Natural Products Expo West 2014 was an incredible show of natural, organic, and healthy food and beverage manufacturing, ingredients, and in many ways – the future of the food industry, given that healthier food has moved from trend to societal shift. The natural, organic and healthy products food industry is growing nearly three times higher than the food industry average, per Penton. I had the privilege of attending with 67,000 of my closest friends and 2,600 exhibitors. Expo West was an enlightening window to emerging food industry trends.
1. Gluten-free continues to explode, up 20% versus last year, driven by perceived health benefits and better diagnosing of celiac disease. New brands, new food categories, and improved organoleptics were virtually everywhere. Per NPD, 30% of consumers want to reduce the amount of gluten they are eating, and gluten-free foods’ household penetration has leaped to 11%, more than doubling since 2010, per Nielsen. The tidal wave is projected to continue as the foodservice sector (restaurants and institutions) catches up with consumer demand at retail. Even Pillsbury has jumped into the space with gluten-free dough (et tu, Doughboy?) as has Columbus’ Donato’s with its gluten-free Donato’s and Sonoma Flatbreads brands. Gluten-free is projected to grow by 22% annually through 2016, per Mintel.
2. Non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) verified food offerings have tripled since last year, in response to growing consumer demand, as well as organic manufacturers’ efforts. Regardless of where you stand on the contentious GMO discussion, consumers are responding. 93% of Americans said that foods that have been genetically modified or engineered should be identified, per a recent New York Times poll and non-GMO has recently surpassed ‘organic’ among consumers’ desired food claims. Whole Foods’ requirement of GMO labeling on all products in U.S. and Canada by 2018, will also drive non-GMO consumer awareness. Promising, except only 11% of consumers say they are willing to pay more.
Non-GMO food and beverages are projected to grow at a 13% compound annual growth rate for the next few years and account for 30% of retail sales by 2017, even without mandatory labeling, per Packaged Facts. General Mills, Smart Balance, Ben and Jerry’s, Chipotle, and Kashi have all taken proactive stances on GMOs by either eliminating them or pushing for increased labeling. To help manufacturers and consumers with product and ingredient sourcing, the verification body, the Non-GMO Project has established a centralized database. Buckeye brag: Marzetti launched Mamma Bella GMO free garlic breads, led by Fisher alum Adam Koenigsberg.
3. Proteins, Popcorn, Chia and Kale were prevalent in multiple categories. New protein-rich or enhanced products targeted to consumers who are reducing or eliminating red (or all) meat from their diets included yogurts (whey and soy proteins), snack bars (almond and pea protein isolate), and pancakes (oats, quinoa, and whey). Popcorn, with its better-for-you consumer perception, was featured by over 25 companies in every mainstream and exotic flavor. Most intriguing were Popcorn Indiana’s fit brand, positioned as a low-calorie option, and chip’ins, a popcorn-based extruded snack chip. Chia continues to be a hot omega-3 rich and filling superfood in many bars, yogurts, drinks, as well as seeds alone. And kale, which has grown four-fold since 2008, is the hot supergreen in raw snacks, chips, sauces, dressings, and disturbingly: macaroons.
4. More Funding, Investments and Acquisitions – The health and wellness segment’s rapid growth is attracting interest and investment from multiple sources. Major food companies are penetrating the segment via acquisition and joint ventures, such as Coca-Cola (Zico and Honest Tea). Heinz (Hain Celestial), and Campbell Soup (Plum Organics), and the sector has become a darling of private equity leaders such as Sherbrooke Capital (Food Should Taste Good) and Alliance Consumer Growth (EVOL brand). There is also an explosion of funding available for smaller companies through food incubators and crowd-funding platforms, with over 25 new food and agriculture funding sources launched last year. This foretells both continued growth among increasingly well-capitalized companies, as well as improved product quality and rate of innovation.
5. Ohio was well represented by many of our friends at 19 companies. In addition to the aforementioned Marzetti and Donato’s, Almondina, Avitae, Bunker Hill Cheese (Heini’s), Eurochoc Americas Corp., Fit Organic, Fremont Authentic Brands, Garden of Flavor, Gaslamp Popcorn (Rudolph Foods), Graeter’s, Herbal Science, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, 1-2-3 Gluten Free, R.A.W. Real and Wonderful, Swurves, Trophy Nut, Unistraw, and Wyandot Snacks exhibited, all of whom we expect are gearing up for the surge in new business… and hiring talented Buckeyes.
Meet the Expert
Tammy Katz is an Adjunct Professor of Brand Management at the Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University, and Chief Executive Officer of Katz Marketing Solutions, a marketing and brand management consulting firm. She is particularly interested in brand management, marketing strategy, commercialization, corporate outreach, and consumer-driven innovation.