Wow! What a show!
This past weekend, I attended the 30th annual Natural Products Expo West, in Anaheim, California, and I’m still recovering.
For me, it was a sensual experience, with so much to see, many foods to taste, scents to smell, things to touch. I couldn’t claim to be a Natural Products Expo West Virgin, like ele’s founder, Waylon. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it was just as good, my second time around.
I hope you enjoy the comprehensive report that I’ve spent the past few days working on.
Lay of the Land
I found this event to be well-organized, as mentioned in one of my earlier posts. There were signs clearly pointing the way, the main sign was huge, there was no mistaking what this event was called or where it was.
The display cases in front, showing samples of some key products from each company, are impressive. I used those on the second day to get an idea of what I wanted to check out before diving into the action and getting distracted. I don’t know how much I actually used that information, but I’m sure some people got a lot of use out of it.
The main entrance to the Anaheim Convention Center is huge, with two sets of escalators and I found it a wee bit difficult to navigate. Certainly tedious. There were times when I just wanted to use the elevator but could not locate it. I think clearer signs indicating its location would have been helpful, especially to those with physical limitations.
The vendors at this event were divided into sections: natural and specialty foods, health and beauty, organic, supplements, hot products pavilion. Three days was enough time to scratch the surface, but not nearly enough time to see everything at this massive event.
Fortunately, I was going for quality, rather than quantity. Also, having experienced it once before, I knew to pace myself.
There are things that I would have liked to see, like the “hot products pavillion” where the newest creations and newest companies are tucked away, from what I remember. Honestly, I never made it downstairs. In fact, it wasn’t even clear, from the map, that there was a downstairs. I only knew from having seen it last year. I wonder how those companies did, overall? I hope the Expo was a good experience for them. Can’t help but feel a little bad for ’em, though, being removed from the main area of action.
Overall, I was satisfied with what I did manage to see over three days. The pic with the gi-normous bottles is one of the first things I saw upon entering the Expo’s main showroom, day one.
The first day, I stuck to the food section. There were many rows of food vendors. So much to take in, sample, see, observe, many people to talk to. I went with my instincts and followed my feet, rather than making a list of places to visit beforehand. I learned about new ingredients…palm sugar (Mary’s Gone Crackers love Cookies)?…new flavors (Larabar), soy yogurt, clever products to get the veggies into the kids (Peas of Mind).
I sampled stuff, asked questions, snapped pictures. Here are some of the pictures from my adventures in the food aisles…
And, now, a snapshot of my experience. Larabar is one of my favorite healthy snacks to take on-the-go. I enjoyed chatting with their reps about new flavors, the motivation behind expanding their selection, etc.
Lakewood is one of my fave juice companies, so it was cool to see them represented, although I didn’t stop for a chat.
Monterey Gourmet Foods had an array of dips and spreads for sampling. I did try a couple of them.
Eden Soy caught my attention with their popcorn machine.
Mary’s Gone Crackers was out with a new line of cookies using a low-glycemic sweetener.
Dagoba and Scharffen Berger (sister companies) were side by side, offering samples. I found it very interesting that they are both owned by Hershey. Yes, very interesting indeed. Greenwashing? Dagoba…I mean, Hershey? I wonder…
Peas of Mind, mentioned earlier, was one of my favorite new discoveries. You can read a fuller, more detailed account of my experience of them and other companies in my post, Adventures at Natural Products Expo West, 2010…Friday.
Now, the term “natural” is relative, really.
I was glad to see some really conscious companies represented here. More and more seem to be coming out every year. There are still many companies who don’t seem to give a fig about organic, think that it’s enough just to be offering a “natural product” without preservatives, that kind of thing. While those are important steps in the right direction, I’d really like to see more people stepping it up, upping their game, really becoming conscious about their choices, actions, and products. Natural is not nearly enough anymore, for those that really care and are in tune, or wanting to be more in tune with Mother NATURE.
I spent a little time in the supplements section on Saturday. The first booth that caught my interest was Pomology. Pomology’s marketing strategy is to target specific conditions that pomegranate helps with, such as prostate health. He said that they buy their supplies from reputable, sustainable farms and that, in Afghanistan, there are efforts to turn opium farms into pomegranate farms.
