25 Apr 2016

Expo West 2016, No Disappointment

By James S. Tonkin

Tonkin is President of HealthyBrandBuilders, a beverage consultancy- incubator-accelerator specializing in building functional beverage brands.


I love this show, love the creativity, exemplary founders that give their life’s savings, often times parents and friends too, to a dream of becoming something bigger than themselves.

expo-westAs usual, and for those that are veterans of NPE (Natural Products Expo West), I held all 37 meetings in the Anaheim Hilton next to the Convention Center this year. And I’m glad I did, too. The show was HUGE (as Bernie says), and with over 3,300 exhibitors and 72,000 attendees, Expo West now ranks in the U.S. as one of the most sought after tickets in the food/beverage, supplement, organic, natural and new products industries.

This show now produces probably more of the acquisition targets than any other for large CPG and equity suitors today. So, as the Fortune 500 look for opportunities to find small entrepreneurial startups, and companies who have ‘proof of concept’ in the bag ($3-$5MM in revenues), this show is where they are and man, lots of them to chose from too!

As a beverage veteran of 44 years now, I am constantly amazed at the new directions and quirky ways in which these aggressive and passionate business men and women try to sell their wares—the latest kombucha, plant-powered protein drinks, low and no sugar waters and other functional beverages.

So what was new?

If you were looking for ingredients that can mix with and become centerpiece in beverages they were there: DSM, Kyowa Hakko, Chemi-Nutra, Mead Johnson and Pfizer. They all have new and some old potion inclusions to help with brain health, heart health, joint health, eye health, gut (pre-probiotic) health and more. Engredea (the New Hope section of the show which touts all the above) grows every year, with 2016 no exception.

On the show floor, find most of the 2-4 year old companies on fast trajectories in Hall E, or as we refer to it, ’the basement.’ In the basement were the coconut waters galore with Gluten Free, Sodium Low, NON GMO, Vegan and more evident on most packaging in that section of the show. New plant-based (from nuts and seeds and the like) were prevalent in Foragers new entries, and Evolve 20g protein shake.

On the main floor were found mostly the big and older players.  From Hain to P & G, from Amy’s Kitchen to Ziggy Marley’s Organics, Blue Diamond Almonds to TwinLabs. One thing is for sure, the energy in the building which is adding 20 percent more space before next years’ event, is beaming with prideful exhibitors ready and willing to do whatever it takes to make the grade. The fertile ground that is now Expo West has been good to many small startups over the years. Many of the clients I have worked with have been swooped up by CPG, Private Equity and others over the years and it’s why I plan to keep going to this show, keep leaning in, keep speaking at and lending time and support to Engredea’s growth for the duration. I love this show, love the creativity, exemplary founders that give their life’s savings, often times parents and friends too, to a dream of becoming something bigger than themselves. This is a far cry from big Pharma or even the larger CPG’s launching a line extension of a major selling brand. These folks are filled with passion and determination unlike anywhere else I have seen. If you haven’t gone, you must go, and if you have, perhaps you will become voracious like me going every year since 1982, the second year of the Expo.  Wow you should have seen the folks, the smells, the tastes…and thankfully they have all progressed and become mainstream, healthy, wonderfully fulfilling examples of the American Spirit and in fact the World Spirit of making it a better place!