Natural Products Expo East 2019 Review

The Natural Products Expo East trade show graced the Baltimore Convention Center one last time in 2019, ahead of the event’s relocation to Philadelphia next year. Held from September 12-15, this year featured brands showcasing emerging trends including CBD, sleep drinks, and oat milk alongside innovations in cold brew coffee, tea, and kombucha.

With CBD being one of the most buzzed about ingredients in the natural products industry this year, Expo East debuted the Hemp Pavilion section to showcase the numerous innovations in the category, from food and beverage to tinctures and topicals. Beverage brands in particular sought to expand use occasions for CBD through innovation, including recovery drinks like O2’s new “+ Hemp CBD” line, protein drinks from DOSE and numerous tea products positioned as relaxation enhancers from brands such as Chiques Creek, Mood33 and Harney and Sons. Ub addition, hemp-focused brand Weller debuted a powdered CBD Drink Mix in single serve packets which can be added to any beverage.

As the CBD space promises to help consumers unwind, the market for sleep beverages showed signs of perking up. Brands such as Vital Proteins, Nuun, Snoooze and SOM Sleep have all taken unique approaches in format and formulation to give consumers a convenient and natural way to fall asleep at night. Katie Clizbe, VP of innovation sales for Vital Proteins — which markets a 2 oz. sleep shot containing collagen and debuted a powdered sleep beverage mix at the show — said the brand’s shot is now available in more than 1,200 locations nationwide.

“I think you need to look at the lifestyle and the pace at which everyone is going; there’s the craze of travel, the need to be on at all times and people are working longer hours,” Clizbe told BevNET. “Consumers are ready to incorporate more holistic solutions into their life. So [Vital Protein’s sleep products] are a purposeful endcap at the end of the day. You can decompress and get the most bang for your buck in the time your body is in that sleep state.”

Rather than helping them fall asleep, cold brew coffee makers are seeking new ways to keep consumers awake. Honest Tea announced its entrance into the category with Honest Cold Brew, available in three organic SKUs — Cubano, Mocha, and Unsweete. Kitu Life, the maker of MCT-infused Super Coffee, debuted its first cold brew offering along with redesigned packaging for its Super Espresso line. Florida-based Made introduced its Cold Brew Lemonade coffee shandy, and High Brew showcased flavored lattes including Bourbon Vanilla, Toasted Coconut and Smoked Butterscotch varieties.

Coffee also intersected with the growth of plant-based milk, as brands such as Blue Bottle, Bluestone Lane and Chameleon introduced dairy-free oat milk lattes. Plant-based milk specialists Elmhurst, which is supplying the oat milk for Bluestone Lane’s RTD product, also shared a preview of its own line of oat milk lattes.

Kombucha brands showed an eagerness to look beyond the natural channel, with new innovations in the category positioned towards other retail channels such as convenience and conventional grocery. After a soft launch last year, Humm Kombucha is launching its 12 oz. can format nationally in five flavors: Blueberry Mint, Strawberry Lemonade, Mango Passionfruit, Coconut Lime and Hopped Grapefruit. The company also appointed Matt Witherell, a former Red Bull and MillerCoors executive, as its new president last month. Meanwhile, Brew Dr. is pursuing its own canned line along with new functional flavor Uplift — a new kombucha flavor made with yerba mate and kombucha intended to play in the convenience channel where consumers are seeking out energy options.

Expo East also proved an opportune show for companies to premiere major new initiatives and restructurings. Texas-based Great Point Brands presented a revamped portfolio with established products like LIVE Soda and Daily Greens as well as new lines Rama and Farmstand Lemonade. Rama is line of a low-calorie, unsweetened teas made with butterfly pea flower and features botanicals such as rose petals, hibiscus, lavender and holy basil. Meanwhile conglomerate Novamex, coming off of its acquisition of drinkable soup brand Tio Gazpacho last year, announced it had grouped together its beverage offerings under the new Nova Naturals banner. The section includes Tio as well as C2O Coconut Water, Steaz, Waiakea, and Mineragua.