As always, Expo West was packed with fresh, new ideas and passionate individuals and businesses keen to inspire with their innovation.
When it came to baked snacks, I came away feeling this year was more about category evolution than category creation.
But that’s not to say it was dull, and among the product tweaks there were more than few exciting launches.
And, of course, there were new trends and developments to explore, such as these five:
Snack manufacturers are going off half-popped. Brands such as Mr Popular and Half Pops are among those talking about the best part of popcorn being those crunchy bits you usually find at the bottom of the bag. The focus is on the texture you get from a half-popped version of popcorn, combining the crunch of a tasty savory bite with the puffed corn element. Half-popped corn certainly brings innovation – and there are some great flavor combinations - but I wonder whether they will meet a new need and bring incremental growth, or cannibalize sales of existing regular popcorn?
Popcorn takes its jacket off
Null Hull popcorn is using black jewel corn, which has smaller grains than regular popped corn, to bring innovation to the category. These grains are black on the outside, but once popped create beautiful pure white popcorn with absolutely no crispy outer at all. It is a really interesting product, though it would be good to know what proportion of consumers reject the crispy bits of corn in regular popcorn, and whether this can bring a real advantage.
Trail mixes and jerky combos
Start-up brand Koo-ee blazed a trail at last year’s show with its dual pouches that overcome moisture migration issues by offering a pack of jerky on one side and trail mix on the other – keeping the two separate until the pack is opened. Other suppliers were offering similar products this year, but some have chosen to overcome the moisture issue by simply putting a separate sachet inside the pack. While this does the same job as a dual pack, I wonder whether these are as appealing to consumers.
Hemp going mainstream
Hemp started making waves last year – but those waves have got a lot bigger. It featured in many new products, such as in bars as an ingredient or in sachets as a standalone snack. There was even flavored hemp with maple or Himalayan pink rock salt from Natera. Hemp offers big health benefits, such as being an alternative protein source, and I see it as a major growth opportunity for manufacturers.
It’s a wrap
Watch out baked goods: the raw and carb-free wraps at this year’s show were a real breakthough for me and offered a fresh twist on regular bread, particularly when looking for lighter options. There were kale wraps; Paleo wraps made with turmeric; basil wraps from Blue Mountain Organics; and pure, pressed coconut wraps that could offer an opportunity to the likes of Vita Coco for creating a branded version. My personal favorites included the Nuco coconut wraps, which I feel would go well with almost anything fresh, and the Siete brand of cassava and coconut tortillas.
Claire Nuttall, founder, The Brand Incubator
Claire Nuttall is a specialist in breakthrough innovation in food and drink and has operated as an innovation strategist for more than 23 years. Her business, The Brand Incubator, creates and drives brand and business growth via innovation. Claire’s passion is working in the world of health, wellness and functional foods. She has worked with and developed food trend forecasts for over 20 years, many of the themes now being hot areas for innovation and growth. She regularly speaks at conferences on food trends including free from, healthy ageing and protein.