October 23, 2019

3 Lessons from Expo East 2019

Expo East Food & Beverage Marketing Conference

This year, an estimated 29,000 people attended the 34th annual Natural Products Expo East to see the latest innovations from more than 1,500 exhibitors. The conference’s growing popularity isn’t surprising – the U.S. natural and organic industry hit a record of $219 billion in sales last year. Below are three central takeaways to know from the three day conference.

Heavy Competition

A booming industry means lots of opportunity, and lots of competition. To give you an idea of just how competitive this space is, over 600 new beverage brands launched last year alone, each one claiming to offer both phenomenal taste and a myriad of health benefits.

For natural food and beverage startups, finding success isn’t necessarily about identifying unmet needs in the market. Rather, it’s about creating a product consumers cannot live without. How does your product become part of someone’s daily routine?

Also, to compete in this space, you must be hyperconscious of your margins; it’s your company’s lifeblood. A sufficient gross margin (gross profit / net sales) helps fund essential brand building activities like new packaging design or adding ecommerce functionality on your website. After all, nearly half of all U.S. consumers are now purchasing groceries online.

Your entire team should be cognizant of your margins and be actively working on improving them at every turn. Some questions you should be asking include:

  • Is your team pushing vendors for better pricing?
  • Who is exploring new co-packing resources?
  • Does your current price point make sense in the marketplace?
  • Does it reinforce your current positioning?

It is far too critical of a metric for one person to monitor, everyone must share in this responsibility.

Using Your Brand Story as a Means to Connect with Consumers

Expo East provides exhibitors with a unique platform. Unlike cold calling, emailing or traditional business development efforts, exhibitors have the attention of thousands of attendees, multiple times throughout the day.

Founders can share stories and company history, introduce other team members and elaborate on what makes their product special, converting an interested individual into a potentially lifelong customer. Those kinds of engagements are invaluable; it’s a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your products authenticity.

Authenticity is the foundation for a genuine brand and creates an emotional connection with consumers. People want to know whose passion brought these products to life. With larger, more established companies, there is a tendency to overlook the importance of events like Expo East. They opt to hire freelance brand ambassadors to man the booth and field questions.

In my opinion, this is a massive oversight. Brands who do not represent themselves are forfeiting valuable relationships and that’s something no company, no matter the size, can afford to do. While freelancers can adequately respond to generic questions, chances are they are not converting consumers into customers. Make time for events like these, you never know who you might run into.

Lastly, remember that every activity you do–packaging, promotion, pricing, publicity, etc.–either reinforces your brand story or diminishes it. Think carefully about how consumers might perceive your brand and story. For example, this brand we built for Middle 8 Brewing Co shines a light on the company’s roots and seamlessly blends it into its package design.

Sustainability

Expo East brings together some of the more innovative food & beverage brands in the country. From jerky derived from mushrooms and other plants (which are both surprisingly tasty) to sugar-less cotton candy, there is an industry-wide effort to embrace a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle through the foods we eat. Even the organization that coordinates Expo East, New Hope Network, distributes their own sustainability report at the conclusion of each conference!

Sustainability isn’t limited to just the actual products either. The lack of plastic used at this event was unbelievable. Companies have ditched plastic and instead, are creating plant-based compostable materials and paper-based packaging to combat pollution. Reduction of packaging is a trend that should continue, as nearly 70% of buyers identified sustainability as an important factor in purchasing decisions. Today’s buyers are driven by more than price—they’re looking for brands that align with their own values.

In Conclusion

All in all, the so called ‘Hot Products’ at Expo East were the ones that had a healthy mix of purpose, empathy, consistency and differentiation. The Expo East Conference 2019 was a great way for natural product companies large and small to share industry knowledge and test their products. We’re already looking forward to the 2020 conference in our hometown, Philadelphia!