After having imbibed far too much caffeine to get myself going for the day, a machine dispensing a green foods and apple juice sight was a very welcome one. I needed to balance out all that acidity with something highly alkaline. When asked about their sustainability efforts, one of the company’s sales people looked at me with confusion, which was a little shocking, to say the least. Granted, he was a sales person, but it speaks volumes about their priorities. I think it’s fair to say that sustainability is probably not high on their list. I don’t know. It’s worth looking into further, I suppose.
At Sedona Labs, I had a chat with a rep named Jennifer about sustainability. She said “I’d love to see our company make even greater strides in that area.” We also had a chat about striking a balance between marketing to make sales and being authentic.
Of course, everyone’s at varying stages of awareness and any efforts towards consciousness and sustainability should be applauded. I’d still like to see more. One thing I did notice was a lot less paper waste this time around. Maybe it was due to the economic downturn of last year. While there was still a considerable amount of toothpicks, cups, napkins and trays going into the garbage, it didn’t seem to be AS MUCH as last time. I think companies were a lot more conservative about that, in general, this year. A lot of the motivation, I’m guessing, had to do more with cutting costs than about being eco-friendly. But, if a flagging economy causes people to take more care with their output and waste, maybe that’s a good thing? The question is, will it last? I suppose only time will tell.
I saw this sign, to the left, on some of the trash cans. Really? ARE the contents separated off-site and what does that really mean? Does the city of Anaheim care about recycling, composting, that kinda thing? I was told of a video about the content separation, but it’s not very obvious on the main site. I probably wouldn’t know about it, had I not been told. Sure, there are bins for the separation of certain things, for the “consumers” and exhibitors to use. DID they get used to the maximum or did people just not know what to do with all their stuff and chuck it in the nearest bin? There’s still a lot of educating that needs to happen, in my opinion, about waste. This certainly was not a zero waste event. Far from it. That has to do with the nature of the event itself, the people who took part and the participants. Click HERE to read more about New Hope Natural Media’s “greening efforts”.
I can’t say that I’m squeaky clean and totally “green”, myself. Nobody is. I was, however, more conscious of my impact, this time around. I did make an effort to limit my sampling (rather than go at it with abandon like last time), and record most of the essential info I needed in my little book (from a green company, am proud to say). I did take some business cards for reference, but there are many pamphlets, fliers and such that I passed on.
Signs of Progress
I was quite pleased to see this sign, to the right, at WholeSoy& CO. They were showing, quite clearly, what they stand for and I appreciate that. Is it a marketing tool? Yes. Sure it is. It’s also an education tool. I imagine that there were others, like myself, who asked about the project. It’s an indicator, to people who care about this sort of thing, what the company’s values are. There’s been far too much manipulation of mother nature, in my educated opinion.
Room for Improvement
I believe that we’re all doing the best we can, according to our present level of awareness, and that our awareness can change. Yes, we all have choices to make and they’re not always going to be “green” or eco-friendly. Those that have “green” businesses, that are selling eco-friendly products, in my opinion, have an opportunity to show what can be done in terms of being evermore conscious about their actions, and acting as an example for others to follow. Each company will have to find their own balance between what’s practical, what their main priorities are, and what kind of client they want to attract. Not everyone cares, which is sad. It’s also reality. I’d love it if more people cared because it feels good to do so. Maybe there are opportunities, for people like myself, to educate others about what more CAN be done. There’s always room for improvement.
Walkin’ their Talk?
I saw many impressive displays…beautiful, glorious, grand…some by “green” companies, or ones selling green products. Impressive, yes. Eco-friendly, green, sustainable? Probably not. There were some that I snapped pictures of, meaning to go back and have a chat with the reps later on to get the details. That was the plan. However, I got swept away investigating other things on Sunday. But, from the looks of it, those impressive displays looked quite heavy. I wonder how much embedded energy was in all of those materials, what they were made of, if they were made “responsibly”, how much fuel it took to get it all to the event, and what the motivating factors were. Hey, Earth Friendly Products…is it really necessary to have a two-story display with a meeting room up top? REALLY? I challenge you to rethink your display. Yes, it was innovative, grand, but I found it to be distastefully wasteful.
Yo, Seventh Generation? If you’re reading, I’m wondering why you needed all that wood (or what looked like wood) flooring? Was a rug not enough? How much fuel was wasted, carbon produced, to get that heavy looking display to the show? For a company that touts itself as being oh-so-conscious, I found this to be a bit disgusting. Granted, I did not stop to ask questions, but that’s how I feel as an observer. I’m watching, and other people who use your products and really care about the environment, are watching, too.
