Expo West 2016: Notes from the Swirl
Natural Products Expo West 2016 is in the books. I’m sure they’re still counting the numbers, but I have no doubt the final tally of visitors and exhibitors will top last year’s 71,000 (update: final numbers: 77,000+ attendees, over 3,000 exhibits, 600+ of which were new this year). It’s my 13th time I’ve walked the floor and worked with client exhibitors, and have always enjoyed it. It’s a grueling and weary four days, but well worth the time.
Some notes and thoughts…
At first blush, it appears that hundreds of exhibitors really stepped up their game. New booths, refreshed and repurposed older booths and new looks were the common themes that run throughout. Having said that, there were still a lot of exhibitors that seriously looked like they didn’t really know what to expect. I did talk to dozens of exhibits (maybe a hundred or more), and many are looking to upgrade for next year’s go-round, simply to compete with their neighbors down the aisle.
Last year I lost count of the time I saw the word ‘natural’ used in graphics. This year, not so much. I did however, see the term ‘superfoods’ used extensively.
Things are always in flux. I talked to several company reps who are facing personal changes because the company they work for has been or is being acquired by a larger entity. This means that while doors close, others open; new opportunities abound because there are always changes afoot in the industry. And even with 70,000+ visitors and exhibitors, it seems like a small industry (which I’m not even a part of, except peripherally!). Many people change companies but still land at this industry show each year.
Big is in – always. While there are hundreds of smaller exhibitors that are in the aisles with 10×10 or 10×20 in-line booths, the convention center is packed with large island booths, 20×20, 30×30, 40×40, 40×70 and more. I know the space is not cheap, so the investments made in marketing at this show are substantial. I spoke briefly with Bob Moore, the iconic “Bob” of Bob’s Red Mill, and he reiterated what he’s said many times before: exhibiting at Expo West year after year has helped the company expand and grow and reach new markets they couldn’t have otherwise reached. Without a doubt, many companies increase the size of their booth simply to show competitors that they’re in charge.
Exhibit construction: while I saw numerous fabric graphics and hanging pillowcase signs, there were hundreds of exhibits that featured solid wooden panels in their construction. At least six companies brought in vehicles (trailers, cars) as part of their exhibit. I saw one table made from a surfboard, a photobooth, one stuffed bear sitting on a toilet, and one iconic dread-deaded lion drinking coffee. There were loads of large graphics that caught your attention from several aisle away.
Social media: always lots of action on Twitter and Instagram. A handful of exhibitors pushed contests from their booth to tag them or tweet or ‘gram them from the show floor for a chance to win. A few years ago, that was a big deal, now it’s just part of the game – some are involved and some are not. Nobody seems to make a big deal about it, but social media engagement and contests are there, just not ubiquitous.
As always, Natural Products Expo West is a big deal – the biggest show of the year for the industry. Always great to be a part!