How to Impress an Expo West Virgin

I don’t care what type of Expo I walk into – because seeing the trends in a variety of booths will make my day! I love seeing what companies are willing to invest in – whether it’s going off the rails with a huge build out and footprint, or, putting their dollars to use through a smaller presence but with simply great design and packaging. Both make quite an impact. I do get a bit sad when I see some new brands that possibly can’t afford either, as their even being there seems like a waste because everyone is walking right on by – and you see the defeat in their eyes.

The Natural Products Expo West Show® blew me away. I knew how coveted tickets are and was just grateful to attend just for a day. I was like a kid in a candy store, or maybe better to say a vegan in a tofu igloo? It was a designer’s paradise.

Here is a rundown of a few of my faves, broken down:

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Print & Packaging Companies

Not super impressed with the variety of packaging companies that were on-site, one did impress me though with a cute sign that only a print nerd like me would love. The sales rep was cool, easy to talk to and let me geek out over the print methods and practically knock over the display touching the papers like I was running out of time. So, shout out to Jeremy Howard at Trojan Litho™.

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Favorite Booth with Sustainability Effort Interaction

Meyer’s Clean Day® was so impressive, from the brand ambassadors, the booth and packaging. The booth design drew you in but then you see a big wall promoting “leave your mark to help plants grow”. For every fingerprint attendees made on the wall they would donate $1 to the Center for Plant Preservation. Then (genius minds), you obviously need to wash the ink from your hands so they lead you to an adorable pop up bathroom with a full line of their products to wash and moisturize your hands. Your take away was a branded pencil which normally would not sound groundbreaking - but when you are done using it, the tip has basil seeds that you then plant. I loved the whole experience. Plus ups: As you walk through the expo they have pop-up displays of hand sanitizer. Also, they’re social efforts are super-on point right now - them out.

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Trends

Fonts, modern retro vibe, neon lights, CBD, Bone Broths, Jerky…Walking through the show you really pick up on the trends of what is hot in natural products, and design right now – and the forward thinking associated with both. Old school upgraded neon lights were some of my favorites to see. Clean simple wall with that pop! A great booth example is Pop & Bottle. I LOVED this booth and packaging design. These clean, super food almond lattes are yummy and you feel good about drinking them – or just having the cute bottles on your desk at work.

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Copywriting & Branding

Props to puns and wordplay with Sir Kensington’s booth and the The HoneyPot Co.® brand.

“SK” is an old brand with a new look – and it works! Samples were out by the time I visited, but you can guess that I judge books by the cover art – so I will be trying all of these products simply based on that, and because they made me giggle by “herbing my enthusiasm”.

HoneyPot had me at hello when I started following them, on Instagram but their small but mighty booth got me when I saw this on the banner: “Made by humans with vaginas for humans with vaginas. Because it takes one to know one™.” Hell yeah, you’re right. Clean feminine products from the women like me – I’ll try your products.

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The Food!

OMG. We went downstairs and it was all over. Food, food, food! My colleague had warned me to take my time because you’ll need a food coma nap after 10 minutes – she was right, but I am stubborn, and everything looked SO good! I tried more Vegan “meat” products than I’d care to share. Some were, eh, I’ll check back at next year’s expo – but others, got even the consistency down!

Favorite Snacks (that will become my staples)

Tillamook® Cheeseboard snack packs. Crackers, cheese and a fun sweet/spicy jam. Like, I literally texted all my wine-drinking, working mom friends while I was at the booth – we have to be their demographic. These products are heavenly. Unfortunately, they just launched so they are in a limited market. I cannot wait to see them at my local grocer. The ONLY downside I mentioned to the rep was the packaging was way too big for the amount you get – the portion was probably right, but everyone at the show is asking for “less plastic” and eco-friendly packaging etc…I’m sure they’ll figure that out at the National roll-out.

Next up, I Heart Keenwah®. They seem to be available everywhere like Amazon & Target and the flavors are so yummy. I tell myself this is the guilt-free, adult version of Cheese Puffs.

Last, Simply Organic® Simmer Sauces. Who knew? Myself and everyone around me at the booth had the same response “You make sauces??” I buy this brand of herbs and seasonings but apparently, they rolled out a diverse selection of sauces last year. They showcased this specific Green Enchilada two ways, over a baguette, and over tortilla chips. As someone who entertains often, this seems like a quick, easy way to have a dip that doesn’t look like it was straight out of the jar! Yes, with the creaminess – it is an indulgence, but worth it! Upon a deeper dive, they have quite a few new products you can check out HERE.

