by Roxanne Sachtleben
Last month, I was one of the nearly 73,000 people who descended upon Expo West in Anaheim, CA for a chance to see and experience new products and trends in the natural space. Food and beverage, supplements, household products, beauty products, clothing, and various organizations (e.g., Non-GMO certification or groups for Regenerative Agriculture) were just a few of the categories that dominated the floor at the event. As I moved across the floor and viewed a portion of the 3,500+ booths, it became obvious that I would not capture everything at the Expo – or even get close! However, it was easy to see there was one dynamic evident across the board: the intersection where big, established brands compete with smaller, emerging brands to try their hand at “natural products.”
Let’s start by defining natural. The term is loosely used and has no regulated definition, which means “natural” has been broadly applied front and center to a variety of “Big CPG” (by Big CPG think Fortune 500 and larger CPG firms) products’ front label. Unlike the USDA Organic seal or Non-GMO certified (both of which require the completion of a well-documented vetting process), “natural” has been a no-rules playground for marketers. In turn, Moms and Dads may feel a bit better buying a “natural snack” for their kids at the store, and the dieting Baby Boomer may feel pleased with their “natural” purchase decision. Yet brands at Expo West, regardless of size or scale, are well aware that “natural” is nothing more than a feel good statement on their packaging. The term natural is a key tension at the crossroads of big names in CPG and the start-ups/mid-size brands promoting products for broader wellness: wellness of the consumer, the planet, and company profits.
Brands at Expo West are addressing what we put in our bodies (eat, drink, or take in supplement form), what we put on our bodies (skin care, hair care), and what we put in and on our homes (cleaning, laundry, everyday products). Many brands are touting fewer ingredients, well-known ingredients, and ingredients with (actual) health benefits. Chemicals, additives, fillers, and unpronounceable ingredients are out of vogue. From Thayers® to Dr. Bronner’s, less is more when you read the ingredient list. Emphasis on what we are consuming also extends to furry consumers, with companies like “I and love and you”, Buckley Pet Products, and Organic Evolution promising healthy ingredients for pets. “I and love and you” has a mission statement which includes “the best food is the best love,” demonstrating the importance of quality ingredients for pets.
There is also a big drive to expand access to these better for you ingredients. As Jennifer Garner, well-known actor and Chief Brand Officer of Once Upon a Farm said: “We want to bring healthy food options and ingredients to all kids, regardless of income level.” Once Upon a Farm is looking into partnerships with the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program to make this brand vision a reality.
There is not only a push for positive consumer impact, but also for environmental impact. One of my favorite booths was Organic Essence®, which made creams, lotions, and oils in fully compostable packaging at the show. Ms. Meyers® pledged to plant a tree for each thumb print painting of a leaf show-goers contributed at their booth. A brand called Abeego® sold reusable beeswax sheets to preserve your food (think of half an avocado you don’t want to oxidize) rather than using plastic wrap. Stonyfield Organics® took their environmental commitments so far as to claim a political stake: handing out tongue in cheek red hats, which read “Make Earth Cool Again.”
Among the smaller, mid-sized, and health/natural channel brands there is sentiment that Big CPG is in the natural space for one reason only: the bottom (financial) line. While many smaller and mid-sized brands are pushing for the triple bottom line: good for the consumer, good for the planet, good for profit. As Aubre Dallape of I and love and you said, “we are in this business to make a meaningful difference and are only producing products we believe in.”
Yet Big CPG has the scale to pull off what smaller brands cannot. Ironically, the vision for so many brands at Expo West is possibly best served when Big CPG buys in. There was tremendous buzz at Expo West when attendees learned General Mills recently purchased 53 acres in South Dakota and is dedicating it solely to regenerative farming practices. Corporate sustainability programs such as The Clorox Company’s commitment to its Safe Water project, or the Pantene Beautiful Lengths charity have a substantial impact of scale that the smaller or mid-sized brands have not yet reached. However, these smaller brands – and the consumers who align with these brands’ ideals – are driving real change in what we consume and what Big CPG produces.
And maybe that’s the tension around the nebulous term natural – consumers and small/mid-size brands are the catalysts for larger brands to enter into the natural space…but they want more transparency when Big CPG is involved.
So what does your consumer think? What really matters from your brand?
Expo West was an incredible opportunity and experience, and I can’t wait until next year. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to being in the field with consumers – hearing their voices, needs, and opinions to help further shape this next generation of CPG. I’m excited to help my clients succeed in a new era of unlimited access to information and to get ahead of what’s next in CPG.
A special thanks to Eric Pierce of the New Hope Network (a major sponsor of Expo West) who provided some figures on attendance and is a pioneer in making natural products cool again.
As a Senior Account Executive, Roxanne Sachtleben helps brands grow through a variety of primary research techniques. Interested in exploring what your consumer wants and needs from your brand(s)? Contact Roxanne to learn more about how Burke can understand your consumer’s perspective and needs!
Want to learn even more about Expo West? Check out Seed Strategy’s highlights from the event!