Expo West Recap

Article by Shandra Zurn, Vice President of Curb Crowser

Whew! We’re back!

A whirlwind 3-days spent in Anaheim, CA at The Natural Products Expo West with a few other members of the Curb team, Dean Forbes and Emily Stickler. This was my first Expo West and I’m excited to share my thoughts on the event as well as some trends/insights I gathered while there.

To set the stage, this show has over 3500 exhibitors there to promote their brand and sling samples like it’s going out of style! The best part, you will not leave hungry and perhaps even discover something excitingly new! The worst part, seeing each and every booth is nearly impossible. Unless of course, you spend sun-up to sun-down in the exhibit halls. Our prep work of planning who to see and where they were located made for an efficient show.

I wanted to share some trends I saw making their way through the show. In no particular order:

A strong voice at the show to push for change from the ground up. I sat in on several presentations suggesting the government and policy-makers impact — or lack thereof — is far too hindered by financial backing so in order to make change for the better in the sustainable food product space it will be these smaller, mission-driven brands who make decisions based strongly on values and goals versus profit.

This is no surprise but incredibly apparent at such a large show. Visual scale and visual breathing room, simplicity and bold color are absolutely breakthrough in this busy environment. The busy designs, screaming at show attendees in an effort to share every single feature, benefit and product detail were overwhelming. As we share through our day-to-day work helping brands build retail design solutions, the brain will deselect clutter — it simply doesn’t want to expend calories to decision-make. Proven true in this environment, too.

The world is ready for entrepreneurs with small and mighty brands. This Expo has been happening for 38 years! There was a lot of discussion around how entrepreneurs used to be seen as “those who couldn’t get a job” and a time when young, privately held brands were scary and perhaps untrusted. I saw, heard and experienced an overwhelming shift in this mindset that consumers are now incredibly ready for brands like those exhibiting at Expo West. Consumer trends shifting away from processed foods, a social culture driving the desire to be the first-to-try something and share with friends and of course supporting brands that stand for something bigger (mission-driven) is now rooted in a huge consumer segment. No longer the outlier consumer.

These entrepreneurs are sharing best practices and as a result growing as the community of mission-driven brands. Simple yet profound advice came from the likes of Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Dairy and Justin Gold of Justin’s:

“You have to pick what you are going to be known for.” — Siggi Hilmarsson

“If you don’t have good branding I highly suggest you go find someone to help you. Understanding your purpose, vision, and mission will guide you in all future decisions for your business.” — Justin Gold

Some brands that got my attention for various reasons:

BEAR YoYo’s:

This brand stole my heart at the show. From a design perspective, from a mom perspective… they did it. These little fruity yoyos are 100% pure fruit and veggies pressed into a fruit-leather-like form and rolled into a yoyo shape; two yoyos per package. The product is delicious! Yep, we tried every, single, flavor. Even better though, is the detail this brand is holding onto. The fruit yoyo box is reminiscent of a small lunch box with a small little handle on. Each pack has an educational card inside featuring a country where kids can learn fun-facts, learn how to say a word in a new language and ultimately collect to fulfill the adventure map the brand provides. And the brand assets are so, stinkin’, cute. Bravo!

Kodiak Cakes:

It’s been fun to watch Kodiak Cakes “grow up” in the industry. They absolutely killed it with their booth. Design was incredible, lots of unique spaces designed for sampling, handouts of new products and then consumer awareness / engagement with a REAL BEAR! Ok. Not a real bear but a guy in a bear suit pretending to be a fake. Surprise! Our team went in for a pic and BAM! The bear got up! Emily screamed! Ok, I did too.

Their product(s) are great and they really know their brand — quite evident in their booth. Nice work!

Side note, much broader distribution than the brand I mentioned above. Locally, check out Target to give them a try.


Next, Peatos! Peatos is a product from their parent company, World Peas Brand. Real cheese covering sustainable peas and lentils. Perhaps you’ve heard of a similar brand, who shall remain nameless. This brand is going head-to-head and so far, doing a great job. They owned the orange color in the booth which was extremely eye-catching from a distance. They had sample gals in awesome outfits and bright orange sampling trays standing out front which was great for engagement at a trade show. But ultimately, their branding was clear and simple and really stood out. On point with consumer food preferences (high protein, fiber, real food) and an overall better version of the cheesy-fingered-goodness we all grew up with.

Last, but absolutely not least: shout out to our client Manitoba Harvest for a great show and keeping the party going even in the rain! They had an incredible opportunity to sponsor an Evening on the Plaza on Saturday night but of course, rain showed up. The party went on, the ponchos saved the day, the drink tickets were appreciated… you all did a fantastic job and great showing at Expo!

I left the show feeling more and more confident about what we do to help clients everyday. It’s clear the brands who really know their POD and their audience and work hard to stay focused and those who attempt to reach every possible consumer / shopper.

· How does your brand stand out? At a tradeshow or in retail!

· Is your brand story clear to those who care?

· How does your brand measure up to competitors in the category? And, are you considering the up-and-coming?

If your brand needs help — we’re here!