A First Timer's Experience at Natural Products Expo East

A few weeks ago, thousands of natural product industry people migrated to Boston, MA to attend Natural Products Expo East 2008. For some, such as myself, this was a foray into what is sure to become a routine part of working in this industry.

Upon entering the Boston Convention Center, I was pretty taken aback at the sheer size of the floor. The immediate wealth of information available, smells of thousands of sample products, and volume of people flowing through the aisles like blood through veins was enough to make my head spin.

I spent a good deal of time walking around and introducing myself to a great number of people, as well as picking up information to help me grow more knowledgeable wherever possible. It was really pleasing to see that there were as many young companies as veterans (or so it seemed) that I could get in on the ground floor in regards to knowing of them as they grow too.

In terms of speaking with some of the larger companies there, I found them to be great to talk with, as they would take the time to answer my questions and even flush out more information where relevant.

I also was pleased to find out that the convention center and hosts had worked very hard to make the event as environmentally-friendly as possible, with water coolers instead of individual bottles, biodegradable cups and other compostable materials. Lessening the carbon footprint of such a huge event definitely speaks well for the hosts and venue.

There were many things that caught my eye that I thought were great. I found a lot of the drinks I sampled were new to me, such as dairy alternatives, which I found to be pretty good. I can see these types of drinks growing in popularity and becoming much easier to find in stores than they seem to be now.

I also sampled a great deal of vegetarian and vegan foods. What sticks out most prominently in my mind was a vegetarian sausage, which wasn’t bad, but had a lingering taste of imitation that seemed to whisper “almost… but not quite.” I can see them getting the taste indistinguishable from meat in the future, but for the meantime I’ll stick with the real deal.

I did also enjoy trying out a lot of products such as the Green Super Food bar by Amazing Grass. This is a product I would imagine will be huge in the future, I’d never eaten protein bars like that before, and found them to be pretty satisfying. They’re also much better than current “on the go” bars, and I can see them being the preferred choice by consumers once they get to be known more.

The only problem on the show floor was eating so many samples. As the day wore on and I was constantly getting fuller, and found myself wanting to try fewer product samples, which could be great products, after filling up on the first quick lap through the hall. I guess it’s like a marathon, and all about pacing oneself instead of sprinting at the start and crawling at the end.

While with food and drinks it was relatively easy to decide whether I liked them or not, but I found it very difficult to do this with supplements. Obviously, the supplements aisles are not really with the same sampling principles in mind. For example, I tried a few different varieties of fish oil, but aside from their taste ranging from mild to milder, I couldn’t differentiate much more than that. Chalk it up to being new, but when everyone is telling you their product is the best, well, it gets confusing quickly. I wonder if it’s something of the same with consumers?

The booths were very well done in most cases, I enjoyed the set up many people had done. Most were very colorful and were appealing to look at. Having special attractions including people in costumes at booths was also something I really liked seeing, that shows a great attitude in getting products out to the crowd through interaction with them. These booths tended to have higher interest and activity than others. Companies that took the time to differ from a me-too approach with little excitement and enthusiasm, unless they already knew they’d see who they need to, likely struggled to reach their show objectives – if they even had any.

As for Boston itself, I found the only drawback was how busy everything was. Granted it was a full weekend, with over 26,000 people at the Expo, along with the Red Sox in town at least one night, and various other events, so it was to be expected. Catching a cab and the wait times at restaurants was probably the one truly frustrating thing to deal with, but that’s when patience and free food samples came in extremely handy for the long waits.

I had been warned that these events get larger from here on out, so I can only imagine how events in the west will overwhelm me, and perhaps grow to be second nature, as I gain experience.

Overall, the entire experience was definitely enjoyable. The fast pace, number of friendly handshakes and wealth of knowledge made it something I look forward to being a part of again.

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