March 16, 2009

elephant journal, the Final Review: Natural Products Expo West.


It’s four days after my first Natural Products Expo West, and I’m reminded of my Grandpa’s efforts to lose weight before a trip so he has room to gain it back. My pants are tight and I’m still recovering from the wild sample-driven, sugar-induced roller coaster ride I went on at NPEW.  This is not a place to go with a balanced diet in mind, unless you are careful and target only foods that you know you can eat without feeling lousy. 
Me, I had no such agenda in mind and sauntered in, gleefully sampling whatever I came across that looked and smelled halfway decent. “It’s just a sample” said the devilish voice in my head.  In the name of “research” for elephant, I think I can uncomfortably say that I gained a few pounds over the course of the three-day expo. Perhaps biking…or at least parking a few miles away, rather than mere blocks, would have been a good idea?!  I did get more exercise taking the bus, so that’s something I’ll keep in mind for next time. It also made me more mindful of the amount of stuff I carried away—bags full of product and brochures can make good weights.  
Should a product’s packaging serve as an intelligence test? I was given two pouches of Honest Kids beverages to review, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to puncture the pouches on my own!  I finally gave in and “Googled” the company in hopes of seeing a how-to pic—which I found, fortunately. I’ve been familiar with Honest Kids since the Green Business Conference last November in San Francisco, but was boggled by their packaging, and the beverages didn’t quite cut it for me in terms of taste.  I do appreciate their reasoning, however: it has much less sugar than other pouch-style beverages (like Kool Aid) and there’s an incentive for kids to save and return the pouches to Honest Kids.  A two cents per pouch incentive!  That adds up, especially if you’re a kid, and brings motivation to drink up!  Which marketing genius came up with that one? They’ve partnered with one of elephantjournal.com‘s favorite think-out-of-the-green-box companies, Terracycle, to upcycle their pouches in the form of useable things like a grocery bag I was shown at the Expo. Though Terracycle’s production and quality control needs some shaping up, it’s a nifty product and innovative approach worth noting. 
Many companies at NPEW offer a healthier alternative to better-known name brands. One such product was the peanut caramel “brown rice marshmallow treat” by Glenny’s.  It was tasty…but the fluffy, sink-your-teeth-into-it texture was sorely missing.  It’s a sticky subject, but  I think that Glenny’s might be wise to rethink their formula for this particular product. 
I most enjoy eating whole foods, for energetic reasons, and I usually pass on items labeled non-fat.  I made an exception in the case of Chobani Greek Yogurt.  Their peach non-fat yogurt was a refreshing snack after a long three days of Expo West. Their other flavors are all equally as yummy, and I would make a point of seeking them out in the store. 
Pitter Patties gets my number one vote for favorite name. Wild Thymes comes in as a close second.
Naturally Nora is memorable for the unusual amount of substance in their cake mixes. What’s missing?  A lot of fillers, chemicals, hydrogenated oils and dairy.  Naturally Nora’s mixes are vegan-friendly and apple sauce is recommended as a substitute for eggs.  I guess I got greedy and, after taking a huge mouthful of cupcake, wished for a cup of milk (I’m not vegan) to wash it down. So my suggestion is that you pick up your favorite dairy, soy, rice….some kind of milk beverage at the store along with your packages of Naturally Nora cake and frosting mixes. Because of their colorful packaging and clever names, such as Cheerful Chocolate and A Lotta Dots), they get my top pick for merchandising artistry.
Gourme Mist (no, there’s no t missing in Gourme), gets points for their patented non-aerosol oil dispenser, which leaves out alcohol and chemical propellants commonly found in such items. Something to note, exhibitors: their press-release is printed one sheet per page. Come on, let’s double up, please!  Back to back is not always as pretty, but shows that you care about the details—details are what makes the world go ’round. 
I’m glad I made a return trip to the Bossa Nova booth to speak with representative Mike Steele. He educated me about super-fruits, and was patient with my tongue-tiedness (last day, last interview). Thanks, Mike!  The bottle of acerola with mango juice was great to have as a post-Expo refresher. 
