By Julie Pryor, Director, Emerging Brands, Food Marketing Institute

Expo EastAt Natural Products Expo East last week, it was a pleasure to meet inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs that are raising the bar at food retail today. 

I had the chance to connect with brands who have crafted new and unique ingredient combinations to create flavorful and better-for-you snacks, drinks and meal solutions. And, at a show where most exhibitors are category disruptors, it was inspiring to talk with entrepreneurs spearheading new distribution systems and market opportunities for farmers and new supply chains.

I was also thrilled to meet with some of our wonderful FMI Emerge Mentors. Over the past few months, I’ve made vital connections by aligning the mentor network expertise with the needs of the subscribers in our program. If you are an emerging brand or know a company growing their retail or eCommerce sales, we’d love to share how FMI Emerge could help support distribution, sales, operations and financing. 

With so much to see and so little time, I headed straight to the “Hot Products” pavilions!  

Here are five food innovation trends I found:

1. Convenience and Meal Solutions 

  • Little Dish fresh meals let kids experience the tastes and textures of real food. Because they never use additives or preservatives, meals are found in the refrigerator.
  • Frozen meals are being reinvented, with a focus on nutritious and flavorful ingredients. Wildscape, for example, offers premium single-serve frozen meals that look and feel as good as they taste. 
  • Plant-based meals were prevalent. The Jackfruit Company’s 100-percent vegetarian dishes, meal starters and frozen entrees all feature jackfruit as the primary ingredient. Path of Life’s organic and all-natural frozen quinoa side dishes provide a healthy meal accompaniment, while Vana Life Foods’ grab-n-go legume bowls tout the Green Chickpea superfood as its piece de resistance. 

2. Hydration Innovation

  • So many options exist when it comes to selecting water today. Here are four that I came across, each with their own distinctive qualities:
  • Blume Honey Water- an ancient, energizing and quenching elixir made with pure honey from compassionate, humane beekeepers. 
  • HyVida- hydrogen-infused sparkling water that conteracts oxidative stress.
  • Essentia water- an ionized alkaline water that has been clinically shown to be more effective at rehydrating than a leading bottled water. 
  • Limitless-  a lightly caffeinated sparkling water, which claims to help you kick your diet soda addiction. The company harvests clean caffeine directly from green coffee beans and infuses them with unique flavors and ingredients.

3. Five Ingredients or Less

  • As we saw at the Fancy Food Show in July, many brands are keeping the ingredients list short. At Expo East, the focus was on fresh, plant-based products with few ingredients (five or less) using mushrooms and alternative sweeteners like dates, monk fruit and honey.
  • This is in sync with FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends findings and the SmartLabel® initiative.

4. Mushroom Power 

  • Functional mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, along with other superfoods, and adaptogens are being embraced more and more. 
  • Two brands leveraging the health benefits of mushrooms include Four Sigmatic Superfood Mushroom Drinks and Pan Mushroom Jerky. Mushrooms have a meaty texture and are a natural source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. 

5. Better-for-you Cleaning and Lifestyle Brands

  • Two new natural household cleaning product brands caught my attention: Lemi Shine detergents and cleaners using powerful citrus extracts to fight grease and dirt. Boulder Clean’s line of detergents and cleaners guarantees effective results while protecting the planet. 
  • Oh, and reusable paper towels inspired me to reconsider the roll on my kitchen counter.
  • Finally, Murphy’s Naturals, a proud B Corp., boasts natural mosquito repellents made from responsibly sourced plant-based ingredients. 

While eating (and living) well today is still anchored in health, it is joined by the desire for taste, enjoyment, discovery, and mindful connection. 

What will you incorporate into your day today to bring you a sense of joy and connection? I look forward to hearing your ideas!

In health and wellness,