The 2012 Natural Products Expo West tradeshow was the largest in its 30-year history. Some 60,000 industry members attended the event, which ran March 8–11 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Show organizers said attendance of retail buyers grew 13% this year, which made for a good show, say many exhibitors.

Noticing an increased presence of buyers was 12-time attendee Jake Field, national sales guru at Epic Industries: “Overall, it’s one of the better expos I’ve attended; a fair amount of buyers have come by.”

Matt McLean, CEO and founder of Uncle Matt’s Organics, stated, “We’ve had plenty of good traffic, as much as or more than last season. We rolled out some new products. It was nice to have a few new items for people to come by and see.”

Foot traffic was heavy in the personal care aisles, too. Kaitlin Ball, events and marketing coordinator for Evofem Inc., stated, “The weekend is going good so far. It’s been very busy, Saturday especially.”

Expo West may be expanding in the pet care arena, according to Ryan Phillips, chief operating officer of Holistic Pet Organics: “It’s a great show, always fun to come. The pet section is definitely growing. It’s been great being here for the past five years and seeing the section grow.”

Overall, many exhibitors were very happy with the turnout. Said Chris Cook, vice president of marketing at O.N.E. Coconut Water: “This is the best show in the last five years in terms of the amount of traffic we’ve received…We’re probably giving out 50% more samples versus last year…The amount of people here is good for the industry overall.”

Product Launches Dominate Expo West, Special Operations Marine Launches Energy Shot
More than 2,000 companies (540 of them newcomers) occupied the one million-ft2 show floor, giving attendees much to see and learn.

WholeFoods editors identified several trends on the show floor, including the following:

• Food companies were inserting nutrition into snacks in new ways (Mystic Harvest’s Purple Corn Tortilla Chips with antioxidants, kale snacks and kids’ foods such as Happy Tot Plus from Happy Family, chia drinks and foods, like those from Mamma Chia, baobab fruit treats from Baobab Foods and hummus and lentil crackers/chips from Mediterranean Snacks). Greek yogurt was hot, too, including the launch of one combined with gluten-free granola from Alpina.

Green-home care was branching out, from reusable bamboo towels from Bambooee to eco-friendly car washes (Washdrops) to Baby Ecos laundry detergent and stain remover from Earth Friendly Products.

• As for personal care, it seemed like everyone had worked on kids and babies lines, including a sunscreen from Dolphin Organics, skincare/washes from Seventh Generation, a new line from Monkey Sea Monkey Doo, and a new look from California Baby.

• Several supplement makers were busy extending lines in unique ways. Hero Nutritionals now offers a diabetes care gummy supplement, Nutrawise now offers You Theory mixed collagen supplement (types 1, 2 and 3), Global Health Trax launched a vegetarian D supplement in spray from, Barlean’s now has Omega Swirl To-Go packs and a crystallized form, and Solgar launched a quick-acting joint care product called 7. With seven joint care ingredients, the product promises results in just seven days.

Probiotics in food was an interesting development, for example Ganeden BioTech’s GanedenBC30 infused into Naked Pizza frozen pizza.

• There seems to be a push from supplement makers and especially omega-3-focused companies to cater to the vegetarian consumer, by emphasizing their non-fish derived offerings such as flax oil and new vegetarian options containing the desirable omega-3s DHA and EPA, including at least one product sourced from microalgae (Algae Omega from Nordic Naturals). MegaFood launched a certified vegan supplement line for those on plant-based diets.

• The gluten-free trend is now ubiquitous, with companies even touting gluten-free as a selling-point for products one might not ordinarily associate with gluten (many beverages, for example). Unique launches included gluten-free panko breadcrumbs from Ian’s, seasoned coating mixes from Namaste Foods and a pizza crust mix from Pamela’s Products.

