Editor's Plate: Why Don't Big-Company CEOs Attend Natural Products Expo West?

The future of food and beverage lies somewhere in those 3,100 booths; this could be the solution to your sales-growth problem.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

I think I write every year about what a wonderful show Natural Products Expo West is; that this is where the future of food and beverage lies. It’s hard to say exactly which booth and which product is the future of food, but I believe it’s in that exhibit hall somewhere.

This is the show at which Chobani a few years back was trying to explain to me what Greek yogurt is and why it matters. Where HappyFamily (back then called HappyBaby), Bolthouse Farms, and Plum Organics used to have small booths (until they got acquired – now they have big booths). Where Annie’s had a big, solo display (not part of General Mills’ organic family).

Every year NPEW gets a little more corporate, with the suits now far outnumbering the hemp skirts and gray ponytails. The only Hollywood star I saw this year was CeeLo Green; no Channing Tatum, Jessica Alba, or Marilu Henner (who have been at past shows). Now there are almost as many venture capitalists and other investors walking the floor as there are small retailers (I assume that’s the kind of attendee the show is designed for).

Question is, where were you? Where was your CEO?

Growth has been nonexistant the past two years for the bigger food and beverage companies, and recognizing the Next Big Thing gets harder all the time. That’s what this month’s cover story is about. I’ve been pleased to see Campbell Soup’s CEO Denise Morrison at the show at least the past two years. Hain Celestial’s Irwin Simon was there a couple of years back. Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, still in jeans, remains a fixture. I hope in addition to their booth duties they were given some time to walk around and see what all the other companies were inventing.

In only his second year at the show, Leslie Herzog, a former big-company product developer, writes an awestruck review. Some novel new products I’ll add to his list: tsampa, call it the newest ancient grain, by Peak Sherpa; Kind’s “Pressed by Kind” bars, which are just the named fruit and chia somehow pressed together without a binder; Purely Pinole, an Aztec power food, by Native State Foods; and Campbell’s Soulfull Project (“for every serving purchased we will provide a serving of our four-grain hot cereal to a regional food bank in your area”).

I saw a couple of big-company names on badges as I walked the aisles, but aside from Denise Morrison, I recognized no C-suite people. I’m sure they’re busy giving presentations to financial analysts and attending board of directors meetings. But, like Ms. Morrison, they need to make the time to check out this show. They may just find the solution for growing their companies’ sales.