With record attendance of more than 86,000 in Anaheim from 136 countries all vying to see the 3,600 booths – Natural Products Expo West was a little bit of mayhem and loads of great energy. There were an impressive 600 new, first-time exhibitors this year. As someone who has been going to Expo West for more than a decade, it was an amazing collection of better-for-you foods and top-notch entrepreneurs. 

I tried to see all the food booths across three days, but I did not make it. Given the sheer size, all the samples to taste and so many great entrepreneurs to meet, it would have taken more than 60 hours to briefly visit all of the booths. There were 13 different show floor spaces filled to capacity with extraordinary new products.





In the last few years, new products at Expo have been loud and proud about their “no, no, no’s” with gluten free, dairy free, nut, egg, soy, sugar, colors, preservatives free, etc being the norm. This year I saw a slight but important shift of companies talking about what they ARE vs. just what they ARE NOT. That’s not to say that the “free from” is going away - most new brands, including these - are showcasing the top 2-5 free-from’s on their primary packaging in an effort to help consumers find cleaner, better foods that fit their eating lifestyles. 

Quinn Filled Pretzels. Boulder based Quinn Snacks rose to fame behind their delicious and better for you microwave popcorn. Now the same team is bringing the “world’s first gluten free peanut butter filled pretzel”. They directly talk to “real ingredients taste better” as they use sorghum, a naturally gluten free whole grain that is high in antioxidants, full of vitamins & minerals and tastes great. The new pretzel bites come in Dark Chocolate’y Peanut and Peanut Butter Filled Nuggets. 

Chill Pop Popsicles. I found a slice of summer at Expo and it was a Watermelon Lime Chill Pop. I’m a big fan of popsicles these days – a nice low calorie treat – and these are the best I’ve tried. They come in five distinctive flavors: Avocado Mint Chip, Black Pepper Plum, Cucumber Kiwi, Coco Mocha Fudge and Watermelon Lime. They are all vegan and gluten free and are made with real fruit, never from concentrate. You can taste the real fruits. Yum!

Soozy’s Donut. Soozy’s is expanding their lineup from muffins to single serve donuts that are fun and delicious. Sold frozen, you can keep them in the fridge for a week. They have no dairy, gluten, soy, gums or stabilizers. Their ingredient list looks like the baking ingredients I keep in my kitchen – all real and easily recognizable foods. Founder Susan Chen wants to provide a little Zen through clean, delicious and mindful baked goods. They come in three flavors: Double Chocolate, Cinnamon and, my favorite, Maple.

Burroughs Family Farms Cream Top Milk. Small batch, organic, cream top milk from pasture raised cows on the Burrough’s family farm comes together to make the most surprisingly delicious milk. I simply fell in love with their Lavender milk – light and unique and unlike anything else. Rounding out the lineup are Chocolate and Chai Spiced milks that were also delicious. I can only hope they make it to my home state of Colorado from California!

I was excited to get to Expo to see what had been turned on its head this year – what categories the “ankle bitter” startups were going after to reinvent. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit that is redefining food at every turn. The examples that follow are only a few of the many categories that are being challenged and disrupted with new ingredients and redefining what our eating will be like in the future. 

PASTA: Kana Organics Vegetable Pastas. We’ve seen alternative pastas for some time but Kana has come out with an interesting line up of plant-based pastas that sound delicious in their own right vs. just a “replacement” option for wheat. They are available in a variety of versions with Sweet Potato as the base: Purple, Moringa, Turmeric and Hemp. All are gluten free, organic, vegan, kosher and free of artificial colors and additives.

BARS: OHi Superfood and Love Good Fats Bars. Expo was over crowded with bars of all kinds touting every kind of different claim and supporting all kinds of specific dietary needs. Two bars jumped out for having very different textures to all the other bars that have existed in the market for so long. First OHi out of Maui is a refrigerated bar that is plant -based, gluten and grain free, Paleo certified and is made from whole nuts and seeds with no powder which gave them a unique moist texture unlike other bars. Love Good Fats is a new Keto friendly bar that claims to be “ridiculously delicious” and lives up to the promise. Coming out of Canada they are launching into the US now with their high fat, low sugar, and low carb offering that are meant to keep you full longer and are good for your brain. The Mint Chocolate Chip was divine – more like a truffle than a bar!

