Go West! – Random Thoughts About The National Products Expo West

Posted on Saturday 14 March 2009

The National Products Expo West held March 6-8 at the Anaheim Convention Center is an interesting amalgam of categories (foods, supplements, cosmetics), products and companies (from small “trying to get their break” companies to international corporations). I heard several people talk about how in the olden days (the nineties perhaps?) the show was less “big business” and more a feel-good event with companies that were selling healthful, natural products. But now, with “natural” being a big consumer buzz word in any industry, the show has grown into a diverse free-for-all-with big and small companies alike fighting to gain a share in the market and on the shelves of the attending retailers.

Here’s some rambling thoughts on the show from a food perspective:

Natural Products? No Kidding.
Hemp, chia and grass were several of the very, very natural products I saw and tried at the show. Hemp showed up in Hemp Milk. Chia in various granolas and as a topping on yogurt. And, grass? Amazing Grass was promoting its SuperFood energy bar.

Know How To Intro A New Product/Concept
As mentioned above, chia was a food ingredient being touted by several companies. “What is it?” I asked the booth rep of one such company. “You know what a chia pet is?” he asked. Well, yeah, I thought. But, I’ve never wanted to eat a chia pet. The guy manning Dylan’s Chia Granola booth had a much better explanation. It’s a seed that’s high in Omega 3 and tasty in granola. Now, that made way more sense. Dylan’s seems to understand that they’ll need to separate themselves from the famous Cha-Cha-Cha Chia pet.

Best Use of Social Media
Linda at the Tanka Bar booth was tweeting (you know, as in twitter) people’s comments after they sampled the company’s dried buffalo and cranberry bars–even the negative reviews. Why the bad ones too? Because it enhanced the believability of the positive comments, she told me. And, heck, the posts got me over to the booth to try the product.

Sample That Inspired The Longest Line
Applegate Farms’ Beef Hot Dogs. I’ve seen this phenomenon at other shows too with different vendors. What is it about free hot dogs? The line was three booths long. Makes you feel sorry for the booths being blocked.

Make Room For Stevia
The trend with the best chance of really hitting it big was Stevia.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Probably it’s already hit it big what with Coke & Cargill making Truvia and Pepsi & Merisant, the maker of Equal, producing PureVia. While at the show you could find many products touting their use of the brand, and even some independent growers selling direct, it’s only a matter of time before it ends up in actual Coke and Pepsi products and Stevia expands beyond Natural Products Expo West to grocery and convenience store trade shows.

The Functional Foods Viewpoint
Two functional food companies told me that the category is about to really take off. Their reasoning was based on the economy. Less money and healthcare meant that people were turning to functional foods as a way to stay healthy. Is this a good idea? I don’t know. Nonetheless, a current study predicts a 7% compound annual growth rate for the category through 2012, so there’s no denying the companies were on to something.

My Breaking Point
Some 20 aisles in on Sunday, I started to get a little loopy. The low point came when I walked up to someone at the Amy’s booth and said, “I like your chicken sausage. Are you sampling any?” The woman looked at me funny, “We only produce vegetarian products.” Yeah, um, oops. Turns out I was thinking of Sausages By Amylu (not at the show). So, that was kind of close.

Faux Foods
There were so many foods trying to be something they weren’t. Rice-based meat alternatives. Meatless Chicken Parmigiana. Vegan cheeses and ice creams. Plus, and this is just a rough estimate, a million gluten-free items. It’s amazing the creativity that’s gone in to these “alternatives” and how diverse they’ve gotten. But, is there really a market for all of these? No. How can there be? That’s why these companies will have to fight tooth and nail to capture the minds of those people who are the target and thus, enough market share to stay alive. But, then again, that’s the case with any brand and product, isn’t it?

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