Natural Products Expo Breaks Attendance Record as Plant-Based Foods Chart New Course for Industry

Natural Products Expo Breaks Attendance Record
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More than 80,000 people attended the 37th annual Natural Products Expo West & Engredea trade show in Anaheim, Calif., last weekend, setting a new attendance record for the world’s largest natural, organic, and health-focused business-to-business event.

Produced by the New Hope Network, the event showcased more than 3,100 exhibitors in the natural space, with more than 500 first-time exhibitors in attendance.

“Each year, longtime attendees band together with first-timers to push the natural products industry to new heights,” Adam Andersen, Managing Director, New Hope Network, said in a statement. “We quickly see its impact as groundbreaking new healthy products show up on store shelves across the country.”

The trade show introduced its first-ever Climate Day event, a partnership with Climate Collaborative, an initiative linking organizations, brands, and retailers on tackling climate change. Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author, delivered the Climate Day keynote address.

Keeping with the climate change theme, the biggest trend on the show floor was the explosion of plant-based foods and their link to reduced impact on the climate, improved human health, and animal welfare. There were numerous innovations in nondairy milk like Ripple’s milk derived from pea protein, several brands of banana milk, Malk’s unique nut processing for its milks, and the launch of Elmhurst nutmilks produced by a company that was once well-known for its dairy products.

Snacks saw a significant uptick in plant-based ingredients, like Hippeas puffed chickpeas and SeaSnax seaweed snacks, as well as the innovative chips made from sauerkraut by Farmhouse Culture, which hit on another big show trend: probiotic-rich foods (and drinks, as kombucha was in full force).

Beyond Meat’s plant-based burgers that “bleed” were in high demand as was Tofurky’s newest one-pound plant-based burgers and sausages. Award-winning nondairy cheeses from Miyoko’s Kitchen and Daiya drew the usual crowds; and nondairy yogurts, like Good Karma’s award-winning flaxmilk- and pea protein-based yogurt, were indistinguishable from traditional dairy yogurt.

The Plant Based Foods Association, the industry’s nascent trade organization, celebrated its one-year anniversary on Saturday evening with a line of attendees waiting outside the convention room door for entry. The group noted the rise in membership in its first year increased from 22 founding member brands to more than 80 members and counting at its anniversary party.

“The plant-based foods industry has quickly become a powerful market force for transforming our food system away from factory farming and toward more healthy, humane, and sustainable modes of production,” says Emily Byrd, Senior Communications Specialist for The Good Food Institute. “This year’s Expo West showed just how much demand there is for plant-based alternatives to animal products, and how delicious these foods have become.”

Sustainability was a key theme throughout the expo with brands highlighting transparent supply chains for coffee, tea, chocolates, and more, to the ever-popular one-for-one business models popping up in everything from oatmeal to nut butters. Cleaner and more humane dairy and meat products also made a strong appearance with grass-fed labeling on the rise around the show floor.

The expo’s attendance growth mirrors the rise in sales across the organic and natural sectors, and with major retailers like Costco taking considerable market share from the longtime face of the movement, Whole Foods Market, the trend is sure to continue.

“It’s amazing to see the growth of the natural products industry, and this year’s astounding attendance numbers underscore that,” says Organic Authority co-founder and editor-in-chief, Laura Klein, who made her tenth visit to the Natural Products Expo this year.

“It’s no longer fringe,” Klein says of the organic and natural industry, “it has gone completely mainstream.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.