Trendspotting — Expo West 2010

With over 1,700 exhibitors showcasing healthy, organic, sustainable and specialty products at the 30th anniversary Natural Products Expo West show this past weekend, the answer to “what’s new” is a long discussion. I’m going to let the bloggers and tweeters on duty at the show tell you about individual new products and instead focus on what I saw as trends:  

Coconut Water

If Madonna is investing in a natural foods company (Vita Coco),  you know this category is trendy.  When I asked one exhibitor how their coconut water was different, I was told that their coconut water was natural.  Isn’t that a condition of being at the trade show?  (Come back to this blog next week as I write on the topic of product differentiation and “Why No One Wants a Better Mousetrap.”) 

Gluten free…or not

Gluten-free products continue to proliferate, which is great news for the many with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.  On the flip side, I spoke with my friend from “Living Without,”  a magazine devoted to food allergy solutions.  She was very concerned about companies wanting to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon and declaring their food products to be gluten free, even if they weren’t.  Because there are no standards or policing agency, manufacturers who are fudging their claims, or using up packaging after dropping their gluten-free status, are not only being careless, but truly endangering people’s health.  

Sweeteners 

After getting FDA approval in 12/08, manufacturers have shown their pent-up desire to use stevia as a no-calorie, natural cane-sugar substitute.  The most ingenious application was a stevia product that can be used in baking—opening the door to using this sweetener in baked and cooked products. 

Not to be outdone, the agave suppliers are offering more plentiful products and harvesters are climbing coconut palms to hand-pick blossoms for coconut sugar.  No one ever said that to eat naturally or organically, you have to give up your sweet tooth!

Sustainable Seafood  

We’ve all heard about certain species being on the seafood watch list, but how dire is this really?  Answer: beyond crisis.  Blue Horizon and Wild Planet, companies that are selling sustainably harvested seafood, hosted an edited version of the film: “The End of the Line.”  You will become a vegetarian  (if you aren’t already) after seeing this movie.  Scientists and fisheries predict the crash of commercial fish species by 2048.  No more fish to fish—nada, none; we will have wiped out our planet’s fish supply.  

Sustainability in general 

The tone was set by New Hope, who eliminated the Expo show directory and plastic badges this year for the estimated 56,000 exhibitors.  While I miss the info in the directory, and feel that it was a disservice to new exhibitors who need more than a name listing to entice retailers to their booth, I think the changes set a great example.  A nod to Mary’s Gone Crackers, a company specializing in gluten-free baked goods, who came to the rescue of those of us who like to use our badge holders to store business cards, and gave out permanent holders.  I’ll be using mine again and again. 

With all the questions about organic certification and authenticity, many companies are taking matters in their own hands and checking up on the certifiers.  I attended an education session by Aura Cacia.  Tim Blakley, Aromathery Educator, not only visits every small village and tribal source to verify sustainability, but helps each supplier improve their processes for the long-term.  Gold stars to these folks for walking the talk.

There was an excessive outbreak of eco-swag (oxymoron coined by elephant journal’s Waylon Lewis) this year at the show.  Going forward, let’s all make sure that this expanding consumerism is:  1) relevant 2) necessary and 3) natural & sustainable. 

Yes, a roving billboard truck is great advertising, but can’t marketers come up with a better way to reach attendees than a gasoline-fueled flatbed truck driving loops around the convention center?  Why not a totally electric car, for example, and really draw attention to your brand? 

Packaging 

There was an explosion of recycled/recyclable/compostable/eco-friendly packaging companies at the show this year.  Usually relegated to a corner of the basement, green packaging was front and center, with both B2B suppliers as well as multitudes of bag manufacturers supplying consumer totes.  Just a few years ago I searched and found only one packaging company that made compostable “plastic” bags.  The floodgates have opened and we are all better for it. 

The continuing trend toward compostable packaging is great, but if the product doesn’t break down in a home compost bin, then drop the claim.  In my opinion, it’s better to use recycled material to build the market value of recycled products than to talk about commercial composting– which is accessible only to a small minority of people. 

On the design side, natural and organic products packaging is coming of age.  After I attended a session on Innovations in Branding and Packaging, I noticed more new, clean, contemporary designs with lots of white space.  Many new brands rival or exceed CPG brands, differentiating themselves to the target customer and standing out on the shelf. 

Native American Natural Products 

On so many levels, these products make so much sense that I did a V-8 head slap.  Tanka is a private company featuring buffalo & cranberry products.  The NY Times says “With its slick marketing plan, reservation roots and list of healthy ingredients, the Tanka Bar could be the first national break-out product made on a reservation.”  I hope it’s the first of many. 

Continuing Trends

Natural and organic products for babies and kids continue to proliferate.  One of the most innovative is Clementine Art, a line of natural and environmentally friendly children’s art supplies, who won a Sherbrooke Capital Entrepreneurship award at the show.

Superfruits continue strong as ingredients and flavors in more than just beverages and food.  They are working their way into body care products as well.  The most intriguing new fruits (to me):  sea asparagus, organic, wild Aronia berries and sea buckthorn.  Let’s keep our eco-systems intact so that we can discover more of these plants before they become endangered species. 

Greek yogurt, the trend of the year in 2007, continues to expand.  Going mainstream with Stonyfield Farms varieties, there are now Greek yogurts for kids, Greek yogurt with superfruits, Greek yogurt dips—you get the idea.  (I also liked Siggi’s Icelandic skyr yogurt–the same but different) 

Ingredients are taking new forms.  Instead of fish oil in a horse-pill capsule, now you can get fish oil in gummies for adults, in powdered form or in puddings. 

Home & Lifestyle products continue to proliferate.  There were twice as many booths in this section as last year. 

Pet products, teas, waters and natural diet supplements continue to grow, but my reaction was that shake-outs in these categories are coming soon. 

Post Expo 

I couldn’t help but notice that there was a disconnect between all the natural, healthy products I was seeing in the convention halls and the reality of the average consumer and her family going to Disneyland, which was across the street from my hotel.  Childhood obesity statistics shock us daily, but when I saw little Snow Whites and Cinderellas who were as wide as they were tall, I was truly saddened.  It made me want to support the groups working toward healthy school (and family) lunch programs more than ever.  

And now if only someone would invent a germ barrier to prevent the requisite annual trade show cold/crud, we’d really be living healthier.  At least I have my sample bag full of remedies to try at home!

 

Full Disclosure:  I personally know some of the people and products mentioned here, but I received no payment, products, coupons or any other consideration for mentioning them in this post.   Isn’t that the way it should be?

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    One Comment

    1. Anne Henderson
      Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I remember the days of searching for more eco-friendly plastic bags well! I’m so happy with the many better options available today. When I moved last summer, I found that a few of the biodegradable bags I tried to reuse to store items had disintegrated around the storable items and all that was left was a mess of tiny plastic shreds. Proof that they worked, but I definitely like my fabric reusable bags the most!

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