The natural channel is the incubator, or the R&D department, of the natural products industry, and all of that will be on display at Natural Products Expo East in September. The show will be an opportunity to see the latest innovative products and product trends before they hit the shelves at your favorite natural store.
It's always exciting to see the new products at Expo. I saw everything from ground-up bug guts to dancing monkeys at Expo West in March. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me about the natural channel is the ability for a creative person to turn an idea into a viable product in an extremely short amount of time. For example, MegaFood turned a concept into a new product in just a few months - and launched at Expo West. Their new product, MegaFood Boosters are an innovative new solution to help improve your life with quality whole food supplements that can be easily added to smoothies. There were hundreds of other stories of brands capitalizing on consumer trends by differentiating themselves with new and innovative flavors, aromas, and product features.
Innovation like this in mainstream typically take several years, involves huge committees, requires a lot of focused consumer research, and cost a tremendous amount of money. The reason most CPG companies put so much emphasis on this with their innovation (new products), is because the cost of failure is so great. Several years ago I worked for the largest CPG company in the world. They launched a new product into a very competitive category. The product was superior to anything on the market at the time. It was a stain pre-treater. To kick off the launch they provided all of us with reams of marketing research, competitive information, retailer category sales data, new item presentations, and samples. Despite the massive effort on all of our parts the product failed to meet the brand’s expectations and was discontinued within five months. The key issue was that it did not fit on existing retailer shelving – the product was too tall. I heard estimates that the “experiment” cost the company over $150 million.
This is why companies should involve true category management during the innovation stage of a product's life cycle. True category management connects retailer shelving, merchandising and inventory requirements. In addition, true category management is the bridge between manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. A talented category manager's insights are invaluable when it comes to helping retailers satisfy their shoppers needs and wants.
Natural companies don't have to deal with the long, expensive and arduous processes of big CPGs because they are small and nimble. They are also extremely creative, passionate and willing to try new and different things. More importantly, they are fully engaged in the consumers who buy their products - in many cases new product concepts come directly from their interactions. This gives them a tremendous competitive advantage.
Another impressive aspect of the natural channel is the ability to test consumer preference, wants, and needs with actual shoppers, their friends, and their families. Imagine, doing consumer research with actual shoppers in their environment. Imagine getting instant feedback from people who actually buy and use the product more than once. Imagine being able to customize your product right away as you continue to develop it. Imagine how efficient it is to develop a product that consumers are actually searching for.
Expo is where the natural channel showcases it's new product concepts, ideas, and innovation. This is what fuels next trends. Expo is where we celebrate all that is good in our industry. Let me know what your plans are for Expo East and perhaps we can connect. I’ll see you there!