Baltimore, MD—In the crowded exhibitor halls of Expo East, trends emerge—and we’re here to bring them straight to you. While this article will focus on grocery, keep an eye out for other WholeFoods articles on the show; there’s plenty that stood out that wasn’t necessarily part of a trend (Country Archer Beef Jerky, the vertically-integrated jerky brand easily holding its own; Carlson’s Olive & Fish Oil, delivering 1,480mg omega-3s with ease and deliciousness). We’re looking forward to bringing you all the information we’ve gathered! But for now, grocery trends:
1. Hemp/CBD: This trend just keeps growing. CBD and hemp seemed to find a home in beverages: Organic Traditions showcased CBD Golden Mylk Turmeric Latte with Saffron & Probiotics with 5mg of CBD+ featuring a complete range of cannabinoids including CBD, CBG, CBDV and THCV. EB Beverages has a hemp alkaline water, hitting two trends at once; O2, makers of oxygenated water, offered a sneak peek at its new line of CBD-enhanced beverages, O2+ Hemp CBD; PLNT has full spectrum hemp infused beverages, in flavors like turmeric + ginger and mint + matcha; Aqua ViTea tossed several trends into one with their CBD kombucha, in flavors including chaga chai. Green Roads makes CBD Ground Coffee Beans, for those who want the ease of taking their CBD at the same time as their other daily beverage.
Of course, hemp didn’t stop at beverages. It found its way into cake—into Smartcakes by Smart Baking Company, to be specific, which, with 38 calories and zero added sugars, still manages to deliver 25mg of CBD in a delicious vanilla latte snack-sized cake. Silver Hills Bakery brought hemp bread to the table, with Hemptation sprouted wheat bread. Manitoba Harvest brought their Hemp Yeah! granola and plant protein mix. Or, if you’d prefer your hemp oil sweet and coconut-y: Restorative Botanicals brought their Bolder Caramels, coconut milk caramel with hemp oil extract.
2. Plant-Based: Another surprise! What was interesting was that, as much as there were plant-based alternatives, there were products that simply celebrated the plant: Elma Farms’ Basil & Thyme Steamed & Marinated Snack Artichokes, for instance, isn’t going out of its way to disguise its plants as meat. Cali’flour put plants in its name and never looked back: while not vegan—egg whites increase the protein content; cheese helps the cauliflower stick together, and adds flavor to the crust, ending the days of tossing out the un-sauced, un-flavored hunk of crust—it uses the whole head of cauliflower, and makes full use of the plant content to drop calorie and carb counts. NoBull Burger, too, advertises their veggie burgers in flavors like savory mushroom and sundried tomato, flavors that celebrate the makeup of those burgers and all the delicious plants inside. Sustainable Indulgence brought the delicious desert version of plants—“premium cookies made with superfoods,” according to the packaging, with the type of plant called out as part of the product’s title: “Chocolate Chipster featuring Flax Seed,” for instance.
This isn’t to say, of course, that plant-based meat alternatives weren’t present. Loma Linda brought their fishless tuna and their plant-based taco filling; Lightlife was showing off their whole line; Naturli’ Foods brought their minced plant-based beef replacement; No Evil Foods was running a crowded booth, all looking to get a piece of the veggie burger.
And let’s not forget to give plant-based dairy its due. Elmhurst had milked versions of every nut under the sun; Miyoko’s brought their crowd-pleasing cheeses; Riot had soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free cheddar cheese. And then there was the standout Lavva, with their real-food yogurt: Elizabeth Fisher, founder, told WholeFoods that she created it because she’d realized that most plant-based yogurts are mainly water—“I just wanted something to eat!” And her reasoning behind not using stabilizers or fillers: “I didn’t know any better. Now that I’ve actually studied how people make yogurt, I know why they use them—it’s much easier to make it that way, and to make it packageable—but it’s worth it this way.” Fisher exemplifies plant pride: Rather than slipping sideways into the industry, she was plant-based from the beginning.
