3 Macro Trends from Natural Products Expo East 2018

David Melnick

by David Melnick

VP of Strategic Partnerships

Maple is paleo friendly. Coconut and CBD (cannabidiol) are expanding into every category (which makes gluten-free, paleo, coconut snacks with CBD the holy grail). Aluminum cans are the new bottle (again). The world seemingly needs more portable water options, mostly alkaline and flavored. And apparently, you can squeeze milk out of anything.

These were some of the trends spotted when Marriner attended Natural Products Expo East 2018. If you’re looking for a full recap of hot products, there are plenty available with a quick Google search. We wanted to take a broader look at a few macro trends we uncovered while walking the show floor. To that end, here are three key takeaways from Expo East 2018:

1. The maker world is alive and well.

In fact, the halls were filled with the bright-eyed energy of excited brand founders, eager to wax poetic about their personal journey into the natural products universe and expound upon the virtues of their signature product. Some of these products are truly groundbreaking, some are copycat products with a twist and some are just jumping on a trend bandwagon hoping to go for a ride. Not surprisingly, a significant number of the start-up founders we spoke with have been in business for less than three years. Some for less than a year. And yet most had found some level of initial success: a strong collection of social media followers, a loyal regional customer base or even test deals with major retailers. And they all exude the confidence that, given the right break, their product will find a recurring place in the hearts and homes of consumers everywhere. It is an invigorating community of like-hearted entrepreneurs ready to change the world. Many may fall short, but enough will succeed. And our team at Marriner is proud to be part of this continuing food revolution.

2. The support system is real.

Part of the initial success of so many is due to the network of support available to these makers. Accelerator programs, such as Union Kitchen and Pilotworks, are providing these makers with a place to turn their dreams into reality. Shared kitchen spaces allow for free-flowing lines of ideas and improvements. These accelerators provide sound business advice, operations consultation, access to distribution and introductions to investment capital. While the process of moving from idea to on shelf used to take years, it can now be compressed into a matter of months with the right partners. And while a competitive spirit certainly exists, it is outweighed by the deep sense of shared values that motivates business owners to help each other succeed and, when appropriate, create promotional partnerships like the one between Eat Pizza and Mike’s Hot Honey. These brands share a kindred spirit not only with each other but also with the target audience that buys their products. Big brands are taking notice and putting their money where the customers’ mouths are. Campbell Soup Company, Nestlé, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Tyson Foods, Hain Celestial and Unilever are just a few of the behemoths that are investing in the future of food earlier and earlier in a brand’s life cycle. This influx of cash flow has emboldened the industry and given these makers an opportunity to expand their businesses faster than ever before.

3. Speed has consequences.

In the rush to get a product made and into market, what’s often sacrificed, or misunderstood, is the development of a true brand purpose. A quick perusal of articles from the Harvard Business Review, Bain & Company, EY, Mercer Management and Simon Sinek will showcase the powerful impact that a well-crafted brand can have on customer loyalty, sales and business longevity. And yet too often, these makers mistake their personal stories, a decent logo and product attributes for true brand purpose. They lean heavily on these important support points or reasons to believe to drive their marketing and sales strategies. While this may be effective at the local level, brands looking to find success on a national level need more than “I was allergic to gluten, so I made these yummy, gluten-free pancakes.” Today’s consumer has an overwhelming number of options, many of which look the same, sound the same and taste pretty much the same. This was abundantly clear when walking the aisles at Expo East. You could walk for 10 minutes and find 5–10 people selling basically the same product. So shoppers are overloaded with options but limited on time. No matter where they are, everyone’s got somewhere else to be nowadays.


The brands that will ultimately win and stick around for the long haul are those that can quickly communicate their brand story and reason for being in a way that aligns the heart of the brand with the heart of the target audience. As mentioned earlier, a lot of smart people have proven this to be true with statistics including:

  • 80% of surveyed CEOs say brand purpose increases customer loyalty
  • 58% of surveyed brands that prioritize brand purpose experienced growth of at least 10% during a three-year period
  • Those that do not prioritize brand purpose reported flat or declining sales

Source: The Business Case for Purpose, Harvard Business Review, 2015.

The natural products industry is thriving. Innovation is everywhere. Consumer appetite for these products is at an all-time high and still growing. And there has never been a greater abundance of resources to help makers find success. Assuming the product tastes great, which is always the most important attribute, those brand founders who invest in crafting a proper brand story will gain significant separation and a competitive advantage designed to build sustained, exponential growth and longevity.

To find your brand’s true purpose and maximize this incredible moment in food history, contact David Melnick, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Marriner Marketing, at 410.715.1500 or davidm@marriner.com. Every day you wait could be the day your competitors don’t.

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