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Unwrapping Trends at KeHE’s 2024 Holiday Show

Progressive Grocer hits the floor to see what’s new and notable for upcoming seasons
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
KeHe new items
The KeHE Holiday Show, recently held in Chicago and hosted online via KeHe Connect, provided a sneak peek at winter trends.

The decorations were up, so to speak, inside Chicago’s McCormick Place, as KeHE Distributors hosted its 2024 Holiday Show. At the in-person event held June 12-13, the halls were lined with colorful booths and thousands of innovative products from more than 800 exhibitors in the natural, organic, specialty and fresh categories. 

Indeed, foodies might have felt like a child on Christmas morning as they traversed the aisles and walked through special fresh and on-trend sections to check out offerings and talk directly with vendors. Progressive Grocer got a personal tour of the show from Ari Goldsmith, KeHE’s VP of marketing, who dished on what’s notable in this space for grocers and underlined the collective entrepreneurship. “Our suppliers are so passionate. They just love it, and we love what they are doing,” she said. 

[RELATED: What Foodservice Trends Will Affect Grocery?]

There were several takeaways from this year’s event, which is also available virtually on the KeHE Connect platform through June 21. PG spotted several trends, including the following: 

Fashion-forward food and bev: Retailers planning for the holiday season – or any season, for that matter – can take heed of brands that are doing more than just putting out great package design. Some CPGs are taking a holistic approach to fashionable foods that appeal to more of the senses. Examples include a line of Globowl jarred organic baby and toddler food available in palate-expanding flavors like Pad Thai for Tots and Veggie Tikka Masala; cream-filled Panettone breads from Ofner in varieties such as Crème Bruleé and Pistachio Cream merchandised in vibrant handled gift boxes; and Asian-inspired vegan candies under Issei’s Mochi Gummies brand, which could be brought home in a metallic gold tote. Those are just a few exhibitors putting out products set to evoke FOMO (fear of missing out) in consumers.

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spicy mushroom chips
Functional food is getting spicier and more accessible with offerings like these spicy shitake chips.

Surprise twists: KeHE vendors showcased products that warrant a double look by combining formats, flavors and other elements. The ubiquitous pumpkin spice is an example of this, showing up in forms like pumpkin spice flavored chocolate chips from Lily's. Other innovations included gluten-free Waffle Sliders from Start Right Foods, Mon Coco Mac Pops (macarons on a stick), Almond MALK Holiday Nog and, for pet parents to give their dogs, Bocce's Holly Jolly Jerky Sticks. 

Big on minis: Whether inspired by consumer demand for permissible indulgences or more affordable portions, several brands on hand at the Holiday Show touted single serve and small-serving consumable products, some of which made it to a KeHE “stocking stuffer” display. Here, visitors could check out Cacao & Sea Salt sprouted nut snacks from Daily Crunch, an advent calendar filled with pet treats from Bocce, as well as fruit tape from Peaceful Fruits. The trend was evident elsewhere on the exhibit floor, too, such as a booth sampling Mr. Kipling mini fruit pies and cake slices.

Functional facelifts: Natural, organic and specialty retailers served by KeHE have been interested in functional foods for a quite a while, but the market has expanded to include even more options. For instance, Shitake Chips from Terraland are a new take on adaptogens in the salty snack segment, sold in flavors like Spicy, Sea Salt and Wasabi. The functional beverage category remains hot as well, reflected in products like Gorgie energy drinks with green tea caffeine, zero sugar, L-Theanine, biotin and vitamins B6 and B12. 

A toast to mocktails: A wide aisle of the exhibit floor at the 2024 Holliday Show was devoted to mocktails and low/no-alcohol products, which particularly resonate with younger consumers who are cutting down or even eliminating alcohol from their lifestyles. Innovation continues to abound in this growing category, evident in non-alc beer, wine, spirits and RTD items.

[RELATED: Gen Z's Impact on Beverage Trends Grows]

Seasoned shortcuts: To meet the needs of time-strapped shoppers – especially during the busy holiday season – grocers can work with distributors like KeHE to add convenience-oriented products. At the show, suppliers brought forth several options, including Easy Southern Stews from Chilau Foods and heat-and-serve Indian-inspired entrees from Cafe Spice, available in varieties like Butter Paneer with Basmati Rice and Vegetable Korma with Saffron Rice. 

For goodness’ sake: Wellness has long been a cornerstone of KeHE’s business, as the distributor partners with companies that develop and sell products aimed at optimizing well-being and health. Retailers browsed a range of such items at the show, aimed at enhancing health year-round and during the annual cold and flu season. Environmental health is likewise a priority for many of these vendors, as more sustainable products and packages are coming to market, including items made with upcycled ingredients. 

In addition to discovering products for upcoming seasons, the thousands of attendees at this year’s KeHE Holiday Show could take advantage of the company’s services including customizable plan-o-grams and exclusive deals on products. “You can order right on the spot – every booth has one,” said Goldsmith of KeHE’s accessible ordering device. 

Retail customers can access other resources, like KeHE’s own assessment of current macro trends, including ingredient transparency, the “better for us” movement focused on household health and the growing clamor for functionality. In the spirit of the holiday season and reflecting its corporate responsibility goals, KeHE Cares teamed up with a local nonprofit group in Chicago to make fleece blankets for people experiencing homelessness. “Ten percent of our profits go to KeHE Cares. It’s very unusual for a company to put something like that in the middle of the space, but for us, it’s the heartbeat of the organization,” added Goldsmith. 

A Certified B Corporation and employee-owned company based in Naperville, Ill., KeHE distributes fresh, natural and organic, and specialty products to more than 31,000 natural food stores, chain and independent grocery stores, e-commerce retailers, and other specialty products retailers throughout North America. 

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