Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Expo East Trends
+ Recap 2022

Written by Jenna Movsowitz, Managing Editor Startup CPG

‘Tis the week post-Expo and all through the land… CPGers have full tummies, full hearts, and half-closed eyes. This past weekend, the Startup CPG team had the absolute pleasure of attending New Hope’s Natural Products Expo East show. And this year was a year of many firsts for our small but mighty organization: first Startup CPG booth, first printed editions of The Spotlight Magazine and, most importantly, first karaoke room.

While we could go on forever about the fantastic humans we met (and their better-than-Backstreet renditions of “I Want It That Way”), it hasn’t been lost on us that Expo East is an incredible opportunity to gain insights into industry happenings + trends. We certainly saw the return of many trends from previous Expos (functional beverages, low-carb/keto versions of carb-heavy products, alternative proteins) but alongside the familiar, a few new themes emerged. Let’s dive in.

EXPO EAST TRENDS:

Not Just Plant-Based, Plant-Forward

There’s no denying that previous Expos have seen great innovation in the plant-based space. The rise of plant-based is still in full swing – but the Impossibles and Beyonds of the world seem to be dwindling. Where exact mimicry of meat products was all the rage of the 2010s, the 2020s are seeing a separation of meat + veg. Instead of boasting exact replication of meat’s flavor and texture, plant-based products have been shifting towards embracing vegetables in their most authentic state, and touting the “clean” labels that come with that shift.

Beyond the product level, we’re also seeing clear changes in messaging. Brands are working harder than ever to alter consumer perceptions of “plant-based” from lab coats to gingham aprons. “Made in a kitchen, not a lab” statements could be found in every font and color across the Expo floor.

Plant-based is not enough; plant-forward is the future.

Standouts:

  • New Breed, who showcased at the Harvest Festival, makes plant-based burgers out of brown rice, pea, and algae. Passionately made in a non-lab environment, these burgers contain less saturated fat than their meat doppelganger counterparts – but still offer a juicy, hearty bite that demonstrates the true versatility of real veggies.
  • Actual Veggies (a Shelfies finalist!) debuted their new Truffle Burger at Expo East. This veggie-packed take on a typically meat-heavy indulgence was one of my favorite bites at Expo. Truffle flavor often gets lost when paired with a heavy red meat, but in Actual Veggies’ latest innovation, truffle is the star of the show. Packed with real white truffle, a gourmet mix of mushrooms, caramelized onions, and black beans, the Actual Truffle Burger is made with all whole ingredients and no added fillers. It will be available in limited batches on their website within the next month – and I highly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for this treat.
  • Growee Foods (a Backpack Brand!) makes plant-packed savory spreads “made with real vegetables and spices; nothing from a lab.” As one of Startup CPG’s Backpack Brands, Growee Foods sampled their ridiculously delicious spreads at the Startup CPG event. Their small batch spreads come in flavors like Curry Zucchini and Spiced Mango to add a kick of flavor to any meal – using only the power of plants.
Product-level Sustainability (ft. Upcycling)

I would argue that sustainability is no longer a trend; it’s an expectation. With the widespread consumer knowledge around food + ag’s massive impact on our planet, there are negligible brownie points awarded to brands with a semblance of a sustainability mission. Sustainable sourcing and supply chains, once trends in their own sense, are now a baseline. To be acknowledged as a sustainable brand, sustainability has to not only be a core facet of a brand’s ethos, but also of its product. Enter: upcycling.

The Upcycled Food Association (UFA), founded in 2019, had their own booth at Expo East, where they showcased 22 brands with Upcycled Certifications. Several members of the UFA also had their own booths, where they emphasized the importance of a circular food economy all while demo-ing delicious products.

Standouts:
  • LOOP Mission is a Canadian-based brand focused on upcycling ugly fruits and vegetables into delicious juices. A self-described “circular economy project” (as opposed to a “juice brand”), LOOP is the epitome of a sustainability-first brand. And their innovation is truly inspiring, with a product lineup including beers brewed with day old bread and gin distilled using potato cuttings from a potato chip factory.
  • Tia Lupita is a brand of dual passions which are unexpectedly complementary. Their sauces, tortillas and tortilla chips are unabashedly authentic, a clear ode to founder Hector Saldivar’s Mexican roots. But equally integral to the brand is their upcycling mission. Tia Lupita is the first brand to make a tortilla out of upcycled ingredients (in partnership with Renewal Mill). Tia Lupita proves that sustainability does not have to come at the expense of authenticity.
  • Supplant makes chocolate bars using upcycled… sugar. Supplant takes the fiber-rich and often unused parts of crops like stems, stalks, husks and cobs and turns it into fiber-derived sugar. Supplant chocolates are also a great option for those looking for “healthier” sweet options – their fiber-derived sugar produces a lower glycemic response compared to glucose, and is prebiotic and lower calorie by nature (literally).
Sustainable Under the Sea

Over a year after Netflix shook public perception of seafood with Seaspiracy, brands are going the extra mile to regain consumer trust in subocean snacks. With a rise in sea levels comes a rise in sustainable seafood, and Expo East had a strong showing of this school of innovation.

Standouts:

  • Neptune Snacks. US-caught Alaskan Pollock and Pacific Rockfish are the stars of the show in Neptune Snacks’ fish jerky – a protein- and flavor-packed snack on a mission to make on-the-go snacking more sustainable. With 100% traceability to the source, Neptune Snacks is passionate about improving the global seafood supply chain while solving for consumer pain points. Flavors like sweet citrus ginger, spicy cajun and sea salt & juniper pair rich umami with light spice, acidity and floral notes – making sustainable convenience an upscale culinary experience.
  • Atlantic Sea Farms is making kelp cool. The founders created the first commercially viable seaweed farm in the United States with the goal of diversifying how our coastal waters are used and providing a domestic, fresh, healthy alternative to imported seaweed products. Kelp is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with B12, iodine and calcium, and provides a delicious umami flavor to all of their products. Atlantic Sea Farms’ standout product? Their new Sea-Veggie Burgers, which pair their Maine kelp with whole ingredients for one of the tastiest veggie burgers I’ve ever tried – and certainly the first with kelp as the first ingredient.
Next-Level Frozen Meals (aka, “Stouffer’s who?”)

Welcome to the Ice Age. Frozen isn’t just a last resort convenience anymore; it’s an indulgence in its own right. The quality of frozen food at Expo East far surpassed my previous associations with “frozen,” to a degree (temperature pun intended) that is redefining the entire category. Some of my best bites at Expo were prepared frozen foods – restaurant-quality meals prepared in tiny booth ovens or microwaves.

In other words, frozen food at Expo East gave me hope for the refinement of future college boys’ palates.

Standout:

  • Katie’s Pizza and Pasta. Easily one of my favorite bites of the show, Katie’s Pizza is wood-fired, hand-stretched pizza made from scratch with the best ingredients. This pizza was hands down the best frozen pizza I have ever tasted, easily surpassing many fresh pizzas I’ve had, too. There’s a reason this is restaurant quality; Katie’s Pizza is a St. Louis restaurant that pivoted to frozen to save their brick + mortars during the pandemic. The restaurant-to-CPG pipeline is typically restricted to the sauce or condiment category, but Katie’s managed to package an entire meal experience – and that is game changing.

We cannot wait to meet more brands, through another successful event, and uncover even more trends at Expo West this year. In the meantime, stay updated on all things emerging food + bev in our Slack channel, on our podcast, and by continuing to open these emails 🙂

Best,
Jenna Movsowitz
Managing Editor, The Spotlight

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