Expo West was a trip.

Hornall Anderson sent a team, hungry for insights and samples, to Anaheim for Natural Products Expo West 2019. To take it all in and share it with you. We saw that the quest for a sound body and planet is a journey with twists, turns and far out stops along the way.

Hero image
Illustrations by Jacob Tobey and Bryan Condra
Hero image
Illustrations by Jacob Tobey and Bryan Condra

Ingredient crazes. Hemptails and CBD body lotion, mushroom jerky and shroom-beef burgers, vegan turmeric hot chocolate. The grocery list goes on.

Nonstop disruption. Regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestering, and fitness trackers on cows, oh my!

But that’s not why we decided to go West.
We wanted to learn. About how natural foods brands fit into people’s lives—in a market that moves a mile a minute. We’re ready to show and tell. 

Let's go.

01 Viva la mission.

Despite rapid category growth, mission is still front and center.

What you believe is often the first thing you forget when trying to compete in a crowd. So we swooned at the prevalence of mission-based brands at Expo West, and the actions they’re taking.

The natural foods consumer buys values first. Heart and head align. 

There is a recommitment to what originally mattered to category pioneers. Changemakers all around.

Brands are openly pushing each other to go further. To go organic. These are marketing moments, inspired by mission and truth.

The wow.

Here’s what stood out:

Applegate launched The New Food Collective, a line that sources pasture-raised pork from small farms that employ regenerative agricultural practices that improve soil, water retention and biodiversity.

General Mills put a stake in the ground with their one million acre regenerative agriculture commitment. Kind of a big deal.

The how.

Ways you can stand out:

(Re)discover what makes you, you.
Force yourself to answer the big questions:
• Why do you exist?
• What drives your actions?
• What difference do you want to make in the world?
• How do you measure your success beyond brand and business metrics?

Know where you’re at.
Once you know what you stand for, honestly audit your brand’s every action: are you living your values in all that you do and say? Where are you connecting? Where is there tension? Where are you falling short?

Dream up what’s next.
Your consumers are not buying products, they’re buying values. From small tweaks to big leaps, how can you close the gap between what you believe on the inside and what people see, feel and experience on the outside?

02 No more solo acts.

Brands must be permeable with other brands in order to flourish.

We were awed by the scale of Expo West: 86,000 people and 3,600 brands, all engaged, passionate and adding to $200 billion in annual sales. Yet strikingly, there was no cutthroat competitive vibe. Just a strong sense of community.

Consumers no longer expect brands to be walled-off gardens, but free-range cross-pollinators helping the whole landscape thrive.

The brands that take root will be those that behave like farmers, as a grassroots collective sharing in the work, supporting one another and growing together. For the good of our earth, bellies and economy.

The wow.

Here’s what stood out:

We saw collaboration of all kinds, from social media blitzes to big activism splashes. There were perfect pairings, as with Malk and Simple Mills.

And dozens of kombucha brands have brewed up an alliance to uphold high standards—a friendship with benefits for brands and consumers.

The how.

Ways you can stand out:

We > Me.
Let’s face it, when it comes to the world of brand today people are polyamorous—enjoying a rich variety of relationships to satisfy their needs. Rather than chasing an exclusive love that will never be, follow their lead to connect beyond old limits.

Swipe right.
Pair up with brands that get along well with yours. Amplify what makes you both great and find new fans along the way.

Open up. Way up.
Embrace the fact that consumers love, and even now expect, collaboration and support between brands. When you do, the possibilities will be endless.

03 Confusion is the enemy.

Conflicting information creates distrust and frustration in consumers.

Consumers are awakening. Their purchasing decisions are more informed and carry more personal meaning. Brands can come along or get left behind.

Baby Boomers represent the values of yesterday. Gen X set the stage for transition. Millennials carry the values of tomorrow, taking hold today. 

Buying is becoming a moral decision. Trust is no longer about a product working well, but is earned through values, intentions and actions.

The days of supply chain trade secrets, controlled messaging and “selling products” are over. Brands who are honest, true and active will succeed.

The wow.

Here’s what stood out:

Nud Fud, in name, action and brand, is focused on transparency and clarity. Extremely detailed and upfront not only about the ingredients, but also the production process.

Cracker packaging explains that Nud soaks seeds in filtered water to increase ease of digestion and dehydrates at low temperatures to keep enzymes and nutrients intact.

The how.

Ways you can stand out:

Commit to crystal clarity.
Remember that stuff about purpose and mission? This is where it gets tested, so go all in, stay committed and trust in the thing that makes you you. Let it be your guide.

