Food Trends From The Natural Products Expo East

November 07, 2023

Food Trends From The Natural Products Expo East

Expo East is a dynamic ecosystem fostering growth, knowledge, and progression in the world of natural products.

Originally published on

In Philadelphia, within the bustling corridors of the Natural Products Expo East, there is an fusion of the leaders of natural foods converging to celebrate and explore the latest in natural, organic, and better-for-you products. The consumer demand for natural and organic food and beverages is forecasted to almost $300 billion in annual sales, according to New Hope Network, the producer of Expo East. This expo, in particular, holds a significant place in the food industry as it is not just a place for casual observers; it's a gathering for making connections, striking deals, and fostering collaborations for a diverse group of stakeholders including retailers, manufacturers & producers, distributors, and health professionals all who want to improve our food supply and promote healthier eating and lifestyle to Americans.

The Natural Products Expo East is a haven for spotting emerging food trends. Over the years, several significant shifts and trends have been unveiled here including the plant-based movement, functional foods, sustainability, ethical practices, and the emergence of global flavors. Think of Expo East as a dynamic ecosystem fostering growth, knowledge, and progression in the realm of natural products.

The Trends

The 2023 Expo East had a different vibe than in previous years. The exhibiting brands and attending retailers seem to have emerged from the niche market to wanting to attract and satisfy the needs of more mainstream shoppers - signaling the next (and very positive) evolution for the natural products industry. With the ARC Health & Wellness Community video team, we descended on the exhibit floor to discover and capture the new products and trends... and meet the innovators.

Dan Buckstaff the Chief Marketing Office of SPINS shared the state of the natural products industry and why it matters. He sees consumers expanding the values of what they care about and that natural foods are one of the original values that consumers latched on to over the past 25 years. Over the past 5 years, he says, consumers have expanded values to concerns about the planet, regenerative agriculture, and health; and as a result, both brands and retailers are responding. The challenge is how to describe those innovations and tell those stories to the shopper. The biggest challenge is based on the idea that a mass market doesn’t exist anymore, and as every individual (and family) has their own set of needs, the question is how a retailer selects the products to put on the shelf to satisfy those personal values and needs. And with a retailer having 50,000 products on their shelves how do they communicate an individual product’s attributes to the right consumer as these foods makes their way on to shelves. One trend Buckstaff is watching and suggests we all do is sustainability. The consumer and the retailer will be asking, what’s the whole chain of this purchase; how and where is it grown, is it ethically sourced, what’s the water and carbon footprint - especially for the up-and-coming Millennial consumers who care passionately about this issue.

Gail Becker is a true innovator. Becker changed the frozen pizza world when she introduced Caulipower - a vegetarian cauliflower crust pizza which was the first gluten-free pizza with less fats, sugars, salt, and calories - and created a groundswell and created a new category that today is packed with competitors using vegetables in place of more traditional grain-based ingredients in a variety of foods. Becker is not one to rest on her laurels, or success, and at Expo East introduced Love at First Bite - a baked ‘pizza bite’ experience emulating the tastes of what she says we all grew up with - but with the Caulipower way to make it more special.

Brazi Bites is Junea Rocha’s latest innovation - a Latin inspired better-for-you frozen waffle (in original, blueberry and cheesy flavors) from the brand that is known for its frozen Brazilian Cheese Bread. The product idea came from Rocha watching videos of people making waffles from their cheese bread on the Internet - and light bulbs went off and she began researching the frozen waffle category to see if it was a fit, and an opportunity, for the brand. She found that the category was growing - but there was no savory waffle in the freezer case and that consumers were ready for a delicious gluten-free waffle.

Rudi’s Bakery got its start in 1976 as an organic and gluten-free maker of wholesome breads. The Natural Products Expo is known for its networking, and the next evolution of Rudi’s is a perfect example of how two food entrepreneurs can get together to innovate. Jane Miller is the CEO of Rudi’s and reached out to fellow Boulder-ite Justin Gold (of Justin’s nut butters fame, which was acquired in 2016 by Hormel Food) who has joined Miller as Chief Innovation Officer and together developed an organic line of frozen ‘pocket sandwich’ and ‘breakfast sandwich’ experiences that is better-for-you.

Food For Life is a bread made with live sprouted grains inspired in the Bible in Ezekiel verse 4:9; where Ezekiel was given a recipe for bread that he was to eat for 390 days, according to Gary Torres, which when the grains are combined create a powerhouse of nutrition and digestibility of their products.

