Expo West Standouts And Emerging Trends [View Point]

From crossing paths with actress, Michelle Pfieffer to GoodBelly CEO, Steve Demos, there was no shortage of star power at Natural Products Expo West this past March. But the new stars were the innovators with fresh ideas changing what we know about food.

Now that we've had some space to think about all that we saw and tasted at Expo West in Anaheim, we bring you our take on emerging trends and standouts.

After three full days of vibrant food, community and learning, the quick take is the new food industry is booming, especially innovative and mindful food businesses embracing transparency and easy to recognize ingredients.

We met and learned from leaders in food through conversations with founders of well known brands like Veggie Grill and Daiya to investors like Steve Allen and Thomas Aarts of Nutrition Capital Network. The power of food to shape communities was in full focus from across the Americas. 

If you're a food entrepreneur, the show was a clear signal you're in the right space. According to The New York Times, this year there were over 77,000 retailers, suppliers, investors. And from those at the show who attended in previous years, including our cofounder, it was more packed than ever. If you've got a great idea and thoughtful product with minimal market barriers, this is your time to shine. You will more than likely find a ready audience. 

It's often hard to determine which great product will succeed over another. However, with huge barriers like capital requirements and diminishing shelf life, speed to market and sales for food businesses are king early on. 

Presence at shows, events and places -- like Expo West -- where product can be tasted was for most founders critical to building awareness and generating sales. Social media was noted as one channel -- but not the primary focus where business owners indicated first-hand proof and word-of-mouth was more powerful and proven as a true mover. We also heard from investors that social media influence doesn't translate into an investable business. There are many factors beyond surface trends.

There was no shortage of investors and buyers at the show with vendors focused on raising money, distribution -- placement onto shelves to reach more mouths -- or both. But one thing we know for sure, after any show, continuing that momentum and brand building is critical. Once you're on a crowded shelf, the pace has to quicken.

Meeting the founders of some of these standouts was a treat. When you're starting out, the founder presence does everything to convey the mission and purpose of the brand. Even for the longest running companies, seeing the creators made for awe-inspiring moments. 

Trend Spotting and Standouts

There is a lot to see in a short amount of time at Expo West. Here are some of the products revitalizing their categories and bringing something fresh, new and delicious. 

Bamboo Leaf Tea, Ahiflower®, ChongWater™, Sherpa Power, Veggemo™, Ora Organics, Labni, Eat Enlightened®, Wize Monkey™, Mori-Nu, Republic of Tea® - Biodynamic Teas, Manitoba Harvest, Awesome Food Distribution - FreezeDry, In The Raw®, Caliwater (cactus water) -- didn't get a photo, but left an impression. 

We had the chance to sit in on the pitch slam. Congrats to Veggie Fries® for winning!

Highlights from the show

The teams we met were passionate about their products and enthusiastic about creating positive new impressions. And that they did. A taste of what we experienced includes flavored waters with surprising new combinations and/or ingredients, new milks like pistachio and macadamia, spreads with probiotics, DIY microgreens, ancient wisdom (Ayurvedic to Chinese herbs and plants and cordyceps), wellness/health tonics and teas, new uses of proteins like cricket and pea shoots, egg substitutes and more. The energy for challenging the category norms and creating new ideas was clear. 

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by Anna Zefferys Anna has spent more than half a lifetime living in the heart of New York City's East Village. As CEO of Treatmo, she aims to make finding and accessing the best real, organic, local and sustainable food as simple as breathing, making living well simple and social wherever life takes you.