The Three F’s of 2023 Expo East

I went to Natural Products Expo East again this year and, as always, learned from the people behind the brands about the changes they’re seeing in food and beverage CPG.

The trends were trending and the conversations were encouraging, but we couldn’t help but notice the disconnect between products, brands, packaging, and consumers. Let’s take a look at the best examples of form, function, and faux along the way.  

Whether we’re talking about the type of packaging or the design of it, how a product is delivered to consumers is a hot topic amongst Expo exhibitors.

The adoption of sustainable packaging is slow-going for emerging CPG brands, with two obvious reasons why: It’s still expensive to invest in fully recyclable product packaging, and the impact research to support the cost of compostable packaging just isn’t there yet to justify that cost. 

That doesn’t mean the sustainability movement in CPG is over, but it is shifting. More companies are willing to adopt post-consumer recyclables (PCRs) for their packaging because PCRs offer a cost-effective, consumer-friendly replacement for net-new or fully recyclable packaging.

Functional Ingredients like CBD, mushrooms, and more are integral to the health-conscious consumer movement. Whether it’s keeping a consumer alert or mellowing them out, emerging CPG brands recognize the value of including beneficial ingredients previously reserved for the supplements aisle into their products.

Functional ingredients walk a thin line between being interesting to the consumer or reading like snake oil. A lot of the messaging of benefits relies on the consumer’s knowledge of functional ingredients, but this can also backfire with ingredients like turmeric. Without an activator, such as ginger or pepper, turmeric’s health benefits are greatly reduced, and the same can be said for other functional ingredients. 

It’s inside baseball—language you only know if you are in the know. Connecting the language consumers use and look for with functional ingredients is key to broader consumer adoption. 

The question I am left with is: have we gone too far with functional ingredients? 

There is no shortage of faux food and beverage CPG at Expo East. From mocktails to mushroom deli “meats,” the ingredients are meant to mimic the taste, texture, and eatability with better-for-you-ingredients.

There’s ample opportunity for emerging CPG brands to carve out a space for themselves in these categories (in a way legacy brands struggle to compete against) and appeal to younger folks who are drinking less alcohol and eating healthier.