90,000 People Go West!
Once again, Expo West proved itself to be ever-expansive, both in its ability to showcase a vast number of brands and products as well as to concentrate each brand within a footprint. But the sprawling nature of it all can give pause to anyone that is a first-timer or even the most seasoned of us. Even if you reduced the number of people attending (90,000 was the estimated number this year, with 3,600 exhibitors), the growth of the scope and offerings of products is daunting and, simply put, impossible to survey in any “complete” format. Nevertheless, we put on our walking shoes and hustled around to see a number of trends and products that caught our interest.
EXPO GOES WEST
PlantStance is an exciting podcast collaboration between BrandFirst and Sprouted Ventures, as we team up to share our branding and go-to-market strategy insights into the plant-based and food-tech industry.
In our first podcast, we review our experience at Expo West and talk about brands that caught our interest. Check it out!
Pig Out, made by Outstanding Foods, features delicious chips made out of King Oyster mushrooms. These chips have a great crunch and flavor, no cholesterol, and contain 73% less saturated fat and 68% less sodium than cooked pork bacon (not sure why the chips are being compared to cooked bacon; they have a great bacon-like taste, but they are chips after all). Oddly, the fact that they are made of King Oyster mushrooms was hard to find, and we wish that was called out more prominently.
Outer Aisle makes great cauliflower pizza that really hones in on the promise of being low carb. Considering that they use only 4 ingredients, it is clear that they are doing something right. Some of the competition has significantly more carbs and isn’t made with fresh cauliflower whereas Outer Aisle is, as their name implies, an exception to the rule. They use fresh cauliflower and don’t take any shortcuts to offer a really superior product. We would love to see this in a vegan version, expo 2020?
Lightlife really put their best foot forward with a delicious plant-based burger. We were pleasantly surprised at the real, meaty texture and savory flavor of this unexpected standout. We also liked the design of their booth, which made a bright and bold statement with a dynamic red color palette. It resonated well and had a nice balance of openness and clear, lively branding.
Beyond Meat’s debut of Beyond Beef was super packed with people trying to get a little meatball and place themselves on a square of space to pause and taste. This is the company’s first departure from its “ready-made” line. How nice to see that they are offering up proteins that can be utilized in a diverse set of recipes. At their booth, they were incorporating such ingredients as herbs and breadcrumbs to form tender and delicious meatballs; it’s amazing how a little cookery can change one’s perspective.
Kite Hill recently underwent a rebranding, which we think was nicely done. Their line is cohesive, clearly identifiable, and effective at differentiating between products and flavors – not to mention that their samples were amazing. The cream cheese we tasted had a light, whipped texture and delicious flavor. In our opinion, it’s actually better than the real thing.
A quick shout out to Faba Butter, made with aquafaba, the leftover water from cooking chickpeas (normally discarded) as well as fats from coconut and seasoning. These pioneers have not only landed on an idea, but they’ve managed a full-blown execution that creates a product incredibly able to compete with the creaminess and flexibility of real dairy butter. They passed a test that we couldn’t have imagined possible: At their booth, they had croissants made with Faba Butter, which had the heftiness and complex layers of a true puff pastry. All we can say is, wow!
First, let it be known, we like mushrooms. They are an amazing food, both when it comes to health benefits as well as culinary value. But the amount of specialization for the medicinal value is truly taking off and was quite apparent in the small sweep of what we were able to witness.
Host Defense Mushrooms
Host Defense Mushrooms had an impressive booth with information and education about numerous varieties of mushrooms; we were like kids in a candy store. It’s great to see that there is so much information out there for people to educate themselves on the benefits of mushrooms. We even got a pack of playing cards with a breakdown of different types of mushrooms on each suit, which we will be sure to put to use in our next game of poker.
OM is really capitalizing on the different forms one can purchase, such as capsules, extracts, teas & powders. Their lineup of products is impressive and quite sprawling compared to years past. They had a real Reishi mushroom on display, which was cool, and we spoke with one of their mushroom gurus who shed a lot of light on the benefits of Reishi as well as other mushrooms. Education in this category is clearly evident.
