CBD and Plant-Based Formulations Proliferate Across Beverages, Food and Health

Innovations across beverages, food and supplements, among other consumer packaged goods, were ever-present on the Natural Products Expo West 2019 show floor. Among the several beverage and consumer health trends and products witnessed, CBD and plant-based formulations are two that continue to grow in presence.

CBD’s big break

Interest in CBD oil has reached a fever pitch across fast-moving consumer goods, with dozens of new players. The passage of the US Farm Bill in late 2018, which officially dropped hemp from the list of controlled substances, was in the background of this year’s Natural Products Expo West, as dozens of companies introduced a range of CBD products.

Most CBD companies at Natural Products Expo West marketed full-spectrum (whole plant) hemp extracts that deliver a blend of other cannabinoids, terpenes and antioxidants. This has allowed them to extend benefits. CBD supplements at Natural Products Expo West were typically formulated around various permutations of brain health (memory and cognition/relaxation and stress/focus/sleep), which has proven to be quite popular in 2019. Other popular positionings for CBD oils at the show were pain management and inflammation.

CBD’s influence could also be felt in the popularity of liquid-based supplement formats. CBD oils and other supplement types could be found in micro-dosing tinctures. Tonics/shots were also ever-present at the show, with a number of enterprising companies marketing to consumers suffering from “pill fatigue” and looking for quick, on-the-go options.

While there is no clear national regulatory regime for cannabis-based products in the US, the passage of the US Farm Bill last year ushered in a range of hemp-derived CBD oil lotions, foods and beverages. The application of cannabis-derived CBD-oil and melatonin in drinks, for example, allow for exciting innovation in the realm of relaxation beverages in 2019. This will remain an area of innovation and investment.

Given its rapid growth, the question remains: how can a company best differentiate itself in a market saturated with upstart entrants and without a clear leader?

Potent and plant-based

Plant-based nutrition and liquid snacking were on display, featuring thicker beverages with cross-functional positioning (to energise, boost immunity, relax, restore, etc). The shot and tonic format (around 2oz or less of liquid) proved to be popular in functional juices and supplements at Natural Products Expo West 2019, perhaps taking precedence over larger ready-to-drink (RTD) juice formats. Producers preferred to market juice, herbal, botanical and fortified ingredients in a format that minimises sugar intake and calories while focusing on quick, potent functional benefits.

California-based KOR shots marketed 1.7oz coconut water-based functional shots, each paired with a key functional ingredient: ginger for wellness, turmeric for vitality and apple cider vinegar for gut health, among others. Goldthread is another notable innovator in the space, marketing a slightly larger series of vegan, shelf-stable “plant-based tonics” containing adaptogens, superfruits, herbs and other spices.

Another emerging trend at Natural Products Expo West 2019, and in the wider world of natural/wellness beverages, is liquid, plant-based RTD products that bridge the gap between food, vitamins and OTC supplements. These are products that compete with (or indeed replace) packaged snacks or meals in meeting daily requirements for calories, carbohydrates, healthy fats and dietary fibre.

Powerful Drink, from sports nutrition producer Powerful Foods, is a Greek yogurt-based RTD product containing 20g of protein and 10g of carbohydrate per serving. Intended as a fitness nutrition beverage, the product can replace a meal or snacking occasion. Medidate Date Seed Coffee, a new product launch at the Expo, is an RTD beverage brewed from ground and roasted date seeds. Naturally uncaffeinated, Medidate’s date seed coffee contains 10-12g of dietary fibre per serving.

Plant-based designations are still critically important in building growth in emerging areas. In the case of a non-vegan option, like collagen, this means adding “collagen-boosting” vegan lines that support the production of collagen.

Innovation in plant-based drinks also extends to fun and mindful indulgence. Chicago-based Tiesta Tea showcased a range of refreshing, low-calorie “tea brews” – beer infused with a blend of herbal tea and yerba mate. Wild Tonic, meanwhile, marketed an organic Jun Kombucha, available in non-alcoholic and alcoholic varieties. Jun Kombucha is fermented from honey rather than sugar and maintains the probiotic benefit of traditional, non-alcoholic kombuchas with added prebiotic benefits from honey.