If you’re a veteran of Natural Products Expo West, you know attendees are looking for samples, special show pricing and product information. But perhaps another motivation for Expo West attendance could surpass the urge to stockpile these three resources: finding exciting, new products.

Retailers have the challenge of keeping up with current trends while staying true to their original intent of offering great, healthy natural products. They rely on new items to sustain their businesses, since fresh offerings draw in new customers and keep devotees engaged. Without high-quality, innovative products, natural- and organic-focused stores would quickly grow stale.

Expo West 2012 proved the industry is anything but past its prime. New products were in abundance in many market areas.  But, call me paranoid; I still couldn’t shake the feeling that landing new products in the supplement aisles could become mission impossible one day.

The New SKU
Let’s have the good news first. The convention was clearly ripe with new products and WholeFoods editors flagged some specific trends (stay tuned for our complete wrap-up in the May 2012 issue).

Food companies were using nutritional powerhouse ingredients in new ways (probiotic-enriched pizza, kale snacks and kids’ foods, chia drinks, baobab fruit snacks and lentil crackers/chips). In the home care section, green dominated everything, from reusable bamboo towels to eco-friendly car washes. As for personal care, we saw a general thread of fresh dental care offerings, an increased presence of baby items and impressive skincare lines. Supplement makers were busy extending lines, and we also found some unique new items like a vegetarian D supplement, a mixed collagen supplement (types 1, 2 and 3) and a quick-acting joint care product. Suppliers impressed with new research.

Among all these launches (and others that I don’t have the room to mention), an overarching theme emerged: enthusiasm. It didn’t matter how large or small the company, but it seemed to me that Expo West didn’t have just its usual buzz—rather, I felt a distinct electricity.

Many companies were making the choice to boldly step out of the shadow of economic uncertainty. They were ready to show the world something new—and importantly, they believed in themselves and the capabilities their newest launches were bringing to the table.

Stepping Out with Care
At the same time, I spoke with other companies that—while still having enthusiasm for their missions and capabilities—seemed a bit muted, feeling betrayed by potential regulatory threats (read: the proposed New Dietary Ingredients Guidance [NDIG]). Even though we still haven’t heard any definitive word on what the final draft will entail, many supplement makers are cautiously proceeding with new launches. It is completely understandable, but unsettling nonetheless that a tentative guidance that still could be withdrawn or rewritten is threatening enough to make some walk on eggshells for the time being.

Regardless of this slight strain of conservatism, know that those who want to bury the supplements industry are not winning out. While companies are right to be cautious now, no threat can strip us of our passion and our commitment. Firms are holding strong and so are shoppers. According to a new Council for Responsible Nutrition study, 69% of U.S. adults bought supplements in 2011. We might be waiting to see what happens with NDIG and strategizing our potential response, but there’s no stopping the supplements industry. WF

Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner
Editor/Associate Publisher

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2012