Is it possible to have an impressive AND sustainable, consciously designed display? Yes, it certainly is, and Stonyfield Farms did a fantastic job with theirs. They even had signs on their booth (on re-used yogurt cartons), expressing that they made every effort to reduce their impact in their design, in addition to purchasing carbon offsets. They were working both angles, wanting to be conscious of their every step. And, they did come all the way from the East Coast, but they planned ahead, which I’d love to see more of. Their display was quite prominant, but it was also very lightweight and collapsible. And, it was made of more eco-wise materials than many of the other displays, I’m betting. Good job, Stonyfield!
A slogan gives the customer an idea of what the company stands for. One slogan got my back up. It said something like “supplements that nourish your bottom line”. Is that all it’s about? Money? I stopped to ask the president of that supplements company if she’d ever heard of “triple-bottom-line”. She looked at me quizzically, so I explained that it meant “people, planet, and profit”. When asked what her company was doing, if anything, to reduce it’s ecological footprint, she actually gave me quite a list. I was a bit surprised, honestly. Of course, she said that the products are in “recyclable” containers. Recyclable is different from recycled. Upon expressing this, she said that the products are very delicate, volatile enzymes that need to be packaged very carefully. Alright, that’s a consideration. I want to know that people are at least thinking about these things.
One company that really exemplified the triple bottom line is 1 Bag at a Time. One of their messages said “look good, our product, do good, our people, feel good, our planet”. Basically, people, planet, profit. Triple bottom line. Not JUST bottom line, all about the cash. Lisa Foster, the owner, expressed that money comes and goes, but it’s knowing that there are the other parts of the equation, the people and the planet, involved, that keeps you going whether the money’s there or not. I felt really inspired by this particular company and I’d like to write more about them.
I felt like I made some really great connections with people. I think that, since I generally asked questions before making a judgement, or discernment, people felt comfortable with me. Could be my quirky laugh, too. Ok, and the fact that I look really young, wide-eyed and innocent…sweet, charming, I suppose. Sort of bambi-like, I guess.
Don’t be fooled! I can be all of those things, but I’ve got my eyes wide open for a reason. I really do want to know, with my super inquisitive, receptive nature, what makes people and companies tick, and how I might be able to help them up their game down the line. It was my experience that a lot of people seemed open to speaking frankly with me, even admitting, sometimes, what they’d like to see their companies improve upon.
There were some people that didn’t give me the time of day. I just kept moving. No need to waste my time where I’m not wanted. There were a couple times when people kept talking, not noticing that my eyes were starting to glaze over. No need to waste my time there either. Had to be kind, but firm, and move on.
I’ve found, that by approaching people with a sense of curiosity, non-judgement, and open-mindedness, I really have a knack for getting people to open up and lay their cards on the table. I use to hate the fact that I look at least ten years younger than I am because I had a hard time getting people to take me seriously, but I’m starting to like it! Especially if it gets people to open up around me. That’s fantastic, in my opinion! And, I got some really juicy details! So exciting!
As Waylon mentioned, yes, there were plenty of plastic-looking folks…let’s just say that Orange County is not exactly known for it’s super-authentic people…this is one of the more “conservative” areas of the country. That’s part of the reality. But, there ARE people who care in Orange County. A growing number, it seems.
Things have changed quite a lot from when I was growing up in Irvine. There are people busting out of the mold and doing their own thing, even if it doesn’t seem cool or fashionable. So, although the numbers may have been fewer, there were more conscious folks mixed in with the less conscious folks. And, you know what? I say that you can’t always tell by looks. Just as with any stereotype. Although, there are times when you just can. Whatever.
I was seeking authentic experiences, and that’s exactly what I found. I made some great connections. I really enjoyed hanging out with the ladies in the press room, when I needed a breather. I’m certainly going to follow up with some of the people that I really bonded with. In fact, I have a couple phone dates set up already! Awesome!
There are many things that I learned at this show. I also had an opportunity to share my knowledge with others. For example, I was confused as to the name of one supplement company. When I expressed my confusion to one of its reps, and told her that it’s poor feng shui (I’m “the feng shui fairy”) and bad for business, she said she’d have a chat with the people behind the display and let them know that the business name needs to be more obvious.
