With more than 3,000 exhibiting companies and more than 67,000 registered attendees, Expo West 2023 was the largest we’ve seen in the last few years.

With that, there is a lot to unpack, so first, let’s break it down by a few booth statistics by theme. We identified 731 booths (23%) as having “vegan” food, and 401 booths (13%) that described their offerings as functional. Meanwhile, references to “regenerative agriculture” and “fermentation” mentions made up approximately 1% each out of 3,178 total exhibitors (according to Informa Markets website).

Let’s not forget about beverages, of the total 525 drink/beverage exhibitors, 2% described their offerings as non-alcoholic, while a massive 45% were a type of water, which is on par with what we saw at the show. Water was literally everywhere!

Overall, this year’s Expo West concentrated on people and planet. With consumers seeking cleaner alternatives to their favorite products, companies are investing in ways to differentiate. We’re seeing trends in sustainability, holistic wellness, and non-alcohol / functional beverages.

1. Truly Transparent

Sustainability is top of mind for many consumers as well as many retailers. Mission-driven brands like Blueland who are transparent about company goals, certifications, ingredient lists, and new initiatives are earning consumer trust.

Vague promises of clean and sustainable are out. The key to success is through storytelling and transparent efforts to problem solve alongside the consumer. Two brands who stole the spotlight included Johnny Pops, organic rainbow fruit snacks on a mission to better the world through kindness and anti-bullying campaigns; and Solely, which is dedicated to using the fewest, whole, simple ingredients to make green banana pasta, and other grain-free, dairy-free and overall wholesome snacks.

2. Plant-Based & Alternative Proteins

Consumers are interested in eating more plant-based foods, but the key to supporting consumers on this journey is by making plant-based offerings affordable and accessible.

Brands are expanding offerings and creating plant-based items. Examples include Jinka’s plant-based tuna and calamari, Good Food For Good’s plant-based Bolognese, and Meati Foods’ animal-free classic steaks. Other brands such as Bored Cow are creating animal-free dairy milk through precision fermentation biotechnology. This process is gaining traction in the alternative non-animal proteins space. Brands are using this process to re-engineer common microbes—such as yeast—to produce a protein or substance that is identical to dairy, eggs, or sweeteners, when fermented.

3. Holistic Health & Wellness 

Holistic health is top of mind for many brands seeking a way to differentiate as well as for consumers developing their personal wellness goals. New connections are forming in the minds of consumers regarding the gut’s influence on all aspects of their health. Educating consumers on the benefits of diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes leading to improved brain health, heart health, and even mental health is important to brand success.

We saw a major push from functional beverages like Maka’s Superfood Hibiscus Passionfruit beverage, supplements such as First Person’s Golden Hour, and functional foods like the Cashew Cookie Dough Protein Bar from All Real Nutrition.  

4. Elevated Drinking Experiences

Drinking occasion, function, intended audience, and flavor profile are all critical factors for brand success. There are many non-alcohol options in the market—so knowing your audience and having a differentiating element are key for brand longevity.

Mocktail Club is one great example of a non-alcoholic brand differentiating itself in the market by working to eliminate the connotation of non-alcoholic beverages as “virgin,” and instead re-brand them as adult non-alcohol beverages. We expect to see this trend continue to rise as evidenced at events throughout Expo West which included efforts to incorporate more mocktails and alcohol-free options this year.

JPG Resources is a boutique consulting firm specializing in innovation strategy and execution with a dedicated focus on the packaged food and beverage space. Headquartered in Michigan and with satellite offices in Brooklyn and Chicago, JPG provides national coverage to clients of all sizes, ranging from startup founders to many of the world’s largest companies. 

Over the past 14+ years, JPG has established a consistent track record of building ideas into thriving food businesses. With a team of more than 75 food business professionals, JPG provides collaborative business and innovation guidance across a variety of key functional areas including brand & strategy, product development, coman and procurement, supply chain management, commercialization and M&A.