Some other honorable mentions of my favorite booths

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Pop Art Gourmet Popcorn, Bonafide Provisions®, Delallo®, Olivina Men®, Pacha Soap Co.™, Seaweed Bath Co.® 

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To sum it up, I’d have to say my first time definitely lived up to the hype and I hope to experience it again and again. I will continue to visit other expos and events to keep up on the trends and get my creative juices inspired, but so far – this shot straight to the top of my list.

Mastering the Art of Brand Immersion: The #HeinekenExperience Turns Tourists into Brand Ambassadors

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A labyrinth of charming canals, technicolor tulips dancing in the early spring breeze, Van Gogh’s interpretation of Gauguin’s chair and the brooding Dutch masters with their infinite shades of black are all worthy of celebration and contemplation in Amsterdam. But the brand storyteller and beer lover in me could not resist a visit to the “Heineken Experience” on a recent visit to this amazing city with my young family.

To meet the growing demand for their Dutch Pilsner in 1867 Heineken built a state of the art brewery on the banks of one of the outer canals that radiate through Amsterdam.  In 1988 a new facility was built outside of the city to meet the now soaring international demand. In 1991 the old brewery with it’s monolithic brickwork and as large as a city block was opened to the public as an interactive brand immersion, truly a masterclass in 360 degree brand storytelling.

With pre purchased tickets we happily jumped the football field long line to pick up our silicone bracelet passes with two free beer tokens attached. The line was celebratory nonetheless with brand devotees eagerly holding up Instagram ready photo frames happily delivered by jocular employees sporting green suits and ties. This enthusiasm and authentic sense of fun was pervasive throughout our 90 minutes inside. While the whole experience could have easily careered into a ditch of commercialism, I have to say Heineken did a superb job and instead of a marketing mallet used psychology, subtlety and quality like bubbles in the beer to gently turn us from tourists into ambassadors.

Like the five points on the red star on the label of a Heineken the 5 senses of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing were employed to give us a truly unique and memorable experience. Like a three act play the experience was laid out before us. The tour begins under a 5 story grain silo, and ends at a humming bar with everyone sampling the coldest Heineken imaginable.

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Act 1: The Grains of Heritage- Everyone is Welcome

The cool, dark and clean first floor was a welcome respite from the chaos of the buzzing street. A smart, bespectacled woman in her 20’s welcomes our group with an energetic introduction to the tour and the brand. While Jagermeister and Bud tend to cast Hooters type party girls, the Heineken guides had more of a university educated vibe, an understated hipness, friendly but not too friendly where it is fake.

Although lost on my 10, 8, and 5 year olds I was taken by the origin story of a 22 year old Gerard Heineken in 1864 borrowing money from his mother to purchase the Haystack brewery. Costumed hologram reenactors make the history come to life and give off an original hipster vibe with their mutton chops and glint of optimism in their eye. Although that moment was 150 years ago, we believe Gerard was just one of us, with a passion and a dream.

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Act 2: The Brewing- Science meets Art

The tour was self-guided and 5-minute presentations were delivered every 10 minutes throughout the exhibitions. A brewing lesson on the roles of hops, barley, water and Heinekens flavor defining yeast was delivered. We could stick our hands in the barley, smell the hops, and stir and taste the pre-alcohol sludge called wort. 

In a vast room that oozes history and has the feel of a Wes Anderson film, we ducked our heads into gigantic copper vats where Heineken was brewed for over 120 years. We met the huge black and white Shire horses that used to power the facility, and deliver the beer.

Act 3: The Party- Technology and Techno

#HeinekenExperience photo ops are peppered through the rest of the tour, with pose worthy sayings of “We say proost!”, “Cheers”, “Good isn’t good enough, it has to be perfect” and walls made of luminescent green bottles lit from behind. Like lemmings, people would wait in line to capture the Insta-worthy moment.

A surrealist beer simulator takes 100 guests at a time into a big room with walls and ceilings made of led screens. The metal plates on the floor would rumble while we experience what it is like to be brewed and bottled. In the end, we are poured into smaller rooms where a steady stream of suggestive on brand scenes batter our reptilian minds into submission.

Clever green screen scenes allow you to email a video of yourself, friends or family in a Dutch bicycle, delivering Heineken through busy Amsterdam streets. With our crew growing restless we breezed through the museum of Heineken F1 and Rugby sponsorship where the kids kicked virtual rugby balls into a goal and continued onwards towards the denouement.

The tile lined basement that once housed huge fermentation tanks, is now a neon-lit thumping bar where my wife and I over 200 other brand devotes could sample the coldest and freshest Heineken on the planet and the kids could get a soda. The beer was handed to you with a smile and served a big foam head that was trimmed with a skimming knife. The experience fermented within us as the beer was to be tilted in a way to dive under the suds while grabbing a big gulp of this historic golden brew.