It’s autumn, and that means pumpkin pie cream cheese from Don’s Prepared Foods. Carl Capello of Don’s highlighted it as one of their seasonal products produced from September through December for both consumers and foodservice operations. Don’s is based in Philadelphia and was founded over 50 years ago and produces over 130 fresh products for all channels including retail, military, convenience stores and food service.

Good Planet Foods is an olive oil-based cheese created by Bart Adam who is committed to making plant-based cheeses that are healthy and good for the planet. Good Planet’s core customer is the vegan shopper, but their reason to be at Expo East is to expand its reach to the flexitarian consumer. His strategy is enlightening - rather than merely labeling the cheese plant-based, which he finds limiting, he’s chosen to promote it a olive oil based, which he says is the key to expansion as shoppers recognize olive oil as a superfood that tastes great, is sustainable and has much less saturated fat than the traditional plant-based cheeses.

Plant-based and organic yogurts are nothing new, but over the past three years, Forager Project has developed proprietary strains of yogurt cultures that work well with cashews to create a creamier, smoother, and according to JC Hanley, more delicious yogurt that meets the consumer desire for personal health, sustainability, and animal welfare.

Jonathan Carp is an MD who thought to combine the convenience of a noodle bowl with the health attributes of noodles made from the cone jack plant based on a very traditional Japanese noodle that is 97% water and 3% plant fiber; resulting in a noodle with no calories and no carbs but absorbs the flavor of the sauce. He developed Miracle Noodle upon returning from a trip to Japan where he discovered it and know it could satisfy the needs of his patients who were seeking a healthier noodle alternative.

Omsom is a ‘proud & loud heritage’ Asian food company started by two first generation Vietnamese American sisters who wanted to bring authentic Asian culture to households across the US. At Expo East they showcased their saucy noodles line which has launched in Whole Foods and rolling out to Target TGT +1.2% and Sprouts with a clean list of ingredients. Sam Set of Omsom sees the increase in the Asian American population and the expansion of Asian cuisine into mainstream America being a strong trend for success.

Seafood consumption among US shoppers is among the lowest globally. Secret Island wants to change that with super hip package design and high quality ready to cook frozen seafood. Daniel Del Coro says that seafood farming is not the “f” word we think it is. He wants to educate consumers about the health benefits and sustainability of today’s aquaculture. Secret Island offers traditional Atlantic and Coho salmon filets as well as Whiskey Teriyaki and Blackened filets as well as salmon hot dogs, bacon, and burgers defined specifically for kids which are loaded with Omega 3s.

Meeting the one of the World’s Strongest Men is to say, at the least, intimidating. One of the investors and co-founders of Thor’s Skyr is the six-foot nine-inch tall Hafþór Bjornson which many Americans know as Sir Gregor “The Mountain” Clean in HBO’s Game of Thrones, as well for roles in a half dozen other films. Today he wants us to recognize him as the brand ambassador for the traditional Icelandic high-protein cultured dairy-based Thor’s. Skyr, he says, will greatly improve our gut health and because of the high level of protein help one build more muscle. His decades long passion and love for Skyr started as a young boy and his mission along with co-founder Unnar Helm Danielsson, is to bring a ‘proper and good Skyr’ to America. Danielsson says that Skyr will be the game changer in the yogurt category with more protein. Skyr takes five times more milk to produce than traditional yogurt with lower sugars and lactose as Thor’s filter those out in the production process.

Least expected to find at the Natural Product Expo East was Philadelphia’s own Dietz & Watson, a leading brand of all things - deli meats and cheeses with over 1,000 different deli foods. Family owned for over 80 years, the brand is committed to transparency and sharing with consumers the right to know where their products come from and how they are made. Jody Mason of Dietz & Watson wants to show the world that deli meats can be healthy. She points out that the first ingredient in their products is really high protein coming from single muscle. Gottlieb Dietz, the founder, she says, had engrained in the company that you can’t make food that just tastes good - it has to be good for you. They follow consumer trends, and they recognize that shoppers today do not want nitrites and nitrates in their deli meats, so they developed an entire line of product that are nitrite and nitrate free to meet those consumer needs.

As we navigate a world increasingly aware of health, sustainability, and ethics, the role of events like Expo East (and in the spring of 2024 Expo West) becomes even more crucial in shaping the future of what we eat and how we consume. See more on all these products and their stories here.

Next up: Expo East’s innovative beverages, snacks, and confections.