When a show management can sell virtually every inch of available space and still turn away 120 exhibitors, you know the field is currently dynamic. And that's the position New Hope Communications found itself in during the recent Natural Products Expo -- East, held in Baltimore, Sept. 15-18. Entering the building, the mezzanine of the lobby was lined with exhibitor booths; the lobby itself was full; and when you registered on the second level, you found the large meeting rooms on the third level also filled to capacity. Show management had to turn down exhibitors because there was no room to accommodate them.
New products abounded, even if there were few real breakthroughs or examples of new trend-setting products. There was evidence of the growing "organic" and "natural" products trends spread throughout the halls. Many products proudly proclaim they are not developed through any sort of animal testing procedures, i.e., "No animal testing" and "Cruelty free." Additionally, the number of cause-related products were up. Several manufacturers made strong, beneficial environmental claims. More than 50 varieties of canned, carbonated and natural fruit juices from the Smucker Quality Beverages division of J.M. Smucker, Chico, Calif., are the first national brands to be packaged in environmentally superior paperboard ring carriers instead of those made from plastic. Those attending the shows are growing savvy about marketing, product introductions and particularly packaging. While important still, economy and ecology are starting to compete with market share, volume and profits. A number of products are being sold in plastic (recyclable) bottles, bulk food sources are producing their own prepackaged bags of grain and flour, and graphics are coming alive. The industry realizes there is a growing segment of the buying population that doesn't read labels, but still want to "feel good" about buying natural. Companies are putting "natural" all over the packages, but they are also making them look as good and catchy as the other packages on the supermarket shelf.
Yes, the supermarket is where most are headed. The natural products that want to succeed must be able to stand on their own in the supermarket.
For these still in the hardcore organic market, the issue of meaningful labeling and certification continues to dog the credibility of the market. It will probably continue to erode premiums as consumer confidence in the veracity of organic claims remains low. Organic products are also being swallowed in the broader consumer trend toward buying natural, not necessarily organic.
Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.