Natural Products Expo West was the first food trade show to be canceled in 2020 as the Covid pandemic became an international concern. Three years later, Expo West was back with a bang, welcoming 57,000 attendees and more than 2,700 exhibitors last week (March 8-12) at the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center.
Attendance was far lower than the estimated 85,000 who attended the 2019 show, but it still was a huge and carefully restricted success (registrants had to provide proof of Covid vaccination and masks were required – although not truly enforced).
It's overwhelmingly a food show, showcasing the newest innovations in natural and organic foods and beverages; but it also houses cleaning, health & beauty and home products, supplements and ingredients. Attendees typically are retailers from stores such as Albertson’s, Kroger, Aldi, 7-Eleven, Sprouts, Whole Foods Market, etc., seeking out the hottest new products for their store shelves.
“Expo West is a good place to understand what's coming up next and find emerging brands that are just starting out,” said Adam Franks, Director of Emerging Brands at 7-Eleven. "7-Eleven has been trying hard to branch out in organic and specialty, to bring in some new brands and find items that our customers wouldn't be expecting. Expo West is a great place for that, it makes me feel energized and invigorated to be here."
While General Mills and Conagra were there and Hershey was represented by its Amplify Brands snack division, some big names from past shows were absent: Chobani, Clif Bar, Danone, Hain Celestial, Stonyfield/Lactalis. While there were plant-based analogues everywhere – far outnumbering actual meat companies—neither Impossible Foods nor Beyond Meat was there. Only a small handful of CBD companies exhibited.
Nevertheless, companies with names like FroozeBalls, Rollin' & Bowlin' and Machu Picchu made their debuts, among the 625 up-and-coming brands exhibiting for the first time. Show sponsors Informa Markets and New Hope Network presented their Nexty Awards for the most novel new products; Tanka Bars, part of Native American Natural Foods, won the Pitch Slam competition; and the Rising Star award went to Navy veteran Thereasa Black, founder of Bon AppeSweet.
This year's Hollywood star – there seems to be one every year – was actress Jennifer Garner, clogging up the aisle in front of Once Upon a Farm Co., which she co-founded.