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9.29.2021
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After a Two-Year Hiatus, Natural Products Expo East Makes a Triumphant Return


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The biggest story of last week’s Natural Products Expo East show was that there was a show.

Behind the scenes over the past six months, ever since Expo West 2021 was canceled, New Hope Network was soaking in every data point that it could, trying to ascertain whether a successful Expo East was, in fact, viable.

“In July, vaccination rates were tapering, and in early August, there was the cancellation of the Fancy Food Show. Both of those things created concern, in addition to the spreading of the Delta variant,” said Carlotta Mast, Senior Vice President at Informa Markets’ New Hope Network. “We saw cancellations at that point and were meeting with the team 3-4x per week. We kept asking whether the buyers would be coming and would the ROI be there.”

“Yet, throughout all of this, our attendee registration was steady and increasing, and we were on track for an event not much smaller than 2019. After looking at all of the covid safety data and being as transparent with the community as possible, including soliciting feedback from everyone, the data showed that we could have a safe show. And I believe that we did have a safe show.”

This year’s Expo East, which garnered approximately 15,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors, required everyone entering the trade show floor to provide proof of vaccination or a negative covid test. Safe sampling and mandatory mask mandates were in place, with 30 safety ambassadors walking the floor.

Was there 100% compliance with the masks? No, but New Hope believed that there was strong compliance — an accurate assessment from my point of view.

NEW CONVENTION CENTER, DIFFERENT LAYOUT

With Philadelphia hosting Expo East for the very first time and having the show during covid, a great deal was new for both attendees and exhibitors.

Here were my observations of the show itself.

* In Philadelphia, the entire trade show floor was on one floor in one building, which was fantastic. It definitely made it easier to navigate the hundreds of exhibitors, and there was no traversing different buildings or different floors to see booths.

* A few very noticeable aspects of the show were much wider aisles on the trade show floor, on-floor seating and eating areas, and on-floor sampling stations/food trucks. I loved that the show floor was so spacious and self-contained.

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia had The Organic Park

 

* The Harvest Festival, which had traditionally been hosted outdoors in a covered space, was held indoors. Apparently, there was no outdoor space available.

* No carpeting on the trade show floor. This was done for both covid safety and sustainability reasons. Taking this measure saved 300,354 sq. ft. of carpet, padding and Visqueen. In the past, 76% of the carpet was returned to inventory but even with tremendous recycling and upcycling efforts, the carpet material usage was staggering. Also, by not shipping carpet to and from the show, New Hope saved on carbon emissions from transport.

At first, not having carpeting was jarring, as the show felt much more industrial. But on the second day, I didn’t give it a second thought. Comfortable shoes were an absolute must.

* Because it was the first time at the enormous Pennsylvania Convention Center, navigating the overall show was a bit of a challenge. No one knew where things were, and one couple told me it took them an hour to find the Harvest Festival. With newfound familiarity of the show and New Hope making continued efforts to understand traffic flow and improve signage, I do not expect this to be a problem going forward.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia main entrance

* At Expo East in Baltimore or Expo West in Anaheim, there has generally been one large, highly visible and populated main entrance, with outdoor sampling stations. In Philadelphia, there were no outdoor sampling stations — everything was done indoors — and that normally present electric energy from the main entrance was absent.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia had The Organic Park

* The Organic Park. This was a new section, carved out on the trade show floor in the Organic Hall. While there was not much happening in the park for this show, New Hope said it wants to fill the space with educational content, including booths from many of the non-profit groups, such as Rodale, Organic Farming Research Foundation and others. This could be an incredibly valuable opportunity for many NGOs to have a physical presence at Expo East for the first time ever. I spoke with New Hope about working with them on content for this area, and we’ll be having conversations in the months to come.

 

My biggest takeaway from last week’s Expo East was one of tremendous appreciation that we were able to have a show, and it was a sentiment that I routinely heard from attendees and exhibitors. Given the state of the world, it was an important first step back for Natural Product Expos and was about as perfect of a show that we could have had. Without question, it will serve as an impetus for brands and attendees to not miss out on Expo West 2022.

For Carlotta Mast, this expo also carried special importance.

“We needed this event to demonstrate that we could put on a safe, successful trade show, which we saw from the level of attendance and energy, the way the community showed up in a positive way and with grace, the high-quality interactions between buyers, exhibitors and investors, in groups and one-on-one. Shows like this help enable the collective change we want to have as a community, and without them, it is harder to showcase the voices moving us forward and the issues facing our industry. Moreover, in-person connection is vital for humans.”

 

TOP 5 ORGANIC PRODUCTS OF THE SHOW

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best organic products Flackers flax seed and organic fonio crackers

Fonio is an African grain that has been getting a good amount of buzz these past few years, and while I have been hearing about organic fonio from numerous producers, it still remains very hard to find. So, when I saw that Flackers is now offering organic flax seed and fonio crackers, I knew right away that the company had something unique.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best organic products Bon Appesweet organic chocolate bars sweetened with dates.

If Bon AppéSweet story doesn’t move you, I am not sure what will — you can watch the video here. The idea of Bon AppéSweet was founded in the broken heart of a deployed mother and active service member, and its chocolate bars make a real statement. They are 100% plant-based and dairy-free, everything is sweetened with dates, and no processed sugars or sugar alcohols are used. All of the ingredients are organic, with USDA organic certification imminent.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best organic products Alexandre Family Farm A2 grass-fed organic yogurt

Alexandre Family Farm is really raising the bar when it comes to regenerative organic dairy, and the company introduced A2/A2 Regenerative Organic Certified, 100% grass-fed yogurt — a very novel product. A2 dairy remains one of the best but least understood stories in the industry today.

 

Eden Foods introduced something that I cannot wait to get my hands on — shelf-stable, “live” organic miso. It comes in two varieties — barley & soybeans and barley & brown rice — and the packaging contains a one-way valve that allows fermentation gas to escape while preventing outside contamination.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best organic products plant perks plant-based organic French onion dip

Plant Perks is becoming a regular here, as it also took home my Top 5 of Expo East 2019. The company’s organic French onion dip was the very first thing I tried on Day 1 of the trade show floor, and it made a lasting impression. Plant-based, gluten-free and soy-free. Delicious!

 

BEST PACKAGING

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best packaging Forage Kombucha

There are many products that have pictures of fruits and vegetables on their label, but I can’t remember anything that is as dazzling and mesmerizing as what Forage Kombucha has put forth. I was at the company’s booth for about ten minutes, and nearly every single person who stopped by commented on the packaging. Sophisticated, stunning, world-class.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best packaging Ziba Foods

Even with all of the turmoil in Afghanistan, where Ziba Foods grows and packages all of its food, there has been no disturbance in business, fortunately. Just as the company’s story and products are fantastic, so is its packaging. Uplifting, beautiful, elegant, fantastic color schemes.

 

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best packaging Torie & Howard organic candy

For a candy product, balancing fun and engaging with excellent aesthetics is no easy feat, but Torie & Howard absolutely nailed it with its Gummi-Snaps. Whimsical, unique, incredibly creative and extremely appealing.

 

BEST INNOVATION

Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia best organic products Nourish Juice Bar organic HPP juice keg

Nourish Juice Bar in Pennsylvania easily took home the prize, as it showed up to Expo East with an HPP keg of cold-pressed organic juice. I have never seen an HHP’d keg of juice before, but this should be on every college campus in the country.

With gratitude,

Max Goldberg, Founder

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