On March 8-11, 60,000+ people convened in Anaheim, CA for Natural Products Expo West, one of the largest Natural/Organic Food Products shows in North America. 88 acres was able to send one-half of our founding team to check out the competition, network with the natural products community, and keep up to date on new trends and innovative ideas. We have a pretty lean trade show/seminar budget, but attending this show was a smart spend for us, as we gained valuable insight that will help us shape our packaging, branding, and messaging to customers, as well as help shape potential future product lines and target markets.

We thought we would share a few trends that we observed happening in the natural/organic food products space as we walked the hall at Expo West.

  1. Brand expansion – The big guns are trying to figure out how to be bigger. Clif is really making a push into kids products. They now have a product line of fruit ropes, kids granola bars, and kids granola bites. The way their (enormous) booth was set up, with the kids line front and center, it was obvious that innovation within the company is coming from expanding into new products, and targeting a new audience (kids). Bear Naked was another example, branching out from their granola line with a new line of boxed cold cereal.
  2. Everyone is focusing on gluten free – There were so many gluten free products, it made my head spin. It’s pretty obvious that everyone is trying to cash in on one of the fastest growing food categories for the past 7 years. What this tells me is that, if gluten free is your only product differentiator, you’re in big trouble. The competition is only going to get fiercer in this category.
  3. On a similar note, the kids category is exploding – One of the biggest displays in the main hall was Plum Organics’ two-story monstrous exhibit. Plum focuses solely on baby, toddler and kids food, and has set the bar as the company to beat in this category.
  4. Companies seem to be focusing more on sustainability, even if it’s a bit gimmicky – Larabar and Cascadian Farms partnered with TerraCycle to recycle their bar wrappers and turn them into upcycled products like lawn furniture. In theory, it’s a cool idea. The problem is, who would think to recycle their granola bar wrappers? It really only works when you have an event that you’re sampling wrapped product at (like a road race or a food show), so people can drop the wrappers into the recycling bins right there. Otherwise, consumers must save each wrapper and mail it into TerraCycle, which one can assume that very few consumers would actually do. The partnership with TerraCycle is a cool idea in theory, but unless they spend a lot of time and money to educate consumers on recycling options, it’s clearly just good PR for these companies.
  5. This isn’t really a trend, but I was most impressed by what Chobani is doing in terms of marketing to consumers and growing their category. They had two massive exhibits set up in the Main Hall, one to showcase their current products, as well as their new kids line of yogurt, yogurt in squeeze tubes, and new flavors; the other exhibit was called the Chobani Café. The company has set up an actual brick and mortar café in the Soho neighborhood of NYC, where they serve snacks that are based on their yogurt. They recreated this café at Expo. I tried some plain yogurt with diced cucumbers, fresh mint, olive oil and pita chips for a savory snack. Five minutes later, I went back for some vanilla yogurt with dark chocolate chunks, pistachios, diced clementines, and drizzled honey for dessert. It was a great way of showing people that their yogurt isn’t just for breakfast; by convincing consumers that yogurt can be eaten any time of the day and for any occasion, they are expanding their potential market.