One new launch came with a compelling backstory. Special Operations Marine Major Robert Dyer was proudly serving in Afghanistan when he came up with an interesting idea for a dietary supplement. He and his fellow servicemen and women regularly took several supplements, but they needed something compact, requiring little water to take and offering sustaining energy and nutrition. To meet this need, Dyer came up with RuckPack, a 13-ingredient energy shot tested for efficacy by fellow Marines and Special Operations Forces during combat. The 2-oz. supplement contains vitamins (like B12), electrolytes, MSM, chondroitin, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and more.

RuckPack is offered by Noots! Nutrition, LLC (a 90% military member-owned and -operated company), which gives at least 10% of proceeds to non-profits. The product was launched on Veterans Day 2011.

Some companies made a big splash off the show floor. Rushmore Essentials hosted a drink reception at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to celebrate the release of its vitality drinks, the 2.5-oz. shot REvive and 32-oz. bottled REvitalize, with martini glasses brimming with RE drinks, live music from local bands and an ice sculpture in the shape of the name of the new product. The drinks contain 21 superfruits to provide antioxidants while leaving out preservatives and added sugar, and also contain green tea extract, the company’s answer to adding caffeine to an energy drink without the artificial stimulants. “Our energy comes from natural nutrition, better nutrition, balanced nutrition and powerful antioxidants,” said brand strategist Tom Morris. “We want to make the body strong instead of strip-mining the body of nutrients. Real life and real energy comes from real ingredients and natural sources.”

Non-GMO Trend Explodes at Expo West
A bit of observation at 2012’s edition of Expo West confirmed that the movement against unlabeled and unregulated genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply has reached a fevered pitch. Much of this crescendo can be attributed to the grass roots political movements involving GMOs that have blossomed in recent months, making this a time of heightened intensity, and a potential turning point for the growing number of advocates on this issue.

Soapbox artists and clipboard-wielding petitioners gathered attention for the non-GMO movement on the show floor, engaging passersby in discussions on GMOs from various angles: their arguably unknown and potentially negative impact on human health and development, the consumer’s right to be informed of the presence of GMOs in their food, the worry over cross-contamination of organic agriculture with GMO crops, and so on. The Non-GMO Project, responsible for verifying that individual products contain only non-genetically modified elements, made its presence felt through its own booth and education efforts, and through the increasing number of food products that its certification seal (a butterfly landing on a green checkmark resembling a blade of grass) is now gracing.

Other floor efforts included the drive for more attention on two political fronts. There was the locally focused California Ballot Initiative that needed to gather 800,000 in-person signatures by April 22 to get mandatory GMO labeling for food on the 2012 California Ballot; and the Just Label It campaign, a national petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to urge federally mandated GMO labeling, which had already closed in on its goal of one million signees by the time of the show.

Discussion of GMOs and their potential impact on organic food could be heard throughout Expo West’s educational seminars and satellite events. There was the preview and discussion of a new film on GMO labeling with Elizabeth Kucinich, along with filmmakers Jeremy Seifert and Josh Kunau, also known for the film Dive! One session focused on “Managing the Non-GMO Message,” with panel moderator Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, and others helping to give retailers the tools and confidence to jump into the fray of the GMO debate. In “Our Right to Know!”, industry leaders likeUNFI’s Michael Funk and Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg discussed the California and federal GMO labeling initiatives.

At a Nature’s Path Foods event, where the subject of the Non-GMO movement came up often, one attendee equated the importance of the right to know if GMOs are in our food with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Industry Stalwarts Celebrate Milestone Years
celebrated its 100-year anniversary with a Hawaiian luau blow-out, complete with tropical leis and flowers for guests, palm trees and surfboard wallpaper, straw huts and a tropical fruit display as well as stir fry and salad stations featuring Bragg salad dressings. Their signature apple cider vinegars were served alongside beer and wine at the bar. “Dancing keeps you young!” said Patricia Bragg, who danced all night to the music of the 18-piece band and Sinatra-esque crooner.

Throughout the event, a few speeches were made by members of the Bragg Foods family and taped congratulation videos rolled from friends and celebrity consumers. These included Clint Eastwood and Katy Perry, whose parents spoke at the event. The night culminated with a lit display of vegan, carrot cake cupcakes in the shape of a giant “100” and Patricia Bragg surprising everyone by popping out of the middle “0” and continuing her joyful dancing.

