Anaheim, California is, famously, home to Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth. However, hundreds of visitors who came to Anaheim on a hot weekend in mid-March found their happy place at the city’s convention centre. For the last several years, the centre and the adjoining Marriott and Hilton hotels have been home to the Natural Products Expo West.
Although Expo West is a trade show, it has a colourful, carnival-like setting. This year, it expanded to include numerous new products’ rooms and a festive midway area that added an extra level of family-friendliness, as many paid attendees have their kids in tow. For the 2017 edition, the planners truly infused the proceedings with a healthy dash of Coachella and other hippie-chic music and arts festivals. Retailers and hospitality professionals from around the globe descended on this four-day carnival of healthy living to scope out established and emergent producers of specialty foods (ethnic, vegan, organic, ethically sourced, and so on), beauty products, pet gear, household supplies, cooking ingredients, vitamins and health aids.
Everything that makes the business of an environmentally conscious-driven so alluring was in place, from free early morning yoga classes, to a concert stage with a steady stream of free energy bars, Late July chips, Think Thin protein bars, Kettle Chips, Pamela’s baked goods, Siggi yoghurt, Silk milk substitutes, and GoGurt. Pie Pops—possibly the most indulgent treat handed out to passers-by—was the cream of the crop with its custardy ice-cream core bathed in crumbled pie crust and toppings.
A healthy appetite for change
Pie Pops notwithstanding, there were fewer knockout ice-cream vendors populating Expo West 2017 than in past years. Sweet Lady Jane, Hollywood bakery to the stars, picked up some of the slack by rolling out its line of supermarket cakes and pies, including layer cakes that make the brand’s VIP cache accessible to markets beyond La La Land. There were almost too many excellent Fair Trade chocolates (Wild Boar and ZazuBean could give Valrhona a run for its money), and way too many reinventions of the classic granola bar (Empact, raising money and awareness for women’s causes, was among the best).
While coconut- and almond-based beverages continued to dominate the dairy substitute drinks, Ripple Oat Milk cut in to the competition, as did Banana Wave. Carnation released its new Natural Bliss almond- and coconut-based coffee creamers. (Correspondent Jody Miller and I were partial to the coconut.) There was also a jolt of excellent coffee and tea offerings with artsy packaging, from canned coffee from hot Los Angeles desert bar BeSweet, to sublimely boxed Pukka teas and herbal infusions, to earthy Prana Chai, Maxpresso’s tasty instant coffee packets from South Korea, and Black Medicine’s powerful brews. Kombucha also flowed in abundance, and once again, we found Kombucha Dog was top dog for its balanced flavours as well as its animal welfare charity endeavours. Speaking of balanced, we loved the true fruit flavour of the blood-orange ginger ale and other concoctions from Massachusetts-based Powell and Mahoney Drink mixers, KillCliff energy drinks (which donates proceeds to US Navy Seal veterans), and bright watermelon and ginger flavours from Dry Soda, in contrast to medicinal energy drinks that still flood the market.
As it can get very easy to burn out on nutrition bars and chocolate, ethnic and ethnic-inspired food offerings from the main floor and new products’ installations provided excitement. We loved the multi-brand and product spaces focused on México (perfect lime popsicles), Korea and Japan. New Zealand was well represented, with a large booth featuring a mix of imports from Pacific Resources International, including manuka honey items, medicinal items, and snacks from the Proper brand.
Tamales from Arizona and New Mexico provided welcome relief from diabetic-coma overloads of sweets, as did Hummus Pods (heartier, less “chemical” variations on Hot Pockets); Yellow Bird, Tsang and One Culture hot sauces and salsas; the latest from celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill; Thai fare from Koh; and Indian foods from Deep and Tasty-Bite. Better Than Pasta, which swaps out wheat and rice noodles with konnyaku (a sweet potato-based product popular in Japan) added spicier creations to their line-up of products. Arlette Tea Seed Oil, meanwhile, may truly be the next big thing: a tea-based substitute for olive oil.—
The bad and the beautiful
Health and beauty are big business, even in the natural products world. While many up-and-coming brands were represented, the aforementioned carnival-like atmosphere was absent from the Health & Beauty Pavilion, in favour of a more corporate trade show vibe. In fact, some popular beauty vendors were downright surly (I’m talking to you, Beauty without Cruelty and Andalou Naturals). Others were merely aloof. Hopefully their reps will take some people skills’ training next year.
In spite of those glaring shortcomings, there were real high points and positive vibes. Quite a few brands got it right with attitude and presentation. Alaffia (getting attention with their live drummers and vibrant tribal décor, pillows and scarves), showcased their Fair Trade hair and body care. Badger celebrated new Moms with a new line of body care and new additions to their Damascus Rose facial care. Derma-E debuted sleek new packaging, while Burt’s Bees not only showcased their new Healthy Nutrition protein powders, but rewarded patient attendees with two complimentary products. As a big sunscreen advocate, it was encouraging to see Goddess Garden and Earth Science proudly display their hottest SPF products.
One of the most refreshing trends, and a welcome respite from singular note essential oils, was holistically sourced perfume. Sow Good’s natural eau de parfum, made with premium ingredients and alcohol from organic sugar cane, were available in four distinct scents packaged in elegant bottles. Juniper Ridge, meanwhile, distils their perfumes from such free-range ingredients as wildflowers, plants, bark and other cool stuff that grows in the woods. This results in a fragrance library that authentically reflects the great outdoors.
Taking multiple vitamins and supplements every day is a hard pill to swallow for many of us. Fortunately, drinkable and gummy-bear supplements were everywhere to help the less diligent among us. Vegan Smart, Vega One, Vegan Slim, Almased and Rainbow Light will keep the calories down and the metabolism up with shakes in a plethora of flavours. American Health, Pure Essence Labs, Oxylent, Paradise, Mega Foods, and Genesis Today, in contrast, want you to drink your way to health.
For the more dedicated whole-food junkie, Kulli Kulli offers a pure moringa vegetable powder, while Manitoba Harvest grew on us through samples of their tasty hemp smoothie. Gummies and chewables from Bluebonnet, Solgar and Hero Nutritionals taste just like candy, so now everybody can get their daily dose.
In the lifestyle department, Ecos gratified the weary with a free full-size product. And a big kudos to Seventh Generation for donating their display products to a shelter. We like that!—Jody Miller, LA Correspondent