I was able to teach a woman named Eunae, at Maroma, about the health risks from formaldehyde and off-gassing via pressboard furniture, such as the IKEA table that her company’s beautiful, sustainable, naturally-scented products were displayed on. Yes, pressboard might SEEM sustainable, but it’s not healthy or sustainable if toxic glues and other chemicals are used to hold it together. So, what I learned in this instance is that there’s still a difference between healthy and eco-friendly. I’d LOVE, more than anything, to close that gap.
One could certainly get an education from all the books for sale! The woman behind the scenes seemed frustrated because, although people were looking at the books, they were also asking for free samples?! The folks didn’t seem to realize that the books were for sale. I educated her about the importance of having FOR SALE signs and a much more clearly marked cash wrap area. Hopefully, her experience will be better next time around.
I saw Waylon, for the first time since our meeting, over a year ago, and we hung out at the after party. That was cool. Waylon really does seem to know everybody. It was impressive watching him make the rounds. In the pic, to the left, is one of Waylon’s longtime friends and mentors, Waylon, and me (the short one on the right : P ).
I also so Mr. Ellie Pooh (don’t know his real name) while waiting for the bus and he stopped to chat for a minute. I asked how he’d been since the last time we saw each other. He said that he’d had some important realizations over the past year and that doing shows was, once again, a priority for him.
I ran into one of my heroes, Denise Hamler, division director of Green America (formerly Coop America) relaxing outside in the sun on the last day. For such a high-profile lady, she is so real and so down-to-Earth. Of course, I’ve worked closely with her team, but I suspect that she’s like that with everyone. It’s just who she is. I adore her. I found out, too, that San Francisco is hosting its first spring Green Festival, coming up soon on April 10th and 11th! If all goes according to plan, I’ll be back, living in SF by that time. Gotta be there for Green Festival, at least!
A massage table was definitely a welcome sight. Too bad I didn’t have the extra clams to pop for a massage. Maybe next time. They seemed to be doing a brisk business! I can imagine, with all the over-stimulated people coming out of this lively show with it’s bright lights, cocophony of sounds, etc. I’ll make sure to work that into my budget next time. It looked lovely.
Another welcome sight was a couple of ladies dressed as butterflies! Now, I forget what they were promoting, but just seeing them, with their giant shimmering wings, lifted my spirits!
I didn’t know that Shoyeido was going to be there, but they were definitely a welcome sight. They are the makers of my favorite incense line, the angelic series, with it’s intentional messages. I use that all the time! Love it!
There were some really beautiful displays that were soothing to my tired eyes. I loved the display of candles at one booth.
A really welcome sight was a man carrying a Trader Joe’s bag! It showed that he thought to bring a bag ahead of time, and that was really encouraging.
There was a lovely picture of a baby with wings at Earth Momma Angel Baby and it made me want to stop and talk, but the reps seemed otherwise occupied. Still, it was a welcome sight. Adorable! Love the business name, too.
Next Time Around
Well, I learn some new tricks each time. Next time around, for example, I’m going to make sure to get a room near the event, so as to avoid the many hours spent travelling to and from. I think it was twelve or thirteen altogether, back and forth from Irvine to Anaheim. I think it would be worth the money, at least for one night. I certainly would have enjoyed the expo more, and had more time and energy to spare, if I did that.
There are many companies that I’d like to contact, post show. I wish that I had their contact info readily available. It seems that I’ll have to do a bit of investigating. I’d love for there to be basic company info listed along with the super helpful map, rather than just names. There is a directory on the main site, www.expowest.com, but I find it to be a bit tedious to navigate. I’m sure it works for some, and certainly cuts down on the paper and other waste at the show.
I had a great time at this show, despite working through my own personal energy issues and spending ages on buses. I learned so much, had some fantastic chats, found some ways that I might be of service with my own biz as “the feng shui fairy”, and enjoyed the expo thoroughly. Yeah, I’ll be doing it again, for sure. Thanks for hanging with me and I hope you’ve enjoyed my reports on Natural Products Expo West. I’ll list links below for the other articles, in case you missed ’em:
Feel free to drop me a line ([email protected]) or post a comment. I’d love to hear from you. If you want to see the complete gallery of pics that I took, friend me on facebook (Claire Melani Amber). You can also follow me on twitter for updates, articles, and more…my code name is dynamic balance. Cheers!