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If conferencing in 2020 was an unpredictable experience, for our team, attending the hybrid Natural Products Expo West brought some welcome familiarity. Maybe it was just our increased comfort level with virtual events after a year full of them, but as we perused the virtual halls of Natural Products Expo Virtual, we could have sworn we heard the murmur of conversations about collagen and smelled the fresh-brewed functional coffee samples.

And with that increasing comfort, too, came the impulse to put our analytical skills and knowledge of the industry to work, so we’ve distilled here for you our five favorite trends from Expo West 2021.

Hemp Going Upscale

As the regulatory situation for hemp and CBD continues to develop rapidly and as sales take a slight decline, it’s no surprise to anyone in our industry to see many new products and a marked pivot in this segment. Perhaps more notable—and indicative of the direction brands expect regulation to go—is the typical price point and brand orientation of these products. An examination of the consumer and business dynamics driving this shift could form a paper in its own right, but suffice it to say that as the industry matures there has been a quick development in the quality and price point of applications.

In supplements, products like Eirtree Health’s Live Hypo CBD skin spray bring unique delivery formats, strong science, and premium branding. In food, hemp and CBD have found their way into high-end products like premium chocolate bars from Momo’s CBD. Whatever the application, signs of the hemp and CBD industry addressing consumer hesitancy and coming of age were everywhere at Expo West 2021.

Emphasis on Mindfulness

After a year-plus where health has been front of mind for everyone, an emphasis on physical health was to be expected at NPEW 2021, especially in categories like immune support. However, we also noticed a strong emphasis on mental wellbeing, not only with applications meant to support mental health but also even in brand imagery and values. Mindfulness practices, stress relief, and general mental wellbeing came to the fore as themes at the show, with many brands featuring both products and messages aimed at these qualities. While for some brands like Béla these are core brand messages, for others this emphasis has evidently been a tactical response to a pressing consumer concern. Expect to see further emphasis on mindfulness techniques from a whole range of brands, in health and wellness or food and beverage.

Plant-based Everything

“Plant-based” continues to have huge presence as a claim at NPEW, both to highlight new meat- or dairy-free applications and as a sign of a health-focused application in segments like snack. These plant-based applications are in virtually every segment, from supplements to the full range of foods and beverages: breakfasts, yogurts, sausages, jerkies, snacks, functional beverages, ready meals, creamers, and on and on. Products may employ staples of plant-based products like pea protein or tofu, or they may lean more on ingredients like nuts.

We saw contract manufacturers like SunOpta touting their special expertise in plant-based ingredients, ingredient suppliers like our partners Merit Functional Foods touting new protein lines, and commercial products like Yoi plant milks becoming more and more prevalent. Increasingly, a “plant-based” claim means that a brand takes health seriously—so while it may not be the only way for a brand to send that signal, it’s become nearly essential to offer in a broad product portfolio.

B Corp Blossoming

Much as plant-based products signal a focus on health, certification as a Benefit Corporation or B Corp has become the sign of brands meeting the highest standards for social and environmental responsibility. We saw more and more brands promoting their certification at NPEW 2021, suggesting this certification has become the standard for brands hoping to stress their responsibility and transparency. Although emerging brands with health-focused products, like Fatso, Ripple, and Brainiac, probably dominate this conversation, we also saw personal care brands like Babo Botanicals and Mustela making the claim. Even brokers like the Thai Trade Center promoted their connection to B-Corp certified ingredient manufacturers, suggesting that this standard will continue to grow in prominence for our industry going forward.

Growth in Regenerative Agriculture

After our own experiences with regenerative agriculture, we were especially pleased to see an increase in brands employing these beyond-sustainable practices at NPEW 2021. As beneficial as it is to seek to sustain the earth’s resources, farming has the potential to do more and actually improve the ecosystem through practices like rotational grazing or biodiverse plantings that actually regenerate the soil and create a farm with all the biological richness of a healthy wilderness environment.

At Expo West, we saw brands employing regenerative agriculture to produce staple products like nut butters and eggs, as well as more specialized foods like ancient grains and even dairy products made from Water Buffalo milk. We’re tremendously encouraged by this development in our industry toward ingredient production that not only sustains our resources but actually improves the health of the planet. In the future, we expect to see more brands moving toward ingredients produced using regenerative practices. Certification and regulation norms are still developing, but any brand hoping to demonstrate the utmost in environmental responsibility and quality ingredients needs to look hard at Regenerative Organic Certification or similar standards.

Is your brand is looking to make adjustments to your practices after the tumultuous past year? Are you considering certification as a B Corp or sourcing ingredients from regenerative producers? Or has Expo West 2021 sparked other thoughts? At MarketPlace, we excel not just at telling the stories of these transitions, but even at helping you think through your strategy in the first place. If these thoughts on NPEW 2021 have provoked any for you, let’s talk.

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.