I generally steer clear of soy meat substitutes, but Vegetarian Plus had a wide variety of samples and (in the name of research) I had to check ’em out. I was surprised to find myself going back for second samplings of certain dishes. Hmmm.  I’m not sure I would buy the products, soy is not my thing, but I can see why others would. Their sauces are also delightful. 
In the name of collaboration, Revolution FoodsEcoMom AllianceKiwi Mag and My Healthy School.com have banded together to form their contest, Mom’s of the Revolution, celebrating moms and mother-types who are making a difference in the school lunch systems of their own communities.  According the Katie Sobel, “knowing how to cut through the red tape is specific to your home town.”  Five moms will be chosen, for actions great and small. 
If you’re yearning for “fifteen seconds of fame,” submit a video for CTN Green’s Earthday Video Mashup Contest.  Check ’em out!
Tisha Brady of Rainbow Light gets my pick for most personable interviewee.  She was helpful in answering my questions and offered some much-needed marketing advice for my own services. Thanks, Tisha! 
Ecousable caught me as I was heading toward the exit on Sunday afternoon. Seeing the glazed look in my eye, the rep wisely let me go, making sure that I had business card in hand.  Had I been more alert, I surely would have wanted to stay for a chat about their reusable water filtering bottles. 
ICI gets my vote for most innovative and customer-friendly packaging. 
The Perfect Puree offered an array of intense culinary palate pleasers.
The Natural Dentist had a wide variety of tasty products to choose from.  Unfortunately, many of them have fluoride, so I will probably steer clear and stick with my preferred Eco-DenT products. 
Ciao Bella Gelato’s “Malted Milkball” flavor and Three Senses Gourmet’s chocolate soufle tie for best dessert, in my opinion. 
A correction: Andrea Anderson and All Phases Event Group were responsible for booking G. Love and Special Sauce, not for providing “greening consulting” for the event.
The most unusual booth goes to Brahma Kumaris Meditation Centers.  I was glad to learn about their free meditation classes, particularly after feeling a bit frenzied from three days of intense activity.  A little downtime can go a long way, in my experience! 
There were so many amazing displays. Sustainable Sourcing gets my pick for most appealing display.  Goodbelly Probiotic Fruit Drink had the most inviting display, with their circular purple bench for a welcomed seating option. Who had the most eco-responsible display, do you think?
Stonewall Kitchen had the most visually organized display.
Delta Nove is my new favorite band (not brand). After seeing them perform live on Saturday night, I was impressed with their versatility and showmanship.  Somehow, I forgot to mention the band Curumin before. The members of Curumin had been flown in from Brazil specially for this event (I have to wonder at the extravagence of that gesture in terms of the Co2 emmissions involved.  It was an authentic experience, I suppose, but there are so many local bands to choose from.  That choice did give me pause and I would have liked to see a second, more local band).  Half of the crowd seemed to disappear by the time they took the stage.  It was interesting to see a drummer act as frontman, and they had some cool rhythms. It just didn’t really impress me.  I have to admit that, as a musician myself,  I am very particular (and peculiar) about my musical choices.
Also at the event was a Floating Bed, ping pong tables, various bars, and a place for lounge lizards to laze about between bouts of dancing. 
The Renegade Health Show is on tour until mid-April, and I met some of the staff in the press room.  They’ll be making stops in various cities in California, Nevada and Texas, via their green RV, “The Kale Whale.”  Love the name! 
I had a great time attending Natural Product Expo West on behalf of Elepant Journal.  It was a great experience with something for everyone, I’m sure.  There were so many booths (I probably saw a fifth of them in all three days that I attended). I didn’t hear any speakers or attend any of the educational events—if I had more lead time, I probably would have gone on Thursday for that purpose.  As it was, three days was plenty for me!  There was so much to see, so many directions to go in, so many things to sample and so many wonderful people to meet. I’m glad that I have the Buyer’s Guide to look at, even though I think it’s a tad overdone.  Then again, this is the largest expo that I’ve ever attended!  It was well organized and, according to Courtney Given of Fresh Ideas Group, over 53,000 people attended in the span of 4 days!  Wow.  That’s mind boggling.  I imagine that I’ll be among them again next time.  Until then, thanks for joining me on this journey.  See you next year!
More photos to come. 
Check out my blow-by-blow daily reports on Natural Product Expo West for Elephant Journal!
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