If someone says "mycelium," what comes to mind?
Mushrooms? Fungi? "The Last of Us"? Absolutely nothing?
What about steaks?
At the 2023 Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, Calif., March 7-11, mycelium steaks were on the menu, along with other trendy new products such as cassava tortillas, baru nut trail mixes, nootropic drinks and a new plant-based milk made from bamnuts.
[Read more: "Expo West Live: Inflation-Proof Categories Driving Sales for Grocers"]
For five days, more than 85,000 attendees hit the show floor, which was packed with more than 3,000 exhibitors, including Meati, maker of the mycelium steaks. Meati's Classic Steak Best New Meat Alternative at the 2023 Natural Products Expo West NEXTY Awards.
“The NEXTY award is the crown jewel of the natural and organic food industry, and we’re honored to be recognized as we launch nationally with Sprouts Farmers Market,” said Scott Tassani, president and COO of Meati Foods. “After years spent developing an animal-free meat that delivers flavor, nutrition, clean ingredients and sustainability, it’s especially meaningful to be recognized as a standout given the incredible food innovation and discriminating standards that push this industry forward.”
Meati's Classic Steak aims to deliver a complete-protein, clean-label beef alternative that appeals not only to the natural products shopper but also to the everyday consumer looking to diversify with animal-free options. It is composed of more than 95% mycelium (mushroom root), with the remaining 5% comprising salt, natural flavor, fruit juice for color, oat fiber, vegetable juice and lycopene for color, providing 30% DV of protein, 29% DV of fiber and a plethora of micronutrients.
The Boulder, Colorado-based startup founded in 2017 has raised an additional $20 million in funding since announcing a $150 million series C round last summer, bringing its cumulative funding to $250 million.
Meati is one in a long list of new companies at Expo West trying to create buzz around next-gen plant-based products in categories such as candy, snacks, beverages and cereal.
Along with Meati, Progressive Grocer identified nine other hot products or trends expected to grow in popularity in the coming year that grocers could leverage to boost sales.
Nootropics and Adaptogenics
Nootropic is the buzzy attribute that natural and organic shoppers are looking for in their foods, and even their drinks, now. One nootropics-focused company at Expo West was Local Weather, a functional sports drink made for "however you choose to move, without leaving your mind behind." The beverage is made for roller skating, gaming or "just chillin" after a jump-rope marathon, the brand says. It's proper hydration for your body as well as your brain, superpowered with nootropics, and only 6 grams of cane sugar. Made cleaner, healthier and friendlier, to regulate your own personal “local weather,” the brand says.
Meanwhile, other brands such as Mindright offer new chips and protein bars filled with nootropics. Speaking of functional beverages and foods, adaptogenic products were booming at Expo West. Space Tea, which calls itself the world's first adaptogenic mushroom, iced tea and lemonade beverage, showcased six flavors: Original, Golden Mango, Summer Watermelon, Lemon Zero, Hibiscus Zero and Matcha Zero. Space Tea is certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and kosher. Adaptogenics are everywhere, including in mocktails, trail mix and sparkling waters.
While many water companies at Expo West were focused on getting out of single-use plastic and into aluminum cans, FreshPure Waters was focused on being "water neutral." According to the company, it's the only water brand that offsets all carbon and water used in its manufacturing processes. Water neutral also means the company is investing in watersheds. Bulk water is already 1,2000% more green than bottled, the company says, so by going water neutral, the brand can keep expanding its sustainability commitments.
Prebiotics, probiotics, post-biotics and everything everywhere all at once having to do with taking care of the gut were big themes in products at this year's show. Spare Tonic is one brand focused on gut health. The probiotic sparkling tonics come in flavors such as passionfruit yuzu; blueberry ginger; cucumber lime; lemon ginger; peach turmeric, and feature nutrients such as protein, B vitamins, electrolytes, and gut-healthy probiotics while low in calories and sugar.
Meanwhile the front of the package of Enzymedica's pre- and probiotic Blueberry Fiber Cookies says "FOR YOUR DIGESTIVE HAPPINESS; BEAT THE BLOAT." The cookies contain a probiotic called MB40 that is "clinically proven to beat the bloat," the company says.
