Insights from The Natural Products Expo West

The Natural Products Expo West (NPE) convention just wrapped up in Anaheim, Calif. With more consumers than ever before seeking organic and non-GMO foods, NPE is the must-attend food event for natural lifestyle brands.

Organizers positioned this year’s event as “an opportunity to connect, educate, and celebrate our collective effort to protect a non-GMO food supply and offer consumers an informed choice.” Our team who attended this Expo saw a record number of exhibitors and a varying degree of panel topics such as “GMO Myth Busting” and “Organic and Non-GMO: Finding Common Ground,” and an address from Chipotle’s Mark Crumpacker as the non-GMO series keynote speaker. We learned:

  • There were nearly 400 non-GMO exhibitors at NPE
  • Sales of natural, organic and better-for-you products in the United States are forecast to grow 64% from $153 billion in 2013 to $252 billion by 2019, according to a report from New Hope Natural Media and Sterling-Rice Group
  • Non-GMO Project Verified is the fastest growing label in the natural products industry, with annual sales of $9 billion, projected to grow 15% per year.

With consumers embracing these kinds of lifestyle brands and representing a lucrative market, food makers and their marketing counselors have both opportunities and challenges. For companies who were built with non-GMO in mind, or for companies making that transition, our best practices from counselors who have dedicated parts of their careers to working on organic and non-GMO issues include:

  • Maintain a Consistent Story – Thanks to the internet, consumers today are more informed and can find the information they need in a flash. So what your brand or parent company has said in the past about the food landscape can come back to haunt you more quickly than ever. Make sure that your narrative and story about your organic or non-GMO brand is consistent.
  • Stay Credible – Some of the organic and “pure” brands have struggled with credibility when they use fact and figures and seek media coverage that come from remote, niche blogs followed heavily by activists and not mainstream, well known and credible sources. Be sure your PR outreach uses credible data and targets well known or reliable media outlets.
  • Sync Consumer Expectations with Your Expectations – Just because you can legally say it doesn’t mean it passes the ‘sniff test.’  Know what your consumers think when you make a certain claim and make sure you are living up to their expectations.

To say it’s an interesting time to be in the food business is an understatement. Today food isn’t just about what’s on the table. Today food is a marker for what people believe. Food is doctrine – a complex convergence of consumer passion, human health priorities, population growth and planetary responsibility.

Ketchum has a six-decade-long heritage of representing food companies. In the beginning, we were recipe developers for homemakers. Today we are a sophisticated 360-degree food consultancy, managing the communications around everything from branding, ingredient transparency, health and nutrition positioning, consumer engagement online, supply chain and channel relationships, and ultimately articulating positions on the many challenging issues faced by virtually every commodity and branded product on the market.

Ketchum represents brands and organizations that fall at widely varied places on the continuum of conventional to organic and everything in between.  We have experienced counselors who live, breathe and advocate for the kinds of products that show at NPE, such as Laura Sutphen who leads Ketchum’s Sustainable Business/Social Impact specialty. Prior to joining Ketchum, Laura launched Just Label It, the 2011 national initiative that petitioned the FDA to label GMO foods.

Ketchum understands the challenges faced by brands that were built as organic, natural or GMO-free.  Challenges like meeting the ever-changing landscape of label expectation or requirements; adequate sourcing of verified non-GMO ingredients; or scaling issues with separate production lines. And then there are the challenges of making the case for the value of organic or non-GMO verification in the marketplace, and winning and keeping consumer trust and loyalty.

Wherever our counselors sit on the food spectrum, we all believe in the importance of dialogue and value diversity of opinion. We don’t have to be neutral, but we need to be able to listen because it opens our minds to the world around us, the world our clients market to every day.  We believe in listening and respectful conversation because it helps us be better counselors to our clients – to calm waters, help mitigate reputational risk and show a pathway to greater leadership for our clients.