugar ice cream about seven years ago when Halo Top first debuted. I was correct. I said this about plant-based chicken nuggets a year ago. I was correct. Repeat after me, “If my company is working on a plant-based cream cheese, we will table it and move on.” 

Why? Plant-based cream cheese is one of these easiest plant-based dairy products to produce. Dairy-based cream cheeses are a matrix of fat and gums. It’s pretty easy to swap that milkfat for a highly saturated vegetable-based fat and add all the other stuff. Protein is really not part of the recipe. If a plant-based cream cheese does not taste good, you have a bad R&D team, because it’s not that hard to do. That’s why there are way too many debuting at Expo West. And guess what? It’s highly unlikely that the American population is going to start eating more cream cheese if more brands roll out. (But there is some dairy excitement in this space that you will need to wait until next week when the product is featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy.) Again, please, repeat after me, “no more plant-based cream cheese innovation.”

2. Clean ingredients are paramount, along with simple ingredient statements. That’s what White said. And I agree. Consumers want to know what is in the products they are buying. While many exhibitors touted formulation highlights of their innovations, such as keto, paleo, low-to-no added sugars, plant-based and nutrient dense, if the ingredient statement is not clean, you have no chance of making it. Sorry to say. That’s because others are prioritizing clean label. And it makes a difference to consumers. 

Be mindful of allergens, added sugars and over processing. Today’s consumers know that eating clean is what keeps them feeling their best. Remember, “Health is the new wealth.”

3. Mission matters to today’s shoppers. Consumers are looking for a brand with a story that matters. Many are seeking out certifications, such as humanely raised, grass fed, USDA certified organic, etc. They are choosing brands for their sustainability investments and upcycling efforts. In fact, the number-one message from brands communicated at this year’s Expo West was how they support both people and the planet.

4. Optimal health…again, health is wealth, has become a personal formula for many consumers. It’s what works to keep their mental and physical health in check. Dietary supplements are making a comeback as many consumers are not getting what they want out of everyday foods. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Functional foods are booming, as these products fill in nutrient gaps. Many address digestive health, energy and cognitive support. These are the three biggest selling points of products at this year’s Expo. It’s all about foods that fuel to help one stay active, fend off stress and get a good night’s sleep. 

5. Dairy is rocking at this year’s Expo. Over the next few weeks, I will feature the new products that debuted at the show as a Daily Dose of Dairy. Some of the products showcased in today’s blog are line extensions and new flavors, such as Lifeway’s Guava Kefir. Others represent the messaging being communicated by dairy marketers at Expo. A number of these products have gone through packaging redesigns to better communicate their mission. They are providing full transparency about the power of their farming and their product. 

Organic Valley, for example, used Expo to launch new packaging with a bright, modern design that focuses on communicating its brand story and point of differentiation: Ethically sourced products from small family farms and the cooperative’s definition of what that means to consumers across the country. The new Organic Valley product packaging will roll out across the product portfolio in 2023 and continue into 2024. 

“As a farmer-owned cooperative founded in 1988, we believe it’s essential to evolve with our consumers, and that includes the product packaging and marketing we do to build and support a market for small organic family farms,” said Jaclyn Cardin, chief brand officer at Organic Valley. “Our new product packaging was specifically designed around the core values that make us unique and resonate with consumers. More importantly, people should know that every product purchase makes a huge difference in supporting and saving small family farms.” 

Organic Valley partnered with award-winning, Boulder-based, branding agency, Moxie Sozo, to create the new packaging. The design concept, affectionately called, “Nowstalgia,” features modern illustrations that connect an idealized past with the clean, contemporary present, and focuses on attributes that are important to both the brand and consumers. The logo has also been revised to fit the new designs, and many products will feature a QR code that shows consumers the positive impact from their purchase. The new design also showcases the key values this farmer-owned cooperative has always believed, like pasture-raised dairy and never using antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMOs on their farms.

 “Organic Valley challenged us to develop a new packaging design and system that combines consumer trends with the brand’s unique mission to save, serve and safeguard small organic family farms,” said Derek Springston, chief creative officer at Moxie Sozo. “Keeping those priorities in mind and knowing 73% of consumers enjoy things that remind them of their past, we were excited that the final ‘Nowstalgia’ design really brought everything together. It captures the wholesomeness that comes from simpler times alongside the mindfulness and excitement of today. Who wouldn’t want the best of the past and the present?” 

Hope to see you at Expo, if I have not already. Great to visit with Carmine, Deb, Ivan, Janelle, Michelle and more! Maybe join me for yoga on Saturday morning, weather permitting? I was proudly first in line on Thursday’s sunrise yoga. Cheers!

                       VISIT INGREDION AT BOOTH 971 at EXPO WEST

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