6 Key Trends & Takeaways From Expo West 2023

Industry TrendsConsumer
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March 28, 2023
5 min read
Industry TrendsConsumer
Executive Summary
Expo West 2023 showcased a range of plant-based options, gluten-free opportunities, functional foods and beverages, and more.


Expo West 2023, the world’s biggest exhibition of natural and organic products, was held at the Anaheim Convention Center from March 7-11th with over 65,000 registered attendees and over 3,000 exhibiting brands. This year’s event showcased many trends, including: plant-based options, gluten-free opportunities, functional foods and beverages, and more.

The natural products industry has grown significantly over the past decade, causing its influence on the broader food manufacturing and consumer packaged goods landscape to expand as well. This consistent growth suggests that regardless of economic and geopolitical turmoil, the natural products industry will continue to thrive. Russell Reynolds Associates attended Expo West 2023, and identified some key takeaways below.


Sustainability leading to private label growth


Over 80% of private label products performed better with a sustainability claim vs. not. The smaller brands performed better, and the mid-size brands performed least well compared to their non-sustainable peers.”

– Steve Noble
Senior partner at McKinsey & Company

Of the products that featured sustainability claims at the show, private brands were among the most popular. While specific claims do not necessarily drive consumers’ purchase decisions, the focus on sustainability shows the intersection between consumers wanting high-value products, and the need to make a difference with what they are purchasing. Many brands at Expo West put sustainability at the forefront of their products, from sourcing ingredients to animal welfare, with some even including sustainability callouts on their packaging.


New opportunities in gluten-free


Gluten-free has been a core attribute to the natural and specialty space…for the past couple decades, [it has] really led the way in a lot of the allergen-friendly paths that we’ve seen.”

– Scott Dicker
Director of market insights at SPINS

The gluten-free market is seeing price increases grow at a lower rate than other “better-for-you" categories. In the past, gluten-free options generally focused on the staples like shelf-stable grains and breads/cereals. However, consumers are starting to seek gluten-free products in new categories such as alcohol, supplements, pet treats, and more. Across categories, brands are seeing growth in this space.


Plant-based moving beyond dairy and meat


It was clear that buyers and consumers are now seeking brands that can provide real, simple, and clean ingredients more than ever...”

– Penny Andino
Vice president of marketing at Justin's

At Expo West 2023, brands showcased their plant-based offerings that went beyond the stereotypical dairy and meat-alternative options. Multiple brands at Expo West introduced new candies that included low- or no-sugar claims, as well as plant-based formulas. Not only is the confectionary market expanding into plant-based options, but the seafood industry is as well. A majority of the total adult U.S. population is engaged with plant-based foods, which demonstrates the size and potential of the category1.


Functional ingredients are top of mind


Functional foods and beverages grew an estimated 5.8% to $87.3 billion in 2022, driven in part by increasing demand and availability of prebiotics.”

– Carlotta Mast
Senior vice president and market leader at New Hope Network

Many brands at Expo West unveiled new drinks that include additives meant to aid with gut health, including ingredients like chicory root fiber, agave inulin, Jerusalem artichoke, and apple cider vinegar.


Mushrooms are both medicinal and delicious


The interest in mushroom-based food and beverage products is largely based on their mushroom’s functional properties. Research has found that [these properties]…provide a host of benefits, from blood glucose control to boosting heart health…”

– Nirmal Nair
Founder and CEO of Sempera Organics

Over the past few years, mushrooms have increasingly become a popular ingredient in a wide variety of products, from snacks to ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages. Mushrooms were found in many different forms at the Expo, including in jerky products promoted by Pan’s and Moku, as well as cutlets and steaks by Meati. A milk alternative created by Shroom Junkie was of the most innovative new uses of mushroom. Medicinal mushrooms also continue to rise in popularity in several beverage categories.


Regenerative agriculture is the next big thing


More and more brands that weren’t founded for the benefit of regenerative are talking about strategies for ESG, and how to create methodologies for carbon accounting based on new regulations and industry expectations.”

– Jessica Rubino
Vice president of content at New Hope Network

The distinct pivot toward embracing regenerative certifications and ingredients among brands isn’t just taking place among small, nimble start-ups. Now, larger companies are tapping into the trend as well. Simple Mills, a large brand with products ranging from cookies to pizza dough mix is one of the brands leading the charge into this facet of sustainability.


Reflections on Expo West 2023


It’s always tempting to zero in on the year’s hottest innovations or the latest go-to ingredients, but it’s important to recognize that these trends are reflections and manifestations of the much broader cultural forces that are truly driving today’s natural products industry.”

– Jessica Rubino
Vice president of content at New Hope Network

Though the future of the consumer packaged goods industry is unclear due to inflation and geopolitical tensions around the world, the innovation and expansion of product choices from Natural Products Expo West 2023 certainly bodes well for the year ahead.




Dana Dimitri is a senior member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ CPG practice. She is based in Chicago. 
Andrew Hayes leads Russell Reynolds Associates’ CPG practice. He is jointly based in New York and Houston.
Amanda Johnson is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Consumer sector Knowledge team. She is based in Dallas.
Sotiria Pericli is a member of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Consumer sector Knowledge team. She is based in New York.


1 Panel Recap: State of Plant-Based Series @ Expo West - Plant Based Foods Association