TORTILLAS/WRAPS: Egglife. I didn’t see this one coming and I almost missed it until I realized that it was a new take on a tortilla wrap. Made with eggs instead of flour or corn and available in four flavors: Original, Italian, Fiesta and Caraway. It looks “traditional” and was soft with a good texture that held up for a bite size roll up nicely. Each wrap has 25 calories, 0g sugar and 4g protein. 

BREAKFAST: Birch Benders Keto Pancakes and Magic Syrup. Birchbenders is launching two Keto specific pancake mixes and one plant protein based that add to their extensive lineup including Paleo friendly options. They are pushing  pancakes into new territories of better-for-you with a low carb solution for Keto fans. Their new Magic Syrup is both Paleo & Keto friendly and is made with grass-fed collagen and MCT Oil. Who knew I needed a better maple syrup — but I do now.

Not just a trend but really the continued explosion of startups giving consumers better, more whole and real foods that fit our hectic, modern, on-the-go lives. Brands meeting at the intersection of convenience and BFY will continue to shine as consumers snack more and expect their foods to good and easy.

Farm & Oven Bakery Bites. Getting your 5 veggie servings a day has never tasted better! Every Farm & Oven packet has three individual bites that are moist and tasty and give you 40% of your daily veggies. My personal favorite is Beet Dark Chocolate – it’s perfect to toss in my backpack, travel kit and in the car. The lineup also includes Carrot Cinnamon, Zucchini Lemon Poppy Seed and Pumpkin Maple Pecan. It fits my 40 something lifestyle just as well as my 14-year-old son’s – we both just love these treats.

Blue Moose Hummus Snack Packs. Blue Moose of Boulder launched the first and only organic hummus snack single serve packs in the market at Expo. Their organic, HPP hummus has no added flavors or preservatives and is topped with dehydrated carrots, not chips or pretzels for a healthier snack. The snack packs come in Original, Roasted Red Pepper and, my favorite, Lemon Turmeric. At the same time, they also launched the same 3 flavors in 100 calorie mini cups that make hummus on-the-go so easy. 

Square Baby.  Founder Katie Thomson is aiming to make feeding your baby real food as easy as possible. She launched Square Baby 6 months ago as a subscription-based service that provides an easy to use and customizable ordering platform – you can select the dietician designed mix or customize based on your preferences. Their baby food is delivered to your doorstep every 2 weeks. She also takes the guessing out of the nutrition with any 3 servings providing your little ones 100% of their daily nutrition needs. As a working mom, I only wish this had been available 14 years ago so I could have feed my son real food with no additives or preservatives – it’s everything I wanted but didn’t have time to do myself!

Although free-from has been the mega trend for the last few years, this year I saw an explosion of delicious dairy free products that have stepped it up a notch. These four shining examples redefine dairy free from just a “free-from” claim on package to a completely delightful eating experience. You don’t have to be a dairy avoider to enjoy these treats for what they are – good food. 

Wildbrine Plant Based Creamery. Wildbrine has been making raw fermented products like kimchi, sauerkraut, and coleslaw for 8 year. At Expo they introduced a new line of plant-based cheeses and butter that are phenomenal. I asked a couple of times to make sure that the butter was really plant based because it was creamy and so authentically buttery. Their 3 flavors of Brie, with a lovely rind and creamy interiors, are the best plant-based cheese I’ve ever tried. They come in Shiitake Shakeup, Beet Blush and Neo-Classical Cashew Brie. All are vegan and cashew based. I was told they melt like traditional brie and butter. I can’t wait to buy these for my vegan husband!

