The 2016 Natural Products Expo (#ExpoWest) proved, once again, why it’s among the biggest and most important trade shows of the year. More than being a great gathering of brands and businesses, Expo West provides a critical look at the current and emerging trends that are driving the natural products industry.

This year’s opening “State of Natural” keynote set the tone for an incredible four days, offering attendees insight into the global shift happening in nutrition, which is actively moving toward becoming a more transparent, ethics-based industry.

The NetRush team spent weeks preparing their presentations, debating ideal footwear for the occasion (comfort comes first), and getting ready for all the meetings that would take place throughout the weekend. For us, the show is always a golden opportunity to visit our partners, shake hands in person (or more commonly hug), discuss long-view strategy, and share a few laughs. It’s also a chance to educate ourselves by listening to the industry’s leading voices and observe what is happening on a macro level.

And then, let’s not forget the sampling – one of the show’s most memorable aspects. Come Monday, those who attended #ExpoWest regaled fellow staff members with tales of paleo treats, vitamin-based chips, every manner of healthy chocolate, and a thousand other delicious treats.

Now that the show is over and we’ve had a chance to debrief, we wanted to share our key observations from #ExpoWest2016.

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The NetRush team (L to R): Tabatha Johnson, Brittney Weissenbuehler, Marissa Cook, John Waldram, Desirae Burkley, Shawn Fenton

The Industry Is Growing – Quickly

2016 was, by all accounts, the largest and most exciting show to date. The industry is growing at an incredible rate, and this was widely reflected in the number of vendors and media attention.

“The first major change I noticed was the size of the event, and how this mirrors the growth of the natural products industry as a whole. The show has always been a big deal, but it has accelerated at a much larger scale over the last twelve months. With the growth of the industry comes changes to its brands. The biggest indicator of these changes was booth-size. It was significant to see our partners moving into bigger booths with better positioning, alongside legacy brands at a show. Years ago, when we started working with some of our brands, they were at a trestle table with a banner behind it and very little wiggle room. Now they’ve got some of the most memorable booths at the show which draw crowds all day long.” ~ Tabatha Johnson, Director of Partnership Development

(Tabatha documented more of her reflections on industry changes, which you can read here.)

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MegaFood’s Mega Wonderful People: Megan Byrd, Lori Lodato and NetRush’s Tabatha Johnson

Granular Product Offerings

Modern consumers understand what their bodies need and brands are responding with very specific products, catering to individuals. The theme of customization is becoming more prominent across verticals, as people are becoming more self-aware. In the natural products industry, this is translating into granular product niches based on larger, overarching trends.

“I went to one of the lectures, the ‘What’s Next’ talk, which discussed upcoming trends in the industry. This, for me, was one of the most informative sessions I’ve attended and it definitely gave me some fresh insight into larger changes taking place on a product level. They broke it down into macro (overlying) and micro forces. If you look at the two charts below, there’s a lot of emphasis on specialty foods and functionality.

Macro Forces

  • Rehab in science
  • Ancient wisdom
  • Transcendent transparency (which was the most talked about trend)
  • The Values shopper
  • Food tribes (Paleo, Vegan)

Micro Forces

  • Mission-based brands ( brands that have the values of their manufacturers and retailers)
  • Pre and pro-biotics (falling into the science industry which also had clean eating, continued innovation, green chemistry and brain health. One thing I didn’t see in there was enzymes – not cool).
  • Source labeling
  • Paleo as part of the food tribes, gluten free, vegan, lifestyle products and plant-based food.
  • Hidden veggies (in chips and other food forms to make them appealing to kids).
  • Grass-fed Meat and Dairy” ~Brittney Weissenbuehler, Brand Manager

Ethics And Transparency

As noted in the event’s “State of the Industry” keynote, consumers are migrating towards brands that reflect their own sense of moral obligation. Natural consumers want to feel like they’re contributing towards something bigger and more important. In general, people are tired of supporting large corporations that sacrifice quality and standards for higher margins, and the brands are catching on to this. People are learning more about their brands and only want to support those that do the right thing, even if it’s more expensive. Transparency is essential. They want a premium product that works and they’ll pay for it.

“One of the things I saw over and over again was transparency in supply chains. Issues like sourcing and how brands track where are products coming from – this kept coming up. Ethics in the supply chain is at the forefront of the industry right now. The brands who want to stick around for the long haul are making this a priority. It’s a big underlying change happening in the industry, and it’s going to start separating brands. The other big topic was centered about going International. I was taken aback by how open and willing people were not just to have the conversation, but in them looking to us to take the first step.” ~Chris Marantette, Chief Financial Officer

Simplicity & Value

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Marissa and Desirae with Bear Naked’s friendly Bear.

For brands to remain competitive and cut through the white noise of competition, they need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate their value. We’ve gone beyond the stage where labeling is lost on consumers – they make decisions based on what’s in their products.

“The overall entrepreneurial spirit at the show made a strong impact on me. You could really feel how the emerging brands were doing their best to get your attention and make strides at the show. They were there to hustle and get their products next to established brands, to show their value. The other thing that stood out was the amount of nutrition they were packing into a each product, using as little ingredients as possible. This goes back to how transparency is becoming a bigger issue in the industry; brands want to able to easily explain what it is in their products, where it came from, and how much of it is in each serving.” ~Desirae Burkley, Brand Manager

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The team with Vinrant Health president, Ted Parker.

A Shift In NetRush

Over the years, as we have refined approach to working with brands by formalizing long-term partnerships, we’ve grown and matured alongside the industries we inhabit. Our focus on been on developing trust in our brand partners by providing their ideal consumers with premium experiences. This year, as noted by several of our team members, the shift is tangible.

“As we’ve grown and transitioned as a company, our vision for success has gotten tighter and tighter. It’s always refreshing to go to a show and have conversations that you know are meaningful, where you feel like you’ve had success based on a list of clear objectives that you started with. Success used to be having to speak to 300 people and rushing around non-stop. This goes back to what Chris was stating about everyone around us running around trying to get facetime with a rep, or get a deal or a particular price – that was us years ago. It’s rewarding to go in with very clear intentions and have very deep discussions that are more meaningful than working out a deal.”~Brian Gonsalves, Chief Executive Officer

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Britteny, Brian, Tabatha & VegiDay by Natural Factors

“For me, the biggest takeaway was people recognizing the NetRush name. We’d be walking by a table and people would stop us and say, ‘NetRush – I know you.’ That was really cool, because we’ve come from a place where we given us started as relative unknowns, to now, where the impact on this industry that we’ve made has given us some attention.” ~Marissa Cook, Partnership Development Manager

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Tabatha Johnson at the Alaffia booth.

 

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Shawn Fenton with American Ninja Warrior, Nicholas Coolridge, and Sunwarrior

 

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