State of the Industry: Key Learning from Natural Products Expo West 2015.

Wow! I just finished two days at the Natural Products Expo West. It was busier than I have ever seen it. Nearly 70,000 people — all seeking and striving to find that one new product that can make a difference to them and to the world.

It is such a positive and upbeat group, lots of of energy. Focused on health and wellness, “better for you” foods, and an industry that is expected to grow 64% over the next 4 years. That means more than double the existing products — that’s a fantastic sign that health and wellness is on the mind of consumers.


Now, I could just talk about the products and give you a short summary.  But that is not what I found most important at the Expo this year.  My belief is that everyone is so focused on the products that they miss the real zeitgeist of Expo West!

Expo West serves as this fantastic hub where people can come together — can imagine, dream and talk with others about a vision for the future… and everyone you talk with understands.

So, even though I’m going to give you a traditional product summary, my real report is a bit different. I want to report on and tell you about a health and wellness industry that is in a rapid growth phase. In other words, what I loved about Expo West this year was the youthful enthusiasm grounded by the leaders that started this industry 30 years ago. This is a group of inspiring young people, coupled with seasoned professionals that are doing great things. That is what I saw at Expo West. Young people excited about coming up with new ways to create healthy products, along with a group of elders making sure they do.

For this to happen, two things are required… 1) an environment where anything is possible, and 2) a core that is a grounding, beating heart, made up of individuals who dream about making a difference. When these two things come together, a real difference can be made for the health and wellness of people and the planet.

Here is an example of what I love about the seasoned elders of the movement at Expo West… Friday evening there was a band playing for the reception. The band was rocking out, getting everybody pumped up and dancing and having a blast! It was sponsored by Cliff Bar, the company founded by Gary Erickson. It’s one of the few companies that have refused to sell to a big food company. But you might ask why this was so inspiring, and I will tell you. All the members of the band — at least 10 plus crew members — where full time employees of Cliff Bar and you’ll never believe who the guy playing trumpet was. Yes, it was Gary Erickson. I think that is just the way it should be.

For me, talking with people like Michael Funk, founder of United Natural Foods (wearing his classic purple tennis shoes, hemp vest and long grey pony tail) or Steve Demos, in a classic t-shirt with lips, jeans and signature ear ring — saying he might have one more round — was what this gathering was all about. In case you don’t now, Demos created soy milk and the brand Silk.

I also had the opportunity to talk with Bob Scowcroft, former Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Now, he spends time as an Organic Historian, talking all over the country without pay, just to make sure the story is told.

Oh, and I don’t want to forget Jim Slama. He’s a friend who has dedicated his life to small family farms and is working on ways to help us increase the supply of organics.

I could go on and on. But, first, let me give you a short summary of trends and products that I think stood out this year.

  • Paleo Diet —  trending toward high protein, low carbohydrate, with results being protein added to products and carbohydrates taken out of products — examples include protein water, high protein filtered milk, Paleo ice pops, kale bars — you name it.
  • Water, Water, Everywhere — Maple Water, Watermelon Water, Caffein Waters, Cactus Water
  • Probiotics — “Good for your gut” healthy ingredients in everything. I’m really glad to see this trend. Examples include probiotic juices, chocolates and bars.
  • Chia and Hemp Seeds — There were 7 hemp booths and I actually lost count of the number of Chia booths. But these two ingredients were making a big appearance.
  • Avocado Is The Next Big Fruit  — Yep, avocado is a fruit, just like a tomato! I always have to remind myself of that. Many new products containing avocado. My favorite by far was the avocado mayonnaise.

Ok, now that the product and trend report that typically comes out of Expo West is out of the way, let me just say, there is a real message here — Expo West is a source of inspiration. It’s a safe place for people to explore and express.

Walking out of the event, I was beaming and so energized. I began talking with a young girl named Vani. She told Wild Oats CEO Tom Casey and I such a great story about how the FoodBabe blog started. She began by asking a large fast food company for the complete list of ingredients and they wouldn’t give them to her. This bothered her.  So she went to the restaurant and asked an employee too see the packaging and ingredients, and the employee showed her. She saw that there was a questionable ingredient in the product, and she wrote to the company, but got no response.

So, she started blogging about this ingredient. Within two weeks the company contacted her and agreed to phase out the ingredient! She said, “Wow! I have that kind of power? Are you kidding me?”  She’s continued to blog and to uncover questionable practices. One day, she said to her husband that she was going to have to quit work to keep blogging. She said she wondered how they were going to keep up with the mortgage and expenses. She said she wasn’t sure what her husband would say. But to her surprise, he said, ”Why did it take you this long!”  That’s how FoodBabe came to life. And it changed the way big companies look at the consumer.

Vani is an inspiration to me and to anyone that doubts they can make a difference. That’s what I love about the youth at Expo West. So, to anyone reading this, the message is this…  Yes you can make a difference.

Our Wild Oats bloggers are partners who love to share their passion and knowledge about better living! While we compensate them for being a part of this vibrant community, their views and opinions are their own and do not signify Wild Oats' opinions, endorsement or recommendations. Wild Oats reserves the right to moderate and remove comments that are off-topic or inappropriate, so please help us keep this community clean, fun and valuable!

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