Bad Girl, Good Business

My Super-Natural Experience in Baltimore

180 Minutes…10,000 Steps…and the Disruption of the Doodle

It was an interesting Saturday afternoon indeed. My readers know that I have a somewhat unnatural passion for trade shows and conferences. Having worked in the industry for three years and currently writing/speaking about innovation, I love to attend shows — especially related to food, technology, and lifestyle — and showcase what’s new and hot.

Due to an unexpected series of circumstances, I had only three hours to spend at one of the country’s largest natural products* showcases.

Normally, when I attend a show I spend at least two days and have a strategy for navigating the aisles. This time, I speed-walked the floor, feeling like a contestant in one of those high-pressure cooking competitions. Because I attended the last day, I was offered many free samples by exhibitors who didn’t want to pack up their displays.

I apologize in advance to any worthy exhibitors who I didn’t visit (at least 1,500 of them). But here are some of the highlights I was able to experience as I clocked 14,000 Fitbit steps. Not bad for three hours. That Brain Juice must be working. (See #6.)

  1. Keto diet products are just emerging. Taking over for (or complementing) Paleo as the hot new way of eating, it has given rise to new treats. Fat Snax will definitely be in my cupboard when I crave a cookie. (And who doesn’t, on occasion?) The bars from Suzie’s Good Fats were definitely one of my show faves, not only because they tasted good but because the company owner (yes, Suzie) was still full of energy and working her booth on closing day. An entrepreneur, mother, and former marketing executive, she even has an engineering degree and is a triathlete. Imagine what will happen if I start snacking on her products!
  2. The $1B jerky boom may be leveling-off, but meat sticks abound. I spent a few minutes kibbitzing with the Mitchell Berliner, man behind Skinny Salamis, a product of local company MeatCrafters. Is cheese your passion? Wisconsin-based Just the Cheese has figured out how to turn it into a bar.
  3. Vegetable snacks and chips are all the rage, as I also noted after the Sweets & Snacks Expo. I sampled Pan’s Mushroom Jerky. The Cheese Doodle is being replaced by pea-protein and ancient grain facsimiles. We want our crunch but no orange dye on our fingers. Too many to list here. HipPeas were hard to miss because of their bright yellow branding and range of varieties. The category is poppin’! Even pizza crust is no longer just dough. Cauliflower has made its way into the beloved slices.
  4. What’s nutty? What’s not fishy? Bitchin’ Sauce has a line of dips made from almonds. And I sampled a crab cake made from beans, created by Good Catch. (Yup…it tasted like the real thing!)
  5. Hemp, Hemp, Hooray! was one of the educational sessions and a search on the show website revealed 74 exhibitors and 334 products in the hemp and CBD category, including a product line from Kathy Ireland.
  6. I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I sampled some of the potions that promised to give me super powers. The Brain Juice label claims focus, clarity, memory and mood. But alas, none of these elixirs made me taller and blonder.
  7. Speaking of mood-altering, a creative family-owned company was marketing highly-portable aromatherapy sticks called Aromastick (of course). You can inhale the magic of these lip balm-sized tubes throughout the day and pretend you are on the massage table.
  8. And smelling human waste is apparently NOT a natural thing to do. Poo-Pourri had a huge display.
  9. Moving from my nose to my heart…I will always have a special place there for RXBAR and Justin’s. I’ve watched both brands scale and ultimately sell to food giants without losing their souls and cultures.
  10. Some foods defy categorization.  Like Rindsnacks, the dried fruit snacks inspired by the founder’s great grandma Helen. And Dress it Up salad dressings, created by a former filmmaker. The ingredients are basic but the branding is unique, meaningful, and artsy. Or Mikey’s muffins (and other products). Michael, the founder, started baking at 13 and turned his talents to making gluten-free products.

Ultimately, what’s really “real” to me in the natural food space are brands that can grow and thrive without selling their souls or adding junk. They may have larger booths as they scale, but the people in them are still down-to-earth and committed to giving their customers truth in advertising and a big smile — even on the last day of a trade show.

*The meaning of “natural” has morphed over the years. One must still read ingredients to find out what’s really inside the stuff you’re putting on your body and into your stomach.

 


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