Scanning for Innovation at Expo West

As expected, this year’s Natural Products Expo West attracted scores of beverage companies to the Anaheim Convention Center, with booth-dwellers ranging from young, emerging brands to established industry power players. As usual, the breadth of new products and innovative offerings seemed to grow even wider, from fresh takes on familiar favorites to disruptive innovations with the potential to birth entirely new categories.

Within the kombucha segments, brands at Expo West seemed eager to take advantage of the category’s growing mainstream penetration to introduce consumers to a wider variety of flavor profiles, ingredient combinations and production techniques. Bold, dynamic flavors were prevalent: Brew Dr. debuted a seasonal Habanero Mango and a new core line addition, Mint Lemonade. Humm leaned toward citrus notes with the launch of a Hopped Grapefruit variety, while Wonder Drink debuted several organic, culinary-inspired SKUs with flavors like Thai Carrot and Strawberry Basil. Other brands looked to buttress kombucha’s existing functional benefits with the addition of adaptogenic ingredients, such as the inclusion of reishi mushroom in Health-Ade’s new Reishi Chocolate flavor.

As kombucha has established its foothold in the marketplace, drinking vinegars are making gains of their own, as brands featured at Expo West sought to bring more consumers to the category with formulations designed to be more palatable to the mainstream. Suja’s new organic coconut vinegar-based line, as well as BluePrint Organic’s reformulated Daily Apple Cider Vinegar line, aimed to fill that space. Elsewhere, switchel brand Cide Road teased a forthcoming sparkling variety called Spritzel. The shot format continues to be fertile ground for vinegar drink manufacturers, as evidenced by new shots from Kor (“Gut Check”) and Vitox that each contain a daily serving of apple cider vinegar.

Within tea brands, two notable trends were the emergence of cold brewing and the integration of adaptogenic ingredients. Japanese tea conglomerate Ito En showcased a pair of cold brew teas for each of its Matcha Love and Tea’s Tea lines, while coffee brands Secret Squirrel, Caveman, Beach Coffee and Fogdog also entered the category with new cold brew products. In other innovations, 10th Avenue Tea presented a powdered tea line sold in portable bottles with salt shaker-style caps.

While cold brewing is a relatively new development for tea brands, coffee brands are already looking towards cold brew’s next wave by experimenting with nitros, lattes and new flavor combinations to disrupt an increasingly crowded marketplace. Secret Squirrel unveiled a significant expansion of its cold brew offerings with two new latte flavors — Chicory and Citrus Caramel — and four new black coffee-based SKUs: unsweetened, lightly sweetened, cinnamon and brown sugar, and maple and brown sugar. Meanwhile, former New Beverage Showdown finalist IMMORDL was one of several coffee brands, including Caveman Coffee, Sunniva and Picnik, offering functional coffee innovations with ingredients like grass-fed butter and coconut oil-derived MCT oils.

Having broken down barriers for acceptance of plant-based waters as a category unto itself, at Expo West coconut water continued to demonstrate its evolution, both as a stand-alone product type and as a base for other drinks. INVO launched an ambitious new six-SKU line of coconut water-based blends called Coco Collisions, each targeting a different specific functional benefit, including detox, balance and immunity. Blue Monkey’s new sparkling variety, packaged in an eye-catching blue glass bottle aimed to appeal to food service, and ALO’s new aloe vera-infused coconut water were also notable introductions at the show.

Other plant-based waters sought to broaden the category’s appeal. WTRMLN WTR added four new blended products to feature alongside its flagship flavor, while the Vermont-based Maple Guild showcased an athlete-focused version of its maple water enhanced with electrolytes and B-vitamins. Pushing the category into new areas, alkaline water brand BLK revealed BANU, an organic bamboo leaf-based water with zero calories and zero sugar.

Probiotics, already a prevalent trend in beverage, were explored in new ways at Expo West. Organic beverage brand Pressery wholeheartedly embraced the idea, debuting a line of probiotic drinkable soups alongside a new sparkling probiotic line that will replace its still variety. Lifeway, Farmhouse Culture, Solti and The Water Kefir People followed suit with fizzy probiotic offerings of their own, while Harvest Soul and Uncle Matt’s Organics rolled out juice products with added probiotics.

Juice has long been a category that has embraced innovation, a trend that continued at Expo West this year. Evolution Fresh showcased a four-SKU line of organic smoothies called “Superfoods,” each powered with ingredients like turmeric, ginger, baobab and cocoa. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Daily Greens went for a simpler formulation with its new two-ingredient fruit and veggie juice blends, while Naked extended its line with a pair of botanical-infused varieties. The 2 oz. juice shot format, as represented by new products from Juice Served Here, Vive Organic and early adopter KOR, proved to be an increasingly popular one.

In dairy, Expo West saw new drinkable yogurt products from Siggi’s, Stonyfield Farm, and Dreaming Cow, which debuted a new line of veggie-infused yogurt smoothies positioned to serve as meal replacement beverages.

However, the category was rivaled by developments in the non-dairy space. Califia Farms was particularly active: Homestyle Nut Milks, the brand’s first line of organic products, debuted in a 750 mL multiserve format, while Toasted Oats ’N Almond Almondmilk and Go Coconuts, a blend of coconut milk and coconut water, also made their bows. Bolthouse Farms was also in the mix with a line of plant-based milks that will launch this summer in 48 oz. carafe-style bottles.