The theme of this year’s event was “growth reimagined,” which includes shaking off limiting stereotypes such as all natural products taste like “cardboard” or are for “crunchy granola-types,” which have long-haunted industry, but no longer apply, Carlotta Mast, senior vice president and market leader at New Hope Network, said in the opening keynote presentation at Expo West.
A trip across the show floor revealed “growth reimagined” also includes innovating to serve superior nutrition, such as a wider variety of sodas packed with pre- and probiotics, and balancing decadence with health, such as in the variety of boba beverages with reduced sugar and calories, portion-controlled mochi and snacks infused with superfoods and ayruvedic herbs.
Brands responding to rising consumer interest in sustainability also are benefiting from “reimagined” growth, with regenerative agriculture and upcycled ingredient call-outs as standout examples on the show floor.
Here is a snapshot of how the industry and individual stakeholders at the show are reimagining growth and seizing the opportunities this framework presents.
Pre- and probiotics bubble up in carbonated beverages
US sales of functional food and beverages grew an estimated 5.8% to $87.3b in 2022, driven in part by increasing demand and availability of prebiotics, said Mast.
Prebiotics are the star ingredient in several functional sodas showcased at Expo West, including Mayawell, which are made with “organic, hand-harvested agave” and claims to have “no stevia, no cane sugar, no bullsh*t.” The company also calls out the beverage’s 5 grams of fiber to support its “feel good flavor,” including pineapple mango with turmeric, pear lime with green tea, strawberry ginger with hibiscus, raspberry cucumber with black currant, and watermelon mint with currant.
Prebiotic soda Vina also positions itself as a “yes-brainer” thanks to a dose of prebiotics from apple cider vinegar to support “an optimal digestive ecosystem.” Plant fiber from Jerusalem Artichoke in the beverage further supports digestion and gut health, according to the company.
Prebiotics better known cousin probiotics also were featured prominently in several better-for-you beverages, including Spare Tonic’s line of sparkling beverages featuring upcycled whey, Asarasi sparkling tea water and Karma water with a patented push cap that lets consumers add probiotics to bottled water immediately before consumption.
According to recently published research by Coefficient Capital, Instacart search interest for ‘probiotic’ items grew 30% last year as online shoppers prioritized their health.
Hydration heightens sales
Electrolytes and call outs for healthy hydration was another benefit driving up sales of functional beverages in 2022, according to Mast, and which was on display at Expo in a range of formats from Roar’s ready-to-drink line to bobelo’s sachets of powdered hydrating drink mixes to nuun’s fizzing tablets that can convert a glass of tap water into something more.
Boba is bursting onto the scene
Bubble tea with chewy tapioca pearls and bursting fruit jellies also abounded at Expo West with brands bringing the beloved beverages to consumers in a many convenient forms, including cans and in instant kits. Some options claimed lower sugar and others focused on the fun. Either way, they are helping to drive up sales of bubble tea at a predicted compound annual growth rate of 7.4% from $2.29b in 2022 to a projected $3.78b globally, according to Fortune Business Insights.
Powdered mixes to manage mood
Mood management also were big themes in the beverage set at Expo West with beverages like Kuli Kuli’s Mood Magic Superfood Blend promising to support mental well-being with a high dose of flavonoids from hibiscus, as well as the “energizing and balancing properties” of the adaptogenic root Maca and a hint of cinnamon to “increase attention and focus.”
Clevr Sleeptime Super latte is positioned as a caffeine-free nightcap that tastes like a cappucchio that promotes “gentle drowsiness and deeper sleep” thanks to a melatonin-free blend of valerian, passionflower, hops and L-theanine.
Mushrooms continue to ascent
Medicinal mushrooms continue to rise across several beverage categories, according to SPINS data presented in the opening keynote at Expo West. Mushroom infused refrigerated juices, shelf stable coffee and hot cocoa, and creams & creamers all grew double digits in the past year, while shelf stable teas and ready-to-drink coffees with mushrooms grew in the triple digits.
Plant-based moves beyond analogues
Consumer interest in eating more plant-based foods continues to rise, despite headlines about some plant-based meat analogue sales slipping in recent months, according to research from Coefficient Capital that found 50% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials said in February they are interested in eating more plant-based – up from 41% and 48% respectively in June 2022. Interest among Gen X and Boomers also was up.
At Expo, brands expanded their plant-based offerings beyond basic dairy and meat options to include seafood, candy, savory crumbles, condiments and even veggie-packed twists on classic baked goods like waffles.
Regenerative claims are cropping up in more categories, products
Call-outs touting products made using ingredients from regenerative also were prominently featured on the show floor – likely responding to the 66% of consumers and 80% of young adults aged 18 to 34 years who, according to data presented in the keynote session, are willing to pay more sustainable products compared to less sustainable options.
Better-for-you cheese cracker maker Cheddies is among those touting regenerative agriculture, which company co-founder Francisco Pergola explained became possible when the company began manufacturing its own cheddar cheese in response to supply chain shortages early in the pandemic.
He explained that Cheddies’ animal-based ingredients are certified regenerative through the Savory Institute, but some ingredients – such as onion powder – are not yet reliably available from regenerative sources. But he is optimistic that within two years the company’s crackers will be 100% regenerative agriculture certified.
Expo West attendees couldn’t go more than few rows in any direction on the show floor without passing a business offering bite-sized mochi in a variety of flavors and formats, ranging from frozen to shelf stable and filled with everything from ice cream to more traditional sweetened bean paste.
According to Market Growth Reports, the global mochi market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2% from 2022 through 2028, when it is expected to reach $5.53bn.