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Parting Thoughts on Expo West

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After four days at Expo West, I am walking away refreshed by the knowledge that the natural foods industry is alive and well. Business might be down a bit, sure, but judging by the crowds, the excitement and the activity that lasted through the very last hours of the show (those bag-toting, last-day trick-or-treaters notwithstanding), I was happy to see that health and wellness categories continue to demonstrate buzz, but more than that, growth potential.

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Growth may be slowing, but even at 12%, health and wellness continues to demonstrate a resiliency that defies the recessionary times we live in. Retailers may need to tweak their selection a little (or a lot, depending on their customer base), but certain areas are showing a lot of muscle, and those are the lines we saw the most excitement about at the show.

The most optimism is swirling around those products that possess a value beyond price, products that are seen by consumers as necessities in their lives, whether due to a medical condition or a deeply held ethical belief.

Two of the best examples are gluten-free and kids meals, but there are others, too. There were more green household cleaning products and more cause-related body care items. More supplement formulas zeroed in on specific health conditions.

There were a smattering of new products, but I didn’t see anyone going out on a limb. For mainstream supermarket retailers, this is great news. It means manufacturers and processors are drilling down into already-profitable categories to bring consumers more of what they want. Supermarkets won’t be asked to take chances on untried, untested new products. What they will see in coming months are improvements in proven winners. During these tough economic times that’s cause for excitement, indeed.

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