Last week, we sent a crew of five to Natural Products Expo West, one of the leading trade shows in the natural, organic and health product industry where over 80,000 industry professionals gather each year. Our team was there to mingle with a few of our clients (hi Hain, Mission, General Mills and Hormel) and see what’s new and trending in the natural space. Here are some thoughts from Damien Moore-Evans, our Engagement Director and Vannett Li, Strategist:
This year, more than years past, we’re seeing brands make a more concerted effort to be culturally relevant, and a greater emphasis on activations that connect with audiences in immersive experiences that reinforce the brand’s promise.
While Expo West obviously showcases those in the natural and organic worlds, the breadth of brands/products and the differentiation of ingredients and benefits they’re touting only emphasizes the growing nature of this category.
Collagen was an ingredient many brands highlighted which we found interesting as it is typically associated with beauty regimes; however, as we know the beauty sector only continues to soar, it makes all the more sense that collagen-infused products would find its ways to the supermarket aisle. And what to make of the rise of CBD oil which was a presence at the Expo? This makes us wonder: What other ingredients are people putting on their faces that could possibly be ingested? And should brands be exploring this as they innovate on product creation? Another “ingredient” (what does one call safe bacteria and yeast anyway?) is Probiotics. We all know the supplements industry has been gaining popularity as of late, indicating consumers are adamant that what they are consuming not only satisfies their appetite but actually contributes to their body functionality and digestive system. In short, consumers don’t desire solely nourishment, they demand enhancement.
The relaunch and rebrand efforts of Boca, the meatless burger offer from Kraft Heinz was indicative by legacy CPB brands refusing to acquiesce to technologists and innovators in Silicon Valley on what non-meat “meats” should taste like. As one of the original leaders of the vegetarian burger, Boca is now facing fierce competition by newcomers like Impossible Burger, which is backed and supported by the like Bill Gates and David Chang who know a thing or two about innovating for consumers. We believe the newfound interest in this category is again a reflection of the Millennial generation (soon to be the most dominant in spending power) and their discerning taste and access to choice.
On-the-go foods, in the form of snacks and specialized water were prominent at the Expo. Healthy snack items such as yogurt and yogurt drinks (we’re excited to see the upcoming offering from Chobani). Portability and variety was key and it was most apparent in the increase in flavor offerings from protein and granola bar brands. The continued popularity of bar brands has paved the way to the introduction “kid” friendly bars with companies such as KIND and RX introducing their own versions. What we find interesting is the mindset and standards that consumers are applying to their own food consumption is spilling over to their their kin as well. Brands looking to enter the playing field of “kid food” should recognize the importance of tracking not just what’s popular with children’s diets but also, their parents diets. Brands should ask themselves, “What food trends would parents most likely want to migrate over to their children?”
While some may be apt to call it a “health and wellness” trend, as our co-worker Christina Papale addressed previously in her blog “How Culture Drives Brands”, it has become macro and is indicative of more accurately, a movement. Brands looking to capitalize on the movement should not just look at individual production creation nor even a portfolio re-assessment. Instead, they should consider how this movement should affect the entirety of how they manufacture and market their entire brand.
Beyond the range of brands and products we were introduced to, the myriad of experiential activations further reiterated of one CBX’s core beliefs that the experience the consumer has with the brand, is the brand itself. From airstreams, food trucks, mascots and booths that touted product ingredients (Chobani and Nature’s Path) or the dominance of one ingredient over the other (Maranatha Butter and their “Too Good for Jelly” campaign brought to life by their Sad Jelly mascot). Activations that engaged were ones that educated and delighted, differentiating themselves from the over 3,000 other brands in attendance. Some of our favorites included the gigantic Sun Bum monkey, the flying wasps digital screen from General Mills and the instantly-noticeable energetic activation from Hippeas.
For CBX, an experience like Expo West always does the following – remind us of the unique ways brands are innovating and encourage us to think of how we can do the same for the brands on our roster. Whether it’s introducing a new product or finding a way to bring the products to life, it is pertinent for brands to continually seek ways to demonstrate quality, value and authenticity in what they do and how they communicate. After all, a great brand story can only be delivered by a great brand.