Simple is best.
You have tons of goodness to share, but too much will make heads spin and lead to opt-outs. Why do you matter? Rank what’s most important. Limit it to three product points beyond platforms like vegan or gluten-free. When in doubt, distill further. Cut friction so products can find their way into busy lives.

Transparency or bust.
Nothing is hidden anymore, and the truth always comes out. Consumers are buying values, so honor yours. Use great ingredient sources, treat employees well, and make space to share your beliefs—online, on-pack, on social media.

04 Diverse youth = future growth.

Changing demographics call for diversity and responsibility.

Seismic shifts are well under way. The rise of diversity means heritage matters more than ever, and as Millennials take their place at the helm, new priorities drive purchasing power.

Next year, Caucasian non-Hispanic will be the minority for ages 18 and under. By 2045, the US will reach the demographic tipping point.

The market is benefitting from flavor-forward offerings and the sharing of culinary traditions, passed down across generations of families with all kinds of cultural roots.

This year, Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation. While only 28% of Baby Boomers say they’d pay more for responsibly produced food, 65% of Millennials would.

The wow.

Here’s what stood out:

The Expo hosted breakthrough brands that define the ever more flavorful world of natural foods. At the top of our list, Dang Foods, Nona Lim and Siete Foods. All of whom participated in a powerful panel on diversity and inclusion.

Dang Foods’ founder was inspired by his mother’s Thai lettuce wraps with toasted coconut. Nona Lim’s broths, soups and noodles celebrate the Asian flavors of her childhood in Singapore. The Garzas, a Mexican-American family, launched Siete Foods after crafting grain-free tortillas for wholesome takes on the tacos and fajitas they love.

The how.

Ways you can stand out:

Grow forward.
Your intentions, awareness, empathy and actions are now just as vital as the quality of your product. Find the tensions and opportunities that exist between your enduring brand truth and the evolving human truths ushered in by Millennials and Gen Z, and welcome a bright future.

Embrace inclusion.
As any good hippie knows, character is shaped from the inside out. A predominantly white company culture, with few Millennials in leadership, will show through. Diversity of age, ethnicity and other backgrounds must be part of your brand’s DNA to stay relevant.

Celebrate diversity.
Tastes are changing with demographics, as the flavors we love are not only informed by taste buds or sensitivity, but also culture and experience. Find the edges and celebrate differences instead of diluting for mass appeal.

05 Natural is modern is natural.

Clean ingredients don’t have to come with a totally new lifestyle.

Natural is no longer bound to that hippie, crunchy, granola niche, and no longer priced for the few. Appeal and accessibility have expanded with our enlightenment on the impact of food and food systems’ health on our own wellbeing.

Food values are now part of the greater picture of what matters to us. Organic, natural and sustainable groceries are becoming an expectation—not a luxury.

The hippie cliché has given way to bold, fun and provocative moments—a more youthful take on health and wellness.

There exists a striking contrast within the market, on display at the Expo, with dated, natural tans and greens alongside electrified neon and “YOLO” statements straight out of a Millennial’s feed.

The wow.

Here’s what stood out:

BOS was the perfect overlap of South African vibrancy (their brand truth) with the vibrant, celebratory moments in which many consumers enjoy iced tea (the human truth).

A BOS team member told us that yes, their ingredient line is clean, but it’s not the point. The brand is about enjoying and living your best life.

The how.

Ways you can stand out:

Double down.
It’s not enough to meet or address your consumers’ needs, wants and truth. Fight to understand them. Then show you’re in it together—creating new ways to shape, enjoy and share in what matters.

Amp up.
A clean ingredient line is key, but mostly just table stakes now. A compelling brand experience—seamlessly bringing to life consumers’ desires, unmet needs and lifestyle aspirations—is key to breaking through.

Stand out.
Your challenge is to fit into your consumers’ lifestyles (relevance) while also standing out in the natural foods crowd (differentiation). Know and own your unique purpose to stay rooted while branching out to connect.

What now?

The natural foods market is growing and changing so fast, it’s bananas. Let’s make sure your brand connects with people, and meets or exceeds your goals.

The first step?

Book an HA Brand Evaluation, a 90-minute, complimentary work session at our Seattle office. You’ll team up with creative and strategic leadership for a deep dive into your business. Strengths and challenges. Gaps and opportunities. All of it.

What you’ll get?

A brand road map we create together, and possible ways to collaborate. Through it all, we’ll fight to reveal what matters, envision the way forward, and work with you to make it real.

Drop us a line at
hello@hornallanderson.com

View our work