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3. Frozen/Refrigerated: Tyler Morgan, senior associate of the venture capital firm Boulder Food Group, called this out as an emerging trend; Katherine Brooking, M.S., R.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health, said in an educational session titled Exploring the Paradox: How to Create Products That Are Sustainable, Healthy, AND Convenient that “Frozen, ready-to-eat has come a long way in making vegetables more convenient to consume,” which goes a long way towards explaining this category’s popularity. Expo’s product directory lists 150 products in the “frozen” category—which doesn’t sound like much, until you realize that it’s bigger than the “grains, pasta, & side dishes” category (98), the whole pet care category (52), and the “soups & canned goods” category (118). It’s a matter of pride, for some companies—Little Dish’s booth proclaims “find us in the refrigerator aisle”—and a matter of survival for others: At various educational sessions put on at Plant Based World Conference & Expo and at Expo West, plant-based dairy companies have noted that they didn’t begin to see real success or deeper market penetration until their products made it into the fridge or freezer section. Seal the Seasons is on a mission to make local possible year-round while providing family farms with a steady source of income; local produce is frozen, with peak freshness sealed in, and sold at local stores. Peckish is innovating in the protein category, providing hard-boiled eggs with a crunchy quinoa dip in flavors like fried rice and maple waffles—a refrigerated protein snack for those looking for something new.
4. “Food as Medicine:” Another trend noted by Morgan and Dayton Miller, managing partner at Boulder Food Group, this one might be as old as Hippocrates but it is taking off—Remedy Organics (whose name, to be fair, should tell you all you need to know about this trend) had the quote “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” in large font on the back wall of their booth. Hello Water brought full-size bottles of fiber-infused water, containing chicory root fiber; yogurt, which always contained probiotics, is now calling it out front-of-package; ReGrained makes a Chocolate Coffee Stout Energizing Bar, containing prebiotics and ginseng, Uplift Food launched Gut Happy Cookies, which are organic plant-based gut-health focused treats—the list could go on.
It’s also worth noting that this trend extends to other categories. That company Cali’flour? The product was invented because the founder was diagnosed with lupus, changed her eating habits, and began selling the result. Every single food item containing CBD or hemp oil? Hemp seeds might be added for taste, but CBD isn’t. And just about every diet absorbing the industry today is medicinal: Keto was created for those with seizures, and is now credited with a variety of health benefits; Paleo was created with the express purpose of becoming healthier, not just to lose weight. People might not walk into the snacks section looking for medicine, but your customers have probably realized that bad food can lead to health struggles—and they’re taking steps not just to avoid bad food, but to actively eat food that makes them feel better.
5. Keto: We’ve talked about this one before, too, but it’s only getting bigger, with companies putting “keto” in the product name and—sometimes—in the company’s name. Once Again Nut Butter has Keto-Friendly Extra Creamy Almond Butter; Chosen Foods sells Traditional Keto Mayo; Keto and Co. sells keto baking mixes, including Flatbread & Pizza, Pancake & Waffles, and Fudge Brownies. Keto Krisp brought protein bars. Enlightened, the ice cream brand, has a keto collection. Smart Baking Company turns up in this category, too—both their Smartcakes and their Smartbuns are keto-friendly, reopening the sandwich world to keto dieters.
6. Sparkling Beverages: Effervescence is a desirable attribute, according to the companies buying up booths. How does Lemon Lavender Craft Brewed Sparkling Green Tea sound? Tama Tea makes that, along with a variety of other sparkling flavors. Minna makes unsweetened sparkling tea. Hoplark makes HopTea, a sparkling tea that—as the name suggests—comes from hops. Made With has a sparkling coconut water, hitting the coconut trend too; and Hemp H2O, too, hits two trends at once with their sparkling waters infused with hemp extract. Sky Valley Foods brought their Unwine’d, a non-alcoholic sparkling red sangria—which brings us to another trend not yet big enough to warrant its own section, but worth keeping an eye on: Mocktails are growing. Bar None sells non-alcoholic sparkling sangria, dry aged cider, and bellini spirits.
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7. Asian flavors: And not just general “Asian-inspired,” either—companies are getting specific. A search for “Thai” on Expo East’s product database returns 312 products, including Thai Coconut Currie from Yai’s Thai; Saffron Road’s Thai Mango Simmer Sauce; and Thai Spaghetti from Upton’s Naturals. Tasty Bite sells Indian Jaipur Vegetables; Foodies makes Indian Coconut Frittata; Franklin Farms has Indian Spiced Masala Poppers. Miracle Noodle makes products including Japanese Curry Noodles; Mori-Nu brought their Organic Nigari. And, of course, we can’t forget that double-punch of Korean and probiotic: Kimchi is popping up, from companies including Sinto Gourmet, Mama O’s, and WildBrine. Customers are looking for variety in flavor, texture, and ingredients, and flavors from across all of Asia seem to be hitting just the right spot.
Keep an eye on WholeFoods for more trends, and for all the need-to-know info—on CBD and everything else—that we’ve gathered at Expo East!