In reflecting back on this year’s Natural Products Expo West, I’d like to offer some observations on three of the trends that were everywhere evident.
First, there was the pervasiveness of snacks in various forms – chips (ranging from organic mungbean chips to every kind of rice and vegetable chip you can imagine), crackers, pops and other items, all of them gluten free. (A craving for salty snacks seems to be embedded in our culture, and is something the natural and organic food industry is going to increasingly have to address.) Coconut was also a component found in every conceivable type of complimentary commodity, including coconut water and coconut milk (not to mention coconut cream and coconut oil),
I tried the snack offerings of at least 10 new companies, and found the progress being made on taste and texture to be amazing, the quality having improved considerably in the last few years. Of course, the question of whether such products can be made to fit the criteria that allows them to be categorized as actual “health food” is another subject, but it is obvious that snack food is here to stay, and that healthier options at the very least will become more widely available. My own feeling is that just as Pepsi and Coke have gone about buying up most of the healthy beverage brands on the market and pushing them through their distribution channels, so will more and more natural and organic snack labels become subsidiaries of big-name conventional food processors. There are some good ones that will be gobbled up for sure (along with the snacks themselves).
Second was the emphasis on transparency (something that’s consistent with my “Truth Gap” theory). When it comes down to a consumer’s decision to buy a particular product or not, I am convinced the tie breaker will be the feeling of honesty and sincerity projected by the company — whether it can “walk its talk,” so to speak. Beyond health issues, such transparency will have to extend to broader environmental concerns, such as the company’s commitment to total sustainability through packaging and recycling programs, as indicated by recycled content . (This is not an advertisement, but I couldn’t help noticing how well-received the Greenopolis Recycling kiosk was at the Naked Juice booth where it was featured.)
Third, it was increasingly obvious that, despite a recent Green Gauge study by GfK Roper Consulting showing roughly 40 percent of U.S. consumers to be “jaded” toward environmental concerns, natural and organic foods are the way of the future. It was a message that came through loud and clear at this year’s Expo, whose tone was upbeat, exciting and optimistic, a sort of reawakening of the enthusiasm that pervaded the mid-90s. Now again (and particularly in these challenging economic times), I believe we have to figure out ways to bring down the price without compromising quality – something that has to be a goal for everyone in this industry.
All-told, the trends I observed at this year’s Expo all point to a “healthy outlook” for the increased popularity of healthy foods – provided those in the industry can manage to stay on top of them while reaching the everyday consumer on a down-to-earth level.