The New High Fiber
Speaking of gut health, it was amazing to see so many innovative brands making high-fiber sexy again. One such brand is Fiber Gourmet. The company has developed a line of low calorie, low carb and high fiber foods for those consumers looking to indulge in pasta, crackers and "other comfort foods." Founder Tehila Mocton's products feature RS4, a good-for-you fiber-boosting starch that weighs in at a slim 0.4 calories per gram, compared to traditional flour at 4 calories per gram. According to the company, RS4 passes through the stomach and small intestine to reach the colon. There, it converts into short-chain fatty acids, feeding good bacteria. Fiber from RS4 is a natural appetite suppressant that helps you feel fuller for longer, meaning less snacking and more weight loss. And RS4 can help regulate blood sugar by bypassing digestion and reducing average levels over time.
BFY 'Junk Food'
Quite possibly the biggest crowd I saw on the show floor was the one at the Goodles booth. People were "ooohing" and "ahhing" over their high-protein prebiotic mac and cheese. How can a brand with such a great name possibly go wrong? Founded in 2022 by actress Gal Gadot, 4x CEO Jen Zeszut, former Annie's President Deb Luster, brand entrepreneur Paul Earle, and R&D leader Molly Michet, Goodles is reinventing the better-for-you junk food category with style.
Quest Nutrition was at the show showcasing its Doritos-style chips, and Dole Packaged Foods showed off its new Dole Whip at home products.
Food waste is an increasingly big issue in grocery, and cutting back on it was a hot topic at the show. I saw more brands than ever showing off their Certified Upcycled labels. The Upcycled Certified Program is the world’s first third-party certification program for upcycled food ingredients and products. The flagship of the program is the on-package mark, which helps retailers feature upcycled products on shelf, and indicates to consumers which products are upcycled certified, providing the opportunity to prevent food waste with every purchase. Developed by the Upcycled Food Association, the mark highlights upcycled ingredients and products procured and produced with surplus food or food by-products from manufacturing, that use verifiable supply chains and have a positive impact on the environment.
One such company was RIND, which says it believes a healthy snack can be both good for you and the planet. "Our mission is to help consumers SNACK BETTER and DO BETTER by eating the whole fruit, maximizing nutritional value and minimizing food waste," according to the company's website. In 2021, eating RIND products helped save more than 340,000 pounds of food waste, the company says.
Frozen foods are hot as inflation-battered shoppers look to save money on groceries, and there was plenty of frozen innovation at Expo West. One such innovator was Bobabam; with their product, you can just warm up the frozen boba, add milk and bam — you have the boba teahouse experience at home.
Fabalish has new falafel bites that come in cute flavors such as Cheddary Broccoli, Zesty Zucchini and Kickin' Carrot. The bites are vegan, gluten-free, organic, allergen free and made with whole veggies.
And I can't forget to mention Swell, the first ever gelato made for dogs. According to the Oregon-based company, Swell was created out of nostalgia for a time when food was prepared with simple yet wholesome ingredients to be shared with those you love. Each of Swell's gelatos is handmade and crafted in small batches, making them unique and delicious. They come in six flavors with "100% natural ingredients."
Another certification that people were buzzing about at Expo West was Certified B. More and more companies are choosing to certify as a B Corp., which designates that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors ranging from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials. Mega Foods, Portlandia Foods, Partake Foods, Pitaya Foods, Miyoko's Creamery, and others are part of a growing list of Certified B food companies.
Low Sodium Salt
As more U.S. consumers look to reduce their sodium intake, here comes MicroSalt, a developer and manufacturer of a proprietary low-sodium salt called MicroSalt. According to the company website, "We are passionate about improving peoples’ lives with better-for-you seasonings and snacks by taking the lead in the industry by providing the best low-sodium salt solution, based on the mechanical transformation of the salt particle itself." The company's patented technology produces salt crystals that are approximately one hundred times smaller than typical table salt, delivering a powerful saltiness as the micro-grains dissolve in the mouth, with approximately 50% less sodium consumption. Additionally, the ultra-small particle size enhances product adhesion, which reduces waste and provides improved flavor consistency.