Wakunaga of America Co., Ltd., maker of aged garlic extract supplements, held what has become an annual event for the company, a Japanese buffet celebrating its partners and the firm’s own commitment to scientific excellence. This year’s event coincided with the 40th anniversary of the company, and the theme of long-lived success rang throughout the night. A long line of speakers mounted the small stage in a ballroom in Disney’s Paradise Pier hotel, including radio hosts, employees and retailers, all singing the praises of the people and products that make up Wakunaga. Sales director Jay Levy served as host, and a live band preceded the speakers’ remarks as guests ate from the buffet.

Reserveage Sponsors Women in Naturals Event
Friday night featured the networking event Women in Naturals at the Anaheim Hilton as a way for industry women to mingle and make connections with their peers in the natural products community. The event was sponsored by Reserveage Organics and featured DAWN (Developing and Advancing Women in Naturals). Five women spoke, Naomi Whittel, founder and CEO of Reserveage Organics, and Cynthia Barstow, president of Seed to Shelf Marketing for Sustainability included among them, and presented messages of empowerment and encouragement for all women wanting to advance in the natural industry.

Nature’s Path Hosts Press Lunch, Joins Rodale Institute’s Scholarship Program
Nature’s Path hosted a press lunch at the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday, March 9, that focused on the company’s new products and initiatives. One of the more significant items to come out of the press lunch was the announcement that the Rodale Institute, a non-profit dedicated to organic farming research and outreach, will welcome Nature’s Path as a partner in its Your 2 Cents program, and will name a scholarship for Nature’s Path founder and CEO Arran Stephens.

The company, an organic cereal manufacturer based in Richmond, BC, Canada, is the newest partner in Rodale’s Your 2 Cents program. This effort financially supports the next generation of organic farmers through the donation of two cents per case of select goods sold by program partners.

In keeping with the press event’s “Feel the Love” theme, Arjan Stephens, son of founder Arran Stephens, and his wife Rimjhim presented three new flavors of the company’s Love Crunch Granolas: Apple Crumble, Carrot Cake and Aloha Blend. Arran Stephens also took time to discuss the company’s commitment to the Non-GMO movement and fielded comments from attendees on this issue.

Attendees Offered a Good Read
Book launches were plentiful at Expo West. Among them was For Better or for Work, written by Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, featured speaker at this year’s tradeshow. Along with her husband Gary, the Hirshbergs were founders of Stonyfield Yogurt and owners of all the stress and hardship that comes with entrepreneurship. Her book draws from their experience to teach others about how to balance work and life. “When a couple is married to a business as well as each other,” she stated during the session, “both spouses need to believe in the family business.” She offered tips like taking vacations and putting phones away during family time to support the family’s core.

A packed talk was given by Michael T. Murray, N.D., of Natural Factors and author of the new book Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia: What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know. Murray spoke of the many side effects of sedative drugs and described how they “don’t allow for deeper levels of sleep.” Users may sleep longer, but aren’t experiencing restful sleep. “Sleep quality matters,” he stated and explained techniques for improving sleep quality (like limited stress, leveling blood sugar and more). He also tied in how supplements such as PGX and enteric-coated 5-HTP can help.

On the show floor at the Continental Vitamin Company booth, Sally M. Pacholok, R.N., co-author of Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses, spoke about an important issue: B12 deficiency is the cause of many illnesses, she stated, yet physicians don’t often test for it. “B12 deficiency can cause mental issues like forgetfulness and depression,” among other problems like neuropathy, anemia, fatigue and more, she feels. “Deficiency is common as you age,” said Pacholok. Those at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency include vegans/vegetarians, those with small intestine diseases, those that have nutrient absorption problems and those on proton-pump inhibitors. Again, B12 deficiency isn’t routinely tested. “It’s a shame what’s happening behind closed doors,” said Pacholok, who suggested injections for severely deficient individuals and sublingual B12 (1,000 mcg) for others.

