Expo West 2019

This was our third year of traveling to Anaheim for Expo West and each time it has been inspiring in its own way. The energy of 86,000 people from 136 countries gathered in one place to partake in the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event is contagious. Aside from sharing the enthusiasm (which is critical!), the trends that emerged this year are important for many reasons – and will likely shape much of the dialogue and direction of the CPG space in months to come.

First: The Smarts

This year, the education sessions really stood out in both content quality and relevance. One of the most informative was hosted by NEXT and shared findings from recent consumer research. The research captured a broad spectrum of buyers that identify with different attitudes and behaviors and established five consumer segments. Each of these segments are unique in many ways but what really shaped the dialogue around the presentation was a key finding: that the segments agree on what the most important issues are in the industry: Waste Reduction, Sourcing Responsibly, and Regenerative Agriculture.[1]

Then: The Trends

Global / Environmental Responsibility. Waste Reduction, Sourcing Responsibly and Regenerative Agriculture were prominent trends at Expo West this year, in a broader umbrella trend of “Global / Environment Responsibility”. Definitely the most dialogue and energy from “the crowd”, these themes came to life through the show in a number of interesting ways. Generally, products and brands are talking about much more than the end product. More of the messaging is around the larger footprint – partners, sourcing, labor practices and sustainability efforts. Applegate Farms was acknowledged in the “Regenerative Agriculture Innovation: Humane Animal Treatment, Soil Health” category for its ecological practices, specifically for their Organic Chicken Strips.[1] The chicken is verified for animal welfare through certified programs that ensure they meet strict requirements for the treatment of animals.  

Applegate Farms was acknowledged for its ecological practices

CBD. If you’ve read any of the post-show recaps, you already know how massive a presence CBD had at Expo West this year. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this topic – in fact, as someone who attends a number of industry events that include education sessions dedicated to this very topic –I still find it pretty ambiguous. Aside from the regulatory complexities, the broad range of products and claims leave a lot to be desired when it comes to minimizing consumer confusion. What is clear is that there is a huge appetite to develop new and innovative products in this space. The sheer quantity of products with this messaging compared to a year ago proves that – along with the wide variety of formats in both food and beverage. In speaking with a number of founders at different booths, there is a high level of energy to understand, educate and adjust – which will likely be a key factor of success in upcoming months and years.

CBD had a massive a presence at Expo West 2019

Fats + Fads. As NEXT dubbed it, “sugar villainized” was a key theme at Expo West this year.[1] Alternatively, products flaunted the prominence of fat. In fact, many incorporated it in the name and messaging, and often embraced the animal-base that it was derived from. Whether a fad or here to stay, the prominence of lifestyle diets has grown over the past year – Paleo and Keto, in particular. The incidence of the use of “Protein Claim” on products exhibited this year is now in the top 10 at the show[1]. This is inline with what I saw when it came to messaging that spoke directly to being Paleo- and Keto-friendly. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves over time alongside Vegan, Kosher, Clean and Whole-30.

Many products embraced the animal-base that it was derived from

Final Thoughts

Expo West continues to grow each year – not only in the number of exhibitors and attendees but also in content and conversation. Based on what we saw this year, there is going to be a continued focus in the natural food space on how products fit into a more integrated lifestyle that incorporates values, functional ingredients and the ongoing pursuit of healthy living.

[1] “Connecting with the Changing Consumer” NEXT, Data & Insights division of New Hope Network. Expo West: 2019. March 2019.

Immersing in local culture through food

There is a good chance that this post will either inspire you to find the best local representation of Southeast Asian food, or possibly just leave you really hungry. I recently spent time in Southeast Asia, traveling around Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. I have had the “travel bug” since college and ventured to a number of incredible places around the globe. It’s in my DNA to appreciate a region through the people, the natural setting, and the food. And wow, the food in SE Asia. Green Curry, Bun Cha, Kao Soi, Kebabs, Spring Rolls, Papaya Salads, Pho, Cocount Rice, Morning Glory. This was my first personal international trip since joining the “food world,” and I was amazed at the different lens that I viewed my experience through with having spent time in this incredible industry.

