All Grown Up

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.50.47 AMPerhaps more than any particular hot new trend, what stuck out at the just-concluded Natural Products Expo East trade show in Baltimore was the visible growth and continued maturation of beverage categories and brands which were in their infancy just a few short years ago.

Suja Juice, for example, arrived in Baltimore as a “Gold” sponsor of Expo East alongside other Coca-Cola company-backed heavy hitters like Honest Tea and Zico. Suja’s high profile presence at this year’s show comes just two and half years after having its coming out party at 2013’s Expo West show in Anaheim. Fresh of the announcement off a $90 million investment from Coke last month, Suja continues to lead the way in a cold-pressed juice movement that shows no signs of letting up.

Another booming category, cold brewed coffee, was also well represented at Expo East. Fresh off a $4 million raise from Boulder Food Group, the Austin, Texas-based Chameleon Cold Brew is emerging as a leader in its space just five years after its inception, alongside Califia Farms and fellow Austin-based company High-Brew.

Califia, which, alongside cold-brew, makes almond milks, creamers, and juices was also present at the BCC, weeks after the company revealed a $50 million investment from New York private equity firm Stripes Group.

“Just a year ago conventional retailers weren’t ready for [cold brew coffee]” said Califia CEO Greg Steltenpohl. “But the public awareness of cold brew in the last year has completely inverted.”

Further validation of Steltenpohl’s sentiment has also come by way of recent findings from global market data and research firm Mintel, which reported last week that retail sales of cold brew have grown 115 percent in the last 12 months. Perhaps owing to only recently scannable growth in tracked channels, the report put sales of cold brew at a comparatively paltry $7.9 million; as the data picture fills in, it’s likely that number will be left in the rear-view in the months to come.

Along with strategic investments, another indication of category maturation has been brands’ visible push into conventional retailers. Despite its presence at the natural foods show, Califia’s gearing up for a mainstream push. The company recently announced the hire of Dan Mader as Vice President of Sales. Mader previously spent eight years at Annie’s, contributing to the natural channel darling’s wildly successful move into conventional supermarkets and club stores.

Even the brands without $50 million in added firepower are dipping their toes outside the natural channel; Expo East had a handful of them, and buyers from places like Sam’s Club in the mix to look for them.

Daily Greens, for example, which secured $3 million from WhiteWave Food Co. at the top of 2015, was in Baltimore showcasing its 12 oz. bottles, a more price-friendly, palatable extension from its core 16 oz. offerings, aimed at a mainstream crowd.

Temple Turmeric, which debuted its upcoming Pure Fire Cider Super Tonic and Holiday Spiced Lassi seasonal flavors, also had its “Super Lights” line on deck. The Super Lights are the brand’s “gateway product,” created ahead of its entry into Kroger earlier this year, according to company founder Daniel Sullivan.

Temple’s ‘Fire Cider’ wasn’t the only tonic in town for Expo East. Tonic upstarts like California-based Teaonic joined existing players in the space including Shire City Herbals’ Fire Cider and Herbal Revolution’s lineup of drinking vinegars.

The second coming of coconut water was another subcategory present. Where Harmless Harvest once stood alone, as the lone high-end and high pressure processed (HPP) coconut water brand, now the company shared the trade show floor with two other HPP coconut water companies, San Francisco-based Invo as well as Sri Lanka Gold, the latter of whom is backed by “conscious capital” private equity firm MetaBrand.

Waiting in the wings for their own post-coconut water moment were the likes of Vertical Water, DRINKmaple, Happy Tree and Sap on Tap, each of whom seem to be vying for the up-for-grabs title of frontrunner in a tree-based water category that continues to show promise, and has expanded to include its own subcategory: the show featured the debut of Säpp (a company selling water drawn from birch trees).