Expo West 2024: Evolution, Not Revolution
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For a view of the latest trends influencing consumer products, no annual event matches Natural Products Expo West, the industry’s largest natural, organic, and health trade show. For companies at different stages of maturity—from emerging start-ups to scaled insurgents—Expo West presents an opportunity to highlight their latest product lines and newest innovations.

At Expo West 2024, we revealed our annual list of insurgent brands and discussed the state of capital markets during our kick-off event, cohosted with Whipstitch Capital. As our research shows, insurgent brands are capturing an outsized share of growth, accounting for 18% of incremental growth in their categories while holding less than 2% of market share. At a time when consumer fatigue from price increases is softening demand across the consumer products industry, these brands demonstrate that superior propositions can lead to incremental consumption.

Unlike in prior years when kombucha, keto foods, or plant-based meats were novel to the marketplace, this year’s Expo West revealed few paradigm-shifting category innovations. Instead, five key themes—from the familiar and enduring to the more nascent—stood out as areas within which brands are evolving their propositions to remain relevant and differentiated in an increasingly crowded market: raising the bar on functional benefits, putting flavor first, reframing the opportunity in plant-based products, tailoring to the needs of specific consumer segments, and experimenting with but not yet scaling sustainability. We’ll examine these themes one by one.

Raising the bar on functional benefits

As health and wellness trends mature, brands continue to turn to more advanced functional benefits to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. While offering protein-rich products has been a long-standing trend, brands are doubling down on grams per serving, setting new standards for what counts as “high protein,” particularly in saturated categories such as energy bars. Protein also showed up in newer categories and for different occasions. For instance, companies exhibited protein-packed reinventions of toaster pastries (Legendary Foods), mac and cheese (Goodles), and oatmeal with 20 grams of protein per serving (Kodiak). Product benefits that are earlier in their evolution, such as prebiotics and probiotics for gut health and collagen-forward skin health, witnessed a proliferation of offerings aimed at replicating the success of pioneering brands such as Poppi and Vital Proteins. Hormone-, mood-, and even brain-boosting offerings remain more nascent, with brands experimenting across categories, such as Moment’s adaptogen-infused sparkling drink flavors, Tea Botanics’ gamma-aminobutyric acid–infused teas, and Wise Bar’s adaptogen bars.

Another strategy in the absence of pathbreaking novelty was doubling up or tripling up on functional claims, layering hydration, collagen, and vitamins into a single offering (MaryRuth Organics), for instance, or bolstering caffeinated energy drinks with additives such as L-theanine and vitamins or electrolytes (Gorgie, Huxley). As part of the functional performance emphasis, brands also were bolder in promoting the functional benefits of their products on their packaging, giving prominence to protein content, immunity enhancement, and other benefits.

Putting flavor first

The broadening of taste palates on which we reported in 2023 continued this year with an even greater array of global flavors celebrated by founders, many drawing from authentic family recipes. The offerings included sauces (Bachan’s, Aaji’s); frozen foods (Laoban Dumplings, Sobo Foods, Unlimeat); and shelf-stable, ready-to-cook meals (Somos Foods, Hot Jiang). Taste-forward propositions moved into slower-moving categories to regenerate interest in staples such as rice cakes and noodles (Wowza, Shaman Raman) while also elevating tastes in mainstay pantry products (Dan-O’s Seasoning, Fire & Smoke Society, Chosen Foods), with some even touting restaurant-like quality (Carbone, Momofuku).

Brands featured a host of beverages offering infusions of new or on-trend flavors, whether through sweetener alternatives (Mela, Caliwater) or more global flavors (Wildwonder, Nguyen Coffee Supply). More novel was the emergence of better-tasting alternatives in nonalcoholic beverages. As the category begins to mature, brands are looking to differentiate with more sophisticated flavors (Aura Bora) and, in some cases, layering in additional mood-enhancing benefits (Recess Zero Proof, De Soi, Three Spirit).

Reframing the opportunity in plant-based products

Despite recent challenges faced by the sector, plant-based offerings remained abundant across categories. In plant-based milk, where there is already broad consumer awareness and household penetration, there were fewer new entrants. Plant-based milk brands focused on differentiating through taste and quality, either by emphasizing clean label simplicity (Malk Organics, Oatly’s new four-ingredient oat milk) or experimenting to fully mimic the attributes of dairy milk (Califia Farms Complete plant-based milk, Bored Cow’s precision fermented milk). In other plant-based dairy categories such as cheese, dips, and spreads, improving technology and rising consumer interest opened up new flavors and occasions, including Cocojune’s labneh and Violife’s bakeable plant-based cream cheese.

Meat alternatives, which are earlier on the journey of experimentation and consumer adoption, followed two distinct paths. A new generation of plant-forward foods, such Omni’s Lion’s Mane steak, celebrated the distinctive taste and quality of their whole food ingredients and played down the need to look like the meat-based foods they intend to replace. Meanwhile, offerings such as Oscar Mayer NotHotDogs from Kraft Heinz Not Company, a joint venture between Kraft Heinz and The Not Company, signaled a continued commitment to replicating meat’s flavor and texture.

Tailoring to the needs of specific consumer segments

Heightened awareness of specific health needs and lifestyle preferences within consumer groups has led to more tailored propositions and new formulations. This was particularly apparent in the women’s health space, where brands, often female-led, modernized offerings to address a broad array of feminine care needs from menstruation to menopause. Products supporting women’s hormonal and physical needs across all stages of life included Mixhers’ supplement powders for PMS, prenatal care, and menopause; menopause-specific products such as MenoWell’s bars; and Pureance’s skin care offerings. Also in the mix were brands such as pH-D, which showcased feminine care products that are formulated for the specific pH of women’s bodies. Propositions targeted at children also grew in number, with increasingly sophisticated flavors and health claims, including Cerebelly’s line of bars and pouches with nutrients to support baby and toddler brain development. A number of brands featured newer kid-friendly pack sizes and formats (Forager Project and Nancy’s in yogurt, Kind in snack bars).

Experimenting with but not yet scaling sustainability

While health and wellness were the top priorities for most brands at Expo West, a stark minority showed evidence of truly addressing the sustainability challenges of our planet and society. Many brands remained focused on meeting the demand for convenience with (typically less sustainable) packaging, such as single-serve or reheatable plastic containers, though some shifted to aluminum cans, compostable cardboard, and other recyclable materials.

A much smaller group of brands—a few dozen out of the thousands of exhibitors—reported sourcing at least some of their ingredients from regenerative farms. This included both new entrants (Alec’s Ice Cream, Lil Bucks’ buckwheat snacks, Lotus Foods’ rice) and more established players (Lundberg Family Farms, King Arthur Baking, Applegate, Patagonia Provisions). A handful of brands promoted distinctively personal farm-to-table offerings (4Sisters Rice, 3 Farm Daughters’ pasta products, Once Upon a Farm’s partnership with Alexandre Family Farm to offer organic whole milk shakes). Scaling such solutions to create more sustainable food systems will remain a challenge for the industry.

These five themes illustrate that even in the absence of groundbreaking innovation, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to generate incremental demand in their categories. During a year when consumer goods companies and private equity investors alike will have an eye toward new avenues for growth, brands that are able to carve out such avenues and attract customer demand will offer exciting investment prospects. Those insurgents that have been most strategic in achieving sustainable growth and that offer attractive headroom for expansion will have the best chance to capitalize on the opportunity.

The authors would like to thank Emily Miller, Liz Lippert, and Liz Pearsons, partners with Bain’s Private Equity practice, and John Blasberg, a partner with Bain’s Consumer Products practice, for their contributions to this article.


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