WHAT STOOD OUT

This entire blog could be dedicated to the different flavors and dishes that I experienced throughout the different regions, but more compelling are the themes that emerged through that time — and in recent weeks of post-trip reflection.

“Regional”
Perhaps this is something I should have expected going into the trip. But one of the things that surprised me right out of the gate was just how different regional food and beverage specialties were within a relatively short distance. This first dawned on me when traveling from Hanoi to Hoi An in Vietnam. A night train ride away and suddenly, Bun Cha (an incredible Hanoian lunch noodle dish) was no longer available at every corner — and not for the going rate of $1.75. I hadn’t been prepared to have experienced “my last bowl of Bun Cha” in Vietnam! While I was immediately blown away by the local Ban Xeo (a Hoi An crispy pancake), it made me realize how much I needed to savor each flavor experience, since in many cases it wouldn’t be offered even a few hours away. While there were some commonalities, it was eye-opening to see how much the dishes, eating habits and international influences varied by both regions and countries.

Bun Cha, an Hanoian lunch noodle dish as featured on "Parts Unknown"
For those of you familiar with Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”, Bun Cha was the meal he shared with Barack Obama in his Hanoi episode.

Bun Cha, an Hanoian lunch noodle dish

“Fresh”
At each new location, the food market was always a highlight. Wandering through the narrow aisles of various sections (produce, meat, seafood, spices, etc.) provided an instant glimpse of the local ingredient influences. A wonderful opportunity to connect with locals, the market was always a significant center that the city revolved around throughout the day. It truly captured the meaning of “fresh”. Each stall (mostly run by local women) was set up before dawn with new product for the day. Without refridgeration on-site and a very low “shelf life”, it made its way into the hands of restaurant owners, street food vendors and local residents throughout the day. In many cases, these markets are visited by locals not weekly or daily — but twice a day or more! Each meal prep included a stop at the market to gather ingredients and is often reliant on what is available and fresh. No matter the daypart, convenience was served up in the format of “meal kits”. A handful of vendors at each market I visited could be found bundling common ingredients in a ready-to-prepare kit that required just a step or two to make the local cuisine at home. I took advantage of this in a number of instances and loved encountering such a familiar “trend” with a different customer experience across the globe.

A noodle soup with fresh herb meal kit found in Laos.
A noodle soup with fresh herb meal kit found in Laos.
Local produce market in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Local protein market in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Local markets with produce and protein in Hoi An, Vietnam.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY

One of the best things about traveling far away from familiar settings is a reminder of how both big and small the world is — and food is a perfect reflection of that. The diversity of customs and ingredients within a single region is mind-blowing. It’s exciting to think about how many of these global flavors are making their way to US menus, and the opportunities to expand are never-ending. Simultaneously, the familiarity of food trends halfway across the globe is a reminder that this industry is truly unique, in that it is one of shared human experience.


Future Farms of America: Listen Up

The future of farming likely looks very different than what you might think. I recently visited a number of farms in western Minnesota where the Redwood County Farm Bureau hosted a tour that exposed us to modern agriculture production – the practices, challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the industry. This outing came on the heels of many other discussions over the past year at events, including Esca Bona and Expo West, focused on “good food movements” and further confirms the systemic changes underway.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

People will always have to eat. It’s one of the things we love about being in this industry – it’s always changing, but it’s always in demand. However, the population is growing at a rate that requires farmers globally to increase production by 70%1 in coming years to feed the 9.1 billion people expected to be alive in 2050. Simultaneously, income levels are increasing within developing countries which gives consumers a larger voice to demand quality food products that align with their nutrition needs and preferences.

This is forcing a number of farming components to change dramatically and rapidly. The two that stand out from the discussions highlighted on our farm tours? The growers and the technology.

