Michael Atkinson: Scottish brands make a splash at America's Natural Products Expo East

Healthy haggis, collagen, non-alcoholic beers and hemp water - Inverleith LLP's Michael Atkinson checks out the trends at the 35th Natural Products Expo East in the US.

Published 9th Oct 2019
Updated 9 th Oct 2019

When I was a kid and I wanted water, I turned on the tap. It was simple (and effective). Hydration wasn’t an industry and it wasn’t high on the agenda.

I once asked my father late one evening if he wanted a glass of water. He replied: ‘I had one this morning’.

Times have changed. The list of water brands exhibiting at Natural Products Expo East, the huge natural and organic trade show hosted annually in East Coast USA, was lengthy.

Now in its 35th year, the event hosted at the Baltimore Convention Centre provides a glimpse into the latest innovations shaping the future of natural and organic food and beverage, personal care and supplements.

It’s a window into the trends that may soon venture across the pond to the UK and Scotland, if they haven’t already arrived.

Hydration was a clear trend, delivered through brands I might describe as ‘water plus’ – water with a claimed value add through the addition of fibre or caffeine or superfoods.

There was also ‘hydrogen infused’ water, alleged to improve performance and recovery during sports and ‘super charged ionized alkaline water’, designed to deliver ‘better hydration’.

Hemp water was there too with hemp itself another major trend, so much so that it had its own pavilion and was widely integrated across the three categories of food and beverage, personal care and supplements.

Despite scientific and regulatory uncertainty, CBD was also prominent. The perceived, and at this stage anecdotal but convincing, benefits of CBD have been included in products from facial masks to body lotions, vitamins, teas, coffee, soft
drinks, too. CBD oils were also plentiful.

Whilst the plant-based movement continues to gather strength, meat products were
still evident and in fact defending their corner. Of course, there was beef jerky and
biltong with their focus on delivering high protein levels. But generally the sales pitch from the meat producers was on their quality and standards, organic feed and zero antibiotics.

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A celebrated haggis brand was present, the long-established Scottish family firm,
Macsween, showcasing some of its plant based vegan friendly products alongside their traditional fare. The vegetarian haggis was popular with attendees, not
surprisingly, given that it’s quite delicious.

They have a gluten free haggis too, and allergy free claims were the headlines for many of the brands on display.

As with meat, dairy brands aren’t going quietly against the plant based alternative onslaught, which now includes offerings using sesame and flax to add to the usual oat, hemp and almond products. Dairy brands were highlighting their heritage in the industry, as well as no hormones and no antibiotics in their products.

Collagen is now being sold on the strength of healthy aging, bone and joint robustness, skin beauty and sports nutrition. It felt like one of the ‘must have’ ingredients, appearing in countless guises across almost all categories.

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The low carb, high fat, Ketogenic diet for weight control and general health was much in evidence. Keto-friendly treats were everywhere.

The trend towards reduced alcohol consumption was obvious. Non-alcoholic beers were plentiful and excellent, and likewise, there were some enjoyable alcohol-free
cocktails. A very wide array of kombucha brands attended, promoting the benefits of
this ancient but resurgent drink.

Natural Products Expo East had 29,000 attendees, 1,550 exhibits, 537 new companies showcasing their products and there were 261 international brands present.

Whilst the show hints at what may be available in Scotland soon, it is also an opportunity for these international brands to introduce themselves to a US audience, a potentially large and valuable market for many.

A number of Scottish-based companies looking to expand further into the US showcased at the show this year, placing them in front of key US distributors and retailers. The UK’s leading gluten free brand, Edinburgh-based Genius Foods, was in attendance, demonstrating its gut heath message and supporting the digestive health trend.

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The US natural products industry is worth $219 billion and growing.

If you’re not already, then pretty soon you’re going to find yourself contributing to the natural products industry in Scotland. Healthy haggis all round, washed down with hemp water…

• Michael Atkinson is the Operating & Brands Investment Director at Inverleith LLP, a Scottish based specialist consumer brand investor

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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