In this second installment of our coverage of the Expo East Natural Products event, we delve into the burgeoning realms of beverages, snacks, and confections within the health foods and ‘better-for-you’ sectors. Our previous column offered a comprehensive overview of the innovative products and emerging trends showcased at this premier event, highlighting the growing emphasis on sustainability and wellness in the food industry. Now, we turn our focus to three more specific categories that are redefining the way we think about indulgence and refreshment in a health-conscious era. With the ARC Health & Wellness Community video team, we descended on the exhibit floor to discover and capture the new products and trends… and meet the innovators.
At Expo East, the spotlight was unmistakably on beverages and snacks that not only promise nutritional benefits but also cater to the evolving palate of the health-savvy consumer. From probiotic-rich drinks to plant-based confections, the array of products on display was a testament to the creativity and commitment of manufacturers in meeting the demand for healthier options without compromising on taste.
To explore these categories, we visited the trailblazers of the industry, the innovative startups shaking up traditional snack and beverage formulations, and the established brands that are reinventing themselves to stay relevant in a market that increasingly values health and sustainability. These are the insights into the latest flavor trends, technological advancements in food processing, and how consumer preferences are driving a transformation in the ‘better-for-you’ product space. This curated journey of the most noteworthy products and trends from Expo East, showcases how the future of snacks, confections, and beverages is being shaped by a conscious approach to health, wellness, and environmental responsibility.
The Next Generation of Beverages
Many of us start our day with a cup of coffee. Samantha Siegel of Death Wish coffee says, “we do need another brand of coffee!” With roots deep into a coffee shop in Upstate New York, Death Wish was created to serve the desires of customers who wanted a stronger brew that was smooth but with extra caffeine, Fair Trade certified and organic. Its recipe is designed for those who live their life to the fullest and want to be just outside their comfort zone. Their proprietary roasting process and blend is an unusual blend of both arabica and robusta beans (which gives the coffee that extra kick over blends that use just arabica) which removes the bitterness of the robusta beans.
FigBrew, touted as “coffee’s Mellow Mate” is a 150-year-old coffee substitute made from figs designed to satisfy coffee and espresso lovers. Andy Whitehead shared that FigBrew’s success is that invites sight, smells and of course, taste to that coffee drinker who is embedded in years of coffee culture. Coffee drinkers, he says, seek coffee substitutes for three reasons: reduce caffeine, acidity in the stomach and spike in blood pressure. Figs, Whitehead shared, form the trifecta to thwart these adverse health conditions. Figs are naturally caffeine free, alkaline (vs. acid) and help regulate blood pressure. And most importantly – figs are classified as a ‘superfood’ loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and have been grown sustainably for thousands of years.
For those who add milk or cream to their extra strong or fig-based coffees, New York’s Elmhurst Dairy which was started in 1925 has evolved with consumers converting in 2017 from a cow’s milk-based dairy to a plant-based only dairy. Heba Mahmoud highlighted the difference between Elmhurst’s plant-based milks and their competitors – they only have 2 to 3 ingredients. For example, nothing but almonds and water, walnuts and water, or cashews and water, their foundation is very clean ingredients that are nutrient dense with significant amounts of fiber, protein, and Vitamin E that taste delicious. Manitoba Milling Company’s Flax Milk is another terrific tasting alternative to cow’s milk. One of the pioneers in the better-for-you category, Mary Ekman shares Flax Milks attributes: whole flax seeds; which contains all the nutrients of flax – Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. Both flavors, original and vanilla are unsweetened, sugar-free and allergen free.
Globally, three cups of tea are drunk for every one cup of coffee, which is why Brad Neumann and Saint James teas have produced a wide range of teas including black and green iced teas in a variety of flavors that are organic and sustainably packaged which affords the teas’ nutrients protection from UV light (instead of the typical plastic or glass bottle). Traditional iced teas in the market he says are 24 to 45 grams of sugars compared to Saint James which in their line of black teas has no sugars and no calories and in the green teas there are just 4 grams of sugars in the whole bottle – both lines are all natural.
Yerba Mate global sales in 2022 reached $1.6 billion and Guayaki intends to help the category grow even more. Yerba Mate is a plant whose origins are in the South American Rainforest and is one of just seven naturally caffeinated plants in the world. Traditionally drank out of a gourd it is a naturally brewed caffeinated beverage. Alex Schirer of Guayaki says it’s a great way to improve your energy levels naturally without any jitters. He explains that the growth of the category comes from a multiple reasons including the fact that one of the world’s most prominent soccer players carries around Yerba Mate in a gourd (in front of the cameras) and offers consumers a much more mellow option than caffeinated energy drinks that are on the market.
Hydration is one of the biggest trends in fitness and overall wellness, and Nunn’s Mike Sommers told me that in their consumer research hydration ranks number one strategy that consumers are employing to achieve optimum health & wellness. Nunn’s products are flavored electrolytes that consumers add to their water, and research shows that consumers are three times more likely to consume water when flavor is added. The electrolytes help the water pass through the gut and enter the bloodstream more quickly resulting in a quicker rehydration.
Topo Chico is a Monterey Mexico water company that’s been around since 1895 and was acquired in 2017 by Coca-Cola who has gained national distribution here in U.S. supermarkets. Leah Matoney describes the water as having a special smooth extreme carbonation with a beautiful mouth feel with subsoil minerals, unlike other sparkling waters. Topo Chico, she says, has a unique taste and balanced carbonation that others’ can’t duplicate.
American love their sweets and snacks, and healthy consumers are not an exception
Craize is a sweet corn snack, a hybrid bite-sized snack that is somewhere between a cracker and a chip, according to Marissa Arguelles. She says that is the perfect balance between a snack that is clean, healthy, flavorful and is not processed. 12 crackers are only 120 calories.
TruFru is a line of chocolate covered fruits, raspberries, blueberries, bananas, strawberries and pineapple to name a few, that are hyper-chilled and hyper-dried fresh fruits (to lock in flavor and nutrition) that are picked at the ultimate ripeness, immersed in sustainably produced dark and white chocolate or yogurt and granola that are gluten free and non-gmo that are available frozen or shelf-stable.
In many home kitchens, spices are an afterthought
J.R. Wrigley of The Watkins Company wants to change that. The next evolution of spices, he says, is blended spices which are organic, convenient, and already mixed to avoid those scores of spice jars and one-bottle meal prep solutions. Watkins has developed special blends for everything from popcorn to barista blends to add to coffees instead of adding milks or sugars. Younger generations, he says, want much bolder flavor experiences. are demanding innovation and looking toward spices, like cinnamon (high in antioxidants, improves gut health and lower blood pressure) or turmeric (for aches and pains) for health benefits – which he says is the next big trend in spices – as well as brining more exotic and ethnic flavors from around the globe to the U.S. market.
Better-for-you is throughout the supermarket and as we navigate a world increasingly aware of health, sustainability, and ethics, the role of events like Expo East (and in the spring of 2024 Expo West) becomes even more crucial in shaping the future of what we eat and how we consume. You can meet all these products and watch their stories here.