WHAT WE THINK

According to the 2012 agriculture census, growers who are older than 65 outnumber farmers who are younger than 45 for the first time in history.1 The prediction is that farming will continue to consolidate to more mid- and large-scale farms and that the younger farmers will approach the business from a “farm-management” position. Research indicates that Millennial growers are educated (57% have a bachelor degree), tech-focused, and business-savvy.2 They also view farming as a business and a lifestyle – and that as a demographic they are highly purpose-driven.2 This was backed by every farmer who spoke on the tour, who shared that the passion is rooted in much more than the business itself. For younger growers, it is truly a way of life.

Technology showed up in some surprising ways along the tour, but most interesting was the impact it is making on effective farming practices. The dairy farm we visited was managed by people but operated by robots. The implementation of robots allowed this farmer to remain in business – without it, the labor costs would have been too much to compete with larger producers. Apart from robots, many farms rely on imaging from drones to inform soil and field analysis. This data can be critical in maximizing production through planting, spraying, monitoring and harvesting.

WHAT’S NEXT

Spending a day in the life of a farmer sheds light on the incredibly complex and dynamic business we know as agriculture. The next generation has steep challenges ahead that will depend on innovative thinking and a purpose-driven approach.

[1] “Trending 2050: Future of Farming.” McMahon, Karen. Syngenta. Thrive. Spring 2017.
[2] “Millennial are Increasingly Making Key Farming Decisions.” Maulsby, Darcy. Syngenta. Thrive. Winter 2017.

Crickets: They’re What’s for Dinner

“One hundred thousand crickets…in your basement?” With this excerpt from a recent conversation, Eric Palen, a local entrepeneur who is in the business of farming insects as food, raised a lot of questions and even more eyebrows about this growing trend. After the “gross factor” fades, the facts emerge. It turns out we’ve found a new source of protein that’s compelling for… well, a number of surprisingly good reasons.

Nearly 2,000 insect species are already a part of diets across the globe and they’re making their way to North America in a variety of forms. In fact, the global edible insect market is forecasted to grow to $153.9M in North America by 2023 and over $1 billion worldwide.1

GOOD GOD, WHY?

As the world population grows along with a demand on global resources, alternative protein sources are a heightened concern. Insects take less of a toll on these resources while still delivering a compelling nutrition profile.

Insect farming, on average, requires significantly less land, water and feed than other species – especially with the recent adoption of modern agricultural practices like vertical farming in place. To produce 1 kg of beef, 38x more land, 23x more water and 12x more feed are required compared to insects. This results in approximately 1800x the greenhouse gas emissions.

In conversation with Palen, post-growth production of cricket protein is pretty straightforward. To harvest the crickets, he freezes them before washing, boiling and roasting them. From there, they can be consumed in “whole cricket” form or alternatively, ground down into a powder for use in smoothies, chocolate, protein bars or breads.

On the nutrition front, crickets (whether in “whole” or “powder” form) contain comparable levels of protein to beef and higher levels of iron. They are considered a complete protein source – containing all of the essential amino acids, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and are high in both calcium and vitamin B12.2 It is easy to see why this food source would be explored further as we begin to think creatively about how to effectively feed a growing world population.

WHAT WE THINK

Environmental and nutritional considerations alone don’t make me want to top a Cobb salad with roasted crickets. That being said, we can’t overlook the logic in why and how insects might be a part of the North American food pyramid moving forward. Already commonplace in many large markets around the world, it may just take some time – and experience – to find out how they fit.

As cricket powder and flour makes its way into mainstream through more familiar formats, like bars and breads, there will be a more approachable delivery to educate consumers on the social, environmental and nutritional benefits of insects as protein. It will be an important link in the food chain to keep an eye on as it brings up real issues of “food and footprint” – and how we responsibly balance impact with real consumer demand.

WHAT’S NEXT

Not unlike most new product launches, crickets and other insects will likely gain adoption through innovators and early adopters. Eating an insect is, admittedly, a highly Instagrammable moment, and we see that venues and restaurants have an opportunity to lead from two primary places: experience and culture. Outside of the “wow-factor”, many insect dishes are traditional to various regions and offer chefs a new product to experiment with in menu development. When it comes to edible insects, powder may increase in quantity more rapidly, but whole form will drive awareness with visual impact. 

