Natural Products Expo West: 2 Key Insights, and Why Chia Is Taking Over the World


Just got back from Natural Products Expo West……whoa, what a bonanza!

Anyone expecting a mere tradeshow was delightfully proven wrong by the onslaught of sensuous goodies coming at you from each sample booth.

To imagine what it was like, picture Bonnaroo, except with less hippies and more nutrition executives.  It’s much easier to experience the event as a vacation than a business endeavor.  If you plan on attending I suggest you adjust your expectations accordingly.

For example, if you ever wanted to dozy outside you’d always be greeted by a live band:


Or you could wander inside and find a booth staffed with DJ’s:

zevia natural products expo west

And of course nothing restores your faith in global capitalism like running across a hot girl in a gummy bear dress who wants to talk to you about her company.

So all-in-all it was a rawlicking good time.

What’s Hot?  What’s Not?

One of the interesting takeaways from these shows is you get a good feel for what products companies are pouring money into.

And boy, are they opening up their wallets and placing big bets on product trends they think are going to payoff.

There were three that really stood out to me.

1).  Chia

I remember when I graduated from college in 2008 and was inspired by the book Born to Run, which documented the physical prowess of the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe of elite distance runners from Mexico who dominated ultramarathons.

Chia seeds were a staple of their diet, and relatively unknown to the western world at this time.


Chia seeds have become their own food group, and can now be used every single meal of the day.

Here’s just a sampling of the product lines that are built around Chia seeds:

Chia flour from Mexico:

chia flour

chia cookies:

chia cookieschia chips:

chia chips

chia energy bars

chia energy barschia cereal:

chia flakes

and Nutiva has quietly turned itself into the official dispensary of the Central American Association of Chia Farmers.  Look at all those chia products:

npew - nutiva

2).  Collagen

On the supplement side of things collagen seems to be the ingredient du jour:

natural products expo west collagen

You saw displays like this all the time.  There were a few companies that had entire booths devoted entirely to collagen and the products spanned across all categories.  Male, female, sport, beauty, etc.  If there’s a health need, there’s a collagen based product to fulfill it.

3).  Ice Cream


There were quite a few companies that are pushing various ice cream replacements, and their products usually fell into two categories:

  1. Ice cream that’s kind of good for you.  These were usually based off some sort of milk protein like casein or whey and usually had a high protein and low sugar content.  These all had impressive levels, but their taste  didn’t quite bridge the gap for people that crave the mouthfeel of the real thing.
  2. Ice cream that’s dairy free.  This is where the best products were.  My favorite was the coconut milk based ice cream offered by Coconut Bliss:

coconut blissThis was so good you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the real thing.

Other Takeaway Points

Here were a few other thoughts coursing through my head as I took in the event:

Smaller brands need not apply.  The bustle and glitziness of the place is so intense that it’s hard to get noticed unless you’re willing to employ a staff of 15 for samples and erect a 3 story monument to whatever vegan cheese you’re trying to sell.  The bare minimum for getting in the door with this show is probably at least $25,000 when all is said and done.

For emerging brands working the New Hope shows is something you do after you get funded, not before.

It’s good to be in the supplement section.  Supplements don’t exactly steal the show here.  All the glamour’s in the finished goods, where everyone crowds around to get their plates of truffle mac n’ cheese and gluten-free spelt crackers.   It’s impossible to speak to anyone there.

The most valuable interactions come from the people you get to answer a lot of questions for and that’s very hard to come by where there are large crowds.

So the more subdued atmosphere on the nutraceutical portion of the floor is much cozier and easier to strike up conversations in.

For example, here’s what the Healthforce booth looked like for most of the show:


Nice bustle, chairs to sit down in, and the people there aren’t waiting in line to get a scoop of ice cream.

Or if you wanted you could have a nice chat with the ultra friendly girls at RGO:

rgoThey were just too nice.

I’d guess these companies got some of the highest ROI from the show.

On the main floor I doubt people really have a chance to do deals, and everything comes down to your ability to peacock for impressionable bystanders.  That favors big companies who can afford to invest $250k/year in these sorts of things.

Overall I thought it was a great time, and highly recommend you attend one of these things if you get the chance.

4 thoughts on “Natural Products Expo West: 2 Key Insights, and Why Chia Is Taking Over the World”

  1. Hey Jonathan thanks for this. I almost felt like I was there! Had to go and have some coconut ice cream from our freezer to really live in the moment… Love the info on chia, collagen and icecream. For those of us who are vegan or vegeo, what’s the best alternative to animal-derived collagen?


  2. really great news about chia and collagen. Chia is totally awesome. omega-3’s are so important. I’m pretty sure that as Chia gains popularity, the price per lb will come down a little because it’s not an extremely difficult crop to grow. The chia plant is also beneficial for the health. It’s a salvia, or sage.


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