It is unfortunate that many attendees had to cancel their plans due to Hurricane Florence. I certainly would never advocate putting oneself in harm’s way simply to participate in an industry event. It turned out that it did not impact the weather in Baltimore. The result, however, was that attendance was lower than normal and that was just a bummer.
Expo East and Expo West are often two of the largest investments made by young brands. It’s where they gain exposure not only to key retailers, but also important industry influencers, mentors, and investors. Personally, I am glad I made the decision to go.
The good news is that the show did go on, and as usual New Hope did a tremendous job of organizing the event. As I made my way through the various halls, meetings, and events, I noticed a few things that I thought I’d share with you.
It takes a village
One of the more extraordinary things about this industry is the deep commitment to collaboration. This ecosystem that exists is always so palpable at Expo. Retailers, brokers, professional service providers, investors, and most importantly brands all gather to share, shape and promote the industry. The younger brands find support in those that have come before, booth neighbors become friends, and of course, there are the post-show gatherings where you find laughter, tall tales, and more than a few cocktails.
At a show where the vast majority of the exhibitors are innovators and category disruptors, it is interesting to witness how, as a whole, they adapt and pivot to meet the changes in science, diet, fads, and consumer wants. A few that stood out this year are as follows:
It was amazing to me the number of offerings that are targeted towards the keto diet. Now, in my opinion, the vast majority of consumers will never fully eat a true keto diet. Yet, there is a growing acceptance that the most important macronutrient is fat and least important, carbohydrates. Walk the show floor and it is evident that many brands are responding to this change in consumer behavior.
Gluten-free is no longer enough. Its evolutionary next step is grain-free. There is some relation to keto, but this is beyond just a fat friendly anti-carb diet. Rather, it is a movement away from the old food pyramid where grains were foundational to our diet. I think this, like keto and the recognition of the importance of fat, is more than a fad. Those brands working to meet this growing need are likely to be the beneficiary of a big opportunity.
3. Water Boredom
You would think that the beverage category is competitive enough. But, despite that reality, the number of new beverages on exhibit was almost overwhelming. However, I did notice a nuanced subcategory. I will call it water boredom alternatives. With the reusable water bottle category expected to exceed 10 billion within the next 5-years, brands are looking to offer alternatives to fill those containers.
Leaving Baltimore, I feel lucky to be a part of this industry. So many cool people doing some really cool things. I feel the pace of innovation is increasing and believe that it will find itself in new channels and using creative routes to market. It’s going to be fun.
I will end by sending my thoughts, wishes, and prayers to everyone impacted by Florence. We missed you.