Across the street from the happiest place on earth lies the crunchiest place on earth. Well, for one week in March anyway. Natural Products Expo West is a booming convention for the health nuts of the CPG world. Here’s a taste of what I experienced.


Welcome to Natural Product Expo West (NPEW), an annual convention held in Anaheim, California each March by New Hope Network. Be prepared to walk … and walk … and walk some more. Not ‘Walking Dead’-on-the-train-tracks walking, but enough paces to please your FitBit!

This show is amazing in its variety of natural products from something as simple as a coconut with a straw to drinkable collagen.  As our friends at Enjoy Life Foods say, Natural Products Expo West is the show for “Free-From Living” – free from gluten, artificial flavors, calories … but luckily (in most cases) not free from taste.

Preparation Tips from Jobst

If you plan on attending NPEW or its sister convention in Baltimore, definitely go with a plan. Download the floor plan and map your course, unless you truly want to push the limits of your Tevas. The great news is you’re surrounded by foods that are actually good for you and that will fuel your experience. I found this out when two of my favorites ended up on opposite sides of the convention center. Quest Nutrition and Nature’s Bakery couldn’t be farther apart, but I was able to fuel up with some solid protein at Quest and then reward myself with a healthy Fig Bar at the end of my journey.

Good News for a Growing Category

The natural food products category has exploded – and with that, the size of NPEW has grown. The show now takes up four convention halls, three floors, a cluster of outside tents and a separate hotel hall reserved specifically for new products. With a category this large, it can be confusing to understand what each product represents. Each product brings its own unique solution to creating something cost effective and healthy for the masses. With as much press that the opposite end of the spectrum gets … thanks Guy Fieri … it’s encouraging to see new innovations in flavor profiles as ingredients are removed. For instance, Gardein (Garden + Protein) markets a line of meatless meat products that look (and actually taste!) amazing. Plus, at the show, brands often demonstrate the variety of ways to prepare these plant-based foods in your own home. Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike can get a first taste at how the versatile products allow for daily consumption of protein.


Nature’s Path booth at NPEW

Advice for the Brands

The sheer scale of conventions like NPEW is astonishing. On one hand, it’s incredible that enough natural products exist to deliver such overwhelming support and action for a healthier future. But for the individual brands, it’s a fight for exposure in a sea of (seemingly) homogeneous health options.

So a few tips for standing out:

  1. Make your point of differentiation loud and clear. With so many distractions, folks strolling by want to know what your product is and why they should try it.
  2. Let them know how to find you. Ask them to follow you on social channels, or give them a coupon for a free bag of your yummy spinach chews. And make sure you have distribution channels and locations available on your site for post-convention cravings.
  3. The sky’s the limit. It was easy to separate the novices from the trade show experts – and not just because the newbies had their own special hall. The booths that caught my attention made great use of vertical space and invested in strong, visually appealing print and fabrication design.
  4. K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple Stupid). Too many large brands relied heavily on interactive screens that consumers shied away from. NPEW is a very conversational show, so have people manning the booth who are not only educated about the product, but can also easily break down the barriers of starting a random conversation.
  5. Be interactive. Being interactive doesn’t have to pertain to the digital space. Find ways to creatively encourage consumer participation with the brand. That could be anything! If your product is fitness-based, host a push-up contest. If you product is about relaxation, set up a “chill zone.” You can surround your consumers with what the brand stands for even in a tiny booth. Just ask WTRMLN WTR. With an emphasis on natural hydration, WTRMLN WTR sampled its refreshing product to visitors who tested out their punching bag or balance ball in their cozy booth.

Last-Minute Reminders

As we look forward to attending next year, here are some quick tips to help you on your journey. Go hungry and thirsty. This is one convention that offers samples you can actually indulge in without feeling weighed down by salt, sugars and carbs. Everyone is there to spread the word about their product and its unique quality, so you won’t have to look far for a bite of something delicious and guilt-free. The biggest experiences will be on the main floor, so definitely take them all in and participate in the brand activities, but don’t forget to hit all the emerging brands on the first and third floors.

Finally – if you plan on networking at a nightclub party … don’t go. The music will be too loud and no one shows up till after 10:30pm any way. (But that might be more of a Vegas thing.) Finally, bring extra money for Disneyland! It’s right next door, and even the most healthy at NPEW are allowed a cheat day.

If you’re ready to take your natural product to the next level, give Chris a shout at And don’t forget to check out our piece on emerging brands, “How to Get Your Emerging Brand Noticed.”