Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Trendspotting at Expo West reveals upticks in keto, MCT oil, plant-based protein and better-for-you snacks & kids’ foods

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Soup-To-Nuts Podcast, Expo west, MCT, keto diet, plant-based protein, Snacks

CBD far and away stole the show as the hot new ingredient at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim last week, but it wasn’t the only notable trend with promising market potential or significant recent development.

As illustrated by the diverse range of products with CBD launching at the show, the ingredient clearly has a lot of potential in applications across categories, including functional beverages, snack bars, sweets, supplements and beauty products. But it also has significant hurdles that may have some players slamming on the brakes and looking for other areas into which to innovate.

For example, as varied as the delivery platform for CBD was, the direct or implied claims about what the ingredient could do, as well as the format of the ingredient with options ranging from isolates to broad spectrum hemp extracts and full spectrum hemp extracts. Not to mention CBD’s legal status for use in foods remains stuck in limbo – making formulating with the ingredient is not for the faint of heart.

Luckily, the litany of new products launching at Expo West revealed several other emerging ingredients and trends, which maybe weren’t as splashy as CBD, but which have significant marketing potential and white space for product development minus the regulatory hurdles that CBD faces. Among these include MCT oil, plant-based protein and prebiotics as well as all-things keto, better-for-you snacks and healthier versions of classic children’s foods.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast​, we caught up with startups and established brands alike to explore how they are tapping into these trends and where they see their categories going in the long-term.

Keto continues to climb

The idea of following a high-fat diet to lose weight may sound counter-intuitive to some, but the rapid rise of the ketogenic diet, which severely restricts carbs and limits protein in favor of high levels of healthy fats, has taken off in the US and brought with it a significant marketing opportunity for fast-moving CPG brands.

Top nutrition experts first predicted that keto was the ‘next big thing’ in late 2017 when the Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey predicted keto would bump paleo from second place in the list of most popular diets. Their prediction not only came to fruition, but in late 2018 the upped the ante by suggesting in 2019 it would overtake ‘clean eating’ as the most popular diet.

In response, manufacturers are upping the amount of healthy fats in their products and calling out keto on anything with low net carb counts. But as clinical nutritionist and founder of Bonafide Provisions Sharon Brown notes – not all products making keto claims are equal.

“The misinterpretation of what keto is is people think they can eat as much fat as they want and really nothing else and be healthy, and that is just really not the case,”​ Brown said.

She explained that keto diet followers need to increase their intake of vitamin and nutrient rich foods to nourish their body, and a great option to do this is with nutrient-dense bone broth like that made by Bonafide Provisions.

“The reason we paired the idea of keto with the fats and bone broth is that bone broth has glycine in it, and glycine is an amino acid that actually helps you digest the fat,”​ and ultimately feel better on the diet by helping the gallbalder process the fat so that followers won’t feel “horrible,”​ she said.

While Bonafide’s bone broth may be a perfect match for keto, the traditional format that bone broth comes in isn’t convenient for the active lifestyle many keto dieters follow. With that in mind, at Expo West Bonafide launched a first-of-its kind Keto Broth in an 8 ounce, heat-and-go cup.

“We are all very busy and so we wanted to put [bone broth] in a convenient, easy grab-and-go cup that you can throw in your backpack, throw in your purse, and when you get to the office or gym pop in the microwave and have all that amazing broth along with all that healthy fat in a convenient cup,”​ she said.

MCT oil rises in prominence

One of the key ingredients in BonaFide’s Keto Broth is a dose of MCT oil, which was another big hitter at Natural Products Expo West making cameos in wide range of functional beverages, including a new line from Ethan’s, which makes functional shots.

Company founder Ethan Hirshberg said he decided to launch a line of MCT oil shots after he was floored by the ‘awesome’ retail and consumer adoption of his apple cider vinegar and healthy juice shots which launched about a year and a half ago.

The 2-ounce MCT shots that launched in Whole Foods six months ago come with an ‘optimal dose of medium chain triglycerides and added superfoods to maximize taste and health,’ and are available in four flavors: coffee, matcha, orange cacao and turmeric ginger.

Ethan’s isn’t stopping there. Rather, Hirshberg says, the company is currently promoting a line of immunity-boosting, savory apple cider vinegar fire shots and in July it will introduce a clean label energy shot.

“Our energy shots are coming out in July and every retailer we have showed them to has jumped out of their seat with the idea of an energy shot that isn’t going to basically stop your heart and kill you,”​ he said, noting that unlike some products on the market made with high levels of lab made caffeine, his shots will have caffeine from green tea and guayusa.

