I recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim and came away feeling the industry had lost interest in food. The convention center was full of booths offering the latest energy bars or hydration systems. But real food? Not so much.
I realize it’s called the Natural Products Expo for a reason – a compromise to sell space to the spandex-clad women who hawk supplements and colon cleansing. But the true purpose must be to get everyone excited about natural and organic food…real, honest-to-goodness, food that matters. Unfortunately, this year’s show was dominated by bars/water/chips being sold as nutrient carrying devices and touting the benefits of the super fruit du jour. The only thing in short supply was real fruit.
To be fair, Earthbound Farms was displaying fresh salad mixes and Alexia was sampling yummy sweet potatoes fries. Industry stalwarts Organic Valley and Applegate Farms were there, too. But for the most part, the aisles were filled with people and companies competing to sell empty calories.
Obviously, some of our cookies could be considered “empty calories”. But in everything we do, we make real food with simple ingredients and offer better-for-you alternatives to our counterparts. That’s the beauty of organic – every ingredient is real. You’ll know we’ve “jumped the shark” when we start selling “energy bites with ginko”.
It should surprise no one that the Natural industry is in the same boat as mainstream producers. Since we collectively produce far more calories than we could (or should) possibly consume, selling food in the U.S. is a zero-sum game. Growth comes from stealing “share of stomach” from the next guy by figuring out how to sell more calories, whether we need them or not. This explains why we can buy food virtually all day and anywhere. As an expandable consumable, food has become the growth vehicle that is driving ever expanding waistbands and obesity rates.
So while I’m disillusioned, I expect I’ll attend future shows with an eye out for the interesting developments in real food (and eating my way around the world of dark chocolate). As for hydration systems, I’m happy to fill my reusable bottle from the tap.