If you have never attended Expo West, as I had not, no words or pictures can completely describe the event. It is HUGE! For four days, over 85,000 people descend on Anaheim, CA to take in the newest innovations and food products from the leading companies in the natural and organic space. Described as the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event – I can’t say I walked away feeling particularly healthy. Maybe my overindulgence and eagerness to see and engage as much as possible is to blame, but I flew home with an overflowing stomach and exhausted from the craziness of the activities. Dawn to Dusk. Food Samples Pushed for Seemingly Endless Consumption. Intense Networking. You need to find a quiet corner to catch your breath, but this was only for a minute because you needed to jump back in. So little time and so much to see!
While there were dozens of announcements about products and partnerships, I’m going to focus on 3 areas that peaked my interest.
Regenerative Agriculture and Climate Day Wednesday was Climate Day. This is the day when industry discusses innovative strategies that they are taking to combat the destruction of our soils and water. In today’s market environment this could seem quite depressing. But fear not – there is really good work going on out there. While there were a number of great examples, I want to highlight one announcement. Huge Kudos to General Mills and their entire team for two announcements! First, General Mills announced that they were creating the largest transition to organic production of contiguous American farmland in US history. I love this quote from Carla Vernon.
“We’re kind of obsessed with soil,” Carla Vernon, president of General Mills’ Annie’s unit. “And that’s because we know the power of soil is big.”
General Mills also announced that it was introducing two limited-edition products featuring ingredients grown using regenerative farming practices. Annie’s unveiled elbow pasta and cheddar and bunny-shaped baked graham snacks made using organic ingredients from regenerative farms in Montana. The farmers, Nate Powell-Palm and Casey Bailey, are named and pictured on the packaging. The products will be sold in Sprouts stores nationwide beginning in April, and General Mills is using this as a test case to see how consumers react to regenerative practices and increased transparency into their supply chain. We hope this small test case provides General Mills the confidence to adapt their supply chain to a more sustainable, transparent system model.
Carla – if this was your coming out party – A+! You shined!
Organic is Growing; Is there Star Power?
Scaling regenerative and organic farm production helps to potentially create more affordability and accessibility for more consumers that want more sustainable and traceable food. According to the Organic Trade Association, Organic food now accounts for more than five percent of total US food sales. Organic food sales increased over 8% from last year, blowing past the stagnant less than 1% growth rate in the overall food market. You can see and feel it from the vibe at the conference. Everyone is giddy and excited about the future. While the industry has a way to go…it has mojo and has broken through the fad vs. trend question. Millennials and Generation Z are not turning this clock back. While I noted what some of the big companies are doing….the small companies are shaking the industry from the ground up.
Entrepreneurs were running around Anaheim pitching their latest products. Innovation is everywhere. Even experienced CPG leaders are looking to jump on the curve of innovation in the organic/natural space. How do they find the next RX Bar or Epic? They want to be part of the team that changes the industry from the outside!
It also doesn’t hurt that movie stars are starting to engage more deeply in the industry. Prior to the conference we had seen public announcements from several Hollywood stars – including Leonardo DiCaprio backing Beyond Meat and Gwyneth Paltrow supporting Goop. However, at this event – we had Jennifer Garner and Sarah Michelle Gellar addressing the industry about the importance of healthy living and how our food is produced. Listening to their speeches makes you realize that their passion is real, and that the organic/natural industry will continue to see growth as the star power of Hollywood gets behind this movement. I guess eating food when you know the ingredients is cool!
Innovation through the Noise
Tons and tons of innovation is going on in the food industry. Whether it is further upstream at the farm, or downstream at the kitchen – over 3,500 exhibitors were on hand. A few great products or trends that I found:
1) Plant-based products are here to stay! Whether it is sausage, yogurt or ice cream…plant-based products are nearly as good OR better than animal-based products. These products have come a long way and I believe they will be the norm in 3-5 years! No wonder the Meat Association is pushing back on the definition of “meat.” They should be scared. However, history has shown that fighting innovation will only hasten your demise. Better to innovate!
2) Simple Ingredients/Less Sugar: This was a major theme that I found throughout the show. You sit at a booth and just listen and I found that the top question was, “how much sugar is in your product?” This was typically followed by “Can I see your ingredient list?” As someone who is trying to cut out as much sugar as I can, it is nice to hear buyers demanding less sugar.
3) The Power of Functional Ingredients: I know you are buying my product – but did you know that it can help you with your mental and physical well-being? Really…sign me up! Ok, so maybe I am not completely sold on this…but it is getting there. More and more companies are marketing the importance of certain ingredients in their products to boost your performance. We are learning much more about the spices, plants and minerals around us. We are learning how they impact our gut, brain and heart.
Companies are realizing that by including these ingredients in their products they can latch on to a fad (or trend) – and differentiate their product from the look-alikes.
To next year…when I act like a veteran.