Natural Products Expo West is one of those shows that never fails to deliver on exciting new innovations, and 2017 was no exception.

Just when I thought nothing else could be done to popcorn, New Pops has created a first to market Skinless popcorn. No more bits in your teeth, these almost Sugar Puff-textured pops are said to be much better for an older consumer or younger children who finds the skin on popcorn hard to swallow. They taste great, although I did miss the skin myself.

New takes on plant milks were rife. As you would expect from the original founder of Method’s sustainable, beautiful cleaning products, their dairy-free brand Ripple is beautifully branded, simple and clean. They want to make dairy free as they think it should be – high in protein, low in sugar, yet loaded with nutrition and deliciousness. They champion the need for more textural development of plant milks, to get away from chalky, thin almond, soy and (some) cashew milks. Yellow peas from a non-GM source are at the heart of their proposition. They have also focused on protein content in their innovation.

Other notable new takes on plant milks really highlight just how embryonic we are in the UK in this category. Growth potential is huge. Califia now have ‘enhanced’ milk ranges with variants including ginger and turmeric (great tasting!) coconut, matcha, maca-spresso, maca-nilla and choc-a maca. Maca is hot property. Califia also like to emphasise their home-style plant milk recipes as more wholesome in their texture. Meanwhile, Veggemo were very interesting as they have created the first veggie-based plant milk made from fortified pea, tapioca and potato!

Cold brew coffee was a hot growth area for the second year running. Fog Dog seemed to have the most unique commercial benefit with their unique hydrodynamic cold extraction method, which makes brewing time much quicker and therefore commercially more efficient. Beach Coffee cold-brewed all their coffees and teas in coconut water to give them a unique signature silky texture and subtle sweetness removing the need to add sugar or milk. There wasn’t even a hint of bitterness that can come from some cold brewed coffees.

It’s quite rare to find an innovation in frozen fish, but I loved the Nexty award-winning Love the Wild Frozen prepared fish dishes. Each kit includes a frozen 6oz fillet, 3 heart shaped sauce cubes and a sheet of heart shaped parchment to wrap your fish in before baking. The age-old challenge of smell being off is overcome with the fillet being frozen during prep. The packaging is fresh, modern and very taste-evocative – rather than the ocean scenes synonymous with most fish brands. Clever, clean and freezer-to-plate in just 25 minutes.

Plenty of food for thought. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what I saw. 

Claire Nuttall is founder of The Brand Incubator