Natural product brands and manufacturers from across the spectrum of the industry came together in Baltimore, Md. on Sept. 13-16 for Natural Products Expo East 2017. From subtle product updates to category-disrupting innovations, this year’s expo gave attendees a chance to see and experience the latest developments in beverage firsthand, highlighted by growth in cold brew coffee, plant-based milks, juices and fermented drinks.
Some brands at Expo East focused on developing the plant-based milk category, as they position themselves to meet consumer demand for vegan-friendly and allergen-free beverages that can replace traditional dairy. Elmhurst Milked, formerly known as Elmhurst Dairy, has embraced its new identity as a plant-based beverage brand platform since transitioning out of dairy production in October 2016. The company debuted no less than six new varieties, packaged in 32 oz. cartons, at Expo East, introducing two unsweetened versions for its existing Milked Almonds and Milked Hazelnuts products, as well as two flavors of Milked Peanuts and two new whole grain-based beverages — Milked Oats and Milked Brown Rice, each with 20g of whole grains per serving.
Cashew-based beverages were particularly well represented at this year’s Expo East. Forager Project, which produces a range of plant-based foods and drinks, teased a forthcoming line of cashew and coconut milk blends positioned as a more indulgent plant-based offering. Meanwhile, ahead of a November rollout, Blueprint Organic introduced a new 16 oz. bottle for its cashew milk-based blends, which come in three varieties: the energy boosting Matcha Nut and Morning Thunder (made with cold brew coffee) joining Nut & Bolt.
Cold brew coffee’s continued ascent as a category was reflected at Expo East. Chameleon Cold Brew unveiled an RTD line of sparkling cold brew coffee in four lightly-sweetened flavors: black, spice vanilla, citrus, and ginger. The line follows similar recent innovations into sparkling from a number of cold brew makers, including Stumptown earlier this year. Rise Brewing Co. sampled its previously announced Lemonade and Blood Orange flavored nitro cold brew coffee RTD line, while new launches in cold brew included lines from Java House and Rise-Up Coffee. Functional beverage brand Vim Vitae also announced a partnership with Shared Root Coffee to produce the brand’s new ready-to-drink cold brew coffee line.
In plant-based waters, DrinkMAPLE continued to look beyond its core maple water line. After launching two new products earlier this year at the 2017 Summer Fancy Food Show, the company showcased an additional organic maple water line extension at Expo East: Raspberry Lemon, which will be available exclusively at Whole Foods locations through December. Relative category newcomers Detoxwater and Treo Organic Birch Water Infusions each sampled new flavors joining their respective lineups, while longtime aloe vera drink maker ALO presented a new USDA Certified Organic version of its original aloe drink.
A perennial hot category at Expo East, kombucha was featured prominently once again at this year’s show as some brands continued to seek new ways to present the bubbly fermented tea to consumers. Two growing Mid-Atlantic-based kombucha brands, North Carolina-based Buchi and Washington, D.C.’s Capital Kombucha, showcased at Expo East for the first time since their recent merger. Rising Dallas/Fort Worth-based brand Holy Kombucha showcased a new label design, while established category player KeVita poured samples of two new flavors.
Drinking vinegars were also well represented at the show. In offering 14 oz. Drinking Vinegars, the more concentrated 8 oz. Sipping Vinegars and a new line of honey sweetened apple cider vinegar shots packaged in single-serve pouches, Vermont Village has positioned its products to compete at multiple price points, formats and locations in-store at retailers. Elsewhere, Vitox, which has long offered apple cider drinking vinegars concentrates, showcased a new pre-diluted ready-to-drink format in 8 oz. glass bottles.
Evolution Fresh showcased a new line innovation called Daily Probiotics, which feature sweet flavor varieties including Date-licious Greens, Banana Date, Dark Chocolate Orange, and Mango Chai. The Complete Smoothies line, which utilizes probiotics, protein, and fiber, includes Greens, Strawberry, and Banana varieties. All flavors are organic and use a coconut milk base. The organic lines contribute to the company’s goal of becoming 100 percent organic by 2019. On the more cutting edge of the category, Repurposed Pod presented Cacao Juice, a sweet beverage sourced from cacao pods, which the company is presenting as a juice mixer made from 100% cacao juice.
In the emerging category of probiotic beverages, Lifeway, best known for its kefir products, showcased Plantiful, a new organic pea-based protein drink made with probiotic cultures and featuring 18g of protein per serving, which is being prepped for an early 2018 launch at retail. Elsewhere, Kite Hill exhibited its new four-SKU line of probiotic drinkable almond milk yogurts, available in original, mango, berry and vanilla flavors.