The Increasing Demand for Transparency, Clean Labels, and What Brands Need to Consider

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The shift toward clean labels, a movement named trend of the year in 2015, is hardly a trend anymore as it has become the rule.

Transparency in product ingredients and brands’ abilities to provide accurate and comprehensive product information has become increasingly important to consumers, a shift we’ve seen concurrent with the vast amount of information that has come out regarding the negative effects of consuming artificial ingredients in products, along with the infinite number of publications and resources that are now available to us as consumers. Grocery shoppers today are armed with the knowledge to scrutinize brands and their labels like never before, and to make informed, healthy decisions.

Accompanying shifts, including brand loyalty becoming increasingly less important, and consumers’ willingness to pay more for a better choice, are big factors in convincing brands to clean up their labels.  In a 2017 study by Label Insight, 60% of surveyed consumers say they trust the brand less when they see ingredients they don’t recognize or find confusing. 64% of said they would be willing more to switch to another brand if that brand shared more detailed and understandable product information – and 54% said they would be willing to pay more for a product with ingredients they understand.  These are numbers brands simply can’t ignore.

We’ve seen many big players already making significant steps in recent years toward clean labels. Dating back to 2015, names like Nestle, General Mills, Campbell Soup, Kraft and Chipotle made promises to clean up their ingredients. Since, we’ve seen McDonald’s and Oscar Mayar jump on board, along with Target and Hy-Vee, and even Dunkin’ Donuts joining in early this year.

It’s a fine line companies are straddling, working to meet the demands of a more sophisticated consumer asking for transparency and clean ingredient lists, while maintaining consistency in their product and continuing to satisfy their longtime and loyal customers– who may or may not be as concerned with the ingredient list as they are with the taste, flavor and texture they’ve come to know and love from the brands’ product.

But at what cost to the company? Aside from the hurdles companies face in changing the recipe for their products, in finding ingredients to substitute for the artificial ones that look and taste the same – then, working with potentially complex sourcing issues and often times high conversion costs

Some brands have even faced backlash from some of their loyal customers in their efforts to clean up their labels – perhaps reasoning behind Kraft’s decision to quietly remove artificial dyes from their longtime fan-favorite Mac and Cheese, in an effort to prove to its loyalists that they can have the same beloved product, sans the artificial additives. After 3 years of work to reformulate the recipe (following a multitude of demands from fans to remove the artificial dyes), the brand announced that the new product would hit shelves in January 2016. Kraft knowingly began selling the revamped product in December 2015, and later confessed it as “the world’s largest blind taste test,” further noting that “fifty million boxes later…people didn’t notice a difference.”

Another company finding alternative ways to more seamlessly make the shift toward clean labels, General Mills, who announced they would be bringing the original Trix recipe back to shelves after consumers raised doubts about their new ‘natural’ recipe, that allegedly made the cereal’s taste “less fruity” and it’s color appear “washed out.”  The company was proud to announce they will be keeping the natural recipe on shelves along with this addition of the discontinued version that was Trix for 63 years. Now we can be assured Trix aren’t just for kids, but the clean-ingredient lovers, too – some of whom may be willing to sacrifice flavor and appearance for the healthier alternative.

This proves to show not all consumers are equally concerned with making clean choices when it comes to the products they’re purchasing, particularly if it has noticeable changes in their favorite and go-to products.  There are, of course, those that may have little to no concern in choosing clean labels and have no motive to prioritize them in their purchase decisions. Even those consumers that do seek a clean-label are on a broad varied spectrum.  A new report released at this year’s Natural Products Expo West trade show by ingredient supplier Kerry, provides insight on the customers likely to purchase clean-label products and categorized them into 5 types of customers. From “label seekers”: the most well-informed and expectant of clean-labels, also willing to pay more for clean-label products and certification, to “thrifty traditionalists,” who aren’t largely concerned with clean-labels but look for changes in their food choices due to medical necessity.

Another driving force behind the clean label shift that shouldn’t go unmentioned, is the increasing demand by grocers for clean labels, as the competition of natural food stores continues to increase.

The bottom-line is: brands need to make a number of considerations as the market in which they’re selling is rapidly evolving, with increased demands of the educated shopper and retailers, alike.

Albeit, there are sure to be significant costs and efforts associated with making the transition to clean labels, it is a change that food brands must consider if they want their products to withstand the test of time and evolution in the industry as we continue this shift toward transparency and the demand for clean ingredient labels.

They should consider each product and recipe change on a case-by-case basis when it comes to their marketing strategy and how best to communicate their changes and transparency in their products’ composition, to what may be a broad assortment of audiences – to best meet these demands of the new shopper mindset, while also maintaining relationships with their longtime loyalists.