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The Natural Product Expos – East and its larger cousin West – are where natural manufacturers introduce their new products. Expo East, held last month in Baltimore, showcased a lot of new and innovative natural projects. Healthy snacking was the key new trend this year.
Consumers tend to consume more and more snacks these days. Some even consider traditional meals consumed at off hours snacks, like a midafternoon bowl of granola. The primary purchase driver for most shoppers are healthy snacking alternatives. To many, that includes products that contain familiar ingredients that are easy to pronounce - ingredients that can be trusted as being real, wholesome and authentic.
A natural incubator
The natural product industry is the incubator for real product innovation. Natural product brands don't simply change a flavor and call it a new product. Natural acts the “research and development” for the consumer package goods industry. The natural product industry is where new trends are tested and developed before they become mainstream, like gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, etc. This also includes ingredients that are very disruptive, like insect protein.
This year at Expo, there were several important product drivers that have become important trends that every retailer needs to be acutely aware of. These important trends are already weaving themselves into the daily vocabulary of shoppers. Retailers wanting to take a leadership role any their market and in the snacking categories will need to clearly communicate these important values to their shoppers.
The top three values are local, clean label and transparency. A lot of the brands as well as the event education focused on these key trends.
- Local is not necessarily defined as produced in your exact ZIP code but rather items that are sourced and produced in your community, including the extended community of like suppliers.
- Clean label is defined as products with ingredients that can be traced back to nature – minimally processed foods that include nothing artificial. This includes items that are organic and non-GMO.
- Transparency, my favorite trend this year, goes well beyond any labeling and sourcing efforts. One company actually has cameras all throughout their factory that provide a live feed into every aspect of their production 24/7.
Non-traditional: The new tradition
Plant-based snacks could be found on every aisle. They included non-traditional chips made from lentils, rice, beans, quinoa, jicama, chickpeas, etc. There were several snacking items that included ingredients from grass-fed cows, meat alternatives and healthy sweeteners. Each of these products were singularly focused on addressing specific shopper needs like gluten free, lactose intolerance, allergy-friendly, etc.
Natural products continue to outpace traditional/mainstream product sales. Natural products provide consumers healthy alternatives that are capable of driving new and incremental shopper traffic into the center of the store. They attract loyal shoppers that are willing to pay a premium for products that better meet their family’s needs and, as a result, they tend to have higher market baskets helping retailers compete more effectively in any market.