Third Street Trend Tracking: 2016 Natural Products Expo East

 From the expected to the exotic, Third Street’s Sean Smith serves up
5 food and beverage takeaways that emerged from the nearly 1,500 brands and 30,000 attendees at the 31st annual Expo East.


Cold Brewed Coffee is Hot

Those looking to stay alert for the 4-day event had plenty of caffeinated assistance; there were no less than 20 cold-brewed coffee brands pouring their stuff at Expo East.  It’s clear that what appeared to be an emerging trend in 2015 has officially gone “boom” – with the fight for overall cold-brewed coffee category awareness replaced by brands within the category jockeying for differentiation.  10-hour steeping, nitro-infused, 1.5L stand-up pouches with spigots, aluminum bottle packaging, 2 oz. concentrate packets…exciting things are happening as regional and super-regional cold brew coffee brands jockey to plant their flag in the ground(s).


Riding the Kombucha Wave

It’s among the fastest-growing beverage trends, and the widespread presence of Kombucha brands at Expo East reflected it.  Consumer demand for these fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened tea drinks (and their purported health benefits) is driving a sharp increase in volume and variations – with enough tap handles throughout the show to evoke a comparison by BevNet to the craft beer mega-trend. One thing seems certain: If the flavor of Kombucha takes some getting used to for consumers, the taste has officially been “acquired.”


Why Buy The Camel?

Almond, soy, and coconut alternative milk options were all well-represented at the show, but something new has galloped into the dairy category: Camel milk.  With purveyors touting its health benefits (less saturated fat, low in lactose, high in protein and potassium), and its flavor (this palate found it comparable to cow’s milk, but slightly sweeter…in a good way), camel milk brands are betting on the continued expansion of the nearly $2 billion U.S. dairy alternatives category.  Among the camel milk category leaders is Santa Monica, California-based Desert Farms, whose founder and CEO Walid Abdul-Wahab told me that camel milk is “the milk of choice to pair with coffee in the best cafés in the Middle East.” I’ll buy it.  And if consumers are going to as well, they’ll need to save their milk money; $10 is the pricetag for an 8 oz. bottle.


Water, Water Everywhere

And at this year’s show, plenty of drops to drink.  After appearing to plateau based on their presence at recent Expos, it seemed this time around you were never more than a few steps away from an established or fledgling enhanced water brand.  Maple water, birch water, melon water…flavored water specifically for kids, elegantly packaged ginger-flavored sparkling water for the holidays; enhanced water brands flowed into the Baltimore convention center in force this year. Third Street has seen the increasing demand for hydration options via our experience in the Sports Nutrition category, and there was no lack of brands at Expo East eager to quench the thirst of consumers at every level who are trending away from traditional sugared sodas.


The Sound of Crickets

Bad for comedians, an opportunity for the gastronomically bold.  I approached with equal parts fascination and trepidation the booth of Chirps – a snack chip made with cricket flower.  As in, Jiminy Cricket.  “Eat What Bugs You,” their tagline urged – and so I did.  And once I got past the thought of eating what I’d only previously considered ingestible as bait, hesitation gave way to admiration. The BBQ flavor was delicious, as were the cheddar and sea salt offerings.  According to Chirps, a 1 ounce serving has as much protein as an egg white, the main ingredient is sustainable, and over 2 billion people worldwide are already eating crickets (knowingly, I presume).  I’ll say this: Based on what I tasted, if U.S. consumers can get over the fear factor, don’t be surprised if a future summer picnic finds you snacking on its soundtrack.


Sean Smith
is co-founder and president of attention agency Third Street (, an award-winning advertising and marketing firm driving growth for CPG brands nationally and globally. Sean’s perspectives on communication and business trends have been featured in multiple media outlets including, The Huffington Post,, Investor’s Business Daily, U.S. News and World Report, and He can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *