Lessons from Expo West


It has been two days since my plane landed in New Jersey from California, and I’m still exhausted. I, like a huge majority of WholeFoods readers, attended Natural Products Expo West, the largest and arguably most influential tradeshow in the natural products industry. It’s the event that can make or break new brands, help industry veterans forge meaningful connections and fuel the minds of attendees with fresh ideas for months to come.

In our May print issue—and even sooner on WholeFoodsMagazine.com—the WholeFoods editorial team will be releasing the news, videos and photos collected at the show. But while it’s fresh in my mind, here is what has occupied my thoughts in my post-Expo West stupor.
1. New, New and More New
Over the years, I’ve heard more than one person say that new products are the lifeblood of the industry. Certainly, new products were surging through the veins of Expo West 2016. I’d say at least 85% of the companies I spoke with at the show were launching new products or ingredients. While this lifeblood adds excitement and intrigue, attracts new consumers and keeps invested shoppers engaged, sometimes creating “new” for the sake of “new” adds more fog than clarity to the market. I’d bet some of your bestsellers are tried-and-true formulas launched years ago, and that’s fantastic. In my opinion, shiny and new only benefits the industry when it moves us forward in some way.Wakunaga of America Co. Ltd.

Personally, I would love it if even a small fraction of the companies with new launches used that investment to sponsor some amazing research that solidifies the benefits of their finished product. To me, that would be just as valuable an infusion of “new” into the industry’s bloodstream.
2. Clustering of New
Now, don’t get me wrong. Novel and truly innovative products give this industry incredible energy and appeal. This tradeshow, in particular, was ripe with clusters of “new” around certain product areas. A few come to mind: probiotic foods and beverages, plant-based protein powders and foods, healthy snacks and sports nutrition supplements (including some that aren’t typically “sports” related, but could somehow benefit athletes and were draped with a robe of fresh marketing).

I wondered how retailers could choose. Assuming the product quality and company reputations are comparable, what would make a retailer go with one chia blend over another? Retailers certainly don’t have an easy job making selections for fresh products in these crowded categories.
3. In Search of Clean
I spoke with more than one person at the show who wasn’t entirely happy with the labels on some products. Certain companies launching products in hot categories were more interested in getting something to market than getting something quality to market. Again, this clouds the good that this industry offers, and isn’t helpful for any of us. One retailer told me that it wasted her time to see so much “garbage” at the show. Author and WholeFoods Nutrition Mythbuster Jonny Bowden had a similar experience. Check out his monthly e-column at WholeFoodsMagazine.com/Columns.
4. Craving Education
The last issue rolling around in my brain is education. Retailers are craving it. I’ve never seen so many well-attended education sessions with the audience clearly engaged throughout.

This underscored to me the incredible value of business-to-bus iness education. At a time when the industry is crowded with tons of ideas, new things and foggy information from mainstream media sources, it made me as proud as ever to be part of the WholeFoods team, one that aims to present good natural products industry information carefully and responsibly. WFEditorial

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine April 2015