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

The energy was palpable at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim earlier this month.World of Chia There was truly a community feel throughout the event. See all the Expo West photos I took here!

The FMI Emerge team was there to speak with emerging brands wanting to grow their distribution and scale sustainably. In the same way that Expo West brings the entire food and grocery retail industry together, this too is one of the key tenets of the FMI Emerge program and community. It is a nurturing environment with regional and nationwide retailers, the industry’s leading experts, mentors, education, supportive outreach and access to investors. Our team helps emerging brands fully integrate into the larger industry, by getting the education they need, and accessing the resources they’re seeking, fast.

A highlight of Expo was catching up with FMI Emerge subscribers: MODe Sports Nutrition and Step One Foods were unveiling new products at Expo as they continue to grow distribution. World of Chia, the first chia fruit spread, also continues to expand their distribution and grow across e-commerce. FMI Emerge resources enabled these companies to tackle challenges such as finding the right co-packer partners, updating their packaging and revising their product formulations, and growing their e-commerce and Amazon sales.

MyFitMode World of Chia

Here are some notable trends and themes from Expo West:

Regenerative Agriculture

Many of the most progressive organic brands were either talking about regenerative agriculture—a type of farming system that involves recycling as much farm waste as possible—or already moving in that direction. Two emerging brands impressively showcased themselves during the Expo West Pitch Slam semis:

  • Picaflor Live Cultures, founded in 2015 by chef and farmer Marcus McCauley who has a passion for regenerative farming and natural fermentation. A hot sauce company in Boulder, they lease land from the city in order to turn the acreage into regenerative farmland.
  • Lumen Hemp Elixirs, pure hemp juice combined with potent superfoods and adaptogens to keep your body and mind feeling great.
Better-for-you and convenient snacks, sauces and meal solutions

A few that caught my eye were:

  • Square Baby; real, convenient and customizable baby food that takes the guesswork out of nutrition, with any 3 servings providing 100 percent of a little one’s daily nutrition needs.
  • AvoLov Avocado chips crafted with 100 percent real, Haas avocados, Sweet Potato Awesome, freeze dried sweet potato slices and Popped Chickpeatos, baked green pea & chickpea puffs.
  • Do Anything Sauce; so versatile, it can be enjoyed as soups, spreads, dips, marinades, and more!
  • Primitive Feast entrees bring real ingredients, great flavors and convenience to busy, health-conscious consumers, with a focus on olive oil and other healthy fats.
  • Egglife wraps made with eggs vs. flour or corn - seamlessly replace your favorite tortilla wrap!
Plant Wisdom

People have been eating plant-based diets for thousands of years. The range of benefits affiliated with plants have emerged as a guiding star of health and wellness in response to consumer concerns associated with meat and dairy products. I saw plant-based touted across many products, including plant-based meats made from pea, rice and mung bean proteins, alternative milks such as oat, cassava root chips, plant-powered deli slices, Wrawp plant wraps, lattes in a bottle, seaweed popcorn, sauces like Haven’s Kitchen, ice cream, dry protein-powders and ready-to-drink meal replacements. Hakuna Banana, a banana based non-dairy frozen dessert, won this year’s Pitch Slam. Creamy, smooth and delicious, I’ll be looking for their products on my local grocery store shelves!

Other noteworthy trends included functional foods and beverages, Keto and Paleo, digestive health, coconut, along with CBD.

Despite the growing interest in products containing cannabidiol (CBD), the regulatory framework for its production and sale is still very murky, and federal action is needed before CBD products can be legally marketed nationwide. The FDA has said it will be holding an April public meeting on the regulation of CBD products, where FMI will be in attendance and providing comment. More education is needed to understand if CBD would be a standalone ingredient, similar to turmeric, ginger or echinacea, or if a brand could potentially be based around it.

If the event excitement and community is an indicator of consumer’s interest in these product attributes, I am excited for grocery shelves to come.

If you know of an emerging brand that is seeking assistance to grow sustainably in expanding distribution, operations, financing and sales, FMI Emerge may be of value. Send them our way -