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Expo East in Boston - Take 2

Expo East in Boston - Take 2

Welcome to Boston and Natural Products Expo East! It’s the 24th year that the folks at New Hope Natural Media have put on the East Coast’s premiere event for all things wellness. Supermarket News attends this show not just because we’re part of the Penton Media family, but because the extent to which the products exhibited at the show are now found in the conventional retail channels that we cover.

Let’s face it. The health and wellness business has gone mainstream — an assertion supported by our very own U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer, when it released a report tracing the growth of the organic industry in the United States. Domestic sales of organic products topped $21 billion in 2008 — making up more than 3% of total food sales. According to our sister publication Nutrition Business Journal, sales will reach $23 billion by the end of this year.

The gateway categories of produce and dairy still reign supreme: fruits and vegetables comprised 37% of U.S. organic food sales in 2008, followed by dairy at 16%. Then comes beverage and packaged foods at 13% each. Areas of fastest growth include the organic beverage sector, which grew by 40% in 2008, and organic breads and grains, which jumped ahead 35% over the preceding year.

These are exactly the types of products we see in the crowded aisles of the natural food shows, especially Expos East and West. Every show I’ve attended includes a New Products Showcase in the outer lobby, where display cases are crammed with new ideas, brand extensions and better-for-you versions of conventional foods. It seems nothing can dampen the enthusiasm for health and wellness. I remember attending Expo West earlier this year, wondering how the recession would impact an industry so sensitive to commodity cost inputs and reluctant consumers unwilling to pay retail premiums on wellness products.

Boy, it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm and energy on the show floor, in the aisles and during the seminars. Most of the optimism stemmed from the belief that, with dollars tight and jobs scarce, people would use food and diet to prevent getting sick in the first place. And that meant natural and organic foods, supplements and wellness products would be in even greater demand.

It’s been 6 months since we last took the pulse of the marketplace. Buoyed by a tentative recovery, and endorsed by the government, let’s see how further along we are in the mainstreaming of whole health. See you on the floor!

(Photo credit: Geof Wilson)