In a seminar based on his book, Spontaneous Happiness, Andrew Weil, M.D., invoked diet and lifestyle principles that he believes lead away from inflammation and depressive mood states and toward long- term health. He interwove this advice with a more general discussion of depression and society, stating that our goal should be to achieve contentment, not necessarily happiness in every moment of our lives.

Heel Brings in New CEO
Homeopathic medicine specialist Heel USA came to Expo West with its new CEO and General Manager Cliff Clive and some fresh ideas. Though Clive has only been with the firm since late December, he has been hard at work implementing some interesting ideas at Heel.

Clive’s background is rich in international leadership positions for companies like Procter & Gamble, Roche and Nestle and he had been a consultant for Heel since 2009. He told WholeFoods that he has been impressed with Heel’s high-level scientists and “people passionate about the quality of products they make.” Clive noted that he is “looking forward to bringing Heel’s product line to many more consumers.”

His ideas for broadening Heel’s reach are evident in some recent launches for the company. For instance, the firm launched at the show a pocket pack of Adrisin that offers 15 doses for an SRP of $3.99. This offers a lower entry point for consumers who previously were buying a 60-count bottle for about $9.95. Also, Heel now offers its popular Traumeel joint health product as a combination of ointment and tablets, which saves shoppers about $15. Given the widespread problems of joint pain many Americans must deal with, “Adrisin is an important solution to a massive problem,” says Clive.

Vitamin Angels Hits Home Run with Fundraiser
For the second year in a row, Vitamin Angels supporters enjoyed a night at Angel’s Stadium while raising funds for the charity. Several hundred industry members participated in the League of Angels 2012.

This year, attendees had the chance to enter a photo booth and put their own faces on a baseball card. Others made a contribution and pitched on the Big League field.

The evening’s program also included speeches from Vitamin Angels president and founder Howard Schiffer, who stated that the group helped enough children in 2011 to fill 555 Angel’s Stadiums. Also taking the mic was Melissa Robles of the Northeast Community Clinic, which has received donations of multivitamins for kids and their mothers from Vitamin Angels.

A highlight of the evening was a video featuring Shilpa Bhatte, who helps coordinate Vitamin Angels’ efforts in India. The video made clear that excellent work is being done worldwide to help kids in need, and the industry can open its heart even more to reach others. Those interested in donating can visit

Educational Session Wrap-up
In the “State of the Industry Panel” from Engredea, panelists (including Len Monheit, of New Hope Natural Media and Patrick Rea and Tom Aarts of Nutrition Business Journal) pinpointed several industry trends to consider: increased mergers/acquisitions activity (like Pfizer’s purchase of Alacer Corp.), more interest in international research, class action lawsuits affecting the industry, potential political shake-ups and more.

A session entitled, “Recollections of a Recall” reviewed the “emotionally devastating time” of Odwalla’s salmonella recall. The take-home message is that all companies should have a crisis management plan in place.

Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, talked about why salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna dominate our fish choices. “There’s a disturbing desire to get rid of irregularity,” he stated and offered suggestions for moving toward a more sustainable seafood harvest.

At the Press Briefing Breakfast, members of the media were treated to insights into the natural and organic sector from Tyler Florence, co-founder of Sprout Food, Inc. and Carlotta Mast, editor-in-chief of and Natural Foods Merchandiser. Florence spoke about the importance of “leading from the front” on important issues. He discussed topics ranging from the impact of GMOs on human health to trends in nutricosmetics and supplements.

Presented by Rainbow Light, “Integrative Approach to Inflammation, Pain and Chronic Disease” gave attendees an inside look at clinical research findings on herbal therapies for inflammatory diseases. Michael Amster, medical director at the NorthBay Center for Pain Management; Christopher Hobbs, director of herbal science for Rainbow Light; and Rainbow Light’s president Linda Kahler delved into the widespread problem of chronic inflammation and the mechanisms behind it. They then addressed how COX inflammation pathways can be modulated by herbal therapies.

