Occasionally, my late grandfather drank an ice-cold Miller Lite after mowing his yard on a humid Memphis day. He’d pour it into a mug and tap in a bit of salt. He had quit any social drinking decades earlier, but that cold beer spelled refreshment to him.
Refreshment has never been my only reason for drinking beer. Which is probably why the appeal of non-alcoholic beer has puzzled me, especially at the same price as a regular beer. Beer commands the price it does in part because of the functionality of alcohol. For refreshment, I’ll take a sports drink, or a soda. That’s why I wrote in this column last year that I am a non-alcoholic beer skeptic. I write today to tell you that I am becoming a believer — with a caveat.
Natural Products Expo West was nearly back to pre-pandemic form this year with more than 3,000 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees. The show, held last week in Anaheim, California, hosts the vanguard of consumer health and wellness trends, mostly in packaged food and beverage. Had you been at Expo West in 1999, you would have seen bottled organic tea brand Honest in its infancy, a dozen years before Coca-Cola would eventually acquire the company in full from co-founder and fair trade tea evangelist Seth Goldman. While many brands at the show will fail, they often still represent trends that will one day go mainstream and generate meaningful growth, usually at premium pricing. As a result, Expo West is a magnet for strategic companies, private equity investors, distributors, and retailers looking for the next big trend or growth brand. With all of this in mind, BD walked the show floor — 10 football fields in size — for three days, spending most of that time in the “Hot Products” zones, where the smallest and newest companies exhibit. Here’s what caught our attention:
Beverage Digest is walking the show floor along with about 65,000 other attendees at Expo West in California this week. We'll investigate natural ingredient trends that could one day drive the growing and profitable functional packaged beverage market. We're also looking for what's new within existing ready-to-drink segments and product lines, and talking to the founders and leaders who propel the sector.
We'll share our observations in live updates here, so check back through the next couple of days.
Subscribers can email us if there is something specific you'd like to ask about. For those attending the show, feel free to send any noteworthy observations as well.