Last week, the 2023 edition of Natural Products Expo West brought the natural industry together in Anaheim for an exciting week of education, conversations, product showcases, and—most importantly—sampling. With more than 65,000 registered attendees and 3,000 exhibitors across 5 days and multiple halls, Expo West reminded everyone why it is the event of the year for the natural product industry.
The resounding message throughout the education sessions and booth discussions was that the industry is committed to meeting consumers where they are. Value-driven consumers want products that seamlessly fit into their lives. That’s exactly why the Expo halls were filled with new and exciting iterations of existing products. Brands understand that consumers are looking for better versions that meet their needs. That’s the type of innovation that is pushing the natural products industry forward.
As the SPINS team surpassed our daily step goals thanks to walking every aisle of the expo halls (and sometimes doubling back to get more delicious samples), we identified some clear trends at Expo West 2023:
1. Classic Snacks Get a Nutritious Makeover
Booth after booth showcased products that looked a lot like classic snacks everyone has in the pantry—except these products were better for you. Pasta Snacks turned penne pasta made with lentils and white beans into gluten-free crunchy chips, while 12 Tides transformed sea kelp into sustainable puffy chips. Brands like Marimix took a different approach by creating a snack mix with ingredients that are similar to conventional counterparts but without high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and animal-derived products.
2. Allergens Are Top of Mind
Manufacturers are transforming family staples into allergen-friendly items that retain their classic taste and allow consumers to enjoy their favorites. For example, sunflower butter brand Sunbutter previewed their on-the-go snack Jammies, a grab-and-go PB&J that is safe for anyone with nut allergies or who wants a convenient snack. While PKN’s pecan-based milk and creamers are not for anyone with tree nut allergies, they are exciting additions to plant-based milk options for anyone who avoids lactose and dairy.
3. Functional Ingredients Are Everywhere
Functional ingredients are not new to natural products, but this year’s Expo West proved that brands are doubling down on them. These added ingredients offer additional health benefits to products that consumers are already interested in. Goodle’s protein-packed macaroni and cheese makes life easier for anyone counting their macros, and Mayawell’s prebiotic soda lets consumers boost their gut health without giving up their favorite drinks. Both products are examples of how today’s consumers can focus on wellness and still enjoy the foods and drinks they grew up loving.
4. Plant-Based Continues to Transform
Never assume that plant-based products have reached the limits of innovation. From texture to flavor to cuisine type, the plant-based products on display at Expo West excelled in every category. Both the vegetarians and carnivores of the SPINS team agreed that Shicken’s global flavors and Too Good To Be’s pork dumplings are evidence that plant-based products can meet the needs of just about every type of consumer without sacrificing quality. Freezer staples like plant-based patties and nuggets are still popular, but these other alternatives are helping the category go global and appeal to a wider audience.
5. Sustainability Is the Norm
Many manufacturers put sustainability at the front of their products, from ingredient sourcing to animal welfare to redesigned packaging. Others included sustainability information on their packaging, but it wasn’t their focal point because it was inherently part of their mission. Together, both approaches made up the overwhelming majority of products we saw at Expo West. Customers expect brands to make meaningful efforts to be good for the planet, workers, or animals—and brands clearly got the message. Perhaps no product proves this point more than Busy Bee Honey, which provides consumers with information on the location of the beehive the honey came from, the flowers they visited, and where it was packaged. This type of transparency empowers the consumer to make an informed choice about the types of businesses they support.
6. VMS Promotes Self-Care
Thanks to social media, “self-care” earned a facetious reputation for any enjoyable activity from enjoying a glass of wine to wearing pajamas all day. Although both of those activities are great options, consumers are often looking for more meaningful ways to make relaxation and stress relief part of their daily routine. The Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements aisles were lined with options for improved sleep, stress relief, and better cognitive skills in a variety of forms, such as Garden of Life magnesium gummies or Onnit melatonin spray. These options are easy to incorporate into everyday rituals so that shoppers can enjoy the long-term benefits of feeling refreshed and focused.
7. The Natural Community Is Making a Difference
During Expo West, New Hope Network hosted the Community Purpose and Impact Awards for individuals and organizations improving the natural products industry. With categories ranging from the Health Award (for Clark’s Nutrition) to the Regenerative and Sustainability Award (for The Almond Project), it’s clear that the natural community is making meaningful and inspiring changes that will have long-term benefits for people and the planet.
8. The State of the Natural Industry Is Exciting
SPINS Chief of Staff Kathryn Peters helped kick off Expo West with The State of Natural presentation, alongside Carlotta Mast, New Hope Network’s SVP and Market Leader, and Nick McCoy, Managing Director and co-founder of Whipstitch Capital. Together, they gave an overview of how the natural products industry is responding to ongoing inflation concerns, emerging consumer trends, and where brands will be innovating in the coming quarters and beyond. You can watch the entire State of Natural presentation here.