Hakuna Banana Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert. Expo West 2019 Pitch Slam Winner Hakuna Banana is a plant-based dairy free ice cream with few ingredients and no refined sugars that is made with bananas as the first ingredient. It comes in 6 flavors plus chocolate dipped novelties. They also launched Totes Oats which is an oat milk based non-dairy frozen dessert. Oh, and it tastes fantastic!

Pimp My Salad Cashew Parmesan. It’s hard to describe this one. Sure, it’s a salad topper that replaces Parmesan but it’s a lot more. I can envision it going on all sorts of foods to make them extra tasty. Interestingly the idea came from wanting to use the crumbs from their Kale Chip production. It’s made from Cashews and is dairy, vegan, soy free and Paleo. Plus, it’s tasty enough to eat straight from the jar as a savory snack. 

Petitpot Rice Pudding & Pot de Crème. San Francisco based Petitpot is bringing the delight of the French after dinner dessert to the US with a line of single-serve, creamy and delicious puddings and rice pudding. Their newest flavor is Mango Passion Fruit. The 7-flavor line up includes 2 vegan offerings and 5 traditional. Super clean, simple ingredients that are Organic - I can’t wait to see the refrigerated dessert flourish in the US like they have in Europe. 

As snacking continue to grow, more and more consumers want easy snacks that aren’t always sweet or chip based. These three examples highlight savory snacking done right. 

Patagonia Provisions Savory Seeds Collection. I love that Patagonia is in the 2nd year of exhibiting at Expo. It’s a great crossover and lovely to see a major player in the outdoor world doing food right. These 1 oz seed packets are ready for your on-the-go life and are packed with buckwheat, hemp and lentils. They come in three delicious flavors: Chipotle Lime (my favorite with a great tart and sweet taste), Classic Barbeque and Mellow Curry. 

Pan’s Mushroom Jerky. Founder Michael Pan is bringing to the US a Malaysian family recipe that aims to “convert carnivores”. He has a shot at it. This is not imitation jerky but rather a distinctive, savory, bold snack with terrific texture that defies being just a “plant-based meat snack alternative”. I really enjoyed the unexpected “meaty” texture. Pan’s comes in several flavors: Teriyaki, Zesty Thai, Applewood BBQ, Sea Salt & Pepper and Original. All are made with Shiitake mushrooms, are vegan, soy-free and high in fiber. 

Squbes Wholefood Snacks. Coming all the way from Ireland, Squbes is bringing a new take on bite sized savory snacks. They are crunchy and zesty and are conveniently ready for your on-the-go life. Squbes come in six amazing flavors like Kale, Pumpkin Seed & Lemon or Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt. Yum. 

Looking beyond the burst of CBD based everything and looking for what might be coming next to our kitchens, two new ingredients stood out at Expo West. Both were new to me and have that right balance of great taste with desirable and interesting nutritional benefits. 

Lupini Beans / Chocho Flour. Kiwa Life was sampling dark chocolate covered Andean Lupin Beans that were unique and delicious. They also showed Chocho Flour made from the same bean that is high in protein. Living Intentions’ Chocho flour is listed as a superfood that is gluten free, vegan and has prebiotic fiber. They show that 1 cup has 85mg of calcium and over 200 mg of phosphorus for stronger bones. They claim that Chocho flour has more protein than soy, green pea and Quinoa and that it’s the “best vegetable protein source in the world!” and can be used in shakes, bakery, desserts, and plant-based products.

Pili Nuts. Mount Mayon. I saw a half dozen booths with Pili nuts listed as an ingredient in their foods which was new to me. Stopping at Mount Mayon, Dr. James Costello, the Founder gave me background and shared the most interesting and delicious whole pili nuts and pili nut butter. Pili nuts are naturally high in protein and fiber and low in net carbs, they are gluten free and have no trans fats or cholesterol. The Pili nut has more vitamin E than any other nut and is rich in Omega 9 oils (like Olives). I fell in love with the Ecuadorian Cacao covered whole Pili nuts which are also available in Himalayan Pink Salk and Kyoto Matcha. 

