It was a record-setting weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center as more than 77,000 people convened for the 36th annual Natural Products Expo West trade show. Up from 71,000 a year before, Expo West’s growth was demonstrative of the ever-increasing consumer interest in natural and organic foods and beverages, which have grown out of the natural channel to become an important component of conventional retailers’ offerings. With buyers and distributors afoot, more than 300 beverage brands were in attendance to showcase their latest in innovative beverages.
Particularly noticeable was the amount of new activity in coconut water compared to last year’s show.
With regards to packaging it was evident that coconut water has come a long way from Tetra Pak. Category leaders Vita Coco and ZICO were both on hand with new offerings in PET bottles. All Market, makers of Vita Coco, introduced Coco Community, a USDA-certified organic and premium-positioned product in a 16.9 oz. plastic bottle, while ZICO has swapped its HDPE bottles out for PET, as the brand has transitions to being not-from-concentrate across its entire line.
Other players in the space like Coco Libre and C2O have also made moves into new packaging, with the former going into a canned format while C2O’s new organic “Pure” coconut water will be packaged in plastic.
Flavor innovation for the category came from brands like CocoMazing (grapefruit), Thirsty Buddha (aloe) and Coco Libre, which introduced a sparkling coconut water line in lemon and ginger, grapefruit and cucumber, and lemongrass varieties. Ito En, makers of Matcha Love, introduced Matcha Colada, a hybrid of Thailand-sourced coconut water and Japanese matcha green tea.
“The category’s large enough now and there’s enough energy in it that people are starting to branch out,” ZICO President Tom Larsen said.
Arguably the biggest news to come out of the category at the show was that of Harmless Harvest, which is exiting the high pressure processed coconut water segment that it pioneered. Following a series of run-ins with the FDA over its processing methods, Harmless will now employ a micro-filtration process, according to the company’s new head of marketing Deanna Fleming. Meanwhile Invo, another San Francisco-based brand, will continue its use of HPP, citing a proprietary process that will ensure compliance with the FDA’s regulatory requirements.
Other plant-based waters were also on display. Maple water brands DrinkMaple and Happy Tree debuted new products that stretched the reach of their core lines. Happy Tree, which has previously added ginger and lemon-flavored maple waters to its product line, is allowing maple water to play a backseat role in its new cold-brew coffee offering, a product that’s more maple water-flavored coffee than coffee flavored maple water. DrinkMaple, on the other hand, stepped away from maple water altogether with the upcoming launch of DrinkMelon, a domestically-sourced organic watermelon juice rooted in the company’s commitment to plant-based, single ingredient functional beverages.
Though not exhibiting at the show, the influence and impact of biohacker Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Coffee could be seen through the presence of beverages like Austin, Texas-based Blue Northern’s artisan butter coffees, which blend grass-fed butter, MCT oil, direct trade coffee and collagen protein. Caveman Coffee, a like-minded brand launched by former MMA fighters Tait Fletcher and Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, was also exhibiting at the show. Similarly, Whole E Coco, which re-launched at this year’s show as Wonder Fuel, is highlighting its use of coconut MCT oil mixed in with a cold brewed mocha.
Other coffee products of note included La Colombe’s latte, made with cold-pressed espresso and frothed milk and available on tap at the company’s cafes as well as in a canned format, and organic energy drink company HiBall’s addition of an unsweetened, dairy-free coffee beverage to its cold brew line. HiBall also displayed Alta Palla, its new line of carbonated juice drinks.
No longer just dairy alternatives, nut-based beverages continue to expand beyond their base of almond milks, particularly through the use of high pressure processing (HPP). Cold-pressed juice company Juisi was at the show debuting numoo, a 3-SKU line of pecan, cashew and almond milks. Nutraw Foods unveiled a first of its kind cold-pressed pistachio nut milk. Forager Juice has added a strawberry banana cashew smoothie to its growing line of nut milks.
Plant-based protein remains on the rise, evidenced by the launch of ready-to-drink products like Evolve, made by Cytosport, makers of Muscle Milk, as well as the entry of adaptogen beverage brand Rebbl into the space with its two new protein beverages. Cold-pressed juice company Love Grace has added further functionality to its line of plant-based protein smoothies with the addition of probiotics.
Several brands brought new innovation to the ready-to-drink tea category as well. Bhakti Chai, which has rebranded as simply Bhakti, has entered the sparkling segment with a new line of organic carbonated teas. New Beverage Showdown 10 participant IGZU formally introduced its bamboo leaf teas. Green tea-based beverage brand Steaz introduced a green tea and cactus water line in three flavors.
From the maturation and evolution of established beverage trends and brands to the emergence of entirely new ones, Expo West 2016 offered further proof of the emphasis on innovation for natural and/or organically inclined beverages.