Expo West 2015: Biggest Show to Date

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Natural Products Expo West (co-located with Engredea) firmly held onto its position as a premier convention for natural products businesses with its biggest show ever.

 

 

WholeFoods Publisher Heather Wainer (left) presents the 2015 Natural Products Industry Person of the Year award to Megan Westgate (right), founder of the Non-GMO Project.

According to show organizers, Expo West (held at the Anaheim Convention Center, March 4–8) grew 7.2% in attendance this year to 71,000 industry members, including those from over 2,700 exhibiting companies. For the first time ever, the exhibitors were positioned across the entire length of the convention center’s main level as well as smaller halls on the upper level, lower floor and across the street at the Hilton Hotel Anaheim.

Many exhibitors were thrilled with the attendance and exposure. Doon Wintz, president of Wholly Wholesome and Wholly Gluten Free, said, “There was good traffic and very qualified leads, but not so crazy as to be unmanageable. Sometimes, too many people coming by means you miss the ones you really want to speak with because you are tied up.”

Speaking of the breadth of retail attendees, Michael Tierney, president of first-time Expo West exhibitor Mikey’s Muffins, said, “We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with some of the big box retailers such as Sam’s Club, Costco and Target—as well as major supermarkets such as Kroger. Aside from these retailers, there was also an overwhelming amount of interest from independent retailers from around the country…and even the world.”

“West is always the biggest and the busiest. We see the big companies, and a lot of smaller, new companies, which is always great to see,” said Wendy Lucas, vice president of marketing for Desert Essence.

As far as trends for new product launches, foods for special diets (gluten/allergen-free) and non-GMO products maintained a growing presence.

Speaking of her company’s vegan whoopee pies, Lesley Kaplan, co-founder of The Piping Gourmets, states, “A lot of people were thrilled to find a dessert that is both gluten free and dairy free. It’s that key combination that people first and foremost look for—and our vegan attribute is an add-on that we find is in high demand, as well.

 Katherine Franklin, director of marketing at Follow Your Heart, agrees that vegan and “free from” products are strong magnets for shoppers. She states, “[Retailers] have a growing interest in vegan and healthier options and their value to consumers as a resource for food decisions is becoming stronger, as more options like our newest vegan cheeses are becoming available…Our new Vegan Cheese Slices and blocks were a huge hit and the sample line was an impressive six people deep the entire show.”

Wintz adds that retailers had positive reactions to the company’s new all-natural, gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Similarly, Heather Stouffer, founder and CEO of Mom Made Foods, said her gluten-free launches were a hit. “Attendees were eager to taste our Gluten-free Cheesy Mac and Gluten-free Turkey Meatball Bites; we had great conversations with interested buyers and we held successful meetings with existing retailers and brokers,” she said.

As for non-GMO products, Brandy Gamoning, marketing manager for NestFresh/Hidden Villa Ranch, stated, “From customers to media, everyone always has questions about GMOs and is interested in Non-GMO products. Every year, more exhibitors have non-GMO products and verification and are seeking us out asking us for eggs in bulk.”

Boyan Kinov, owner of John’s Garden in Malibu, said his contingent was focusing on product qualities like gluten-free, sugar-free and non-GMO: “We’ve been looking at pre-packaged nuts and bars, drinks, things like that. It’s more about exploring, discovering.”

Snack foods had a large presence, including several popcorn companies showing off unique flavors. California-made Gaslamp Popcorn, for instance, debuted new flavor combinations like Mango Habanero Salsa and Sweet Fiesta Lime. “This is our third year participating and we feel that each show we come away with great reactions, feedback and more popcorn brand lovers,” stated Mark Singleton, vice president of sales and marketing.

Other trends included sports supplements, energy products, clean caffeine sources, quinoa, kale, coconut products, children’s products, Paleo diet foods and more. There was also an overarching movement toward product label transparency and single-origin ingredients.

Several companies also launched new or refreshed exhibit booths and new packaging for top lines.

“This year, we put some really nice touches on our booth, including a hand-built barn to display our products and building a map that shows the network of family farmers,” said Gamoning.

American Health showed off its new tradeshow booth, which featured several kiosk-like sections that “represent how customers shop in the store,” said Dorie Greenblatt, director of sales and marketing.

The firm also highlighted its signature Home Health Almond Glow line, which recently received a fresh new look. While the original peanut, olive, almond and lanolin oils and vitamin E formulas remain intact, the updated bottles have a modern, sophisticated design with a colorful cutout showcasing the moisturizing body lotion oil. According to Greenblatt, the packaging restage will continue across Home Health’s product portfolio in the coming months. She stated, “Our goal is to modernize the company’s brand image with a refreshing, new, contemporary package, expand our market appeal to a broader natural health food demographic, and reinforce our long standing commitment to offering high-performing, clean ingredient and natural personal care that is always free of artificial fragrances, colors and phthalates.”

Overall, Expo West continued to showcase both large and small companies, including several recently acquired brands. “There were a lot of bigger brands acquiring some of the smaller, innovative and niche brands. This was clearly evident,” says Kaplan. “As a smaller brand, we feel it’s important to always be on the lookout for what innovation is coming from the smaller, more nimble brands. This creativity is where our competition lies.”

One exhibitor, George Denman, vice president of sales for Graeter’s Ice Cream, felt this tradeshow may be more beneficial to younger companies than well-established brands like his. “From our vantage point, the challenge for Expo West is this: the bigger and more mature you become, the less valuable it is for established brands, and it becomes better suited for those who are prospecting and looking to grow as a company,” he stated.

For more trends from Expo West, read a perspective from The Trent Trend Spotter, Nancy Trent, president of Trent & Company Marketing Communications, at www.wholefoodsmagazine.com/blog/newcomers-and-makeovers.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2015 (online 4/6/15)