the big 6: themes from Expo West 2019 and beyond

posted by

Anouk Schofield

we always take a different perspective on the topics at hand – not using just the facts as presented to us – but digging deeper to uncover the broader connections.

so, rather than (another) list of products from Expo West, we have identified the big themes that have emerged in the natural food category – food, beverage, beauty, pet-care and beyond – in 2019.

these 6 themes highlight a set of critical questions that brands and manufacturers need to consider in order to stay relevant and abreast with evolving consumer needs and skepticism.

ew_no_1-01the future is dirt 
regenerative agriculture – the next (and more sustainably holistic) organic

if ‘USDA organic’ certifies production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents, then regenerative agriculture is proof of a company’s commitment to a process that enables organic farming long-term, while tackling climate change – the behemoth of environmental issue. and as consumers are becoming both more educated and more suspicious, a look behind the scenes can install the trust companies need.

regenerative_agriculture_general_mills-1moreover, considering the depletion of soil and the very real threat that climate change will have on farming and human survival, regenerative agriculture is becoming a necessity for corporations. a company committing to circumvent monoculture – General Mills – used the show as a platform to announce its commitment to using regenerative agricultural methods on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030*.

Alter_Eco_plant-based_packagingother CPG companies championing the movement in regenerative agriculture that we noted were Danone, Alter Eco, Maple Hill Creamery, White Leaf Provisions, Patagonia Provisions, and Epic Provisions to name a few…

meanwhile, several small businesses are expanding into principles
of a circular economy,
 a regenerative approach and economic
system aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources. we noted California-based Rouge Creamery giving away their whey waste to cannabis farmers as fertilizer and Wildbrine – a maker of fermented foods – feeding their overstock in cabbage and other vegetables to cows.



taking back our calm
proactively de-aggravating – to maintain the best version of you

some people are more sensitive to aggravators than others. free-from no longer only means free from inflammatory ingredients or health risks, but free from unintended stimulants that steal our calm – caffeine found in cocoa beans, the light we glare at when using devices which agitate the nervous system and interrupt the meridian cycle.

for the first time, relaxation – calming and focus – seemed to outweigh
the need for energy sources. from products
designed to reduce aggravators to products designed to promote a sense of serenity, soothing body
and mind, we found multiple examples across expo west:

  • blue light cancelling glasses that promote a calmer nervous system 
  • more and more sugar and caffeine-free products
  • the presence of a mind-blowing 180+ CBD-based companies – from sparkling water to CBD infused tooth paste 
  • a huge array of soothing herbals, teas and beverages
  • further mind-body integration in claims



can natural pack it?
the pursuit of being truly sustainable on shelf


re-usable, re-fillable containers, biodegradable packaging etc. are not yet available for many sustainable companies due to the fact that the technology is not there yet to guarantee the lasting shelf life that retailers demand. the shelf-life issue either has to be solved with packaging innovation or product formulation…

“food is a living thing and retailers said, come back when you have
at least 6 months shelf life. so, we re-formulated and we managed
to make a great tasting product with 12-month shelf life and no preservatives. that’s been my major obstacle and accomplishment.”
Nancy Kalish, founder & CEO of Rule Breaker

meanwhile, pouches might be the step we need to take while biodegradable solutions are developed that can guarantee stable shelf life. at Expo West, we saw recyclable and more sustainable pouches utilized across all CPG verticals, from frozen to baby food to herbs to liquids. 


and as plant-based is further exploding, so does the desire for plant-based packaging: Alter Eco has launched the world’s first compostable, non-GMO, non-toxic candy wrappers, and invented the world’s first compostable stand-up pouch made from renewable, plant-based, non-GMO materials.

on the re-usable packaging front, Path Water – who spent 300k to be the leading water sponsor at Expo West – is building its existence on the mission to reduce plastic waste. they sell purified water in a reusable aluminum bottle for $2.99.


this begs some even larger questions for us around water, beyond packaging:

the value of US product shipments of bottled water is $6.88 billion. it is therefore no surprise that we see even more bottled water companies pop up (and there was a plethora at Expo West). however, the awareness of water as a universal need and scarce commodity makes us wonder:

how do water brands stay meaningful and relevant in this era of climate change? and is refillable Path Water foreshadowing a new business model for water or for beverages in general?


ew_numbers-04a question of chemophobia
calling for a new claim in ingredient integrity

a debate being played out in the beauty industry in the last few years – residual chemicals and pollutants in seemingly natural products – has been heating up in CPG, from cleaning products to granola bars. consumer awareness has gone beyond wanting to know where their food comes from, to questioning whether the very ingredients are even safe.

with the advent of the Round-Up cancer lawsuits and the wide-scale use of glyphosate, pesticides and herbicides that can cross over into crops – even organic ones – through water, airborne drift and historic soil contamination, we are starting to see companies stand out with targeted claims (in the vast myriad of claims) such as ‘glyphosate tested’.


in the typically trusted natural category big questions are being asked and concerns being raised – how can truly natural brands reassure invested consumers?


ew_numbers-05for the love of sweet
sugar vs sweet vs unsweetened

the biggest villain in the aisle, accused of its addictive and disease-causing properties, has been getting a make-over for a few years now, even high-fructose corn syrup has rebranded (though obviously
not applicable to the Expo West crowd)!

at Expo West, the list of alternative sweeteners grows exponentially as we still aim to appease the sweet American palate. we see this across product categories.


on the flip side however, there are a bevy of brands being created without sugar or added sweeteners, relying solely on the ingredients themselves – “no sugar needed” – to provide that sweet lift – naturally!

the sugar issue is gaining more traction beyond the natural category and will likely become a much more prevalent topic in the mainstream, affecting policy and product guardrails. does natural have a viable answer to address this bitter issue?


ew_numbers-06is science the answer for natural?
in pursuit of “all good, no bad”

as consumers, we want all the benefits of the things we love – the rich taste of meat, the indulgence of cream, the relaxation and sociability of alcohol – without any of the drawbacks; carbon footprint, heart disease, hangovers… 

enter the Impossible Burger – the plant-based patty scientifically engineered to taste just like meat; rich, juicy, beefy – that blazed into a welcoming plant-based mainstream a couple of years’ ago. at Expo West 2019, they were featuring the new version of their signature burger, the Impossible Burger 2.0.

as we know, Impossible Foods create their culinary magic by isolating “heme”, the essential molecule found in every living plant and animal (but more in animals) that happens to taste just like meat. they draw their heme from the protein roots of soy plants – called soy leghemoglobin – insert it into genetically engineered yeast, ferment the yeast, then hey presto The Impossible Burger! yum…


so… is it “plant-based” or “science-based”?

like “alcosynth”, a healthy synthetic alternative to alcohol that’s leading the race to get it to market (imagine, all the fun without the hangover or liver damage!!) – these products are not “natural”, but are they paving the way in helping us achieve the ‘impossible’ ideal of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle?

it seems that as we struggle to balance aspiration with reality in the pursuit of wellness we are becoming more willing to accept science to provide the answer.

are natural channel shoppers ready to let science back into our food?

these are just some of the questions we’re asking ourselves at cm, but we’d love to know what you think – connect with your cm friends and share your thoughts on this newsletter, we’d love to chat about it!

you can also download a pdf of this report here