Hirshberg explains that shots are so appealing to consumers because they offer all the benefits of the increasingly popular functional beverages, but with a fraction of the volume. With that in mind he predicts there is significant room for better-for-you innovation in the shot space.

Plant-based protein continues to gain momentum

MCT oil also plays a supporting role in Aloha’s new ready-to-drink plant-based protein drinks, which debuted at Expo West. But while the ingredient is attractive to consumers, the CEO of Aloha Brad Charron says the real star here is plant-based protein, which has been gaining more and more attention in recent years.

But for all the hub-bub and demand surrounding plant-based protein, Charron says there is a lot of room for innovation to improve the user experience of the ingredient, especially in functional beverages, which is what Aloha has tried to do with its new trio of RTD drinks.

The new shelf stable RTD protein shakes offer 18 grams of plant-based protein in 11 ounces and, like all of Aloha’s products, are USDA organic, stevia-free, gluten free, soy free, dairy free and free from artificial sweeteners.

In addition, the beverages offer multiple other functional benefits, including electrolytes, prebiotics and, of course, MCT oil.

While Aloha’s drinks are packed with many on-trend elements, they are entering a crowded space and Charron acknowledges that to some extent the brand will have to work to win over consumers. But he believes that once they try the drinks, they will keep coming back.

“The shelf is crowded. It is less crowded in plant-based protein,”​ and unlike many of the existing vegetarian options Aloha’s drinks are not “grainy, sandy, earthy, chalky,”​ Charron said.

Better-for-you snacks continue to hit shelves

Another major trend at Expo West that has been emerging for several years is better-for-you snacking options, which promise not just convenience and taste but also nutritional benefits that match consumers’ changing eating habits.

Elizabeth Roark, who is the principle nutrition scientist and corporate dietitian at PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, explained how the iconic snack brand is responding to consumers’ shifting eating habits by upping the nutritional quality of its offerings with several newer options that feature premium, whole ingredients as the first ingredient.

At the same time, she explains, that the brand is adding nutrients of need to its products, it is tackling negative nutritional attributes of its existing products, such as by reducing sodium and saturated fat.

For example, she said, PepsiCo is increasing “food groups to encourage,”​ such as legumes, including yellow and green peas, black beans and chickpeas in the company Off The Eaten Path colorful crisps.

In addition, the company’s relatively new Imag!ne Snacks are incorporating dairy, which is a group to encourage according to the dietary guidelines – especially for children, Roark said.

“The Imag!ne Snacks contain yogurt or cheese, and not just a sprinkle, but it is the first ingredient, so it is delivering on the protein trend,”​ which is important as snacks start to replace meals and consumers are looking for more nutrition from snacks, Roark said.

At the same time, she said, PepsiCo is “being super mindful of the negative nutrients”​ and striving to ensure that 75% of the global foods products by 2025 have less than 1.3 mg of sodium per calorie and less than or equal to 1.1 g of saturated fats per 100 calories, which is in line with dietary guidelines.

Looking forward, Roark predicts plant-based protein and higher fiber will become even more important in snacks, as will calorie-count – but not in the direction that some may think. Roark predicts the calorie count of individual snacks may go up in response to snacks or mini-meals replacing traditional snacks. However, she noted, this does not mean that overall daily calorie counts will increase. Rather they will simply shift from large meals to more snacks.

Better-for-you twists on classic kids’ foods

In line with the better-for-you snacking trend, is a push to clean up classic children’s foods and offer simple, nutritious options that are still playful and appealing to children’s developing taste buds.

One example of this at Expo West was Blue Circle Foods’ new Happy Fish, which are positioned as a healthier alternative to many fish sticks and nuggets that are aimed at children. Nina Damato, Blue Circle Foods’ supply chain manager, explains what sets the product apart from the competition and what inspired the company to make it.

“Blue Circle as a company really focuses on the source of the raw material,”​ and wants to ensure the best farming practices including high quality feed to produce high quality fish, she said.

“And Happy Fish is very much the essence of that,”​ in that it offers on-the-go families a healthy protein that cooks quickly from frozen to easily add to any meal, she said, adding that the fish shaped patties also are fun and engaging for children.

Unlike competing fish sticks on the market, Damato says, Happy Fish is free from the binders, fillers and the breading that is typically used. But it still comes in at a competitive price point of $9.99 for 20 ounces, which is almost seven servings for children.

This is just a small sampling of the trends spotted at Natural Products Expo West, but it is all we have time to discuss today. If you want to find out what other hot new ingredients or products the FoodNavigator-USA team spotted at the show, be sure to check out our ongoing coverage on our website, including galleries, videos and stories​.

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