Conference Beat™ – Natural Products Expo East – Baltimore, Maryland September 2014

Over 24,000 natural food enthusiasts attended this festival of conscious capitalism.  There is no mistaking that this is not a “big food” show.  Even the largest exhibitors are featuring collections of brands and products all designed for a unique consumer target. Everyone has a story about food, family and the passion that ignited their business.


Expo Highlights:

  • Consistent double digit growth in all categories of organic and natural foods brought 400 new exhibitors among the 1,200 that were present.
  • Accessibility of healthful food is on the minds of many attending this show that want to find a solution to serving the 24 million Americans who live in food deserts.
  • The politics of food and government regulation is a hot topic and the focal point of the Natural Products Association that works on behalf of the companies in the natural products industry.


Sustainability As A Movement

Whether it’s the Founder and CEO of Hampton Foods, a leading food technology company on a mission, or the Guerilla Gardener, Ron Finley, reclaiming the empty lots in south central Los Angeles to create community gardens, sustainability is a movement that is lighting the path for the food industry.  The common goal is making it easy to do the right thing (and creating some level of consensus on what the right thing is).


Real Food Renaissance

There was much discussion that wisdom has returned to the conversation about nutrition with real foods in the spotlight rather than foods manufactured to meet a dietary fad.  Minimal ingredients and clean labels are expected among those exhibiting at this show.  Ancient has become the new “new” with the future looking more like the past.  Words like simple, honest and naked were used to describe many offerings at this show.


The Science of Diet

Among the hottest selling books were those debunking myths that have become nutrition reality.  Speakers at one session were unafraid to make bold claims like “fat is back!”  There is a growing belief that fat and even saturated fat do not cause heart disease; it is cheap, heated, low quality oil that tainted an entire category as a necessary component of a healthy diet.


The Paleo Diet has become more than simply a diet, but a total lifestyle choice among a growing number of consumers.  It was the most-searched for diet of 2013, according to the Google Trends Zeitgeist List.


Trending Now

Experts including representatives from a leading trade publication, the Natural Products Association, a natural foods broker and natural foods advocate shared their take on the trends in a jam packed session that had attendees sitting on the floor and listening in from the hallway.  Here is summary of their take on the hot trends in natural food and beverage:


  • Grass Fed Superfood – everything from beef to butter for the super nutrients gained from this method.
  • Cold Processed Functional Beverages – cold pressed juices and cold brewed coffee are leading this mega trend in beverage.
  • Organic Frozen Fruits and Vegetables – of the moment freshness that is captured at the time of harvest is allowing consumers the delight of having their favorite organic produce all year long.
  • Healthier Salted Snacks – kale chips with bold flavors that appeal to men and rice chips coated in dark chocolate for the female consumer along with many varieties of bean, rice and corn based chips for a wide range of natural food consumers are energizing this category.
  • Nut & Seed Butters – with worries of the dangers of fat fading into the sunset, nutritious nut and seed butters are growing in popularity.
  • Chocolate – one of America’s favorite treats is becoming known for the delicious plus of nutrients and big bars of premium chocolates are on the rise.
  • All Things Coconut – led by coconut water, look for significantly more beverage offerings and other ingredients like coconut milk to gain favor.
  • Raw, Sprouted and Fermented – words and processes that were once the realm of only the true believers are moving into more popular mainstream products.  Hippie has indeed become Hip.
  • Fat is Back – the long term trend is toward fat becoming a bigger part of the diet.
  • Crunchy, Salty, Sweet Snack Satisfaction – snack companies offering consumers the satisfaction of their favorite junk food snacks with more healthful ingredients are feeding the crave for consumers.


Innovative New Products

Every trade show has a new product showcase, and entrants at this show included many line extensions of popular favorites.  In the hotly competitive beverage category, My Cause Spring Water brought customization to a new level.  When customers purchase the water they can go on the website and designate a cause that is uniquely meaningful to them.


Innovative up-cycling was seen at Bambeco with hand-blown recycled glassware and service ware with an artistic flair.


Taste Talk Tweet

Expo East tweeters could not stop chirping about chocolate and wellness. Attendees were raving about chocolate ranging from gluten-free brownie crisps and whoopee pies to chocolate that’s brewed just like coffee. Health benefits of chocolate were in the spotlight and the options were plentiful. Labels stating non-GMO, paleo/primal, vegan, and free from gluten, dairy, and soy could be found everywhere.


It’s no surprise that talk of wellness was buzzing at the Natural Products Expo. Tweeters were urging supermarkets to take the high road on wellness, suggesting that food needs to be brought back to the center of medicine, highlighting the link between a good diet and good health.


Social media chatter suggested many ways for supermarkets to better their wellness strategies, such as making healthy options more affordable, having knowledgeable staff present to answer consumers’ questions, and reacting fast to quickly changing trends.


If you would like to follow our observations in real time, please follow us at  The next conference we will cover is National Association of Convenience Stores in Las Vegas, October 7-10.


Implications for Food Marketers

  • Accessibility Of Natural Foods. With the entry of Walmart and Target into the natural and organic category, there is greater accessibility to food and beverages at all price points.
  • Mandatory Transparency. Consumers expect to have the inside look at how their food has been harvested, processed and brought to them.
  • New Federal Standards For Gluten Free. New regulations came into play August 2014 to define gluten free which has grown in popularity with consumers beyond those with a medical need for a gluten free diet.
  • Shared Values. Consumers want to buy food from retailers and restaurants that share their values about food, the people involved in creating their meal and the planet.

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