Which natural food trends are poised to succeed in the mainstream?

by Monica Watrous
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Expo East natural trends: grass-fed beef and compostable packaging
Grass-fed meat and compostable packaging have potential to succeed in the mainstream.

BALTIMORE — The ideas, innovations and values born out of the natural products industry are resonating with mainstream consumers, said Eric J. Pierce, director of business insights at New Hope Network.

Eric Pierce, New Hope
Eric J. Pierce, director of business insights at New Hope Network

“Increasingly we’re finding shelf space for our products in conventional retailers,” Mr. Pierce said during a presentation at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore. “We’re finding more conventional shoppers, more mainstream shoppers finding relevance in our products.”

The challenge for manufacturers, retailers and investors is predicting which product concepts will expand to gain mainstream acceptance. To identify these opportunities, New Hope Network tested more than 680 product concepts with 1,000 consumers representative of the U.S. population — not just the Whole Foods shopper, Mr. Pierce said. Two primary metrics were analyzed: purchase intent (“how likely am I to buy this product?”) and market prediction (“how likely are others to buy this product?”). Based on the metrics, eight trends emerged as having the greatest potential to succeed in the mainstream.

Among them are grass-fed meat and dairy, compostable packaging, probiotics and prebiotics, and mission-based brands. Of the latter trend, Mr. Pierce said, “These are the brands that work to stand out in the marketplace by standing for something, standing for a purpose.”

Expo East natural trend: cognitive health
Steaz Organic Energy sparkling beverages and Hemp2o water fall into the "brain health" trend.

Another trend gaining favor among mainstream consumers is brain health, a concept coming on the heels of an increased interest in heart and gut health.

“As we experience an aging population and more stress in our lives, many are finding themselves looking for more energy or mental agility or acuity,” he said. “So the idea of cognitive health and support is something that is growing in terms of attention. There is an array of different products that fit into this topic of brain health.”

Examples include Steaz Organic Energy sparkling beverages with green tea extract, associated with reduced inflammation and increased mental alertness, and Hemp2o water infused with hemp seed extract, which is linked to improved cognitive function.

Expo East natural trend: hidden vegetables
Hidden vegetables are a theme among Veggie Fries, MadeGood granola bites and Good Health Veggie Pretzels.

Hidden vegetables is another product concept shown to resonate with conventional shoppers. Examples at Expo East included Veggie Fries, a line of frozen french fries blended with broccoli, carrots and chickpeas; MadeGood granola bites with a hidden serving of vegetables; and Good Health Veggie Pretzels, made with spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets and shiitake mushrooms.

“I think what’s powerful here is to recognize that fueling this is a growing consumer desire to consume more plants in their diets and to eat more healthy and plant-based foods,” Mr. Pierce said.

The rise of paleo-positioned products also has the potential for mainstream success, but, Mr. Pierce said, “I’m not suggesting that CrossFit gym memberships are about to skyrocket.”

Expo East natural trend: Paleo
Paleo-positioned products such as Cappello’s grain-free pasta, Hu Chocolate bars and Three Jerks Jerky are on the rise.

Rather, mainstream consumers are identifying with the values of the paleo lifestyle, which emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods, no refined sweeteners and an avoidance of grains.

“These things are resonating with consumers, even if they aren’t a strict adherent to a paleo diet or even truly understand what the paleo diet is,” Mr. Pierce said, citing as examples Cappello’s grain-free pasta made with almond flour, Hu Chocolate bars featuring almond butter and puffed quinoa, and Three Jerks Jerky, made with simple ingredients and no MSG or nitrates.

Local sourcing represents another trend gaining traction beyond the natural segment, with such brands as Community Seafood and Three Twins Ice Cream promotinglocally sourced ingredients.

Expo East natural trend: companies with a mission
Local sourcing is a growing trend, with such brands as Three Twins Ice Cream touting locally sourced ingredients.
 
“When you talk to consumers about the local movement you might find a much broader array of issues that are important to consumers — supporting local communities, knowing where your food comes from, having that more intimate connection to your food,” Mr. Pierce said. “It’s this idea of telling the story where your food comes from and having sourcing be local to your manufacturing, despite the fact that you may have outgrown your initial local distribution footprint. Companies can scale and in many ways remain local.” 
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