Editorial: Natural Products Expo East - Connecting in Context

By Len Monheit

As I was walking the show floor at Expo, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of green (retailer) badges throughout the show floor. While this was extremely noticeable Friday and Sunday, it was even apparent on the Saturday, typically the busiest show day. Ironically, this lack did not seem to impact success / fail metrics for most show participants, or at least the ones I spoke to. These participants had already managed pre-show expectations and adjust their evaluations accordingly. This was not going to be a ‘West’ they determined (35,000 plus people in total) and if they received two or three key contacts, they would return home satisfied. The food aisles, while higher in traffic, still were pretty quiet although those near ‘buzzing’ booths were the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. And there were a few really buzzing booths, and new products, and news to share and the vibrancy of double digit growth in many industry categories to crow about.

In general, those companies that did decent pre-show communication did well. Those companies that relied on passive traffic did poorly in comparison. Those that did not communicate in context by highlighting their offerings in terms of trends and mega-trends missed opportunities. The super-berries (acai etc.) continue to grow in traction and appeal, now even appearing in supplement form, and products that deal with nutrition or healthful products for children are growing in number of offerings as well as in product appeal. Product formats in these categories are getting more innovative, tastier and more relevant to consumers.

Many of the vendor sponsored presentations upstairs were poorly attended. These ranged from product introductions, to science to talks dealing with product quality. This last never ceases to amaze me especially since the those few people that did attend the one I was involved with asked all the right questions, learning in the process questions they themselves should be asking of manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.

The beverage category is literally exploding with new product introductions, all the way from coconut, mint and more simple waters, to functional beverages with a hint of this and a dash of that. Companies working with a productivity angle or sustainability as their interest driver are finding that retailers are interested. The former includes companies such as OrderDog, the latter includes companies like Guayaki.

Engaging the retailer seems to be front page industry issue. Making the news in the past few weeks is the intention of Virgo’s Health Supplement Retailer to hold a retailer show in Secaucus, New Jersey in early May, with several hundred exhibitors already committed. And at Expo, show hosts New Hope announced a collaboration with NNFA-East for next year’s Expo East in Baltimore.

It’s becoming evident, as I mentioned in my editorial last week, that smaller companies rive innovation; recent acquisitions and product introductions and even product success, attest to this. And another observation strikes just as clearly - the entire show floor is dominated by the sense of nutritional awareness pervading consumers (trade and otherwise). The type of questions and answers, the interactions themselves, all indicate that low carb and all of the other food fads of recent years have led to a more educated marketplace, at least along the value chain. This compositional alertness was evident all the way from the small single booths to the major brand names.

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