What We Learned From attending Natural Products Expo West

Natural Products Expo West was held last month from March 5-9th in Anaheim, California. These few days were filled with education, exhibition, thought leadership, and networking from some of the rising stars and established names in the natural product industry. I attended this year to support existing client partners, scope out emerging trends, and learn more about this rapidly growing niche. Here are my biggest takeaways from Natural Products Expo West.

Expo West is overwhelmingly large, but with an intimate feel.

With approximately 85,000 people in attendance and around 5,000 different booths to explore, conquering NPEW definitely felt daunting as a first-timer. All of the heavy hitters were there, and the areas where these large companies were present did have a corporate vibe to them. However, the smaller natural product niches had a distinctly more intimate, family feel. These niches share common interests in their products and customers, as well as the macro trend toward a customer base that is growing increasingly more interested in brands that seek to build relationships with them.

Relationships are built with ‘hugs, not handshakes.’

Our FMI Emerge team was thrilled to attend Natural Products Expo West this year to meet with emerging brands wanting to scale sustainably, and to connect with many of the sponsors, mentors, advisors and subscribers who make up the Emerge community! A number of leaders within the industry are advisors and mentors to the Emerge program, and attended the show. NPEW was a terrific and timely opportunity to bring the various groups within Emerge together, in-person, so that we could continue to nurture and build relationships, exchange business ideas and foster partnerships across the industry and within the Emerge community.

Across industries, I’ve been to dozens of trade shows over the past two decades. They all have a different feel to them — from the way people interact and how old relationships are nurtured, to the way new ones are created. Before I went to NPEW, this show was described to me as being about “hugs not handshakes”, and at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I quickly realized the dynamic is more like a neighborhood picnic than a giant corporate luncheon. Through the growth of the natural product industry, competition has existed not among natural product companies, but between natural and traditional products. This circle of natural brands is one that encourages the successes of others within it.

One group dedicated to supporting and nurturing emerging brands, FMI Emerge, aids companies in increasing retail distribution and online sales, growing revenue and sales velocity, and ultimately securing more shelf space. The program helps emerging brands to fully integrate into the larger industry and become healthier trading partners. I’m a marketing mentor for this community and love their mission and what they’re adding to the industry.  I met up with Julie Pryor, the Director, who shared her insights on the event:

The food was awesome!

Taste is no longer a sacrifice that needs to be made when it comes to organic, vegan, gluten-free, and similar healthy food products. I was simply amazed by the robust flavor profiles while at NPEW. I said things like “Wait, that doesn’t have cheese in it? No way!” more than once during my taste testing.  Being allergic to lactose or gluten, or deciding to practice a vegan lifestyle, nor longer limits the foods you can eat. I even had a piece of vegan pizza that didn’t make me miss traditional pepperoni at all. Natural products are not a compromise now; they’re an enthusiastic choice consumers can confidently make, and a great tasting one at that.

In order to thrive,  brands must stand out.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but when natural products were only just on the rise, it was enough to stand out just to exist as vegan or organic. The uniqueness of a product was defined by its natural qualities and components. But now, as this niche builds steam, gains customer popularity, and thrives in taste, brands need something else to distinguish themselves from other brands. What makes one kind of vegan pepperoni better than the next? Natural food brands are going to have to work harder and smarter to stand out in the growing crowd of quality products, and this challenge is one that will truly determine long term success.


About the Author:

As the Managing Director of &Marketing and a mentor for FMI Emerge, Rajat “Raj” Kapur strives to provide small, medium, and mid-market businesses unparalleled marketing strategy and execution services. His team of professionals can either “augment” an existing team or “outsource” the marketing function for a client. Raj brings nearly two decades of professional experience in marketing, sales, and strategy development experience spanning B2B and B2C Fortune 50, mid-sized, and small companies.

About &Marketing:  

In today’s fast paced world, many small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to modernize their marketing approaches because either they don’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to do it themselves.

&Marketing (www.and-marketing.com) provides seasoned marketing strategy professionals, a nimble execution team, and mentorship through FMI Emergy, to help growing natural and organic food brands enhance awareness and achieve their goals. Our unique partnership model allows us to launch or augment our client’s existing teams in an affordable, flexible, and transparent way.