insights from the natural products show

Last week I attended the Natural Products Expo West, the “world’s largest natural and organic products tradeshow.”  Nearly 60,000 people attended the show to get a taste (figuratively and literally) of the latest and greatest in natural products, including snack foods, supplements, pet products, beverages, eco-friendly home products, and more from over 3,000 exhibits.

While my stomach has been convalescing from snacking my way through 4 convention halls worth of booths, I’ve had some time to digest (!) all that I saw there.  The brands and products which stood out to me had 4 things in common:

1.    great taste – I should preface this point by explaining I am not a picky eater, nor a food connoisseur; I also realize taste is a subjective thing.  So what I really want to emphasize is simply that food and beverage products need to taste great. Not just good.

At the show I tried a lot of good products – but the ones which really impressed me tasted distinctly better than similar offerings.  For example, I must have tried 4 or 5 different juice/juice-related beverages and the one which stood out as head and shoulders above the rest was Evolution.  Their orange juice really tastes like fresh-squeezed oranges; their Super Green product doesn’t have the grassy or grainy quality of other brands.

This principle applies to all products in crowded, competitive categories.  It’s not enough to simply be good – good is a cost of entry into the market. You must be great — and great in a way that your target customer notices and cares about.

2.    purpose behind the product – Companies which care about more than making a buck resonate with the increased social consciousness of today’s consumer.  This enables them to differentiate their brand and develop more sustainable relationships with people.

Project 7 provides an outstanding example of this.  The company manufactures bottled water, gum, mints and T-shirts.  For every purchase of one of their products, the company donates 50% of the profits to 7 areas of critical need in the world – “Build the Future, Feed the Hungry, Heal the Sick, Help Those in Need, Hope for Peace, House the Homeless, and Save the Earth.” Non-profit organizations (one per area) apply to be recipients and the “winners” are voted on by consumers.

Importantly this is not some discrete campaign the company pursues on the side as a way of fulfilling its corporate social responsibility.  It’s the foundation of the company and the core of their brand.

In the midst of all the food and snacking and sampling of the show, it was refreshing to come across companies promoting a higher calling.

3.    lifestyle integration – Using natural products is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle, but only a few companies at the show seemed to acknowledge this.

Most companies were very effective at promoting the features and benefits of their products, but brands like 22 Days Nutrition stood out because they’re promoting a complete approach to health.  In addition to truly great tasting drinks and bars (see point #1 above), 22 Days Nutrition includes a training program and online content.

The company was founded by Marco Borges, trainer to the stars, so it makes sense that they’re about more than selling a bar or two.  And name of the company comes from the idea that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit – real life change happens in “22 Days.”

It’s easy to see how brands which are based on more than the product will have more impact on consumers.

4.    clear and focused target – I’ve found that brands which try to appeal to everyone end up appealing to no one.  This could not have been demonstrated more clearly than at Expo West.

Several companies had schizophrenic products lines, selling everything from energy chews to roasted nuts; others promoted products which didn’t seem to have a clear reason for being.  These tended to get lost in the sea of exhibitors – and I’m sure the same will happen to their products on store shelves.

Belly Bar Nutrition, a line of bars and drinks for women before/during/after pregnancy, will certainly not have this problem.  By focusing on a specific target, the company enjoys instant salience and deep resonance.  It’s clear they are leveraging proprietary insights about their target in the products they manufacture and in the way they promote them.

Small companies with limited resources – like many of the exhibitors at the show – would achieve greater impact with a narrower focus.  Larger companies can use sub-brands and product lines for effective targeting.  For all organizations, it’s important to be clear about who your brand is for and why they should care.

Please check out the video I put together of the highlights from the show – and let me know what you think!

DLYohn Natural Products Expo Highlights from Denise Yohn on Vimeo.

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