CBD was inserted into food on a level that we didn’t see last year. There was a frenzy of activity around every CBD booth and session. Obviously, everyone is hopping on the CBD bandwagon – which begs the question: what about CBD is good? How is it explained and what are we really getting? Testing and education should be a prerequisite for any product with CBD.
+CBDoil was one of the larger booths and, wow, was it mobbed! We didn’t really have a chance to talk to anyone there because it was so crazy, but we did partake of their wide selection of giveaways. Their booth was well done; the overhead sign was visible for aisles around, and their real-grass wall facades with lighted signage was eye-catching and quite stunning.
Another impressive brand we found called Hempi utilizes CBD along with functional mushroom extracts (yes!), nootropics, adaptogens, and herbs to create wellness shots. The resultant product is light tasting, refreshing, and offers quite the gamut of ingredients. They have two offerings at the moment, one to help with Sleep and the other to keep you Awake.
Probiotics was another trend we saw at Expo West. From chips and shots to kombuchas, tonics, and pills…we saw food, beverages, and supplements of every kind loaded with probiotics. The odd thing about this category is that, even though many people suffer from gut health issues, it’s still a relatively misunderstood concept. A whole industry is telling us about our microbiome, but is not doing the best job of educating the finer points of how the whole thing works in the first place. There needs to be a happier medium as it relates to points of education, and we don’t mean that the focus should only revolve around the literal side, but instead should be brought forth in a creative way.
Good Belly featured a line of carbonated beverages as well as wellness shots that were bright and tasty. Their “Poop Report” was a little less appetizing. They kept up this theme throughout their booth, leaving us with the impression that it’s a bit TMI. But their products are definitely yummy, and their packaging is cute.
Farmhouse Culture’s krauts and chips offer up some really nicely nuanced flavors. From Kimchi style to Golden Turmeric, this is quality stuff and it has all of the usual probiotic benefits of regular kraut (after all it is fermented). A particular stand out is their Kraut Krisps, as they deliver both on crunch and taste. Packaging is clear, colorful, and has a good deal of info to boot.
A few other trends…
While it wasn’t as prevalent as plant-based, and indeed the opposite, there were enough booths touting the keto diet for us to take notice. From bone broth to ready-to-eat bowls, there are options for everyone, whether they want to cook their own meals or are looking for convenience.
The Rainbow Effect
Sometimes the crowd starts to blend into itself…A cautionary tale? It seems that visual fads tend to gain steam to the point of canceling themselves out. There is no doubt that when used correctly, a palette of rainbow colors can help to act as a differentiator from flavor to flavor or one product line to another. However, in such tight quarters, seeing this again and again informs us that standing out in the crowd shouldn’t be confused with blending in.
Benefits Over Ingredients
We noticed an overall trend (especially in supplements, but also in some foods) of health benefits being the main focus rather than the actual ingredients. It’s certainly something that helps to answer questions many consumers ask – Which product is right for me? What am I looking to feel? What benefits do I need? – but at the same time, this puts the onus on the formulation of those products. What are those ingredients that are giving you the benefits, and how are those benefits actually provable?
A note on the little flags of Expo West
As the first man on the moon indelibly made the move to skewer the lunar surface and stake a claim, so too has just about every brand that plants a flag on their product with the hopes to extend their presence. Brands like MorningStar Farms, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat use a little flag on a toothpick in their tasting samples, providing that perfect “Made for Instagram” moment where we’ll take our pictures and tout our conquests. It’s actually a pretty smart move. We predict that the future holds even greater “moon landing moments.” After all, innovation deserves to be lauded and credit should resonate (even in cyberspace).
Expo West is a Mega Experience
It is truly amazing how this “mini society” functions for 4 days without missing a beat. The amount of energy, patience, and logistical acuteness is a testament to a ton of work, both behind the scenes and in full view. The truth about our industry is that it is incredibly self-aware. We are sure that, as the “dust” settles, everyone will have a slightly different take. The ripples of how this event informs brands of their strengths, weaknesses, innovations, designs, and tastes will resonate till next year when we will do it all over again.