Just some Thought for Food™

[1] “Insects as Food.” Warren, Haley. de Sousa, Agnieska. Rekoaa, Roni. Bloomberg. July 2018.
[2] “Little Herds: Feeding the Future with Insects”. Articles and Iconographic(s) provided by Little Herds.

Indigenous Cuisine: As Local As It Gets

This past month, I made my way to Southeast Minneapolis for a cookbook launch party featuring a type of cuisine few of us in the food industry have heard of: indigenous. Using ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–guests feasted on fare featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

Photos of dishes that use ingredients that are strictly native to the United States–particularly the Midwest–featured in Chef Sean Sherman’s new cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.

The best way to describe indigenous cuisine is deliciously unassuming and delightfully earthy. It provides a modern take on indigenous staples like cedar-braised game meat, wild greens, crushed juniper, maple vinegar and smoked whitefish.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Sherman (Oglala Lakota), born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been a culinary force in the Midwest for nearly thirty years. But recently, Sherman’s main focus has been revitalizing indigenous food systems in the world by showcasing Native American cuisine and, in the process, bringing attention to key social and cultural issues faced by indigenous communities.

As Sherman explains in his book, many of the ingredients we grow and harvest today didn’t originate on U.S. soil. Modern dietary staples like wheat flour, dairy products, sugar, and domestic pork and beef are all European fare brought to this country through exploration and trade between the 15th and 17th centuries. Instead of using these ingredients in his book, Sherman reconnects readers to the ingredients native communities harvested, prepared and feasted upon for centuries before European settlers arrived.

In an age where sourcing has become an important criteria for savvy food consumers, indigenous cuisine is as local as it gets.

WHAT WE THINK

The benefits of indigenous cooking make a strong case for it becoming a long-range culinary food trend.

As Sherman puts it, indigenous fare is hyper-local, seasonal and ultra-healthy: no sugar, no wheat (or gluten), no dairy, high in protein and a focus on plant-based ingredients. Sherman is right in asking why the original indigenous diet isn’t taking off in our modern food culture, knowing our collective focus on real, wholesome ingredients without preservatives and additives, and minimal processing.

WHAT’S NEXT

While indigenous cuisine has many of the attributes chefs and consumers are seeking today in their food and beverage choices, it also faces two fairly significant obstacles in the short term:

Ingredient Accessibility

Believe it or not, many of the ingredients that are native to this part of the country are not easily found within mainstream food channels, such as sunchokes, purslane, duck eggs and maple vinegar. Unless you’re willing to forage backyards and riverbeds, even Sherman acknowledges some of the key components must be sourced through specialty stores or online.

Consumer Familiarity

Many of the staples of indigenous cuisine aren’t currently foods consumers are regularly preparing and eating. For example, the three most popular types of animal protein in the U.S. today–chicken, beef and pork–are all replaced by lesser-known fare like bison, rabbit, duck and venison. To achieve mainstream adoption, indigenous cuisine will likely need to follow the path of other global food trends: marrying familiar and new ingredients to entice curious, yet hesitant, customers into trying it. 

The Opportunity

Despite its obvious challenges, indigenous cuisine also has an exciting opportunity to redefine “American” food. Different geographies could craft nuanced variations of indigenous cuisine based on regional plant and wildlife varieties. The development and promotion of this regional indigenous fare could give us a whole new category of cuisine to explore.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sherman’s new Minneapolis restaurant, slated to open in Spring 2019.

Just some Thought for Food

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

Want to receive more Thought For Food Insights?
Subscribe Now »

Recent Posts

Burgers – what’s in your patty?
What’s On Your Grill?

As we head into grilling season, what gets thrown on the BBQ might look a little different this year. While plant-based eating is certainly not a new trend in 2019, it is becoming increasingly more mainstream – particularly when it comes to the format we know and love: burgers.

Read More »

JTM Scale: A New Series
Series: JTM Scale

Last year, JT Mega launched JTM Scale, an initiative designed to bring our agency’s expertise to the rapidly growing food start-up space. In the next couple of months, we’ll share some highlights we’ve observed over the past year.

Read More »