As a humble Kiwi walking into my first US food trade show, Expo East in Baltimore, I was confronted with a Willy Wonka-esque selection of products – over 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying their wares to entice the tastebuds of over 29,000 attendees. It’s a dream that any gourmand wouldn’t wish to awaken from.
Despite the staggering number of products, some clear trends emerged as I roamed around what was on offer.
CBD and Hemp
Look out world, cannabinoids have left the shady corners of schoolyards and taken centre stage. There was an entire floor devoted only to CBD-based products, and I must say after sampling everything from CBD-infused bliss balls to candy floss, I was starting to feel a little dizzy – but very, very relaxed. Legal now in many states of the US, you can get your daily CBD dose from small dropper bottles under your tongue, in gummy lollies, ‘brain boosting’ drinks, or absorbed through your skin via beautifully crafted lip balms from premium brands like Papa & Barkley.
While here in New Zealand, CBD products are still being marketed as ‘for your pets’ in simple packaging, the market in the US is advanced – home to many players with impressive presentation and subtle differences (for the unaware novice), such as how the oil has been processed, and if it’s full spectrum or isolated compounds.
Hemp made plenty of appearances also with hemp-based bars, drinks, cookies, chips, ice-cream and crackers all popping up in natural-looking packaging.
Vegan and plant-based foods
Want a free business idea? Take a currently established meat or dairy product, and create its vegan counter-part. That’s what every kid and his Mum seems to be doing in the States at least. Plant-based proteins made from peas and hemp, cheese conjured out of cashews, milks in at least six different varieties - almond, soy, coconut, hemp, rice, oat, yoghurts based on coconuts, pili nuts (grown in the Phillippines), cashew nuts, and oats, jerky made from mushrooms and bananas … the world of vegan food is alive and thriving, and the business owners of more traditional companies I spoke with said they expect substantial growth to come from their new, plant-based lines.
Running counter to the vegan trend is the demand for collagen, found only in animal/fish sources. Said to plump up your skin and make your hair grow long and shiny, it’s a big hit with both the Instagram-selfie generation and older folks looking to fight back time.
Drinks seemed to be the most popular option for getting a collagen-boost, with teas, shakes, and shots, but it also featured in snack bars and supplements.
Not everyone has bought into the vision of glowing health in a packet or bottle that brands are selling. Neal Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins organic ice cream, confided in me that it takes some discernment to “sort the real game changers from the snake oil”, and said he’s seen many brands come and go over his 14 years in the organic scene.
It’s also no easy ride to break into the US – one Kiwi brand, Manudy+, had a stand promoting their range of manuka honey infused lollipops and throat soothers. “It cost us tens of thousands of dollars to be here – the stand, the travel, getting our samples shipped over. But we’ve already had two potential distributors want to place orders, so hopefully it pays off,” said Sherry Guo, their GM.
If New Zealand can find ways to lead the market in some of these global food trends, it could pay off for us too.
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