Non-profit group The Organic Center hosted its 9th Annual VIP Dinner. Featured speaker Alan Greene, M.D., began by talking about the role of whole, organic food in early life nutrition, and moved on to discuss his broader notion that the organic industry is on “the leading edge of health.” He told attendees, “Let’s think about organic as normal, not as a niche part of the food industry, but as the default.” He stressed that the way forward for organic as an industry is to unite rather than quarrel internally.

An important element of the evening was promoting “The Lexicon of Sustainability,” a unique art project led by photographer Douglas Gayeton, which strives to depict the many ways that sustainable agriculture is practiced throughout society. Members of The Organic Center and key sponsors spoke about the organization’s ongoing mission and accomplishments throughout the year, and awards were given to Erin Schrode, co-founder of Teens Turning Green, and Dag Falck of Nature’s Path for their contributions to the organic and sustainability movements.

At a Japanese breakfast and seminar presented by Mushroom Wisdom, Ward Bond, Ph.D., accompanied by a slideshow, informed attendees about the many documented benefits of Lion’s Mane mushroom, particularly for the brain and those at risk of dementia.

“Write to be Read and Increase Sales” was a seminar conducted by sisters Kymberly Williams Evans and Alexandria Williams, MA. The duo gave a tour of what successful business blogging looks like, including tips such as “help your reader help you,” a goal they say can be accomplished by making sure every blog post has a clear purpose or suggested action that the reader should take.

Nordic Naturals hosted a breakfast presentation for media on the importance of finding “what is essential” in leading a happy, full life with emphasis on family and children. Three speakers were featured: Dr. Keri Marshall, chief medical officer of Nordic Naturals, Anni Daulter, author of Sacred Pregnancy, who shared her personal experience of childbirth and childrearing, and Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, executive director and CEO of Healthy Child, Healthy World, a national non-profit aimed at empowering parents to protect kids from chemicals in the home, of which Nordic Naturals is a partner. During her presentation, Sarnoff described the dangers children face coming in to our modern world, and stressed the importance of a chemical-free household. “There’s so much more to keeping your family healthy than just buying organic foods,” said Sarnoff. “Kids today make up 30% of the population, but they are 100% of our future, so it’s important for all of us, whether it’s for our kids or someone else’s children, to do everything we can to create a better world for them.”

Awards at Expo West
Expo West hosted its inaugural Hall of Legends to honor “individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and evolution of our natural products industry.” The 13 first honorees have “devoted significant portions of their lives making this industry what it is today.” They are Annette Dickinson, CRN; Bob MacLeod and Steve Byckiewicz, Kiss my Face; El Richard, NOW Foods; Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield; Jeffrey Bland, Metagenics; John Carlson, Carlson Labs; Loren Israelsen, UNPA; Mark Blumenthal, ABC; Michael Funk, UNFI; Sandy Gooch, Mrs. Gooch’s; herbalist Norm Farnsworth; and Steve Demos, WhiteWave and NextFoods.

Continuing its annual tradition, Nutracon gave out its NutrAwards for Best New Ingredient and Best New Finished Product. Taking home the honor in the latter category was Portobello Mushroom Powder by Dole Nutrition Institute. This vitamin D supplement is intended to be sprinkled on foods and offers 150% of one’s daily requirement per teaspoon.

InterHealth Nutraceuticals’ Zychrome won in the ingredients category. This chromium complex ingredient is said to be “twice as effective as chromium picolinate in supporting insulin function.” The company says this ingredient will reinvent the diabetes support market.

Engredea gave out its Editors’ Choice Awards to: Helios Corp. for best science; Indena’s Lymphaselect botanical for most obscure; Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex for best marketing; DSM and Provexi for best partnership; Ilhwa’s Gin ST15 for best botanical; Orgenetics organic ingredients for best supplement ingredient; Oat Tech’s Oatsweet for best food ingredient; and Kyowa Hakko’s Sustamine for best beverage ingredient. 

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2012