Strong packaging can elevate food within its competitive set and literally stop consumers in their tracks when shopping. I’m a self-professed packaging geek and just love to see brands that push the envelope. I’m drawn to simple, elegant designs with big pop and all four of the companies below got it right. 

Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha. Rowdy Mermaid is launching brand new Kombucha Tonics in slender packaging that has huge stopping power. They did a fantastic job of taking the essence of their glass bottles and translating into these beauties. They were showcasing four new flavors: Strawberry Tonic, Flower Grow, Lion’s Root and Living Ginger each with an impressive and interesting sub line of ingredients like Flower Grow’s Chamomile, Rose Petal, Chrysanthemum and Holy Basil. Yum.

Skinny Souping. The bottle stopped me then the product sold me. These clean ingredient soups are vegan, gluten free and have no preservatives. They come in interesting flavors like Butternut Squash Coconut Curry, Tomato & Ancient Grains, Broccoli Lemon Arugula, and Spicy Super Greens. You can drink them hot or cold and the container is microwave safe so it’s convenient and ready to go with you for a healthy meal anytime. 

BOS Sparkling Unsweetened Iced Tea. Eye-catching design make the BOS line jump out at you and beg for your attention. Based out of South Africa, BOS is just coming to the US next month. They make both an unsweetened iced tea that is very tasty with unique flavor mixes like Blueberry & Jasmine and White Peach & Elderflower as well as a line of sweetened Iced Teas in interesting flavors like Lime & Ginger, Yuzu and more traditional ones like Lemon, Peach and Berry. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong. 

Three Trees Plant Based Milks. This 5-year-old company has reinvented itself with unique packaging that really stands out as premium, feminine and delicious looking. All their plant-based milks are Organic and have only 2-5 simple ingredients with no flavors, preservatives, or gums. They had the prerequisite Almondmilk in Original and Vanilla Bean both of which tasted clean and delicious. But it was the Pistachio Nutmilk and Black Sesame Nut and Seedmilk that really stood out. 

It’s a long show with hundreds of samples. Every now and then, you come across a product that is just so right it makes you smile. Here are five that made my day… Thanks!

The Cookie Dough Café. Gourmet edible cookie dough in single serve containers that even include a spoon under the lid – simple amazing! I thought I would like it, it’s cookie dough after all, but the taste was so much better than I expected. Creamy, sweet but not overpowering, mouth-watering, I-want-more kind of good. 

HopTea and B’s Sweet Nitro Thai Tea. I love tea. I don’t love coffee so when I see tea innovation, I generally get excited. Boulder based HopTea is awesome. They brew tea with hops, like brewing beer, but it’s tea. And it’s refreshing, hoppy, unexpected and non-alcoholic. That makes me smile all day. I also ran into B’s Sweet Nitro Thai Tea. Another interesting take on tea that is smooth like a nitro beer, tastes like Thai tea but much less sweet than the traditional version and so, so delicious. It’s made with oatmilk and high-pressure nitrogen infused. At only 45 calories and dairy free, it’s awesome. 

Wunder Creamy Quark. I have a fascination with Quark after having tried it on a trend spotting trip to Europe and have wondered why it has not made a splash in the US market. It’s right on trend with high protein, low sugar and a creamy and milder taste than Greek yogurts. Hopefully my wait is over and Wunder will be broadly available as it is delicious, healthy snack. Thanks, Wunder folks!

Ascent Native Fuel. I’ll finish with an unusual one that surprised and delighted me. Denver based Ascent is a protein powder for pre/post workouts that tastes like real food. I expected the typical whey graininess or chalkiness but instead got clean, lightly sweet, delicious flavors (I tried all but the cappuccino). The flavors are: Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cappuccino, Unflavored and, my favorite, Lemon Sorbet. 

Carolina Fryer is a Managing Director at Mission Field. She is also a lover of natural foods and the trends they bring to the greater CPG world. Readers may contact her at Carolina@Mission-Field.com or at www.Mission-Field.com to learn how we can help you with consumer products innovation, insights and retail transactional testing. Follow her on Instagram @StartBuildInspire to read about early stage natural product startup stories.