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Power Panel Calls for Collaboration at Natural Products Expo West

WGB is on the scene of the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event
Expo West Panel
Photograph by WGB Staff

Natural and organic products are continuing to tip into the mainstream with sales growing by 6.9% to nearly $220 billion in 2018, according to figures revealed at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., this week.

About 70% of that total is food and beverage, indicating the industry is continuing to define the future for food and CPG, said Carlotta Mast, SVP and market leader for the Boulder, Colo.-based New Hope Network, said in an opening panel at the Expo West event, which runs March 5-9. The 6.9% growth matched the rate the industry grew in 2017.

Mast was among a contingent of industry experts providing a comprehensive overview of the trends driving the industry, including the need to communicate more clearly with consumers and embrace more sustainable agriculture practices and packaging, challenges that Mast said called for cooperation between industry cohorts. “We need to find new ways—and possibly radical ways of collaborating,” if the industry is to find solutions to the world’s problems, Mast said.

Panelists included Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and principal of Stonewall Robb Advisors; Lara Dickinson, executive director and co-founder of OSC2, a Northern California-based community of sustainably focused natural products industry business leaders; Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Simple Mills in Chicago; Phil Taylor, founder of Mad Agriculture in Colorado; and Nick McCoy, managing director and co-founder of Whipstitch Capital.

Another hot topic of discussion centered on changing consumer preferences and, in turn, the ever-present consumer confusion that is a top liability, said Robb, the former Whole Foods executive. Whether struggling to make sense of ingredient lists or following the latest paleo “diet tribe,” the majority of consumers report feeling confused about making food and beverage choices, Robb said.

“Suppliers need to be honest about their products,” added Smith, whose own company conducts nutritional research to bring transparent information to its customers.

Mad Agriculture’s Taylor tackled the mounting need to create a more regenerative food system. “Organic is not enough,” said Taylor. “Regenerative organic is coming into full swing. Regenerative agriculture is not a trend. It’s a cultural revolution.”

The session concluded with a look at product packaging and its effect on the planet. Whole Foods Market, which named packaging and the OSC2 Packaging Collaborative as one of the top 10 food trends for 2019, is helping to attract the attention of a broader audience, said Dickinson.

“We have companies that carefully source organic products, but the packaging goes straight to landfill or the ocean,” said Dickinson, who is seeking to change that by securing a functional and sustainable option for heat sealable/flexible overwrap and pouch applications.

Dickinson urged major CPG companies to “get on this train” and work together to find better packaging solutions.

Kroger Hosts First Expo West Pitch, Town Hall Event

In other Expo West news, The Kroger Co. returned to Natural Products Expo West to scout out new partnerships at two exclusive events for entrepreneurs and emerging brands.

“This is Kroger’s 17th consecutive appearance at Expo West and one of our largest activations,” Robert Clark, Kroger’s SVP of merchandising, said in a statement. Noting that Expo West offers the Cincinnati-based retailer access to thousands of natural and organic suppliers, Clark said Kroger’s kick-off of the multiday expo began with its first pitch event that offered “brands the unique opportunity to present innovative and trending products to the company's category managers, buyers and merchandising leaders.”

Along with providing real-time feedback on products, Kroger will invite three standout brands from the first pitch to its Natural Foods Innovation Summit on April 17.

“Natural and organic products remain one of Kroger’s fastest-growing categories, and based on our 2019 food trends insights, we expect continued growth in this area,” said Clark.

More than 500 individuals representing 250 brands were expected to attend Kroger’s town hall event for a roundtable discussion with Kroger executives, including Kate Meyer, director of grocery and natural foods merchandising; Allison Kuhn, director of retail nutrition; Stephanie Herbert, promotional planning specialist, natural foods; Holly Adrien, senior category manager, baby; and Alexandra Trott, 84.51 degrees natural foods merchandising lead consultant

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