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Musings from Expo East 2018

Like I’m sure it is for many, in the almost 20 years I’ve been working in this space, the events I have attended have pretty much become a blur. In some cases though, there’s an anchor interaction, town hall, theme, or even a single meeting that entrenches a tradeshow in one’s mind. And for this year’s Natural Products Expo East event in Baltimore a couple weeks ago, there were a couple noteworthy aspects that will allow me to recall it well.

We were all bracing for a weather event that never happened – at least not in Baltimore. Thoughts certainly go out, and did go out to those who suffered during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Our natural products community is one of the most caring and passionate groups I’ve ever had the fortune to work with, and efforts to support hurricane victims and communities commenced immediately.

It was interesting to watch the dialogue on social media leading up to the show. Many took exceptional steps in order to attend. I was told about the Walmart buyers who originally canceled their trip when it became obvious that going through Charlotte was an impossibility. Intending to fulfill their commitment to the show, the group ultimately hopped into cars and made the trek that way.

Smaller, less busy shows can be more intimate and productive. Many attendees this year discovered that traffic was lighter than they had expected. Some vendors rolled up early, while others took advantage of the opportunity to get deeper into the discussions they could have. On the buyer side, again, the conversations were often deeper and more productive. And there was show floor and education excitement. To more than a few veterans, this year’s Expo East was reminiscent of 2001, where the show took place in DC just weeks after 9-11. At that event, the people who participated truly went out of their way in order to do so and be part of the industry community coming together, and while this year certainly had different circumstances and context, a similar attitude of committing to and caring for the community was evident.

At the Expo West CBD Summit earlier this year, there was certainly excitement in the room, but there was a very curious and generally measured approach to the category. This time, at Expo East, to the cheers of ‘Hemp, hemp hurrah’, the gloves ‘came off’, and a vibrant, wild west attitude and spirit truly prevailed around the category. And on the floor, hemp was everywhere, in ingestibles and topicals; there were even CBD waters. In the supplements aisles, several new entries showed exclusively hemp and CBD products. And the ‘veterans’ of the space, CV Sciences and Charlotte’s Web were mobbed. I observed very few broad line companies actively promoting CBD specifically; Barleans was one. The Council for Responsible Nutrition has made their view very clear on CBD by entitling the session at their upcoming conference in a few weeks, “For Adults Only: What you need to know about CBD”. At Expo East, energy, youthful enthusiasm and more than a bit of naivete prevailed.

Excitement overall in the supplement aisles was pretty minimal, with the possible exception of keto and to a lesser extent collagen/aging products. Keto, in fact was ubiquitous, and appears to have great staying power. Regenerative agriculture and the calling out of companies showing leadership was very evident.

Expo East has never truly been about ingredients, so the fact that fewer than ever of our ingredients ‘folks’ took in the show should come as little surprise.

What was happening on the rest of the show floor? Many of the bloggers and journalists have done their analyses and reports, but from my perspective, I noted more kombucha presence than I expected (more in number, diversity and maturity). Plant-based products and alternatives were everywhere, and for the first time, I noticed the broadening of mushroom products and applications – into jerky, broths, coffees and many other formats.

From a TTC standpoint, as many of our followers know, Trust Transparency Center has recently taken on leadership of the Coconut Coalition of the Americas (CCA). Interest in this group, coconut oil and other coconut products was high in Baltimore and culminated in the Coalition’s Town Hall regarding responding to recent vilification of coconut oil – attended by 40 people the Thursday evening. To anyone looking to get involved with us on this project, please reach out.

That’s all for this ‘Musings’ piece. I know I’ll see many of you at SupplySide West where we can ‘muse’ some more.


P.S. For more on Expo East, there’s a good round-up over on the Nunesso platform. What’s Nunesso? This piece explains it and contact me (lmonheit AT trusttransparency DOT com) if you want to learn more and/or contribute.