It's one of the most buzzed-about events of the year and a bucket list expo for many food marketers across the globe: Expo West! Many of our produce industry colleagues who have had the opportunity to attend in the past have affectionately referred to the event as a bit of a "cluster" and boy, did their descriptions live up to our expectations as first-time attendees!
With so many better-for-you food brands to try, hands to shake, and marketing innovations to take note of, we've recapped our experience and the key takeaways that will benefit fresh produce & other food marketers.
What is Expo West?
With our own set of highly attended expos focused on fresh, Expo West might not be on your radar if you work in the fresh produce industry. But for many packaged food brands, Expo West (also known as the Natural Products Show) is the pinnacle of tradeshow events; a highly anticipated "Super Bowl" of better-for-you foods that can't be missed. The expo is marketed as the leading trade show in the natural, organic, and healthy products industry and exhibitors span the gamut of organic and natural foods, clean beauty, home products, CBD, and supplements. This year there were nearly 3,000 exhibitors and nearly 60,000 registered attendees - that's roughly half (give or take) of what Fresh Summit saw in 2018 and 2019 at its peak. Yes - this event is HUGE!
Trends We Noticed
In the opening educational session of Expo West, we learned all about how to celebrate the differences of each generation and use this to our advantage when navigating how they purchase food and respond to marketing messages. Here are a few of the key takeaways that we believe are important to share:
Dates, Dates, and more Dates!
We noticed right off the bat that dates are a big part of the ingredients list for brands at the expo. We saw companies using dates in interesting ways, such as ground down into a baking solution that could be used as a gluten alternative or as a sugar substitute, like organic date sugar from Just Date. Familiar uses of dates in packaged foods, such as butter and syrups, also dominated - giving consumers even more options to choose from when it comes to better-for-you snacks that satisfy a sweet tooth.
There's No Shortage in Branded Water
The space for still, flavored, and sparkling water in the beverage industry is about to explode if all of the brands we saw at Expo West can successfully fill the market. We saw countless bottled water companies showing off their beautiful packaging and crisp, bubbly products in a very wide range of flavors. From health-focused and good-for-you to fruity tropical flavors, the choices are endless! Some water companies, like the show-floor dominating Liquid Death, focus on packaging that looks similar to your favorite beer brands which definitely gets people curious and asking what you are drinking. Many others, like Path, took a sustainability-focused approach by offering packaged water in durable, refillable bottles that look sleek and attractive to carry around. Either way, there is sure to be a market share battle for these companies as shoppers are presented with an overwhelming number of options.
Vitamin & Collagen Infused Products
There are a lot more ways to get your daily dose of various vitamins, minerals, and supplements than your traditional capsule. While capsules and powders were still very prominent during the expo, more companies are offering infused waters, teas, and packaged foods that include a heaping dose of your favorite supplements. Collagen, which has been trending for some time, was extremely present throughout the show as a focal ingredient in many packaged products and drinks. In particular, we love stumbling upon the brand FX Chocolate, offering your favorite supplements in chocolate bar form - yes, please!
Our Biggest Takeaways
Marketing Matters - and These Brands Know it
The marketing prowess on display at Expo West was second to none. Nearly all of the exhibitors showed up in a way that indicates they clearly value and have invested in marketing and branding for their products to show up looking their best. Many of these brands have taken the time to create a consistent brand personality, look and feel that extends across all their assets. From their packaging to their handouts to the booth and booth workers themselves, they looked the part and the retailers were taking notice. Fresh produce marketers can gain a great deal of inspiration from these brands' approaches and while you may make the fair point that CPG budgets vs. fresh produce budgets are very different, we can still point out that marketing spend on fresh produce is still disproportionate to fresh dollar sales. Staying relevant requires branding in a competitive marketplace - and Expo West proves that.
Invest in a Booth as a Destination
Many of the most popular brands on the show floor showed up with a destination booth - one that entertains and represents itself as an embodiment of the brand itself. Many of these booths looked and sounded just like the brands' websites. Imagine if you could create a theme park for your brand and what it would look like? Sound like? How would the workers be dressed? Investing in this type of show floor destination is sure to make your brand stand out and attract retailers. Here are a few of our favorite in-line booths from the show (the show floor was SO. CROWDED. so please excuse our crowded and busy pics!):
Skyr Icelandic Yogurt
(I mean, the tables as the packaging - so cute!)
Should I Attend or Exhibit at Expo West?
If you're like us, you may have been hearing about this show for years and itching to check it out for yourself. With a steep price tag, however, we recommend taking a very strategic approach to give this event a try.
- You're already invested in or are ready to invest in branding and marketing in a big way and you want to look for inspiration.
- Your company is looking to expand into offering more packaged and convenience products and you've been tasked in an R&D or innovation role and want to trend-spot for ideas.
- You have a product that you'd like to market as an ingredient in better-for-you foods and you'd like to make connections with companies who may source from you in the future.
- You've invested deeply in branding and marketing and are ready to present yourself on the same stage as CPG players in a competitive space.
- You have a nutritious packaged/processed product that could be sold in center aisles alongside shelf-stable snacking options.
- You've done the leg work and are prepared to realize ROI patiently, with a strong strategy for whom you want to meet, how you're going to get them to the booth, and how you're going to engage with them after the show for many weeks or even months beyond.
For more on future shows planned in 2022, download our 2022 Produce Marketer's Calendar completely free of charge! This calendar puts 2022 into perspective from a marketer's view and includes the most important dates and events that you should consider to bolster your brand throughout the year.