Trendspotting–Expo West 2011

With 3,533 exhibitors and a full schedule of educational seminars, I won’t even try to pretend that I made it around to every booth and every session to discover “the best” of every category at Natural Products Expo West 2011 this past weekend in Anaheim, CA.  Instead, I’ll recap trends that I saw in natural, organic and sustainability–with all my color commentary! 

In  a show of many me-too products and endless line extensions, who would have thought the biggest talk around Expo West would be: 

Packaging 

1)      Seventh Generation launched sustainability in a box bottle, that looks like a box—made from 70% recycled cardboard and 30% recycled newspaper.  The paperboard clam shell holds a thin, plastic pouch for detergent.  It’s a game-changer, not only because each bottle uses 66% more plastic than typical detergent bottles, but it throws down the gauntlet for other manufacturers to match or exceed.

2)      Aura Cacia was offering a spritzer—without the liquid.  Huh?  This show give-away contained an aromatherapy stick whose scent is distributed with puffs of air—without mist.  Very clever.

Pop Cakes   Looking like the next fad, but hot at the show, were round, flat, multi-grain cakes that “popped” out of a machine every 8-12 seconds.  The shot-from-guns sound, the fresh-baked scent and the visual of a tortilla-like cake flying toward people would be very engaging in a retail setting.  Now if they could just make them taste better than ancient rice cakes, they’d have repeat business. 

Back to the Future

1)      With so many plastic water bottles and hard plastic canteens on the market, it was great to see glass coming back for portable water bottles as an alternative to the stainless steel containers that became wildly popular after the BPA-in-plastic revelation a few years ago.

2)      Another retro idea is back in play for lunch containers.  Stainless steel and fabric reusable lunch containers are the next step to reducing our obsession with throw-away baggies.   These plastic-free products may not shrink the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but maybe they won’t contribute to it getting any bigger. 

Coconut Water  Everyone got the word at last year’s Expo that Coconut Water is the next big thing.  Many companies featured coconut milk, coconut water with and without pulp, with probiotics, coconut sugar, coconut tea and every other possible coconut water permutation possible.  In the evening, I saw a TV ad with Halle Berry using makeup with coconut water.  What will be the next miracle ingredient or will manufacturers continue to be nuts over coconuts next year? 

Yogurt  Thanks to Greek yogurt, all types of yogurt are cool again in seemingly infinite variety.  There was even yogurt for dogs:  yöghund. 

Gluten Free  As product formulators match “regular” product texture, shelf-stability, and taste qualities, gluten-free products continue to proliferate.  It seems the sky—and demand—have no limits. 

Alternative Sweeteners  Is there a product category that doesn’t have agave or stevia sweetening in their offerings?  There are now so many agave-sweetened ketchups that perhaps the days of High-Fructose Corn Sweeter condiments are numbered.  Let’s hope. 

Umlauts  Speaking of yöghund, there seems to be a developing trend in northern European umlauts—those double dots over a vowel.  First, Häagen Dazs tried to make us think their ice cream was Scandinavian.  Now Lärabar, yöghund and Pür gluten-free gum are using these characters phonetically.  Will Scarlett Jöhansson soon be a spökesperson for one of these brands?    

Superfoods and ancient grains.  The industry continues to pursue the next break-out antioxidant and fiber-rich, exotic ingredients to cure all ills.  With pomegranate, acai and goji berries now mainstream products, can Macqui Berries, Maca and Lucuma powders or Durian snacks be far behind?  With tart cherry juice touting its rating as a top antioxidant leader, maybe we won’t have to search the Amazon Basin for the next superfood. 

Milk-alternative category  Every few years, a new white beverage seeks to dethrone milk.  First soy, then rice then almond, and now coconut milk.  A friend suggested that hemp milk might be next.  Perhaps a new name might be in order, just as rapeseed was changed to canola oil to be politically correct.  

More waters, more teas, more organic pet foods, more chocolates and more natural sodas appeared for retail consideration.  There were several botanical sodas, at least two of which were in old-tyme bottles and graphics.   

Marketing 

1)      In years past, mobile billboards on flatbed trucks roved the roadways around the Anaheim Convention Center.  This year, in a nod to eco-consciousness, the billboards were replaced by squads of neon-shirted drivers of Segways as well as a hay wagon pulled by Clydesdales. 

2)      Last year, New Hope eliminated the show directory and plastic on attendee badges.  While I appreciate the discontinuance of plastic, why do we need a big hunk of metal to clip our paper badges to a wide cotton lanyard?  Could we evolve to mobile badges on our phones?  If the airlines can scan boarding passes, the technology is available and working.  And since so many of us use BlackBerry phones for business, can we have a directory app for our phones next year? Please?

Passing of the Old Guard   Did anyone notice this other than me?  It seems the original founders of many companies have not only passed on the leadership mantle, but didn’t come to the show.  On a positive note, I spotted many more female CEOs and entrepreneurs.  Girl power! 

Time Passing Them By   There were brands at the show notable because time has passed them by: Jelly Belly, Quorn and Fabio, among others.  Although a few older women did a double-take and stopped to talk with Fabio, he seemed to be eclipsed by the throng around Siggi’s Icelandic Yogurt, a few booths away.  Fame is fleeting. 

Sustainability Award   While Seventh Generation, ReUsies and others vied for my attention as the leader in sustainability, my personal choice has to be: Mr. Ellie Pooh.  Supplying scrapbooks, journals, exotic papers and business cards, the raw material “behind” these products is “as organic as it gets:” 50% post consumer paper and 50%  Sri Lanka elephant dung! 

The seminar on “The Future of Wellness” gave me a lot of food for thought.  Alex Bogusky issued a challenge to the Natural Products Industry to define “wellness” and devise a Wellness Manifesto.  The industry tends to complain about CPG companies and fast-food hijacking the term “wellness,” without ever agreeing on what the standard of being well really is.  I applaud Alex for calling us out for not being proactive on what our industry should stand for as the debate over health, wellness, natural and organic continues to confuse people.  Will we let “wellness-washing” pervade the Natural Products Industry just as “green-washing” has?   Or will we take action?  Over to you…

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    2 Comments

    1. Lisa Kovener
      Posted March 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Well done, Mary,
      Love your color commentary!
      So true…the “wellness” description dilemna has been going on for so long – I think it’s wonderful that Alex has challenged us all to come together on this.

    2. Posted March 28, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Lisa, Thanks for reading my lengthy recap of Expo West to the end! I do hope that Alex Bogusky’s challenge to the Natural Products Industry does result in some coalescing of the industry on the issue of what “wellness” means. We’ve seen “natural” and “organic” watered down; I would hate to see other terms integral to the industry similarly hijacked.

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